I returned to Nigeria homeless after 30 years in UK, US – Ondo man

A 68-year-old man from Ondo State, Joseph Ibironke, who claimed to have spent nine years in the United Kingdom and 21 years in the United States before he found himself in Nigeria after a strange illness, shares his experiences with FATTEH HAMID

Where are you from?

I’m Pastor Joseph Ibironke. Officially, I was born on February 2, 1955. I’m from Igbara Oke, in the Ifedore Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State.

Where do you live now?

Currently, I live in Lameco, Sango Ota, Ogun State. The place is very close to the Nigerian Breweries in Sango.

What do you do to earn a living now?

I’m a minister of God, and some people support me to earn a living.

Where were you born?

Ondo State.

How many siblings do you have?

We were 11 (children). I’m the last child. Before I left Nigeria, two died and after I left Nigeria and came back, I had six siblings, but at the moment, I have three siblings from my parents left.

Which schools did you attend?

I attended Anglican Grammar School, Igbara Oke, Ondo State, before I proceeded to the University of Lagos. However, I didn’t finish my programme over there. While I was there, I joined the National Bank in 1980. While working in the bank, I was studying for a certificate programme. I passed stage one in Nigeria before I moved to London. I can remember that Union Bank snatched me from National Bank at the time. So, I was working with Union Bank before I moved to London for further studies. When I got to London, I attended a Bible college and I also attended Unity College, North London.

What did you study at UNILAG?

I studied Banking and Finance in UNILAG, though I didn’t graduate before moving to the UK.

When did you leave Nigeria and how old were you then?

I left Nigeria in the 1980s. If memory serves me right, I was in my 30s when I left Nigeria and that should be between 1983 and 1984.

What took you abroad?

Just the same reason many Nigerians leave today. The system in the country was bad and all my friends and I were seeking greener pastures. I left Nigeria for a better life.

How many years did you spend in the United Kingdom?

I spent nine years in London before moving to the United States.

What did you spend your time doing during those years? Did you also have a job there?

I was working. I worked as a security officer after I was trained as a security guard at Burns International Security Services Limited, United Kingdom. I was trained as an armed guard. When I moved to the US, I also worked with them for a while.

Did you become a UK citizen?

I had a British passport.

Where’s your passport?

I misplaced it. I declared it missing and the British Government replaced it, but it went missing again. I went back for the passport and I was told that I was careless with the British property and that it wouldn’t be replaced for me.

When was that?

I can’t remember but it was in 2007.

Why did you leave the UK for the United States?

It was because the UK was too tight but America was free. You can make it very fast in the US. At that time, my friends were there and advised me to move to the US.

How many years did you spend in the US?

I spent 21 years in the United States of America.

Did you get another job there?

As I earlier said, I worked with Burns and I also worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Police Department before I resigned because God called me to be a pastor. That was when I resigned in Los Angeles after working for about two years. Also, I had a store in Orange County, California, which was predominantly occupied by whites, no blacks lived there. In Orange County, I sold sophisticated electronics. I was always going to Japan to buy electronics and sell them. I was also the only black in Orange County at the time who made it (was successful).

Were you married with children when you were abroad?

Yes, I was married with four children. Right now, I don’t know their whereabouts and it’s very painful knowing you have children somewhere and you don’t know where they are. But I know that they can’t suffer over there. Their mother left me after my sickness.

What is your wife’s name and where is she from?

Her name is Helen, Helen Jones. She’s a citizen of the United States and is from Texas.

Where did you meet her?

We met in California before we moved to Tampa, Florida. From Tampa, we moved back to California and later back to Texas.

What are the names of the children you had together?

I don’t want to disclose their names.

In a video on social media, you claimed not to have known how you found yourself in Nigeria after spending 21 years in the US and nine years in the UK. Does that mean you never wanted to return to Nigeria?

No, I wanted to return home but was regularly stopped by my brother.

Were there times your family (parents or siblings) in Nigeria wanted you to return home for one reason or another?

When I wanted to come home, I was advised not to return home and that Nigeria was bad. Also, I had people I knew in New York who came and returned to the United States. I felt that (returning to Nigeria) wasn’t anything to bother about and that I was going to return to Nigeria. If they (my family members) couldn’t be hurt, I wouldn’t be hurt. On my birthday that year, I called my brother and told him that I was going to visit Nigeria and celebrate the next Easter. I sent N25,000 to them in Nigeria and told them to help me prepare for my arrival but before February ended, I became sick.

What was the nature of your sickness?

My wife told me that one midnight after making love together and we slept, I started barking like a dog, and that I was foaming in my mouth. She told me that she was scared, called for help and an ambulance was called and they rushed me to Cal State Teaching Hospital, California. I was there for 14 months and the doctors couldn’t detect what was wrong with me. Nigerians over there (in the US) who saw me and my condition said it was a spiritual attack and advised that I be taken back to Nigeria for treatment. My family in Nigeria was called and it was arranged that I be taken to Nigeria. My elder brother, Williams, and his first son, Kayode Ibironke, whom I sponsored throughout his education, both received me at the airport (in Nigeria) and took me to the psychiatry hospital in Sabo Yaba, where I was abandoned.

What type of treatment did you receive at the hospital?

At the psychiatric hospital, they dragged me out because no one visited me or asked about me. Later, I was taken to (a correctional service in) Kirikiri by the hospital when they saw me wandering on the road. I was in Kirikiri when the Redeemed Christian Church of God came to visit the prison and heard about me, saw my records, and saw my documents, that I was from the United States. The church took me back to the psychiatric hospital and was responsible for my treatment, clothing, and feeding.

However, no one checked on me again after some time and I ended up under a bridge in Oshodi. I was there for a while before some policemen saw me. I told them my story and they checked my documents. One of them took me to Ikeja, gave me N5,000, and told me I would be able to get help there. On the third day, I was in Ikeja when Kolawole Olawuyi’s Labe Orun team came to see me with some human rights activists. I didn’t have an idea how they got to know my story. They told me that they were informed that someone from the US was sleeping there (under the bridge). It was Labe Orun who took me to Pakoto Prayer Mountain in Ifo, where I spent six years before I recovered, even though not completely. It was under the leadership of Prophet Ezekiel Oladeinde, popularly called Baba Pakoto, that I recovered.

At what point did you realise that you were in Nigeria?

After my recovery at Pakoto.

What year was that?

That was in 2014.

Do you have properties in Nigeria?

I used to have one before leaving Nigeria. I had a house on Number 14, Olasumbo Street, Sabo Yaba, Lagos State. It was only my brother that knew about it.

Who was managing the property for you when you were away?

My elder brother, Williams Ibironke.

Have you been able to take possession of the property? Or what happened to it?

When I was going to the UK, I called my siblings and I showed them all the documents of the house which I handed over to my Nigerian wife who I was living with, with two children at the time. In the presence of my siblings, after handing it over to her, she knelt in front of my brother and asked him to keep the house documents for us since he was a father figure in the family at the time. My wife gave it to my older brother and my other siblings also said that it was the best thing to do. I left for the UK after that time. I didn’t spend up to six months before my wife was kicked out of my Nigerian house, and it was sold. My wife ran to our village where my eldest son died after she was unable to pay N150 for his treatment as I was later told by my wife. She had to run to her village to take care of my second son who was barely four months old when I left Nigeria.

Where are your second son and wife now?

The boy is now 43 years old. He is married with three children. I met him physically this year in June after I fully recovered from my illness and went to visit his mother. He narrated to me how life was tough for him and he is still struggling.

Where is your brother and his son now?

Both are dead. Kayode died a few years ago.

Having claimed that your siblings took over your property, did you contact the police?

The police didn’t help me build my house. I don’t believe in the policing system in Nigeria. In a rotten system like Nigeria and against a dead person? Not happening.

Can you remember the exact day you returned to Nigeria?

I cannot remember.

Do you desire to go back to meet your family in the US if you’re cleared to travel back?

Yes, I intend to go back to the United States but my intention is not to die over there. I just want to live a good life.

What do you plan to do next?

To live a good life for the rest of my life.

(Punch)

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How petrol can sell for N300 per litre — Olisa Agbakoba

•Dares NNPC to try his idea
•What happened to N32trn in Ministry of Finance Incorporated?
•Why restructuring is not part of Tinubu’s policy now
•Nigeria should implement Uwais & Mustapha’s reports

After coming under criticisms for demanding a media blackout on the Chicago State University, CSU, certificate saga of President Bola Tinubu pending the Supreme Court decision on the matter, former President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, bares his mind on a number of issues bothering on the socio-economic, dollar dominated economy, offering ideas on how to reduce the price of petrol to N300. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he also says some sectors can raise N100 trillion, adding that N32trn was lying under Ministry of Finance Incorporated, while also noting that leadership and political parties in the country only pursue self-interests.

The President Ahmed Tinubu-led government has a lot of controversies to contend with: The socio-economic crisis occasioned by the policy of subsidy removal, the unified single exchange rate, the threat by the Labour Congress to shut down the country, the struggle to provide palliatives to calm frayed nerves, and now the issue of credibility as a result of the Chicago State Certificate saga.

Do you feel any pity for a government of five months having all these issues hanging on its neck?

Well, it is very tough. Unfortunately, I can’t make any comment on the Chicago State University certificate issue. I don’t talk to the media when a matter is pending in court. If the matter is decided, then I can comment on it.

Generally speaking, President Tinubu has taken on a very challenging assignment. Let us assume that President Tinubu is the captain of an aircraft. Tinubu takes off from the runway; he has to climb out to a particular altitude. You know, in climbing, some pilots have a very smooth climb, while others have very turbulent climbing. Tinubu has been contending with two major headwinds.

One is the issue of the removal of subsidies, and another is the exchange control issue. How he handles them will depend on his skills as a pilot. But the climbing is very difficult.

When you are climbing out and you hit the head wind, you have to be in full focus. So, the climb-out has been extremely tough.

There is no doubt about it. What I think is that he ought to be using full power because when a pilot is climbing, he has the power to trot. What I see Captain Tinubu doing at this stage is using only 50 percent of his throttle power.

He needs to push that throttle to the limit so that the climb-out can be great. I will say that the turbulence will continue until the Supreme Court makes its final decision.

What is obvious is that Nigerians have to go through a very tough time. It has been the toughest time in the history of this country since independence, as garri, rice, vegetables, and other staple foods are way out of the reach of the common man.

It is important that the unsettled issue of the Supreme Court be decided so that we can put it behind us. Whoever emerges will still face the challenge President Tinubu is facing now. It is tough, and Nigeria has never been in this situation. Apart from the issue of the removal of subsidies and unified exchange rate issues, I will also add another headwind, which is the Nigeria political configuration.

This is what people often refer to as restructuring. These are the three areas anybody who is confirmed as Nigeria’s President has to confront; otherwise, we will be on the merry-go-round.

Again, when the pilot fails to make a full plan to reach the cruising level, there is always a possibility of what is called an air return. This means that the plane comes back to the airport and lands. I hope you understand that that possibility is there.

Yes, I do, but let’s look at the possibility of a climb-out to a cruising altitude, when Nigerians can heave a sigh of relief. When do you hope to see that?

That is when we put the Supreme Court decision behind us. There is no question that the political climate is in turmoil. In view of the expectations of all the political parties with respect to the decision of the Supreme Court, that will cause a major headway. That is why I made the innocent statement that lawyers should not go to television stations and begin to make comments and quote laws as if the television stations were the courts of law.

Unfortunately, people misunderstood me, and said a lot of things. But I don’t care. Only the court can decide, not the media. That shows you the level of mistrust in the country.

I think the first headwind that will begin to settle the issue is the Supreme Court’s decision. The second headwind will be to stabilise the economy by deciding the micro-economic, physical, and monetary policies as well as creating jobs; otherwise, the exchange rate market will continue to climb. So, there are a lot of challenges and headwinds that will confront anyone who is eventually confirmed as president. No doubt, we are in very challenging times.

After 63 years of independence, we are still where we are, struggling to get it right.
It is bad leadership. All our political parties have let us down. They do not take into consideration the interests of Nigerians; they are only looking after their own interests.

All the political parties don’t put Nigeria and Nigerians first; otherwise, I don’t see why we shouldn’t have overcome these challenges a very long time ago. It is just a cycle. Go back to 1999 till date, nothing is new. They come, they make promises that they will do all kinds of things, stabilise the economy, stabilise the currency, but they do nothing. Is it not a big shame that we produce crude, yet we import petrol?

I can give an idea of how to reduce the price of PMS today by half. To achieve that, NNPC should sell crude to many modular refineries in the country at a naira price. Why should NNPC sell our crude oil to Nigerian modular refineries in dollars? We must set aside a national crude oil scheme for local consumption.

The price will drop to N300. I dare NNPC to try it; the price will drop. But if you sell it at the international market rate, how will those who are selling it locally source forex to buy and thereafter sell in Naira? They just have to jack up the price! That is the problem. It is important that the government understands how and when to make the right decision to help people and alleviate suffering.

Will that not also amount to bringing back the subsidy that the government is calling off since the price of the crude is dictated by the foreign market, where a large chunk of it goes and serves as our foreign earnings; therefore, selling it in naira will amount to subsidising the difference.

No, no. Every country has a policy that if you are selling something to your people, it is not a subsidy. It is just a local price. The fact that it can be sold internationally at a higher price does not mean you will sell your local produce locally at an international price. I think that is part of the problem.

That is not a subsidy; rather, it is a national government decision to set aside a domestic crude reserve of between 400,000 and 500,000 metric tons for local consumption and to be sold locally.

That is not a subsidy. And even if it is a subsidy, so what? Is the one we have now at N600 helping the economy? Let it be, if it is a subsidy, but I don’t think it is. I think establishing a National Domestic Crude Reserve and sell it to people who are in the business of refinery so that all these shipping costs, insurance, freight, and other add-ons cost will not be added. Having done the sum, I think a naira-dominated national crude oil scheme will help to save 50 percent of the price.

And if you do that, it will have a great national effect on transport, food, services, and the economy.

It is in the interest of the government to slow down the growth of the economy, even if you apply that type of subsidy. The first type of subsidy was abused, but this will not be abused because it is being sold for naira. I recommend that government takes that step because we can’t continue this way.

What is your take on so many appointments of President Tinubu vis-à-vis the quest to reduce cost of governance?

I think that the substantial distraction is the case in court, which, in my view, is affecting correct policy decisions. There is no doubt that the government is yet to settle. I know that all the candidates from the political parties spoke strongly about restructuring. But that has not come out in Tinubu’s policy, and I don’t know whether the government is waiting for the final decision of the court.

But there are lots of policy work that can be done but yet to be done, and that includes the bloated governance system. If we say we want to turn things around, it means that we want to transfer power that belongs to the federal government to the state governments, and therefore the federal government will contract.

If that happens, then many of the ministries will become redundant. For instance, if you move prisons from the federal to the state, the Ministry of Internal Affairs will have less to do. But it is still very open because the Supreme Court decision is anxiously being awaited by all Nigerians.

Five months after the removal of subsidies and other tough government policies, the so-much talked-about palliatives are not getting to the most vulnerable, and most state governments are not any better in the management of palliatives. Why can’t we just do anything right?

The real issue with palliative is that the government is broke. The government cannot fund palliatives effectively. I will rather prefer they use institutional and policy measures. I applaud the removal of VAT on the importation of diesel, but I will recommend that the government look at free school fees and medicals for all Nigerian students at all levels for two years.

That will be more effective than palliatives of N10,000–N20,000. I will go for institutional mechanisms that reduce burden.

That is quantitativeism. So you look for a pocket of reforms that, if introduced, will have a national effect on income and outcomes. People won’t have to pay school fees and medical bills; they will feel the impact at once.

You will see that that is the most effective palliative. But when you are targeting a palliative of N7,000 to N20,000, how would you determine whether people get it or not? So, I am more for institution palliatives, which will be far more expensive than money palliatives.

The judiciary also has its own share of challenges. Would you subscribe to unbundling the multiple roles of the CJN so that judicial appointments can be made in a more transparent manner, devoid of the whims of the office of the CJN?

Yes, I do. Actually, the late Chief Justice Dahiru Mustapha constituted a high-powered panel of 29 stakeholders, and I was part of it. We concluded all the recommendations to transform the judiciary. Unfortunately, CJN Dahiru Mustapha’s tenure was only six months, and when he left, the whole thing died.

If he had been there and had implemented this massive constitutional recommendation for the separation of courts from federal to state and for more transparent appointment of judges, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I have always called on successive CJNs to implement that recommendation, but I do not understand why the government does not see the need to be efficient.

I really don’t understand. Look at the Uwais report, we had a very inefficient INEC, but in 2006, I was part of the Uwais panel that did a comprehensive report to unbundle INEC to make them more efficient, introduced the Election Offenses Commission, introduced the Political Party Regulatory Authority, and so many others, but no one implemented it.

I don’t know what it is that eats into the heads of our political leaders when they are in office. It is like they get amnesia and dementia and forget everything when they are in office.

That has been the problem. Not for lack of brilliance in political or economic planning, but implementation is the problem. I just plead with whoever is confirmed as president to just pick up the report and implement it, and we will just move forward. We shouldn’t be where we are. Nigeria is blessed with so many natural and human resources.

In about 10 sectors I have identified, we can raise N100 trillion, and our budget is only N22 trillion. Even when I engaged the former Minister of Finance, I asked her, “Do you know there is the Ministry of Finance Incorporated,” which is a body in charge of all investments and government assets? When she looked at what I was saying and did preliminary reports, she established that N32 trillion was lying down there.

And since she made that statement over a year ago, nobody has asked where the N32 trillion is. Yet we say we are broke! That is enough to fund our budget for the year and have a surplus. So, the government needs to do some serious thinking. It is not enough to be a minister; you must work hard.

(Vanguard)

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Super powers backing Niger, Tinubu must tread with caution – Retired capt, Babangida

A former military intelligence officer and Chief Executive Officer of Goldwater Consults, Captain Aliyu Babangida (retd.) talks to GODFREY GEORGE about President Bola Tinubu’s intervention in the aftermath of the coup in the Republic of Niger, among other issues

What is your take on President Bola Tinubu’s efforts, including military intervention through the Economic Community of West African State, to restore normalcy in Niger?

Short of military misadventure, I do not know what the President wants to engage in. There are many ways to look at that situation, and none of it is in his favour. The first thing is we are looking at a francophone family quarrel.  Regardless of his position as the President of Nigeria and Head of the Economic Community of West African States, you don’t match a francophone country with Anglophone troops. What happened to Vietnam? What happened to Cambodia? America decided to flex her muscles there and she was tumbled to the hilt. That is one thing.

The second thing is that it is no news that our borders are porous ‘pro-max’. That is why all sorts are able to enter Nigeria, do what they like, and stroll out. These same people are the ones we had an engagement with and are helping us shelf off the activities of bandits from there. These people share 1,630 contiguous borders with us. To make matters worse, the borders are not really marked. If you have been to the border, you would know what I am talking about.

It is not as though there is a wall or one big trench. There are some houses that are built across borders. It is on this same Nigeria-Nigerien border I worshipped in a mosque that has two doors – one facing Niger and the other facing Nigeria. He (Tinubu) wants to take these people to task with a military matching order. I don’t think that is a serious thing to do.

What is your expectation from the President, regarding the situation in Niger?

What I would have expected from Mr President was for him to use, first and foremost, what I want to call his own advantage of age and sagesse over those young men who are mostly in their 30s, on average. Look at the age of those boys who embarked on the coup. I am even older than them with a good number of years. What I expected our 70-year-plus-old President to do was to use his advantage of wisdom from old age on them, and where all else fails, he would then raise a multi-national joint coalition force to Niger, not to match military anglophone boots into a francophone country.

Would it have been any different if Niger was anglophone?

Every single tree, stone, and thing in Niger will rise against our troops. So, it is not about coups. It goes deeper than that. What the President fails to see is that, maybe because former President Muhammadu Buhari went to flex in the Gambia, which is just a very small country, Tinubu feels he can do that with Niger. They (Niger) have over 1,630 borders with Nigeria which are about 999 miles of border with us. You can imagine how big Niger is. We are not talking of Togo or Benin Republic. Does he think he can flex there? If all our soldiers were to hold hands and spread across Niger, they wouldn’t cover that border.

So, how does he want to do it? How does he intend to sustain the logistic requirement of such an operation? How does he want to put English-speaking men in a country where everyone speaks French? They will stand out like sour thumbs. How do they want to operate? How do they intend to get tactical maps of that country if all the maps are encoded in French, even if he uses Google? Let me say something really critical. Mr President probably did not consult his service chiefs before he made that statement.

But, he wrote to the Senate asking for its backing…

(Laughs) Sending it to the Senate changes nothing. The Senate is full of civilians. He should have sent it to a joint council of chiefs so his generals could sit down and put to pen for him the implication of what he intended to do. If you watch football, you’d be familiar with the terms ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches. If you play an away match, you would not be as confident as you would be if you played a home match.

Mr President is asking his troops to an away fight and they want to fight on a ground that is not of their choosing.  In battle, we don’t fight when our enemies choose the battlefield. We would be walking into a slaughter field. That is one thing in battle. Ask the Americans. America is almost 300 years old. They spent roughly 150 years of their lives fighting wars they never won because they always took the battle to peoples’ lands. They lost in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Sudan, and I can go on and on. They always get very well beaten. This is because they go to fight on land that is not of their choosing. You don’t go fighting in someone’s home and expect to win.

What is your thought about the ultimatum given to the coup plotters to return power to ousted President Muhammed Bazoum?

I don’t know how Mr President wants to do it. But giving those people a deadline is putting him in a very uncomfortable position. If the deadline expires and he does not match on Niger, he would have rubbished whatever is left of our stature as giants of Africa. And, if he matches on Niger at the expiration of his deadline, and they beat him black and blue, which I am sure they will with the countries that are currently rooting for and standing behind them, that rubbishes again whatever is left of that claimed stature as giants of Africa.

I wonder where President Tinubu’s sagesse or wisdom was when he was making that statement. Most times, our African leaders are obsessed with power. They just talk before they think.

Some countries have begun to show solidarity with the junta in Niger. Should this bother Nigeria?

Let us also look critically at the people who are rooting for and standing behind Niger. Let us start with Algeria. The Algerian army is bigger than ours, the same as their navy. The Algerian navy has six submarines. Nigeria does not have even one. With the submarine, they can come as close to us under the Atlantic as your ear is to your head. We don’t even have the equipment to know they are there.

Why do you think Iran was rooting for those young officers? Do you know Charlie Hebdo? He committed a blasphemous pronouncement against the prophet of Islam in Paris, France, and this caused a lot of riots in France at that time. Iran has still not forgiven France for what Hebdo did. This particular situation is their opportunity to rub it back in, which is why they are standing solidly with the junta. Have you forgotten Libya? The country was doing well until America showed up. What they did to (Muammar) Gaddafi beyond killing him is still showing in Libya till tomorrow. This is the opportunity Libya needs.

If they dammed the River Niger today which supplies Nigeria water, the Chinese and Libyans would turn the whole of Niger from desert to green land with that same water they dammed, and they would give Africa wheat like Gaddafi wanted. What about the machinery, Wagner? They are like vultures. Anytime one slaughters a cow, one would see vultures. Wagner is in search of anywhere there are drums of war or war, and they will land there. They will give Niger all it needs to win the war and list uranium. So, do you believe me now when I say Mr President probably spoke before he thought?

Why do you think we have had recurrent military takeovers in West Africa?

Let us, first of all, do what informed minds do when it comes to critical thinking and problem-solving. Based on what is called a coup, can we first and foremost identify the root causes of coups? If we were to do critical thinking, for example, on the high cost of food in Nigeria presently, won’t we first find the root causes? So, let us do that here now. Let us take an informed position by doing some critical thinking. What are the root causes of coups in West Africa? Why not in South, North Africa, or Europe? The reason is simple. The average West African politician is a master of irresponsible and exclusive governance, anglo or francophone regardless.

What do you think a Muslim-Muslim ticket sounds like? Is it inclusive? Is it not exclusive? How would you feel if as a Christian in the military, who has all your life taken risks for a country – playing with bullets and dancing around bandits day and night – became a general leading a troop and someone, who says he is a politician, who would only be there for four or eight years (whereas, you have been a general for 25 or so years) comes to insult every risk you have taken with a Muslim-Muslim ticket?

We are talking of a country that is as sensitive as Nigeria. Let me make this clear. When it comes to conflicts, ideology conflicts are horrible. Ideology-driven conflicts can last for 200 years. Economic-driven conflicts can be solved. But ideology, whether as Nigeriens versus Nigeria or anglophone versus francophone, or religiously-driven ones like Islam versus Christianity or Islam versus traditional religion can last for as long as 500 years.

Now, Tinubu expects the generals who are Christians in his army to go and be chasing bullets loyally, right? Let him keep playing. I know some people don’t have the courage to say these things, but that is what is finishing us in Nigeria. If Tinubu believes that the generals in his army that are Christians are happy, let him think twice.

The President, Bola Tinubu, recently nominated 48 persons who, if approved, would serve as ministers in his cabinet. None of them are retired service chiefs in the military. How do you view this?

If you look at where we are coming from security-wise and where we are, you would see that we have security challenges. I must, first and foremost, say that soldiers do not have a monopoly on solutions to our security challenges. If they did, they would have solved all of them. So, what the President has put together is left to be seen. But, if it is anything to go by, we are looking at the same brand, the All Progressives Congress. From where we are coming to where we are, if he knows what he is doing, or does not know what he is doing like his predecessor also did not, we would be finding out hopefully in December. So, I urge us to take his list with a pinch of salt and let us not be too quick to draw conclusions, so they don’t say we did not give him a chance.

(Punch)

My appetite for greed has been trimmed, Plateau Governor-Elect, Mutfwang

Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, a former local government chairman of Mangu Local Government beat the trend of incumbent political parties winning their states in the March 18 2023 governorship election to emerge governor-elect of Plateau State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Mr Mutfwang who is coming into government with a background of law, politics and business, in this interview speaks on the present security challenges on the plateau and how they have squashed enterprise and community. He affirms his readiness to mobilise the people towards raising their potentials using a Public-Private-Partnership as a model to boost the entrepreneurial spirt on the plateau and rekindle the state’s lost glory as the home of peace and tourism.

Tasked on the tar of corruption that has tarnished his predecessors, he avers that under God that his appetite for greed has been trimmed and hopes to put forward a different narrative of coming and leaving government unsmeared.

He spoke in an interview on Channels Television and monitored by Saturday Vanguard;

Excerpts:

How are you settling down towards forming government after the election?

 Like they say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Since the declaration, we have been thinking, strategizing and putting our plans together. The weight of the assignment is beginning to dawn.

Are you up to the task?

 Yes, by God’s grace, we are.

What gives you the impression that you have the capacity to run a state like Plateau?

 I come in with empathy. My trajectory has been one that has prepared me for service. I have been a people-oriented person all my life and I have been in a position to bear the burden of people therefore, nothing prepares you in life than to know that people know they can trust you and that you will be there for them.

With the repeated killings on the Plateau, do you have an idea of what the problem is?

 Unfortunately, sadly enough it is my local government. The people that have been killed are my people even though everybody on the Plateau are my people. Certainly, we knew all along that this was not going to be a walk in the park, this was not going to be an easy task and by the grace of God we are determined. One of the things we promised our people when we were campaigning was that we are going to demonstrate leadership and by that we are going to take some very tough decisions. We are going to look into the issues very dispassionately and we are going to confront the issues and come up with solutions.

Of course, I do not have the magic wand and by the grace of God, together with the people we are going to think through our issues and come up with home grown solutions that confront us. We are going to give leadership, we are going to show the people that we have the political will to take the decisions that are necessary to take the state forward.

What is the problem, who are these people doing the killing?

What has happened yesterday into today, and it would be an injustice to the people who were killed to call it a clash or a reprisal. I want to address it from the criminal angle of it. One of the things we promised our people is that we are going to be strong on the rule of law. It doesn’t matter on who commits crime irrespective of where you belong, we will have to deal with it headlong.

So, when you say genocide this is a clear attempt at clearing a group of people.

 Absolutely!

So, who are these people?

I can tell you that there has been a lot of banditry around the plateau, it didn’t start today. It’s been going on for years and a lot of communities today have been wiped out. I can tell you that at the last count that we had about 64 communities that had been displaced, now in IDP camps.

Who are the people behind these genocidal acts?

 At this point in time, I need to be careful because I am not the chief executive. There is a sitting government and I would want to respect the government in power to be able to disseminate the right information. I do not have the authority to disclose a lot of security issues at the moment because the rightful person to receive and disclose them is the governor on seat. Let me respect that.

But I can assure you that these people were people who were brought in from outside those communities.

 Are these Nigerians?

 I do not have exact details to give you at the moment. But all the years down the line, a lot of their identities have revealed that these are not Nigerians and that they have been brought in as foreign mercenaries and they overrun these territories and sometimes of course, it is difficult to disabuse the minds of people that they are not in collusion with some of the people who are resident or around those communities.

Why do they do these things?

 The purpose of those who perpetrate the attack may just be because they are merceanires and hirelings. But I want to ask who is the person who is sponsoring them? Who is instigating them and what is his aim? Sometimes it is difficult to disabuse your mind that this is not about land grabbing. In the communities from where people have been displaced now, it is not as if they have been left vacant, some people are occupying them. It is difficult not to ask those questions, what is the motive of those invaders or the sponsors of the invaders.

We think that it has a lot to do with land grabbing and with demarketing of the state.

Again, I can tell you that the security situation on the plateau has not been the worst in the North, but there has been a lot of demarketing of the Plateau and sometimes I find it deliberate and a lot skewed narratives that tries to make people to be scared of coming into Plateau. The truth is that, yes, there have been attacks but not as you have in Kaduna State but you see that businesses are thriving in Kaduna while some people have the perception that Jos is a no go area which is not true.

Is this ethnic or religious?

 You have to look at it from a multifaceted dimension. There are a lot of economic benefits people stand to gain because even criminality has an economic dividend and you have to look at it from the political point of view to try to subjugate. I do not want to celebrate religion because I do not think that those who maim and kill … only use religion as a pretence but not that they want to advance their religion. A lot of times when people are looking for political oxygen you find that they now fan these embers of hatred around religion and ethnicity to be able to find space within the polity.

What we see is that there is a deliberate plan to dislocate the people to be able to take over the land for other purposes.

Against the background of past prosecution of governors including a governor of Plateau State can you give the people of Plateau that Caleb Mutfwang won’t be the type of governor who would steal their money?

 I can tell Plateau people with all confidence under God, my conscience is clear. I am determined to come into government clean and leave clean. I am going to ensure that we get value for money and I am going to ensure that we keep watch over the commonwealth that our people have entrusted into our care. 

By the grace of God, my appetite for greed has been trimmed and I can assure you that I am not going there for stealing, I am only going there to ensure that Plateau works.

Will you look into the books of the government that is outgoing?

We will do the normal thing in the normal course of business. If anybody is found wanting? We certainly will call him to order, we will call him to account.

(Punch)

Interview: I won’t renounce citizenship again despite Tinubu’s victory – Ojikutu

Former deputy governor of Lagos State during the Michael Otedola administration, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, tells DANIEL AYANTOYE how her relationship with the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, went sour and her concern about a Tinubu presidency

You recently said you would renounce your citizenship if the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, was sworn in on May 29. Can you shed more light on why you made that statement?

All my life, I have avoided everything unethical. I have avoided situations that will put me in a position where I cannot explain myself. I have no personal issues with him (Tinubu). He misunderstood my presence at a courtesy call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when I was in the Federal Character Commission and decided to strike. He struck and took my land. I was in a different political party anyway so we were not friends. All that time he was going through his problems with Obasanjo, he probably believed that I was taking sides but I wasn’t. So Obasanjo visited Lagos for a programme and I was invited. I entered the meeting and he walked me out of the meeting but interestingly I didn’t speak with the press because I met his (Tinubu’s) wife outside and she knelt down saying that I should not inform the press. I was ready to do that but what she said calmed me.

Are you saying your relationship with Tinubu when you were at the FCC led to a disagreement between you two Tinubu?

Yes, it is and it was also the reason why my husband died. My husband died because of Lagos. My husband was poisoned by the food he took at a club. I warned him when he was relating with people who were Tinubu’s beneficiaries and he was always saying Lagos deserved better in terms of the management of the office (of the governor). Even Tinubu challenged him at the VIP lounge (of the club), telling him that he understood why he (my husband) was abusing him and he (my husband) said he never abused him but told Tinubu that the resources of the state could be better managed. And my husband came home and told me.

So on the day he was poisoned, he came home earlier than expected and complained about his stomach. He said he ate in the club and I told him I had warned him and that was where the problem started.

How did you know that he was poisoned?

I knew he was poisoned because when we were having his funeral, the people he used to enjoy himself with at the club refused to attend his funeral and they warned that whosoever came to the funeral would be in for it. I got to know (about that) and invited them and when they came, I challenged them. I asked them why they didn’t attend his funeral but they were giving different excuses. I told them that my husband sent me a message to them to remind everybody that “death is turn-by-turn”.

Did your husband tell you that?

 True, he told me that I should tell whoever was mocking him, that death is turn-by-turn. He used to take Scotch and goes to the other room (in the club) where people ate. The following morning, he was in agony, his stool was black. The doctor said he was already bleeding inside.

What do you think led to the disagreement between your husband and the powers that be?

The issue with him started with not wanting Lagos indigenes to be marginalised and wanting a better use of the state’s resources. I was surprised when they said they were using Lagos as a template for performance. Lagos cannot be a template for performance for anybody. Take the estimate and actuals, they don’t correlate. So, where is the money? That is why some people are saying that the financial book of Lagos State cannot come into the open. I am not fighting anybody but I know Nigeria can be a dream country for all of us. So people who should be up and doing and say this thing is not right. Why are our children going to places where affairs are managed properly? Being black does it mean not being sensible. Our country must put things right for all these japa to stop. I have nothing personal against Bola Tinubu but I believe he does not qualify to be my President.

Is your decision to renounce your citizenship based on fear of what he (Tinubu) can do after he is sworn in?

No. All along, even though I did not shout about it when I met friends close to him (Tinubu) and quietly told them to talk to him to let the governor pay my entitlement, they promised to look into it but I didn’t hear from them, but one of them said, “Just take care of yourself, that is all am going to say. Just be careful.” I asked why and he replied, “This your situation with this guy, I don’t understand it. When I mentioned it to him, he asked me, ‘Is she still around?’” That’s a bit too heavy.

I now came out and said, I would renounce Nigerian citizenship if this man becomes the President. When they said he was the President-elect, I said it was time to renounce (my citizenship). If it is not a threat to my life, I will still suffer because I know that everything that has a beginning must have an end, but it should not end with my life. What did I do that must end with my life? What is my offence that it must end with my life? It has already ended with my husband’s life. Must I open my eyes and allow it to end with my own life too? So, whoever is saying one thing or the other, should fear God because they don’t know half of what has gone down, or what is going down. That is why I sympathise with this nation because if somebody who is vindictive becomes the President, many people are in trouble because I am sure many people have offended him or maybe many are not talking, they will just travel out.

Has anyone advised you to withdraw your statement? 

This is where another aspect came in. Renouncing now is another problem because a Muslim scholar told me that I misread the Quran. He asked me whether Prophet Mohammed (SAW) renounced his affiliation with Mecca despite the death threat he got. So, I cannot reject Nigeria. He said even if I said I wanted to migrate, there were conditions attached to it.

Does that mean you have withdrawn your decision to renounce your citizenship?

I had already taken a step about the country whose citizenship I will take but I was advised by people not to contemplate going anywhere and these are people whose pieces of advice I cannot reject.

The Muslim community approached me. Some said I should maybe continue to keep quiet. But what I keep telling them is that to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t offend him (Tinubu) to the level that it became a death threat. If there is more to it, he should bring it out so that it can be resolved. So, it is not the question of paying my emolument alone; it is now the question of what I may have done that would have led to his statement, “Is she still around?’.

How will you assess the outcome of the presidential election and who do you think won the poll?

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My own opinion is that Nigerians didn’t vote for Bola Tinubu to be President. Who did he impress with his appearance during campaigns or speeches? Something is not clear. It is either people have been duped or are downright immoral, and just waiting for their turn to reap. Is either that or there are more dark forces at play for him to have been said to have won the election? As former governor (Lateef) Jakande said, Bola Tinubu has monetised politics. I know the All Progressives Congress is the ruling party but look at all the government policies putting people into suffering. Are you now telling me they went there (to the polls) to vote for their oppressor?

Most of the people supporting Tinubu today are not supporting him because they believe in him but because they believe he will open the opportunity for them to make it in an immoral way. That is why I said I was hurt and I am appealing to God; these things have to stop. Pastors, bishops, and alfas are praying for Tinubu to get there (to become the President) so that he can fund them. Who are they for, for God or themselves?

You said you were ostracised and humiliated in places where you should have been honoured. Tell us about some of the instances where these things happened.

I attended state functions but was not recognized. Even the governor’s wife would more or less mildly humiliate one. I, Sinatu, am not that quiet when it comes to fighting for rights but I realise that if I had fought, my people would suffer, and my family and friends would suffer. They all have something to do with the government. I don’t want anyone to suffer because of me, that was why I tolerated most of what was going on. On the 50th anniversary of Lagos State, I was disregarded. When names were mentioned, go and ask, my name was given and it was removed. I am what you can call in Yoruba ‘abagi ma ya’. God has given me the strength of character.

To add provocation to humiliation, I was provoked but refused to react because I know the reason for provocation was to please their boss and gain favour. There was a day I visited the first lady (the governor’s wife) to talk about a woman that died as a result of childbirth. There was nothing wrong with the woman but the childbirth was mismanaged. People came to me and I took it up to meet with Sanwo Olu’s wife. She was not there, though she gave me an appointment. We waited and when she returned, she forgot that I was a former deputy governor but I told her I don’t visit first ladies.

As you said earlier, Tinubu’s supporters believe he can fix Nigeria the way he fixed Lagos. As a former deputy governor of Lagos, are you impressed with the level of development in the state?

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It is retrogression not progression. Anytime I decide to take a  shortcut on the roads, I regret it and that is why the traffic is killing everybody on the highway. Education is not where it should be. I know (the Governor, Babajide) Sanwo-Olu, is trying to do what he thinks is the best but I think the best is not yet good enough but am praying he will use his second term, he will use it to do more. The blueprint that they said they have for Lagos, they should bring it out. Let all of us see it. The blueprint that made them remove (a former governor, Akinwunmi) Ambode, let them bring it out.

Let us enumerate the development they have made vis-à-vis the money generated and the indebtedness and justify what the money was used for. When the Vice President-elect mentioned that they were using Lagos as a template, everybody who has seen Lagos laughed. The development has not been at the rate it should be. They told Ambode that was trying to build bridges that they didn’t send him, that their pockets were empty, and that Ambode was not a party man. I don’t want to make more enemies than I have made already.

You said the National Assembly system is too expensive for Nigeria. What system will you recommend?

They (the Senate and the House of Representatives) could merge. Part-time legislation can be another good suggestion. My father was a member of the parliament and he was a part-time legislator.

Some people have criticised Tinubu for holding Lagos to ransom as a godfather, what will you say about this?

Tinubu did not hold Lagos to ransom. Greed holds Lagos to ransom and Tinubu just exploited it. It is the greed of Lagosians that held them to ransom and it’s still holding them to ransom.

Some said you were seeking an appointment from Tinubu. Is that true?

No, our morals are not the same. I stepped out from the FCC even when the remuneration was even more because I saw some practices I couldn’t stand. I don’t want any appointment; even the one they gave me I didn’t take. I have been called to chair the boards of banks but I refused. I’m not looking for anything in Nigeria other than for Nigeria to become a nation that I will be proud of. That is why I am talking about restructuring and I think Bola Tinubu will be the last person that will implement restructuring because he likes power but I am praying that if he gets there, he will restructure because he fought (former President Goodluck) Jonathan, Obasanjo on restructuring. Now, it is his turn and he can even put his name on a marble.

here was a report that you were arrested over land issues. How did that later play out?

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Some people tried to scandalise me that I stole a piece of land. It was only God that saved me from (going to) jail because everything was set for me to be taken to court and remanded in custody, which would have been a dent in my life and everything I stood for.

 I didn’t take any land. It was a case of mistaken identity and the man (claimant) was already receiving (his money), so the case was discharged. However, some said I was not acquitted and I have been asking them after that. I wrote that I wanted the case to go back to court for an acquittal. The officer in charge was called but there was no file. It was an order from above.

If you meet Tinubu, what will you tell him?

I will first ask him what my offence was because for you to be able to grasp issues and settle, you have to know what is at stake, and what is really the problem. I will tell him to please explain to me how I have wronged him because I see his children and family. We are not enemies.

The Punch

NPA: I wasn’t indicted by the Panel over N156b allegation – Former MD, Bala-Usman

… but I faced hostility as young woman heading NPA

Former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman talks to Punch reporter about the opposition she faced at the NPA, the allegation of missing N156bn, her removal from office and her current relationship with a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi

The release of your memoir, ‘Stepping on toes’, has been greeted by diverse reactions, could you share the comments you found most interesting?

I wouldn’t say I focused on the reactions. For me, what was important was to get it out there. There are various reactions but I can’t say any reaction struck me differently. There were public officers who gave an account of their experience in the public sector while some felt some of these (pieces) of information should not be out there.

What informed the title of the book?

The title was recommended and I thought it was suitable because, in the course of some of the reforms I carried out, I was seen to have stepped on toes. Some of the entrenched interests felt my actions stepped on their toes and these are politically influential people. That was why I chose that title, ‘Stepping on toes’.

In the memoir, you mentioned that the then Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, offered you the position of the MD of NIMASA but you declined and instead, you recommended Dakuku Peterside. Why did you decline the offer?

I felt that at that point it was imperative for him to make a recommendation from the Rivers State team because they had lost the governorship election and his team was not seen to be encouraged. So, it was important for that appointment to go to the team.

Some felt you rejected it because you felt it was too small for you. What do you make of that?

At that time, NPA was not even on the table. The MD got reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the MD had barely been there for six months. Clearly, there was no inkling that the person would be removed for another person to be appointed.

You noted in the book that the President was ready to keep you in your position, which necessitated the renewal of your tenure. Do you think the President was deceived into approving your removal from office, having earlier insisted that you should be given a fair hearing?

I wouldn’t know what informed his decision to appoint another MD. The content of the report of the panel and the indictment as I detailed in the book was clear. So, I did not commit what they alleged. That was clear. Of course, I found it baffling that that was done, but for me, it had less to do with being reappointed as the managing director and more to do with the fact that the allegations levelled against me, of monies being unaccounted for, were not substantiated by the panel. That is more important to note.

Did that experience somewhat prove to you the rumoured powerful forces that will always have their way in the presidency?

I wouldn’t say that. I refuse to delve into opinions or perceptions of things I don’t have documentary evidence of. So, I’m not aware of that but you will never know.

When you were eventually removed, why didn’t you make efforts to see the President so you could set the record straight or for him to reverse your removal?

I met with the President several times and I have been meeting with the President even after he appointed someone else, so the President and I have a good relationship. I engaged him on my suspension and he looked at the documentation as it were but as I keep repeating, for me it was not to retain my position at the NPA but more to affirm that the allegations made against me were not proven by the panel.

What did the President say about your suspension and eventual removal?

We had discussions which bordered on personal issues; I have known the President way before my appointment at the NPA; he is a friend to my father, so a lot of our conversations centered on personal engagements not about my suspension or the issue of the NPA. The President is someone I remain very close to and have regard for.

Some people might wonder why you didn’t take advantage of your meeting with the President to enquire about that or set the record straight?

For me, setting the record straight was not for me to be reappointed but for me to have in the public space that I was alleged to have misappropriated N165bn and the panel set up did not indict me. For me, that was fundamental. One of the things the President further did was to direct the minister to make available to me the allegations against me, which provided an opportunity for me to clarify my position and for it to be in the public space.

To a large extent, many people would have believed that N165bn was indeed unremitted and not everyone would bother to know the outcome, why didn’t you consider going to court, perhaps to challenge the defamation?

You mentioned that a lot of people believed that the money was missing. A panel was constituted and it worked for eight months to determine whether those monies were unremitted and the panel came out to say that the monies and even more were remitted. So, for people to think they will continue promoting a false narrative in spite of the fact that a panel constituted by the Minister of Transportation came out with the report that there was no such thing, I find that false. I am not going to engage with people that insist on perpetrating falsehood, because the truth is clear. More importantly, with the way we operated at the NPA, it was impossible for government money to go missing. This was why we insisted on the payment of all accruing revenues into the Treasury Single Account. These accounts are domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria. So, it can only be a matter of reconciliation and not anyone stealing. As I explained in the book, the reconciliation of operating surpluses is carried out at the end of every audit exercise. It’s important to get this straight. The money was in the TSA account at the CBN. The issue of going to court is immaterial to the outcome of the panel. Go to court over what; defamation of character? The panel has said there is no money missing, so what am I challenging, and who am I challenging in the court process?

Who exactly was against you?

It was the (former) Minister of Transportation. As stated in my book, he had said to me that he wanted me to leave the position, and getting me suspended was the first step towards that and he felt my suspension would last till we got into politics (electioneering for the general elections) and the President and everyone would forget that I had been suspended. He has got what he wanted by removing me and having me out of the NPA.

What do you think was your offence?

Well, as I also stated in the book, he may have felt there was an issue of insubordination when he felt I was engaging with the President directly. There were areas where he had a contrary opinion on certain procedural things which I felt were out of line with the regulation that guide public procurement and tender processes. So, that may be his reason but I really do not know why he would want me removed.

Do you think he was being egocentric?

I’m not sure it’s about being egocentric; it’s more about being procedural. As I referenced during the panel (session), every time I responded to a letter written to me by the presidency, the presidency received it. So, at no point was I told not to meet with the President or that my response to the presidency was done outside the communication channel. So, as I mentioned in my book, a lot of the letters and communications with the President were actually initiated by the presidency asking the NPA to provide information and clarification, so I didn’t see anything wrong with responding to a request for information by the Office of the President. Indeed, if that communication channel was seen to be wrong, I felt that I should have been written to and notified and that even if they wrote to me, I should not write to them in reply.

The former minister resigned to contest the presidential primary, which he did not win. Do you think the President should have reappointed him given that they were close?

I really don’t have any thoughts on that; it has to do with what the President believes is in the best interest of the sector.

Were you happy that he lost the primary?

I supported somebody that won.

Did you support Bola Tinubu?

Yes.

Do you think Amaechi would have been a good President if he had won the primary and the presidential election?

I think not securing the ticket has addressed that. I am indifferent to it. The delegates chose Tinubu.

What is your relationship with him (Amaechi) now?

As I mentioned in my book, I appreciate him for giving me the appointment and I have a good working relationship with him.

Have you spoken with him recently?

Yes, I saw him at an event and we exchanged pleasantries. I haven’t seen him since the release of the book but since I left office, I met him on occasions and we exchanged pleasantries.

Did you talk about your differences?

No, I’m not sure we have differences. I don’t think it’s personal to me; I think it’s official. I don’t consider what happened as differences. I consider it as something more official in terms of his perspective of what should be done and I have my perspective. What I discussed in the book are things that are in the public. I don’t think there is much of what is in that book that hasn’t been in the public media in the last one year. They are facts compiled into one book. I think that is what makes the difference. I don’t think, for example, the minister or anyone would be fundamentally shocked if they had been following NPA’s reform from when I came.

NASS Complex, Abuja

Were there people who felt you didn’t play the right politics as the MD of the NPA?

What I don’t understand is playing politics in what way? For example, playing politics is saying that Intels should participate in a procurement process or saying you don’t extend a contract for one year after it has expired? I don’t see what is political about getting companies to do what is right in the interest of the government and complying with the rules and regulations.

Did people put you under pressure to compromise your work?

Absolutely! But I don’t compromise.

Do you think you stepped on Amaechi’s toes?

I don’t think I did. If people believe that, so be it. What is fundamental is that these are actions that I stand by in line with the guidelines.

Nigerian ports, especially the Lagos ports, are bedeviled with many issues, from port congestion to the time it takes for vessels to berth and allegations of extortion by the different agencies there. How did things degenerate to that shameful level?

When you speak about congestion at the port, which will mean congestion regarding access into the port and out, I stated in the book the challenges we had and the solution that was provided. I deployed an e-call up system when I was there to address the issue of congestion going into the port. We also worked on the deployment of the evacuation of cargo using the waterways, using multi-modal transport – the rail systems were installed. So these are all actions seeking to address the issue of congestion that were deployed primarily in the Tin Can and Apapa areas. Those solutions are there and they were successful; you have seen a reduction in the aspect of congestion in the Apapa area.

When you speak about agents complaining about clearing their cargo, that is an area outside the duties of the NPA. It is an area related to the Nigerian Customs Service, when it comes to the issue of the clearance of cargo, the time it takes for an inspection to be done on a cargo that has arrived. So, there are different legs to this and it is not under the supervision of the Nigerian Ports Authority. But nevertheless, as an agency that works within, we engaged the Customs on the need to fast-track clearance. We requested the deployment of a single window which is supposed to be an effective mechanism for addressing this inability to clear cargoes on time. We also pushed for the introduction of the scanners in the port, which have been installed after my exit from the NPA.

Do you mean the ports are efficient now?

The efficiency has improved, without a doubt, with the deployment of scanners. While I was there, there were no scanners at the ports, so every container had to be inspected physically by the agency of government that is responsible for doing that. So the Customs and every other agency physically opened every container that came. But with the introduction of the scanners, a container would just pass through the scanner, and the agencies of government can sit in their office and view and do the necessary computation.

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Naturally, people should be happy about that, do you think those affected are happy?

Everybody wants to see an improvement in the port facilities. Elements that benefit from the inefficiency of government are everywhere within government agencies. A scanner means less human intervention. Where there is less human intervention, you remove the avenue for graft. So naturally, the introduction of electronic mechanisms reduces graft within systems.

For a long time and up till 2020, there were verified reports that it took vessels about 21 to 25 days to berth due largely to extortion by government agencies. Why was there so much indiscipline in that port complex?

The issue about the berthing of cargo has to do with how long it takes for what has been there to come out. A cargo’s dwelling time before it berths is a function of the availability of yard space within each terminal, which is a function of how fast that is cleared. So following some of the initiatives we deployed, we had a reduction in the waiting time for vessels to berth.

Till the time you left, the aspiration for functional eastern ports remained a dream, whereas it could have helped to decongest the Lagos ports. Do you think there are forces benefitting from that inefficiency?

No, I do not think so. I think it is the connectivity between the eastern port and the final destination of the cargo that challenges people’s utilisation of those locations, in terms of how easy it is for cargo to move from Onne (in Rivers State) to its final destination, and how effective are the facilities there. For example, some of the draft we have in the eastern ports do not allow for larger vessels, which prevents big vessels from going there. Also, the interconnectivity to certain locations, as I mentioned, is a challenge. I don’t see any forces there; it is an issue of what works and is in the interest of the consignee.

The NPA is supposed to be the supervisory agency at the ports. Do you think it’s best if the NPA has some enforcement powers?

No, the NPA’s role, as it is, suffices. The aspect of security is domiciled with the agency that has the skill set and the knowledge to do that; so the NPA has its skeletal security facilities that deal with immediate security needs within the port environment. Beyond that, the NPA does not need to have anything outside what is obtainable.

When things went bad between you and Amaechi, why didn’t your former principal, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, intervene since he brought you both together? A word from him to Amaechi could have made some difference.

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I have a very good relationship with him (El-Rufai). He intervened. He spoke to Amaechi, spoke to me, and tried to find a resolution. Mallam El-Rufai, of course, has read the book and he is fine. He is my boss.

The number of women in governance in Nigeria is low, and in the forthcoming 10th Assembly, the number of women has dropped even further. Is this a Nigerian problem, or are women not helping fellow women?

I think there should naturally have been more women that would have emerged within this political circle. The number is not what we had hoped for. We look to see how we can improve by having more appointees in critical positions to bridge the gap from elective positions. Yes, there are constraints around religious and cultural issues which make it challenging for women to emerge in politics.

One of the issues you raised was that the late Isa Funtua doubted your capacity to run the NPA. Do you think it had to do with marginalisation of women in governance in Nigeria or there were other reasons?

He had a reason for that and it’s not a cultural issue.

Are you confident that the Bola Tinubu government, which you also campaigned for, will do things differently and appoint more women into his government?

I think he will. He is someone who promotes women, so I am confident that he will have a significant number of women in his cabinet. I look forward to working, if given an opportunity, and serving the All Progressives Congress government.

About the Adamawa governorship election, where the candidate of your party, Mrs Aishatu Binani, read an acceptance speech when she had not been legally declared as the winner, some people felt that was a minus for women and that it was an act of desperation. What do you think?

I think what happened is that an election was held and it was inconclusive. Another one was done and a candidate was declared (the winner). So, for me, it is about looking at the procedure and the culmination of a legitimate outcome of an election to the extent that the Peoples Democratic Party, which is not my party, won. We will look at the procedure to see if there was legitimacy in the process.

Do you, like many others, feel Binani should not have read an acceptance speech when the Resident Electoral Commissioner who announced her as the winner was not empowered to do so?

Well, I think it was her choice and her advisers’ and what they felt was legally right.

Could she have been wrongly advised?

I don’t know, to the extent that they may have a legal lacuna they are looking at but you can see the outcome of that declaration has been nullified by the Independent National Electoral Commission. At the end of the day, it is the electoral umpire that determines what is legitimate or not.

What challenges did you identify in the NPA that you think the government would need to urgently address to optimise the port system?

I think the issues remain the same – the issues of congestion, port corridors and ensuring efficiency in the berthing of cargoes. Those are issues that remain constant and the need to have an interconnection to the hinterland, inflow, and outflow, using intermodal transportation systems, and looking at pipelines for the distribution of petroleum products. A significant portion of the congestion in Apapa is a function of the tank farms there, not even tied to port operations. That is what some people don’t realise. If you use the pipelines that had hitherto been deployed there to move petroleum products, we will not have those issues. So, efficiency in ports is there; it’s just to amplify the key performance indicators of getting things done.

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How did you feel that one of your directors was appointed to replace you?

I wasn’t bothered at all. Moreso, he was a director I had worked with for five years. If anybody will be able to continue with the reforms, he will.

There has been the issue of abandonment of containers at the port, what do you think is the solution to this?

The abandonment of containers has to do with the clearance of cargo. Some of the cargoes are abandoned because they are not cleared – a function of the Customs. So, there are cargo-holding areas in Ikorodu where overtime cargoes are moved to, and consequently, the Customs auction them. These are areas that are within the purview of the Customs and the NPA.

Despite your reforms and the much you achieved, some people have accused you of abuse of power in the way you allegedly terminated contracts without following due process. How will you respond to that?

Some of the topical contracts I have mentioned in my book and the whole procedure are detailed there. This is the thing – the perception that contracts were terminated – and the minister felt because of the media stories that a contract had been terminated, he put pen to paper and said a contract was terminated when the contract expired. This is part of the misinformation that resulted in a minister writing that a contract was terminated when it was not.

Most Nigerians believe that there is a lot of corruption in the maritime sector. How can it be reduced, or do you think it’s exaggerated?

The deployment of electronic solutions to reduce human intervention is key. The scanner, electronic call-up system, payment platform and all of that can address corruption in the sector. Nigeria is ripe for that, with the right leadership.

Do you really think the attack on the NPA facility during the #EndSARS protest was targeted at you, and for what reason could that be?

I said it was targeted at the regime, and possibly me to a certain extent. But specifically, as I mentioned in the book, my official picture and that of the President were destroyed. I felt there were concerns about the constitution of the board where there was nobody from the South-East and South-West (both executive and non-executive) and all of that triggered a certain extent of animosity.

Do you think you can work with Mr Amaechi sometime in the future or you have yet to forgive him?

I have no issue with him and I don’t think there is anything requiring forgiveness in this. It’s an issue of government procedures not an issue of forgiveness. It’s not personal, it’s work.

Do you think some of the challenges you faced when you were appointed had to do with your gender, especially being the first woman to head the NPA?

I’m not sure the hostility is narrowed to being a woman. The issue of me being female is actually celebrated by women. My being northern, my being seen to be young, and my being someone that was not from the maritime sector created that level of hostility.

Since the release of the memoir, have you received any communication from anybody in Amaechi’s camp or the former minister himself?

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No, I haven’t.

Are you concerned that some people may come after you over some of the things you mentioned in the book?

I am not prone to being scared as a person. I have narrated my story and encouraged everyone to also do the same because it gives room for accountability and transparency. It also reduces impunity by public officers. I have no regrets. Anybody that disagrees is free to write their book. My story of what actually transpired would have been lost if I had not written the memoir.

Your appointment by the Buhari regime drew condemnation from some Nigerians who were disappointed that a strong voice in the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign joined a government that had failed to rescue abducted girls. Were you concerned about those criticisms?

It was actually not this (Buhari’s) regime that was supposed to have rescued the Chibok girls. It was during (former President Goodluck) Jonathan’s regime that the girls were abducted. So, Buhari’s regime actually rescued the girls. People believe that I was rewarded for the Chibok campaign as the MD of the NPA.

You said the Buhari regime rescued the girls. Have all the girls been rescued?

No. he rescued a significant number; over 70 per cent of the girls were rescued by President Buhari.

It is said that government is a continuum. Were you bothered that some people felt you were working for the government?

No, let me be clear. The government in place when the girls were abducted is the government that failed in terms of allowing the girls to be rescued. That government remained in power for one year and did not rescue them. A new government came into office and continued the rescue efforts. It was able to rescue over 70 per cent of the girls. Out of the 276 girls that were abducted, this regime rescued over 100 of them. So, it is more to do with the fact that they were abducted during a different regime, a new regime came and continued. As you mentioned, the government is a continuum. I don’t have a problem working for a government that continued the rescue efforts of the Chibok girls.

Despite promises, the Buhari government has not been able to rescue the remaining girls. With a few weeks to the end of the regime, will it be unfair to say that the President failed to fulfil his promise to rescue them?

I will not say he failed because as I mentioned, he rescued over 70 per cent of the girls and they have been rehabilitated. So, efforts are being made. That the efforts have not resulted in the total rescue of the girls is an entirely different thing. In rescuing abducted persons, the first five to 10 days are key to the rescue operation. So, Buhari took over after the girls had been in abduction for quite a while. It will be unfair to say the President failed to fulfil his promise to rescue them.

What’s your relationship with other key members of the BBOG group, like Aisha Yesufu, now?

I have a cordial relationship with them. I talk to her (Yesufu).

Was she, being a strong critic of the Buhari regime, happy that you worked for the regime?

It is not a choice to be happy about my choice. Just to speak to the fact; it is not important to me whether an individual is unhappy about my appointment; it’s immaterial. Aisha Yesufu joined BBOG. She is not a convener. She came to the protest and advocated. So really, Aisha is someone I say hello to. We chat. We laugh. People’s perception of my career progression is of no consequence to me. I continue advocating. I attended the BBOG advocacy at Falomo Roundabout every week and I talked to the President and the National Security Adviser.

Punch

Adeleke can’t stop my ascension as Osun PDP chairman – Babarinde

head of the chairmanship race in the Osun State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a former senatorial leader of the party in the state, Funmiso Babarinde, who is also a contestant for the chairmanship, speaks with Toba Adedeji in this interview.

YOU are contesting for the chairmanship seat of Osun PDP do you think you have what it takes to lead the party in Osun?

I joined the PDP in 1998 as a formation member of the party and have been in the party all along up till today. In 2000, I was an aspirant for the post of the chairmanship at the local government, council chairman. Thereafter, I was appointed as Executive Assistant to the governor during the administration of Prince Olagunsoye as governor of Osun state. We were together until November 26th 2010, when the court sent us packing.

I remained in the party and became Assistant State Organising Secretary of the party. After serving as Assistant Organizing Secretary to the party at the state level, I was Special Assistant to the immediate past chairman of the party, Hon Soji Adagunodo. He is currently the National Vice Chairman Southwest and a member of National Working Committee. Last week, I sent out my letter of intention to contest for the seat of the chairman of the party since then have been doing consultations around.

Why do you want to be the chairman of the party?

I have been in this party since inception. I know everything within the system and I know what to do if I become the chairman. One of such is establishment of leadership training within the party. People have to go through leadership training before you can contest. The party as a matter of urgency will set up a leadership training, it may not be a full time but every state should have a place where aspirants or candidates of the party must go through some training to know what they really want to do because it affects the party and good governance.

Governance should be taken serious more than the way we are handling it now. In the last 20, I am one of the few persons that have mentored young people into the system. Political parties have the capacity to bring more people into politics even if they are not contesting. We need to educate them to add value to the system. In the regulations guiding the political parties there is a clause that every member of the party must be financial member. It means they expected every member of each political party in Nigeria to pay a token to the account of the party.

In PDP, you are expected to pay N100 monthly as a member of the party. If you sum it up in a year it will be N1, 200 and after four years it means each member have contributed N4, 500. This monthly due will support the administrative running of the party. This will help the party not to charge exorbitantly on aspiration forms and others because the dues have supplied some reasonable amount of money. We need to start explaining the need for members to pay monthly dues. When this is done the party would have more funds.

So, if you are given the opportunity to lead the party, you are going to consider raising money from party members to support candidates?

I will make it a point of duty. I will start it from my own ward. Note that we will not because of that money stop you from coming to meetings. I know how much some people pay for some organizations they belong to. So one of the things I will do is to imbibe it in my local government and in my state. Party should make it a duty. If the party has enough fund to carry shoulder their activities, there’s no point putting so much money on whoever wants to aspire and mind you the person that is going to aspire would have contributed dues money for months and years.

If a member of PDP wants to run for governor, there’s nothing bad for him to start contributing N1000 when others are contributing N100. It will drastically bring down the cost of obtaining forms if the party has enough funds of doing its project.

How will you manage crisis within the party if elected?

Crisis management is one of the reasons of being in the political system and holding a political office, especially party offices. If you don’t have the capacity to manage crisis, don’t even dare say you want to contest for party chairman or party executive because one of the main assignment is to manage crisis. Your capacity to manage one or two people determines the success of the party.

But your party suffered crisis after the 2018 Osun governorship election. Are you saying the leadership does not have basic knowledge in solving the crisis?

What happened during that period is just a power play in the sense that some people wanted to be governor and then out of those who want to be governor some people wanted to look for the loyalty of those who are in the party executives and then in a bid to outmaneuver each other, the party broke into factions. It happens in political parties but after a candidate has emerged, naturally everybody should fuse back into the party to make the general election a success.  So, we were together in 2018 when we lost at the Supreme Court in controversial manner after the inconclusive election of that year.

Your ex-chairman, Hon Adagunodo was removed from office in 2020

Yes. There were some issues with the party chairman. He went to court to say he was not appropriately remove and the court said what the party has done didn’t pass through the normal process as stipulated in the party constitution. I’m part of this party. I know almost everybody. I know the establishment and I’m like a bridge between those who are coming behind and those who are up.

Will you leave PDP if you did not emerge chairman at the end of the day?

All the political parties know me that I will not leave the party for anything. I have been offered money to leave my party. I can’t!  I’m not here because of money but I’m here to satisfy my conscience. If there is only two people remaining in PDP, I will be among the two, I will end my political career in PDP. I don’t mind, I want to write it in my memoir that I started in 1998 with PDP and stayed until when PDP says they are no longer PDP. Politics is not a do or die matter but a matter of choice, win or lose.

During one of the public functions attended by Governor Adeleke in Ilesha, he publicly addressed his DG campaign, Sunday Bisi as the next State chairman of the party. Do you think you can still win this race?

24hours is a very long in politics. Because something happens and the governor said ‘this is my incoming chairman’ is not the end. Situations can change. Something can happen and the governor can decided that he want to give the person he anointed another office where he might be more useful. That’s my first answer. In PDP Constitution the president is the leader of the party at the national; the governor is the leader of the party at the state; the Chairman is in charge of all the local government areas.

He will be supported by the commissioner or some of the office holders. Any sitting governor has the authority of picking whoever he wants as the chairman he wants to work with, that is not a doubt. But it does not stop other members of the party to aspire for the same position. As at today, I can assure you that I’m in this race because I have the capacity to do a lot of things and I have the knowledge to add and have been telling anybody that cares to listen.

The governor is from the Osun west, his deputy is from Osun East. Don’t you think that the chairmanship should be zoned to Osun Central?

As at today it had been one stakeholders meeting that this issues has been discussed but it has not been make official at least to best of my knowledge as at today. The present arrangement is that the party chairman should be from Osun East. I don’t have the capacity to say that as an individual but I know what the party is trying to do is that you don’t need to change a winning strategy. But if tomorrow they decided that the chairmanship should go to the central honestly, it would be fair and I will wait till next time.

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Do you think Adeleke will force his ways to ensure that his candidate wins the chairmanship seat of the PDP?

No. It is not the governor that oversees the congress. There will be a team from Abuja, the national headquarters. Governor Adeleke is the leader of the party. I don’t see our governor as overbearing. I don’t see him in that light. He just started his administration as a governor and he has never demonstrated that. The governors that I know at least to some extent, does not have that kind of overbearing influence on who takes what in the party. He would allow the process to flow freely.

It is more of a party thing and current party caretaker chairman, Dr. Akindele has at least put some of us in the picture of how these things are going to run and up till this evening I don’t have issue with the process that is put in place.

The Nation

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