…What I told the President when I met him
By Willy Eya
That there is hunger in the land today is not contestable, and with the economy in recession, many are even scared of the nation’s future. For obvious reasons, the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration which came with so much hope is at the receiving end of the dwindling fortunes of the nation.
The former minister of Petroleum, Prof Tam David-West, acknowledges the situation but cautions that those criticising the present administration should do so objectively. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
What are your reflections on the current state of the nation particularly with regards to the economy?
Everybody knows that the nation’s economy is bad and that people are suffering. However, when I listen to some of the things that people say, I shudder. I am not making apology for Buhari but we all know that he is not the cause of the problems that we have today. All of us know that it is easier to destroy than to build. Were they not there when what happened under President Goodluck Jonathan were happening. The amount of money that you hear in people’s accounts are unbelievable. President Buhari did not know that things were as bad as these. Nigeria was going bankrupt. Our Naira is weak because we have borrowed foreign money to back it up. The last administration was very wasteful and withdrawing money as they liked, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was used like the ATM by the government. They were withdrawing money not to better the economy but for the 2015 general elections. With what happened, it would take some time to build Nigeria. But the situation would not continue forever. Something has to be done to make improvement and correct the situation. We should all work hard to get to the root of it. The meat of it is that it is easier to build than to destroy. The nation’s economy was destroyed before President Buhari’s administration came in. Are we not ashamed that a Minister collected over one billion Naira? African leaders are coming on a retreat for the economy and I hope that the retreat would not make the economy to retreat but to go forward. Some of these retreats, I do not have faith in them. But I feel that the economy can be fixed.
Do you agree with those who insist that President Buhari’s cabinet cannot take Nigeria out of the woods? Many doubt the capacity of some people in his cabinet?
I am not going to discuss Buhari’s cabinet because I trust the judgment of the president. I am not in his cabinet and I would not discuss the quality of his cabinet. President Buhari appointed them and I trust his judgment. I would not discuss his cabinet because I am not complaining at all but I can serve Nigeria anywhere. But I believe that there are a lot of things that could be done better. Like why should the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) buy petroleum in dollar? The Naira is the legal tender of Nigeria. Why should we go to buy oil at dollar price? So, a lot of things could be done better. Reverend Fr. Matthew Kukah said it that some people around Buhari are not working for his interest or the national interest. They cannot serve themselves and the nation at the same time.
The call for restructuring the nation is getting louder since President Buhari came in. Do you think restructuring could be an answer to the myriad of problems confronting the country?
The call for restructuring is evil and timid. What they want is to break up Nigeria. What are they saying and what is restructuring? If things are so bad, why are you celebrating it?
We just celebrated 100 years of Nigeria’s existence. So, why the call for restructuring? Are you celebrating something that you want to restructure? So, to me, it is just hypocrisy and timidity. It is not about physical restructuring. We should love the country and restructure our selves. You say the country is not good and we should restructure. If you make every family a state, there would still be some people in the family that would say they are not being well treated. So, the issue is not about restructuring but having the right orientation about what Nigeria is. What type of political magic can you use to say that Rivers State, Cross River should go back to Eastern Region? What kind of magic will you say that Ogun State, Oyo State will forget and say that they are no longer states, that they should go back to Western Region? So, it’s intellectually dishonest and it’s not possible.
It’s not restructuring that is the problem; it’s we Nigerians. There is no country in the world that is homogenous. We have come together as Nigeria. I believe that the unity of Nigeria would serve everybody better. If Nigeria breaks up, every unit would suffer. Nigeria is a mosaic. Everything in a mosaic, when they are together, it is beautiful. All these people that are talking, if Nigeria breaks up today, every unit would suffer. I do not believe in restructuring. Why did we have to fight the civil war when we lost about two million people? So, what are we talking about? The restructuring we should be talking about is reorientation. I do not support it. I believe in one Nigeria. What we should do is to think about the best ways for us to live together.
From the tension in the land and renewed ethnic consciousness among the people, if you look at the future of the nation, what do you see?
The future of Nigeria can only be known by God. But if I am asked to say, I will tell you that the future of Nigeria is what we make of today. The future of the nation would be bright if we make today bright but it would be bleak if we make today bleak. The problem in Nigeria is that we have too many desperate politicians. Only very few are good. A politician is all the time thinking about elections.
Would you like another national dialogue under any name where some of these issues bedevilling the nation could be addressed?
A national conference is a waste of time. There is nothing that they would say that have not been said and which are in the archives. The last National Conference under President Jonathan was a waste of time and resources. There is no need for national conference because there is nothing that has not been said before. I have met Buhari many times behind closed doors. Has anybody heard about it? If President Buhari wants to see me, will it be in the national stadium?
When you meet Buhari, what do you normally tell him in the manner of advice?
I have told him that there are some people around him that are not working in his interest and people are saying it. I have told him that there are people around him that do not share his integrity. Anybody that has doubtful character should not come around him. People know that you have integrity and if you feel that there is anybody around you that you doubt his integrity, sack him. I want him to be himself and I trust his judgment. President Buhari has no house in Abuja. Nobody has talked about Buhari being corrupt. To me, in terms of integrity, he is number one and among the lot, he is still the best but there are people around him who do not share his integrity.
You are one of those considered to be close to Buhari and you should be in a position to know. Do you agree with those who accuse him of nepotism and that his administration has favoured the North to the exclusion of others?
What is nepotism? Do you appoint those you do not trust? When Buhari appointed an Igbo man the head of the NNPC, did they complain? I have heard people say that but I do not think that Buhari is given to nepotism. If you appoint people from only one part of the country, you can talk about that but it is not so in this case.
People were surprised for instance that your name was not on the list of his cabinet when he announced those he would be working with?
I did not support Buhari because of appointment. I supported him because of Nigeria.
A major shortcoming of the present administration is in the area of elections. Since it came on board, virtually all elections have been inconclusive. Just recently, the INEC postponed the Edo State governorship election. What is your view on the development?
President Buhari like every Nigerian has only one vote. The problem of elections is that of the INEC. If INEC postpones elections, what did the electorate do? Did President Jonathan not postpone elections?
Amid the deluge of criticisms against Buhari’s government, what is your advice to Nigerians?
My advice is that I do not say you should not criticise but if you want to criticise, be objective. The government campaigned based on change but we as individuals and citizens need to change ourselves first. We should change our orientation and attitude before the country can change for all of us. We should be critical and objective in criticising the government. We should also know that it is easier to destroy than to build.