- ‘Some cabinet members are not fit for office’
Former Petroleum Minister and one-time Education Commissioner in the old Rivers State, Professor Tam David-West, in this interview with ZAINAB ONI, comes in his elements. David-West, 81, still retains an unflinching support for President Muhammadu Buhari, blaming shortcomings in his administration on corrupt aides and incompetent managers. He also chides those bandying a rumour that Buhari is dead, cursing that they will all die before the President. Excerpts:
Some people have been calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign in view of his poor health; what is your take on this?
Those saying that, will die before Buhari. Why should they wish another person dead? Some news media are already saying that Buhari has died and I made a phone call to Abuja and London and they said nothing had happened to him. It is a bad character among Nigerians, that when a popular person falls sick, instead of wishing for his speedy recovery, they go about purporting evil rumours about that person. It is not good. I can remember TOS Benson, a great man who was proclaimed to have died in a certain year and the person that did that proclamation eventually died many years before TOS died.
The other person was the great Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe). They thought he was going to die in a particular year, that some Igbo even formed a burial committee for him and the leader of the committee died the same year he died. It is a very bad attribute of the Nigerian character. They just want Buhari to die for no good reason other than that he is fighting corruption. By the grace of God, Buhari will come back to the country, very healthy, to continue his work.
Our problem is not modular refineries, but making our refineries work and I tell you it can work. During my time as minister for petroleum, we were exporting fuel because three refineries were working, which was one of the best (of such) in Africa
Do you still have faith in Buhari’s administration, especially when you consider the state of the economy presently?
Of course, I do have strong faith in the Buhari administration and talking about the state of the economy at the moment, I can tell you that Buhari is not the cause of it. I will only say that Buhari is the cause if he has changed from the person and ideals that make me like him. He has never disappointed me; he is a man of integrity – clean, straight and not corrupt, not opinionated. He once challenged Babangida on the war on corruption. When I was launching his book in Port Harcourt, he said the love for our country brought us together, that is, ‘the love for our country Nigeria brought Tam and I together.’ He said he had zero tolerance for corruption and that all was about integrity.
Buhari cannot do everything alone; this is not a military regime. People working with him should help him. Governance is a collective effort. There are lots of things going on in the country that I don’t like. With Buhari around or not, things must be done well. So long as we have a leader that is not corrupt, I have that confidence that we will pull through in Nigeria. Besides, followership also has a lot to do with good governance.
Those people saying Buhari is dead will die before him. Why should they wish another person dead?…It is a bad character among Nigerians, that when a popular person falls sick, instead of wishing for his speedy recovery, they go about purporting evil rumours about that person
Is it true you told a newspaper that some people around Buhari are corrupt?
Yes, I said so.
Who were you referring to?
I cannot tell you names. He (Buhari) should realise that too, and I told him to call some corrupt people out and tell them what they have done. Many people around him are fighting for their personal interest and the unfortunate thing is that they don’t share the same ideals with him or have the same character with him; so, that is why Nigeria is having problems.
Do you support the call that former president Goodluck Jonathan be probed?
Why not? Not because I don’t like Jonathan or his government but because any president or government that has a query for integrity should be probed. If you are doing well, I will be very happy for you. Even if you are my father and you are not doing well, I will tell you that you are not doing well.
Anybody can be probed. So far as your hands are clean, then you have no problem. Even if it is my father that wants to be probed being an ex-banker, I will let him be probed. Babangida jailed me in Kirikiri for two weeks before I was taken to the Appeal Court and found not corrupt. If you are not corrupt, probing is good for you because if you are not proven guilty, it strengthens your credential. If you are afraid of probe, then it means you have something to hide. Every leader must be probed. Every governor or minister before leaving office must be probed. You should be accountable for what you have done.
What is your view on corruption cases against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Ayodele Oke, among others?
Look, I know B.D. Lawal very well. We had worked together; in fact, he had come to Ibadan to see me before. I know him but I will not say Babachir is corrupt or not corrupt. If he is confident that he is not corrupt, then they should go ahead and probe him? And it is good for him to declare his case and let the world judge whether he is corrupt or not. Nobody is above probe.
What is your view on the call for the removal of the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, after he was not confirmed by the Senate?
On Magu’s issue, I think they have this feeling that they don’t like him because he is fighting corruption. Even if you have anything against Magu, allow him to do his job. The Vice President is one of the greatest legal minds in Nigeria, being a SAN. He was the attorney general of Lagos State, a time during which he dealt with a lot of judges that were corrupt. Even if Magu is not confirmed, they will apply a legal process because it is a legal matter. If they (the senators) had looked at the constitution very well, they would have found that there are some appointments that the Senate must clear and approve or confirm, and there are others that they cannot confirm because they don’t have the powers. The Vice President had quoted the constitution for them; so if they have a problem with Magu, let them go and challenge him in the Supreme Court, rather than try to stop him from
doing his job.
Why, in your opinion, are our refineries not working yet?
The reason is due to sabotage, thereby making us to import fuel. Our refineries can work but owing to some bad people’s activities, they have been rendered inefficient. They don’t want it to work. If they had wanted it to work, it would have worked. How can someone be buying fuel when that person has a petrol station. There are 14 items that they have added on the petrol price and if they remove those items, the petrol price will crash. Why can’t the government give the NNPC the amount of petrol needed to refine for consumption, not for trade? The only thing NNPC has is just the mega stations and NNPC is buying petrol at dollar price. Let them pay for consumption cost which is very small. It does not make sense at all for NNPC to buy fuel that they produce and also buy at dollar price, not naira. It’s just like a fisherman going to catch fish and telling his wife that, ‘I will buy the fish before you cook it for me’; a very stupid idea.
The Federal Government said it would consider modular refineries, especially in the Niger Delta region. How workable is the idea?
Ask the government; what is the meaning of modular refineries? Is modular refinery a magic refinery? It is easier to say and not implement. See, our problem is not modular refineries, but making our refineries work and I tell you it can work. During my time as minister for petroleum, we were exporting fuel because three refineries were working, which was one of the best (of such) in Africa. I am not a superman but even if we build modular refineries, it does not stop the petrol problem we have in the country. The fundamental problem with NNPC is the management. They just believe that modular refineries are easy to build and operate, that’s all. It is not magic.
If you were to be the petroleum minister again, what would you do better?
I would not have done anything better but I know I would do my best. If I say I would do better it is as if I am positioning myself against (Dr. Ibe) Kachikwu. Kachikwu is a minister of state and I was a full minister and I had my appointment by Buhari. Then I was on Shell board of directors. There are a lot of things I will do if I can authorise them. I know that things can be done much better in the petroleum sector. For instance, I will not import fuel. I will tell Buhari to set the refineries right and bring in the right set of competent people. A renowned person in the country told me then that when crude oil had been allocated to be refined; you go and sell it. I would rather make our refineries work so that we will export it. During my time, $1.5 was equivalent to N1, now it is almost N400. That shows how badly we are doing. Remember, that was in