Saturday, 23 September 2017

We were overwhelmed by Nigerians’ expectations –Segun Oni, APC Deputy National Chairman (South)

Posted On Saturday, 29 October 2016 18:00 Written by
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Segun Oni Segun Oni

In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU and Gbenro Adeoye, the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Segun Oni, speaks about the crisis in the party and preparations for the Ondo State governorship elections among other national issues

The crisis in your party in Ondo State seems to have divided your members’ loyalty and some Nigerians, including the Peoples Democratic Party, have ruled out any chance that the All Progressives Congress can win the forthcoming governorship election in the state. Do you agree?

We are very prepared and just like we won handsomely in the just concluded Edo State governorship election, I am confident we will win in Ondo State.

Are you saying that the crisis in your party, the job losses and hunger in the land, will have no effect on the outcome of the election?

Yes, things are very difficult, but luckily for us, the next general elections will not hold next week or next month. The policies we are putting in place would have started showing very good results before then. The budget implementation would have gone far, a lot of contracts would have been awarded and things would have started to show improvements. We would have also announced the board memberships; it means some people would also have areas of influence, either through being a board member or another. It can only get better. We have seen the worst of this situation; we can confidently say it can only get better. The PDP members, instead of using the opportunity now to get out of coma, they are thinking they can deride us. But once the economy starts getting better, and it will get better very soon, they will have very little or nothing else to say. Their party is not yet a party; my advice to them is to face their own business, mend the house that is almost collapsing on their heads and repair their umbrella that is leaking profusely.

Your party has been accused of complaining too much about the last 16 years instead of concentrating on the task at hand. You forget that some leaders in the APC today were part of the years in question. Is that not irresponsible?

You see, I don’t support a complaining attitude; that is not what we are doing. What we are doing is to remind the people of the past, especially the days of (former President Goodluck) Jonathan. Nigerians experienced what nobody thought was imaginable. Only recently, an account that allegedly belonged to the former First Lady (Patience Jonathan) was said to have $15m. That is probably more than the personal worth of all first ladies ever in Nigeria put together, and that belongs to a woman that was there for less than six years. This is the spirit of looting that brought Nigeria down. There is nobody in his right senses that would not encourage that this should be talked about. We are talking about it, not just because we want Nigerians to appreciate how they brought us to where we are now, but also for Nigerians to be so sensitised that nobody will be able to bring that mentality back without such eliciting public reaction. So, it is for all of us. These people really went too far and took things to the extreme; they went beyond the limits; they went berserk, looting as if there was a stealing competition. This is the only economy in the world I know that could go through that and survive; not even the United States’ economy, which is the biggest in the world, would have survived the looting. That we are alive now, Nigerians should recognise that it is by the grace of God and also by the fortune that we had a change of government at the federal level. It’s not a complaining attitude; we must continue to sensitise Nigerians and if we are quiet about it, it could happen again; but God forbid that it should happen again.

The President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration has also attracted a lot of criticisms for being slow and unable to take timely decisions that could have prevented the current recession. Is that the party’s style of approaching national issues?

Let me say this clearly, every administration will have its own style, just like every individual has their style. There are people who will be quick to take actions but will regret them later. When I was in school, in my class, there were pupils who would be quick to put up their hands to say something, but five times out of ten, what they said wouldn’t make sense. They were prone to making a lot of mistakes. There were people who managed to put up their hands once and it would be a hit. So it is the style of this administration not to be repeating itself, especially when we are trying to get over the rot that almost sank the ship of state. I am not saying that we should always be very slow, no. There are cases and situations that require that we do things almost instantly, but you should know that it is also our style. What is important is that whatever style we adopt, it should produce the result that will give us a better Nigeria; that is what should be our focus.

You’ve had a lot of crisis at the various state chapters of your party like Edo, Kano, Kaduna and a host of others…

We didn’t have any issues in Edo.

But the APC National Headquarters set up a committee to look into some issues in Edo State, which was headed by Olagunsoye Oyinlola (former Governor of Osun State). What was it for? 

We didn’t want a situation where members would break out of the party after the primary that we had in Edo State. There were members who might not be too comfortable with the outcome of the primary and might be tempted to leave; we didn’t want that to happen, so we set up a high-powered committee to ensure that such did not happen. The committee’s mandate was to reconcile all the aspirants and our party’s supporters so that we would go into the election as one united family. You will agree with me that the committee delivered and we want to thank all those who aspired for the party’s ticket in Edo State for keeping faith with the party and not abandoning it. We don’t have problems in as many places as you have mentioned. We recognise the fact that when it is politics, the individual that comes into politics comes in with their own objectives and most of the time, we have to try and harness individual objectives to become corporate objectives so that every one of us can travel in the same direction. Sometimes, things do not go the way you expect; there are divergencies of opinions and styles. It is the responsibility of the party to align the divergencies and that is what we are doing in most instances. Don’t forget that the APC is a relatively young party as its members came from different backgrounds. Some from the Congress for Progressive Change, some from the All Nigeria Peoples Party, some from the Action Congress of Nigeria and some from factions of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance; so, you should give us the credit that we’ve even been able to make our differences count less than our zeal to achieve our corporate objectives.

What about Kogi State, where a member of your party, James Faleke, took the Governor of the State, Yahaya Bello, to court. Does that not show that there is trouble in the party?

We are working on that. When a court process is on, you cannot do much but to wait. It is after the court process has been exhausted that you have a very good chance of mending fences and bringing people together. We are working on that.

So many campaign promises were made by your party before the elections. One, which has generated a lot of interest among Nigerians, is that of the exchange rate. The naira has plummeted to almost N500 to $1. Yet, your party promised to make the naira equivalent to the dollar.

I do not remember any member of this party saying that at any time before, during and after the campaigns. Making the naira equivalent to the dollar is a statement that can only be made by somebody who is very far from understanding basic economics. We didn’t say that. We know that the naira, being where it is today, relative to the dollar, did not happen overnight. It did not start overnight; I remember the value of the naira was higher than the dollar 40 years ago. At the time, one naira was equivalent to about one and a half dollars, and then it was losing and losing value against the dollar. If anybody says he will make the naira equivalent to the dollar, it will mean that first, government wants to fix it and that will be against the spirit of allowing a free market. And that is not the attitude of this government. That is why we have allowed the market forces to determine where we are. Secondly, it is not part of our manifesto.

Talking of market forces, a lot of people don’t have a full grasp of your administration’s plans to sell or not to sell national assets. What is the true state of affairs?

Personally, I don’t believe government has any business in business. If we have national assets that can change hands and be profitably run to a position that it would be able to create jobs and contribute to the economy, I will go for it. If we have national assets that we will allow to run and waste until they have zero value because we don’t want them to change hands, I will not go for it.  I can tell you that there was a time we had the Nigerian Airways; it was a very strong airline and maybe then, if we had decided to sell it to either Lufthansa or British Airways to run and under terms that would create opportunities for us, maybe today, we would have a bigger fleet and more people in employment. There was a time we had Nigerian National Shipping Line and we had a fleet of ships, but we allowed it to go down until the value was in the negative. By the way, the Nigerian Airways also had negative value because it will not stay at zero. If there are assets that we can sell to improve the lot of Nigerians and invest better in the future, I will go for it. Let me tell you, Nigeria must first take care of its responsibilities now and be a respectable economy so that in the future, it can participate properly in the global economy. If the reality is for us to sell, then we should sell at the right value, as far as I am concerned. I am sure that President Muhammadu Buhari is not the kind of President who wants to just acquire and acquire (material things); he has grown beyond the spirit of acquisition. Anybody who is still battling with physiological needs should never be allowed to get near the Presidency of Nigeria. Again, that is what I have observed. These are people who are still battling with the spirit of acquisition, people who see money as the goal and objective of their existence. Anybody who is still operating at that level is the one Nigerians should fear. At least, we are lucky to have somebody we can say is beyond that. When he says he will sell, he will not sell to get kickbacks; he will not sell to himself or his cronies because that is what has killed Nigeria. They sold National Electric Power Authority, the distribution arm of NEPA, who bought them? They sold to themselves. So, if it is not performing, it is not because it was sold. It is not performing because it was sold fraudulently and the deals were not open enough. Right now, you merge a couple of states and put them under one distribution company and the span of control is so wide that it is almost unmanageable for those who bought them to cover, so all those guys are making money for themselves. I cannot see anywhere today that is operating differently from when NEPA or Power Holding Company of Nigeria was operating. You have not created value. If you want to create value; you go ahead and create value in a much more strategic way such that people who will acquire such assets will prove that they know what they want to do with what they are buying. Yes, if Nigeria needs to sell some of its assets, we will support it. I know that with an administration like this, it will be done transparently.

But even if government wants to sell now, it’s like Nigerians no longer trust government with such initiatives because they will ask that what has happened to the ones sold in the past.

Our people have stayed and suffered too long under deceit that they almost will believe that there is nothing that can happen other than deceit. Yes, if there is the promise of the second Niger Bridge and it has gone on and on, I am sure it is going to be a reality under this government. Even the promises that tarried for so long like the East-West Road and rail line will become a reality. This government is a determined one and it will be different; that is why I keep saying, we were not elected for a two-year term; it’s a four-year term. In four years, Nigerians will have seen a reason to view this government as determined to deliver on its promises.

What happened during the APC’s National Working Committee meeting over the Appeal Panel Report on the party’s primary in Ondo State?   

Well, what is happening is that we have some differences which we have to sort out among ourselves and we will do that.

But you have already submitted the name of Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) as your party’s candidate. Does it mean the party has not taken a position on it?                        

We are working on this.

A National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, appeared to have been bothered about this situation that he wrote a letter asking for the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. What is the update?

I have told you. It is obvious we have some differences amongst ourselves; we will sort ourselves out. This party is large enough and we have the internal capacity to sort out ourselves.

There are Nigerians who feel the economy would have been better handled by professionals trained and experienced to handle such at this time. Do you agree?

There are experts and they are managing the economy. There is an economic management team under the chairmanship of the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo). Yes, he is a lawyer, but if there is anything this Vice President cannot do about economy, then I don’t know who can. He has the pedigree and has committed people around him. You see, we should not forget where people are coming from. He is a lawyer and a professor of repute, who has done a lot of consultancy jobs for the World Bank, African Union and so on. He has a team that he heads; it is not a one-man team. The economic adviser is a person that all of us had known in school as one of the best brains we could find on the terrain and a person who also had a brilliant career in Foreign Service. I am very confident that things would work; it is true that we were overwhelmed by the high expectations of Nigerians but we are working through all of that. It is wrong for anybody to say we don’t have an economic management team. What is happening in our economy today did not start last year. Who would have managed the economy as it is now better than we are doing? Is it our team that destroyed the economy and brought it down? Look, Nigerians didn’t complain when they (players in the last administration) were buying dollars as if it was going out of fashion; the legal tender during the electioneering ahead of 2015 general elections was dollars. As a party which Nigerians voted into office, we are keeping faith with our campaign promises of making life better for Nigerians. The pains we are going through will not last long, we are trying to right the wrongs of the past and do things right. In the long run, Nigeria and Nigerians will be a lot better than we met them.

Not long ago, you spoke against the violence and killings in Rivers State. What is the situation now? 

There is still violence, which has led to some people being killed. The only thing I can say is that the violence has reduced, but the state is not completely free of violence. I’m thinking the Governor of Rivers State (Nyesom Wike) is no longer encouraging violence. And if he is not doing that, it means that the source of fuel for some of the violent activities is no longer there. There is still violence in Rivers and Bayelsa states, but it is reducing. We want a situation where all peace-loving, law-abiding Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in these states will feel safe to live their lives, and not only in these two states, but all over the country.

Your party talks about fighting corruption but it has largely been quiet about the allegations of bribery made against the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; his counterpart in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; and the APC candidate in the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State, Umana Umana. Isn’t it ironic?

I have said something as a person and it is that attempting to pervert the course of justice is a crime. If a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria saw somebody doing that and he did not get the person arrested immediately but later came out to say that so and so attempted to pervert the course of justice, I believe it was an afterthought. And if I were a judge, I would not even say that because I know it would not be taken seriously. Even you, if you saw somebody committing a crime last year and did not say anything until now, would it make sense? I don’t believe that the judges should be taken very seriously. But if there is the need for an investigation, let the matter be investigated. I believe that we all owe this country a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the system.

But some lawyers have said that there is no time limit to the prosecution of criminality and that it does not matter if it was an afterthought or not, and that as long as a crime is alleged to have been committed, then it should be investigated. What do you say to that?

I am not saying that anybody should not be investigated; how can I stand in the way of investigation? What I am saying  is that, as far as I am concerned, the judges did not do the right thing.

The APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Timi Frank, said that the party may implode before 2019, which seems to be in line with the rumours that Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar may soon leave the party to form an alliance. Does this not bother you?

I’m not bothered by all that. I have never attended any meeting where I have seen any ill tendencies and I don’t see something like that as so prominent. If that tendency is so prominent, we would have known. We have a party to run and we will run it very well. Yes, there are aspects of it that people may not be too comfortable with now; we will do everything within our power to improve the situation. But as for Timi Frank, anyone that reads between the lines will know that his statement is not worth what anybody should fret about.

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