A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and former Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, bares his mind to DANIEL AYANTOYE on the current administration’s policies, state police, among other issues
A lot of Nigerians are currently suffering economic hardship. What is your take on this?
I agree with you sincerely that Nigerians are suffering; that is an incontrovertible fact. Nobody can deny this fact. Mr President, Vice President and all of us, the entire leadership of All Progressives Congress are very much concerned about the economic hardship in the land and are frantically providing solutions. President Tinubu’s economic team is working round the clock to provide durable solutions and move Nigerians to economic prosperity.
But it appears the work is not translating into results. In fact, some have said things are getting worse, especially after the removal of fuel subsidy. What do you think?
I think what Mr President did was the adoption of ancient Edison’s maxim that ‘it will be suicidal to continue to use one method and expect different results’. We all know the humongous amount we lost in the fuel subsidy regime and parallel foreign exchange ratings.
This is why the three leading presidential candidates are all on the same page during the electioneering campaign regarding the issues of fuel subsidy removal and harmonisation of the naira exchange rate. All had in their manifesto the removal of fuel subsidy and unification of our national currency, the naira.
Don’t you think this is an excuse? Nigerians want results.
Permit me to remind you that it is always easy to plot and canvass differentials especially in the midst of hardship we are in today. Before answering your question, bear in mind that we, the progressives are averse to anti-people’s programmes. Unfortunately, since 1986, when neo-liberalism was introduced into our economic system, we are kind of trapped with what they call the Washington Consensus.
Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi have mentioned that their approach could have been different from the unplanned and hasty approach of Tinubu. What do you make of it?
None of them had advanced tangentially alternate viewpoints. I was even excited when His Excellency Atiku Abubakar made an attempt to construct a mountain of demarcation, albeit ending up constructing more or less a molehill. I don’t know whether you will permit me to quote a lucid article by Lawson Omokhodion in one of the national dailies, recalling how His Excellency Abubakar as the Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, was one of the masterminds of the rain that is heavily drenching us today.
What do you mean by that?
For instance, in a report on July 12, 2021, the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises said that between the years of 1989 and 2020, a total of 234 federal public enterprises were privatised and that the Federal Government realised a huge sum of N1tn as proceeds from the exercise. At any rate, for an immediate solution, one still challenges Atiku or Obi to offer us alternatives outside what we are doing if there are any.
Please, offer us in the interest of our dear fatherland. All I know is that foreign investors have adopted President Tinubu’s economic policies. All we are working on now is the buy-in of the greatest number of Nigerians with durable programmes like the Renewed Mass Housing Scheme launched a few days ago by Mr President and packaged by the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
How will you react to the criticism of the economic policy and approach of the current administration?
Please, bear in mind that we, the progressives, are averse to anti-people programmes, and we frown on any policy which erodes human dignity.
But please, be aware that one of the policies which brought about The Renewed Hope Mass Housing Scheme is not going to end up as platitudes. I discussed this at length with the Minister of Housing, Ahmed Dangiwa, and I learnt a lot from him. Don’t forget that he was once the Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.
Again, the minister is drawing his powers from the National Housing Fund Act as amended, which explicitly states that the housing scheme encompasses persons whether self-employed or in paid employment. It is a one-size-fits-all that covers all the citizenry, and don’t forget that adequate shelter is one of the fastest routes to poverty alleviation and family prosperity.
But even the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria has also been marred with several controversies as there have been calls for its privatisation over lack of proper management.
Please, check your facts because one has been dealing with FMBN for the last six years. They were the ones who approved 2,000 apartments for Voice of Nigeria at Lugbe and Ikorodu, which were sabotaged, as earlier reported.
Before I left VON, the trade union was persuaded to renew the efforts to build the staff housing, and the bid is ongoing with developers in place.
On the issue of those who canvassed privatisation, please always check whether they are canvassing for us or themselves. These are the people who overdrive against the principles of the exercise.
The World Bank and international agencies insist that there is no need to privatise profitable state-owned enterprises, but they continuously breach this valid provision.
For example, when Niger Dock was privatised and the Hilton Hotel, for instance, they were healthy by any standard and making profits.
I remember vividly how the former Managing Director of Niger Dock, Chief Nnamdi Ozobia, went to Chief Ojo Maduekwe’s house, pleading that it would be a great service to the Nigerian State. I don’t think he survived the trauma, for he even volunteered to resign if he was the target.
The NLC and TUC recently gave a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to implement the agreement they had concerning minimum wage, wage award, and some other issues. Don’t you think this is an indication of a failing government?
I am fully aware that the labour unions expressed their sadness that despite the passage of time, the majority of the crucial agreements reached with the Federal Government remain unmet or negligibly addressed, indicating a blatant disregard for the principles of good faith, welfare and rights of Nigerian workers and Nigerians.
My honest appeal to President Tinubu and the Labour unions is to key into the mass housing scheme he launched a few days ago. Instead of increasing salaries, which automatically will further spike inflation, why not work seamlessly with labour, owner-occupier houses at any location of their choice anywhere in the country for both government and non-government employees?
To avoid inflation fleecing away monies arising from the salary increase, why not pump a good percentage of the accruals from fuel subsidy into mass housing? With such a housing scheme, a lot of international investment will be attracted and the National Housing Fund Act can be activated and squeeze contributions from banks. This will be a win-win for all as it will bolster employment, change work ethics, and heave out rentage from the expenditure of workers across the board.
By April this year, the N30,000 minimum wage will no longer be constitutional. What is your opinion about the need to increase workers’ wages, especially in the current economic decline?
My honest take is that instead of an arbitrary increase in wages, which may fuel already spiked inflation, an urgent and well-coordinated mass housing scheme is a better option and more durable policy at this crucial phase of our national development. I suggest huge borrowing to shelter the greatest number of Nigerians who are homeless. Mortgaged shelter engenders hard work, discipline, and improved work ethics.
Shelter mortgage debt in the fullness of time pays back; this is why it’s fundamental in advanced economies. Imagine why when Nigerians relocate abroad, their work ethics of punctuality and dedication to duty improve dramatically and greatly. It is the human affinity and burning desire of man to have shelter, which Maslow classified in his hierarchy of needs.
What do you think should be done by the Federal Government to salvage the economic situation?
Outside the palliatives, there are other programmes targeted to lift millions out of poverty like the Green Imperative Project aimed at total mechanisation of our agriculture. It was started by Buhari’s administration. GIP is structured to supply farm implements commensurate to the crops in each locality and is designed to cover the 774 local government areas coupled with processing plants of over 100 nationwide.
The mechanised equipment centres will have tractor drivers and mechanics for easy operations and repairs. To have all hands on deck, it will be managed by public and private sector capable hands. This project will employ millions of Nigerians both directly and indirectly, hence providing prosperity
Your party promised to tackle insecurity even before Buhari’s administration left, and many are saying that the party has failed. Don’t you think so?
Regrettably, we failed to contain the unintended consequences of the Boko Haram insurgency and succeeded to a large extent in containing Boko Haram insecurity in the North-East. We failed, no doubt, in containing sequel outliers of insecurity like kidnapping, but we’re making frantic efforts to cover all the lapses.
The rate of kidnapping has also become rampant with huge money being paid as ransom to the kidnappers. Why do you think it is difficult for the government to solve this menace? Do you support state police as an option?
Whereas one is not against state police as an option; however, given the subsisting fierce raging debate between pro-state police and strident opposition against state police, methinks the Special Constabulary provided in Sections 105109 of the 2020 Nigeria Police Act killed the two birds with one stone.
The Special Constabulary should be adopted nationwide as a middle ground that accords the governors and local leaders a unit of the Nigeria Police Force closer to them and at the same time, arming the Federal Government with tiny strings for control.
How will you react to the claim that some governors will abuse state police if such a system of policing is embraced by the country?
Our governors are emperors, and if you further arm them, it means goodbye to democracy. Do you believe that the governors killed the fundamental restructuring exercise Buhari’s administration recorded, like the first-line charge funding of State Judiciary and State Legislatures? If they had implemented these fine tenets of democracy, the state Judiciary and state Legislatures could have turned new leaves, drastically curbing corruption and advancing the prosperity of lives at the sub-national levels.
Some have said the current security challenge in the country has a political undertone. Do you believe this?
It is a blatant falsehood and falls under the fallacy of generalisation. This scenario occurs when humanity is in crisis. It is not unusual. Please, whenever this fraudulent allegation is made, ask the government in place to arrest the culprits. Why are they protecting the culprits who are undermining our development and killing innocent citizens if they are actually aware of the culprits?
Some people have criticised President Tinubu for not having anti-corruption in his agenda. What do you make of this?
For me, the anti-graft war is a work in progress and not a day journey. President Tinubu may end up shocking a lot of people, for we have recorded a history of changes coming from unexpected quarters. Don’t forget that his wife, the 1st Lady, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, pledged at the Christian Ecumenical Centre, Abuja, last year, that they were not in power to loot because the Almighty God had already blessed the family.
A civil society organisation, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, some time ago, accused President Bola Tinubu of appointing persons believed to be corrupt in his government. What do you make of this?
The little one knows is that Tinubu may not likely go to heaven and demand from the Almighty God to release those holy Nigerians who are in heaven to come back to minister to us. He has to do with what we have on the ground.
What I am sure of is that Nigerians are good followers and if he demonstrates in all ramifications an impeccable transparency, his ministers will follow through. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt.
Isn’t it evident in what they have said following the recently exposed alleged fraud in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation that has led to the suspension of the Minister, Betta Edu?
My understanding is that a committee has been set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding what some dubbed Betagate. The doctrine of the rule of law admonished us to cool down and wait for the outcome of such probe, for the legal process takes some time. All we need is patience. I stand by her until evidence is adduced to the contrary. Suspension for me is the first step.
Do you think this government is willing to fight corruption?
Yes, I do, all we plead is please, just give the administration the benefit of the doubt, for my people have a saying that it is faulty to assess the ongoing market which is just taking off. Keep your eyes on the ball.
In 2016 when you assumed office as the director general of the Voice of Nigeria, you revealed that the agency was badly managed. Having stayed long in the agencies, how will you access the difference you made in the organisation?
Without being immodest or unduly giving myself a pass mark; one can say with all humility that I did my best in the advancement of VON’s digital media platform; the records are with an impending visual radio in the process. One acquired a new office building, and a befitting edifice, and also built solar panels to supplement the huge power consumption of 1.3MW transmitters at Lugbe, Abuja. One also concluded a plan of staff housing with a requisite mortgage backed by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, this project was sabotaged by those who wittingly or unwittingly thought that my success would offend their sensibilities.
In summary, they did neither understand the import nor the correlation between the welfare of staff and productivity.
In February 2023, you said you were working for the APC to be able to retain your position as Director General, Voice of Nigeria. You were sacked despite the APC and Tinubu victory. How did you hear about the sacking and how did you feel when you heard that the man you worked for had ordered your sacking?
As a foundation member of the APC, it was incumbent on me to support the presidential candidate of my party, not basically because of my office. Secondly, one was not sacked, but there was an institutional reshuffle that affected six out of eight agencies of the Ministry of Information and National Orientation.
In fact, the principal agencies like the NBC and our parent agency were affected. It was neither personal nor vindictive; it was applicable to all Federal MDAs, I stand to be contradicted. Those who wanted me out lost the battle in 2021 when my first tenure was renewed by President Buhari.
What is your expectation from the new DG?
Mallam Jibrin Ndance, my successor as the new DG, is a consummate professional and will definitely advance the frontiers of the Voice of Nigeria. I have the confidence that he will do well. Don’t forget that I worked with him when he was the Special Adviser to the Minister, the Kakaki Nupe, Malam Mohammed Idris.
On January 29, 2022, it was reported that the EFCC detained you over an alleged conspiracy, abuse of office, and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N1.3bn and subsequently, you were released. What really happened?
My simple answer is that it was politically motivated by those who thought President Buhari would use me to replace their friend.
Back to your constituency; how will you describe the low appointment of Igbo in the cabinet of President Tinubu as some Igbo leaders once accused the President of marginalisation?
The truth is that we were less than equitably rated.
However, Mr President, going by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has the sole mandate to delegate power to whosoever he fancies and that power is what he exercised.
And the market, as I said, has just taken off. He may readjust and rate us better, for I don’t think Tinubu will adopt Buhari’s award of eight-year tenure to the majority of his ministers.
You once stated that Tinubu should not be blamed for getting the poorest votes in the South-West. Are you still insisting on this? If yes, who is to be blamed?
Yes, I blamed our APC leaders who were not broadminded. As I said, let’s hope President Tinubu will not run eight years ministerial tenure.
As a veteran, Mr President now knows those leaders who made him score the poorest votes in the South-East and whose penchant is cronyism. Therefore, Ndigbo may have their due percentage posting in the spirit of inclusion.
Prior to the 2023 election, the Igbo believed that it was their turn to be president but you supported Tinubu. With current realities, do you feel disappointed in his emergence?
As a party man, I supported my presidential candidate. But it was not only elder statesman Pa (Ayo) Adebanjo who held that view, it was founded on the truism of the principle of rotation convention which heralded the Fourth Republic Nigeria in 1999.
Going by the ethos and tenets of the order of rotation convention, it is noteworthy that out of the three geopolitical zones in the South, only the South-East has not presided over Nigeria since 1999.
Some are saying that with the current situation, Tinubu is putting his re-election for a second term at risk. Do you believe this?
I don’t believe that assumption for we were taught in primary school that assumption is the mother of all mistakes. I told you earlier that in the fullness of time, his economic policies will lead us to prosperity. When you study a country like Greece, a few years ago, it was rated as the crying baby of Europe.
Today, they adopted a similar path to prosperity, and Greece is shining today.
What they did was what Tinubu’s economic team is doing today, namely sober fiscal policies, steady forex rates, and attraction of foreign direct investment. Please, listen to the economic team, especially the new Governor of Central Bank, Yemi Cardoso.
There seems to be harmony between the fiscal and monetary policy heads, which naturally will generate synergy and positive outcomes of lower inflation and enhance all the indicators that engender prosperity.
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