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Osinbajo’s travails: Buhari right on VP – Junaid Mohammed

...Says, ‘he’s the most powerful since 1979’

Dr. Junaid Mohammed is a northern elder, a politician and member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic. In this interview with Akani Alaka, he spoke about Nigeria’s independence anniversary, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and recent controversies over the position and responsibilities assigned to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, among other national issues.


Nigeria will be celebrating her 59th anniversary as an independent country on Tuesday. That’s one year short of 60. How well would you say the country has performed since it gained independence?

First and foremost, I think hitting three-score years is an achievement when you are dealing with individuals. If you attained that age, there would be cause for congratulations. But when you are talking about a country, looking at the destiny of a people in a nation, you don’t talk in terms of three score years. You talk in terms of generations, centuries and what have you.

And unless you give yourself sufficient time, your statement may not necessarily be true, truthful or historically scientific. So, whatever we say about Nigeria and what we have achieved or not achieved now, I dare say it is too short a period to evaluate the country. But one has to admit that in spite of the challenges that Nigeria faced, particularly after independence and the Civil War, I think we have reasons to say ‘thank God, we have survived.’ But survival by itself is an attribute only of animals; human being must aspire to higher order.

Animals can be killed anyhow or anytime, whether accidentally or for consumption – whether you are talking of cows, guinea fowls or any other animal. So, every other day for them is a bonus. But human beings must have something to show in terms of achievements, as they progress in life. So, as a nation, we are not there yet. I must admit that given the challenges we faced, the most serious of which was the Civil War and, of course, some of the other challenges in some parts of the country and now, we are faced with the challenge of terrorism in the North-east, banditry in the North-central and in the North-west, one will have to be too generous to say, ‘yes, we have achieved something.’

Nevertheless, I must warn that there is a lot of work to be done because Nigerian leaders have not managed this entity well. Instead, they’ve abused the economy; they have done so badly in that area. They are only paying lip service to the war against corruption. I think Nigerian leaders are the ones, who believed most in empty propaganda. They believed that what they say about themselves, especially, when it comes to politics, must be the truth. But truth can only be assessed by greater level of management and adherence to due process.

But on the whole, Nigerians must dedicate themselves to higher level of achievement and they must commit to maintaining the integrity of the country and they also must be sure that what they are using in measuring achievements and purposefulness is the same with other countries universally.

It is not just enough to say we are going to create 100 million jobs in the next four years. That’s a joke, because even creating one million jobs in an economy that is tattered, from an elite group that is dishonest, is simply impossible and I want to see how any government can create 100 million jobs because that will be a record in the world.

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So, the speech which was given to the president and which he read innocently at the UN clearly shows that some of his speech writers are mischievous or they are thoroughly dishonourable and they don’t know a thing about the economy.  I don’t know how they can create 100 million jobs.

Do you really think Nigerians – in terms of the leadership and the followers – can really dedicate themselves to the task of nation building, as you advocated, especially at this time when the country is so divided?

Nigerians are truly divided and we are being led by leaders, who are divisive. But that does not mean that nation building in Nigeria cannot be done. There have been other nations, which, in spite of all the differences you can talk about, famine, drought, wars – externally and internally – have been able to manage themselves through good leadership and have emerged as great or medium powers today. I believe it is not beyond the reach of Nigeria’s leaders or Nigerians themselves to do that. But I must admit that to do that, there must be unity of purpose and we must agree on what we want to do with the country.

We should seek to achieve proper development, economic growth; how we manage the economy in a very fair manner, so that the people in the country will have a sense of belonging and can see that they are not being deliberately left behind or being marginalised. Nigerians also must be realistic of what can be achieved within a certain time frame.

For instance, telling us that you are going to create 100 million jobs – that is half the population of the country, including women and children, people who are not necessarily working – might be simply too much of a long tale. It doesn’t happen that way. Economic growth is not achieved that way and can never be achieved that way. But let me say also that if you want people who are fair, distinct and truthful to lead you, you must make sure that you go the whole hog to give them leadership. Even if they don’t want, you can force them to come and lead you because you know at the end of the day, you will be happy with the result.

But in Nigeria, we elect leaders, who are reckless enough to steal our money and use just a little bit of that money to get re-elected again so that they can continue stealing. Now, those kinds of leaders do not deliver and have never delivered in any country historically. So, we must be very careful who we choose. If you take N500 from a politician, then, you now elect him to go to wherever, he doesn’t remember you again.

He will never care to ask about what your real challenges are. So, he doesn’t do anything for you and in another four years, he will come back to you with another N500. And it is not his fault; it is your own fault. But if you insist that you will not take money from him, but you want him to do things with your own money in the treasury, of course, he will see that you are beginning to take yourself as a serious person, not somebody to be taken for a ride.

These are very important considerations. And it is also well and good to be vigilant on your politicians, their character, what they are doing, what they are doing with your money. Nigerians must also be serious; it is not just only the politicians. We must also be serious with our destiny. If we don’t do that, we cannot blame anybody. We must set for ourselves realistic goals. For example, I believe that Nigeria has the resources now to give every child free education, at least, for the first 12 to 16 years. I believe Nigeria has the resources to give ourselves minimum primary healthcare to all Nigerians and I believe we should also use our resources to give every village in Nigeria water supply.

We can then begin to achieve more sophisticated infrastructure. We are talking of roads, bridges, telecommunications and diversifying the national economy so that, at least, we stop depending on oil, which on the whole, does not employ up to two million people. Issue of diversifying the national economy is very important because our dependence on oil came by accident and it is being maintained by accident. Within the oil economy, we have had several recessions since 1970, after the Civil War when oil became important sector in our economy.

At least, from President Obasanjo to the tail end of the Goodluck Jonathan regime and the beginning of Buhari, we have had, at least, three recessions. Some of them were our faults; the mismanagement of the economy, but some were caused by something beyond that. If the oil price crashes below what it is today – already it is below $60 per barrel – there is nothing we can do.

But if we had diversified into agriculture, which is the greatest employer of labour, if we had maintained our manufacturing industry, if we had encouraged inter-state trade, even the social services; education, health and so on, if we had given them pride of place, I am sure we will have somewhere to turn to because we are running a capitalist economy, which is always in a permanent state of crisis. Nobody runs a capitalist economy without crises; even the advanced countries. America is even now at the verge of recession, Britain, Germany, the same thing. Japan has been at the verge of recession for almost 20 years, but they are about to get out of it.

So, we have to be very careful in setting our goals, making sure that they are attainable and they are real goals that can help the economy withstand the next shock when it comes back, because surely, it will come back.

But some will also blame elite like you for throwing up factors of ethnicity, religion, region and so on to confuse the general populace when it comes to the time of election, thereby throwing the issue of competence that you are talking about into the dustbin in determining who to vote for?

Well, you can be competent and be a crook. You can be competent and very well educated and even be experienced and turns out to be a scoundrel. As far as I am concerned, let our history be the judge. Let our experience in life, be the judge. If you elect one crook, after the electoral cycle of four years, and he comes back to you with nothing to show; the economy is worse, beggars are all out in every street in Nigeria, but the people elected are going around to dash money to people everywhere, they are living a very hedonistic lifestyle, you can see that and if you go ahead to elect them again, it will certainly not be their fault. In every area of human endeavours, there are people who are decent, competent and who have the capacity to deliver. The task of the voter is to make sure that he looks for those people and vote for them.

Even, if they don’t want to go into politics, members of the communities where they come from can insist that we know you can do it, you will make positive contributions to our destiny and if you don’t want to do it as an individual, as part of our community, you must do it. That’s how it has been done in other places. But if you collected N500 from somebody and gave him your vote, that’s the end of the story. You have no right to complain. So, I beg Nigerians to pay very serious attention to the kind of people that they are asking to govern them.

For instance, the average governor in Nigeria today has more powers than a governor in the United States or a Prefect in France. So, if you give so much power to an individual, who in the first place has very marginal educational attainments, very little integrity, then, you cannot come back and say he hasn’t done well. He has done well by giving you N500, that’s the end of the contract. If, however, you are smart enough to take the money and you go and vote for the politician of your choice, then, I will doff my hat for you because that’s what’s supposed to be done and it has been done in this country.

And I believe Nigerian politics would have been enormously different if we have been doing that. There are people making pronouncements in the Supreme Court that there is nothing wrong if somebody gives you bag of rice or bag of salt or give you brocade or something during election, it is not corruption. If a Supreme Court judge says that, you can see how decadent the system has become and how decadent the Nigerian elite are, inherently.

Talking about the courts, what is your opinion on the verdict delivered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on the petition filed against the election of President Buhari by former vice president, Atiku Ababukar?

I also have my views about the Nigerian judiciary. I think it is the greatest danger to Nigeria’s democracy today because the judiciary has become a danger to the rule of law. I am not prepared to be passing judgment specifically on how Atiku’s case went at the tribunal, which is the Court of Appeal. But the case is ongoing, one of the parties is not happy with the decision of the Court of Appeal; he has now gone to the Supreme Court. Until the Supreme Court passes a judgment, it will be beyond I and you to be passing judgment that the Appeal Court is right or wrong.

But let me be honest with you, in a free and fair election and as far as the vast majority of people, who vote in this country are in the North-west and the North-east and to a certain extent, the North-central, Atiku, even if the election is held 10 million times cannot defeat Buhari. Let’s be honest with ourselves. He can never defeat Buhari because when people are voting, they are not only voting for the present, they are also voting for the past. And each of them has well established track records. So, how, with your senses intact, can you go and vote for Atiku when Buhari is available? That will only happen if it’s the elite or those of you that write in the newspapers that want to determine our destiny.

But the poor man, the talakawas will never see Buhari, no matter how lousily he has performed, and go and vote for Atiku. And when Atiku was made the candidate of the main opposition party, the PDP, I went public and spoke to the media in Abuja. I said while Buhari cannot be said to have succeeded in his first term, clearly the solution is not Atiku; he is not somebody who can honestly succeed Buhari and who can perform better than Buhari. Look for somebody else, not Atiku. Atiku doesn’t have it in him. Atiku can never defeat Buhari. Whatever it is, the voting can be on the basis of tribalism, ethnic sentiment, whatever.

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Once the battle is between these two men, there is no way Atiku can beat Buhari. In a country with Nigeria’s complexity, it may not happen. If it happens and the people are not happy, there is going to be violence and I don’t want anybody to die in the course of this democracy.

Talking about the president, he has just inaugurated his second term cabinet and allocated portfolios to the ministers. Are you impressed with the people in his cabinet this time around?

I am impressed with some, not all. There were some who were given the job and they messed up and they were re-appointed. I can give you the example of (Babatunde) Fashola, who promised Nigerians that within six months, the Buhari administration would solve the problems of electricity when he was first appointed in 2015. But the government did no such thing.

As I am talking to you now, I am sweating, I am in the dark. And if Fashola cannot handle one national sector of our economy, and he was even given three – housing, power, works – and he failed to deliver on any one of them, but now you have given him another two ministries, I can bet my last kobo that he is going to fail again. So, you can see that making Fashola a minister is not based on his performance, but other considerations, which I don’t know. There are other people, who also messed up and there are complaints coming from other Nigerians and other sectors, which I believed are justified. But what can we do?

A man has been elected to be President of Nigeria. We have to live with the consequences of that election, until the time comes for the next electoral cycle. Already now, he (Fashola) in his second term, he is even picking quarrel with the Bureau of Public Procurement. In the previous Senate, I accused him and they invited him to come and defend how he arrived at the figures for some of the contracts that were awarded by his ministry. So, what are we talking about? And he is not the only one.

Some critics have been complaining that in the allocation of portfolios, the President allocated some ministries referred to as juicy or strategic to the northern part of the country…

I find the entire accusation dishonourable, dishonest and trivial and thoroughly corrupt inclined. Now, during Buhari’s first term, most of the so-called “juicy portfolios,” (which really is an unfortunate term) or most of the strategic ministries went to people outside the North. And some of the appointees from the North, who got part of the ministries were given junior status – ministers of state.  And this was not said by me, it was said by Buhari himself.

So, because they were programmed to fail, they failed. And some of them ended up being victimised by their senior ministers. If you look at the first time – we can take the South-west, which got the huge chunk of the so-called juicy ministries. They had health, communications, finance, a section of the Niger Delta ministry and, of course, other ministries. The South in general has foreign affairs, Niger Delta, which is permanently their own, transport and so on. Now, if people did not complain that they were marginalised in terms of allocation of juicy ministries – which I say is scandalous because it means that you are in government not to serve but to steal – and now for whatever reasons, Buhari tried to rearrange the appointments, giving the North agriculture and so on, what’s the problem with that?

And if you don’t appoint somebody from the northern part of the country to handle agriculture, which is mostly done in that part of the country, how do you run agriculture and how do you sincerely diversify the economy? Then, the North has education ministry, finance and so on. But the culture of reducing appointments into juicy or non-juicy is criminal. Anybody to be appointed as a minister should be given a ministry where he or she is going to perform not for himself or herself, his region, for the sake of the president, but also for the entire country. That’s my position. People should be appointed based on their potential capacity to deliver, taken against their qualifications and the experience they have acquired.

The president has been getting accolades over the recent appointment of Economic Advisory Committee. Are you also excited by that and what is your opinion on the controversies that are being generated over the appointment, especially in regard to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo?

It is not even an economic team; these are just group of people created for the purpose of giving economic advice. They will be reporting to the president. Now, some people have created some mischief out of that. They are saying ‘it’s an attempt to ease out the vice president.’ As far as I am concerned, when the vice president acted as the acting president for over 130 days, he has the full powers of the president.

Check what those who are making noise are saying and check the constitution. The official position reserved for the vice president in the constitution – there are two that I can recall now– first, he is the chairman of the National Economic Council. And people are trying to deliberately confuse that. Being chairman of NEC, which is made up of governors and a few people like the Governor of the Central Bank and ministers who have responsibility for the economy means he will preside over them whenever they meet. Also, the constitution mentions the vice president, as the chairman of the National Boundaries Commission.

Beyond that, I think there is also one other appointment designated for the purpose of being run out of the vice president’s office. But telling us that this has been taken from him or that has been taken from him is sheer nonsense because every responsibility that the vice president has is a delegated responsibility – delegated to him by the president. And the president has the right to delegate any other minister, any other appointee of his in the government to take some additional responsibilities and there is nothing wrong in that.

In my life and since the beginning of the Second Republic in 1979 till date, there has never been a vice president, who wielded as much power, enormous powers as Osinbajo. But if these people, who are complaining feel that it is their right to permanently have their son and permanently, that son must have juicy or lucrative parastatals under him to dispense favours, as he likes and he does it in a way that favours his tribe and his church, then we are doomed.

Look at the appointments made by the vice president – most of them are not only from his tribe, but they are also from his church. He did not win the election and those who imagine that they can build him up because he builds them so that he can become the president in 2023 should wait for 2023.

So, you see politics of 2023 in all these things happening to Osinbajo?

There is nothing happening to him. We have heard complaints, but we know that the people, who are doing that have benefitted a lot from him. They said they are building him up politically, but that is sheer nonsense because nobody can build you up politically other than the party or the political system being operated in the country. Anyway, he knows that he was not an active participant in APC. He was not even in ACN, he was asked by Tinubu to be the Attorney General in his office. After a while, he went back to the University where he came from.

So, what’s all the farce about somebody being favoured or somebody being undermined? Who is undermining who? If Buhari gave you an assignment and Buhari decides that that assignment will be better handled by somebody else or another group of people, what’s wrong with that? He is not a trained economist. He is a lawyer and lawyers are not supposed to know everything. Most of them know nothing. In fact, they are one track minded, they only know their law. So, what are we talking about? If they think that this type of noise will do them any good, let’s see how they will get away with it. Because if other people start making their own agitations, it’s going to be no fun; it’s going to be no joke.

So, you don’t accept as true, claims by Afenifere and other groups that the vice president has been rendered powerless or consigned to just paying condolence visits…

First and foremost, he did not win the election. Somebody won the party ticket and picked him up, as his running mate. Secondly, how many votes can Afenifere and other groups deliver to Buhari? And how many can they deliver to Osinbajo if he was the presidential candidate? And can anybody – Osinbajo, Buhari or anybody else be the president if he or she is going to depend on the vote of the Afenifere agitators? How many of them have won elections, and how many times? Look at the first election in 2015. Kano and Lagos have about the same population, how many votes did Lagos deliver to APC and how many did Kano deliver?  Even in the 2019 elections, how many did Lagos deliver and how many did Kano deliver?

Kano delivers 1.2 million, how many did Lagos deliver? So, votes and elections have consequences. You cannot refuse to vote somebody and say he refused to give your son what he deserved. Who are you? Now, you can see for a change, the people of the South-east are being modest because they know they did not vote for Buhari and they know that they cannot now be demanding to be given certain positions, they cannot. It was the late Premier of Eastern Region, who used to campaign on the basis of you vote for me, I vote for you; if you don’t vote for me, I will not vote for you, period. So, we have to be very careful of what we say. If he has been rendered useless, is he the first to be rendered useless?

If Osinbajo has not been given any responsibility, other than what has been ordained by the constitution, and so what?  If anybody wants to play games in this country, let them go ahead and play games. Nobody can become president in this country without cooperation of people from the other parts of the country. What have they delivered, how many of them have won elections? Agitations and foul language doesn’t make a political organisation. At the moment, there is a monumental quarrel, as to who is the leader of the Yoruba people.

Some are saying it is Banji Akintoye, some are saying no. And even within Afenifere, while Chief Fasoranti was ordained the leader officially, Ayo Adebanjo has been claiming he is not the one. Then, they have another one called Yoruba Revival Group. So, what are they talking about? Who is the leader and who elected them and what can they deliver?  Can Banji Akintoye, for example, ask the people of his Ekiti to vote for somebody? How many votes can he deliver? Let’s stop deceiving ourselves.

But many people are saying with some of his actions since he took over, it seems the president is out to work for the North this time around?

That’s sheer nonsense. In his first term, almost 61 of the 65 projects awarded by Fashola in the ministries he headed went to the South-west. Tell me what projects Fashola did for other parts of the country. Are you saying that the president does not know where he comes from? Or he has no responsibility to those who voted for him or where he comes from?

So, is the president now doing what the North wants as some are saying?

Who told you he is doing what the North wants? Who told you that? You have to compare and contrast. What would the North have? Security or some bridges here and there? Would the North rather have banditry or terrorism of Boko Haram eliminated or some fancy buildings or some elephant projects and say this is what he is doing for the North? You see, in democracy, you normally should consult the people about what they want, what are their priorities. If Buhari comes, for example, to Kano and build some huge concrete buildings and says this is what the northern people want, that will be rubbish. And besides, progress is now assessed in figures. How many people in Kano today have jobs?

How many children are in school or out of school? Already in Nigeria, we have 13 million children, who are not attending school. And look at the primary healthcare system that we have – you go to the primary healthcare centre, not just in the village, but in Kano city, you cannot get Panadol. Your wife is about to deliver, you have to go and buy all the consumables from a chemist near you. So, you have to make sure that you do what people demand. People are not demanding for some big buildings.

I was reading about some cardiac centre in Lagos, which was built with billions of naira, but has been abandoned and the building has become a home for rats and other rodents. Is that progress? So, we have to be very careful. What do we want, what are our priorities? If you cannot educate your children, I think you have a lot of problems and you are not going to get anything called progress.

If you want to develop, make sure you put in place those elements of our lives, which make development possible. The infrastructure you will put in place should be the kind of infrastructure, which can help get your people out of poverty, illiteracy, insecurity. These are the areas where you pay attention, not who gets what.