By Dapo Akinrefon
Mr. Tony Uranta is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Summit Group (NNSG). In this interview, Uranta, among other issues, says restructuring will be a factor in the 2019 presidential election. Excerpts:
The Muhammadu Buhari administration promised to bring about ‘change’ when it assumed office in 2015. Do you agree the government has made good the promise?
I think the administration is in love with the American Trump administration because both administrations appear to be working as twin brothers; pushing out lies as policy of state and expecting that their words would bring about change, not their actions.
It is clear even to the blind and obvious to the deaf that Nigeria is in a mess and things are never this bad since the end of the civil war. I say this bearing in mind the fact that many people are going to react from two perspectives: One; that I am former President Jonathan’s friend and two, corruption is fighting back. On the second one, let Magu could come and arrest me and I will become rich because I would sue the whole nation because I have not benefitted corruptly from anybody, not even Jonathan or anybody that served in his government.
While I sympathise with Jonathan that he lost the 2015 election, I thank God because if he had not lost, we wouldn’t have heard the last of it. Everybody would have been saying had Buhari got into power, Nigeria would have been an Eldorado. We all are seeing the Eldorado nonsense that Nigeria has descended into at this period.
All I can say is that change, maybe was truly in the mind of especially President Buhari, who I think still has principles, even though I am not sure how nationalistic he is, he is surrounded by confused people, both in his cabinet and kitchen cabinet, not to talk of the people who have influence on him outside government.
Does your position take into cognizance the achievements the government has recorded in recent times like the ease of doing business, the fight against Boko Haram and the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which many believe has blocked leakages in revenue accruing to government and cut wastages? Are you conscious of all these in your comment?
First, each of these three things you mentioned was started by the previous administration. Of course, we have recorded certain successes during this administration but let’s take each of the three at a time.
On ease of doing business, this government is only building on the systems put in place by the Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua and Jonathan administrations. Who would have been able to fight Boko Haram when nobody wanted to sell arms to us? The reason they are able to curb Boko Haram was that the Jonathan government managed to bring in, through unorthodox ways, ammunition and arms for the military to increase the fight.
If a man was threatened that if he ever attacked Boko Haram, it would be seen as an attack on the North ahead of the election year, and he still managed to clear Boko Haram from all the local governments just before the elections, I would give him pass mark.
If some people told him to tread carefully, combined with the people that stood against him, that is, the then opposition, including Mr. President now and the then President of America, Obama, who made sure that none of his allies supplied us with weaponry, and yet Jonathan prosecuted that fight the best way he could, I will not consider what is happening under Buhari anything extraordinary because he has everything he needs to fight Boko Haram.
I told former Jonathan to bring in Gen Gusau (ret.) to head a homeland security unit because I believed a northerner will better prosecute the war against Boko Haram because he would not be accused of being an outsider. That was the accusation against Ihijerika and Minimah when they were army chiefs and, when Jonathan finally brought NSA Dasuki and America and all her allies refused to sell us arms, Dasuki decided to be creative about bringing arms in, which he did at different levels of the air force, the navy and the army. Those arms are the ones the armed forces used up to June of this year to prosecute the war against Boko Haram. So, if Buhari had prosecuted the war less effectively, I would have been surprised.
On TSA, that system was not started by this administration, it was introduced by the last administration but this administration came in and said democracy had hampered the arrest of people who are corrupt, forgetting that democracy is what brought him into power. The administration wants to stop corruption and one of the ways is through TSA but, in economics, we were told you cannot pull all the money out of circulation at once.
That is why we have treasury bills and so on to gradually reduce the money in circulation. Now that we put all the money in TSA, immediately you started getting warnings from economists here in Nigeria and internationally that this is going to crash your economy; you insisted and this led to the recession and what I call depression because, by definition, when you have three quarters of recession, you have a depression. You and I know that we had more than five quarters of recession and yet Nigeria refused to admit that we had a depression because we could lie to the people.
Why many of us have not got up to say this government has not lived up to its promises of ‘change’ is because we are embarrassed by the fact that we stood for a government so radically – that it has not done what we expected it to do. We are not saying Buhari has done nothing. What we are saying is that he should stop exaggerating his gains and accept his losses and improve the system.
There seems to be a consensus in the South on restructuring but government is actually foot-dragging on the issue. Do you see Nigeria getting restructured or do you think the proponents would have to wait till Godot?
I am one of the people who started the restructuring idea. Remember, up till the time of PRONACO, there was the insistence that we must have a Sovereign National Conference. I and a few others decided that for us to keep insisting on SNC means we would not move forward; so, we started the idea of National Conference and pushed it through the Nigerian National Summit Group (NNSG).
It was clear when former President Jonathan submitted the report of the last National Conference to the National Assembly and handed it over to President Buhari that the nation had spoken and wanted its resolutions addressed by the legislative and executive arms of government, which has not happened till today.
The fundamental decision of that conference can be summarised in one word: Restructuring. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of people being intentionally mischievous about what restructuring really means. And also, I found out that we have allowed the debate about restructuring to be politicised.
Restructuring, honestly, means changing the economic face of Nigeria, so that every Nigerian can have a better life. All we are saying is that, let everybody – every federating unit – truly have control of its resources, pay something to the centre and develop decides what is best for it.
Nigeria is currently at the crossroads and the perception is that the Hausa-Fulani have ulterior agenda but we have been having a kind of partnership between the South and the Middle Belt. Do you think this development can bring about any change in the polity?
I think every union of people where one of them is not feudalistic or parochial in its thinking of dominating other groups in the national picture is a welcome development. If the Arewa youths had not threatened the Igbo, the Southern Leaders Forum would not have been created and southern unity would not have come into existence. In fact, the North shot itself in the foot and also in the mouth, as they would find out soon.
I can tell you, and I stand to be corrected, that the Federal Government invited the Southern Leaders Forum to a meeting with the Arewa Consultative Forum – that the Vice President would chair – and we told government that we were not attending any meeting that did not recognise the Middle Belt.
The days of fooling Nigerians, that the North is one indissoluble bloc, are over.
It is good that the southern and Middle Belt leaders are now coming together, resolving their differences and strengthening their commonalities and this is going to create a new dynamics within the next three months at the most.
Even the APC is not going to depend on one man’s word to make any region vote en masse for any candidate. Each candidate will have to come to the people of each zone and convince them that he is their leader and should be given a chance in 2019.
As it is not likely that Nigeria gets restructured by this administration as being demanded, what would you say will be the position of the South in 2019, concerning whoever will be coming in as the President?
Mark my word, restructuring is going to be the central issue around which Nigeria’s next President will be determined whether for or against. Restructuring is going to be the determinant factor to bring about the next President of Nigeria.