Senator Abu Ibrahim who represented Katsina South in the last senate, in this interview, assesses President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance; concluding that the president has performed incredibly well in five years.
How will you assess Buhari’s fifth year in office?
There are questions you don’t answer in isolation; but relatively, in relation with precedents. It is a fact that the magnitude of mismanagement of our national resources, of corruption, and of lockdown of the country’s growth potential was at the highest in the years before the present administration came in. Unemployment, insecurity and total lack of infrastructural development, as well as the will to effect any, were the order of the day then.
So, if I have to assess the president’s performance compared with what we used to have, he has performed incredibly well. But if I have to assess the president in view of the country’s capacity for growth, I would say the he is moving in the right direction, but the administration can do much more.
What are the key achievements and challenges of the administration?
It is so easy to pinpoint and list the achievements of the President Buhari-led administration in the last five years; they are novel and unique. There are certain ways of life we were almost accepting as normal until the president came in 2015.
We suddenly are no more seeing fuel scarcity and attendant black marketing that was for a long time a basic characteristic of yuletide seasons in Nigeria.
There were those days when it was common place for states to owe workers months of salaries, but it disappeared as soon as the president gave bailout and insisted workers must be paid. Those days when pensioners lined up on the streets of Abuja for weeks to remind the government they needed to be paid has disappeared.
In agriculture, we see for the first time a policy that phased out completely importation of foreign rice. Today, we are self-sufficient in rice cultivation and processing and we are looking forward to commencing exportation of the product in the nearest future. The country saves $5m daily from the total ban on rice and wheat importation.
Only in 2019, agriculture contributed 22.12 per cent of the country’s GDP; a feat that is unprecedented.
We have security; today we sleep with our two eyes closed in Abuja and most parts of the country. A quick reminder would tell us that wasn’t possible some six years ago when Boko Haram had taken over the entire North East and was terrorising the entire country so much that even Abuja became unsafe. The same Boko Haram that marches into the street in convoys in those days is now operating from hiding as the Nigerian military continues to decimate its ranks by the day.
The country may not have become totally free of insecurity, but we are no longer where we were in those days. Yes, after the defeat of Boko Haram, there is much to be done on bandits, especially in the North West.
Then we talk of infrastructural development, and we would all agree that it has never been this good for the country. It is not only the magnitude of the projects, but also the novel financing strategy that makes the administration unique.
Check out the railway revolution across the country, the strategic federal road construction across the six geopolitical zones and the Second Niger Bridge; with the history of fake promises by most past administrations.
There are also power projects; self-service power projects for selected markets and institution across the country, continuous improvement of the GenCos, the ongoing Mambilla Hydropower plant that possesses the capacity to substantially increase the country’s megawatts of electricity, ongoing strengthening of DisCos and plans to bring in professionals to drive the sector.
For the first time, the country is beginning to have functional social intervention programmes.
When have we ever in this country seen former governors and government officers been sent to prisons for offences against the country? It wasn’t part of our itinerary; until now. But under this administration, we have seen that happen.
We are seeing accountability. The EFCC has become so functional that in the last five years we have convicted over 1,500 for various economic crimes against Nigeria. During the period between 2015 and 2018 we have recovered N794bn, $261m, £1.1m and 407 mansions from looters. This is excluding the 2019 figures and the ones currently pending final forfeiture and politicians still on trial.
It was expected that corruption would fight back from the onset, it is just that we did not grasp the magnitude of the fight and what its structure would look like.
What do you make of Buhari’s leadership style? Some are saying he is weak, others say he is not in charge and others are calling him “Baba Go Slow”.
It takes a good leader to understand the effectiveness of power delegation. That has been one of the great attributes of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. He appoints people and allows them to function in the capacity of their offices. I don’t think that is weakness; but rather good leadership.
Is President Buhari really that slow to deserve the Baba Go Slow nomenclature?
Of course not. In five years, no administration in the nearest past had achieved close to what the president has achieved and is still achieving; even with palpable funds occasioned by staggering oil price regimes since he came in 2015. Buhari is slow, but Second Niger Bridge that past PDP governments could not even physically commence in 16 years is nearing 70 per cent. No, the president is not slow; he is doing well.
His appointments are said to be skewed in favour of the North; why is it so?
That is a baseless accusation. It is a recurrent element of the political propaganda against the administration. Factual statistics says something different. As at today, the South has 52 per cent of all appointments made so far by the administration compared to the 48 per cent of the North. Instead of taking a clue from this baseless rhetoric, we should visit the federal character archives for informed information.
For instance, Nigerians are being made to believe that the North is completely in control of the country’s security outfit, but in reality, it is not so. The Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), who is the highest ranking military officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces, is Abayomi Olonisakin, a southerner. Tukur Buratai from Borno State is the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Sadique Abubakar from Bauchi State is the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) and Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe from Cross-River is the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS). That doesn’t look skewed against the South.
Key promises in your party’s manifesto upon which Nigerians voted for it have not been delivered, an analysis of the document by this paper has revealed. The areas include pledge to generate 20,000MW, passage of PIB, removal of immunity, replacement of state of origin with state of residence, devolution of power, economic diversification, reduction of cost of governance and judicial reforms. When will the administration fulfil these pledges?
In 2015, the nation had less than 3,900MW of electricity generation, though the installed capacity was 7,445MW. Today, the country has moved up to 4,678.8MW; almost 20 companies have been licensed to develop renewable additions to the national grid overtime and we have about 20 other companies currently independently working to produce an aggregate of about 10,000MW in pieces over the next two years. That implies that the promise of 20,000 is feasible, and with the ongoing Mambilla project and others, the country should be looking forward to surpassing the target in the nearest future before the end of this administration.
On the issue of economic diversification, the storyline is rich; we have seen agriculture contributing as much as 22.12 per cent, trade 15.61 per cent, manufacturing 11.64 per cent, mining and quarrying 8.85 per cent and information and communication 11.64 per cent of our GDP in 2019. The country is marking a new dispensation. We are all witnesses to the rice revolution and the mass opening of the agricultural sector and the mining industry.
Like the findings on the implementation of the manifesto, a group of analysts surveyed by Daily Trust have expressed disappointment on the performance of your party in five years. They said, “APC is a party with fake promises.” How do you react to this?
I doubt if any group, except politically biased groups that we have scattered all over today, would genuinely find ground to label the current administration “a government with fake promises.”
Is it the Second Niger Bridge that is fake or the rice revolution? Is it the N-Power, TraderMoni, MarketMoni or the school feeding programme? Is it the railway projects or the massive road infrastructure across the country? Or is it the fight against corruption; are those former governors and government officers now in prisons film tricks or the recovered loots are fake?
Like no other administration before now, the desire to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty has commenced and is ongoing.
How worried is the president that key pledges he made to Nigerians have not been fulfilled?
He is not worried at all, but is focused in his effort to finish his course before 2023. His key pledges cover security, fight against corruption and infrastructural development. From all indications, even the critics of the government in their sober period would acclaim that the president is doing well enough in the fulfilment of his core pledges to Nigerians
What are the things that you are worried about that the government has failed to do?
No government is perfect. There are things the administration could have done differently, but we would not assess an establishment on what they could have done.
Actually, I would have expected the government to be more ruthless in the fight against corruption, but I assume democracy also has its price.
What should Nigerians expect from the administration after the COVID-19 pandemic?
Apart from the PTF and the NCDC that are in the forefront of response to the health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration has since set up a post-pandemic economy revival team to design the country’s post-pandemic economy.
It is a fact that economies of nations would not be the same after the pandemic, but of a fact, indices of government’s economic responses now are already pointers to what would be obtainable tomorrow.
Despite close to zero oil inputs to our finances, government has not faltered in its responsibilities. Salaries are paid as at when due and the nation is still running perfectly.
Nigerians should expect a highly stimulated economy. The government has perfected plans to aid SMEs by as much as N50bn. N100bn is currently arranged for the pharmaceutical industry. The organised private sector is currently receiving stimulus from the government.
Regardless of what happens elsewhere, the nation’s proactive management of the COVID-19 pandemic is a big plus for Nigeria, and we should all be ready to bounce back fully on our feet sooner than expected.