We will beg Buhari to run in 2019 —Shittu

Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, has been in politics since the Second Republic when he was elected into the Oyo State House of Assembly as a young lawyer. In this interview with DARE ADEKANMBI, he speaks on the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari, his grouse with Governor Abiola Ajimobi, why he believes he will get the 2019 All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship ticket, among others. Excerpts:

 

IN a matter of weeks, it will be two years since Muhammadu Buhari became the ‘change president.’ What would you list as his achievements?

His campaign was based on three focal points. The first one is that he committed himself to fighting insurgency and criminality in the North-East and the South-South respectively. Secondly, he committed himself to fighting corruption to a standstill. Thirdly, he committed himself to reviving the economy. He has made awesome achievements on all these points. You will agree with me that the level of criminality in the North-East and the South-South was at its highest before we came on board.   About 14 local government councils in three states were firmly in the hands of Boko Haram criminals. But less than two years after his coming in, you’ll agree that he has virtually eliminated Boko Haram insurgency and no territory of Nigeria is under the rule of the Boko Haram sect.

As of today, everything has virtually returned to normal in the Niger Delta. We have left the stage of war-war for the stage of jaw-jaw.  Also in the area of corruption,if you have been constant with the news and I am happy you are a newsman, you know very well and you will agree that a lot of the rot of the PDP days is being uncovered and a lot of stolen monies are being recovered.  Through the whistle-blowing policy of the Buhari administration, billions of dollars, not just naira, are being recovered from all over. Aside from that, a lot of leakages have been plugged through the Treasury Single Account policy of the Federal Government.

Before Buhari came on board, the production level of crude oil was about 2.2 million barrels per day and crude oil was selling for about $140 a barrel. By the time he came on board, the price of oil had crashed to about $38 and production level dropped from 2.2 mbpd to about 900, 000 mbpd. It was that bad. But through effective checkmating of criminality in the Niger Delta, the production level has almost got to its pre-Buhari era. Again, I am happy to say that the price of oil has gone up to between $50 and $60 per barrel. Government has shifted focus to diversifying the economy from crude oil. A lot of work has been done in the agric sector about this. Today, the average farmers in Kano, Oyo, Benin are smiling to the banks. I have got evidence in Kano; the common indicator of a new lease of life for farmers is that when they come from their farms with their produce, they go back to the farms riding new motorcycles. Even in Oyo State, a very responsible person told me that in Iseyin, what now makes people to realise that farmers have a new lease of life is that Iseyin farmers, like in many other places, are building new houses; some of them are building more than one house. There has been a rejuvenation of economic activities around agriculture. Again, in regard to trade, there has been a campaign towards bringing about the culture of consuming what we produce locally. Of course, we must also export and which is why the Buhari government is ensuring that a lot of farm produce is made so that we can export a multiplicity of local products to earn foreign exchange. The mining sector is also having rejuvenation. Of course the ICT sector, in the last one year alone, has added more than 1o per cent to the GDP and all these are through the various efforts of government. This government has achieved so much and I believe all that remains is for these achievements to be really publicised. I am strongly optimistic that in another six months, Nigerians will see things better with regards to the achievements of this administration.

 

What are the achievements in the area of infrastructure?

In the last budget of the immediate past administration, there was N28billion for infrastructure. In this year’s budget, infrastructure is taking about N520 billion. So, workers in many construction sites, which had packed up during the Jonathan era, are now moving back to sites with jobs being provided.  Look at the speed at which the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is being reconstructed! Look at the speed with which the Abuja Airport refurbishing was done! And now, government is also working very hard to ensure trans-national railway transportation. The Lagos-Ibadan railway, the Calabar-Maiduguri railway, the Abuja-Kaduna railway, the Lagos-Kano railway, and for the first time, the Calabar-Lagos railway. These are being done to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure to make life easy for Nigerians and to make their business run very well.

 

What you have listed as achievements notwithstanding, there are millions of Nigerians who are crying of hunger to the extent of many attempting suicide. Many more Nigerians have become poor in the last two years.

When people see a situation like this, they need to realise that it did not just start and that it was not caused by this government. We have had 16 years period of PDP in government. We have had the highest income coming into government coffers during the PDP years. How was the funds managed and how was the economy run? The economy cannot run where corruption was at its highest.  We have had 16 years of mismanagement and corruption in the country under the PDP. One thing everybody will bear witness to is that today, we have a president who we can guarantee will not steal Nigeria’s money and who will not tolerate any of his aides messing up the resources of the country.

 

Some of those working with him have been indicted of corrupt enrichment. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal was suspended by Buhari after a lot of condemnation from Nigerians.

That is to show goodwill on the part of the president. President Buhari has shown that in this war against corruption, no sacred cows will be allowed to remain. I am not saying that the official suspended is guilty. He is still going through a process. But the fact that the president has suspended him means that he means business. This will shut the mouths of those who wrongly accuse the president of discriminatory prosecutions. There cannot be any better way of showing seriousness on the part of government which believes that corruption must be attacked wherever and whoever is involved.

 

In spite of your defence of government, tongues are wagging that the government has unleashed the anti-graft agencies on members of the opposition who are being asked to refund campaign funds, as though the APC members did not spend money on campaign.

Well, the courts will decide. Where did they get those campaign funds? Look at the revelation from Niger State. If somebody deliberately sells government properties because he needs money for campaign and then describes such money as campaign funds, do you exonerate him from blame only because he has described the stolen funds as campaign funds? It is simple logic. So, many odd things have happened in this country in the past with regard to the management of the economy. In any case, if anybody says he is being prosecuted, is he saying that the courts are no more free and will no more listen to merit? Let them go to court. They are saying they are being prosecuted because they are PDP and not because they didn’t steal. Can that be a defence under the law?

 

Since President Buhari came back from the United Kingdom, we rarely see him in the public, even the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, he has not been attending for the last three weeks…

You don’t have to see him since his government is running smoothly.

 

But, he is a public figure and carries the destinies of millions of Nigerians who voted for him…

We work very closely with him and we see him. There was no FEC meeting because there was Easter. It was only last week that we didn’t have FEC meeting. The previous week, we had it which was presided over by the vice president. The Constitution of Nigeria says that the president shall run the government of the federation through the vice president or ministers and the president could decide to deploy any minister to any ministry or any other subject matter as he wishes. It is a constitutional privilege.

 

Nigerians demand to see him…

They will see him if they follow the proper procedure. The president will not be on exhibition because you need to see him. The president is a very busy man and attends to state matters. Most of these state matters will not be made at the market place. He has an office which is the Presidential Villa. He has a vice president, who has been very diligent, hardworking and intelligent. I remember that in one of our last sessions, the president said he would continue to benefit government with his age of wisdom and his strong military background, while the vice president has to his advantage, scholarship and youthfulness. When you combine these two, you get things running seamlessly. The president is not an actor or a dramatist. He is a serious-minded person who does not want any ears around him.
Do you think it is proper to make the state of his health a matter for the citizen to conjecture?

Even if it will not be a matter of conjecture, it must also not be a matter for talk about anyhow. We are all human beings and we get sick. So, if President Buhari is sick, it does not mean he is dying or dead. Come to think of it, if you go spiritual, you will know that you don’t have to be sick to die. It is not everybody who is sick that dies and it is not everybody who is not sick that will not die. The president said he has got the best medical attention from the best doctors around the world and he is back in the country. If he was not fit, he would not be released by his doctors to come back to the country.

 

But, it is said he ought to have gone back for a follow up check which a cabal in the Presidency is said to be holding him back from going because of the political backlash it will have….

I don’t know where you got that from. It is easy for people to engage in diversionary campaign against the president. A lot of people do this to divert his attention from serious governance which he has been doing for us. The president has said he is now fit to continue to lead the country. Since he came back, he has been attending meetings and attending to the files on his table, giving instructions to his officers. There is no breakdown in the management of the country, whether in the area of security, finance, general administration. And the Senate, which is the constitutionally recognised body to oversee issues like this one says it is satisfied with his performance and his state of health. So, what is the business of rabble-rousers who continue to conjecture devilish images about the president? I think it is all politically motivated by people who have lost out in the political process.

 

Do you think the president is fit to seek a re-election, as some people in government and in the party have been canvassing?

We still have two years. But I want to assure you that by the grace of God, we would urge him to seek re-election because it is only once in a while that you get a father figure for a nation to move forward and attain greatness. He is unlike former President Goodluck Jonathan, who never, with due respect, symbolised anything for the country. Buhari’s body language is enough to compel people to do things rightly. In the area of finances, electricity and others. A lot of people have had to sit up even before he speaks. So, we need the Buhari father figure for a length of time for the country to get its act right to attain greatness under his leadership.

 

You and about 16 others are slugging it out for the governorship ticket of the APC in Oyo State. Are you confident you will emerge, given the array of those in the race in your party?

I don’t get upset by the number. I expect we will have many more. But, I know that there are so many upstarts who only want attention for the purpose of either going to the Senate or  the House of Representatives or getting commissionership eventually. When the time comes, men will emerge and the boys will be separated. If you look at the records, I am the most senior in age among all the so-called governorship hopefuls. I am the most senior in terms of the years of commencement to politics. I started politics in 1979, after I had become a lawyer already. I became a member of the state House of Assembly as a fresh lawyer. So, if I was already a lawyer in 1979 before starting a political journey, you would agree with me that, looking at the records of all others, with due respect to them, there is none (of them) who came into politics less than 10 years after I had commenced my journey.

 

Niyi Akintola (SAN), who is one of the aspirants, was also in the House of Assembly many years…

If you care to know, he worked under me as a junior lawyer. He got his salary from me for about a year or two under me. He remains my junior brother and he also undoubtedly is very diligent in the profession. He has attained the rank of pride in the profession. But, he knows that he will have to support sooner than later. He will support me because experience cannot be purchased. I have gone through the mill. I was a member of the House of Assembly for four years; I was a commissioner twice; I have been a member of the Judicial Service Commission. Now, I am a minister. I have been in politics for 38 years and I have experience in all the three arms of government.

You know ICT is the change agent all over the world. As Minister of Communications, I have had a lot of exposure which no other aspirant has had in developing the Nigerian economy and using that experience to develop Oyo State to make it the ICT hub of Nigeria by the grace of God.

 

Some of the aspirants Adebayo Adelabu, who is a deputy governor in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Adedeji Zacch Adelabu, a former Finance Commissioner, both of whom people are saying are young and can bring about modern digital governance?

That does not matter. Is wisdom the exclusive preserve of the young? Whether modern or not, I have always been there. Adelabu of CBN and Adelabu Zaccheus, a former commissioner are my junior brothers and I want to believe that they will join hands to work with me to develop the state. I want to assure them that everybody’s experience will come handy. But, there is time for everything. It is better people appreciate and give honour to whom honour is due. We have come a long way. I am the only person who has had training and learnt politics under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the sage of the Nigerian politics, among these aspirants. Apart from that, there is also the human disposition, the nature that God gives. It is not enough to be the wisest or the boldest person. It is also important to have good human relations and immense capacity to manage human beings. I think I am in the best position to bring about a refreshing difference to the governance of Oyo State.

 

Are you in the race because Oke-Ogun, which is your zone, is yet to produce the governor of the state?

I don’t want to be an Oke-Ogun governor, because I have gone beyond that level. I qualify on all indices of merit. If you want to measure acceptability, competence, experience and even Solomonic wisdom, I would be in the forefront. Besides, I don’t consider myself a stranger to Ibadan. I will say this with pride that I have been in Ibadan for 37 years without a break. I have always been an Ibadan person. Even as minister, there is no weekend I don’t come to Ibadan, except when I travel out of the country. Two of my wives are from Ibadan and that means about 15 of my children are partly Ibadans. I have done my politics, career, social and private life all in Ibadan. I challenge anybody who is more Ibadan than me. It is not enough to have a village in Ibadan. There are some of us who are village-less Ibadans. There is nothing indigenes of Ibadan have done for Ibadan that we have not done. In any case, there is hardly any man of importance or relevance who is from Ibadan that I don’t relate with one way or the other. Last on this point is the fact that the Olubadan of Ibadanland has considered me fit to be honoured with the title of Agba Akin Afiwagboye of Ibadanland. That speaks volumes. I feel proud of that and will continue to make Ibadan proud.

 

Some say you are in the race because you think you can get the ticket from Abuja with federal support. How much of Buhari’s backing do you have?

Was it federal backing that made me a House of Assembly member in 1979? Was it federal backing that made me commissioner two times? As for my appointment as minister, the president didn’t just pick me from the streets. He picked me because I have paid my dues and because he knows my antecedents and he also knows I have the social, physical and mental capability to be minister. I am happy that he has the confidence that I am doing my job as minister.

I will say I have his total backing. That one cannot be negotiated because I have been discharging my responsibility and I have not betrayed the trust he reposes in me since my appointment. We have only one minister coming Oyo State and the state has about 11 million people. So, if President Buhari, in his wisdom appoints one person from 11 million people to be minister, then he must have done that out of a lot of wisdom and introspection. I am not just having the support of President Buhari, I believe I have the support of the entire Federal Government. Most importantly, I have the support of God.

 

It is also said that you have taken to criticising Governor Abiola Ajimobi openly because of the federal backing you have to be governor and that you know Ajimobi’s support will be immaterial at the time decisions will be taken to select a candidate.

I feel insulted when people do not look into the content of my criticism. We are supposed to be democrats. APC is regarded as the most progressive party in the country today. So, that knows I have the social, physical and mental capability to be minister. I am happy that he has the confidence that I am doing my job as minister.

I will say I have his total backing. That one cannot be negotiated because I have been discharging my responsibility and I have not betrayed the trust he reposes in me since my appointment. We have only one minister coming Oyo State and the state has about 11 million people. So, if President Buhari, in his wisdom appoints one person from 11 million people to be minister, then he must have done that out of a lot of wisdom and introspection. I am not just having the support of President Buhari, I believe I have the support of the entire Federal Government. Most importantly, I have the support of God.

 

It is also said that you have taken to criticising Governor Abiola Ajimobi openly because of the federal backing you have to be governor and that you know Ajimobi’s support will be immaterial at the time decisions will be taken to select a candidate.

I feel insulted when people do not look into the content of my criticism. We are supposed to be democrats. APC is regarded as the most progressive party in the country today. So, that implies that those of us in APC must be standard bearers in the finest elements of democracy. Part of this is the fact that we will have local government election which must be democratic. The Ajimobi government announced that it was going to conduct local government after five and a half years of caretaker administration, which undoubtedly is most undemocratic and prone to corruption. This is because a caretaker chairman is loyal only to one person or at most two people- the governor or the governor and his wife. The chairman needs only to satisfy the governor with his wife and not necessarily the populace. The implication of that is that the governor is like an intervener between federal allocations and the local governments. When money comes for the councils, through this process of caretaker chairmanship, local governments are at the receiving end because the governor stays in the middle and intercepts the money and decides how much he gives to the councils. He will also be in a position to determine where contracts will be given and who gets the contracts. I felt that was not good enough. It was a violation of the constitution and the ethos of our party, APC.

So, we heaved a sigh of relief after five and a half years when announcements were made that there would be local government elections. And then the party executives came in and said anybody who is interested in contesting should apply and go through the process of primary election. But the governor said ‘no.’ That side is being swept under the carpet now, under the guise that it was a court case that stalled the election. We party members are aware that the election was stalled because the governor was not in sync with the idea of primary election, perhaps because he felt that he would lose hold of the local government election. We insisted that the best candidates should be allowed to emerge and win the confidence and trust of the populace. Several meetings were held on this. In fact, at a stage, the governor reportedly said he was going to refund the money paid by the aspirants to purchase nomination forms. The aspirants told him they had not asked him to help them keep their money. That I felt was not good enough.

Unfortunately, over the years, people have become dumb, as it were. They were grumbling; the party executives, party leaders and the general populace were all complaining. I now felt that, in view of my background, I have a duty, to rise as a voice of conscience to call Governor Ajimobi to order and to speak truth to power in the state. That is exactly what I have done. So, if anybody is saying that it is because I have federal power, such persons are wrong. In 2011, I contested against Ajimobi and didn’t have any federal power then, even though when I lost, I went to his house to congratulate him. By 2015, we had become members of the same party and again, I challenged him. The primary election was manipulated and I went to court. I was in court until I got nominated as minister. But for that, only God knows what the case would have turned out to be.

In any case, I am one politician who is very principled, objective and firm. I don’t fear anything if the truth is involved and I try to marshal my arguments to the best of my ability. So, anybody who has a clear conscience and who is intelligent enough will know I have always been like this. In the House of Assembly in the Second Republic, I distinguished myself.

 

It is on record that you fought the late Chief Bola Ige, who was governor then…

Yes, I fought Bola Ige for reason of impunity as it is happening now. So, if I did that 30 something years ago, is it Ajimobi that will make me tremble when I want to speak the truth? Certainly, I can’t be cowed, intimidated or prevented from saying the truth as I know it and encouraging everybody to do what is right.

 

Has the crisis generated by the suspension of the APC chairman in Saki West Local Government, which is your council, been resolved?

There was no suspension. It was just a media charade. Nigeria is governed by laws and not by emotions or whims and caprices. It is instructive that the chairman of APC in Saki West was the voice of conscience when a protest was led to the governor’s office in Ibadan against the appointment of caretaker chairmen. Why would he be the one to be moved against by thugs loyal to one Mrs Wunmi Ogunesan, a permanent secretary for local governments, who is an ally of Governor Ajimobi. What role should such a woman, who is a civil servant, be playing in the politics of our party? There are serious issues. I think that many more people should be talking because the implication of bad governance will be on everyone. My intervention is a rescue mission, to rescue party leaders, party executives from the sordid grip of our governor. I think he should change to accommodate everybody.

 

Have you tabled some of these issues with him personally?

He has been abroad for much of the last three weeks. I don’t have to make personal contact to him. This is not a personal disagreement. These are public issues that affect the commonwealth of our party. It is not a matter for talk-talk within the confines of a room.

 

What is the implication of this crisis for APC in Oyo?

The implication is that there will be reform in the party, whether anybody likes  it or not. Nobody will be allowed to continue with impunity. If we keep quiet  in the face of tyranny and impunity, injustice will prevail and will swallow all. It takes men of conscience to start talking. I know our leaders are not deaf. They will listen and people will be called to order.

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