by AYODELE OJOChief Femi Fani-Kayode has been in the eye of the storm since the deportation of some Igbo from Lagos to Anambra State. The former Minister of Aviation has been critical of the Goodluck Jonathan administration which, he said, has performed abysmally. In this first part of the explosive interview with AYODELE OJO in Abuja, Fani-Kayode speaks on his trial, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, 2015 elections, security challenge and other salient issues. It is vintage Femi Fani-Kayode. Excerpts:
How is life out of government and what are those things you are actually missing?
I do not miss being out of government. I have served my country for four years at the highest level and it is good enough.
Recently, the President’s spokesman described some of you that worked with the Obasanjo administration who are critical of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as yesterday’s men. Do you see yourself as a man of yesterday?
The essay was written by my friend and brother, Dr. Reuben Abati, who is President Jonathan’s spokesman. I responded to him forcefully in an essay titled; ‘Hypocrisy of today’s men.’
And what he doesn’t realise or people don’t realise is that there is no yesterday’s men in politics. It is only if you are a political novice that you can make such a statement. Yesterday’s men often come back to rule the country and today’s men never last forever; they always go and they may come back again. For instance, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He was governor of defunct Gongola State in 1979.
He was a yesterday’s man for many years but he is back today and I am delighted about that. So, to describe anybody as yesterday’s man, I think is most inappropriate and naive. You look at Chief Tony Anenih, he was National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in 1993 and now he is Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees. Look at Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Minister of Transport in 1979 and he is now the Chairman of the PDP Disciplinary Committee.
Look at President Obasanjo himself. He was Head of State from 1976 to 1979, was sent to prison in 1996 and came out to become President again in 1999. He remained as President till 2007 and not only that, he is the one that put both President Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan in power.
So, in a situation where such things happen, to write people off and disdainfully say they are yesterday’s men as if they are dead and they have nothing more to offer does not make sense. As far as I am concerned, such assertions are inappropriate and most unwise. It is only God that knows and determines tomorrow. You don’t have to be in government to contribute. I am sure that my friend and brother Reuben Abati will learn that once he leaves office himself.
Some of you that served in the Obasanjo administration are somehow critical of Jonathan administration. What really informed your criticisms?
There are so many issues. What it tells you is that some of us who worked in Obasanjo’s government, not all but some, are more sensitive to what is happening in our country.
Ours is not just like come to serve the government and leave as if we must never talk again. As far as I am concerned, government is not a cult and political parties are not cults. The whole reason for getting involved in politics is to help to develop your country and to move it forward. The reason why we can talk is because the administration that we served had an excellent record of performance.
If you look at the statistics, facts and figures, nobody comes close to Obasanjo in terms of his performance, be it in the economy, security or anything else. All you need to do is to do the research.
You may not like him as an individual but you can’t fault him in terms of his record of performance. And we raised Nigeria to such a high level in terms of respect and achievement at that time. Within a space of eight years, Obasanjo did all this and he gathered the brightest and smartest cabinet that this country has ever known. His record in public office was excellent and the country was taken to a very high level in terms of economic performance and so many other areas between 1999 and 2007.
Now, when you see a situation where post-2007 till today has witnessed nothing but total degeneration in every sector, whether it be the economy, security, international affairs or anything else. Are we supposed to just sit down and keep quiet in such a situation and say nothing or are we supposed to speak up and encourage the government to do better?
Some of us felt it is important to speak out so that the government can do better. That is why I am critical and I believe that every true patriot ought to be critical if government is getting it wrong and not doing well.
You said Obasanjo performed very well while in office but this is contrary to some critics who felt that his eight years were wasted years?
They are ignorant. Anybody that says Obasanjo’s eight years were a waste is ignorant and I really don’t have time for such people. Forget about Obasanjo as an individual, look at his record of performance. How can any sensible person say he did nothing?
Look, in 1999 when he came in, we had $1.5 billion in the foreign reserve and by the time this man left office he had built up the amount to $67 billion. He took $20 billion out of that to pay off our foreign debt, leaving $47 billion. From $1.5 billion to $67 billion in eight years is quite an achievement.
Yet today, despite the huge amounts of money that we have made as a consequence of record high crude oil and gas prices and sales, we only have approximately $40 billion left in our foreign reserves five years after. We have less money in those reserves today than we did five years ago despite the fact that we have earned billions of dollars within those five years.
That is hardly fiscal discipline and the question that we have asked our government, and we are still waiting for an answer, is where has all that money gone? We were not the only ones that asked that question.
The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. David Cameron, asked the same question and put it rather bluntly by saying that the Nigerian government would have to tell the G8 where the hundreds of millions of dollars that it had made from crude oil sales in the last few years had gone. He even gave them a deadline for an answer which was June 2013.
Needless to say our President and his government just ignored him. Number two, when he came into power in 1999, we had a foreign debt of $33 billion. But by the time Obasanjo left, we had no debt left. For the first time in the history of Africa we had a debt free country. We were set free from the economic slavery that comes with being indebted to the Western monetary agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions and that was a wonderful thing. It had never happened before. Obasanjo achieved that.
Yet today, five years later, we are back in debt to the tune of approximately $10 billion and we are still borrowing. That is hardly progress and this government has thereby enslaved future generations of Nigerians to economic servitude and bondage to the western powers and international monetary institutions.
They have squandered all of Obasanjo’s gains in this respect and sold us down the river. That is hardly progress. Thirdly, look at the Excess Crude Account, ECA. When Obasanjo came into power in 1999 there was no ECA. He created it and by the time he left office in 2007 he left $24 billion in that account.
He built all that money up in the space of eight years. Yet five years later, despite all the money we have made from oil sales, our present government and Yar’Adua’s one that came before it, proved to us that they are incapable of saving any money for a rainy day because that account has been depleted and virtually emptied. Five years after $24 billion was left there, we only have approximately $9 billion in it today. That is hardly progress. Fourthly, look at the issue of power generation.
When Obasanjo came into office in 1999 we were generating 1,500 megawatts per year and there had been no development in the power sector for almost 20 years previous to that time. By the time he left office in 2007, eight years later, we were generating 4,500 megawatts per year.
Today, five years later, we are back to 3,000 megawatts per year. As a matter of fact, no government has been able to reach the same level of power generation that Obasanjo reached in 2007 when he left office. Instead of improving on what Obasanjo did they went the other way and brought power generation down. From 1,500 megawatts in 1999 to 4,500 megawatts in 2007 and up until today no government has reached that 4,500 megawatts which we achieved in 2007. I repeat today, five years later, we are still on 3,000 megawatts.
That is not what I would describe as progress. It is better described as retrogression of the highest order. Let us go back to the economy. In terms of inflation, interest rates, ordinary individual being able to get loan, unemployment, we are worse off today than we were five years ago. You see when people talk they don’t have the facts and figures and they are too lazy or blinded by prejudice and hate to do their homework and find out the truth. Let us look at it, today we have an 80 per cent graduate unemployment rate in Nigeria.
That means that eight out of every 10 of our university graduates do not have jobs. Now that has to be close to a world record and it is only by God’s grace that we have not had some kind of revolution.
Out of every 1000 graduates, 800 cannot get a job. It is just disgraceful and that is part of the legacy of President Jonathan and his PDP government. Now let us look at the poverty level in our country today. According to the UNDP, 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below the poverty line.
That is to say that over 70 per cent of Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. Again, according to the same UNDP, 70 per cent of Nigerians go to bed ‘’hungry’’. This is hardly progress. The indices were so much better five years ago. I could keep going on and on.
What is your assessment of the Jonathan administration in the area of security?
We have lost almost 7,000 people that have been killed in cold blood by Boko Haram in the last five years.
Just a few weeks ago, about 42 children were slaughtered like chicken in their schools in Borno State even whilst there was a state of emergency in that state. Nobody is talking about that any more. Nigeria has virtually become an abattoir where human beings are butchered on a daily basis and no one cares.
It is absolutely absurd for anybody to say that things are going well in this country. The whole of the North is tense, violence is everywhere, slaughtering is everywhere. In the South, you have kidnapping and so on and so forth. My lawyer, friend and brother, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), was kidnapped last week in Edo State and this is what has been happening to so many people all over the South in the last two years.
By the government’s own admission, thousands of barrels of crude oil are being stolen by bandits and pirates every day to the extent that our crude oil exports have been reduced by 50 per cent per month. These bandits are bleeding the country dry but what has your government done about it? Absolutely nothing. So, in terms of security, this government scores zero. In term of the economy again, zero.
How else do you measure the worth and ability of a government and a President? In terms of foreign policy, Nigeria is just being kicked about like a football and treated with contempt.
This could not have happened when we were in power. We have lost our self-respect and stature in the international community because the world knows that we have a weak President who knows next to nothing. So, you compare that to Obasanjo’s time. We didn’t have Boko Haram at that time.
We had the Niger Delta killings and militants at the beginning when he first came in. He dealt with that forcefully and decisively with great results. After he carried out the operation in Odi, the killing of our security personnel by the Niger Delta militants decreased by 95 per cent.
It was security officials that they were attacking and not civilians and that went down by 95 per cent after the bombing of Odi. That is what happens when you provide strong leadership – you get positive results.
So, Obasanjo provided clear leadership.
Obasanjo provided clear strong leadership and he left nobody in doubt that the Federal Government would do whatever it had to do to ensure the safety and security of the Nigerian people. Jonathan’s government hasn’t done that. And anybody that said they have done that clearly doesn’t live here or is just being dishonest.
So, for all these reasons any responsible person ought to be able to speak out and advocate for a change in the affairs of our country, which is what some of us are doing.
There are some that don’t have the courage to do that. They believe they should just stay at home and pray and say nothing and do nothing. I have contempt for such people and I don’t consider them as leaders.
But what some critics are saying is that no government has faced the challenges Jonathan is facing in terms of security.
He has spent so much money on security yet what has he provided? Less security! Where has all the money gone? That is number one. Number two, you don’t measure the performance of a government that is in power by saying that no government has ever faced this type of challenge before.
That is a cop out and a very lame excuse. He has been elected and he swore an oath to protect the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to protect the lives and properties of the Nigerian people. If he can’t do that he should just step down and go home. In any case, he is the one that made the whole situation infinitely worse by not being decisive right from the start.
Initially, he was calling Boko Haram his ‘’siblings’’ and he took a position of complete weakness and helplessness when faced with their tyranny and terrorism. Some of us spoke out at that time that he need to handle these people with a firm hand, but he and his officials accused us of being alarmists. Instead of doing anything he said that they were his siblings and that he couldn’t kill them.
The President himself said just a few months ago that Boko Haram were his siblings, who he ‘’could not move against’’. This was when Nigerians were screaming that he must do something because they were being maimed, bombed, killed and terrorised every day.
They were looking for a strong decisive leader who could take on these monsters but instead they found a man whose very disposition and ways simply attracted more atrocities from the terrorists and encouraged them to kill even more because they perceived that he did not have the stomach for a fight.
How long did it take him to wake up and realise that there was a security problem in this country? How long? And how many people had to die before he knew that he had to declare a state of emergency in some parts of the North? In all of this, somebody will come and say nobody has faced this kind of situation in the country before and therefore we should not criticise the President? What does that mean?
Have they forgotten that there was once a civil war in this country and yet the country still had to move on and be properly run? Leadership is about taking hard decision and clipping the wings of those that want to kill Nigerians and destroy their properties and lives. That is what our President was elected to do. If you cannot do that, the honourable thing to do is to resign.
Don’t say that you can handle it and that nobody has faced it before and therefore you sit back and try to justify your weakness, incompetence and inadequacies. Have they forgotten that there was once an Islamist sect called Maitatsine which were successfully crushed by the government of that day?
The truth is that the record of this government and this President stinks. They have failed woefully and it is simply outrageous. They should bow their heads in shame. The blood that has been spilt is just too much. So, as far as I am concerned, there is a need for a change of leadership in this country. They can clap for themselves as much as they want but I won’t clap for them.
Are you saying there is nothing that the Jonathan administration has done?
Tell me what you think it has done? I don’t think there is anything it can clap for itself for. Absolutely nothing. Every single sector has degenerated.
There is nowhere that things have got better since 2007 and that is the reality of the situation that we are in. You know a lot of our people live in complete denial about our situation. If we continue the way we are going by the time he leaves office in 2015, this country would be owing as much as we owed when Obasanjo was elected into power in 1999. We are getting closer to $30 billion and by the time he leaves if we continue like this, we will get there.
You said every sector has degenerated. But there is a lot of transformation in the aviation sector where you served as a minister, especially the refurbishing of some of the airports? Is that how you measure transformation? The refurbishing and expansion of airport halls? That is a good thing but there is far more to aviation than that. The size and beauty of your airport hall alone cannot be the measure of your success.