Dr Tunde Moses Elebute is a developmental economist, public affairs commentator, and human rights advocate. He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on the 20 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, the country’s rising debt profile, the new national minimum wage, President Muhamadu Buhari’s recent u-turn on True Federalism, among other issues. Excerpt:
Come May 29, Nigeria will be marking 20 years of uninterrupted democracy. How has the country fared within the period?
Generally speaking, Nigeria has fared better. There has been progress from where we were before democracy. There has been a type of competition among the state governors. In Lagos, Bola Tinubu, for instance, did well. Abimbola Fashola continued where he stopped and now, Akinwunmi Ambode has added to what Fashola did. Lagos has been the pace setter in several aspects and the other states are copying. Akwa Ibom did well under Godswill Akpabio. I don’t know why he should leave the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Go to Gombe, it is doing well.
During the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria became credit worthy. Other nations were ready to lend money to Nigeria. Obasanjo brought in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the World Bank and things were better. Nigeria has experienced development in every part of the country, unlike during the military. Democracy favoured Nigeria. It is best for the country. It has brought development and advancement to every part of the country. We can adjust it. We should not follow America hook, line and sinker. We have also experienced human capital development.
Adversely, the President Muhammadu Buhari regime brought a lot of dislocation. Nigeria is so disunited under this regime. In terms of welfare and economic development, Nigeria moved forward, especially during the Goodluck Jonathan administration when Nigeria was first in Africa in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But, under this Buhari regime, the economy collapsed, unemployment has been on the increase. Standard of living has fallen. There is scarcity of food in Nigeria presently. Things have never been so tough for Nigeria.
Now, there is no love among the various people of the country. Insecurity has become very high. The NYSC candidates no longer want to be posted to the north due to insecurity. However, power and infrastructure have improved. We are now talking of the rails. But, banditry and kidnapping are on the increase due to unemployment. Several states are not paying salaries. They need to be given more money as revenue allocation so they can pay workers. But, on the whole, Nigeria has done well.
The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently put the country’s debt at N24.39 trillion. Do you see the country recovering from it easily?
It is a bad situation. Gradually, Nigeria has sunk. Nigeria, which paid its debt during the first eight years of democracy under Obasanjo, is now neck deep in debt. I don’t see Nigeria coming out of it easily. All Nigerians should plead to the government to stop borrowing. One day, Chinese will take over the nation. Ambode said he did not borrow, but improved on the Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). The Federal and other state governments should emulate what he did. The Federal Government should reduce the salary and allowances of political office holders, including those in the Legislature and Executive. Nigeria should stop borrowing and reduce cost of governance. Let the cost of maintaining our lawmakers and ministers be reduced. The President and the Vice President told the nation that they cut their salaries when they came in. why did the lawmakers and ministers not follow their examples? The leaders should make sacrifices by reducing their salaries, possibly by half. Lawmakers can be on part time.
Again, the federal and state governments should rely more on local experts to carry out projects. We should discourage reliance on foreign experts for our projects. Government should encourage foreigners to invest in Nigeria. Policies should be readjusted to make investment easier. Except in areas we are not competent enough, we should rely more on local experts. Our educational system should aim towards entrepreneurship. Let us improve in areas like agriculture and mining. Let us generate foreign exchange. We should encourage our experts abroad to come home and invest and develop the nation. IGR should be improved upon.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the N30,000 National Minimum Wage Act and instructed all state governors to implement it. Do you think those governors who had been owing salaries could afford to pay the new wage?
If government did not do it, there would have been labour crisis. Already, Labour had become restless. Buhari’s action has brought calm. But, how can these states pay? The Federal Government should review federal allocation and give more money to states and local governments. More percentage of the national income should go to states and local governments. For example, Oyo State governor has said that he cannot pay the new minimum wage. The revenue sharing formula should be readjusted. States and local governments should look at how they can generate more revenue. They can study Lagos. They should make their environment more investment friendly. Ogun State is now benefitting as many companies are going there now. We must also make local governments autonomous, independent of the state governments. That will remove politics from local government funding. The Unitary system of government we are practicing now in a federation should stop. If local governments are autonomous, it will bring development to every area.
President Buhari seemed to have made a u-turn on restructuring when he recently canvassed for True Federalism which he and his party had been kicking against. What do you think accounted for this seeming change of heat and what does it portend as he goes into second term on May 29?
It is a welcome development. We are happy to hear that Buhari is now talking about True Federalism. It has been the mind of the right thinking people in the nation. Buhari seems to have changed his mind because of the election. If the election had been free and fair, the All Progressives Congress (APC) would have lost. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other parties campaigned with True Federalism. Afenifere, South South, South East and even Middle Belt bought the idea. If the election was not rigged, Atiku Abubakar would have won because people voted for him. Buhari’s change of heart on True Federalism is because he is a good leader. He has a listening ear. He saw that True Federalism is what the opposition used to capture the hearts of Nigerians. Buhari should not only talk, he should walk the talk. He should adopt True Federalism and implement it before he goes into second term. They must have started to study the 2014 National Conference report. If former President Goodluck Jonathan had implemented the National Conference report before the election, he would not have lost. Buhari should start it as he goes into second term. This will bring great improvement and Nigeria will be rich again, there will be competition and development in all states and geo-political zones as was the case in the First Republic. That was why the regional governments were rich. Nigerian needs True Federalism and restructuring now. Let states and local governments generate their funds and manage it and there will be healthy competition. Every state will think of what to do. Look at Kogi and Kwara states. People are still malnourished in these states till date. Within the first six months or one year of Buhari’s second term, he should implement True Federalism and his credibility will rise and he will leave office a happy man.
Do you think community policing would solve the problems of banditry, kidnapping and killings across the country?
It will go a long way. When police is localized and policemen know everyone in an environment, it will help. The community will be involved in security. We should employ our fresh graduated and train them on policing and give them gadgets and good salaries. We should stop employing touts and area boys into the Police Force. Each community should have gadgets like CCTV to monitor what is going on. Retired officers with good records should be brought back to train the fresh graduates in policing. There should be central or federal as well as state and local or community police, which will be under local governments. If the situation at the local governments is good, many politicians who are killing themselves to be governors or federal lawmakers will like to be at the local government level.
What is your take on the reported presidential aspirations of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu? Do you see him receiving support from every part of the country?
They are already fighting Asiwaju Tinubu even within the APC. The Kaduna governor, Nasir el-Rufai, is already fighting him. It is an uphill task for Tinubu to be widely accepted. But, he is a great politician. Who thought that Buhari would ever become president? Buhari became president due to Tinubu’s work. If North wants to pay him for helping Buhari, they should give him support. Tinubu contributed immensely for the defeat of PDP in 2015 and 2019. He knows how to make South East, South West, South South to support him. But, if Buhari wants to be fair to Tinubu, he should ensure that Tinubu becomes president. He wanted to be vice president under Buhari and they refused because of the risk of having Muslim-Muslim ticket. I believe if North supports him, Tinubu will become president. But, if North fails to support him, they will lose the confidence of South. They cannot get the support of South again. Even at that, a miracle can happen and destiny may combine to make Tinubu president. If North fails to support Tinubu and a clear winner does not emerge in the 2023 election, it means that everyone may go his or her own way.
If APC gives Tinubu its presidential ticket and he fails, that is another matter. Buhari and North should think twice before they rubbish Tinubu. By APC’s rotational arrangement, presidency should go to the South. So, wisdom should prevail. North may want to cause division in South West by sponsoring Babatunde Fashola or Yemi Osinbajo. But, that cannot succeed. It is Tinubu that made them through his political structures. They ahouls rally round Tinubu. If either Osinbajo or Fashola is nursing presidential idea, they should forget it and allow Tinubu to run in 2023. Tinubu is competent. He knows how to pick people. The people he put in the Federal Government are doing very well. Look at Fashola. Look at Osinbajo. He is a former governor, well educated. He is competent to rule the country. I foresee Tinubu being a great president. He has demonstrated it as a governor and party leader.
Do you think the Lagos governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo-Olu having the political will to carry on from where Governor Akinwunmi Ambode stopped, especially in the area of infrastructure?
It is not easy to predict.when Fashola was going, people did not think anyone could equal him. But, Ambode came and he performed well. But, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has said that his government is a continuum and has promised to complete all Ambode’s project before coming out with new ones. But, whether he will have the political will to do what he said is another thing. If he walks his talks, he would have the political will to carry on from where Ambode stopped. But, he should not listen to those who will speak against what Ambode did. I want to believe and trust him.
But, the APC leadership in Lagos made people to believe that Ambode distorted the Lagos master plan. How would react to the allegation?
I don’t believe that Ambode distorted the Lagos master plan. There is no harm in improving on the plan. Many of the politicians he gave contracts disappointed. Some of them failed to complete them were asking for more money. Some even did shoddy jobs. LAWMA are now back and they are cleaning the roads. Sanwo-Olu should be a little wiser than Ambode and have good understanding with the party leaders. He should carry the party along, but not at the expense of the state.
Do you think President BUhari should include Ambode in his new cabinet?
Of course! Ambode is a great achiever. We need him at the federal level. If the state does not need him, we need him at the federal level. If, in my mind, Fashola is not moved from his current ministry, Power, Works and Housing, or the ministry is divided into three, Ambode should be considered in any of the three ministries. Ambode is an accountant. When Lagos was not getting money from the Federal Government it was Ambode, as the Accountant General, that managed the accounts of Lagos then and the state did not sink. So, Ambode will be good as Minister of Finance. Look at the development in Lagos, which he did with IGR. Ambode is a good brand. He is a good product. He can manage the Federal Government’s finance, just like Chief Obafemi Awolowo did during the civil war. Ambode did it during Tinubu’s regime and during his own administration. He can also manage our economy. He can also perform in Transport Ministry. He is a good administrator and a guru in financial management.