Chief Olorunfunmi Bashorun is the Second Republic Secretary to the Lagos State Government (SSG) and pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with ADEWALE AJAYI, he speaks on the 2019 general elections, among other issues
Some political parties have teamed up to dislodge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general elections; do you think the gang up is in the interest of Nigerians?
The leader of the gang up, probably the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some others are not doing so in the interest of the people; they are protecting what they have illegally acquired, either individually or as a party. There are some powerful individuals who have actually eaten deep into the wealth of the nation, so they want to align with anybody to stop APC and President Muhammadu Buhari from eliminating or reducing corruption in the country. But, they will not succeed. Their objective is not to take over from APC to do better things. PDP was in power for 16 years and we know where we landed.
This government has just spent three years and some months, so let us give President Buhari a second chance and see whether what he is doing to improve the system will be sustained. Let me mention two areas he is improving. Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) has never returned more than N5 million to N6 million in a year, but last year, it turned in N5 billion. This year, it turned in N7 billion as unspent money. Also N180 billion budget that was unspent was reported to have been returned to the treasury. It has never happened like that; between November and December, we experience rush among the ministries and parastatals trying to exhaust the left over in their budget. That is the system we want to sustain so that whenever we have funds, it will be available for the use of the people.
Some Nigerians are of the view that the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government has failed to deliver on its election promises. What are his chances of getting a second term?
He has fulfilled most of his promises. He fought corruption and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has reported about 400 cases of conviction; a lot of loots, open or hidden have been recovered. Those who behaved the way they liked before are now cautious in handling government funds. This government promised improvement on infrastructure; there is railway line between Kaduna and Abuja, it is a new thing. This government promised improvement in welfare of workers, after much dragging, the government has agreed to pay workers N30,000 per month. Though the amount is not enough, but it is an improvement on the N18,000 minimum wage. I am happy they have agreed to pay N30,000. Federal Government didn’t wait for the governors, who are now lords in this country. All of them have lost bearing that they were elected into office by a political party to serve the people, but they want to serve themselves now; to kill the political parties that elected them. Because they are called governors, they want their position to override any decision taken. I wonder whether that priority of considering the position of the governors is in the constitution of the parties or the constitution of Nigeria.
The president has introduced some measures, like N-Power, which has created employment opportunities for Nigerians on short term basis before they get full employment. The government has instituted loan schemes that are benefiting the industries. The issue of power generation is also being addressed and it has increased to 7,000 mega watts; though it is dropping now, which is due to usual Nigeria factor of tampering with what will benefit us all. We have made a lot of improvement at the Ajaokuta Steel Industry and the company is almost coming up. You can see that Buhari has made some progress. I am not in government; I only pick on the information available to me.
The demand for the amendment of the constitution has been a major issue, but despite all the past amendments, the country is yet to have accepted constitution by the majority. Where does the problem lie?
When we talk of restructuring, others talk of true federalism; under this we see all manners of issues. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo held a conference, but nothing came out of it. Goodluck Jonathan also came up with a conference, what have they done with it? They are still talking about amendment. If we want a better Nigeria, we should not go too far, there are two things we have to do. We have to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich are dominating now; about 95 per cent of the wealth of the nation is in their hands, the five per cent is left for the rest of us. We must find a way to readjust this, it is not by force, it is by measures.
For me, either you call it restructuring or true federalism, the Federal Government should drop some of its functions and these functions should be put in the Concurrent List, so that states and the Federal Government can handle them. In education, we have Federal Government Colleges, they are gulping a lot of money, why not leave the colleges for the states. The other issue is remuneration of political office holders. The Revenue Allocation Mobilization and Fiscal Commission (RAMFAC) should not just sit in their office and fix salary for legislators in Makurdi, Sokoto, Port Harcourt and Lagos across board. Why should the governors earn the same salary? I think it is not right because the quantum of work done by these legislators is not the same. It should be ‘cut your coat according to your cloth.’ They can duplicate RAMFAC in states to determine how much to pay, not just sitting down in Abuja to determine it. People in Ikeja, Birni Kebbi, Kotangora earn the same salary, is the resources accruable to the states the same? You can’t just sit down and fix remunerations. The changes that are to take place are not difficult.
They are just using the word restructuring to deceive the people. The constitution in Section 7 states that the local government shall be set up by the states and Section 8 hold the states to ransom that when they set it up, they shall approach the National Assembly for confirmation. Lagos State government has to turn the council created to Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) because the National Assembly did not attend to it, so other states are emulating that. Local governments should not have autonomy until some improvement has taken place in the country. They are asking for autonomy so that allocation from Abuja will go direct to the councils and the state where they operate won’t know anything about it. I don’t think we have developed to that level. The councils must be strong in terms of human resources before they can talk of autonomy, and the autonomy must be properly defined. Councils cannot operate without the involvement of state governments. It is not going to help anybody in this developing country.
People said we should return to parliamentary system; I am indifferent to it. Even if we return to parliamentary system and we don’t review earnings of individuals serving us, what difference does it make? The check and balance between the Senate and House Representatives, probably is in the interest of the country. Whether we are going parliamentary or bi-cameral, we must reduce the remuneration of lawmakers.
Senator Ita Enang in an interview he granted recently, said an oil bloc fetches N4billion daily. We have got to a stage that the Federal Government should recover some of the oil blocs and distribute to the states, at least one per state. After taking the decision, a monitoring body should be set up to monitor the proceeds from the oil wells given to them and the monitoring body should be set up in the vice president office. This monitoring is necessary because despite the bailout funds some of these states got, they refused to pay salaries of workers. They always rush to Abuja when they are in need of money; with oil wells given to them to manage, that will stop.
You served as Secretary to the Lagos State Government during Lateef Jakande’s administration and the achievements of the government were overwhelming. Why has it been difficult for successive administrations in the state to measure up to that?
That comparison is difficult to do. The amount of wealth available at that time and those around to manage it are not the same. Secondly, the person Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his party, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) put forward, must have the capacity and discipline to run government. If we compare the civilian governments that came after Jakande, we had Sir Michael Otedola, Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and now, Akinwunmi Ambode. Otedola did not stay long in office; he spent only one year and some months. When Tinubu came in, he tried his best before the issue of seizure of local government funds, and he has to use his ingenuity to put hands into state government funds to run the local governments. I will say he tried and Fashola also did very well. The current governor is also doing some kind of innovative things.
There is a difference between Jakande’s time and now in terms of the amount of universities, secondary schools and population. And if we say Jakande was a star performer, it was a function of what was available at his time. Those doing it now, are all trying to get their own name in the good book of the electorate. So, to compare whether they did better or not, will be subjective on my side. I don’t have all the factors. Fashola said that if you say we are working and not doing well, if Jakande has done everything, there won’t be anything for us to do. The value of what money can buy then is more now.
Your party, APC has been battling with internal crisis after its primaries. Won’t this affect its chances in the coming elections?
The party held primaries and members voted for their preferred choices. In every contest, there will be a winners and a loser. My concern is that some of those lost in the primaries are not applying the sportsmanship spirit. That is why you see some party members going on air to insult their party.
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