By AKEEB ALARAPE
It's nine months after subsidy removal. How would you assess this?
The country is worse for it because it is all fraud. If we are looking at the subsidy alone, President Goodluck Jonathan will know that he has performed very badly. I have documents to show that Jonathan was initially opposed to the figure Okonjo-Iweala gave him. I have the document. But it was slammed down his throat. I am opposed to subsidy and I have been vindicated. There is no subsidy. The government has even confirmed my position and that of Muhammadu Buhari. Before that time, the late Gani Fawehinmi had written a booklet on subsidy. The government has changed the figure of the amount they get from subsidy 10 times. I said this at the Gani Fawehinmi lecture. The figure has changed 10 times in quantum and like amoeba, changing its shape.
All the money Okonjo-Iweala claimed to have been recovered, were they lost in the first place? Okonjo-Iweala has only recovered the fraud. Later, she will say they are paying oil marketers over N500 million of subsidy. Let her organise a national debate that there is a subsidy and not a charade. If you forget about Tam David-West, can she also ignore an expert in oil and gas, Dr. Ngene Agbo, who was head of Petroleum Department at the University of Ibadan (UI) before? He is now in Dallas Texas.
He wrote, and it was published in the newspapers, that fuel must not cost more than N36 per litre. In fact, when they were to remove the subsidy on January 1, he wrote again that IMF asked them to do so. I have the document. So, there is no subsidy and the action of the government has shown that.
The bottom line is for government to build refineries. Nigeria could, at best, build 20 refineries in two years. The money is there. If we build at least five more refineries before Jonathan lives, petrol prices will come down because we are not going to import fuel anymore. That is the type of legacy he should leave behind.
Could you tell us about your relationship with Buhari and Babangida?
I worked with Buhari, but when Buhari was overthrown, Babangida brought me back. I was to come back to Ibadan, but Sani Abacha pleaded with me to stay. It was Abacha who made me change my mind. Abacha was my friend for over 30 years. We all served at Rivers State when I was commissioner for education under Zamani Lekwot.
He (Abacha) was the Brigade Commander and we were good friends till he died. Therefore, when Buhari was overthrown, I was brought back. So, I know Babangida, I know Buhari. Any time I meet any new person in my life, as a friend, I do what I call personality profile. I will try to know the person's strength and weakness. That profile guides me.
People will not know that I was closer to Babangida than Buhari. While Babangida called me a pet name 'TD,' Buhari called me Professor. My relationship with Buhari was very official; my relationship with Babangida was both official and personal. So, I was closer to Babangida than Buhari when I was in government. I never visited Buhari at Dodan Barracks, except for official purposes. I visited Dodan Barracks many times on unofficial purposes to see Babangida. His great wife, Maryam, in her grave, can confirm this.
How would you assess Babangida's performance in the oil industry?
What I am going to say about both of them is not because Buhari wants to become president or I am known to be an unapologetic Buhari supporter. I am not supporting Buhari out of sentiment but out of fact and figures. I had been talking about the mess in the oil industry in several newspapers interviews since 1994. I have been consistent about it. So, whatever I am saying about these two Nigerians I am saying it very objectively and without any regret and I challenge anybody to contradict what I am going to say.
Yes, the Babangida government ruined the oil industry. How did he do it? How many people in Nigeria know these dirty millionaires? Dirty millionaires because the money they are getting is dirty money. How many people know the conditions to lift the Nigerian oil? I mean strict conditions, which were there before Buhari. He was oil minister before and I also inherited the conditions. Nigerians will be shocked that one can lift Nigerian oil now as if one goes to market to buy palm oil or groundnut oil.
Babangida broke all the rules. Buhari operated them and I operated them during our time. Oil makes up over 90 per cent of all the money Nigeria has outside, that is foreign receipts. Also, oil makes up about 80 per cent of our annual budget. So, why must we be careless about it?
To lift Nigerian oil, these are the conditions set down, which Babangida broke. One, you must be an end user. By end user, it means we don't give oil to people who will resell at Rotterdam. You must get a refinery. If you don't have refinery, which you must or should, you should show a contract that you have a long time contract with a refinery at least 10 years. Then, you must deposit with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) three consecutive annual audit report of your company before you could be allowed to sign the contract to lift oil. This is to show that such company is healthy. Then, you must be prepared to pay a non-refundable $1million to NNPC as proof of good faith. All these rules were broken.
No one in Nigeria even heard about them again.
Also, you must not sell to South Africa because of apartheid. Your company must show a staff strength of at least 20 people. These are the conditions you must fulfill before you can lift Nigerian oil. Babangida broke all of them under the funny name of liberaliaation. When he broke the rules, he made it easy for a lot of people to jump into lifting of Nigerian oil, to the detriment of the country. That was the beginning of the disaster. Why did he break the rules? Did he break them in the interest of the nation or in the interest of some people? I cannot prejudge. I leave him (Babangida) to his conscience and God. Secondly, all oil revenues must be paid into the Federation Account. Babangida broke that too. Why is that so? Every month, the Commissioners for Finance from all the states came to Lagos in those days; we always sat and shared the money we were paid.
Within the Gulf War too, while we had $1.2billion, Babangida established a parallel account that was called 'Dedicated Account.' The Dedicated Account was run by only himself and the then Governor of Central Bank, the late Alhaji Uba Ahmed. Ahmed was a very good man. I still honour him. But it was an executive decision. Nobody had a say on how the account was used. So, in addition to the Federation Account, that by law, all proceeds of oil must go into, Babangida set up a parallel account he called Dedicated Account, which he lodged extra $1.2 billion Gulf War windfall.
When the Gulf War started, I wrote an article that oil price would go up because it was all common sense.
The oil market is very volatile. If there is problem in Iraq or Iran, the market fixtures say that oil that will come from those countries cannot come to the market.
So, there is artificial scarcity and oil prices go up. I wrote it then that we should invest the money to offset our foreign debts, as Kuwaiti did. Kuwaiti has one of the best oil management in the whole world. Another issue in the oil industry then was the increase in the price of fuel. Then, we started talking about subsidy. In Buhari's time, we were exporting fuel in thousands of litres.
What would you say about rot in the oil industry, as regards operations of businessmen?
The Babangida government made it easier for them to have their ways in the camouflage of allowing indigenous participation. Indigenous participation is good but in what form? Oil industry is a very expensive business. I once told the late business mogul, M.K.O. Abiola, in those days that with all the money he had he could not build a refinery on his own. I told him he has to get foreign partners with him for support.
No Nigerian millionaire could build a refinery, as at that time. I don't know what is operating now. So, the result of what Babangida did is that corruption became rampant. I have no evidence to say Babangida himself is corrupt, but his government's activities suggested that a lot of things done then increased corruption.
Another thing he did was that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) used to meet every Wednesday. It was sacrosanct. In Buhari's time, the federal executive met regularly every week. Babangida stopped it. What I am saying can be supported with facts and figures. I can face the world with them. Babangida cancelled weekly meeting of the federal executive council, where decisions were taken for the country. It was like saying the parliament may not meet but the president can issue laws. That was what it means.
The federal executive only met when he (Babangida) wanted it to meet. I have evidence to show that. There are also great men and women that served with me and can confirm whether what I am saying is true or not. Ministers were asked to come down to seek approval for contracts. Any contract up to N10 million could be discussed with Babangida personally. They didn't need to discuss it at the weekly federal executive council. Just come down to him and discuss.
All I am saying are true and I stake my honour on them. Anybody can check this fact with ministers that served at the time I am talking about. For us then N10 million was a lot of money. So, if a minister had three contracts to discuss, that would be N30 million. Just a discussion between a minister and the Head of State; both agreed and just go.
What attempt did successive governments made to address this?
You see successive government also saw the bad sides of the disruptions but they could not stop it because they benefited from it. The solution is for Nigerians not only to talk but to act. They should stop voting against their conscience. They should look at the candidates and reject any candidate that has a history of corruption. If a corrupt candidate gets to power, he will form a confraternity of corrupt people and they steal more and more of Nigerian money.
Are we not ashamed that Nigeria cannot pay N18, 000 minimum wage, yet the same country is paying N1 billion for food allowance of the President and Vice-President from the oil money? To me, with good leadership, all these would stop. What is good leadership? A leadership that harnesses the blessings that God has showered on Nigeria, for the benefit of Nigerians, is a discipline leadership. A good leader is the one that cares for the ordinary man and not the big man.
Why is this so? It is the nature in every society, whether America or Africa, anywhere, the poor people are more in numbers than the rich people. That is what I would call the social pyramid. Every community is structured like a pyramid. Only a few people are on top. As one is coming down the pyramid, one is confronted with army of the people.
So, the poor people in every community are the numerous and at the bottom of the pyramid. Therefore, if you do something that helps the poor, you are doing the work of God. If a leader makes policies that make the people happy, such leader is doing the work of God because God loves poor people so much that he creates so many of them everywhere.
Why are you an ardent Buhari supporter?
Buhari is one of the cleanest men I have ever met in my life. If anybody wants me to dislike Buhari, such person should give me an example of his corruption. I will run away from him totally. But right now, there is no evidence. On the contrary, the more they attack him on this issue of corruption, the more they are making him Gold bier. I will give two examples.
One, Babangida thought Buhari was making a lot of money on counter trading, so he set up two independent bodies to investigate counter trading. One of the bodies was headed by J.K. Randle, while the second was headed by Prof. Aboyade of blessed memory. None of them found anything against Buhari. None. I attested before the two bodies.
Great Aboyade commission was digging into Buhari's counter trading, J.K. Randle, who's still alive, did the same thing. But both of them produced reports that showed that counter trading was so clean and was making so much money for Nigeria. Then two, soon after Obasanjo was sworn in, there was a social function for him in Lagos or so, then surprisingly, some people tried to praise Buhari, Obasanjo said: 'don't praise him, I have not probed him.' It was after that incident that Obasanjo set up Dr. Haroun's probe panel of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Haroun probed PTF inside out.
Buhari was discovered to be as clean as snow. You know, why he agreed to be the head of PTF was not to condone what Abacha was doing then, but he saw it as a way of serving the country and he did well. I have the record. Haroun came out and said PTF account was audited every year while Federal Government account was not audited in 36 years.
You know Babangida detained Buhari for 40 months after he overthrew him. Buhari's mother died while he was in detention and as a Muslim, I expected Babangida to rise above politics and allow Buhari to go bury his mother. If he was released, I am sure he wouldn't have run away. Buhari was not allowed to go bury his mother. But in the night after the woman was buried, Babangida released Buhari. His son died, the same thing happened.
Anyway, after Buhari came out of detention, he told Babangida to tell the world about his corruption. The records are there. The same thing happened with the PTF. He told Obasanjo to publish the report of the panel, but Obasanjo could not publish it because it was a certificate of honour for Buhari. If that Haroun's report had any page in it that indicted Buhari, Obasanjo would have used that to disqualify Buhari from contesting against him.
Buhari is clean. He is not corrupt. To show how Buhari loves Nigeria, he doesn't like spending Nigerian money frivolously. When he overthrew Shehu Shagari, Buhari never changed any chair or curtain in Dodan Barracks. Buhari used what Shagari was using until he left.
As minister, our total pocket money under Buhari was N200 per month. You could spend less than N200 without accounting for it, but anything above N200, you must account for it. When he increased the money to N250, we clapped for him at the executive council.
Now, as a former governor of the defunct north-eastern state, former minister of petroleum, former head of state, former executive chairman of PTF, Buhari has no house in Abuja. If he goes to Abuja, he stays in a private hotel. He has no house either uphill or downhill, apart from his house in Kaduna.
What's your view about money paid to ex-militant leaders to secure oil pipeline?
I read the story and the justification of Asari Dokubo on the money. I read all the rubbishes on it. You see, Jonathan cannot be a better Niger Deltan than me. In the case of Niger Delta militants, I have a curious position. Asari Dokubo used to be with me here in Ibadan. I have a book coming out on him. He changed from Christianity to Islam to qualify him for training in Libya. I have the document. Soboma, who died, was also my cousin.
So, I was surrounded by ex-militants. I cannot do anything against them, which is not proper. But is it right for Jonathan to have paid that money to Dokubo, Tompolo and Ateke Tom? If Jonathan has done some research he would know that Asari Dokubo has no followers anymore. He claimed he has 4, 000 people. Did Jonathan tell him to bring out that 4, 000 people? I know that the other time Asari Dokubo went to Port-Harcourt, he hired people to follow him. My book is coming with more details on this.
On the surface, what Jonathan has done looks as the right thing but if one digs down into it, it is very questionable. It is a good idea to get local militants to secure oil pipelines, but there is this other question. First, they are paying them millions. Asari Dokubo is collecting N9 million for 4, 000 followers. But did Jonathan see this 4, 000 personnel or their list? I am saying as of now, Asari Dokubo has no followers. His people fought against him and they had left him. So, to me, all the principles on the surface are attractive but when one looks at the nitty-gritty, it is questionable.
Asari Dokubo has never got a paid job in his life. He dropped out of the university twice, first at the University of Calabar. So, what message are we sending to the younger generation? That if they take arms against their country and fellow countrymen, they will be compensated? A vice-chancellor salary is about N1 million now and a dropout is being paid N9 million.
Ateke Tom is now permanently in Abuja. Has Jonathan confirmed how much control he has in the Niger Delta area? The only person that I can say has presence in the area is Tompolo. So, the government should come out with facts and figures on this action. Secondly, the President is indicting himself. He is the Commander-in-Chief, as the Chief Security Officer of Nigeria. The constitution says the security of individuals in the state is strictly the responsibility of the state. Is the President saying that the SSS, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and all other security bodies in the country cannot do what Asari Dokubo and the rest are doing? Why can't they complement one another?
What do you think of Jonathan?
Let me say what I have said repeatedly. I have nothing personal against President Goodluck Jonathan. I have never met him before and I don't know whether I want to meet him. But the problem with him is that he believes so much on praises of sycophants. According to Senator Fulbright, an American statesman, in his book, 'The Arrogance of Power,' he said to criticise one's country (leader) is to do it a favour or also pay it a compliment.
It is a favour because it will make the leader to do better than he is doing. It is a compliment because it expresses a belief that he can do better. So, if I say he is not doing well, I expect him to do better. I have already complimented it, that he has the potentials to do better but he is not doing well. So, criticism is more act of patriotism than mere adulation.
Whatever areas I take to score Jonathan, I will not give him a pass mark. Security is worst in our history. Corruption is the worst. In fact, corruption is worst now. I don't need anything from Jonathan as a person. All I need from him is to do well, so that the Ijaw will be proud. Another thing is that after Jonathan, an Ijaw man will not smell Aso Rock in our lifetime.
Why would they allow an Ijaw man there when the first one they gave to us, messed it up? Long and short, Jonathan has not done well. If Jonathan is an examination paper for me to mark, in A grade, he is out. I will not give him B; I will not give him C. I will give him D. The totality is that he has not done well and the earlier he realises this the better.
What would you say about South-South forum?
The south-South forum or Southern Peoples Assembly is nonsense. As far as I am concerned, the people there are knowledgeable people, but I can't help feeling that the groups were formed to collect money from Jonathan. When Odili was South-South president, the same Edwin Clark and the late MT Mbu were at loggerhead, leading two groups of South-South assembly.
Now, the South-South said it has endorsed Jonathan for 2015 and he is clapping? They don't like him. Anybody that can say that to him is an enemy based on these reasons. One, he has spent only the second year of the first term. Any Ijaw man that wants to help you should make you to perform very well now.
Are you saying you don't support President Jonathan's plan for 2015?
He is going to fail. I can swear before Almighty God and all the things that Ijaw people believe, I have heard knowledgeable Ijaw people say he should not try it; it's not good for us. Already, the country is more split now than ever in our history. The dichotomies are showing more and more now. If a minority man has come, he has a sacred duty to put it together.
One of the greatest speeches in our history is Tafawa Balewa's speech in the Parliament entitled 'Unity in Diversity.' It was a fantastic speech. That is what the President is supposed to do, so that when he leaves another minority man would have a chance. Right now, if Jonathan leaves another minority man, especially an Ijaw, would not have a chance, because he has messed it up. If he is doing well, does he need the South-South Forum to tell him that he is doing well? If he is doing well, the whole country will tell him that he is doing well. He doesn't need a South-South Forum.
The South-South Forum is a disadvantage for him. Why is it that the South-South Forum is endorsing him for 2015? He should sit down and think. If he is doing well, I will be the first to write an article to praise him. I can even go to Abuja to congratulate him.