Dr. Junaid Mohammed was a member of House of Representatives during Nigeria’s Second Republic and a regular commentator on national affairs. In this interview with Akanni Alaka, he assessed the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first four years in office and also spoke on expectations of Nigerians, as the President takes oath for his second term of office.
What is your assessment of the performance of the Buhari’s government?
I think it will be premature for me to assess the Buhari government because what we have was the first part of the government. Now that he has won re-election for a second term, we have to wait and see, follow his programmes, the personalities he wants to appoint to implement his programmes and see what he wants to do about the national economy, which is no longer good.
I am talking about the first four years, from 2015 to now. How well would you say the government has performed?
The last four years have been very eventful and when you say eventful, you are not saying it has been good. It means it has been very difficult. One, shortly after he came into power, the country went into a full blown recession. It was one of the biggest and most comprehensive recessions we have seen in the economy of this country.
Secondly, because of the manner people were appointed, they were unable to manage the recession and also, in managing the country out of the recession, I think they left the people behind – there was no explanation to the people. The people only knew in general terms that there was recession going on, the government did not ask for their cooperation, as for what to do and not to do and also to ask for understanding, so that we can check the recession, bring it under control and usher in growth. It was his fault that we got into recession.
The seeds for the recession have been largely planted by the Jonathan administration, so the blame should go round if we want to do that. In addition also, I think the attitude of the Buhari administration was to reduce the issue into propaganda – “we did not do this, you did not do that; we inherited this from the Yar’Adua administration and so on.
I sincerely hope that we do not have to go through another recession, but I have also had the feeling that unless people with robust knowledge of the economy are appointed, we are not likely to see the economy going into robust growth. And without the robust growth, the chances of getting into another recession are always there. Now, there are other factors, which must be considered. One, how is the foreign currency reserve being managed? There is no explanation from the government.
Secondly, what is the value of external borrowings, especially denominated in dollar terms? We are not being told. And how is the management of not only the debt and the so-called Sovereign Wealth Fund? How legal is it anyway? And, of course, the excess crude oil account – these are all important things. A lot has to do also with the failure by government to genuinely diversify the economy. And unless we diversify the economy, we will continue to go through this cyclical boom and burst because the economy is a mono economy. We have one single commodity, oil, which sustains our economic activities. That’s where the government gets most of the tax from and so, anytime there is a problem with it, everything else is affected. So, the government must take very serious steps to ensure that we diversify the economy.
Agriculture has the potential to help us to do that and the government has started something, but I don’t think that’s enough. We should not just be talking about diversification, but we must make sure that we invest properly. In investing and giving subsidy for agriculture, we should make sure that we do so directly to people who are farmers. We give them better prices, we make sure that they get good seeds; we make sure that we introduce science and technology into their methods of production, and then, we have to make sure that what they produce is competitive – it must be of good quality – something that they can sell here and also export. We must encourage export-driven commercial agriculture that will help our country.
We can do a lot more in terms of solid minerals because there is a big potential there. If we are sincere with it, it can also help the economy. We have to be very careful about allowing people, who are foreigners coming to take our irreplaceable products like some of these minerals and then, they devastate the land and go away. We must not allow that. Above all, there must be peace in this country. If there is no peace, you cannot diversify the economy, you cannot even move from one part of the country to another and that is a danger if you are talking about running a serious economy.
The president did not sack any member of his cabinet for four years, except those who left on their own for one reason or another. But is there any member of the cabinet that stands out, in your own opinion, in terms of performance?
To be honest, I have nothing but contempt for most of them. I also have a feeling that they were not appointed to do a job, they were appointed to come and steal. And you can see, they spent the best part of four years fighting among themselves, there was no cooperation. You can see Rotimi Amaechi commenting about the failure to set up so-called national carrier, but he was challenged by a junior minister in the same ministry of transportation. That gives you an indication of how they worked.
We have a minister of defence, who happens to be a retired General. We are also going through a very serious terrorist war, especially in the North-east, then we have abductions in the North-west, the South-south and the South-east and yet, when Generals in the field, who are actually fighting the war want to brief the president, sometimes they are asked to go and brief a civilian like Abba Kyari, who does not know how to handle a pistol and that is a very dangerous thing because if you want to brief somebody about something, he must be knowledgeable about it. If I don’t know what you are talking about, why should you go and brief me, rather than going to brief the commander –in-chief himself?
That has been going on. To confirm the contradiction, we have the National Security Adviser, who has had a military career in the war front and in intelligence and by the order which was made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, all GOCs and serving chiefs and commanders are supposed to brief the Commander-in-chief through the NSA.
It was a written law; I know about it. It was made during Obasanjo time. But in spite of that, you get a man who is a lawyer, a clerk, now asking the Generals to come and brief him, that he will brief the Commander –in –chief when he knows nothing about war. And you can see that some of the problems they have over the last four years were self-inflicted and unless there is a change of attitude, they are going to nowhere.
Some of the ministers are making attempts to come back in spite of what you have said now as members of the president’s second term cabinet. Is there any of them that you think is worthy of being reappointed and you will advise the president to bring back?
I didn’t advise when he appointed them the last time. So, I am not in a position now to tell him to appoint A or B. Besides, if you are going to appoint somebody for the first time, you appoint him on the basis of his potentialities. But if you are appointing somebody who has already been saddled with responsibilities and you know how well he did or did not do, it’s no longer a guessing game. You have to appoint him on the basis of his concrete achievements.
Has he done well? You re-appoint him, if he has not, you sack him. In politics, you do not punish people for not succeeding. There is no punishment for people who have been given appointments at one point in time, who failed. What you should do to anybody who has been given appointment and has not performed is to send him or her packing.
But when a person has failed woefully and you insist that you must retain him because of where he comes from or because he is the son of your friend or you run a business together with the son-in-law or whatever, then you will see that the job will not only be not done, the country will suffer and his departments will also suffer.
That’s the fact of the matter. So, since I haven’t seen anything out of all of them to say appoint this or don’t appoint that. As I said, I have contempt for all of them. And to make matters worse, the National Assembly that is charged by our constitution to superintend the works of the ministries is thoroughly shameless and corrupt. These people cannot now go and look at the ministries to see that the right things are done.
Talking for other Nigerians now, what would you say are the key demands from Buhari, as he is being sworn in for a second term?
The same demands we have when he took over power in 2015. One, we want peace and security. We want to live in harmony. People emphasise the issue of peace and security and I do too because the fundamental responsibility of government anywhere is the maintenance of law and order. People must have the opportunity of going round to pursue their legitimate businesses. If there is no security in the country, nothing can be done. At least, let there be peace. Nigerians expect Buhari to provide security.
When Nigerians elected Buhari in 2015, one of the selling points was the fact that he is an ex-General, he was a former governor of the North-east, now broken into six states and of course, he is a former minister and a former Head of State. He was alleged to have taken security very seriously and that he performed well if not in other areas, but in the area of security then. Now, given the fact that not much was done in terms of security in the first four years, people are now revising their assessment and saying, after all, during his first time as the Head of State, it was Tunde Idiagbon, his then deputy, who did the work.
Now, I don’t want to pass judgment on that because he and Idiagbon were personal friends. But I am just saying that the fact that these questions are now being revised show that Nigerians are not happy with the way security was being handled. Secondly, the fact is that in any given institutional situation, when you put somebody in a serving position, even if he has not failed, but he has not succeeded the way you want, normally you begin to wonder what to do with him. Is he the only one available?
Clearly, and I am speaking for myself, I am not impressed with the performance of the Generals, who have been fighting this war for us. There have been corruption galore – quite a number of Generals and field commanders have been implicated in corruption. The soldiers themselves mutinied because they were not being paid their allowances as at when due.
Many of them have stayed long in the war front without rotation. Some of the commanders are now tax authorities – deducting money from salaries and allowances of soldiers. This is no way to go and ask any soldier to risk his life because he is not sure if his family will get his benefits intact after his death. I don’t know of any Army that will allow one single General, no matter how distinguished, no matter how well he knows about warfare and what have you to stay in one post for one year.
But Buratai has been the commander of the Army for four years and the same thing with the heads of the Air Force, Navy and the Chief of Defence Staff. Why must it be so? In terms of fighting Boko Haram, it is, in fact, the office and the personality of the CDS, which should be prominent because it is a composite situation – we have the Army, Air Force, Navy. So, when we are fighting, all the services must come under the Chief of Defence Staff. But do you know I don’t even know the name of the guy?
Sincerely, I don’t know his name. These are the people, who are holding our destinies in their hands. And Buratai talks only when it is about money – they need money. And there is near complete collapse of discipline. People are asked to go to a certain theatre; they will say ‘yes sir.’ But the moment the Head of State turns his back or he is off the telephone, they simply disappear.
The way the fight against Boko Haram is being prosecuted, it is never going to succeed. This is not the first war we are fighting. We fought the Nigerian civil war. I was a teenager just out of the secondary school and many of the people, who later became famous in the fight were my friends and in my age group. Compare their attitude if you were old enough to know, with the attitude now. You will see that there is a world of difference. So, we, as a country are not a serious people.
The leaders that were appointed for the services are not appointed on merit. Even today, the head of the Air Force, I don’t know him. The Air Force is a very expensive thing and we must not put a failure there. If we have some people at the head of the Air Force, they have to be the best this country has produced. And if you are going for your equipment, you are not going to spend our money – very expensive petrodollar – in buying substandard equipment. We have to order the very best and the very best are not only with the Americans.
I know what we used to fight the civil war are not American weapons. Russians gave us their aircraft; they also trained our pilots and up till today, we still have some of those aircraft. But we don’t want to go to the Russians because they are not likely to give our officers bribe. The defence minister is from Zamfara and the defence minister cannot take care of his own Zamfara.
So, what makes you think that I should now entrust my life and that of my relations in the hand of that minister, who is all the time in Abuja or in Kaduna. The journey from Kaduna to Gusau is just about 100 kilometres and that minister cannot maintain security on that road to stop bandits, who are not even properly armed? So, what makes you think I should entrust my life into his hands? We have to be very careful.
The problem of banditry, like you mentioned, is gradually assuming the dimension of Boko Haram. What is your advice to the president on how we can stop the spread?
If you have a personal solution to a problem, then apply that personal solution, work on it and make sure that you are sincere about it. When you study what is being done and you also study what are the needs and wherewithal you need to fight those problems, you put your plans into action and you fight.
But what is happening is that, the Governor of Zamfara has turned out to be a big scandal and from the time Zamfara was created until today, it has never had one decent governor for even one day. There is a countervailing point – If you have a party with a government at the national level, who is respected or feared or both, then, it can call these governors to order. But I can’t see how this government or APC, as a party, can call anybody to order because they cannot even call themselves to order.
We have banditry, Boko Haram and the problems of abduction of people in the South-east and the South-south. There are many of my friends in the South-east and the South-south who cannot go home now. They are permanently in Abuja. They also issue statements from Abuja to say they are in politics. Their people don’t see them. So, what are we talking about? Already, the country has become ungovernable and if a government cannot govern, of what use is it to you or me?
So, that’s the major task for the president in his second tenure?
Of course, he is the head of the government; he is the chief security officer for the country. These are all there in the constitution. The president is the Commander -in- chief. He is de-facto head of his party. Those are parts of his responsibilities. It is the president, who is responsible for the operational activities of the police nationwide.
If the police are not doing well, you should know where you should direct your blames to. Idris, who was recently the Inspector General of Police, there was a problem in Benue; he was asked by the president himself to relocate to Benue. But he went there, he did not spend a night there, when the President came back from Benue, he also came back. Yet, he remained in office until he was 60, as the IGP.
And I know several times the president had asked the service chiefs to relocate to Yobe and Borno, especially, but they cannot abandon their air-conditioned rooms in Abuja. So, the day the president left, they left too.
But the President has not taken any action to indicate that he was dissatisfied with their actions?
You don’t expect me to make a comment on that because I don’t know why. journalists should ask the President why, I am not a member of his party.
But speaking of the ministers, the president said at the valedictory session that he retained them because he was satisfied with their performance?
People are allowed to play their politics the way they deem fit. For example, nobody can make me tell a lie about a man, who has failed, to say he has succeeded. Maybe, that’s why I have achieved very little in politics. He (the president) said all of them had done well. Then, why is he wasting our time because there was no need to ask them to go.
They should just continue because there is nothing in law that is preventing him from reappointing all of them. I don’t know who he is trying to please because he should be trying to please the people, who voted for him and they appointed him. He appointed the ministers, using his mandate. But the people are clearly not happy and if he is not doing that for the sake of the people, for whose sake is he doing it?