The chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, Chief Henry Ajomale, in this interview by KATE ANI, speaks on the issues bordering on the fortune of his party in the state and the country in general.
What is your view on the spat between Senators Dino Melaye and Oluremi Tinubu?
Senator Dino Melaye is famous for not being a gentleman. You will recall that in his first year in the House of Representatives when the former Speaker, a woman, was there, he behaved the same way towards her. He physically attacked her and another member. I believe he was suspended for the remaining proceedings of the House. If a man attacks a woman, he is either a coward or not a gentleman, no matter the provocation. He should have either ignored or disregarded such a woman. Believe me, if other senators were not there that day or if the altercation had happened in a corner, Senator Melaye would have probably insulted her [Tinubu] physically. It was an open executive meeting and other senators had to get between them to prevent Senator Melaye from physically assaulting her. What we disagree with him on that incident and he must be answerable for his actions. Look, I don’t have to agree with your opinion on a certain issue. There was a discussion on the floor and Melaye countered her position. That was what caused the tantrum. Everybody in the Senate have their own opinion, you don’t have to force your opinion on anybody. You may disagree with someone but not to the level of insulting them, especially a woman.
How would you react to the rumoured impeachment plot against President Muhammadu Buhari?
Is it possible to impeach the president? Do they have two-third majority in the Senate? Even if some of our [APC] members defect to the PDP and they vote accordingly, they can’t get a two-third. At least we have more than two-third loyal members to the cause and I believe that before they can get two-third, it is going to be a herculean task.
Who is Chief Henry Ajomale and as a Christian what is the story behind your unique surname?
My surname which translates to ‘a man who resembles a Muslim’ is the name I was born with. I don’t know how my great-grandfather came about it but I am Christian. My father, mother and grandparents are all Christians. I started my career as a civil servant and then became a diplomat. My foray into politics was circumstantial and that was in 1989. I was a special adviser on political and legislative matters to the former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu and later his commissioner for special duties.
You have been the APC chairman in Lagos State since 2006. How has it been so far, Lagos being a hotly contested state between the APC and the PDP?
It has been hectic but I have always enjoyed a good relationship with our members. When I was the special adviser on political and legislative matters to Senator Tinubu in 2009, I related with our members in various local governments and legislators in the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly. I was liaison of a sort between the government and our party members.
Why do you dislike PDP so much? You had so many bad things to say about them when they were in power.
It was because I felt they were not doing the right thing. Nigerians were suffering and there was so much corruption going on and I saw that there was so much money in this country. God blessed us and we are not using the blessing for the right thing. With all the resources that we have, should there be poverty in this country?
But your party is now in power and many Nigerians believe that the pain presently being experienced in the country is even worse than under the last administration.
I will come to that. During PDP’s administration, I felt there should be a change and that Nigeria could be better than what we had and we were justified. Some of us believed then that the PDP wasn’t running the country well; they were not working for the common man but for their pockets. That trend continued for 16 years. As a diplomat, I knew we have virtually the same production with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia kept the money they made from the oil export apart and were able to block inflation because there was no excess money floating around. They continued to work and use the money to develop their country. Now there are revelations as to how our oil money was shared among these PDP politicians and people are asking why the EFCC is probing only PDP, but if they are the ones that stole our money, why not? If it is only those who served during the PDP era that have been found to have embezzled Nigeria’s money. They should be dealt with and that is what we are seeing today.
Now, on President Buhari, he took over barely one year ago and he could not have corrected already, the rot that was created for 16 years.
The president has been accused of chasing corrupt people and perceived enemies to the neglect of other crucial sectors of the country that need urgent attention.
Look, if you don’t have money or recover stolen money, nobody is going to give you free money anywhere in the world. But if we recover the whole money, we can use it to develop the economy.
How long should Nigerians wait before things start to turn around for the country?
I believe that by the end of this year, things will take a good turn. Even some international communities have forecasted that there is our economic growth cannot rise until 2017, because when you put policies in place, it must adapt before you can break even. It is not the day we put out policies in place that they take effect.
Some economists have argued that President Buhari does not have any economic plan.
There is an economic plan but most of it cannot be done without physical backing. You need money to do it but now that we have blocked wastages, imaginary salaries which are being paid to ghost workers and so many ways where money is being stolen, it is now for us to wait and see the result of it. For example, if state governors are able to block ghost workers who collect so much money that affects the budget of a state, that is a plus. That shows that others can get their salaries as at when due. Did you know how many months it took the last budget to be approved? So, you don’t expect the budget to start performing immediately and get the result. You have to plough before you reap. There is no gain without pain. No magic made Dubai what it is today.
After one year in office, Nigerians claim they can’t point to a thing the president has been able to accomplish.
Administration is never done overnight. You can’t commit the same mistake twice.
Why is the president ordering the investigation of the campaign funds of the PDP and not also those of APC and other political parties?
It is because the PDP took government’s money. Our soldiers were dying at the war front and the money that could have been used to buy ammunition for them was siphoned by these people. There was a time it was reported that bullets were being shared by our soldiers and when they [the bullets] were exhausted, trouble started; they ran away from the fight and were arrested and persecuted. Some were sentenced to be killed for being unpatriotic, just because they ran away from the theatre of war because they were not properly equipped. Many of them got overpowered and were killed by Boko Haram terrorists. It was that blood money that the PDP shared in order to win election which, to them, was the priority.
But if President Buhari doesn’t want to release the name of these looters and the amount recovered, how does the money get accounted for?
Nigerians want to know how much is recovered. That is all. They don’t want to know from whom. The most important thing is for them to return the money.
How does the recovered money get safeguarded so that it is not stolen again?
There must be a first charge report and that is what we did by telling Nigerians that some of these looters are returning the money they stole from us. The government will be transparent about it. We must give them time so as not to make a mistake, so as not to be accused of the same thing. You know the type of president we have.
What is your take on President Buhari’s lack of adherence to federal character in his recent appointments?
Let us be realistic, we are all human beings. I would rather appoint somebody whose language and culture I understand, who has been with me for years, whom I know, to work with me. I cannot go and bring someone I don’t know because I don’t want to be accused of being one sided and hence, get drawn back. I think Nigerians should give him the opportunity to choose the kind of people he feels confident to work with. The most important thing is the end result. During [Goodluck] Jonathan’s regime, we knew that some sections of this country were favoured and were the majority in his cabinet and parastatal organisations. Why didn’t you people accuse him of that too? When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was there, because he was a Yoruba man, he balanced everything and didn’t give a damn where anybody came from. He would even probably want to use someone outside of his tribe, believing that they would keep his secret. Is it the people that he [Buhari] is working with that matters or the end result?
Why did your party ban hawking in Lagos? Don’t you think it is anti-people? Are these not the same people that trooped out to vote the governor into office?
Let me tell you something, during the last election, there was so much corruption. All these boys you are talking about, many of them collected money from the opposition, many of them voted for opposition which you know…
Are you referring to the hawkers or you are talking generally?
The hawkers and the poor people. When they see money, they would gladly collect it. I won’t blame them because the situation of this country calls for it. Among the poor, it is only those who give them something that they will vote for and I know that during the last election, there were so many freebies that were given to them. So, if you expect the man who is coming there to elevate you from the poor position to a higher position, you must vote for your conscience. If you have money, you won’t need to sell wares on the street. It is not everybody is that meant to be rich but in so many countries, there is a law…
In the face of the hardship in the country, do you think this is the right time to come out with this kind of policy?
If Ghana could do it, why not Lagos? Lagos State is becoming a megacity and that is part of the condition for a megacity. I don’t know whether we are ripe for it or not but the major problem is that there is a market for them to trade at but these people are risking their lives by being in the middle of the roads, criss-crossing within tanker trucks, buses, cars, Marwa and okada riders. Many of them have been killed down by speeding vehicles and okada and we can’t afford to let this trend continue.
The law has thrown many in misery and helplessness. What is your party doing to assuage the hardship of these people?
I don’t think it is anti-people. All we are going to do is to establish more markets but even if we build more markets for them, they will still go back to the roads to trade because they believe that by going between cars, they will sell more. To me, I would have added that even those who are buying from them should also be arrested. If road hawkers don’t see buyers, they won’t be there. If not for them, perhaps these people will not be on the road. The law is meant to protect their lives.
The local government election in Lagos is coming up very soon with the people fast losing patience in the change mantra. Do you think the APC has the chance to retain all the 57 local government councils?
Why not? Things are not working all over Nigeria, not Lagos alone. Of course, we are going to win. There is no argument about that. Is it because in the last election, PDP won some House of Assembly and House of Representatives seats? Look, the money to rig election is no more there. We are now going on the same level playing ground with them, because where that money is coming from has been blocked and if any of their members even has the money, they won’t release it now. Our chances are also bright in Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections.
What is your view on the stupendous pension for governors, Lagos being a big example?
Honestly, I don’t know how much the governor is taking for retirement so I can’t really comment on that.
There are reports that the powers that be in the APC in the South West are not happy with President Buhari for abandoning them after helping him to power while romancing his friends from the North? To be precise, is there any bad blood between Senator Bola Tinubu and the president?
I don’t think so. Although there was a misunderstanding between them before, it has been settled. It is true that it was the time the South West decided to work with the president that he won. Without the support of the West, Buhari wouldn’t have emerged as president and who made it possible? Senator Bola Tinubu. But there is no bad blood between them. I am very sure of that.
Are you annoyed that he has been ignoring the South West in his recent appointments?
He has been fair to us in his ministerial appointments. The rest of the appointments are personal to him. Those are his personal staff. If I want a policy analysis and I have someone I know can deliver, why can’t I have the option of selecting such a person? Nigerians should think twice before passing judgements. That is what that is killing us in this country. To me, the end result is what matters. I don’t care whom he appoints to do jobs. My concern is that everything should work out.
There was controversy over the new management committees concerning the local government councils nominated by Governor Ambode. Some allegedly assumed office even before their nominations were confirmed by the House of Assembly. Is there any friction between the state government and the lawmakers?
No, the lawmakers made the law and the governor signed it. Nobody resumed work before their appointments were confirmed. It was the executive secretaries that were before the sole administrators took over. So, there was no friction at all. It was the House of Assembly that passed the law and the governor accented to it and it was after that the announcement was made. It is not even possible to work if they don’t have their letters of appointment.