By Ishola Balogun & Juliet Ebirim
As the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly remains frosty, veteran journalist and ace public commentator, Jimi Disu takes a swipe at the way government is being run, saying that President Muhammadu Buhari likes to micro-manage Nigeria and not working with modern trends.
He also strongly says that the Minister of Youth and Sports be fired for what he describes as his revolutionary-like dressing which he argues sends wrong signals to the youths. “We have been talking about how we can get our youths back into form, yet you have a Minister of Youth who dresses badly and the President tolerates him.” Disu is always passionate about youth matters.
Hitting everything that is not nailed and remaining unapologetic, the Producer of the Jimi Disu Discourse speaks on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and other issues in this interview with Saturday Vanguard in his Surulere office. Excerpts:
How would you describe your transformation from print to the electronic media and what impact do people say the Jimi Disu Discourse has made so far?
There’s really no transformation. What I am doing now is not really different from what I was doing before, except that unlike print which is written down as report, this one is verbalized and it makes life easy for me.
The only challenge is the spontaneity of being on air live, where you have to react quickly and make sure it comes out correct. The media has always been in me. Even when I was in primary school, we had a little school magazine then and I was a member of the editorial board. In secondary school, I was also part of the editorial board.
After my A Levels, I worked with Daily Times for a while. I got my first job as an assistant editor in the Punch Newspapers when I was 24. It’s difficult for you to know what impact your programme is making from what people tell you.
They will never tell you the truth because they’ll think it’s impolite. What I know is that quite a lot of people hear me, but I honestly do not know what they are thinking. So, I just do my best and once I’m sure, within my conscience, that what I’ve done is right, I’m okay. So, in truth, I can’t be boastful to tell you that this is the impact it has had from what people say.
Like most Nigerians, you were disappointed with the way former President Jonathan ran the country and you were happy when change came with the present Buhari administration.
But going by your recent comments on air, you appear disappointed. What excited you about Buhari in the first place and what is disappointing you now about his administration?
To be honest with you, I felt that the government of Jonathan was a mitigated disaster. I don’t know why God visited us with such a person. I do not say this to insult him. The man was just incompetent. Period! When I say these things on radio, some people wonder.
You can’t put the lives of 200 million people in jeopardy simply because you can’t tell one man the truth. The man was not fit for the job. We’ve been trying to trace the thesis of this gentleman, we can’t find it. If you ask for anybody’s thesis from a proper university, you’ll find it.
The man wasn’t competent and I think God just wanted to punish us. Corruption was not Jonathan’s problem; it was incompetence. How do you just sign a paper and then say go and collect money from the Central Bank? How do you run a country like that? I worked at a high level position in Unilever and you don’t even run a company like that. It will end up in disaster. Jonathan’s government was a complete failure.
I have no apologies for the fact that I contributed to the exit of Jonathan. People say as a journalist, I shouldn’t have taken sides. I agree, but I was on the side of the truth. That’s my calling. I was trained to tell the truth at all times. I took sides with the truth. When the history of this country will be told, my name will occur in people’s minds, even if it’s not written down.
I’m not disappointed at Buhari. When the election came, we virtually had two options – Buhari or Jonathan. When you have an option, you have to choose one. I was happy that we could use Buhari to oust Jonathan, but I’m also a bit worried that after having stopped the bleeding, moving forward, I’ve always believed that we need a younger president for more than government purposes.
Buhari is well read and has good intentions, but I wish we had a presidential system where we had a prime minister. In which case, Buhari will take hold of defense and other matters, while the Prime Minister will be the one to do the day-to-day administration of the country. I do not think Buhari will have that capacity for modern governance and it shows.
In modern governance, you can’t micro-manage a country; you have to delegate. Your first function is to look for competent people. Do you think it was for nothing that President Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? The Secretary of State in American system is usually an alter-president. That’s where I think Buhari’s shortcomings started showing. He even appointed himself as Oil Minister.
You don’t build things around yourself; you build systems. You must be able to find somebody who can be the substantive Oil Minister. Look at the disaster we have now – one year of that same government, we don’t have fuel. You can’t continue to give excuses especially in the area of petroleum. You can’t still keep pointing fingers at Jonathan.
When are you going to stop doing that? Even though Buhari is a fine gentleman, 50 times better than the other one, I think a combination of his age and the fact that governance has changed since he was Head of State 30 years ago, are really not helping matters.
Look at me; I’m 60 plus. At my age, I can’t successfully run a PR company again; the most I can be is a Chairman. It’s for the young people, 40 plus and all; they know all the new terms. Even in journalism, it would be foolhardy to tell me to come and edit a paper or set up a magazine. I can only be a consultant and give directions.
Is that why you are disappointed about this government?
I’m worried. Two positions worry me the most in this government – the Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the Government. Those two positions are very key. You can see what has happened with the way they handled the issue of the budget. When it comes to administration, you can’t fault President Obasanjo.
I’m even a bit worried about one or two of the ministers. I wonder why it took President Buhari so long to come up with his cabinet members. Someone running for president and has been at it for so long, at the touch of a button should have a cabinet in his head. Buhari is appearing as if he wasn’t ready for governance. It took him so long to put a cabinet together, a cabinet that most people had already formed in their minds.
And that is why at the end of April, we still don’t have a budget. Look at the areas of the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly; it’s almost zero. It shouldn’t be! It’s because Buhari likes to micro-manage.
He doesn’t work with modern times. Buhari doesn’t want to sit with Saraki for whatever reason, but he has to.
The country is not his personal fiefdom. People say, it’s because he doesn’t trust them, that’s why he has to run things himself. If you don’t trust people, why do you think people should trust you. It’s not your personal empire; it belongs to the people. He must show some trust for others to trust him.
Some people will argue that some of the young leaders we had in the past also failed us, so do you think performance is out-rightly a function of age?
It’s not a function of age, but age is a determining factor. Let’s be honest with ourselves. For someone to lead a country, you need to be intelligent, bold and also look forward. At 72, you look backward.
At my age, I think about the past. I don’t even look at the future. It’s just a natural attitude. There are certain things you can’t do at that age. Yes, we’ve had incompetent young people. I didn’t say young people are capable just because they are young. Age is not the only factor, but it has contributed.
The war against corruption appears to be targeted at politicians when the civil service, the customs and police engage in corrupt practices; has anything really changed in terms of anti-corruption crusade?
The problem with corruption in Nigeria is that close to 90% of the population have corrupt tendencies. Who are you going to use to fight this corruption, is it not the same Nigerians? What institution are you going to use? It’s the police. Who will run the campaign and other programmes? It’s the civil servants. We can only try and from what he has done so far, we should give him credit.
A lot of people say he has been partial in his corruption fight. He can’t fight everybody. He has to start from somewhere. The truth is when you set out a process like this, it can consume even the person who started it.
This anti-corruption fight has started a life of its own. It’s not only at the federal level. I don’t believe that this corruption is only a PDP thing. The APC states are not any better and some are so blatant for all of us to see.
When you look at the kind of money involved in a past government where a Chief of Staff was claimed to be getting N582 million cash every month, it is systemic corruption! I’ve never seen anything like it. I shudder when I think of what would have happened if Jonathan was still president today.
You’re passionate about issues concerning the youths. What do you think can be done to check the rising cases of cultism, kidnapping and other forms of crime in our society and of course in secondary schools and universities?
I feel so sorry for the youths of today. I thank God for Buhari’s intervention. When I heard that a students’ union was putting up a budget for the students’ union office in which they put up security votes, I wondered. That shows you that our youths are getting it wrong and I don’t blame them. The reason some of them go into cultism and other crimes is because they want to belong to a place where they think they’ll make financial or influential progress.
These things went haywire at the time of President Ibrahim Babangida. I do not blame the youths for being desperate because that’s all they know. The only thing we can do is change the orientation of this country itself. We don’t have a moral code anymore. I think over time, the youths themselves will realise that there’s only one path to honour and that’s through hard work.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a conspiracy between the politicians, civil servants, the judiciary and religious bodies. They have all failed us as a country.
Even the churches have failed. They ought to be preaching morality, but all they do is preach prosperity. Unfortunately, we’re so far behind as a nation and we misinterpret all the things that are happening around us in the developed world, not knowing that even the developed world are trying to take care of the decadence.
Nowadays, it has become imperative for an 11-year-old child to have a phone. The moment he/she has a phone, he automatically has access to the internet and can watch virtually all the porn movies in this world. It’s a different world entirely and it’s going to be very tough to manage.
It is worrisome, but where did we get it wrong? Could it be because there were no good parenting or there were no role models?
Half of the role models we have now are criminals. There was a social revolution when Babangida took over and at that time most of the learned and exposed people had been completely decimated. What we have now are new boys on the block and most of them have moral questions to answer.
Obviously, you cannot compare the parliament which I grew up to know in Nigeria to this National Assembly that has decided to buy utility vehicles for N36 million. If you need vehicle for committee functions, all you need is to have a pool of about 20 coastal buses.
When the Committee on Aviation is going on a tour, you can quickly put a memo to the Transport Department for the use of a bus at specified time and that is what we need to do. So, it means if 11 members of a committee want to go on a tour say in Ibadan, they will put 11 Jeeps on the road.
Does that make sense? The mindset is completely warped. These people come from terrible poor backgrounds – I mean poverty of the mind not of money. If not for innate greed, the average Senator can dip his hands into his pocket and buy himself a vehicle. But people see public offices as avenue to acquire wealth for themselves.
What the Babangida’s government produced for us in politics at that time was full of all sorts of corrupt people and that’s why we are where we are now. The way Nigeria was structured, the intellectual strength came from the West, the money and wealth came from the East and then power came from the North.
Every country must have intellectual elite. The old UPN was also part of the problem when they took over all the missionary schools which had very good standards. We’ve forgotten that all the people cannot be equal and we failed to provide for those who could not go to school. I ask myself that how can Yoruba produce a governor like Fayose? Look at Ekiti with all their knowledge and look at the governor they produced.
A man who said in an interview that he had been a bus conductor and look at his behaviour. It is easier for you to judge. If you think what he is doing is fine, okay.
But I am worried about a process which produced a governor like that, more so, in Ekiti. That should tell you something. You see, like Jakande said for example, that no common entrance; if you finished, you go to the next school.
When in our own days, there was no automatic admission. The Lagos State Government later started remedial for admission into LASU. You don’t do remedial for admission into university; you either qualify or not. What they should have done was to set up Technical Colleges for those who are not disposed to going into the university and they can still make a breakthrough. Imagine if we had properly set up Technical Colleges.
Why do we run after Togolese any time we want to build a house? It is because they have properly run technical schools. So, it was the West that save the country intellectually.
The gap between the first Yoruba lawyers and other contemporary lawyers is about 40 years. So, if the West had been a country on its own, and we had continued along the path that was set in the early 60s, we would not have had an intellectual fall out in the West.
The North believed that it was better to keep their people uneducated so that they would have very little aspiration and so, poverty started rising in the North. Unfortunately, by the time Babangida wanted to hand over power, he was handing over to military contractors.
Do you think the Youths and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung can be a role model to our youths and what image do you capture in the way he dresses?
It is absolutely unfortunate that President Buhari in his own wisdom appointed that man a minister. He does not appear to me to be a serious or competent person. How can you have a Minister of Youth and Sports that dresses like a revolutionary.
We have been talking about how we can get our youths back into form, yet you have a Minister of Youths who dresses like a revolutionary and the President tolerates him. The man is a complete un-serious human being. When you take up a public office, all your private nuances have to be put aside.
We expect to have a Minister of Youths who will be a role model and an example to the youths. Is that man with a red beret a role model? Is he a good example to the youths? How does President Buhari feel when he comes into cabinet meeting and he dresses like that? All those who say “it doesn’t mean anything” do not know what they are talking about. If you were to employ somebody and he came dressing like that, would you employ him?
Why didn’t he dress like that to the Senate during his screening? He wore a suit when he was going for screening. Instead of people to say the truth that this is not a good example to the youths, some say it doesn’t mean anything.
As far as I am concerned, he dresses irresponsibly. Can he accompany President Buhari out of the country like that? Won’t people think he was a security detail? The man’s dressing tolerated so far, gives an idea that all is not well with this country at the moment. To make it worse, he is a lawyer. Is he a clown?
We need a minister who will be serious and set good example for the youths.I heard him say that he wants to be like the youths. It is a pity! My son cannot dress like that and hope to accompany me anywhere. I have warned the youths many times on radio that “don’t follow the example of that man.” Don’t think that was what made him minister. He became a minister by error. I was trained that if you take care of the minor details, the big ones will fit in properly. If a man at that level is so un-serious, in these hard times, to dress like that and say he is a minister, then we have a problem.
People have been saying in various media but Buhari is standing by him. We are going to move against him because some of us have been fighting for so long for this country to get to where it is today. We are not going to allow any human being who does not know what to do to ruin the future of our youths. The Youth and Sports Minister should be in the forefront of youth development and set good example for the youths.
When I was in the university, I dared not go home dressed like that. Some people want to rationalise it, comparing him to Wole Soyinka. They forget that Soyinka is an icon and like other icons, people all over the world and the society allow them be. By the same token, there are such positions you will not put such people into lest you will be sending wrong message. Brilliant as Fela was, can you make him a Minister of Youths?I have told one or two persons in government that this does not do the image of this government well. Can’t they increase his allowance so that he buys for himself a corporate dress to wear? It smacks of un-seriousness for you to have a public meeting and your minister turns out this way. I challenge him to a public debate to come and justify his dressing.
I also want those around the President to tell him that it is part of the indiscipline of the youths that has led us to where we are today. Youths during Babangida era are in government today and that is why you will have a lawmaker that always wants to buy a car of N36 million. It shows you that something is wrong with the mindset. With this man’s attitude, we are going down the valley again.Aside from his dressing, don’t you think he has any good thing to offer as a minister?
In life, there are certain things that will make you to take the first step. Every time I look at him, I feel disgusted and I don’t even care about what he does. His dressing irritates me and I don’t see him as a serious-minded person. Therefore, I don’t pay attention to whatever he is doing. For God’s sake, if you have a more vibrant youth, I take interest in whatever he is doing. I take interest in what Fashola is doing not because he is in power but because of his intellectual capacity; look at his carriage, look at the beautiful piece he wrote on the trip to China. You will follow a man like that. Maybe they should add the Ministry of Youths to his loaded portfolios. Dalung has failed from his take-off point.
I notice he goes from one problem to the other. The other day he was having a meeting and the NFF was fighting and he was supposed to be mediating, but somebody, maybe his aide, was tweeting the activities on a minute by minute basis and it was completely embarrassing. Buhari might think the Sports Ministry is a dumping ground for any minister but that is the key to the future. It is equally as important as the Petroleum Ministry.
Imagine if all our university students start dressing like that. We are trying to curb cultism and kidnapping and the man in charge of youths is sending a wrong signal. Even in the university that you don’t have a dress code, you will still look odd dressing like that. Do you also know that there is an unspoken law that you do not wear a red beret? Personally, I believe the man should be removed. It is not a question of telling him to dress properly. You have over 200 million people to choose from. We are not short in supply of brilliant and disciplined people as ministers.Another minister that worries me is the Minister of Communications. Buhari apparently chose some of these people because of loyalty to the party but he should realise that the key for any minister is performance. Even if a man does not greet you but once he can do the job, give it to him. That ministry should have been given to a more younger and technically advanced person. Communication is very vibrant and needs someone who wants Nigeria to move very quickly rather than see himself as a gate-keeper for the government. I am also a bit worried about the Minister of Budget. If you like it or not, this mess was from his office. The ministry needs a seasoned technocrat who can reel out figures at any time. It is very technical; it is not only honesty. Competency is also important.
Are you monitoring the track record of Governor Ambode of Lagos State based on the promises he made in your programme?
Ambode had a faulty start but to be fair to him, he has picked up so well. He is not perfect but he shows a lot of promise. If there is one thing I like about Governor Ambode, it is the fact that he listens to the voice of the people; ironically more than his predecessor. Fashola, I believe, was a bit intellectually arrogant but people who are brilliant like him are always like that. Ambode listens.
My major problem with him is those who are handling his exposure. I hope they don’t undo him. They are using tactics that are not fit for a problem. It is like using analogue system in a digital world. The world has changed from all these press conferences, even now that you have a social media. Two, the people want to see their leader, and they don’t want their leader thrust at them. So, the people handling him are over exposing him.
The other day, you had a project: ‘Light-up Lagos’. You now had a ceremony to go and cut the tape for providing street light that we grew up to know in the ’60s. For me, he would have done the street light, and made an appearance like a frugal person, but they want to turn him into a showman, taking photograph with him rolling his sleeves. In modern governance, it does not make any impact. People know what is going on.
Stop focusing on the man for two reasons. One, it will irritate the people, and he will see himself as a megalomania. Gbenga Daniel tried it in Ogun and it failed him because it threw the people against him. There are some of them who are ready to give free advice. It pays me to have an environment to which I can make more money than to go for gifts from the Governor. Another thing about his handlers is that anybody who criticises the Governor is his enemy. That is not something that the Governor will live by; everybody can’t like him.