By Ejikeme Omenazu On Nov 3, 2019
Dr. Tunde Moses Elebute , a developmental economist and public affairs commentator, is a human rights advocate. In this interview with
EJIKEME OMENAZU , he spoke on the 2020 budget proposal now before the National Assembly, the high cost of governance, as well as the performance of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu so far, among other issues. Excerpts:
How do you see the N10.3 trillion 2020 federal budget estimates?
I commend the government for addressing issue of the budget. I also commend the National Assembly for early consideration of the budget so that it will be ready by January next year. Nigeria does not lack in formulation of good policies and budgets. The budget is good, but the problem is with the implementation. It is a budget that can create employment and improve the economy. The Ministry of Works is given a lot of money for infrastructure. If the roads are good, it will impact on the economy. No ministry is ever satisfied, but what they are given is enough. Any good ministry should do something positive with what they are given.
However, it is a deficit budget. Nigeria already owes too much. I caution the government to reduce borrowing. If they must take loans, it must be targeted at projects that will generate money. If they do that, it will be okay. I hope the government will have execution ability to translate this budget into reality. If the National Assembly approves it on time, the implementation level will be better. Every ministry should be giving regular reports to the president. The National Assembly should ensure proper oversight while the president should also monitor the activities of the ministries. This is President Muhammadu
Buhari’s last term. He should write his name in gold as he leaves office.
A cross section of Nigerians believes that the budget will not be in favour of the common man. Do you agree with such view?
I don’t agree with that view. The budget will generate employment through construction. Many of those criticising the budget lack knowledge of economics. As a developmental economist, with bias in agro economics, I know what I am saying. The rail construction and focus on agriculture will create jobs. It is indeed, a poverty alleviation budget. The Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Transport will create a lot of jobs. This budget will open up the economy. If the rails go into full operation, transportation will be easier and cheaper. A lot of money is being committed to power. If that ministry performs, it will improve the economy.
Senator Rochas Okorocha suggested that the number of senators should be reduced to one per state, while the House of Representatives should be three per state to reduce high cost of governance. Governor Kayode Fayemi suggested that Nigeria should do away with the senate, while some people have been calling for part-time legislators. What is your take on this crucial issue?
I am against the high cost of governance. Right from the Presidency to the states and local governments, they should reduce the number of aides. I also believe that Nigeria does not need two chambers of the National Assembly. We can do with one chamber. There is a lot of duplication of efforts in the National Assembly and it is time wasting. Committees are duplicated by both chambers. I believe the Senate is enough for Nigeria. We need ex-governors, ex-ministers and top businessmen in the Senate. If independent candidacy is allowed, a lot of intelligent and knowledgeable people will enter into the Senate. We should remove emphasis on political parties.
How do you see the planned increase of VAT to seven and half percent and the return of toll gates on federal roads?
It will increase price of goods and reduce money in the hands of the common man. If we say government should not borrow, it will look for internal way of generating funds. We do not really have choice. But, the money generated from the toll gates should be well utilised to properly maintain the roads. The government can set up a committee to manage the funds generated from the toll gates and the money should be well utilised to properly maintain the roads. The government can set up a committee to manage the fund generated from the toll gates to ensure that the roads are well maintained. In fact, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) should be in charge of using the fund from toll gates to repair the roads. I believe the current leadership of FERMA can manage the money realised from the toll gates well for the proper maintenance and repair of the federal roads.
With reference to the recent Supreme Court ruling on the 2019 presidential election, do you think that Abubakar Atiku really got justice as his party, PDP, had earlier alleged that the Federal Government was plotting to influence the appointment of the Justices to handle the case?
I did not believe Atiku would get justice in the current temple of justice in Nigeria. If government had been influencing the appointment of judges and had allegedly promoted those who sat on the case at the tribunal, there was no way Atiku could have won. This development is not good for Nigeria. With the intimidation of judiciary as witnessed by the treatment of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, there was doubt right from the inception, that Atiku would obtain justice. The Justices are now afraid of being prematurely removed.
What is your take on the alleged plot by the North not to hand over to the South, or allow South East and South West to form an alliance that will give South the presidency come 2023 elections?
It has always been like that. South East and South West do not collaborate. They may initially agree to collaborate. But, later, they will disagree. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo could not achieve collaboration. North always collaborates with either South West or South East, in its efforts to divide South. Nobody should expect something different in 2023. Look at APC. It is basically North and South West. However, anybody that will emerge as presidential candidate from South East or South West must extend his hands of fellowship to North to divide the North. North is not ready to relinquish power, but they are not really united. Any southern presidential candidate should play the northern game and divide North by getting the confidence of North. The Middle Belt is not really part of North. Some of the statements of Junaid Mohammed are annoying. He is fanning ambers of disunity. He should control his tongue. Anybody from South West or South East or from any part of South that is to be presented as a presidential candidate must be strong minded to play the northern game. If he is weak, he will be intimidated by the North.
How do you see the planned probe of former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, by the state House of Assembly?
I see the Ambode probe as a witch hunt. How many people have become a governor without taking money from the treasury? Ambode’s predecessors cannot claim to be innocent. Politicians are selfish and myopic.
The only politicians in the South that confront the North now is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. If the Lagos APC wants Tinubu to succeed in his quest for presidency, they should allow Ambode to be. They are making people to believe that it is Tinubu that is persecuting Ambode. This may affect APC and Tinubu’s votes in 2023. The Lagos House should drop the probe.
Many people believe that Ambode performed. Nobody can say that Awolowo, Jakande, Bola Ige, Tinubu and other past governors did not eat money. But, they performed. Lagos Assembly should not divide South West because of Ambode probe if we want South West to provide a president. Lagos House is hurting APC and South West, and not Ambode.
They should face the job they are voted for and transform Lagos. They should think of what to do to help Sanwo-Olu instead of wasting energy persecuting Ambode. It is not every Lagosian that likes what they are doing to Ambode. Lagos and South West should unite well to confront the North for the 2023 Presidency.
What is your view on the governance style of Babajide Sanwo-Olu in the last five months of his administration?
Sanwo-Olu administration is yet to show its colour. I call on all the commissioners, the House of Assembly members and the APC leaders to unite with Sanwo-Olu so that he can perform. Has Lagos not been generating money? Have they not been getting allocations? We want Sanwo-Olu to perform better that the past administrations. They should stop with-hunting Ambode and face their work. Even if Ambode left nothing, Sanwo-Olu should start with what he has. It is on record that Ambode did not borrow, although Lagos is highly indebted. If Ambode used only Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and did all the projects he did, including security, without borrowing, how can he leave money behind? Sanwo-Olu has no choice, but to perform.
We do not want to hear that he did not meet money, as one of the party’s notable leaders was quoted to have said. He must perform in Lagos and pay Lagosians. If he has to gather some eggheads, he can set up a think tank. That is what Bola Tinubu did and he performed. Fashola followed suit. They say Ambode did not follow the Lagos Masterplan, but he did not let Lagosians down. Everybody wants Sanwo-Olu to take Lagos to greater heights.
How do you see the delay in the implementation of the N30, 000 National Minimum Wage and the recent agreement reached between the Federal Government and Labour?
We may not know what transpired under the table. But, it is unfortunate that the Federal Government and the National Assembly agreements could not be implemented on time. I am happy they have found a way around it. Nigerians do not like the delay in implementation. Now that they have agreed, let the payment start immediately. I believe the state governors caused the confusion. But, I am happy they have finally agreed.
What is your take on the attitude of the Nigerian Labour Movement in this dispensation?
I see the Nigerian Labour Movement as weak.
They bark a lot, but do not bite. Labour should be militant. If Labour is militant, I do not see how Dr. Chris Ngige should have returned in Buhari’s second term. See how the issue of Kokori’s appointment by Buhari died down. Look at the return of Babatunde Fashola to the Ministry of Works and Housing. The Labour Movement is not as vibrant as they should be. What is happening now could not have happened during the time of Michael Imoudu, Hassan Sumonu , Frank Kokori and even Adams Oshiomhole. If you do not have spine or audacity, you do not become a labour leader. Oshiomhole was very vibrant when he was a labour leader. But, politics has changed him now.
What is your view on the Federal Government’s clampdown on hate speech and fake news?
The government is afraid of its own shadows. They are not sure of themselves. If they are doing well and have things to say, why should they worry? It is because they do not trust themselves and are not doing well, that it why they are afraid. They are just trying to intimidate the public and the opposition. Look at what they are doing to Omoyele Sowore. They are lucky that the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), Sowore’s group, is not like the Shiites. Why should the government be bothered if it is doing well? Upon all they have been doing to the Shiites, including proscribing them, they still come out when they want to come out. There should be freedom of speech and expression in the country as provided in the constitution. Government should not be gagging the people. Even the critics can help the government to get to its destination.