Former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, and ex-Minister of Mine, Power and Steel, Professor Tam David-West, speaks on the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration and what he knows about the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)
What is your general assessment of the 2015 general elections?
Most Nigerians are satisfied that there was no violence. However, unlike some Nigerians, I am not overflowing in approval. They have put the cart before the horse. It was not a totally free and fair election. We are talking about the totality of the election. There were places in my area (Rivers State) where from Friday (election eve), there was shooting and nobody voted there. And yet they declared results. That was a personal experience. There is no question that the Independent National Electoral Commission has improved greatly on its performance and I commend it. But I cannot be overflowing in commendation as if nothing bad has happened. The election was better than the previous one but it does not mean that there were no serious concerns in some areas. I can talk of my local government area, there was no election at all, yet INEC announced 40-something thousand for the Peoples Democratic Party candidate. There was no election at all, and in some other places, there were brazen irregularities. We cannot go to sleep and say we are fine. The election went well but there were irregularities.
What do you make of President Goodluck Jonathan’s celebrated phone call to congratulate Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and concede defeat to him?
Sometimes, Nigerians disappoint me. (President Goodluck) Jonathan phoned (Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu) Buhari and they made him a hero; he is not a hero because of that. They said it was a commendable thing and that it was statesmanship because he phoned Buhari to congratulate him and concede defeat. That does not make him a statesman at all. They do not know the meaning of being a statesman. He cannot become a statesman with one good act alone. Being a statesman involves a holistic activity, vision, performance and record of somebody. Congratulating Buhari or conceding defeat does not make Jonathan a statesman. He could be a sportsman, not a statesman.
This is what is done all over the place. The President of the United States, Barak Obama, was congratulated by Romney while voting was still going on. It is not a strange thing. For us not to be doing such here is because we are not behaving properly. What he did was the proper thing to do and I commend him for that. I am not belittling what he did but I cannot overrate him because of that. He knew what he was going to do. In other places, you will throw in the towel once you have known that there is no miracle that can happen for you to win. It is normal to say ‘in order not to waste time, I concede defeat.’ Romney did it to Obama. That is what happens all over the world. If it is the first time it is happening in Nigeria, I commend Jonathan for it. But I will not over-applaud him because of that. He had no other choice than to do it. Now Ebenezer Babatope has said he does not agree that Jonathan should have congratulated Buhari. To have congratulated Buhari and conceded defeat is noble but it made him a sportsman, not a statesman. Again, Jonathan did not do it on his own volition; Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar did a lot to bring that about.
But would you agree with those who said Jonathan should be commended for allowing the elections to be free without using his office to truncate the process?
President Jonathan did not conduct the election; that is another misconception. Yes, he was under pressure but anyone that tried that, including Buhari, would have made Nigeria a pariah state. I am not going to give him kudos because the election was free and fair or without violence. I am not being cynical or pathetic, but I will not. The 2015 election was a victory for Nigeria because the whole country had been tensed up; the polity had been tensed up by Jonathan. He did not correct Edwin Clark, Doyin Okupe, Dokubo-Asari, Femi Fani-Kayode, Ayodele Fayose and all of them. The whole place was heated up. The international community was looking at us. The 2015 elections has come and gone but we should not misinterpret it. If Jonathan failed to do what he had done and he rigged the elections, there was going to be violence. Nigeria would have been declared a pariah state by the international community. Our economy would have collapsed in a few months. Look at what is happening to Greece and Iran.
How democratic do you think Buhari will be now as a civilian president?
What pains me is that even among the international community, we are very lazy. Some of our colleagues are virtually indolent and lazy to do research. Buhari is not new in democracy. In his cabinet as a military Head of State, after every State Executive Council meeting, every memo was voted for. If you issued a memo, Buhari would ask all of us to vote. If more ministers voted for it, he would pass it. Buhari, Idiagbon and I, wrote a memo on petroleum tax to the council. Buhari and Idiagbon supported me, but when we voted, I lost and he lost too. When we put it to a vote, he counted the votes and said we had lost. Buhari emboldened democratic system than Shagari’s parliament. In Buhari’s executive council, every memo was voted for.
Some people are of the opinion that Buhari may not achieve the best result in his anti-graft war with the kind of people around him. Do you agree?
That is also unthinkable. Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade cannot be selective. I know him. If he knows that you are corrupt, it is better to avoid him. If you come too close, he will use you as an example. There is no way anybody around Buhari can be corrupt. And there is none that is corrupt that can succeed with him. He should either change his ways or go.
Do you think he will apply the same measure to his party men?
Whether it is party man or anybody, it will apply to anybody. Buhari will never compromise his anti-corruption crusade or be compromised by anybody. I know him.
There are reports that people have started to lobby Buhari’s close associates for political appointments. Do you think the right people will form his cabinet?
They are wasting their time. I read it in the newspapers. They do not know the person they are dealing with or talking about. They don’t really know him. Buhari cannot build his cabinet on sentiments. He had said he was going to appoint Nigerians that were credible to work with him on his programme. If you are not a man of integrity, if you have a record of corruption, you cannot work with him. Therefore, all these people lobbying are wasting their time. You cannot lobby Buhari to get a position you are not qualified to have. I am sure of that.
First and foremost, you must be a man with integrity. You should have zero tolerance for corruption like he does. You should have no skeleton in your cupboard. You must be hard working because he will check your performance from time to time. I know this because I have worked with him.
But how will he manage a situation where power brokers are going to nominate some members of his cabinet?
It is a waste of time. If it is the Buhari I know, that will be a waste of time. I heard that power brokers are making such moves, but Buhari will not appoint any person based on sentiment because a big man brought the person. He is a much organised person. He is the best for Nigeria. He is not subject to any power broker.
What do you have to say about the mass defection from the PDP to the APC since the latter won the elections massively?
It is a minus for the system. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe called them (defectors) political harlots. Zik described those who jump from one party to the other as political harlots at the Jos Convention. It only shows that they are unprincipled. You do not leave your party because it lost election. You should stay there every time. Have you heard of people in the Labour Party defecting to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or the Democrats defecting to the Republican party in the US? That shows that our politicians are opportunists. They are not principled. If they have principle, do they have to leave their party because their party lost election? If I am in charge, any person that defects because of election loss will not be trusted again. My mother said many years ago and I believe her: ‘A person without principle is worse than a goat.
Do you now have fears of implosion for the APC?
The APC will not implode. I was in the merger committee of the APC for two and a half years and I know how we came about the APC after series of long meetings. The APC will stand strong. There is not going to be any implosion. The party has a strong foundation. Okupe said in an interview that the APC would die, that if the APC lasted one year, they should call him a bastard. Now it is about to be the government in place. Nothing will happen; the APC will grow stronger and stronger. They tried everything to divide us, they planted some people in our midst when we formed the merger committee and we later realised that.
Would you advise Buhari to continue with the implementation of some programmes and policies initiated by Jonathan?
I am not Buhari but I know that he is coming with a new government with integrity and purpose. I also believe that he is not going to soil his hands in dirt.
Is that why you said Buhari did not need any advice from the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?
Buhari does not need any advice from her at all. She is so full of herself. I told Okonjo-Iweala that she is brilliant but there are many Nigerians that are more brilliant than her. She said she graduated Magna Cum Laude at Harvard. Magna Cum Laude in the US means Second Class; Summa Cum Laude is the First Class. She was advising Buhari as she advised Jonathan. We have nothing to learn from her. If she has the magic, why didn’t she do it in Jonathan’s government? Buhari has nothing to learn from Okonjo-Iweala.
But are there programmes and policies Buhari can continue with?
Like what? I am not saying Jonathan’s government is zero, he can pick some good parts. There is no government that is an angel. There are always the good and bad parts. But a government is bad when the bad parts are more than the good parts. I want to see what part of Jonathan’s government can be picked. Let somebody point one out to me, I am ready to learn if it will be argued objectively. Mention to me one policy of Jonathan that is so commendable that we all can agree that it is commendable. Right now, I can’t see any one. When you talk of Jonathan and Buhari, Jonathan has made more precarious statements. Look at how he changed the name of the University of Lagos. With his PhD, didn’t he know that you cannot change a university’s name; that it was given to the school by a parliament? The problem with Jonathan is that he has a lot of sycophants around him that feed on him.
Does your last statement confirm the saying that Jonathan could have performed better but for the ‘wrong’ people around him?
If you are a good man surrounded by bad people and you cannot extricate yourself from them, then you are a bad man. A good man will change people if he knows that they are bad or he asks the bad people to go. If a good leader is surrounded by bad people and he allows them to stay, and they make wrong statements and he does not correct them, then he is either a bad man or he is intellectually weak. Let me give an example, Asari-Dokubo always said the Ijaws were not Nigerians. Asari-Dokubo is my cousin. And he talks nonsense. He said Ijaws were not Nigerians, but we have Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. Is that not stupidity? If you are not a Nigerian, you cannot be the President of Nigeria. I told Jonathan, ‘You are not qualified to be called the President of Nigeria if you do not correct Asari-Dokubo that we Ijaws are Nigerians.’ I wrote about the issue and Jonathan did not dissociate himself from that claim. If I were APC, I would use that statement by Asari-Dokubo against them at the election, if the party was into dirty campaign. That statement alone, from which Jonathan never dissociated himself, was sufficient for him to be disqualified to run for president. After all, it was one of their closest foot soldiers that said so.
Have you ever had the opportunity to meet with Jonathan to advise him?
I do not go to him. I do not know how to go to him to advise him. Have I not written enough opinions for him to see? If what I said was not true, why didn’t he correct me? Why I do not go to him is that, if I went, people would say I went to look for job. I do not need any job from anybody. I once said if Jonathan paid me N5m per day, I will not work for him because I cannot relate with him. But I have written all I wanted him to know. He might have thrown them away. I do not have to sit with you to advise you. If you read my writings and you think they are nonsense, throw them away. That is your business. I do not write without praying to God to guide me.