He spoke on subsidy, corruption, 2015 elections and all

Omojuwa: Seun Falaye wants to know if you’ve done anything to help commoners outside of government?

Elrufai: If I choose to be a philanthropist or do something to assist entrepreneurship, it is out of the goodness of my heart. One of the things that I worry about is not commoners because people use this common-man for the wrong reasons but one of the things that I have been worried about is how to tap the entrepreneurial energies of our young people. So I started something called Council For Youth Empowerment and I do competitions once or twice a year requesting young people to submit business ideas that they want to pursue and we pick the best 2 and give them $5,000 each as well as business plan support, mentoring, introduction to financial institutions and so on. For me, that is one way to help, to try to get people that have ideas but have no money because in this country there is no mechanism to fund entrepreneurship so I’m doing that. If that is helping the common man, he can take that. We give scholarships, we have the Elrufai Foundation which does that and every day I wake up in Kaduna or Abuja, there are people that will come to me with one problem or the other. You will do what you can because there is no social safety net in Nigeria so every burden comes to the few political and economic elite. But for me when individuals are being asked if they’re doing anything for the commoner, I think it shows failure of the state to have fair and equitable system, to have a social safety net because nobody will ask Bill Gates this question in the US because there is a system that takes care of the commoner and all Bill Gates does is donates his billions to causes of interest. I think we have to do more to have systems that take care of these problems rather than rely on individual goodness of heart

Omojuwa (Olamide Egbayelo @lammyng): I have 3 questions in one and the first is what do you think about continuity in Government. You were citing an example about the contracts you gave out and the Yaradua/Jonathan Administration not continuing. Both parties were PDP so why did they have different views about those issues? The second one has to do with you and Nuhu Ribadu during the 2011 elections. If he was really your brother, you would have believed in his views and ideas so why didn’t you support him and the third question is why do we have secrecy in government? The Government in Nigeria is so secretive, we don’t know how much they earn or how much is given out. Why do we have that because we voted them in and they are there for us so why can’t they report to us? The last one is Do you think the Nigerian youth can stand up for themselves and say this is what they want without being influenced because there are two versions of youths on twitter, the ‘yoots’ and the ‘youths’. I want your opinion on that.

Elrufai: On continuity, I think continuity is everything and the problem we have in Nigeria is that most of these political arrangements are just contraptions of people coming together largely for power and nothing in common. The PDP and ANPP were such contraptions, they all wanted the military to leave but they didn’t have much in common. So when you have people that do not have much in common other than just get power, it becomes difficult to have policy continuity and I think that’s the problem. In our own case, we did a lot of work on policies for the 2007 election and we had seminars on party leadership and all that hoping that when they came in, they’d continue but it didn’t happen. I think because Obasanjo chose the wrong people. Nuhu Ribadu thinks it is because he went out of the FG and picked people who were stranger to some of the reforms we did at the Federal Level. Both points of view may be partly right but for me it was the personalities that succeeded us that caused the most damage. Because they didn’t feel any commitment to those policies and maybe they came into the job with a different world view. I think it’s important that we maintain continuity built on the foundations already laid and correct mistakes because nothing can be perfect but you cannot throw the baby with the bath water all the time which is what Yaradua/Jonathan have done and I think it’s unfortunate.

On Nuhu Ribadu: Yes, Nuhu is my brother but you know this is politics and you can have one brother in one party and another in a different party. Politics is a viewpoint and even if you are from the same parents or best of friends, you can have different points of view. Frankly, part of the reason why I did not support Nuhu even though I was active in preparing the ground for him to run as president – He told me about it, I supported him and said he should do it but it was based on a certain framework which he violated. So I didn’t feel the need to be part of it anymore and I felt that he was a little hasty in jumping on the ACN platform without detailed negotiations on how the relationship was going to be and of course with the benefit of hindsight, I turned out to be right because the ACN just sold him for pennies. But we remain the best of friends, we are brothers, we are family and I hope that we’ll work together on future political endeavours but these kinds of differences will happen.

On Secrecy in Government: I think the reason why government has a lot of secrecy in Nigeria is partly historical and partly because of the political culture we’ve developed. Historically, because we had colonialists that established formal government in Nigeria and they had legislation like the official secrets act and so on that they didn’t want the people to know what’s going on. It was in their interest to have a government that was a black body that nobody knew what was going on. So it started from there. Now these colonialists trained the first generation of civil servants as well as political leaders so they all came with that framework that in government you see things stamped ‘secret’, ‘confidential’ and all that. I think part of the failings of our founding fathers was they saw themselves as replacements of the colonialists without stepping back and saying we have got these guys out, how different should we be instead of how similar should we be. I think it was a common problem among Azikiwe, Sardauna and Awolowo, they all just fit in to the framework inherited from the colonialists so without deeply thinking about what didn’t make sense and I’ll give you an example. The concept of GRA in which senior government officials lived away from the people in big houses is a colonial thing. The colonialists wanted to be different, they lived apart and the government gave you everything; a house, house-help, cook and steward. But these people came here to govern us with the intention of leaving one day. They were paying their mortgages in the UK so they didn’t introduce a mortgage system in Nigeria. Our people just entered that system and adapted to it so till today, Nigeria has no mortgage system and you see the disconnect.
The second part is the political culture, because our politicians are doing all kinds of funny things, the civil servants are doing all kinds of shady things in government, they don’t want you to know so unless you go out of your way to find out what’s going on, they want to keep it to themselves, a small mafia, taking most of the resources of the country without any accountability. This is why the passing of the FOI act is a good step, it will not do anything in the short run because you’ll write and they will do everything not to give you any information but at least there’s legislation that says it must be provided.

Finally about youths, there is nowhere in the world where youths spontaneously act without organization or leadership. Even in Egypt or Tunisia where you see these things, there are people behind who organize them so it’s not spontaneous, you need leaders, you need people to organize you, you need resources to be able to effect change. Behind every revolution, there is a wealthy man, just check. Behind every Karl Marx, there is a Fred Engels financing him. So you do not effect change without resources. Secondly I think that what has happened in the north in the aftermath of the elections shows that our youths can take things into their own hands and without leadership things can go badly wrong as it happened in the north because this was spontaneous, people just expressing their anger by targeting PDP leadership and of course it went wrong because there was no organization, coordination or leadership. It was just spontaneous action but to say that what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt cannot happen in Nigeria is being foolish because what happened in the north in the aftermath of the elections shows that it can happen. Had those young people been organized and their energies channelled in the right direction, maybe it would have been a different thing. So I don’t feel hopeless about our youths though you have some that have sold their souls but the large majority of young people really care. They see the hopelessness in their lives and the need for change. I am optimistic that the preponderance of good in the youths will prevail over the minority that is bad.

Omojuwa (Adewale Bankole): The issue of petroleum subsidy, do you think we should continue subsidizing the downstream/petroleum sector considering the billions of naira spent daily on the subsidy?
As the former FCT minister, the last time I went to Abuja, someone was commenting about the green grass turning brown, how do you feel when you drive through Abuja and see the illegal structures coming up?
Elrufai: On petroleum subsidy, I feel it is a big scam. $6billion (per year) being paid to fat cats, I think it’s a big scam and should go. I don’t believe in those kinds of subsidies that favour only the rich. Now people may argue that if you remove petroleum subsidy, it will affect transportation costs. It will, but I believe the solution to that problem is to have a plan to have subsidized public transportation. Every country in the world does it. What Fashola has done in Lagos, if you can put another 10,000 buses together with the protected bus lanes, people have a choice. So if transportation costs go up, you have the choice of leaving your car behind and taking the bus which will be subsidized. I think it’s better to channel the subsidy this way than the petroleum subsidy because a third of all the petroleum products that come into Nigeria come go to neighbouring countries so we’re subsidizing our neighbours as well. It doesn’t make sense at all and as I said I think it’s a huge scam between NNPC and the importers and I’m not sure that the quantity of products that are purportedly imported into the country even find their way here. I think they’re just cheques being written. I think it requires a close study to look at the impact on the most vulnerable groups and take ameliorative steps. I think it is possible to do that. Part of the reason why we thought the country needed a new rail system and in Abuja for instance we introduced 3 bus concessions and signed the contract for the metro system is to prepare for a day like this that the subsidy just has to go. $6billion is more than the budget of education and health and infrastructure combined! We are getting our priorities wrong if we are spending more money on subsidizing petrol than we are on roads, health and education at the federal level. It doesn’t make sense and I think we should find a way to channel our resources better.
With regards to your question on Abuja, when you go into public service, you put your heart and emotions into it but the moment you leave, you must learn to disconnect your emotions otherwise you’ll be heartbroken. From the moment I left Abuja, I concluded that I had done my best and there’s nothing more I can do. I will never comment on what is going on in Abuja because I don’t think that its fair on those that have succeeded me. I go round, I see garbage building up, I see green areas not so green, I see illegal structures coming up and I say that one day someone will come and will have to clean this mess up. That’s what happens. But I don’t allow it to get to me because it was a job, a temporary one for that matter so when I did it I put all my emotions and passion into it but once I left, I learnt to say ‘what you can do is what you can do’ and what you did was enough.

Omojuwa (Razak Adegbite): Question: When you become the president, can four years be enough for you with the way the system is at the moment?

Elrufai: I will answer your question. I think you’re asking the question about whether 4 years is enough to get anything done. I think 4 years is long enough to start something. You see, government does not end. As long as you have a country, there’ll be a government and what is important is to start, lay foundations and try to get successors that will ensure continuity. You can start somethings and finish them but most development projects require 5 years so 4 years is not enough but does that mean that you have to be there forever? You start and by the time you’re leaving in 4 years, it’s 80% done. Your successor will do the 20% just like you’ve inherited some programs and projects from your predecessor and it’s your duty to complete them. Our constitution currently has a provision for you to be re-elected. So if you do 4 years and you convince the people that you’re on the right track and you want more time to do more then it is up to the people to vote you in a second time.

Omojuwa (Razak): Not to extend the tenure from 4 to 7 years
Elrufai: No because even 6 years is not enough. Mugabe has been there for 25 years. He still doesn’t want to go because it’s still not enough. You have to understand that government is a continuum and all you can do is what you can do within your time. But since you know you have 4 years, you don’t sleep, just work flat-out. President Obasanjo was sleeping 3-4 hours a day for the time we worked with him and he’ll call you at 3AM to ask you a question about a memo you sent to him. The man was not sleeping, that’s the only way to be president. You know that you have about 1400 days tops to get the job done and everyday matters. And what you should do is have a program where everyday you tick off something you’ve done. Just start, that’s all you can do. When your time is up, if you’re not re-elected, someone else will continue. The life of the nation continues, it’s not dependent on the time you’re president

Omojuwa (Tola Omoniyi):….Nigeria is corrupt because there’s no structure that punishes the offender. I believe the reason why someone driving in the US would obey the traffic light is because whoever he is, even if he is the president, if he disobeys the traffic light, he’ll face the consequences. The reason why I think corruption thrives in Nigeria is because some people are over the law. The law is not over everybody and I believe if that can be adequately taken care of then Nigeria will be a less corrupt country. How can we tackle that problem irrespective of whether you’re the president, a minister, if you commit a crime, you should serve time. How do you think we can correct that with the crises in our judicial sector and stuffs like that.
I also want to ask, we are suffering from the mistakes made in 2011 during the elections and we will suffer for the next four years. For 2015, do you have any suggestions for the young people and masses to correct the errors made in the last elections?

Elrufai: I think you are right on the button regarding what is the problem in Nigeria. I have always said that the first problem we have is leadership. That’s the 1st level problem because the right leader will make sure all these things work. The 2nd level problem is lack of compliance with rules and it leads to all kinds of things from corruption to deaths in our hospitals. Everywhere you look, you see a country with big statute books but no compliance. That is the problem. The problems you see in the judiciary has roots in lack of compliance to rules and how do we get a society that is largely rule compliant? This is the question. I think it starts with leadership. If you have leaders that feel bound by the rules and live by those rules then the followers will fit. I saw that in Abuja. People say Nigerians don’t like obeying rules and so on. I did not agree. Because the same Nigerian who breaks traffic lights here, the moment he goes to England and breathes the air at Heathrow, he’s the most obedient so it is not the Nigerian, it is the environment of impunity that is created in Nigeria. Part of the reason why we went out of our way in Abuja to be demolishing buildings of very important people, we started with a Senator, Minister, IG and a former General just to send a message that we are starting with the big men so everyone should know that no one is above the law. And I did not have any problems in Abuja. In our time in Abuja, we did not allow sirens, and nobody was allowed to beat traffic lights because when I drive, I stop by traffic lights and I was the boss of the place. The minister before me had an outrider but I said no, we must do this and anyone that passes traffic lights, I go after him be it a minister or senator and I say ‘sir, don’t do this again’, if you do it, we’ll arrest your driver and impound your car and within a year, there were no sirens in Abuja. They’d come with the flashing blue lights but no siren because we don’t want noise in our city. For those 4 years, people largely lived by the rules. So it is not difficult, it starts with leadership.
Look at the problem we have in the judiciary, when the CJN finds a way to evade service of a court of law because something was not signed. It says a lot. It tells every judge down the system that we do not live in a rule based society and this is the problem. I think when we have leaders and elites that recognise that when we all live by the rules, everyone is safe and when you have a society that has no rules, the first line losers are the elites themselves because look at us. Look at the prisons Nigerians live in, no one is safe. You buy a very expensive car, you’re afraid to drive it because it attracts armed robbers. I think until our leaders and elites become reflective and figure out that where you have rules and you all sit and abide by them, everybody lives a better life. This situation will continue, corruption is just one manifestation but it’s everywhere. In my view, the person that loots public funds and beats traffic lights are the same people. They are breaking the law. They feel that the laws do not apply to them but apply to others and Nigerians have a way of always expecting everyone else to live by the rules except them. Until we sit down and reflect and agree that this is not the way to organize a society, I’m afraid we’re not going to make much progress
About the 2015 elections, I think many people voted wrongly in the last elections, I think many people justified themselves by saying I’m voting Jonathan, not PDP when the reality is they’re either voting for him because he’s a Christian or a Southerner. Many people did a lot of self-justification and voted someone they could see who after one year as president couldn’t do much but they voted him anyway and I feel we deserve to suffer this regime and I think that it’s God that designed it that way so that we can all learn from the consequences of our actions and decisions. I believe that by the time we are preparing for the next elections, people will learn a few things like; voting for someone from your home doesn’t make your life better unless the person knows what to do, secondly a good leader benefits everyone, people in Lagos are already experiencing it. Whether you like Fashola or not, you cannot escape the fact that he has done some things that have benefitted more people than it has hurt a few elites.
Many of these things will come out over the next 4 years and I think that it’ll become evident then that the country needs a leader whose allegiance is not to one ethnic group, region or religion but to the Nigerian nation and for the betterment of all Nigerians. Such a leader can be found in every part of the country. I don’t believe in zoning or allocation of leadership. I believe that people who aspire to lead should come out and convince those that are going to vote for them what they intend to do for people in very concrete terms and use their track records of performance to show that they could do this. All these issues were not discussed in the last elections. The elections just came down to first, zoning and then regional and religious politics. No one was scrutinized. Those that voted for Buhari, to a large extent voted for him in his base in the north because he is Buhari and his name is not John. Those that voted for Jonathan voted for him largely because his name is Jonathan and not Mohammed and where has this led us? I think it’s a lesson we’ll all learn and hopefully and prepare for the future. But for me, there is only one way to select leaders; to look at their antecedents, their preparation to do the job, their track record of performance and what they bring to the table. Who are those around them? Yaradua came to the presidency and filled the place with Katsina and Kano people . You can’t run a diverse country with your Economic Adviser, Finance Minister, Petroleum Minister, NSA and Chief of Staff all hausa/Fulani but that’s what he did and Jonathan’s doing the same thing. His Finance Minister, Petroleum Minister…everyone is Ijaw or from Niger-Delta. It’s not right. You cannot get the best of Nigeria unless you look everywhere. If you just pick people from your family, you’re not getting the best and the results will be suboptimal and we can see it but I think we’re all going to go through a learning process in this administration and hopefully it’ll prepare us for a better future.

Omojuwa: Do you have any last words?

Elrufai: I think I have said everything that needs to be said (Laughs). Your questions have covered virtually everything. The only thing I want to say is this; every year, we have 3 million young people that have attained the voting age and over the next 3-4 years, that will be about 12 million. If you add that to the 12 million in the last 4 years, you’re talking of 24 million that would have reached voting age in the 8 years from 2015. If those 24 million decide that Spice (Tola Omoniyi) is going to be the next president of Nigeria, he’s in because no one has won the presidency of Nigeria even with rigged elections has got more than 22 million votes. Jonathan got 22 million votes. Imagine the power of people aged between 18 and 25 years coming together in Nigeria, there are 24 million of them. If they can come together and say this is where we’re going – We are done with tribalism and religious sentiments and this is what we’re doing to secure our future and this is where we’re going. You’ll change the future of the country and your future as well if you can find a way to organize yourselves around this idea and build on it, you’ll decide who is the next president of Nigeria, the governor in each state and how many people sit in the senate
Omojuwa: I think that’s what we’re going to do in 2015. Thank you for coming, God bless you

PS: I must appreciate the following for being part of this:

Hafeez Oloyede of Calidad Videos and Photographs
Amina Saude @minibaby Mohammed for the over 12700 words Transcription
Jide @JideJacobs Jacobs panel member
Olutola @spiceonthemic Omoniyi panel member
Olamide @lammyng Egbayelo panel member
Adewale Rahman @WaleBankole Bankole
Rhazak Ola Adegbite
Japheth @omojuwa Omojuwa member
Everyone who sent in questions

About the author


In the beginning...Let there be Light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japheth_J._Omojuwa

Leave a Comment