FORMER Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Prof Tam David-West, in this interview with Oluseye Ojo in Ibadan, gives practical ways to end militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta. He blames those he describes as ‘contractor elders’ for the woes of the region. He also talks on restructuring of the country, the dilemma of media team of President Buhari and other sundry issues:
These days, you have not been talking on national issues, especially on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, why have you been keeping quiet. Are you angry?
It takes a long time to make me angry. I am not angry. The reason is this, if you are angry, it makes your enemy happy. Whenever something confronts me, what I do is to make the enemy to know that whatever he has done does not bother me. It takes longer time to hurt me. When you are hurt, it means you want to revenge. I can be angry but my anger cannot go the point of disorganising him.
Why I have not talked for sometime is that there is nothing to talk about. There is nothing happening that I have not talked about before. There is nothing new on the national scene, that I have not commented about before, either by writing, or interviews in the print and electronic media. So, there is nothing new for me to talk about.
But there are still issues that I feel strongly about such as restructuring and lies people tell about Murtala Mohammed and the 1979 Constitution. The lies as being told, even by big people. But I have corrected the issues on little interviews I granted to The Sun.
In short, I have not talked for sometime, not because somebody can stop me from talking. Nobody can stop me from commenting. I don’t owe anybody anything. I depend only on God. I respect you, but I cannot find myself in a situation where you will be so powerful or the influence you have on me that I will not say what I want to when I know it is for national good.
It is being said that you have decided to keep silent in order to cover up the weaknesses of this administration, though it has its own areas of strength. Why?
No, I am not covering up his areas of weaknesses. I have access to him frequently, either by visits or phone calls. A number of things he has done that I don’t like, he knows my position. Before his wife did what she did (the alarm she raised that some of those close to Buhari did not wish him well), which I commend her for, I’ve told in one-to-one meeting with him that some people in his government are not working in his interest. I told him before his wife came up to say it in the press.
I have said I would not talk about personality, but there are people that should not be there at all. They have nothing to offer. If you are working for a president or a governor as an adviser or a minister, your first priority is to see him succeed. You are not there to praise him alone, tell him the truth as you have seen them. And being a rational person, if you tell him lies, he would know. If you are telling him the truth, he would know.
In the case of Buhari, it is not that I cannot go to the press. On some occasions, I have done some things on interviews. I have said I don’t like the way the petroleum industry is being run. When they said they would increase petrol price in order to remove subsidy, I came to the press. I was in the transition committee between the administration of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and President Buhari. Buhari has said openly that there is no subsidy. How can you remove what does not exist?
They did what they did, which I see as manipulation, when he (Buhari) was out of the country. I came to the press and told them that subsidy is a fraud. I have newspapers cutting with me where the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, who said there was subsidy, early this month said subsidy is a fraud. I still believe that subsidy does not exist.
So, those who increased petrol price to N145.
There was a report in the newspapers that the Senate has begun probing of N10trillion subsidy fraud. So, those who increased petrol price to N145 when President Buhari was away were anti-Buhari. If I were him, I would take all of them away from my government. They have embarrassed him because he is a man that has been there before and he came out clearly unequivocally that there is no subsidy. In fact, in the transition committee, I put a copy of the newspaper, where President Buhari said he did not understand fuel subsidy.
I know President Buhari to be a very thorough man. I have said it before that he reads a lot and if you give a memo of 10 pages to him, he will read immediately and phone you back to come and discuss it. He will even make notes on the memo.
I am not saying everything that is going on is right. But I have my own way of voicing my opinion without drama. My keeping quiet does not mean I have abdicated. I cannot. I have been commenting on Nigeria for years. My first article article was published in 1956. I was an undergraduate then. I have been critical of the system from tender age, I can’t change. There is nobody that can buy me. All the money in the mint in the Central Bank of Nigeria cannot by David-West.
So, my not being heard and read does not mean I am not saying something, I have been talking.
For instance, I am particularly delighted because months before Buhari’s wife came out in the media to make the allegation, I have met with Buhari one-to-one and discussed across the table. I told him some people working with him were not doing so in his interest. I told him that one day he would discover.
What was his reaction when you told him that some people working with him are not doing so in his interest?
He was pensive. I know it made a mark on him. I know he would go back and check. I said if I should know it in Ibadan, he would know it better than myself. Some people working with him are even lazy. How can you receive a courier letter, addressed to the President and keep it in your office for one week? I don’t intend to go into some specifics.
My President, who I still love and adore and respect, has not done anything that can make me to change my mind on the fundamental Buhari. No.
The Niger Delta militants have threatened to resume bombing of pipeline, in spite of the visits of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the states in the South-south zone of the country. Do you share the belief that the militants are out to make the country ungovernable?
When you talk about Niger Delta problem, we need to dig into the fundamentals. Yes, the place is neglected; not only neglected, but very completely neglected. The Niger Delta militants have a good cause for annoyance. I don’t support blowing of pipeline. It is counter-productive. It is suicidal.
My President knows my position on the way the Niger Delta problem is being handled. You cannot solve the Niger Delta problem with guns. The issues have to be addressed. But is the neglect solely because of the Federal Government? The answer is no.
Many governors of the oil producing states have been profligate, corrupt and self-serving. They only go to the people and make beautiful speeches to impress them. Ask them, the money they have got, how much have they spent on the people?
There are three commissions set up to take care of the Niger Delta – The Ministry of Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). Have they made impact?
I am using this opportunity to plead with Mr. President to please look at the NDDC. What has NDDC done? The budget of NDDC is over N240billion. It is managed by only three people. What impact have they made, except propaganda?
Government has tried. Federal Government has not folded its arms, whether Buhari’s government or the government before, though one is more serious than the other.
The Niger Delta leaders should also blame themselves. They have not been faithful to the people. Governors, leaders and those who call themselves elder statesmen but are not, what have they done? NDDC is a very beautiful project and the government pumped a lot of money into it. Something must be done about it.
The Niger Delta militants whose cause, which I support. It is only their action I don’t support because their action is counter-productive to Nigeria. You cannot blow up oil pipes. If you do, what are the consequences? Some of our leaders tell lies.
I read few days ago, a Niger Delta militant woman, said the problem in Niger Delta is because of Fulani. She made a stupid and ignorant statement. She said 80 per cent of Nigeria oil blocks are owned by the Fulani. It is a lie. I challenged her to show me her evidence. These are what they say that inflame the boys. If you are a leader, you are not supposed to inflame people. You are supposed to make peace, not war. It is not true. These types of figure will inflame the boys, otherwise the boys would not have good cause to be angry.
Oil producing communities don’t have light, but across there is light in the oil companies. The government can achieve more by subtly approaching these boys through their leaders. In Niger Delta, we respect our elders. I meant real elders – traditional rulers, not contractor elders.
Some elders went to talk about Niger Delta problem with President Buhari in Abuja. They were begging him to give them oil blocks. Those are the contractor elders I am talking about.
So, in talking to the militants, the government should not make it a fanfare. I will advise that the government should do it subtly and let us see the result, instead of publicity on government’s visits to the place on radio, television and print media.
If you approach the traditional rulers, not the contractor elders, secretly, and talk to them, they can link you with the militants to get facts that are needed.
I support the cause of the militants but I don’t support their action. What are the consequences of their action? Nigerian oil industry will collapse, the economy will collapse and government will not be able to function. A number of oil companies are defecting from Nigeria. What are the consequences for us in the Niger Delta? We are going to suffer more. The oil companies working in Nigeria are working all over the world. If Nigeria is too hard for them, they will pull out. If they pull out, what happens to the Niger Delta? Oil producing states have a lot of money from the federation account. If there is not much money in the federation account, you cannot get more money. The things we are getting, we will not get again. So, blowing up the oil pipe is not the answer and ruining the economy is not the answer. If the oil companies move away, there will be no pipe to blow again. The Niger Delta ‘contractor’ elders that go to Abuja to beg for oil blocks, punish them, and I think that is the answer.
But I must say that the militants should not be seen as enemies of Nigeria. If you approach it with that kind of mindset, you are going to lose everything. They are not enemies of Nigeria. They are Nigerians. I believe that no sane person will burn the house, which he lives in. They are not irresponsible and irrational.
So, we should try to partner with them and dialogue. We should put to them the facts and figures. A lot of senseless statements should stop. Let them know that you agree with them and that things will be better. The government should tell the militants how much it has released to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and NDDC. The reported scandal in the Ministry is in the public domain
Let the boys talk to their contractor elders and let them give you a draft memo on how to approach the problem. Let them know that by protecting the oil industry, they are also protecting their own survival.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to restructure Nigeria during its campaign. Up till now, the administration is silent on the restructuring of the country. What is your take on this?
What are we restructuring? Nigerians should restructure themselves. Some people would say the problem of Nigeria started in 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates, hence their reason for restructuring of the country. Why blaming Lugard for your fault? Lugard never did anything against us. He came here working for the Royal Niger Company. What he did was good for us. He did the amalgamation for administrative convenience.
To show that Lugard did a good thing for us, Nigeria celebrated centenary anniversary of the country in 2014. There is Centenary City in Abuja. Are you celebrating something that is bad?
The clamour for restructuring of Nigeria is a noise. Some agitators said the country should be restructured because the centre is too strong, calling for devolution of powers to the states. Nigeria is not a federation, it is a corrupt federation. In a federation, units are more powerful. The units do not have to go to Abuja to beg for money. Why is Nigerian federation not working? It is not working because the states are weak.
The Constitution is clear that we are in Federal Republic of Nigeria. If the centre is too powerful, why can’t you (the federating units) challenge the centre? Why can’t the governors, and big mouthed individuals take the Federal Government to the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution? What we have is good if we sincerely implement it. So, I don’t think there is any fundamental thing to restructure.
In Nigeria today, many states cannot pay salaries, and local governments have been crippled. The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) at the state level has not been sufficient to make up for the dwindling statutory allocation from the federation account. Do you not see the imperativeness of restructuring of the country by way of regional autonomy?
Some agitators are saying the country should be restructured into six regions. Nigeria cannot go back to regions. We can implement federation as it is in our constitution.
There is nothing said at the 2014 national conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan that is not on the shelf. Nigeria has a lot of money to meet the basic need of her people. But we have not got enough money for rogues. There are too many thieves and they should be punished. Except corruption is punished, no amount of fight against corruption will succeed.
The value of naira against dollar is nothing to write home about. In one of the interviews you granted before President Buhari was elected, you said he would make N1 to be equal to $1. Why has it been difficult?
I did not say that and I will tell you what I said. I was a minister in 1984, how many people would believe that $1.5 was N1? Today, it is more than N200 to $1. In 1984, N2 was £1. Then, there was discipline. I blame CBN for the situation we have found ourselves. How would the apex bank in the country release money anyhow to former president?
What would you suggest the Central Bank of Nigeria should do to stabilise the naira?
The naira will stabilise if our foreign reserve is healthy. Nigeria made a lot of money when the oil-rich Gulf had political problem. I told the Federal Government not to share the money. Rather it should be invested abroad. But they spent it all. I know President Buhari will never share it. The money was shared because the country had weak government and weak leadership.
When President Buhari went on medical vacation abroad, his spokespersons did not tell Nigerian about the health challenge he has. But when he returned he told Nigerians he suffered from anaemia, which is the truth. With what his spokespersons did, would you not rather envisage that Nigerians may not want to take their words seriously in the future?
Nigerians have the right to know about the state of health of their leaders, but the anxiety was tainted with bad wish. But nobody has the right to talk about his health challenge than himself and his doctor. The doctor, even has no right to release his medical report without his clearance.
I was sorry for his media people because they are put in a very embarrassing situation, which includes answering to valid and justified public demands, pressures and things they have to do to balance that together with what their leaders would say. They must take clearance. What if there is no clearance, they cannot say anything.
The Nigeria Labour Congress has asked the Federal Government to increase minimum wage to N56,000 from N18,000. If you considered the current economic recession rocking the country, the fact that prices of commodities, and the skyrocketed cost of living, what is your take on the demand?
The problem with the minimum wage, whether N18,000 or N56,000, is that as long as other fundamentals are not there, there will still be problems. For instance, if you increase minimum wage to N56,000, people will buy garri at higher price than the current price.
But the demand to increase the minimum wage is not realistic. It may be justifiable. The fact that something is justifiable does not mean it is realistic.
But government is there to serve the people. So, if the people are not happy, the government has failed. Happiness of the people should be the number one interest of the government; greater happiness for greater number of people.
The government was right when it said the problem in Nigeria was not caused by this administration. After you have diagnosed the problem, you are expected to make change, though it may not be easy. If the change will be at snail speed, let the people see that there is change.
The government should resist bad advisers, who will make cost of living expensive. The government cannot control the price of garri. It can, however, intervene by ensuring that transportation is cheaper. So, government should take care of those things it can control to make life easier for the people.
I always use Kuwait as an example of petrol management. In Nigeria, whenever we get petrol money, we blow it up. But everyday, Kuwait sells petrol, it saves a sustainable percentage of the money in millions in a special account known as ‘Kuwait of the Future.’ The amount was so much that the country bought Dutchess Hotel in London. Kuwait even wanted to get 10 per cent of North Sea Oil in Britain, before the latter stopped it. Nigeria too can copy that good initiative from Kuwait.