‘I’m shocked by the billions looted under Jonathan’
FORMER Deputy Senate President and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu is of the opinion that Nigeria is a corrupt nation and the only way to remove this toga is for everybody to be ‘born-again’. Mantu in this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU shared his views on the goings on in the PDP, APC-led Federal Governent and the activities of herdsmen.Excerpts…
What difference would the budget make in the economic well-being of Nigerians?
Nigerians always expect miracles to happen. The fact that the budget has been signed does not mean that suddenly everything will be alright. Don’t forget that the items in the budget would be executed between now and the end of the year . The N6trn will not be spent within 24 hours so that the impact will be felt in every sector of the economy. It will take time .
We are used to having high hopes whenever a budget is announced but at the end of the day, we get disappointed because many of the items would not be implemented. I think the challenge here is the implementation of the budget . Nigerians should rise to ensure that the budget is implemented fully. The problem has further been compounded by the fact that we are close to six months into the year. This is a budget that was supposed to have been implemented from the first of January 2016 . Government has a double responsibility in ensuring it covers the lost grounds if the impact of the budget is to be felt.
From your experience in government, what are the factors that hamper full implementation of budgets?
There are many factors. First, budgets are estimates based on presumptions. If something goes wrong with these presumptions, it will affect the implementation. For example, if the oil benchmark is $50 and market forces force the price of crude to come down to $40 , it means the budget which was based on a benchmark of $50 would be affected because the actual earning is less than the target. So, price fluctuation affects faithful implementation of the budget. If the price goes up, that would mean well for the budget. It means there would be more money in the excess crude account.
Another thing could be the determination and capacity of the ministers and their bureaucrats in implementing the budget. Sometimes, you would discover that the intention would be there but the capacity to actualise that intention may not be there . Sometimes, they may award contracts to contractors who don’t have the capacity to execute the job given to them. A job that would have been completed within a year would spill over to one or two years . Obviously, you cannot pay somebody in advance for what he has not done. Many times, we have a wrong choice of contractors who don’t have what it takes to execute jobs given to them in line with specification handed to them.
The inability of the National Assembly to carry out effective oversight function affect budget implementation. If lawmakers effectively oversight the works of the ministries, it will be able to know whether the ministries are lacking behind in implementing the budget or they are keeping to the pace of the time allotted for projects execution.
Do you share the position of some eminent Nigerians like Prof Ango Abfullahi, Mohamned Junaid who believe that some current ministers don’t have the capacity to function effectively and deliver the change this government is mouthing?
Quite frankly, I can only assess somebody if I have taken a careful look or screen the person’s credentials . May be those people you have mentioned have come to that conclusion because they know the appointees very well. They have assessed them and they know their backgrounds and intellectual capacity and relate it to the duties they are expected to carry out . You can only comment properly if you do have full knowledge of the person you are commenting about . It is then that you can say yes, this guy would not be able to do this because this his background, he hasn’t got the necessary training, knowledge, intellectual capacity to be in the position given to him; that he cannot drive the ministry to success . For me I have not actually taken a closer screening or hard look at the ministers that have been appointed for me to be able to criticize objectively.
The fact that this government is running its first budget, would you say that the criticisms against it over the handling of the economy have been unjustified?
Like I said, Nigerians believe that miracles can happen overnight. You and I know that the Buhari euphoria was that once he was elected as President, all the problems of the country would cease. They believed that milk and honey would start flowing, there would be no corruption anywhere because the man’s stand against corruption was known, he fought indiscipline to a standstill when he was a military head of state and all that. The expectations were high. People believed that once he was sworn in as president we would say good bye to all our problems. But that is not a realistic assessment of the situation . Buhari is a human being like all of us. He cannot change things overnight. These problems were not created overnight, so there can’t be an overnight solution to them. We need time to gradually solve our problems .
This is his first budget, he has just signed it , it is only now we can say that he has the legal instrument to begin to spend money and execute projects. It is rather too early to pass an objective assessment of the situation on ground . I think that we should give him one to two years and see how he has successfully or otherwise implemented budgets, kept to the promises he made to the people.
Every promise he made was supposed to have been captured in the budget. He could not have started implementing the budget before it was signed. If he had done that, he would be accused of not respecting the constitution of the land which he swore to uphold .
Some people believe that the controversy that dogged the budget and caused it to be delayed showed that the APC government was unprepared for governance, do you agree with that view?
The truth is that APC is an amalgam of political associations. It is also an amalgam of people with different philosophy. They wouldn’t have been in a position to come up with a manifesto that would represent their philosophy and ideology. . It is now that APC would work towards becoming a compound body ,that is to say, one party. The fact that we are having these problems is not unexpected . Many of us saw these coming because of the way incompatibles, strange bedfellows came together to form the party. So what is happening is expected. Anybody who has the capacity and experience to see would tell you that he or she is not surprised or amazed at what is happening .
Are you also not amazed that APC government has blamed most of its failings on the rot left behind by your party in the 16 years it held sway?
As far as I am concerned, it is very easy to criticize. Look at any house, it can take you two hours to demolish it . But when it was being built it would have taken one or two years to erect.
When APC was in the opposition it felt that once it took over government, it would fix Nigeria’s problems quickly. That was what made Nigerians to believe that APC had the capacity to fix Nigeria within hours once it was voted it into office. That is why people are so disappointed that their high expectations have not been met by APC. When expectation is high, disappointment will also become high.
I think instead of APC blaming the PDP, it should face its business. The party should try to change the perception of the people through hard work, ensure that things change fast. Let them change the perception of people by making sure we can drive to a filing station, fill up our car tank and move out. Let them change the perception of Nigerians by ensuring that electricity supply which improved during Jonathan’s era returns. For four days I have not enjoyed electricity. It has never been as bad as we are experiencing in Asokoro , a place that is supposed to be a highbrow area .
Things have degenerated to a point that nobody can comprehend . Rather than passing the buck or blame, they should sit down and face the reality. Government should ask, how do we fix the power problem? How do we solve the fuel scarcity challenge? How do we address the issue of inflation especially on food and essential items? Today, a bag of rice has jumped from N7000 to N15,000. They should ask how do we address the forex problem? Many people who have children in schools abroad are faced with the painful reality of seeing their children and wards being sent out of school. You go to the bank you would be told this and that, you go the black market you will be given a cut throat exchange rate.
Things have degenerated to a level that cannot be conceived or imagined by anybody. If you say we are fighting corruption, no problem but the Nigerian society is a corrupt society whether it is PDP that is in government or APC or ADC or whichever party in government . What we have to do is to appeal to the conscience of the people. Our attitude to everything must change, we must be born-again. We must change things for good. We cannot continue this way. It is not a question of PDP or APC being in government . No, it is an endemic problem in our society. The Nigerian society is sick. Like I said, what we need to do is to appeal to the conscience of the people to change their attitude towards doing things.
Are you surprised about the figures coming out from EFCC regarding PDP chieftains that were given money during the last general election?
I am not only surprised, I’m shocked. When I was reading the stories, I dismissed them with a wave of the hand. I told myself that they were trying to blackmail the PDP . But when I saw that they were arraigning those accused before law courts , I sat up and told myself, this joke was getting serious. It is no longer a joke if you are taken to court and you are told that you took this and that .
As a chieftain of the PDP, I was shocked beyond imagination. I had not expected such a thing to happen.
I was the chairman of Goodluck Elders Support Group which was supposed to be one of the highest organs of the people supporting Jonathan . When we were inaugurated, we were told that nothing would happen without going through the Goodluck Elders Support Group . But from the day they inaugurated us up to the time they did all these things , I, Senator Ibrahim Mantu never saw one naira from anybody. We thought that since the Elders Support Group was not given anything, we believed there was nothing. We thought that if there was going to be anything we as the shakers and movers, the custodian of everything would be approached first. So I am shocked beyond every imagination.
I had been in government, I have never expected that government money could be used for partisan politics . Till now, I have not recovered from shock over the revelations. Moreover, the people that were actually given these hundreds of millions of naira were meeting with me and other members of our group. So they were looking at some of us saying, look at these idiots, they don’t know what they are doing, they are mumus. Most times we held meetings with them and sometimes when there was the need to contribute five naira they would be the first to complain that they had no money. Some of us who did not know what was happening would be the one to sell our plots of land to raise money and pay. We didn’t know that we’re being laughed at .
Much as I have sympathy for the ordeal they are going through, I believe it is a lesson for us to learn from . It should teach us a lesson that sometimes if you are not part of something , don’t be angry, it is God that is protecting you .
Some of us felt marginalized, totally marginalized . We knew what to do to make things happened but because they didn’t see us going to play ball or being part of them, they kept us in the dark . That was why we lost the election. Many of us told them clearly that we were not going to win the election . But they didn’t believe us because they thought that we were just messengers.
What did some of you see that informed your telling the Jonathan campaign team that it would lose the election?
I am a veteran , I have been in politics for almost four decades now . When a good budget manager and a professor make a forecast, the difference would not be more than five or ten percent up or down. I am an authority in politics in Nigeria today . I can tell you, with every sense of responsibility, that when I see failure I can smell from afar before it comes near me. I told them in black and white what would happen. I headed so many committees, I told them clearly that we would not go far. The reason I told them was because every person that mattered were left out. They brought amateurs and left out the veterans . The party machinery which should have been used to campaign for Jonathan was brushed aside . They brought people that called themselves TAN . How many people have television to watch TAN? Even if you have tv where is the power to watch it?
Would you say that some of the money that were alleged to have been given to the PDP chieftains did not trickle down to the voters and that may have contributed to the party’s loss?
The PDP chieftains that were given that kind of money were not people that electorate relate with. There are people who have lost steam in this game . There are people who are still very hot . When you leave out the right people you run into a problem.
Even the party structures at all levels were left out . They created different campaign organs and brought who they wanted to bring there . Can you imagine that I didn’t head any committee, when all these things happened, we didn’t know what was happening. If they were honest, could they have ignored somebody like me taking into consideration the number of years I have spent in this game? They ought to have taken into consideration my effectiveness and impact on the political scene. Should any right thinking politician who wanted to win election discountenanced me?
Are you satisfied with the direction the PDP is going? Do you see the party reclaiming power in 2019?
Let me tell you the truth , as I speak to you PDP has more members than any other political party in Nigeria. APC government was made possible by PDP. PDP voted against PDP in many places because of what I told you that many chieftains of the party were left out. Out of anger, many of them decided to vote and mobilize their supporters to vote for the opposition party .
Also, PDP after 16 years of being in power allowed power to intoxicate it. We were no longer thinking that the people who voted us into power mattered. Power went into our head . When the people spend the whole day in the sun queuing behind people to elect those who will represent them, some of us would sit in our offices and cross those names and replace them with people who have never been to the ward or the constituency . So when people see strange faces they get angry . The governor or party foists those candidates on the people instead of giving ticket to those that people know. Some now said ok, you have control of the party machinery but on the day of voting you will not control my vote . That was what happened . This kind of impunity , imposition , not following due process , not following the party’s constitution and guidelines were responsible for the PDP losing 2015 election .
What are we supposed to do now? We are supposed to come out boldly and tell Nigerians that we are sorry . You gave us an opportunity to rule this country for 16 years but we allowed power to intoxicate us. We need to tell Nigerians that we disrespected your views , your voices did not matter to us , we apologise to you for betraying the trust reposed in us . We are telling you that if given another chance we will never go the path we plied before.
From now, every action of the PDP should have been that of a repentant person. sSmebody who has purged himself and doing things differently in order to win the confidence of the people who lost that confidence in you hitherto . Many people thought that we would demonstrate to the Nigerian people starting from the congresses that we are truly born again, that we are no longer going to do things the way we did them before. Reports reaching us from the states show that we have gone back to our own game. We have learnt nothing , we are doing exactly what we did that led us to losing government . Indeed, many people think that some of us have personal axe to grind with the chairman of the party who is in charge of affairs at this point in time. I have nothing personal against Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff. But I’m totally committed to ensuring that we restore the lost glory of the PDP . Anything that I see that may deny us the chance of coming back to power or restoring our lost glory, I will stand against it.