… Says he is jack of all trades but master of none
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
THERE is a strong feeling in some quarters that the present cabinet of President Muhammed Buhari may be falling short of ideas about how to achieve the turnaround of the country’s ailing economy within the framework of the change mantra of the administration. However, in this interview, Senator Joseph Waku, one of the staunch supporters of the president, dismissed the opinion of such cynics as baseless and unfounded. He also berated the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, for his alleged unilateral attempt to fix a replacement for the office of National Publicity Secretary of the party hitherto occupied by Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Muhammed. Excerpt.
You seem to be angry with the National Chairman of your party-the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Oyegun, over his purported statement on a replacement for Lai Muhammed, the former National Publicity Secretary of your party. What exactly is the issue?
He said he didn’t find any competent and capable person to hold that position from the North Central which is supposed to produce Lai Muhammed’s successor. The implication of that statement is that they are likely to turn their eyes somewhere for his replacement. For me, that was a great insult on the people from the North Central zone because the position was not zoned to Lai Muhammed, it was zoned to the North Central. With due respect to Lai Muhammed, for the enthusiasm he brought to his job as the spokesperson of the opposition at the time he assumed the office. I will attribute his success to his proximity to Lagos and access to the South-west media. That was a major asset to him at the particular time when we confronted the ruling party as an opposition. So, that is not enough to say that there is no other person who can occupy that position. Besides, Lai Muhammed is not a trained journalist; he is an economist by training and by profession. Therefore, the National Chairman cannot determine for the North Central who fills in his position.
If at all there is any need for a change of arrangement, it can only come through the scheduled national convention. Even at that, there must be a general view to rezone the various positions, including that of the national chairman because it was the zoning arrangement that brought him to the office. I see his utterance as a big insult to the people of the North-central. It was irresponsible of the National Chairman to have issued such a statement. I had waited for him to retract the statement, believing that he was possibly misquoted, but he failed to do so. So, I am forced to believe that the statement actually came from him.
I was a member of the first national convention that brought him and the National Publicity Secretary to office. I think he failed to realise that the zoning of the national chairman was to the South-south and not to Oyegun. In the same vein, the National Publicity Secretary was zoned to the North-central and not to Lai Muhammed. Therefore, for anybody to think that the position is personal to Lai Muhammed is irresponsible and reckless. That person must be out of his mind. It is an irresponsible utterance.
The man is trying to ruin our party. And this is why I am reacting to that irresponsible comment. For him to say that there is no competent and credible person from the North Central zone to fill the position is reckless and irresponsible. For somebody to sit somewhere and decide to say we don’t have competent person is not only irresponsible, but also an insult on the entire zone. Again, it is a reminder of the confusion foisted on our party during the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly. He is a confusionist. It was his confusion and incompetence that brought about the rift in the National Assembly which still subsists today. The party ab initio had zoned the senate presidency to the North Central. We were all aware of that and we worked towards it. But because of the way he was running the party as a one man show, without consultation with the relevant stakeholders, he decided to move the senate presidency to the North east. He has a mindset that the party belongs to him and his cohorts.
Therefore, he feels they could make decisions and take whatever they need. This, he did, to a point that undermined the letter of proclamation issued by the president to the clerk of the National Assembly to inaugurate the 8th National Assembly on his behalf and not to inaugurate the national secretariat of the APC. For any responsible leader of that party, he should have taken cognizance of the fact that the directive was the constitutional prerogative of the president as Commander-In- Chief and act accordingly. He should have known that any attempt to violate or disobey the president’s directive would be counterproductive for the party and therefore amounts to undermining the power of the president. It is only the president who can redirect otherwise and not any other person through text messages. Instead, Oyegun decided to attend an illegal meeting which gave birth to the emergence of Bukola Saraki, a law abiding citizen. But for him, the PDP would have elected the senate president and deputy senate president and nothing would have happened. Bukola saved the party from total embarrassment and also salvaged the president from being undermined. Yet, the same National Chairman who created the scenario is trying to cause another confusion. Inconsistency in the party hierarchy and utterances from certain individuals can promote effective coercion among the members. It may even affect the operation of governance. So, the party must be coherent to be able to advise the government on how to carry out its programmes.
How would you assess the Buhari administration so far vis-a-viz his change agenda?
The Buhari administration is on course. He has not deviated from his promised change. We were used to having easy money before, but change had brought about a paradigm shift. With the new policy of administration, everybody who spends naira must account for it. Obviously, this has created some hardship. But there is hope that as soon as Nigerians get used to this change, all of us will be better for it. Of course, there is tendency for the ordinary people who do not know the enormity of the challenges facing the administration as a result of the damages caused by the previous government to feel that the hardship is created by Buhari. It is not so. The current administration is only trying to amend and direct Nigerians to a rightful direction through the change agenda. Unlike the previous governments, the current administration has a strong will to expose all those who have looted the country. That, for me, is the icing on the cake for the new change agenda. Therefore, all of us should embrace it. What the president needs to do to encourage Nigerians and move the economy forward is for him to set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on the economy just as he set up presidential advisory committee on corruption headed by a credible Nigerian, Prof Itse Sagay. He should also establish Presidential Political Advisory Council. Why his anti-corruption war seems to be working is because he has a competent person heading the anti-corruption committee. If he is able to create those two committees, Nigerians will soon see the benefits of his economic programmes.
For the President not to have appointed an Economic Adviser for nearly a year of the administration perhaps suggests that he feels he could do it all alone, and to that extent the country has been running on experimental policies. Isn’t it so?
That is true. But having spent one year experimenting, it has become imperative for him to constitute Presidential Advisory Committee on the economy.
Nigerians are also losing interest in the anti-corruption war because no one has actually been convicted almost a year after. What then can the administration achieve in this regard?
This again is not his fault. It is the fault of the corrupt judiciary that we have. When you find families of active politicians moving into the judiciary, you are bound to have corrupt judges. That’s what is going on today. It is high time the National Judicial Council re-examined its members at the bench to give the judiciary the kind of respect and credibility it deserves. If the judiciary is not sanitized, whatever is done to fight corruption will be an effort in futility. Therefore, I will suggest that a special court dealing with corrupt cases be set up to expeditiously dispense with cases to give Nigerians a hope of a better tomorrow. You cannot loot the country and be dragging the judicial process.
Junaid Muhammed in his recent interview declared Buhari’s cabinet as unfit. What in your perspective is the character of Junaid Muhammed to make such a declaration?
We have different approaches to issues. Junaid has his own way of approach, I have my own methodology of approach, Prof Ango Abdullahi has his own way of approach. Having said that, you cannot make a generalized statement that the cabinet is weak. Is he the only person who has the monopoly of knowledge? That is where people should begin to ask questions. By implication, he is accusing the president of being a weak president because the cabinet was constituted by him. If he has a misunderstanding or misgiving about a particular person concerning the issue of competence, he should have made that known before the confirmation by the Senate. He should not generalize; he should be specific on areas of weaknesses of certain cabinet members who he is having misgiving about. For me, that statement is an over exaggerated opinion.
Obviously, economy is a specialized area which can only be best assessed by the experts. But in this case, a medical doctor is trying to peep into other peoples’ area of specialization. Do you suspect any ulterior motive for his opinion?
I don’t know how he acquired the specialty of assessing people. Before you assess people, you first of all assess your competence and your credibility. I think it would have been more credible if he was talking of the minister for health not doing enough in healthcare delivery to the citizenry. But by generalizing, I think he has become jack of all trade and master of none.
As a Medical Director wanting to comment on the performance of the administration, if I were him, I would be more concerned about healthcare than any other matter. And when such advice is given, nobody will easily dismiss it. But to generalize by going into politics, going into economy that he knows nothing about, I think he is over assessing his competence against others.
How expedient is the economic retreat the president has just organized?
We have two years left to deliver on our electoral promises. The last one year will be politics of somebody wanting to take over or somebody wanting to continue and all of that. So, obviously, we have just one solid calendar year for Nigerians to see the actual turnaround of the economy. It is in this regard that he summoned this economic retreat to take a second look at the policy direction of the government and find a way forward. The important thing is the implementation of the outcome of the retreat so that Nigerians can benefit from it. I hope the decision and resolution on the economy will be speedily pursued for people to see the reality of the change agenda.
And are you optimistic that the next one year will be enough to achieve a turnaround of the economy as you did say?
Having examined the administration for the past one year, he summoned the retreat for the governors and other stakeholders to fashion out a workable policy. I do believe that at the end of the day, they would come out with a policy that would turnaround the economy within the shortest possible time. The implementation of the outcome of that retreat should be visibly seen by Nigerians through effective turnaround of the economy. God believes in Buhari’s change mantra.