By Emman Ovuakporie
Former Governor of Edo State, Senator Oserheimen Osunbor, a Professor of Law and former chairman Nigerian Law Reform Commission, NLRC, in this interview spoke extensively on the salutary effects of President Muhammadu Buhari’s return from medical vacation and its impact on Nigerians, as he dismissed hopes of a possible return of his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to power in 2019.Excerpts.
Do you see your party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, delivering on the dividends of democracy between now and 2019?
My first response to your question is what do you mean by dividends of democracy? I ask this because democracy itself is a dividend. It’s a benefit to the people. The very fact that we are having democracy is a benefit to the people, that you are having a government that is responsive to the yearnings of the people, is a benefit in itself; that the government is not as corrupt as it used to be in the past is a dividend to the people.
But beyond these, people also want to see that the rate of inflation is down, that white collar jobs are generated and that a lot of the unemployed youths have become gainfully employed. They want to see roads and other infrastructure being revamped and the availability of electricity enhanced power.
Talking about power, it is interesting that I now spend less on diesel than was the case in the past. I am spending only about 20 per cent to buy diesel for my generator now than maybe this time last year; so there is improvement. Even in the village, when I go home to Edo State, I enjoy public power supply now more than ever before. So we can say in the area of availability of electric power there is improvement.
However there are other areas like the roads which call for a lot of attention. Talking about going to Edo State, from Abuja the state of the roads now is very bad and people expect to see a lot of improvement in the road condition of roads. To answer your question directly I believe that before 2019 roads will be fixed, and become better given assurances that I have received in that respect.
Regarding the issue of employment, a lot of improvements are also going on. Through the interventions that the APC administration has introduced, the N-Power and Conditional Cash Transfers and others, a lot of people are creating jobs on their own, creating wealth, and creating employment opportunities for others.
What many youths are looking for are white collar jobs. But I think the experience in the last few years should teach Nigerians that future opportunities for employment are not government white collar jobs or civil service but in the private sector. This government is encouraging the private sector. It has also eliminated waste in public spending.
Through a combination of all these strategies that the APC administration has put in place, I believe that definitely by 2019 things would be much better than they are now and the government would have been well positioned to build upon and consolidate on these achievements in the period post 2019.
I will like to urge Nigerians to be patient. When a new administration comes into office they normally need a period to settle down. So let’s be charitable and concede that the APC administration needs time to settle down. It needs time to study and discover firsthand the depth of the rot that they inherited and to be able to implement measures to correct the wrongs that they met on the ground. All these things take time.
As I said before, people expect to see magic and that overnight things would be transformed, but it doesn’t happen like that. Once you accept that there is sincerity of purpose in the mind of those in charge of running the government of the day, once you believe that Mr. President himself as a man of integrity who is committed to the wellbeing and improvement of Nigerians and the Nigerian society then I can say let’s be charitable. Let’s be kind to the government by allowing a few more years before you can conclude whether they have succeeded or failed.
PDP had 16 unbroken years to transform this country and take us to where Nigerians expect APC government to get us to. PDP government didn’t take us there in 16years; so you should be patient with the APC administration that has spent only two years. In four years perhaps a little beyond I strongly believe APC will be able to take Nigerians to the position that we all aspire for and desire Nigeria to be.
Do you see the success of the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP posing a threat to the APC in 2019?
You are right in your observation that after the Supreme Court judgment there was a lot of euphoria and joy in PDP. People were thumping their chests and boasting that they were set to win the elections and in particular the Presidential election in 2019 and become the dominant party in Nigeria again.
As you know very well elections basically are local things. Before you can think of winning the presidential election or any election at all, you must assess the strength of the party locally. Even those who are saying that PDP will win in 2019, look at each of the individuals and ask yourself who among them can win in his state? Which states are they going to win? Is it Kaduna State or Edo State? PDP cannot win in Edo State. Even among the current PDP states, there are many that APC is going to win in 2019. In 2019 APC will win Enugu State. Take that from me. In 2019 APC will win Cross River State. APC will definitely retain Edo State because everyday people are leaving PDP.
One of the strongest politicians in Edo State, Hon. Matthew Iduoriyekemwen left PDP recently. In my own local government area, some of the strongest PDP people are set to join us in APC. Who is PDP going to count on to win the elections in Edo State in 2019? Let me use this opportunity to urge Ize Iyamu, the PDP candidate in the 2016 governorship election in Edo State to return to APC where he rightly belongs instead of wasting his time in PDP.
Consider all the states of the federation and the FCT, one by one, in which one is PDP going to defeat APC in 2019? What record will they campaign with to be able to defeat APC in those states in 2019? Talk is cheap, anybody can boast. About a year ago we were told that many APC, Senators about 20 of them were ready to decamp to PDP. We are still waiting to see the APC senators that will decamp to PDP.
On the contrary, it is PDP Senators that are decamping to APC. It is just an illusion for anybody to imagine that PDP can win the presidential election in 2019. I am not a dreamer so I do not support that dream at all, it cannot happen. PDP destroyed itself with wickedness, greed and arrogance and cannot rise again unless and until they first seek God’s forgiveness and apologise to Nigerians. PDP will not control more than eight states after the 2019 general elections.
Do you see President Buhari’s return from his medical vacation easing the tension in the polity arising from alleged marginalisation of some parts of the country and the surge in the attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group?
As to whether the presence of the President will have any salutary effect, I will say yes there is a jubilant mood all across the length and breadth of the country, that President Buhari has returned from his medical trip to London, it is a thing to be happy about, we thank God Almighty that He has granted him recovery to the extent that he feels able to return to Nigeria and to resume work.
Definitely it has a salutary effect as you can see from the jubilant mood. It is like the father of the family who had been away for some months and has returned from a journey. It calls for celebration by the children and all members of the household. In like manner, the President of Nigeria having been away for such a long time and has returned, everybody has cause to be happy that the head of the family, the father of the household is back and I join the rest of Nigeria in welcoming him back and wishing him God’s continuous protection, good health, stamina, the energy to continue from where he left off when he travelled abroad and to be able to face all the various challenges that confront the country.
It is a pity that we witnessed the kind of protests and agitations by some groups and some negative comments against him but I am glad that he took those protests and behaviour in very good light, with a sense of humour and good spirit.
This again shows his level of maturity and cool headedness that a father should exhibit even when there are errant children whose conducts some may consider deviant. But it is all part of the exercise of freedom of speech. The constitution and even the international human rights Community these days do recognise that individuals have the freedom to express themselves.
While it is good for people to exercise their freedom of expression, sometimes this can be abused and people do abuse freedoms. We must avoid excesses.
Unfortunately what we have witnessed is some people protesting from a position of ignorance as to what the constitution says. Like the man who was protesting at the Abuja House in London because as he claimed even though the president transmitted power to the Vice President he did not transfer responsibility. That is ridiculous.
As to whether his arrival will douse the tensions currently in the country and lead to instant resolution of issues of contention or the high expectations of Nigerians; well again I will say that Nigerians are too anxious and hasty to get quick results and quick fixes. When you are too much in a hurry for quick fixes and you don’t get those quick fixes you begin to look for scapegoats. This is seriously at the heart of most of our problems as a nation starting with the first military coup in January 1966. People are too quick to fault others and hold somebody responsible when things are not going right, without really undertaking any deep reflection even to the extent of introspection as to what their own role is and what they can do to improve society. I admit that Nigerians having voted in a government of change, it is legitimate to want to experience that change. The difficulty as I see it is that the situation had been allowed to deteriorate for so many years. For so long and beneath the semblance of normality, a lot of rot had been going on underneath.
Some leading functionaries of government like Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala who was the Coordinating Minister for the economy raised alarm from time to time that the economy was heading into the abyss as and that some remedial actions needed to be undertaken as quickly as possible but her counsel fell on deaf ears. People didn’t take heed.
The critics have forgotten that the federal government was already borrowing money as of the second half of 2014 to pay workers salaries. Now the whole thing has caught up with us, the economic recession is here with us.
It will take some time for government to be able to correct the damage that had been done before it came to power and this requires patience.
I recall that in 1999 when democracy was restored, there was a similar air of expectations across the country. People were very expectant that democracy will solve all the problems that we were having under the military but democracy has not solved all the problems. They are not things that you can solve with a magic wand in an instant.
I also recall that as a Senator at that time in 1999 and many years thereafter, we were always being told that the government was going through a learning process. It is quite natural that anybody getting into a particular position which he has not occupied before will need some time to settle down, even if the person is a genius. The only difference may be in the duration.
This government has shown a lot of maturity and readiness to take the bull by the horn. They are not giving excuses, they are not shouting learning process like PDP but we should admit that a new administration needs time to settle down. They need time to be able to properly diagnose the problems from within and not from outside as an opposition party. These things take time and will not happen overnight. Many Nigerians expected that right from the 29th of May 2015 things will change instantly, but it does not work like that.
I want to urge Nigerians to be patient, the change will not happen overnight. Rather it will take diligence and hard work on the part of everybody. It will take entail individuals changing their own attitude to work and towards governance. Many people want to change the world, but are not willing or ready to change themselves first. If you want to change society you must be ready to change yourself, which is why Mr President introduced this “change begins with me” mantra.
Many Nigerians have refused to change themselves, instead they hold on for decades or generations to the same kind of principles right or wrong but expect other people to change. We must be ready to team up together and develop our country. Some people even clamour that the British should come back to re-colonise us. I can tell you, the British have their own problems to deal with. No British man or foreign power for that matter is coming to re-colonise Nigeria again. We must confront the problems by ourselves and solve them by ourselves. This takes time. It is not going to happen in 2 years or 3 years or maybe even 4years.
We should be able to assess the sincerity of those running the administration. We should evaluate the three cardinal policies of the administration; security, anti- corruption and economic recovery and ask whether there are signs of change, or improvements in the three areas. From what I can see, from the economic indices we are making progress.
On anti-corruption, Nigerians have been startled by the amount of money that was being stolen in this country. The way and manner people were just helping themselves to public funds that is not happening anymore. The fact that people are being brought to trial on a scale never witnessed before is evidence of progress even though it’s regrettable that convictions are not being secured in large number. However, the government is also looking at plugging loopholes in the criminal justice system, that “corrupt people” and their lawyers exploit to avoid conviction. The Vice President has mentioned that they are looking at plugging those loopholes and as a Professor of the Law of Evidence I am sure he knows exactly where to look at and I am confident that very soon there will be reforms to ensure that persons facing trial for corruption and looting of public funds don’t get off the hook or evade conviction in the manner that they have been doing.
Looking at the personality of the President himself, the vast majority of Nigerians believe that he is a man of integrity and nobody so far, despite all the negative comments is saying that he is looting public funds.
Nobody is saying that he is covering up for anybody. Even when there were suggestions in that direction, those involved were asked to face investigations and government will come up with the report on them hopefully soon. We must get it right with Buhari otherwise corruption, not secession will destroy Nigeria.
To summarise therefore, Mr President has returned and we thank God Almighty. Expectations have been high. The father of the house is back and definitely even if it is just the psychological effect that daddy has returned, I believe it will have a salutary effect on the psyche of Nigerians and government will be able to move and work better with less distractions.
You say the President is not covering up for anybody but it is commonly said that some of his ministers are corrupt?
What I know about the matter of Hon Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State is that his predecessor Chief Nyesom Wike set up a commission of enquiry to probe Amaechi’s administration. The findings and recommendations of the panel of enquiry were published in the newspapers. From what I read there were no findings that Amaechi stole any money but that he did not follow due process in the award of the contracts for the projects which were listed out. Mind you the projects had been executed and are there for all to see in Rivers State today yet he was asked to refund the billions of Naira government spent for the execution. Accordingly, it is malicious and uninformed to say that Amaechi as far as those findings are concerned, committed any criminal offence for which the Buhari administration should prosecute him.
If anybody has credible evidence of corruption against any member of the administration, let them come up with it or blow the whistle against such a person. Instead of engaging in mere insinuations.