A die-in-the- wool of President Muhammadu Buhari and Public Complaints Commissioner, in charge of Benue State, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, has described Nigeria as a traumatized nation that needs a government that would rebuild it. The social critic insisted that President Buhari is trying his best to rid the country of corruption, just as he posited that Nigerians are so difficult that even if a prophet comes down to rule the country, people would still find faults with him. He also spoke on other burning issues.
There has been a lot of brouhaha surrounding the President’s health, what is your take on it?
Human beings are not machines and therefore they are bound to be sick. Even prophets of God at one time or the other fell sick. It is natural. What is bothering people is that the presidency should be able to tell us what is happening to our President. It is unfortunate the way people are trying to politicize the whole issue. In other countries of the world, when a President is sick, the whole nation would go into prayers for his recovery. But here, we are doing politics. While some people are anxious, some are wishing him dead, looking to gain advantage for themselves. But they fail to realize that death is not restricted to one individual. Everybody must die when his time comes. I am disappointed both by those wishing the President dead and also by the Presidency for not telling us the truth.
This was exactly the trend during late President Yar’Adua’s era when he was sick and Nigerians were kept in the dark until they could no longer manage the situation. Do you think this is what Nigerians need at this time?
Nigeria has been traumatized. We want a government that will come and act decisively to improve or rebuild Nigeria. If the President is sick, we expect that he should put his trust on credible people; bring people on board so that they will advise him on how to put this government in the direction that the country deserves. During his military administration as head of state when the constitution was suspended, Buhari had a very strong man in the late Idiagbon who was his deputy. Both of them worked hard––though without the constitution and they could violate the rights of the people––and they performed very well. Within the short time that he ruled, corruption was tamed, just as trafficking in drugs was also tamed. People became disciplined in the society. But now, we have the National Assembly who thinks in a different way while President Buhari thinks the other way. On the whole, I think Buhari has done excellently well. Former Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala many years back warned government that if nothing is done, the country shall come into a recession and nobody listened. Today, we are in this situation. Within the short time that Buhari has come on board, he has done something to improve the situation. If it’s possible today to bring in one of the prophets of God to rule Nigeria, Nigerians will still find faults with him. So, the politics they are doing here is quite natural. But I think Nigerians should be more reasonable. I sympathize with the people of Nigeria and the Presidency about what is happening. As at now, we don’t know what the ailment of the President is. If I say he is in a very critical state now, I am lying because I don’t know. But I pray that God Almighty would restore his health so that he can come back and continue with the job he has started. And, if he feels he cannot go any longer, when his four-year tenure ends, he should step down.
Just last week, the media was awash with the planned protest by Tuface Idibia. Then we heard he had suddenly developed cold feet and backed called off the protest. What is your take on this?
The reason he gave was that if the protest takes place, it may be hijacked by some hoodlums. We were told that two governors, Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Ayo Fayose of Ekiti were to join the protest. These two governors are very erratic and cannot be taken for granted. If they join the protest, they must join with their thugs and hooligans and anything can happen. If anything happens, the police may not be able to manage the situation; if the police are not able to manage the situation, a crisis may spread all over the country. Considering what we experienced in the north during this Boko Haram insurgency, coupled with what is happening in the Niger Delta, the attacks on oil pipes and the restive situation in other parts of the country, we don’t want the country to degenerate into chaos. If it does, Nigeria Police may not be able to contain the situation. And we are aware the military are trained not to maintain peace and order, but to shoot and kill. When they come in, there may be more disaster. Maybe that was why Tuface decided to withdraw from the planned protest.
If you look critically, Buhari is not the cause of this recession. He came when this recession was already very bad. He came at the time our politicians were no longer using naira, but dollars because they considered the naira very inferior. Buhari came and said we must stop doing all these and begin to do the right thing. He is succeeding, but people are throwing spanner at the wheel of progress. That is why we are in this situation. We should sympathize with the government and also give Buhari some time to see what he can do about these things. To beautify your house, you have to break some edges, make some projections that inconvenience people living around the building as well as people working on the building too. That is what Buhari is trying to do with our economy. It is not easy to change a system. To do this, you are not coming to perform magic. To effect change, you are bound to inconvenience people. That is what is happening. Buhari is not a magician that can bring change overnight.
Besides, Nigeria is a consuming nation. We do not produce anything. Even toothpick, we don’t produce. We import everything from outside the country. If only we can have patriotic politicians in this country, this change will be easily achieved. These people bring foreigners from other countries like China into the country. Look at the Chinese. They come into this country with only handbags and they make a lot of money from us and take it back to their country. Our politicians do that because when these Chinese make money, they get their percentage from them.
Why can’t we establish factories that can manufacture all the things we import? Today, I listened to somebody who said we had this Peugeot assembling plant and the Volkswagen plant several years back. By now we should have been able to manufacture these vehicles in this country. Sadly, the whole thing died because of corruption. If we are able to deal with corruption and weaken it completely, then, we will develop as a nation. Brazil that started some of these things with us is now better off than Nigeria. Indonesia, for instance, I understand, came to Nigeria to get oil palm seedlings. Today, they are exporting palm oil while we are still where they left us. So, the situation is very bad.
The other time I went to Saudi Arabia and I found sugar cane and plantain being sold there. Why can’t we process all these things here and send to these countries and generate foreign exchange from them? Our people are not thinking. What our people think about is how to make money, steal money, build estates, buy cars, deny their children education and so on. It is so bad that once somebody goes to the university and gets his first degree, if his father is rich, he forgets about working. He would enjoy his father’s wealth. Once his father dies, you see him on the street begging. I think there should be a change of heart especially from our politicians. Politicians should be ready and try to help our leaders.
People who understand the economy of this country should try and sympathize with Buhari and cooperate with him. The problem is not Buhari’s fault.
Things have become so difficult that people can hardly afford to send their children to school, pay rent, and get food to eat or do other things. What do you suggest as the way out?
Politicians and businessmen are the ones making things difficult. Some of them are in oil importing business and they want to make profit. There was a law passed here that the minimum wage should be pegged at N18, 000. Up till now, many people are not being paid that minimum wage. We have governors who are very dishonest. They have been given money to pay these people but they have not done so. In Benue for instance, we have no industries. People depend on salary and salaries are not being paid. Yet, you have people who have a lot of money to the extent that some of them dug pits in their homes where they store money. Money is not being circulated. It’s not even in the banks. So, the ordinary person has no access to money. He wants to go back to farm but has no farming implements.
The only thing government can do is to try and reduce price. But how can government reduce prices when we do not manufacture anything in the country? We are a nation that consumes imported goods. So, how are we going to stabilize the economy? There is no way, because we depend on foreign goods. When you depend on foreign goods, you use dollars and not naira to import these goods. So, our economy is being dictated by the dollar. That is the problem we have. For instance in Benue State, we have massive land. Why can’t we acquire massive land, introduce dry season farming and get school leavers to go and start working in these places so they would make money to live on. That has been our problem. Our people don’t plan. They only think about how to make money today. That is why people are killing themselves to go to the National Assembly because once they get there, they will make money. Some of them have even taken to black marketing. They would go to the bank, get dollars and instead of importing equipment to come and manufacture things here, they take the dollars to black markets and get more profits than they would have gotten if they established a company. That is what is killing us. What the federal government should do is to try and get loyal security officers, pay them sufficiently, expand their number, then disperse them all over the country to carry out undercover surveillance on people who are trying to subvert the economy of this country. Currently, there are many people with great ideas who are just going about without jobs. The few that have jobs are not being paid properly. In Benue State, teachers have not been paid for 10 months. If these teachers go to school what are they going to teach? They would teach negative things. Some have even become fraudsters. So, it’s bad. We don’t have patriotic leaders in this country.
How would you react to the heroic welcome given to former governor of Delta State, James Ibori?
It’s a great shame. In other societies, when somebody is jailed for act of dishonesty or corruption and has spent four years in jail, such a person is stigmatized to send a message across to other people that committing crime is not good. But now, these people are celebrating Ibori, and the man came back triumphantly. As far as he is concerned, he had not done anything bad. This man shortchanged the same people who are celebrating him because he stole the money meant for the development of that area. Yet, they are celebrating him and he is happy. That is the problem we have in Nigeria.
How would you react to the fuel scarcity that is gradually hitting states across the country? When fuel price was increased to N145, Nigerians were told subsidy had been completely removed. Now we are hearing about plans to further increase pump price again. What is your take on this?
I don’t know much about this, but I do know that the vandalisation of pipelines can also cause fuel price to increase because daily output has been reduced completely and therefore we are not having fuel the way we should have. Secondly, I understand the local refineries are not working. Diesel is about N250 today. I think government should do something about it because if we are producing oil, oil should be cheap in this country. Saudi Arabia produces oil and oil is very cheap there. Here, you are not paying people well, children can’t go to school, yet oil price has gone up, and people must go to the hospital, they must eat food and so on. The situation is really very bad. Government must do something about it. Fuel dealers too should sympathize with the ordinary people because government officials are not feeling the heat at all. And even if fuel price is hiked to N1000 a litre, they would still use their vehicles because the money is not from their pockets. So, they are not feeling the heat like the ordinary people.
Published Feb 2017 on Nigeria Today