Olusola Adeyeye, an influential member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), served as the Senate Chief Whip in the 8th National Assembly. During an interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Abuja, he talks about recent developments in the polity, such as the planned removal of fuel subsidies, the direct primary controversy, and the 2023 presidential election. Excerpts:
As a former principal officer in the Senate, what is your take on the friction between the National Assembly and state governors on the issue of direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill?
I don’t see any friction at all. In a democracy, there are always competing interests. Each person reviewing situation of the republic and prescribing whatever measures they believe are appropriate for advancing the best interests of the country. When it comes to some matters, the jurisdiction lies with the executive and when it comes to others, the responsibility lies with the legislators. So, the National Assembly has prescribed what it thinks is in the best interest of the republic. The governors as stakeholders are entitled to express their wishes, they are entitled to make them known and to canvass for what they believe ought to be the way. But in this instance, when it comes to making laws about INEC for the conduct of the election, the jurisdiction is squarely in the hands of the national assembly. So, I really don’t see any friction between the lawmakers and the governors quite frankly. This is the nature of democracy.
Personally, what is your view on the mode of primaries to be used. Are you in support of direct primaries or the process should be thrown open for the political parties to decide what they want?
Honestly, if there is good faith, it doesn’t really matter. But the truth is, whether you are talking of direct primaries or indirect primaries, where there is corruption and manipulations by unscrupulous cabals, the process can be thwarted and run in such a way that the best interest of the citizenry at large are not served. I live in the United States of America for decades. Some states have what you call direct primaries, some have caucuses. Some have what amounts to indirect primary and they work very well. In fact, in some states, one party will run direct and another party will run indirect. But if there is good faith and if the process is in place to ensure that there are no untoward practices, then it doesn’t really matter. Here of course, unless we deceive ourselves, there are untoward practices and if it is going to be indirect primaries, the delegates can be bought with money. If it is going to be direct primaries, it is also going to be a matter of money. Even on election day, you see people sharing money and distributing loaves of bread. Honestly, it is sad but that is the reality we have found ourselves.
How will you rate the current National Assembly compared to the one you served in, especially given the ‘Rubber stamp’ tag given to them by some Nigerians?
It is not fair to label them as such because the challenges are different. When I was in the National Assembly, there were some things we did that were right and there were some things we did that were wrong. In this current National Assembly, there are things they have done that are right and there are things they have done, in my opinion that were very wrong. Honestly, not being an insider, it will not be too fair for me to be too judgmental because like I said, there were many things that we also did wrong when I was there.
The federal government has concluded plans to remove fuel subsidy next year. Do you think this is a good idea?
As far back as the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who proposed in his own time that subsidy should be removed, I was one of the few senators of my party who supported the removal of subsidy. The whole story of subsidy is a big scam. It is a way in which a cabal runs with plenty of money into their pockets at the expense of the average Nigerian. I always tell Nigerians to remember that once upon a time, we have a telephone and postal service that was run by P&T that became NITEL and NIPOST. We all complained about their services and high costs. We then brought in the private sector. MTN came in, ECONET came in, GLOBACOM also came as well as other private interests. At the beginning, they were very expensive and they were unaffordable. I remembered when I first returned to the country in 2002, I bought a very cheap telephone called Trium for about N14,000. Later on, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG and other phones came. They were very expensive then. But today, a woman selling akara (bean cake) in my village has a telephone. A farmer working on his farm in my village sometime has two telephones, depending on which one is working in his house and which one is working on his farm. Today, if you send a text message on any Nigerian telephone, you pay less than N5. Also remember that it takes about N500 or more to make a dollar, so when you send a text for N5, it means you are paying less than a fraction of a US cent. So, have we not moved far better than where we were during the days of P&T? Once upon a time, we used to have a Nigerian Airways with airports in only about four Nigerian cities. Today, we have many private carriers. They are not the best run carriers in the world but the truth is, they are run far better than Nigerian Airways was run before its collapse. So, my own prescription is, let the government get out of the sectors of the economy in which the government has shown itself to be a pathetic failure. Why should Nigeria be the only OPEC country that is importing petrol? If we were not importing petrol, if we were manufacturing and processing our own crude oil into finished products, petrol will only be a fraction of what it costs today.
What is the solution to getting petrol less expensive?
The solution to getting petrol to be inexpensive in Nigeria is not subsidy. It is to let Nigeria and its friends whether in the public or private sector invest in processing the finished products. I don’t know when Dangote is going to finish his refinery. I’ve been there, it is a massive project. It is called the biggest in the world. Part of the problem is, perhaps we should not put all our eggs in one basket. Maybe they should have allowed few more competitors who can make smaller refineries so that we can have petrol being made here. If that is done, not only are we going to be able to have petrol to be inexpensive in Nigeria, we will also become the principal supplier for much of Africa, at the very worst for at least ECOWAS. That to me is the solution. I believe subsidy should be removed and there should not be a penny subsidy. At the end of the day, when it is removed, you will find out that you will use less than a fraction on what this subsidy is costing to get petrol to be marketable at a price that will be far more affordable for the average Nigerian.
The Minister of Finance, Hajia Zainab Ahmed also announced that N5,000 had been proposed for 40 million vulnerable Nigerians to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal. Do you think this is a noble policy?
Oh, it is silly. It is stupid and nonsensical. It doesn’t make sense at all. Most average Nigerians have done the arithmetic. It costs about N1.8 trillion to pay the subsidy annually and now it is going to cost N2.4 trillion for the palliative. it is silly. But what makes it worse is not just the additional cost. It is the fact that who determines who is going to get the palliative? Some of the wealthiest people in the country will get the palliatives because it will be distributed through their companies to the workers and these monies will be hijacked by the rich at the expense of the poor. It is arrant nonsense.
Igbo leaders recently visited President Buhari at Aso Villa, where they pleaded with the president to release Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who is currently facing treasonous charges at the Federal High Court in Abuja. Do you think the President should grant this request?
Honestly, I don’t know what they (Igbo leaders) discussed with the president. Personally, I’ve learnt that until you have the facts of a situation, you should be very careful. Yes, the president is correct. When a matter is within the judiciary, the executive should not preempt it. Having said that, we must also remember that even when a court has sentenced a person or pronounced him guilty, the prerogative of mercy resides with the president. He can still pardon whoever is convicted. But at least, he would have established the fact of conviction and he would have said ‘look, we don’t want trouble, we want peace in all parts of Nigeria. But let the process take due course’.
What I think is that the so-called due course has been too protracted. Cases are run too slowly in this country. I do not know whether it is because the Ministry of Justice is filled with incompetent people or it is that some people have just decided to let things snowball into whatever direction of incompetency. Look at the number of people against whom very egregious allegations have been made concerning corruption. Few people have been convicted and we are grateful for that. But see how long it took to convict Abdulrasheed Maina. A level 14 person who has been shown to own so much. It took forever to get him convicted. Part of quite frankly I believe is that if you look at the Ministry of Justice, most of the lawyers who work there are not among the best in the country. The minister is just one senior advocate of Nigeria. Is he going to appear in every case in which the Federal Government has very serious cases to prosecute? Is he going to face Wole Olanipekun here today, Olisa Agbakoba there tomorrow, Falana in another place tomorrow? He is just one person. In any case, when Malami appeared before the Senate in 2015, I didn’t think he passed. I didn’t think he should have been confirmed. In the 8th Senate when Malami appeared, he was among two nominees who I thought did not do well. At that point, I brought it up in executive session. I also brought it up at principal officers meeting that two of the nominees did not do well and one of them was Malami. The other was a Yoruba man.
I argued passionately that the president sent us a list of 37 people from 36 states and the FCT. Thirty-five of them were adjudged to have done well but two of them did not do well. They should not have been confirmed. If we had done that, we would have been spared the incompetency that we now see in the Ministry of Justice. Of course, some of them at that time were arguing that Malami was not likely to be made the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Ocholi, who had done very brilliantly at confirmation, should have been made the Attorney-General and Malami would have been the Minister of State for Labour. But that was not what happened. Instead, Malami became the Attorney-General and it is the prerogative of the president to choose who he wants. That also depends on the level of confidence he has in the person. Once the Senate says this person has scaled the fence, then you cannot blame the president again. But quite frankly, I believe the Senate failed the nation at that point. Fortunately for Bukola Saraki, I went to him on the issue. But Saraki was afraid that if he should reject Malami and not allow him to scale through, it will be seen that he went to double cross the president. Hell no! The interview session at the Senate was public, shown on live television. Everybody saw that questions were asked and for a senior advocate of Nigeria, the responses we got from Malami in my own opinion were so mediocre that he should not have been confirmed. Same with Professor Daramola from Ondo State. Both of them shouldn’t have been confirmed. But the rest is history. A nation is like a man or woman; you will sleep on the bed you have laid
Where do you think the APC should zone its presidential ticket?
I have given interviews in the past in which I said I am ardently opposed to zoning. If we are going to zone and it is based on fairness, then it should be zoned to the South-East. But I don’t believe in zoning. If my party says we can’t zone it to the South-East because we don’t have enough people from the region in our party, in that case, then it should be the turn of the South-West. But honestly, beyond the gimmickry of zoning, what I will want is that we identify competent people who can run this republic well and we go for them. However, I don’t think that will happen because zoning has become a religion in our country. One of the finest men we have in this country is Audu Ogbeh. Nobody mentions his name for no other reason than the accident of birth. So, if you run a system where the best of your talents are not even considered because of the rag-tag lottery of birth, then you must sleep on the bed you have laid.
When you say you don’t believe in zoning, won’t be shocked if another northerner emerges as President in 2023?
I won’t be shocked. Why should be shocked? It is a democracy. I pray that in the emergence of that northerner, we should pay particular attention to the complexity of our nation. If we don’t, the mutual suspicion and dislike will be worsened. But quite frankly, either in the constitution or in the law of the land, zoning is not recognised. So, if the northerners play their cards well and they emerge, that is democracy. If on the other hand, there is enough maturity and compromise in the system, particularly in making sure that we choose people who can run this country well, then we will thank God for that.