Buhari can’t solve Nigeria’s problems without an economic team – Shehu Sani
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Senator Shehu Sani, talks about the failure of the All Progressives Congress to fulfil its campaign promises, President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic policies and Nigeria’s foreign policy in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU
A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, who is the current Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, said the current administration in the country is already going the way of the PDP and that President Buhari should retrace his steps. Do you agree with him?
If you look at it again, (the late President Umaru) Yar’Adua was a choice of Obasanjo while Jonathan was his vice-president. You can see the confraternity in the economic and political lever of the country. Nigerians are most times deceived when there are intra-class conflicts within the people who control the lever of power and economy. It is the same circle who continues to propagate and prescribe for the nation and implement on behalf of the people, economic policies that simply enrich a few and impoverish the masses. What they were talking about was reducing poverty and creating wealth, while all they did was creating a few businessmen. Who are the beneficiaries of their 16-year economic system? They were able to create a few rich people, who control the banking industry; who bought public firms and corporations; who control the insurance industry, shipping and the airlines. What they count as their achievement is the few people they empowered and enriched in the country, and not the people.
How much can the APC government criticise the PDP when a large number of those who drove the economy and governance in the past have found their ways into the current administration and some are even in the National Executive Council?
I am afraid; it is a contradiction in the polemics, dynamics and the tendencies of the change mantra. The very fact that most of the persons who joined the struggle for change were part and parcel of the system, their thinking, orientation and perspectives of change is not the same. Their objection to the PDP was not from an ideological point of view; it was from the fact that they were protesting against the politics of exclusion and marginalisation. Most of them did not disagree with the PDP based on views about the economy, the country or the future; their objection to the PDP had to do with the fact that they were outmanoeuvred within their own intra-class conflict. So, they joined the change train. For this, they now think that we have a change but they should also continue with that very exploitative and oppressive socio-economic system that preserves the privileges and interests of the political ruling class and oppresses the masses.
The APC, as a political party, is not a congregation of ideologies; it is a communist party. It is not a party that is defined by a certain political thinking, philosophy or ideological direction. It is a convergence of people with different tendencies, ideas and thinking, with one common aim to evict Jonathan and “to move the country forward.” But how to move this country forward is another thing.
Are we going to use an airplane to move it forward or are we going to use a car, a cart or are we going to climb a horse or donkey? Then, how are we going to move it forward? Is it by implementing liberal economic policy or which other economic direction?
The contradiction with the aftermath of change has to do with the fact that there is no harmonised and agreed direction we are going to follow. For example, Bola Tinubu came from the Action Congress of Nigeria. The ACN came from the Alliance for Democracy and the AD had a history of the National Democratic Coalition and the struggle against military dictatorship. Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar and many others came from the PDP and they had been part of the economic fulcrum in the last 16 years. And you have a Buhari, who came from the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change; he became the presidential candidate of the APC and now President of Nigeria. If you look at his history, he is more of a leftist nationalist, who believes in state control of resources, who doesn’t believe in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank policies and whose thinking of an economic regeneration is internal. These are the arms that we have (in the APC).
What brought all these people together is that the system, for 16 years under the PDP, was not working. But if you look at the PDP elements in the APC today, what moved them from the PDP was the fact that they were marginalised, excluded and treated badly. Did they ever say that they were opposed to the corruption or economic policies and programmes of the PDP? They have never said that. What brought the ACN people into APC? They realised that the ACN remained a South-West party and for the party to be relevant politically, there was the need for some consensus and compromises to move to the centre (the Federal Government). If you look at Buhari, the party he headed was almost a one-man party. It revolved around his integrity and reputation as a person. When you have people who came from these different backgrounds and they have got to a point of ‘we are at the top of the mountain. How do we fly?’ That is where the issue comes from.
That means the APC is truly a congregation of strange bedfellows who have come only to take over power.
Well, it is. If you look at it, the APC has not been able to live for so long to a point where individual class differences and perspectives would have dissolved. All along, the party was established for the purpose of evicting the PDP out of power. But now, how to move forward is where the problem comes in. In the APC, the thinking of Mr. A is to sell all the refineries to businessmen and that is all. But the thinking of Mr. B is to commercialise the refineries. And the thinking of Mr. C is that the refineries should continue to be under government control.
Are all these factors not a threat to the change project of the APC?
The historic challenge before the APC is that it is expected to stabilise and perform at the same time. These are two challenging issues because you are expected to harmonise your members and stabilise them and perform. If you look at the history of the APC, you will see that Mr. A was marginalised in his party and he moved to a point. Mr. B wanted to meet with somebody who he can join hands with to achieve a certain goal and Mr. C cannot be anything until he joins (another person). But unfortunately, the APC cannot have the luxury and privilege of patience with Nigerians as the PDP had. The PDP was able to remain in power for that long because there was enough oil money to ensure that social explosion were suppressed to a certain point. With oil money, we imported food, drinks, clothes and virtually everything. So, life was easier. Corruption could not be a major issue at that very time because there was enough money to steal; enough to bribe people not to protest and enough to give to people to protest. But now, the APC has found itself in a different world in a different country and the fundamental mistake that was made was that promises were made without, in any way, caution that all the promises of goods to be done to Nigerians would be based an oil price of $100 per barrel. And now that it is time to fulfill the promises, and oil is no more $100 but $50, promises have come in a head with realities.
The prices of oil were already dropping while the APC was campaigning and the economic challenges were already coming up before the 2015 polls. Does it not mean the APC was not prepared for governance and has no blueprint at all?
The build-up to the battle for change was founded on the need to first of all remove the vermin and the cock out of power, and then issues would be addressed. If the APC had existed as an opposition party for about 10 years and found itself in power, it could have been easier because before being in power, the individuals and groups could have harmonised and understand each other. But it was a party barely formed almost a year before taking over power. At that very time, the leading elements of the party had to struggle for funds; struggle to mobilise; struggle to lead a conscious movement that would create awareness and harmonise various thoughts for power to be taken.
The mistakes that were made was that right from inception, before the APC assumed power, an economic team should have been established – if they don’t have the information – to assess and work towards intelligently getting information on the state of things so that by the time power was taken, we would simply hit the ground running. But the party depended on handover notes and the notes were not able to satisfactorily give the necessary information for us to understand the task ahead. We must be very frank to say that out of the four years we have to spend, the last one and half years has been most challenging in the sense that we have not been able to address the problems of Nigeria.
Does that mean that the APC has wasted one and half years?
The period we have spent can be recovered. Two formulas should be adopted, one of which is to adopt immediate measures that will cushion the effect of problems we are going to face. We couldn’t have lost the goodwill because goodwill stands to evaporate more easily when there are pressure, tension and hardship that strain the populace both psychologically, physically and socially. The goodwill of the change mantra is gradually wasting on the realities, particularly the excruciating hardship Nigerians have faced in the last one year.
Don’t you think the APC has lost the goodwill of the people due to the current economic crisis and the several open letters to the President on people’s anger and sufferings?
The goodwill is still fading. Let me tell you how it started, which is common with all persons who just took over power in Nigeria. In 1979 and 1999, when a new president came in, he had the support of all Nigerians. The first stage will be, “We support you; we stand by you and we are going to back you.” The second stage will be, “We are advising you.” The third stage will be, “We are cautioning you.” At the fourth stage, Nigerians will say, “We are warning you.” The fifth stage will be, “We doubt you.” At the six stage, it will be, “You are incompetent.” The seventh stage will be, “You should go.” When you study these stages, you will see that we have moved behind 100 per cent support to “advise.” And with letters flying and criticisms following, it is about “cautioning.” And I think the handwritings are on the wall for everybody to see. If the African National Congress as a political party could lose its support base in South Africa, I think it is a lesson to all political parties that it cannot be good all over.
If you happen to be in a position of power, in as much as you want to bring reforms that are painful, you have to understand the need for you to carry the people along because if you keep on bringing reforms and continue to unleash untoward hardship on the people, you may as well say there is a paradise but the people need to be alive to reach that paradise. If you keep reforming and reforming and the people are suffering and dying, you may reach the Promised Land alone because by that time, everyone has died; of what use would that be?
You said the APC should have put in place an economic team before getting into power but one and half years after gaining power, the APC-led government has yet to put an economic team together. Do you think the President and his cabinet can turn around the economy without an economic team?
The absence of an economic team is a big problem and Mr. President must heed the advice of the people to set up an economic team. So far, as it is being said, the Vice-President (Professor Yemi Osinbajo) is the head of the economic team of President Buhari’s administration. But I think there is still a very serious gap between what that team is doing and the reality of the situation on the ground. If you are a leader and you want figures, then you should consult the professionals. And if you are a leader who wants facts, you should listen to the poor. The pains and hardship being experienced by Nigerians are not in tandem with the thinking of whoever is in the economic team of Buhari’s administration because people can barely feed; people can barely educate their children; people can barely survive. Our currency is becoming a worthless paper. There is an increase in crime in the Niger Delta and in our own Kaduna here – there are killings, kidnappings and youths are going into drugs. The rate of crime has gone up. And what do you see coming from the government? They want to increase the price of petroleum products, which was achieved; to increase the price of GSM calls and electricity tariff. Now, everything is going up except the minimum wage. Crime is going up, poverty is going up and what you are hearing from the experts is that the economy is in a recession. But the issue is that people are suffering.
The absence of an economic team in this administration and a clear economic direction on where we want to follow is adding to the confusion and criticisms against Mr. President and the government of the APC.
As the Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, do you think Nigeria has any foreign policy, especially one that encourages direct foreign investment?
Right now, I cannot vouch for or tell you that this is Nigeria’s foreign policy. If you look at the foreign policy of the Jonathan administration, it was the lowest of all in the history of Nigeria because that was a President who was (allegedly) sleeping when African Union was celebrating its 50th anniversary; that was a President who changed our traditional position for support for two-state solution to the crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians to something wrong; that was a President who could not articulately locate where Nigeria stood on major national, continental or global issues. Nigeria’s foreign policy was in its tatters under President Jonathan. But where are we today? Nigeria’s foreign policy today is centred on the image and integrity of Mr. President. If Mr. President travels to Europe or the United States or anywhere in Africa, the thinking is that that is Nigeria’s foreign policy. Yes, the image and integrity of Mr. President has been able to give Nigeria a good perspective but foreign policy should be deeper than that.
Right now, Africa is moving towards electing a new chairperson for the AU and Nigeria, as a major contributor, has no candidate for it. It is being taken over by South Africa. Why can’t we push forward people like Bolaji Akinyemi, Wole Soyinka or Emeka Anyaoku, and we go lobbying ECOWAS and North African countries to support us? But we don’t have any! Continentally, we also don’t have positions. If there is a coup in any country, if it succeeds, it becomes a problem; if it fails, we condemn it. The summary of it all is that foreign policy is not about the personality or integrity or the anti-corruption badge of Mr. President; it should be about Nigeria’s official position, perspective and resolve on global issues. And it must be backed. This is where we are today.
Nigeria’s voice must be heard on issues within and outside Africa. We are made up of 170 million people; we may have our economic challenges now but we are a global power in terms of what happens in Africa and in the black race. We shouldn’t be apologetic. If David Cameron called us “fantastically corrupt,” our government should be able to squarely answer him and demand an apology. You can’t be called a corrupt nation and say you don’t need an apology, you only want your money to be returned. Your integrity and dignity as a nation is being stained. We must have a direct response to them. How can nations of the world, who keep monies stolen from this country, now stand on a moral platform to accuse us of being corrupt? That is wrong! We should be able to respond to them. If any of our nationals is molested or attacked on the basis of his colour, our country must be able to speak in defence of our people.
If we are going to have a foreign policy, that foreign policy should be directed towards protecting and defending the national, political and economic interests of our country; and at the same time, send a clear message to the world that we have come of age.