The Director of Media and Publicity for the dissolved All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga, in this interview with ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS, bares his mind on how the ex-Lagos State governor plans to tackle Nigeria’s debt burden and fuel subsidy removal, among other issues
There was outrage, especially from critics and opposition parties, over the casual manner the Senate approved Buhari’s N22.7tn extra-budgetary spending. Although the government is a continuum, won’t this create a problem for the incoming administration?
This is your own opinion. We don’t have the details yet. Asiwaju is also not in the saddle yet. When he gets on board, he will look into all those things. Don’t forget this is an APC government. We are also the APC. So whatever the Senate has approved, we believe, must have been done in good faith. The Tinubu administration will take it up from there.
What about his plan to tackle the nation’s huge debt burden?
Well, what I know is that the president-elect has addressed this issue of debt at various fora in the run-up to the election. Asiwaju, as a ‘finance’ man, believes very strongly that the debt issue can be largely resolved. He had spoken about denominating some of our debt in naira. He had spoken about cutting waste in governance to free up resources so that we can give ourselves some financial relief. I believe his administration will be able to find a way to lessen the burden. When he spoke in January at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, he said it clearly that he is not unduly bothered by the ballooning budget deficit, which rose from N2.41tn in 2016 to N11.34tn in the current budget. As he told the summit, fiscal deficits are not necessarily bad, as it is an inherent part of modern governance. He said the most powerful and wealthiest governments run deficits, as do the poorest nations.
The real issue, he said, is whether deficit spending is productive or not. In his words, unproductive deficit spending is a compound negative, especially if backed by excessive borrowing of foreign currency.
So, I expect his administration to fashion out policies to tackle what some Nigerians consider as the debt burden.
Will Tinubu publicly declare his assets just as his predecessor, Buhari and Osinbajo did?
Why not? It is a tradition. He will do it. Asiwaju will declare his assets. His Vice President will also do the same. Already, the Code of Conduct Bureau has asked the incoming elected officials to declare their assets before May 29. Tinubu will certainly comply with the law.
The call for assets declaration must have obviously stemmed from controversies trailing the United Kingdom property bought by Seyi Tinubu. What’s your assessment of the situation?
This is an old story. The last time I read about it, they mentioned Oyetola. Today, they have extended the narration to Seyi. It is an old story that people keep recycling all over. I think it was first published by Premium Times sometime last year or so. Again, the story has found its way back into the news. Maybe tomorrow, they may come out with another story that the property is owned by another person. They were aiming at the President-elect. But they didn’t find any smoking gun as the story clearly indicated he was not involved in the acquisition of the property.
Is Obi proving to be a problem to the camp of the president-elect?
Honestly, I can’t understand Peter Obi and his supporters. The way they have taken the election and its aftermath smacks of desperation. After going to court, Obi and his running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, and the supporters that some writers have likened to a headless mob, have been throwing all manners of stones at the President-elect, impugning the integrity of the poll, assassinating his character. They have lobbed insults and lies against INEC officials, claiming they wanted to reclaim a so-called mandate, which they never got in the first instance. They are so loud and reckless about it, you wonder whether Obi came a close second. He was a distant third and did not even lead in plural votes or the spread.
The latest joke is the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, aligning with some highly compromised civil society groups, saying they are going to serve as the watchdog for the judiciary. In fact, the NLC declared that they are going to have a ‘Register of Shame’ for judges who make pronouncements they don’t like about the election. I don’t understand all that. That’s uncalled for. Of course, the NLC can’t do that. The congress is already a party in the election, being a member of the Labour Party. How can you claim that you want to be a watchdog for something that you are already a part of? The NLC and TUC are already heavily partisan and therefore have lost all moral rights to be a judge in the post-election legal fights. Looking at the future, I don’t even know how the NLC and TUC can now claim to represent all Nigerian workers having fully embraced the Labour Party.
Is Tinubu not worried about the burden of having to deal with petrol subsidy removal?
I cannot talk about his move or any approach now. What I can say is that he will take them one after the other. The President-elect and the defeated candidates of the opposition – the PDP and Labour Party – all agreed that the fuel subsidy must go. But I expect them to backpedal or claim they didn’t say so again. In politics, anything is possible. But during the campaign, all of them clearly said it when asked what they were going to do about the lingering fuel subsidy. All the major parties agreed that the subsidy had been abused and must be allowed to go. Asiwaju also affirmed that it must go. How it is going to be done is a matter of approach. But when he gets to that bridge, he will cross it.
The subsidy has become a real problem for our people and is messing up the treasury. The major beneficiaries of this subsidy are mostly the smugglers, not the Nigerian people. In recent times, we have seen the Nigeria Customs Service doubting the volume of petrol the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd claims is being consumed by Nigerians.
Unless we are a nation of fools, we cannot continue to subsidise petrol consumers in Cameroon, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Niger, and Chad, all because we are maintaining a regime of subsidy. We can’t continue to play Santa Claus to smugglers and our neighbours.
You will recall that in 2015, the World Bank asked the President, Major General, Muhammadu Buhari(retd.), to remove the subsidy. At a stage, the Buhari government removed it only for the government to reverse itself when the price of crude went up, impacting the landing cost of imported fuel. The Tinubu government must take a decision as quickly as possible. We cannot continue to run away from taking that decision in the overall interest of Nigerians and the economy.
What will Tinubu’s cabinet look like? Will there be some members of the opposition and Nigerians in Diaspora involved in his government?
I think Nigerians should wait for his cabinet list, which will be unfolded after May 29. He is at present consulting all the APC stakeholders.
We have seen a list of Tinubu’s alleged ministers and heads of agencies circulating on online platforms and social media in the last three weeks. How authentic is that list?
Those are just social media stories. We should just wait. Some of these positions being touted would be occupied by people who are going to work with him. Let us just wait for May 29. I am sure after the inauguration, Tinubu will release the names officially.
Buhari disclosed a few weeks ago that the opposition lost to Tinubu because they were riding on the tide of random poll results and over-confidence. But critics believed Tinubu was just fortunate to be aided by some factors. What exactly will you say won him the presidency?
I will say God. You may not find this in political science books. But honestly, I will say there is the invaluable hand of God in his victory. It was God that split the PDP into three, while the APC remained a solid party, going into the election.
All the odds were stacked against him and his party. The Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, his ill-advised, ill-timed, uneconomic currency swap and currency scarcity, had turned the Nigerian people against the APC and Tinubu. Then in many parts of the country, there was fuel scarcity. The candidate of the ruling party was not expected to survive the twin negative factors. But he survived as the public managed to believe that both the currency and fuel scarcities were contrived to put him at a disadvantage and make Atiku win.
That, however, did not happen. I think many Nigerians supported Asiwaju because of his track record as the former governor of Lagos. They are expecting that by voting for him, he will replicate the Lagos achievements nationally.
In my view, I think Tinubu’s track record fetched him many votes, except in the South-East where Peter Obi shut the door against him, by playing the ethnic card.
This, however, did not prevent Asiwaju from having the best national spread among the three main candidates. Where he did not come first, he came second in many states. If you compare that to Atiku who is always coming third in some places, the difference is clear. While Tinubu was able to have 25 per cent in about 29 states, Atiku only made it in 21 states. Peter Obi, on the other hand, was far behind. I think he got it in 15 states.