Border closure is illegal: We should stop behaving like international gansters —Junaid Mohammaed
•Oil discovery in North will only have political impact
A Second Republic House of Representatives member and prominent politician, Dr Junaid Mohammed, in this interview by DAPO FALADE, speaks on the recent announcement of the discovery of oil in the North, the controversy in the President’s household and other issues. Excerpts:
WHAT is your general view on the state of the nation?
I must say that, as far I am concerned, nothing has changed. Yes, we have had an election; yes, Muhammadu Buhari
emerged as the clear-cut winner. There is no two-way about it; he won the election fair and square. But I have a very serious misgiving about how the nation is headed and what would be the outcome of what is happening now. One, I believe that the economic situation is still very bad. I also believe that, unless the global oil prices and the global economic growth improve, we are likely to have a global recession, especially in the major economies of Western Europe, America and China.
But once that happen, commodity nations like Nigeria, Angola and even countries
like Saudi Arabia and Russia are going to feel the negative impacts. I am worried about that because, so far, there is
nothing to write home the economic management of the Buhari administration. With the way the economy is now being
managed- half deceit, half misinformation and other clouded jargons, there is a problem.
There is also the issue of running the economy on the right track for a wrong reason. I have no problem with the banning
of importation of rice. I think it is the right to do. But what is much more important is to have an agriculture policy which will enhance agricultural productivity and which is also planned with the purpose and intent of a diverse national
economy. Clearly, a nation with about 200 people with such a diverse and all types of works cannot continue to rely on
single commodity. We have to do something about it and make sure we divert our economy and that it is sustainable
in growth and to make sure that we are not subjected to blackmail or that we are not subjected to some economic
accidents outside our borders and therefore beyond our control.
What is your view on the state of security?
Of course, the issue of insecurity is still there. As far as I am concerned, Boko Haram has not been defeated. These
people are lying; it is unfortunate that this war is taking a lot of human soul but some people are making a hell of money
from the insecurity caused by Boko Haram. I am living here in Kano; I know that every week, troops are being brought
from the Baga area of Maiduguri, around Lake Chad and other areas of the Boko Haram-controlled North East; they
have growing markets where fish is sold and those foods cultivated by soldiers are being sold. In such a situation,
some people stand to gain from the war and they would not allow the war to be won and it is to their own advantage for
the war to continue.
And, of course, the big ones are making a lot of money from arms purchase and even a lot of the money they get
from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the kind of false arrangement for help we get from other countries to
help us to fight the Boko Haram issue. The money from this arrangement is being pocketed. So, I am worried because
of the conjunction of the bad war which has been on for over 10 years and which has left the country in tatters and,
of course, an economic situation, especially agriculture, is something that we cannot Again, we just had an election which gave whoever that is in charge, the president or the governor of the party a mandate. That mandate has not been discharged, but at the same time, we are already busy quarrelling about 2023.
Have we used up the time from 2019 to 2023?
With what you have said so far, can you sincerely say the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government is still on
track to deliver on its promises? I don’t believe they can. I am sorry to say this, but I don’t think they can deliver on their promises and I don’t believe they have delivered on the 2015 promises. The budget which was discussed in the so-called National Assembly was based on a certain revenue scenario. That scenario was predicated on the price of the crude oil at the global level or what they called a benchmark. But is the government the owner of the benchmark? I am being more realistic here. Already, it has been decided that one, change the benchmark and increase the projected price of crude oil. But within the week they were doing that nonsense, it was clear that the price of crude oil was not headed upward but downward.
Now, if the big oil countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya that has been in tatters, destroyed by the West and also Venezuela which has also been left in tatters by the same West, are complaining that they are heading towards trouble in the pricing of crude oil, I cannot see how the so-called small countries that we have here can compete substantially in the crude oil business. They are just buying themselves an escape route because those of them who know what they are talking about economically and the politics of global crude oil market know that there is no
way they can achieve what projected. All they can say is that they have done their deliberations and they have passed the budget. If you pass an unrealistic budget, there is no way you can achieve whatever you set out to achieve in the budget.
This is one of the problems because in this country we don’t believe in telling ourselves some truths. We don’t control the market; especially we are just marginal producers. If by some accident, Nigeria’s crude oil disappears from the global oil market, nobody would notice. This is because there are big and heavyweight operators in the market who are already out of the market- Venezuela, Iraq, Libya and Russia. Libya particularly produces the same quality of light crude that we have. If these countries can disappear from the market and nobody noticed it, it would be stupid of us to start passing the budget on a margin that we are Nigerians and the forthcoming recession will not affect us.
Invariably are you saying there is no point in celebrating the recent discovery of oil in some states in the North?
Look, I think, again, that it is just adding to what I am saying. If we discover oil in the North, it will only have a
political impact because, for some time, some people in the Niger Delta in particular have been insulting everybody
outside the region that we are living on their sweats. They are saying the North and some other parts of the country
are parasites. Now that they say they have discovered oil in the North, maybe we will now say they are also parasites.
How long does it take to discover oil and how long would it take for that oil and the proceeds thereof to have a positive
impact on the national economy?
From what was discovered and from wherever it was discovered, the thing belongs to the country at large; we can only have an influence for the sake of that particular axis where it was discovered. But strongly speaking such a thing does not bother me whatsoever. I believe if we manage our own resources and we do so well, we can still get some of this oil in reserves in several parts of the country and cap them until the time when those who can ask for this have exhausted their own. If we think we have oil and then we can put demands on the rest of the country, we are in serious trouble. No matter how much oil or gas that we discover, unless we manage well, not only the oil, but the environmental implication of the discovery of oil as well and we also use the oil proceeds for the diversification of the economy, it will have no positive impact whatsoever.
What is your take on the face-off between the First lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari and Fatima, the first daughter of Mamman
Daura, President Buhari’s nephew over the occupancy of an apartment in Aso Villa?
First and foremost, I have to disappoint you here. I will disappoint you by refusing to comment because, frankly speaking, I found it too scandalous for my stomach. It is too scandalous and unfortunate and I sincerely hope that some people who are close to the persons, the president and Mamman Daura, would sort out the issue because this is a scandal and I don’t want to say anything any further.
Director General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has announced the indefinite closure of all borders to
importation and exportation. What do you think are the implications of such an action?
International Trade is not done either haphazardly or simply because somebody just woke up in the morning and he started doing what he likes. International Trade is a very important aspect of the life of every country and Nigeria is not an exemption.
We should also know that even though some of the countries we are dealing with are landlocked, they are territories by
International Law. We cannot simply just lock them out. It is illegal and we should not behave like international gangsters. The Customs officers and men are the evilest out of the public workers we have in this country.
Wherever you have a law, they have the ones who will find a way to bastardise the law in order to benefit themselves. I have no doubt that some of the people of the Benin Republic have been behaving in disregard for the law in border relationship with Nigeria. But that can be rectified without having to violate the International Law.
If they take us to any international court of law, they will win. An example of our clear display of arrogance was in the days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in our quarrel with Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula. At the end of the day, Cameroon won the case against us.
I am an old-time traditional patriot but I don’t believe in any country lording it over others. We have to be very careful. I
don’t believe that the Director General of the Customs who is a retired stereotyped soldier would wake up by himself one day and do what he did. He must have had the sanction of the president and even that of the entire Federal Executive Council (FEC). That is why we have to be very careful because if we are not, we are likely to gather a lot of bad publicity and we are very likely to have the international bodies calling us to order. I believe that action is illegal and I will not support it.
Yes, Nigeria can feed itself; there is no doubt about that. But what we saved by not allowing free entry and exit of
foodstuffs or whatever must be re-invested in agriculture, solid minerals and other parts of our national economy. If we
don’t do that, whatever we gathered will vanish into the thin air because whatever we collect from whoever we collect is a form of temptation. We already have problem about the integrity of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), under Mr Fowler and I have no doubt in my mind that if there is going to be an honest investigation, he would be found guilty.
This means that even what we are getting now what is coming into our national coffers-is not properly accounted for and not honestly administered. This will not solve our problems. It requires hard work, integrity, foresight in order to collect whatever we have and investing them in the other sectors of the national economy apart from oil and we are able to grow the economy to create jobs. The entire oil industry cannot employ as much as two million people.
Even in their own wisdom or lack thereof, they are saying that they are going to create 100 million jobs in the next 10
years, which mean an average of 10 million jobs every year.
I don’t think they can do that. Even the advanced and industrialised economies cannot create 10 million jobs in a year.
We are promising ourselves of creating 100 million jobs in the next 10 years when the life of the Buhari administration
terminates in 2023. So, who is fooling whom?
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, a few days ago, announced a proposal to increase the fine on hate speech and false information from N500, 000 to N5 million.
But Nigerians are saying it is another means to suppress the voice of the people. What is your take on this?
Even though Lai Muhammed is a lawyer by training, I think he is talking from both ends of his mouth. He should be
told that he is a minister and that he did not make laws and this is not a military government and so he cannot wake up
one morning and tell us that he has increased the level of sanction against hate speech or other crime. So, as far as
I am concerned, as we are talking today, hate speech and punishment for it is not in our statute book or our law book.
Unless, they have created an offence out of hate speech, and that cannot be done by anybody else, but must be done by
the National Assembly, there is no way he can start telling people what to expect if they breach what is non-existent.
I don’t like hate speech; I don’t indulge in it. In fact, I have been a victim of hate speech a number of times, but that is what you get in public life.
As far as I am concerned, nobody in his right mind, even in the National Assembly, as they are, can now go and say this is how much you will pay for hate speech. I don’t know anything about this fine of N5 million, but in any way, Lai Muhammed has no right to do so. The National Assembly must be more aware of public opinion and the attitude of the
people of this country, especially when they are not having the best they expect from the government.