The Dean, Postgraduate School, University of Lagos, Prof. Solomon Akinboye, speaks with GBENRO ADEOYE on the need by President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint credible people who can assist him to clean up the mess he inherited
It has been four months since the current administration was inaugurated and many Nigerians say nothing seems to be happening in terms of real governance. How would you advise President Muhammadu Buhari to speed up the process of governance?
First of all, you have to appreciate the fact that things had gone messy before Buhari came on board. Things had gone so bad that everybody was praying for a saviour – someone to rescue the situation. So, that was why people jubilated when Buhari was announced as the winner of the last presidential election. Having said that, this is time for governance. It is true and there is no doubt that the process of governance has been too slow; there is no doubt about that. And indeed Buhari himself recognised that because he said during an interview that people had been complaining that he was too slow and that they called him ‘Baba Go-slow’, but that he was going slowly but steadily. So that is what we have been seeing in his style of governance – slow but steady. He has been accused of not appointing ministers also. Well, it is true that we need ministers, but at the same time, looking at the antecedents, you will agree that there is a need to clean up the mess in the system. And in cleaning up the mess, he has to make sure he appoints people of credibility, accountability and those who should help in the clean-up.
People say it is now taking too long as a lot of valuable time would have been lost by the time he constitutes his cabinet. Isn’t that a concern?
He assumed office on May 29 and effectively June. So, this is just his fourth month out of four years. So I’m supporting his action because there is need for him to bring in credible people. We need people who can move the nation forward and I believe that is what he is trying to do. He promised to fight corruption and we can see signs of that. That signal alone is very important. I also agree with people who say he’s very slow but there is justification for it. I understand that he initially submitted about 30 names for ministerial appointments and only two scaled through the screening process. This means others have skeletons in their cupboards. Certainly, he is slow but let’s wait till the end of the month to see those he appoint as his ministers. It’s only when he fails to release the names of ministerial nominees by the end of the month that we can start criticising him. I also will criticise him. He has made a promise to Nigerians. For now, let’s take him by his words.
But so far all the public sees is media war against corruption. How far can Nigeria go with this kind of fight?
I can’t characterise what is happening as witch-hunt; I don’t think it is. I don’t also believe that it’s only on the pages of the newspaper. Before, you dare not say you arrest the senate president. But now a tribunal issued a warrant of arrest against the senate president.
But Senator Bukola Saraki’s travails have been strongly linked to his disobeying the directive of his party to emerge as senate president. Isn’t that a witch-hunt?
Again, one has to realise that this is part of democracy. We must have issues here and there but at the end of the day, our polity and our democracy will gradually become stronger.
The President made a lot of promises and so has a lot to achieve. What areas do you think he should focus his attention on?
I would mention three things. One, security; two, corruption and three, the economy. These are the three areas I think he should focus his attention on.
And how well would you say he has done in these three areas so far?
If you want to analyse, you first look at the security situation in the country. I am putting security first because it is the primary function of a government. The primary function of a government is to ensure that peace and tranquilly prevail in the society. It is the first responsibility of any responsible government. Then of course, the second part of that is welfare, which boils down to the economy. The economy cannot be strong in a state where corruption is not seen as an anathema. First, the security situation is still not quite good, although efforts have been made by this administration to address the issue. But as I said, not much has been done. But in his usual manner, he’s slow and steady. In other words, he is slow but making steady progress. One of his strategies was to change the service chiefs. And he has given them a mandate to deal with Boko Haram in three months. I think he is also making efforts to provide the military with more equipment and security apparatus to ensure their victory. So, it’s not just about talking, he should back it up with commitment and I think he is also doing well along that line.
Two, without steadying the tide of corruption, the economy will not be buoyant. Even if the economy is buoyant but plagued by corruption, people will not feel its impact. We can say that the two of them go together. He must use all the arsenal at his disposal to reduce corruption because it cannot be totally eradicated. Even in the United States, there is corruption. But the level is so high in Nigeria and that is the problem. If it is fought squarely, the economy will be prosperous and the gains will come to the people. So to answer your question, he has started doing well. We can see what he is trying to do to fight corruption. He has sent a signal to everybody that this is not an exercise in futility. The senate president is the third citizen in the country and to have charged him like that for an alleged offence was a boost to the anti-corruption war and Buhari has said that he would not interfere and that he would let the judicial process take its course. If the senate president is found guilty, so be it, let them jail him. If he’s not found guilty, let him return to his position to do his job as senate president.
But we know that in Nigeria, such high profile prosecutions always have the backing of the President, going by the country’s history. Does this not affect the fight or perceived fight against corruption?
It’s part of it. If you are looking at the past, then there is no way we will move forward. In moving forward, we have to clean the mess of the past. I don’t think that the way former presidents like Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan operated is the way Buhari will operate. Yes, I know people are saying it’s because Saraki did not toe the line of his party. It could be part of it. Normally, if you are appointed on the platform of a political party, you have to toe its line in certain respects. Of course, it is not that the party will be dictating to you but there are some party directives you have to follow because you are not an independent candidate and did not win the election under the instrumentality of independent candidacy. If you were to be an independent candidate, you can say to hell with everybody.
What do you make of Saraki’s prosecution and the drama? Won’t this have political implications on our polity?
We are just conjecturing so we should wait and see. If Saraki is removed, automatically, Ike Ekweramadu, who is from the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, will become the senate president. But I don’t think that will be allowed. In an ideal situation, it is the majority party that holds sway. I don’t think that the senate president will come from the minority party. I have a feeling that the All Progressives Congress will not allow that to happen. I think that the APC has learnt its lesson. Even if Ekweremadu becomes the senate president, I don’t see him lasting for more than two days in the position.
But with the Saraki faction in the senate, it could throw open some interesting scenarios. But I think that the PDP and the Saraki camp will still be in the minority.
Buhari promised to appoint his ministers this month, what impact do you think Saraki’s travails will have on the confirmation of the ministerial nominees?
The senate is a body, so the fact that the senate president is not there or because he is having some challenges does not mean that the senate is not working. That is why there is a deputy senate president.
Don’t you think they might want to delay the confirmation of the nominees to spite the presidency?
I don’t think so. And again, majority will carry the day. APC is still in the majority and I believe that the party will have one voice and come together. That is why I said they must have learnt their lesson. But if they have not learnt their lesson, then it’s too bad for them.
What mistakes do you foresee that Buhari will likely make and how should he avoid them?
I don’t envisage that with the way he is going. He is slow and steady. I believe that one of the reasons why he is slow is to avoid unnecessary and expensive mistakes so I don’t envisage any. And besides, he is experienced. He has been military Head of State before.
Some people say that the way Buhari is fighting corruption could distract him from other areas that need his attention. What is your view on this?
I don’t think so. Again, people are entitled to their opinions. I won’t blame people for their own opinions. There is nothing that says people must have the same opinion. But in my view, I don’t think it is in the way of good governance. To clean up a system, it has to be done slowly and steadily.
Some people say that Saraki’s travails are not healthy for democracy. What do you think?
I believe our democracy will be put on a sound footing. I don’t think so. Let the judicial process take its course. Government is a continuum. It’s not the first time Nigeria will experience such; remember Adolphus Wabara, he was removed as senate president. So Saraki is just one man. So even if Saraki is removed as senate president, he may retain his seat as a senator.