Former national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and public affairs commentator, Maxi Okwu, has said that despite the growing anger and frustration in Nigeria occasioned by the sudden removal of fuel subsidy by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a nationwide revolution is definitely not on the cards. He said the ethnic and religious configuration of Nigeria would not allow a nationwide revolution to take place, so Nigerians would continue to “suffer and smile.”
In this interview with DAILY POST, he took a panoramic view on the state of the nation, including the current move by Nigeria through the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to wage war against the military junta in the Republic of Niger. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the removal of fuel subsidy? There is an argument in some quarters that there was never anything like subsidy; do you agree with that?
If we extract crude, export it for refining, and the finished product is brought back to us, where is the element of subsidy? Where is the subsidy coming from? The tragedy is that Nigeria is the only oil-producing country in the world without a functional refinery. Isn’t it a tragedy? Something is wrong somewhere. They spurned us with a yarn that the Dangote Refinery would be ready. After we have spent money helping one man build a refinery, which he cannot maintain, the man pushes it back some years, and he is given a licence to import refined fuel. Don’t you see some elements of government magic involved?
So, I would believe that the first thing the government should do is do everything possible to have one or two refineries working in Nigeria so that this story about subsidy or whatever will cease. Let us get at least one refinery to meet at least half of our local demand or more. The oil marketers have told us that with the crash of the naira against the dollar, we should expect an increase in the price of fuel. I see fuel going up to N1,000 per litre. That will be crushing, but we are inching towards it because, in the black market, a litre of fuel is sold for N750 to N800. So, getting to N1,000 per litre is not far-fetched. The issue is a ticking time bomb, and the earlier the government tackles it, the better for the country.
Looking at the hardship being experienced by Nigerians, do you foresee the possibility of a revolution, or will Nigerians continue to endure the hardship?
Well, I don’t think a revolution is possible in Nigeria because the ethnic configuration of the country is against a popular nationwide revolution. That is my take from my experience in the field. If it starts from the north, the people from the south will say it is their headache. For instance, there is already a problem in the north because some northerners in Kano are protesting. Down south, people will look at them and ask: How does it concern us?
Look at all the demonstrations and protests against former President Jonathan on this same issue of fuel subsidy; did you hear even a beep during the Buhari era? The answer is no because everything was calm. The things that Jonathan couldn’t get away with, Buhari got away with them. So, to me, a popular Nigerian-wide revolution is not on the cards. The ENDSARS protest was killed up north. So, we would continue to suffer in silence. We are the happiest nation on earth. But there could be pockets of local resistance or activities, which would not translate into a nationwide push because of our ethnic and tribal configuration.
Is there any hope of saving Nigeria from its imminent collapse, considering the realities on ground?
Yes, all eyes are on the judiciary. The judiciary could save us if they upheld the law. I am not asking for a favour. I am not asking them to bend the law. Let the Supreme Court apply the law. They should give the law its weight and life. I believe there are enough facts on ground to set Nigeria free. So, I say again, “All eyes are on the judiciary.” It is possible. That’s the only way for now, in my humble opinion
What is your take on Tinubu’s administration and his renewed hope agenda?
First of all, Tinubu is President de facto; and whether he will become President de jure is still at large until the Supreme Court ultimately decides. As President de facto, he came equipped with a college of mentees and experience as governor of Lagos State and as a politician. So, I am surprised at some of the hiccups we are experiencing today, considering his level of preparation for the position of President, unlike former President Muhammadu Buhari before him. First of all, for the ministerial appointment that is time-bound, he barely breasted the tape and still had to jump the tape and put in some more; I am surprised. I thought that he would have, from day one, had his cabinet ready.
Number two, some of the gaffes were unavoidable. The gaffe on his inauguration day, when he said subsidy was over-he shouldn’t have said such a thing. It was a statement most ill-advised. Yes, the subsidy could be over, but he didn’t have to announce it and create a panic. We suffered and are still suffering from that gaffe. He also did a U-turn on the initial N8,000 palliatives for 12 million households. So, the level of flip-flopping is a bit shocking for a man with his level of experience.
So, by and by, it has not been going well. We have gone south, deep south. Everything has gone south. Nigeria is haemorrhaging politically, economically, socially, and otherwise. And there is a trending quest in the Economic Community of West African States’s project that will do Nigeria no good. It will be fatal for Nigeria to jump into Niger and lead the so-called ECOWAS military offensive. So, by and by, Tinubu has short-changed us so far. His honeymoon has been a disaster. Normally, in America, from where we borrowed these things, there is what is called a political honeymoon for a new administration; it is usually the first 100 days. This is almost 70 days of Tinubu, but the rollercoaster ride has been worrying; it is disturbing, and the future doesn’t look bright.
Last week, the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, told his colleagues that the Clerk of the Senate had sent a token into their bank accounts for their holiday allowance. He quickly withdrew the statement and said the Senate President had sent prayers to their mailboxes for them to have a safe journey for the holiday. What is your reaction to this ‘token’ joke by Akpabio?
It is part of the cesspool of corruption and the illegalities that go on. We thought we had seen it all with the Ahmed Lawan-led Ninth National Assembly, but one can predict that going forward, the Akpabio-led 10th National Assembly will be worse. This is because, as it is said in layman’s language, Akpabio has taken rubber-stamping to Pro-Max level. He wears a cap with Tinubu’s logo. I understand that during the screening of the ministerial nominees, a candidate was on the verge of being rejected by the Senate when he quickly adjourned and rushed to the Presidential Villa with his large convoy, which is unnecessary anyway, to seek guidance or instruction, that is a disaster. Akpabio ought not to have been the Senate President. Going by the way he emerged, and all the cases levelled against him, Tinubu seems to have perfected the art of laundering people with questionable credentials in terms of moral standing. Akpabio has made some quips so far that have shown his level of insensitivity.
The first one, “Let the poor breathe,” was a motion which he took, made a joke of it, and laughed while he was doing that, and then this quip again about a token. You see, the question that Nigerians should ask is, that token, or whatever it was— because I am sure you don’t put prayer into anybody’s account— was it appropriated? He can’t just spend public money as if he were in Akwa-Ibom State, where he was called Father Christmas or paymaster. This is a National Assembly where things are a bit different. Where was the money appropriated? And under the law, where did the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission make provision for a token for holiday? That is the question that Nigerians should ask. And you can find that there is no genuine or legitimate answer to that. They are paid as approved by law. All these tokens, where are the funds coming from? Is it from National Assembly funds? Was it appropriated? Who approved it? So, it is business as usual. We thought we had seen it all during Buhari’s administration, but we are seeing the worst this time around. We have just moved out of the frying pan and into the fire. The ruling APC appears to be comfortable with corrupt people.
Former Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, is now the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and over 90 per cent of the ministerial nominees have corruption cases. What is your take on that?
Buhari came and talked tough about corruption, saying, “If you don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill you,” but what he did was the greatest U-turn from the corruption fight. In fact, corruption went numb with Buhari. I remember arguing early in his administration that you don’t sloganise corruption; you set examples. It is not a mantra. It is not a slogan. It is an action. Something that you act upon. I wasn’t fooled. The citizenry was never part of it; they were not taken along. So, it was just a slogan. In a developed democracy, there is no way the APC could have returned at the federal level because Buhari’s administration was a total failure, an unmitigated disaster. It is most unusual that you returned a failed administration because Buhari is APC and Tinubu is APC. APC is succeeding APC. What good has that done to Nigeria? Nothing, except taking us down south in every index of development and governance.
How would you describe the way the Senate handled the screening of the ministerial nominees?
It was a total disgrace. A theatre of the absurd, as far as I am concerned. I had argued earlier that until we begin to assign portfolios to nominees, we will continue to joke with this screening by the Committee of the Whole. We like to borrow, but we won’t follow it to the letter. In the US, where we borrowed from, the President assigns portfolios to the nominees, so you know whether they qualify for the job or not. You don’t just jump in on the day of swearing in to give a portfolio that a person can’t cope with. Remember the case of Adamu Adamu, the former Minister of Education, who said he didn’t know anything about education. The Minister of State under him was a professor at the university. But he was there as education minister; if he had moral standing, he would have turned down the offer. But they don’t go there to serve; they go there to “eat.” Without assigning portfolios, how can you screen someone? Look at the level of fake or “Oluwole” certificates being bandied around. It has become a national culture to forge certificates. There is a racket of forged certificates all over the country, from state to national. Somebody has two papers in WAEC and he is a lawyer; how did he become a lawyer? It is only in Nigeria that such things happen.
So, if they are given portfolios, the screening will be done by various committees in charge of various ministries, after which recommendations will be made to the Committee of the Whole. Each committee takes a nominee and grills him or her for days, not this take-a-bow-and-go thing. They should scrap the entire thing because it is not useful to Nigerians. I saw the way they were praising Wale Edu from Ogun State. The senators from Ogun State praised him to high heaven. Occasionally, the Senate President joined in praising the nominees; is that what Nigerians want? It is a waste of time and resources; they should stop and just approve the nominees directly.
Do you think that the various election petition tribunals, particularly the presidential election petition tribunal, can discharge their functions creditably?
They ought to do that because they have all the materials they need except the will, which is the human element. That is what we cannot predict. But everything is in their arsenal to do their duty, as they swore during their oath of office.
At the lower tribunal, I know that laws are usually followed, but the Supreme Court is where the problem lies. The Supreme Court, being a court of ultimate jurisdiction, not only talks about law but also looks into public policy. It is a nebulous term– public policy. You have the Hope Uzodinma judgement in Imo State, which you cannot rationalise using the law. You have the Ahmed Lawan judgement. You have the Akpabio judgement. They are all judgments of the Supreme Court, which you cannot explain easily. It started with two-thirds of 19 States in the Shehu Shagari and Obafemi Awolowo case, which was another policy judgement.
So, whereas it may look good in the first and second instances, what the Supreme Court will ultimately do is create a mix of public policy. Is it in the interest of the nation that we do this? And that is the argument of Tinubu’s lawyers that it will lead to chaos if their client is disqualified? They are now introducing the element of public policy into a judicial process. What the court will determine to be in the best interest of Nigerians is what we can’t predict. Let’s see how it goes. Nigeria is on trial; the judiciary is on trial.
What are the priority areas you would like the 10th Assembly to focus on for better policies in Nigeria?
Let us not mix roles now. The executive executes, and the legislature legislates. I think the initiative to bring about policy lies with the executive, while the legislature legislates. The legislature fine-tunes legislation in some areas. The issue facing the country is primarily economy and security. The economy is collapsing, and security has gone haywire. Right now, I am in Enugu, and even though the IPOB, the government, and everybody else say no more sit-at-home, nobody is coming out. Do you know why? It is because they don’t believe in any public statement/announcement. They are treading on the side of caution; I don’t blame them. Where is the security?
For example, if you go to the street of Enugu now, you will see policemen and soldiers within every 100 metres, but here in Oji River, where I am, there is no police or army. So, how would I be protected? What should I do? I take it easy. I am cautious because I don’t want to be used for statistics. People are now treading on the side of caution.
As Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution says, the welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purposes of the government. But, in terms of security, governments at all levels have failed the people. A man goes on national television brandishing an AK-47 rifle and claiming on public television that he has a private army, a mercenary gang, and he has not been arrested. The same person was at the Presidential Villa the other day, standing in front of the coat of arms and making a pronouncement, and you tell me that I should feel secure. I will be cautious because if I die, nobody cares, except my family.
Having said that, the National Assembly could see how it can tighten up our security laws, but that is if the executive will execute. As I said, it is one thing to make laws and another thing to execute the laws. Execution is for the executive, but right now, people in the National Assembly bring contracts, bring projects, and all that— those (roles) are not for the legislators but for the executive.
So let us see each section of the three arms do its job. As for the 10th National Assembly, let them firm up the laws, block the loopholes, and improve our laws. And when they are passing the budget, they should look at welfare, education, and security; these are priority areas. We must be productive. What do we do to improve our laws on economic activities? These are the things that are important for now.
What do you think would be the implication of Nigeria, possibly, spearheading the war against Niger, especially with the impression that foreign powers are urging Tinubu to do so?
I have said that we should avoid it at all costs. We can’t afford it in the first place. The country has collapsed. Buhari has sold us to China and other lender countries. We don’t have the money. Our economy is right there in deep red.