Tuesday, 6 December 2016

‘Buhari’s strength are the poor, not elite’

Malam Mohammed Lawal is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who served as deputy director, Coordination/Implementation of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council in 2015. He is now a board member of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In this interview, he took a swipe at ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and others who recently faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s approach to governance. Excerpts:

President Muhammadu Buhari was recently attacked by several people who were his supporters during the 2015 elections. What is responsible for their about-turn?
The president met a lot of challenges on ground. If you’re not in the system, you can hardly know the full scope of the challenges. The way and manner in which the handing over was done last year, the former regime set many booby traps for President Buhari’s new government. The handing over was supposed to be done in good time but it was almost on the day they were going that they handed over the notes. When you see the revelations coming out now, you begin to understand why they held on to the handing over notes until the last day. So, the challenges are enormous and people should understand why the government is being extremely careful in how it goes about tackling the problems.
Why do you think former President Obasanjo has started retracing his steps by asking the president to stop blaming the previous governments and look to the future?
Nobody can say that this government has not been facing challenges. For instance, if you look at the Boko Haram issue, you must give credit to this government because by all standards, the government has done very well in tackling the issue of security. If insecurity had not been addressed, people like Obasanjo would’ve been complaining more loudly. Without security, even the economy cannot function. So, those saying that this government has not addressed critical issues are not being fair.
Before the coming of this government, about two-thirds of Borno State was under Boko Haram and it was even making serious incursions in Abuja, Kano and Kaduna. Where are we today? Are we not making serious gains? People should be fair; security must be the first thing to be addressed before the economy. How can we close our eyes and say the government hasn’t done anything? It’s politics because some people probably did not get what they want, or they’re not seeing things the way they want to see them. And most importantly, people who are outside the ring always see differently from the person that’s actually doing the boxing in the ring.
But as a former Head of State, a former president and someone who stood by Buhari, can we say Obasanjo is seeing things from outside the ring?
Well, we know who Obasanjo is. I can recall about three successive regimes that Obasanjo started very well with them. But it never ended well. In fact, I saw this coming because that’s Obasanjo’s habit, that’s his character, it’s his antecedent. Recall that Obasanjo had said that he foresaw this recession coming, that he even told ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Recession has a circle; it doesn’t happen in one or two years. The indices and parameters that normally herald recession have been there for quite long. Therefore, it’s not Buhari who caused it. You mean we should not look at the past? If you want it that way, honestly, you’ll go into more trouble. Obasanjo should not say what was seen should just be forgotten.
Besides Obasanjo, other prominent Nigerians are not with Buhari on the $29.9 billion foreign loan. Are they all on the wrong side as well?
Look, America is the biggest economy in the world and they’re indebted to the tune of $20 trillion. Yet, their economy is doing well. There’s nothing wrong in taking a loan. The most important thing is if you take a loan, what do you use it for?
Do you support Buhari’s plan to obtain the loan?
I support him very well because the infrastructure that would be put in place would repay the loan. For instance, we can have toll gates on our roads and you know that with this regime, nobody can pocket the proceeds. We’re trying to commercialise agriculture. Therefore, dams that are going to be built in order to promote irrigation would be used for such purposes.
Don’t you think that the argument in some quarters that the president does not have the right people to help him translate all these ideas into reality is real?
What do you mean by right people?
It’s now over a year when they were appointed but many of the ministers are not performing...?
It’s the issue of what they met on ground in their various ministries. People like Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah and Obasanjo are saying we should not be talking of the rot that was met on ground; that we should sweep everything under the carpet and proceed. Is that wise advice? With the revelation of corruption in the military and other agencies, you expect Buhari to say let’s just forget about everything and continue with what we’ve? There’re huge challenges and what you’re hearing and seeing is not even one tenth of the damage done to the country in terms of plunder of the common patrimony.
The wisdom behind doing things carefully and meticulously is always better than rushing things and making mistakes which you’ll regret in the long run. Of course, people are worried because of many factors. But you cannot take it away from Buhari that he means well for this country.
What’s your take on the prediction by another ally of Buhari, Engr. Buba Galadima, that nothing will come out of the government because the president is working with his enemies?
I don’t agree with what he said. Buhari was a former Head of State. Therefore, it’s childish for Buba to say that Buhari is surrounded by his enemies. Buba is aggrieved. I have known him since 1992 and he’s aggrieved because he does not have any appointment which he needs. He didn’t get the attention that he needed.
If the criticisms are coming from somebody who’s being taken care of, I would take it more seriously but not from somebody who’s aggrieved. They allege that Buhari is surrounded by a cabal. What cabal? In every power centre, there’s a cabal; the only problem is if the cabal is selfish or self-centred. We were together with Buba in the defunct CPC and he was the closest person to Buhari. Whatever he said, Buhari will go by it. So, he was part of the cabal.
Why did they part ways?
Well, let Buba say it. As far as I’m concerned, he has never said he’s not with Buhari. He’s talking as a Nigerian and he has the right to voice his opinion, the right to support whoever he wants. During the APC primaries, he supported ex-governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and Buhari did not complain. He didn’t say Buba should not support who he wants. So, simply because Kwankwaso lost and Buhari won, then, it is going to be war?
Buba Galadima said government is not moving because there’re over 500 boards that are occupied by the PDP members to the detriment of the APC members. Is that true?
Nigeria is a very difficult country to govern. If on the day Buhari was sworn in, he had said all PDP members on the boards should go, you will see how Nigerians would react. There’s no way all these things could be rushed.
Don’t you think that the APC members are running out of patience after two years into a four-year tenure. You’ve hundreds of members who worked for your success but are watching things from a distance?
They’re running out of patience, but nobody, not even Buba will say that not giving board appointments is something deliberate in order to punish anybody. Yes, we’re approaching two years. But once it’s done, many of those complaining will forget about the delay. You see, the state chapters of the party were asked to bring nominees to fill the boards. The SGF’s office was coordinating. But many things were discovered. Honestly speaking, if it was rushed and done, Nigerians would say things worse than what they’re saying now. This administration can never be accused of nepotism or corruption.
There’s need to do the right thing in order to make sure that people that actually worked and assisted towards bringing this administration to power are properly given what they’re entitled to.
Why do you think Hajiya Naja’atu Mohammed and Mrs. Pauline Tallen rejected appointments when you said things are being done meticulously?
I can say that Comrade Naja’atu was expecting something bigger than what she was given. Please, is it right to say that you must be given a certain thing? I never expected the appointment given to me. When it came, I was even outside the country. People kept calling, saying they heard of it and I said I didn’t know. So, it came as a surprise and I took it as something from God. Whether I like it or not, I see it as a means of contributing my own quota to the development of the country.
Are you aware that there’s widespread disaffection in your party?
Right from the beginning of the APC, people were struggling to control spaces to their advantage. Those who are not strong couldn’t take advantage of the situation, while the strong took advantage. The trouble is still there.
Some think the trouble could not be resolved because of lack of leadership. What do you think is the way out?
Buba said that and for goodness sake, how can he say Buhari is indifferent to party politics?  How can he say the president doesn’t like politicians? It’s really terrible for him to say that.
He’s not the only one saying the party is very poor and it cannot hold itself…?
So, Buhari should take money from government and give it to the APC to pay salaries of its staff? I’m happy Buba explained how monies are sourced to run party affairs - by levying members.  You want Buhari to take government money and give the APC? We can’t do that. We’re not the PDP. Let the party make effort to collect the levies that are supposed to come from members. There is separation of responsibility between the president and the party leadership. He has to allow them do their job.
With all these disaffections, do you think the APC will survive 2019?
2019 is even far. I assure you that by next year, you will see the APC as you’ve never thought it would be.
It would come.
Has 18 months of President Buhari been worth it?
Go to the North East which was ravaged by the Boko Haram and ask them if Buhari’s presidency is worth it.
What of the poor man in the village?
I always ask the question at my polling unit. The ordinary people say they’re with Buhari forever. That’s Buhari’s strength. Ordinary people understand the circumstances the President found himself in, more than the elite.

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