Senator Olu Alabi represented Osun Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly between 1991 and 1992. He was once the chairman of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja and Pro-Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. In this interview by OLUWOLE IGE, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain speaks of the genesis of the crisis rocking his party, the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari, economic recession, among other issues.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, he has demonstrated his resolve to remove corruption from the body politic. But the impression in some quarters is that his anti-graft war is targeted at the opposition members. What is your take in this?
That is quite obvious. You cannot tell me that a PDP governor in the last regime who defected to the APC at the twilight of his tenure has suddenly become a saint. I have not seen anybody who defected from the PDP to the APC probed by the EFCC. The same thing goes for the ministers. It is now even the practice of some elder statesmen who think they might face probe for one thing or the other to abandon their political party for the APC. It is very glaring. I don’t know whether the anti-graft agencies have no information on other governors and the ministers. If we are going to fight corruption, let corruption be fought thoroughly without any form of political discrimination or targeting the PDP members or people who are sympathetic towards the PDP. That is my submission.
As a businessman and former lawmaker, what do you think is the way out of the present economic recession in the country?
It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this situation. The first major issue we have to address is how we can increase our income. Unfortunately, our economy is monolithic with heavy dependence on oil revenue, even though the incumbent government is trying to diversify. But no matter the kind of diversification we want to do, it would not generate result overnight. If you look at the agricultural sector, it has a gestation period. Even if you establish factories and resuscitate moribund ones like the steel rolling mills, it will still take some time before they can generate any form of income. The first thing the Federal Government should do is to appease Niger Delta militants to stop bombing and destruction of oil facilities so as to stem loss of revenue from oil. This is because no matter how much we reduce our expenditure, if the income remains down, it would be impossible to make a positive difference. Lucky enough, the Federal Government has blocked most of the loopholes through which the government’s finances leak otherwise the so-called budget we have put up this year, we would not have enough funds to implement. The crisis we have in the manufacturing sector is due to lack of foreign exchange. Right now, naira has been devalued beyond expectation and the costs of goods and service have increased accordingly. The government has to come up with urgent and potent measures to shore up our revenue.
Some of the economic policies of Buhari’s administration have come under criticism, particularly the last increase in the price of petrol. Since then, prices of goods and services have skyrocketed. Do you think Nigerians deserve this kind of policy at this point in time?
It is quite unfortunate that this is happening. Even President Buhari said that devaluation of naira could not solve our problems. He said it at every forum he attended that he did not believe in the devaluation of naira. Naira has been devalued and that is why prices have gone up. I have a water factory. The price of nylon with which we pack pure water has increased from N500 per kilogramme to N1,200 and you cannot say you want to double the price of pure water. So, what we are doing is downsizing. If your factory employed about 50 people before, you will reduce them to about 30. So, President Buhari is pursuing a policy which he naturally does not believe in. He said they put a lot of pressure on him when he was military head of state and that nobody could convince him on the need to devalue naira. No sooner was he overthrown than naira was devalued. He said he never saw the advantage. So, if he held that view and still holds it now, I don’t know why the theoretical economists should be allowed to push the naira to the level it is now. Unless something is done fast, this would be the beginning of the downward movement of every sector in this country. Recently, the Director General of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in economic policy formulation, there are two sets of people who must come together, namely, the theoretical economists and the empirical economists who deal with the practical aspect of the economy. We have the theoretical economists in quantum in our universities. But the practical economists are those involved in the manufacturing sector, banking and financial institutions. Those are the people who know where the shoes are pinching.
I really cannot see light at the end of the tunnel unless the president goes back to what he initially believed in. You cannot allow a free fall of naira in a country like ours that has no statistical data on almost anything, where our taste for luxury items is limitless and where our culture, social and religious, is uncontrolled. You want to get married, you spend millions of naira. Instead of spending N2 million on a hall to have a successful wedding, I am sure the couple would be very happy if you give them N1million to take off in life. But the impression of some people is that my son or daughter is getting married, I must do it in grand style. That is a part of our culture that must be changed. We have to change our orientation towards a lot of things, including governance and religious undertaking. In some churches, they would say we need N10 million and they want just five people to contribute it and you would see cashiers of some companies making donations and the elders in the church would not ask what is the source of the money. We have to change our orientation even in dressing. Go to our neighbhours in Ghana, they dress simply but in Nigeria, we dress to kill! Our economy cannot sustain this kind of governance where almost 60 percent of our budget is going on emoluments and allowances, especially for my colleagues in the National Assembly
Recently, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), emphasised the need for legislators to be operating on a part-time basis to reduce the funds being expended on them?
I agree with ex-President Babangida completely. Firstly, if they make legislature part time, two things would happen. We would save money and those who genuinely want to serve the country would emerge. This is because fights for elective posts or public appointments in Nigeria are laced with highest level of desperation. See what happened in Britain recently. The Prime Minister lost the Brexit vote and he had to resign. It was a tug of war to get somebody to replace him. In Nigeria, to become a prime minister or president without election, people will kill themselves over it. In the United Kingdom, there is accountability. You cannot become rich overnight and people will not ask question. You cannot go and buy two houses in Saudi Arabia or Dubai and claim the money is from your allowance as a civil servant. These are things we must change. Those who want to serve this country genuinely would contest election and serve the people. The primary business of service would be there. But, you see, somebody who resigned or who was sacked from a bank would go and borrow money to contest election and become an honourable member or senator. The first thing he would do after winning the election is to recoup the money the electorate collected from him when contesting. In our culture here that when you want to contest election, you must look for money and sell your properties to get cash otherwise nobody would vote for you. The last delegate election we had in PDP about two weeks ago in Osun State, those of us they voted for as delegates when we were going to Port Harcourt, many people were expecting us to give them money. You can imagine if it were to be on a bigger scale. Gone are the days when people would contribute money for you to be elected, so when you get elected, your primary interest is to see to the welfare of these people. As it is now, corruption starts right from the grass roots. As they say, when you do the same thing the same way, you get the same result.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in a recent report, said there is the possibility of Nigeria’s economy collapsing before December. What do you think we can do to prevent this from coming to pass?
Some of these international agencies don’t mean well for us as a country. The moment you don’t swallow their pills, they predict doom. You will recollect that before the 2015 general election, they said the disintegration of Nigeria was imminent. The election came and was gone but Nigeria did not disintegrate. Although there are indices that at the rate our economy is going, the tendency of its collapse is quite imminent, our economy is monolithic and we have to see how we can sustain our mono economy in such a way that we enhance our revenue generation. Some people are saying taxation is the solution. It is like a tired horse that you are beating. It will still run but the increase in speed would not be much. The rate at which the governments tax people now is unprecedented. There is multiple taxation. This one would come and say it is local government taxation, next minute, the state would come for its taxes. The fire brigade, the tourism board would also demand for taxes. At the end of the day, even the so-called SMEs, where I belong, would spend all our income, even business capital on taxes. For them to be concentrating efforts to rake in taxes from SMEs and women selling pepper on the streets is like aggravating an already bad situation. That is why the government must appease the Niger Delta Avengers to stop the bombing and destruction of oil pipelines. I am happy that President Buhari has directed that search for oil in Lake Chad should be intensified. Even though this might be an exercise in futility, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Some people are of the view that the protracted crisis rocking the PDP is a ploy by some powerful elements to use Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to destroy the party. Do you subscribe to this position?
That is one of the common things I have experienced in life. As a medical practitioner, when a patient dies in your hospital in the North, the general belief is that it is an act of God. But in the South, when the terminal cancer patient dies in your hospital, it is the old woman who sneezed yesterday that must have killed that patient. They must find a fault and cause. If you ask me what has led us to this crisis in the PDP, I would tell you the whole thing started in the PDP of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s days. The downfall of PDP started during Obasanjo’s period, when our great party decided that the sitting president would be national leader of the party, while the state governors would be the leaders of the party in their respective states. I personally met Baba Obasanjo that this law or rule or directive wouldn’t be sustainable. I was then the chairman of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in Abuja. I told him that the party should allow leaders to emerge in each community. I said a time would come when an incumbent governor might not accept a past governor as a leader due to local rivalry. That is what is playing out now. For example, Godswill Akpabio smoked out Victor Attah in Akwa Ibom State, Sullivan Chime chased out Chimaroke Nnamani in Enugu State, Uzor Kalu pushed out Idi Kalu in Abia State, while the most interesting situation is happening in Kano State right now, where [Abdullahi Umar] Ganduje, a former deputy to [Rabiu] Kwankwaso and, in fact, the first deputy to succeed his boss, has now formed a parallel executive in Kano and is giving Kwankwaso the fight of his life. [Rotimi] Amaechi should not attempt to enter Port Harcourt in daytime because of ravaging [Nyesom] Wike, his former aide. This shows the transience of power and our current PDP governors who are now power drunk must learn a lesson. Some of the governors are quite mild, like Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo State.
There are three types of people in the PDP. The first are those who are ready to cross to the other party at any time when things are not rosy again. The second group comprises people who are too honourable to jump to another party in the face of frustration. They will just stay put and siddon look like the late Chief Bola Ige would say. The third group is where I belong. I will not siddon look. I will not cross over to any other party but stay until we can redeem the party. The way forward has manifested. Thank God, the last Port Harcourt convention ended in a fiasco, even though Governor Wike and his gang said it was successful. We could have ended up with a fresh complication, another ‘baby’ chairman, who has no respect for his geopolitical zone and whom nobody in the South West could have recognised but already ordained by some ‘powerful’ despots. Governors Wike and Fayose took Senator Ali Modu Sheriff for granted while they went ahead to ride on the back of ‘Tiger’ Sherriff and both of them ended in his (Sheriff’s) stomach. The way forward is to set up a joint reconciliation committee comprising nominees from both Sheriff’s group and Makarfi’s group under the chairmanship of an elderly member like Pa Alex Ekwueme or Pa Tony Anenih or any experienced and respected elderly politician who still believes in the survival of the PDP. This reconciliation should go down the line from the zones to the wards. A lot of our members believe in this. The PDP still enjoys the goodwill of the people, compared to the current clueless APC. Even all the world wars ended on a reconciliatory roundtable.
Presently in Osun State, we have two groups of executives of the PDP. Is it the crisis at the national level of the party that has led to this?
The leadership crisis at the national level has contributed to the crisis in Osun PDP. But the dual chairmanship situation is peculiar to Osun. In Osun, it is a case of one member against the rest of the PDP members. When it comes to factional issue, if you create a faction, some people would line up behind you. It was unfortunate that we had some controversies when we had the congress where the state executives were elected. Right from the time, the former executive of the PDP zoned the chairmanship position, according to our constitution, to Ife/Ijesha axis so that that the governorship candidate can come from Senatorial 1or 2. That was the beginning of the problem. Somehow, we were able to resolve it. The two aspirants for the chairmanship position came from Ife/Ijesha zone. Trouble started when a member of our party, who was the last gubernatorial candidate of the party, decided to pitch his tent against the congress we had at the Osogbo Township Stadium. When we were one, we could not win election. It is my wish that all the members of the PDP in Osun should come together. Anything that is causing division should be sorted out. We have two factions in Osun PDP. In one faction, almost all the elders of the party are there. All the members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) are in this camp. Most of the who is who in Osun PDP are in this camp. All efforts to come to a roundtable conference have been rebuffed. Left to me, the only thing we could do is for Adagunodo and Faforiji factions to come together and explore political option to resolve the differences. It can’t be resolved through court. Political solution remains the best option. What is irritating is to say a congress was not held. It is not right. The congress was witnessed by INEC officials and security agencies. The party sent a retired judge from Taraba State to supervise the congress. Those of us supporting Soji Adagunodo, who was elected chairman during the congress, are ready for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The arrowhead of people who support Dr Bayo Faforiji is Senator Iyiola Omisore. Omisore is a very important member of the PDP. He is a man we cannot do without. We cannot afford to lose more important members of our party. That was what happened to us during the last governorship election. At the twilight of our campaign, we lost Senator Isiaka Adeleke to the APC and we knew the result. So, we cannot afford to allow Omisore and his followers to leave the party.
How would you describe your experience in dealing with the powerful elites in the North where you practise medicine, in Kaduna?
I lived in the North for almost 40 years. There is hierarchy in the North. There are people who take decision at the top echelon. There are the middle class, who are the foot soldiers. They understudy their leaders and they carry out the instruction of elders as much as possible. We have the third and last stage of people. They are the younger ones learning the ropes. That used to be the practice in the South West. But of recent, the youth don’t want to see any elderly man in politics. They would say why these old people again?! In politics, there is a minimum age but no maximum age. You practise politics until you die. There are too many ambitious young men and ladies in the South West these days. My experience in the North is that there is respect for the elders. That is not to say that there are not one or two exceptions to the rules. When you talk of my late friend, Junaid Mohammed, he was a radical of a special class. Fortunately, most of the times he talked, he made sense. The only thing is that he was too radical for the system, from which he was operating. That is the difference between the North and South West on political setup.