By Abdulsalami Muhammad
Elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai served as Special Adviser to President Shehu Shagari on National Assembly Matters and before then was commissioner for Finance in the old Kano State. In this interview, he reviews the steps of the Muhammadu Buhari administration among other issues. Excerpts:
After seven months in office do you believe President Buhari is finding it difficult to settle and why?
Buhari has not been in office for seven months but rather for 13 years. Irrespective of the fact that the election was held in March and he was sworn into the office in May, Buhari has desired the presidential office since 2003 and so he has been in office for 13 years.
This is because it is not when a person assumes the mantle of leadership that that person begins to prepare himself or herself to rule but rather the day he desired to attain that position.
One is supposed to have a fair idea of what one intends to do and the people that would assist him in attaining that goal. It is not after getting the job that a person begins to learn how to do the job. This act is called “learning on the job”, an act that is very difficult.
Contest for office
If a nurse simply because she watches doctors operate on their patients decides one day to perform procedures on a patient, the outcome would be very disastrous. So ,Buhari did not start to work from the day he was elected but rather from the day he made up his mind to contest for office.
Buhari has been contesting for the office since 2003, today makes it 12 years. To me 12 years is long enough for a person to make an impact he wants; the means or resources he has, the means to help him achieve his objective.
So far, how would you say the administration is on course?
Buhari came to power with three major promises, that is tackle Boko Haram, down grade corruption in the country and lastly provide employment for jobless Nigerians especially graduates.
These are apart from other personal promises. So, for us to evaluate his performance, it should be related to the platform upon which he came to power. Buhari gave a deadline of December ending to get rid of Boko Haram, but just a few days back I heard that the Federal Government is warning the general public that Boko Haram are changing their tactics to attack soft spots such as schools, motor parks, markets and other areas where people gather.
Waiting and praying
This can only mean that Boko Haram would not be done with this year otherwise there would have been no need for the government to warn people.
Buhari should not have claimed the attention of the public by saying that he is going to do havoc here and there. I am waiting and praying that we would be able to deal with the Boko Haram before the end of 2015. But from my own observation, I have my share of doubt if we would be able to achieve this by the end of this month.
I say so because of the experience of the American President who took American soldiers to Iraq. President Bush gave a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. Bush left the office without achieving this goal and Obama came to power on the promise of returning the troops.
It took Obama a second term to complete this task. So, the day Buhari gave a deadline what came to my mind immediately was the case of Iraq and Bush. If with all the power at Bush’s disposal as the President and their allies (Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Austria, Italy and the rest of them) could not complete an operation at the targeted date what would Nigeria have to say for herself? So immediately Buhari gave a deadline I knew it was not achievable and I doubt in few days from now we wouldn’t be able to finish with the Boko Haram. I hope and pray we would be able to achieve this but I doubt.
Can Buhari’s economic policy take us to the Promised Land?
Everybody in Nigeria now is crying that life is very difficult. By this time last year, life was not as it is today and from my prediction, we would continue to suffer through the coming year, 2016, 2017 and probably if we are lucky we would begin to see a change in 2018, if you are not prepared, you better start getting ready. This hardship would not go away not just immediately my prediction is that perhaps if we are lucky it would begin to go away by 2018.
I know that the government is assuring everybody that it would be a temporary situation but they know that the citizens are suffering and it wouldn’t be over because unless the government is ready to print paper money and distribute it, the economy will remain the same. If the government prints paper money, it would shoot the price of everything in this country.
You see the suffering that we are having today is as a result of the decision of the government to introduce a Treasury Single Account system for all the government departments and agencies without proper planning.
The previous minister of planning said that they have been planning for it but they were thinking of the space of time that it would take them to introduce this system.
He said that it is not a bad thing in itself but it is not something that happens at the blink of an eye. It is something that has to be introduced stage by stage but unfortunately the present government just announced that schedule should no longer allow accounts to be operated, all the banks most return deposit from government to Central Bank.
The banks were lending money to businesses before out of the government deposits as well as making money from them. Now that the money is not available they are not lending to the businesses and the businesses would now begin to experience lack of activities and the result would be retrenchment.
My experience with life is that need does not go away, when the need for you to spend comes, and you don’t have money the need would wait for you to have money. The first one would come and the second would come and meet the first one the third one, the fourth one and the fifth one.
The moment you get money your predicament is which out of the first to fifth would you give priority to.
You mean Buhari is to blame for sins of past government ?
The problem is we suffered from this same irrational approach to government policy when Buhari was a military head of state. He decided overnight to change the currency, giving a deadline without realising that most of the people in the rural areas did not know anything like the bank.
People who are engaged in the selling and buying of livestock, food stuff and so on. They do not take their money to the bank they know how to keep their money until the next market day. Buhari came with a deadline, and eventually they were pauperised and they suffered.
Trade batter with Brazil
Buhari stopped the importation of things like Maggi and wives of big men would leave their houses as early as 5 a.m to go to Leventis, Kingsway or other shops to queue up for Maggi, salt or sugar. I didn’t let my wives go so I sent my house boys instead to go queue up on their behalf! The common Maggi in Kano became a real scarcity overnight.
This thing happened to us before and Buhari in spite of the large amount of livestock that we have in this country, we engage in trade batter with Brazil. Brazil was supplying Nigeria with beef and frozen chicken. This common chicken that we grow in our backyard. These are the types of policies they adopted.
In a way I like what is happening because it would teach Nigerians a lesson that when politicians come with their slogan that they are going to turn everything into heaven, they should think twice before they lend them their support.
If one says he is going to solve poverty in the country he should tell us how he intends to do so and if he can convince us, then we can vote for him and support him. I hope this would be a lesson for all Nigerians.
How would you evaluate the anti-corruption war of this administration?
There is only one case so far concerning a public officer who was arrested and taken before the court on account of corrupt practices that is the person of Sambo Dasuki. This is the only case of Buhari’s regime has originated so far. There is no other case.
All the other cases were originated by the previous administration. Sambo Dasuki’s case is the only case that has arisen during the life time of Buhari’s administration. If there is any other case please do well to mention it.
So to me, the fight against corruption cannot start and end with Dasuki it should be a holistic action. And from the look of things, most of the targeted people are people who are perceived to be either personal enemies or political opponents of the regime.
If one is going to fight corruption successfully, one should do it without discrimination, it should be holistic, whether the suspects are your children or mother or wife that is involved, it should be dealt with.
Party in power
So far we have not seen this happening in this country. And not part of any member of the party in power and they are a lot of them that are believed to be corrupt. I personally know a lot of them and I refuse to mention any of them.
Is it justifiable the way and manner Dasuki expended the funds entrusted to him?
I promised that I wouldn’t comment on Dasuki’s matter until I hear his own side. As a Muslim, am directed by my religion to hear both side before I pass my judgement. Although he has been speaking, he has been speaking through his lawyer, he didn’t file his defence in the court and until he does this I can’t make an informed statement about him.
Did you benefit from the funds from Dasuki’s office?
Dasuki is my son, but we only met once in the mosque. I know that during the campaign, there were rumours that I received millions of dollars from Jonathan.
Fortunately I happen to be a member of the generation of Nigerians who believe in doing good on the bases of friendship. I have only met Johnathan once in my life which was two days before the election and it was on a matter that bordered on a very glaring issue that would affect national security and the wellbeing of every Nigerian. I tried many people to convey that information to Johnathan but it appeared that they didn’t do it.
So I felt that I have a duty to try my best to see him and draw his attention to it at least I would satisfy my conscience that I tried my best.
So I used the good office of a person that is like a nephew to me who was kind enough to convey my desire to meet the president and that since I have never applied or requested for any interview Johnathan himself told my nephew since I have never requested to see him and since this time that I have requested to see him, it must be on a matter that is considered important so because of that, he told me to meet him that very day by 9 a.m. and I went.
Request for that audience
I told him what the matter was and he confirmed that the information was passed to him by a number of people and he did not take it very seriously but today since that I have never asked for an audience from him and the fact that I took the trouble to request for that audience. And that was the first and last audience I had with him.
So you never received a dime from Dasuki?
No not at all. If Dasuki or any other person gave me money, you would see it or at least hear about it. Besides, I want to make it categorically clear that no officials of the last regime either Mr. Jonathan, his lieutenant, agents, contractors or person having links or relationship with the last administration gave me cash on behalf of that regime for a reason.
Are you satisfied with the way and manner the present regime is handling the fuel crisis?
The present regime hasn’t done anything new. There is no major step they have taken to solve this problem since they came to power.
Do you support the removal of fuel subsidy?
I started campaigning for the removal of subsidy from the time of Yar’Adua because I undertook a study not specifically for that, but as I travelled around the country I took the trouble to observe the cost at which people in rural areas buy fuel and I discovered that even where you get people buying fuel at the official price is in the cities mostly in the rural area people buy fuel at the black market price.
They have forgotten that there is anything like the official price for fuel in Nigeria. Go to Mobi, Gujungu or any rural market you find that they have never bought fuel at the official price so the bulk of the users in Nigeria are not buying at the official price.
I know that we are passing through a difficult month and Buhari many not have the courage to remove fuel subsidy at the moment and I think it is the only way out because as long as the price of fuel is cheaper in Nigeria than in our neighbouring countries, the smuggling of the product would continue unabatedly.
Secondly, petroleum marketers have now devised a strategy whereby they would go and fill their tanks of six compartments 5000 thousand litres each, come to a filling station discharge only one out of six carry the remaining five to the bush and sell it at black market price. If you observe, 5 or 10 kilometres away from the centre of any city, in this country you would find fuel in abundance. The only thing is that the fuel is the black market price. It is not that there is no fuel but it is there being hoarded by the marketers and there are so many and they are in control of the situation and there is no way that government would ensure that the subsidy that we are paying would go to the pocket of the ordinary man, it would never happen. So it is better that we withdraw it so that the product would be available. In a matter of two or three weeks, the product would be available everywhere if you allow everybody to import and I assure you the competition would force the price to come within the neighbourhood of 110 or 120 Naira per litre. Now a gallon of fuel costs 1000 Naira.
What is your reaction to the agitation by some Ibos to leave Nigeria?
It is our young people that are talking about going, you see they don’t consider the consequences of leaving. They don’t even know what the consequences would be. Firstly, the world is that in which the bigger you are, the stronger you are. Look at the European Union. The creation of the 36 state structure in Nigeria has made it nearly impossible for Ibos to break away from Nigeria.
This is so because they are surrounded by other states and they cannot occupy the other states and the people of the other states would rather battle against them if they attempt to occupy their state. Secondly as I mentioned earlier, the people agitating for Biafra are the youths and I know what their problem is and this issue is affecting everybody throughout the country that is the lack of employment, poverty, everybody is suffering from this and secession is not a solution.
Among Nigerians, the Igbos are the most resilient people they are very enterprising, they don’t believe in staying idle, they are hardworking people so it is impossible for them to go outside the confines of Nigeria’s territory.
They came out to all parts of Nigeria and are welcomed.
Take a look at Lagos for example, in Alaba market, the Igbos are the most populated in that place. With all the industries, banks and insurance companies controlled by the Yoruba they are not competing with Ibos at Alaba market. This is because the Ibos are Nigerians, but if they aren’t Nigerians do you think the Yorubas would allow them to go and dominate a market in their area and they cannot do anything about it.
Same thing applies in Kano, when a light bulb gets spoilt in the Emir’s house, the Emir’s servants would have to look for an Igbo shop to buy bulb for there to be light in the palace. Same thing applies in the issue of building materials, electronic gadgets, electrical appliances and many other things which the Igbo’s through their resilience and enterprising attitude they are now the dominant elements throughout Nigerians. Igbo’s claim that on Sundays they go to the church, this is not entirely true because 90 percent of them go for their town union’s meeting.
On such days one can’t get anything, if a car gets spoilt, there is no spare part to repair it because the Igbo spare part seller is not available. So the Igbos are important to the economy of this country that I don’t think they can survive comfortably outside Nigeria.