President Tinubu having problems because Nigeria has been living on borrowed times – Adebayo Shittu

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Tinubu

Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu is a Nigerian lawyer and politician who served as a Minister of Communications from 2015 to 2019. Before becoming a Minister, he had earlier served as a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, becoming the youngest member at age 26. In this interview, he speaks against the introduction of the parliamentary system of government. He also pleads with Nigerians to be patient with President Bola Tinubu, saying the President needs time, planning, resources deployment and all of that to make an impact. Excerpts:

What is your view on the clamour by some federal lawmakers that Nigeria should return to the parliamentary system of government?

People don’t understand how we came about the presidential system of government. It is like you have a business, the parliamentary system means that the Prime Minister will be a member of the House of Representatives. Just like any other member, his loyalty is majorly to his constituency.

With the parliamentary system of government, Nigeria will have serious instability in government, because once there is a vote of no confidence to any kind of conspiracy, the Prime Minister is gone.

The presidential system of government is like in a business, you have the chief executive officer. He must tour all parts of the country to get elected. He must see himself as being responsible, not just to his small corner of his local government, but to the entire country. He can be held responsible and he is assured of certainty of term. He takes decisions on behalf of the country. So, for me as a business-conscious person, and someone who knows the importance of a business-like approach to governance, the presidential system is where to go.

How will you react to the hardship Nigerians are passing through under the APC government?

I think President Bola Tinubu needs time. It’s a well-known fact that if you want to start a farm, the first thing to do is the acquisition of land. Let’s assume that Nigeria is a farmland you want to cultivate, then you have to plough the land. It takes time, depending on how big the farm is. Thereafter, if it is a yam farm, you have to make ridges and plant seeds. At least, it will take some months to one year before the farmer could have a productive outcome. For every enterprise, you need time, particularly for a mismanaged and devastated economy like Nigeria. If one comes in as a new leader, there’s no magic he or she wants to adopt. One needs time, planning, resources deployment and all of that to make an impact. It is only thereafter that one hopes to start harvesting.

You will agree with me that the major problem people have with Tinubu is not that he removed the subsidy. I’m saying this because the three front-line presidential candidates in the 2023 polls agreed that the subsidy ought to be removed if Nigeria was to tread on the path of greatness. One thing, which has caused a lot of these problems, is the fact that Nigeria has been living on borrowed times.

Nigeria produces crude oil but it doesn’t refine petrol, diesel and other products. Rather, the country exports crude oil overseas, using dollars to refine it and bring it back here. The cost of refining and transportation are dollar-denominated.

The only thing I blame on our government, the Buhari-led government of which I was part, is the fact that in 2015 when we were campaigning, we promised that we would revive the four refineries. Unfortunately, in eight years, we couldn’t do even one of the refineries. I think that’s the greatest problem. But, now to continue to sustain the Nigerian oil industry on borrowed money, called subsidy, is no longer feasible.

But some players in the oil sector said the subsidy has returned partially. What do you have to say about this?

I’m not aware of it.

But all the economic data are pointing to the fact that the subsidy has returned?

What is the cost of petrol now per litre? A litre is N650. So, how do you then say that the subsidy has been returned?

The experts in the field are saying that petrol should be sold for above N1, 000, going by the exchange rate and cost of oil at the international market?

In Nigeria, there are all sorts of speculators, speculating on all kinds of issues just to present themselves as experts.

What will you say to food scarcity and hunger in the land?

There is no food scarcity in Nigeria but a skyrocketing price. There is no market you go to that you won’t find food to buy. But the prices have been skyrocketing because of the mischief and greed of many traders in the food market.

If a yam farmer in Oyo, or Ogbomoso, sells a tuber of yam for N500, and suddenly increases it to N1,500, what is the determinant of that? Was that tuber of yam imported into Nigeria? Did they have to pay custom duties? What is the explanation for it? A lot of our people deliberately and out of mischief, created a sense of desperation in the food industry.

I agree, there’s no money, because of the fact that people over the years have been jobless. So, when the price goes up, it creates a kind of desperation. So, I believe the government has a duty. We have silos all over the country. Government should find a way of getting food to the market and possibly buy from wherever they can get and make it available at a very cheap price.

You have tried many times to become the governor of Oyo State without success, are you still interested in the race?

If God wishes, but I’m not desperate to become a governor. I always tell God that if he loves the people of Oyo State, he should make me governor.

I know what I have learnt from late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who distinguished Yorubaland as a pacesetter in education, industrialisation, civilisation and every good thing that everybody is talking about now. I had the exclusive privilege of learning politics directly from the late sage.

There is information that you want to set up an ICT university. Can you confirm this and when is it taking off?

I hope within the next one year, it’s going to start in Ibadan by God’s grace. When I was a minister, I initiated the idea that the government should establish ICT University. And how did the idea come about? Early in my life as a minister, some young graduates of Computer Science came to me to seek financial support to go to India. There’s an institute in India called Indian Institute of Information Technology. They said they were going to acquire skills there. I was wondering, what was the essence of going to that university, when they were already graduates. They said all they took away from Nigerian universities are paper qualifications. They said they were not skilled and job-ready.

For the first time I heard from them the term job-ready. So, they said the practice is when they graduate from Nigeria; they will go to that institute in India for six months or one year to acquire a skill. It is from there they would become job-ready and can get a job. So, I reasoned that if I gave these two people money, what of many other graduates of Computer Science from Nigerian universities? It would be better if I go to India to study that institute and replicate it here, so that people could have a place where they can acquire skills without payment of transportation and school fees in dollars.

So, I went there, and was convinced that we could do something similar in Nigeria. I therefore established a committee. At that time, Professor Julius Okogie was just retiring from the National Universities Commission. I got him appointed as chairman with about 20 others as members.

They gave me a full report with all the information. I took this memo to the Federal Executive Council, armed with additional information that Singapore with less than two million people already had two ICT universities, and New Zealand with about five million population had about three.

Unfortunately, it was knocked down. Many of our ministers had been compromised by certain forces who did not want me to take over a small establishment linked to the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Some argued that the government already had enough universities. They brought all kinds of very baseless arguments. At the end of the arguments, President Buhari commended me for the hard work on this memo. But unfortunately, he said I could see that it was an over-ambitious project. So, we had to step it down. I felt really bad. That was my saddest day in government. People could not see into the future. After we left the meeting, a few sympathetic ministers advised me to wait for another six months to re-present it. I decided to execute it as a private initiative. So, I started from that moment to look for land. It will soon take off in Ibadan.

As a former Minister of Communications, how do you feel with complaints of some Nigerians losing their SIM cards to endless registration and verification exercises by service providers?

They won’t lose their SIMs. It’s just a question responding to regulations on the usage of SIMs. The government wants to have a record of everybody who owns a SIM for security purposes. Today, when kidnappers abduct people, they use the phones to negotiate for ransom. And the government finds it difficult to trace the details of those people who are bandits.

With the National Identification Number registration, once it is linked with SIMs, anybody who makes any mess with regard to the lives and properties of other people, using a phone to negotiate, the data would be available for the security forces to get him arrested. So, that’s exactly what the government is doing.

But some have done the registration, yet their SIMs have not been linked. What really happened?

In doing the registration, a lot of falsehood was also supplied to government agencies. When there’s an irreconcilable difference between the name used in getting the SIMs and the one in getting the NIN, certainly there would be differences. The government is saying you must go and get your facts and data perfected so that we have reliable data for the security agencies to work with. That’s why it’s imperative to do it.

What of the data collected through the BVN and other means?

Yes, they are bringing all of these together now. Most of these things were done in silos. Now they want to harmonize everything so that there’s reliable data for
usage.