Former Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, Henry Ajomale, speaks to ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS about Nigeria’s current economic situation and President Bola Tinubu’s ability to tackle the challenges
What is your assessment of the post-election drama between President Bola Tinubu and the two frontline opposition candidates; Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi?
Well, they took Asiwaju (Tinubu) to court. But didn’t he win the legal tussle at the end of the day? That to me is the most important thing. The irony of the whole drama is this; number one, Atiku will never give up without going to court. When you look at his antecedents, you will see that he has never given up and congratulated his opponent before without going all the way to the Supreme Court. Atiku did it to Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, he did the same to Buhari twice. So, the former VP is a customer and he is someone we understand. There is no way you will defeat him in a contest and he will not be willing to go to court. That is normal for him. He is somebody who will never concede defeat without first heading to the Supreme Court.
What about the Labour Party’s flagbearer, Peter Obi?
That is the other irony. How can someone who emerged as number three in a political contest claim he won an election? I really don’t understand it. Isn’t that an irony? In fact, Obi, the number three, even seemed to be contesting the result more than the number two man. Have you ever heard that before? I am talking about someone who came far third now claiming to have won the election. Well, it is only in Nigeria that you can have such a thing.
Politicians have bastardised the entire system and there is no way they intend to give up. They will always lament when they feel the judgment will not favour them. It is not unusual to hear them say, ‘The judiciary has been hijacked’, ‘The judiciary has been bought over’, and ‘The judiciary is in distress.’ If it is in their favour, they will sing to the highest heaven as if the justices are some form of angels. But if it is not in their favour, they will sing another song. It is unfortunate.
Many Nigerians have envisaged a situation where Atiku and Obi can join President Tinubu to deliver the dividend of democracy. Do you see this happening?
No way. I don’t see that happening because they are still bitter. I am saying this because this is perhaps the last opportunity for somebody like Atiku to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming president. So, he is still bitter, especially against Asiwaju in person. That is also because he feels that he is above everybody. They believe they can control and manipulate Nigeria in any way they want because of the money they have. Otherwise, why was it too difficult for him to accept defeat in all the years he has been contesting? Atiku is a consistent election striker. If he doesn’t win, he will fight and go to the Supreme Court. They feel that money is enough to make them emerge as president of this country. It is high time they realised there are certain things money cannot buy. One of them is the conscience of Nigerians.
Some Nigerians have expressed disappointment in Tinubu’s six months in office, saying the fuel subsidy removal and forex challenge have brought further hardship. Do you share the same sentiment?
No. People should know that the economy has been destroyed for a long time and everybody that came in has been building on a collapsing bridge. If care is not taken, that bridge will give way and Nigeria will be bankrupt. This is why I pity those who are fighting to be leaders of Nigeria today. The economy is bad and terrible. And what is going on all over the world today is affecting us seriously. We have 25 per cent inflation. Ghana has 35 per cent. Go to London, you will observe that the ‘One Pound Shop’ they used to have is now ‘One Pound Plus.’
It is also important for us to consider the equivalent of foreign currency to naira now. Let’s assume a pound is N1,500. If you want to eat, you cannot conveniently use that one pound to buy anything in London; not even bread. Yet, you can use the naira equivalent which is N1,500 to eat two or three times. At least, I know some people who will take N500 to eat in one sitting. That alone is luxury. Even if they buy N200 garri to eat, they will be okay. This is something you cannot try in America where you can buy just one banana for one dollar. It used to be a bunch for a dollar before.
Inflation is everywhere. But we are still lucky that there is a control valve being created now. Honestly, this man patched everything up until he gave up and ran to Daura. He left the whole mess for Asiwaju to tackle. It will take only a bold leader to do what the President is doing now. That’s because others cannot do it. Just look at all the years we have been trying to remove subsidy until it took a man like Asiwaju to do it.
During (Olusegun) Obasanjo’s administration, he couldn’t do it. He pushed it to (Umaru) Yar’Adua, who in turn left it for Goodluck (Jonathan). Of course, he also passed the buck to Buhari. It is only Asiwaju who is bold enough to remove it. I agree that it is going to bring hardship for some time. But you will find out that we are going to smile again. The man has just been there for six months and you expect him to perform miracles. Somebody was there for eight years, what did he do?
We can see the moves Asiwaju has been making and I have also been able to talk to some economists who have praised him for the bold steps he is taking now to readjust and reconstruct the economy of this country.
I believe that by the first quarter of next year, things will start stabilising. There is no gain without pain. Asiwaju was not the one who created the problem. He has never been in government before, except in Lagos where he was governor. He has never worked at the federal level.
During the military regime, he was a senator in 1991 before they were kicked out in 1993. There was no way he could have been involved in anything at the federal level. All he can do is to get a grasp of the problem within six months to the level where we won’t go bankrupt. How many countries are bankrupt now? Let us thank God we are not down.
Look at the likes of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and other nations that have gone under amid efforts for bailout. Nigeria could have headed in the same direction if the government had failed to do what it had done. Now, Asiwaju is being praised all over the place for taking that bold step. Otherwise, it would have resulted in a situation where someone would be driving around in his car, some people would stop him and drag him down, demanding to know if it was bought with their money (taxpayers).
Nigeria is witnessing a resurgence of kidnapping, banditry, and other security challenges. Is it right to conclude that the Tinubu administration is also struggling to tame it?
But you will agree with me that it has reduced considerably unlike during the Buhari regime. Except for some rascals, the insurgents have seriously been wiped out. The truth is that the security challenges cannot disappear in one day. To me, the bold step the Borno State governor is taking now is not his fault. When those people who surrendered have nothing to do, they are bound to return to the forest. But by deciding to take them back to their ancestral land, there is no way any security agents despite their numbers can look after these people just coming back.
I believe it was too early for them to go back to their farms and villages. The Borno State governor (Babagana Zulum) is a very active man who felt he was doing them a favour by taking them back home for their own benefit instead of sitting idle. And nobody can blame him for that. But the major problem is that only those who know these ISWAP or ISIS-inspired terrorists can identify them. Even the Americans cannot fight them because they have their tentacles all over the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran.
They have been the ones funding these terrorist groups, even though they are gradually killing or eliminating each other. The only thing left for us is to go in and clear them. Those still operating are perhaps not resident in Nigeria. They are only in Nigeria to fight because of money. So, for idle hands with no work, they go out to recruit them to go anywhere in the world to fight. We are praying that things will get better.
But, as you asked, if President Tinubu fails, I don’t know who again can put Nigeria on the right track. For all those who just want to be president of Nigeria, it is the paraphernalia of the office they are running after. They don’t know the implications of becoming the president of a nation like Nigeria. Many of them don’t even have the brain to withstand it because of the juicy position the president enjoys. And then, we will start the patching process all over again before they are kicked out.
I know that by the time this government clocks one year in office, Nigeria would have taken shape. That’s because the refineries would have started working by late December and before the end of next year (2024), virtually all the refineries will be functioning. So, we won’t need to be importing anything again from outside. That is the major problem we are having. He can get rid of that and reduce the prices of oil drastically because importation is the major problem we are having. It is eating deep into our foreign exchange.
They are importing crude from us and using the second hand to take the money from us by selling refined oil. That way it is putting pressure on us in terms of foreign exchange and we are back to square one. But if we are refining our oil now, everything will ease out. It will also take off the pressure on our foreign exchange. The exception will be in the area of buying spare parts for our refineries. I have the confidence that by the time this government is going to mark one year, there will be stability.
It is only that Nigerians are not patient. I don’t blame them because if somebody is suffering and doesn’t have access to good food, water, and accommodation, there is no way he will be rational. He won’t even listen to what anybody is saying. His major focus will be for you to solve his hunger problem. That is what they want to listen to, not excuses. That is even why they are giving any chance to the present government to breathe.
They want it immediately. In that kind of atmosphere, nobody can perform magic. Just imagine the rot the investigators are discovering from the CBN, other ministries, and parastatals. See how ruinous Nigerians are, yet nobody is saying anything about it. The corruption that pervades this country in the last eight years; I don’t know how to describe it.
In recent times, a number of critics and chieftains of opposition parties have accused Tinubu of recruiting friends and cronies into his cabinet. Do you share the same sentiment?
The man needs to invite those he knows can work with him. Those are tested people he can vouch for. You don’t expect me to take strangers if I want to achieve something. We are talking about an important project here. I can only invite tested people I know, not the ones you think you know. As the President, I have to bring people who can do the job. These are people I have known for many years.
But when it comes to their turn to become president, they (critics) can do what they are suggesting and bring random people to do the job. He has to take people he knows. It is a very serious job because Nigeria is in a very precarious situation now. We need to solve this problem as early as possible. We don’t have to start looking at religion or ethnicity to do the job. It is not mandatory for me to bring somebody from my village to be a minister. I didn’t vote for you because I want to bring my friend to work in your government.
What do you think about Obasanjo’s recent aversion to Western democracy?
Why is Obasanjo just saying it? Why didn’t he say it when he was the president? The man was in the military and would not pretend not to know what democracy was all about. Why did he eventually go for it? Why is it that he doesn’t want another person to become president after enjoying himself for eight years? So, this is now the time he knows that Western democracy is not working. That is what is going on all over the world. Why must you be the only person going against it now? Does Obasanjo want to be communist or socialist? Which one does he want?
He is condemning something he has no replacement for. He should have introduced another system when he was there instead of seeing out your eight years. The problem with Obasanjo is that everything has to revolve around him. He doesn’t believe anybody can be more clever than him. That is why he has a knack for condemning every president that emerged after him. He expects them to come and take corrections from him. When they don’t, he will start condemning them through his letters. He is known for that.
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