From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Prof Tam David-West, in this interview, says President Muhammadu Buhari, will shock Nigerians positively when he returns to Nigeria from his medical trip to London hale and hearty. He notes that he expects him to surprise Nigerians with cabinet reshuffle and a major re-thinking of the method of governance.
He also speaks on comments of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State on Buhari, the parable of Lion-king, the hyenas and jackals he must throw out of his “Kingdom”, the face-off between the Senate and the Presidency over the chairmanship of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), agitation for restructuring of Nigeria and calls for referendum, as well as his perspective on the calls that Buhari should vie for the 2019 presidential poll. Excerpts:
Many Nigerians are complaining that since President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to London on a medical trip, things have not been going in the right direction, especially in the political arena. Many Nigerians seem to have been frustrated. So, what are the shockers Nigerians should expect from him when he returns to the country?
First, when Buhari comes to the country, Nigerians will be shocked. Have you ever seen a dead man coming back alive? Many people have been saying he has died, I don’t care for them because I have contact with him every week, and I know what is happening every week. When they said Buhari had died, I said they were talking rubbish because I have evidence that he is alive.
All of the people that are talking stupidly, if you want to be responsible, make a statement based on facts. They have no facts. Look, I have the latest evidence two days ago, the man is healthy and alive. How are they going to be shocked? They will be shocked because he will come back alive, which will be the first shock. They will also be shocked that he will come back hale and healthy. They will be shocked that when he comes back, he will be the same Buhari that those that know him know – he is so humorous; intellectual Buhari. They carried rumour that he had died and he’s in the mortuary. Muslims don’t put their dead ones in the mortuary.
Then, his wife went to see him. She came back and said she saw her husband and thanked all the people that were praying for him. But sceptical Nigerians, useless and wicked Nigerians said ‘how do we know that his wife saw him?’ She said ‘ I saw my husband and you are still doubting him.
Then, they said he could not talk again. He addressed the nation on Sallah. They also said he addressed the nation in Hausa, not in English. Before that time, they said he could not speak. Now, the latest one, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who is the acting president presently has gone to London and said he talked with the President for over one hour. He said Buhari was busy cracking hilarious jokes. They will be shocked because all the evil things they wished him, will never come true. They will be shocked because when he returns, it is not likely to be as usual. Second, I have this strong feeling that when Buhari comes back, there will be a major re-thinking of governance method. I trust that he will do cabinet reshuffle. But cabinet reshuffle is just a little normal thing. I think that a major re-thinking of the method of governance is the only way left for us to turn the table around, and get back the confidence of the people.
I am a die-hard Buhari fan, but I will not keep silent when I see something that is wrong. There is no doubt that a lot of people are suffering in this country, not caused by him, and some caused by him, but we supporters too can make this inheritance argument for too long that it becomes dull. We need a change and I know we can make a change. So, I have this strong feeling that there is the likelihood that there will be drastic re-thinking of the method of governance.
The third thing is restraint. He is not used to this type of set up. He is working in a democratic system. If it was the military era, he would be alpha and omega. So, if he is, things cannot be like this. But he has to think about the National Assembly. He has to think about pressure groups.
The problem with Buhari is that he trusts, and when he trusts, he is a very honest person, he will find it difficult to doubt you. I have been saying it, he has to look around himself dispassionately. There are some people I do see around him, that are not working for his interest; they are working for themselves. They are not as clean as himself.
Fortunately, I said this before, his great wife has come out to say the jackals and hyenas around him would be thrown out of the kingdom. And he has to do that if he has to get the steam again.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State has said on many occasions that President Buhari should vacate office and he should be replaced because, according to him, he is no longer capable of leading the country. What is your stand on this?
I don’t comment on irresponsible statements. Ayo Fayose is a governor. I expect him to be more responsible than what he is doing. As a governor, he has certain aura, prestige and respect due to him that we owe him. Then, if he talks irresponsibly, then he loses that respect. I don’t answer to irresponsible statements.
Ayo Fayose is a governor, I expect him to know the Constitution. Is there anywhere in the Constitution that says President should resign? What will make the President not to be in office is clear in the Constitution?
I am one of the people that drafted the 1979 Constitution. I know it inside-out. But what Ayo Fayose is saying is irresponsible if it is not in the Constitution. I don’t expect somebody of a status of a governor, that should be respected, to make a statement like that.
Ayo Fayose said Buhari is so sick that he’s on a life-support machine in London; newspapers published it. A few days ago, I was in contact with them. A man on life-support machine cannot talk.
So, you have been speaking with President Buhari since he travelled…
I have direct contact with London, at least once a week. I may not speak to him directly but I may also hear his voice. I know people around him that are permanent with him for 24 hours. I have direct contact with them directly and indirectly.
When Buhari left the first time and came back, the doctor said he would come back for review. A day before he left for the second time in Abuja, Buhari gave audience to the Chibok Girls that were released with their parents in the full view of the press. It was a big function in Aso Rock.
Now, he left the country for London, not on a stretcher, not in a wheelchair. He walked to the plane himself. He never left Nigeria a sick man. He went there for re-check. I have gone through this myself. If a doctor examines you and he said what you come for, this is the situation, you can go, but you will come back for review; there is nothing wrong with that because I have done such before. My doctor is in London, who I will not mention. I do go there once every year for a check-up. But they would say come for re-check. Within certain period, you will go back for the re-check
On one occasion, I was to leave about two days to the last check up, but the doctor said he would not allow me to go. One of the results must be repeated. I had to stay an extra one week; that is little me, not to talk of President. So, there is nothing happening to Buhari that is strange to me.
Buhari has brought the best thing out of Nigeria, and also brought out the worst things out of Nigeria. Why did I say this? First, what best thing has he brought out of Nigeria? Buhari has shown that he can win an election in Nigeria without having money to bribe. A Nigerian newspaper, Thisday, rated different candidates for the presidency when he was contesting against the sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, according to the largeness of their purse. Buhari was the last with a low purse. He had no money. Buhari himself had said ‘I don’t want to have anything that I cannot account for.’ There’s no money. He did not bribe, and I know that during the primaries, there’s a particular aspirant that bribed so much, even giving $5,000, to people. Buhari never gave N1, yet he won. So, that is the best Buhari has brought to Nigeria. Buhari has shown Nigerians that they should go for quality leadership. You don’t have to bribe to get their votes. It is a great thing for us in democracy.
And what are the bad things Buhari has brought out of Nigerians? Buhari has also shown that Nigerians have very bad and terrible part of their nature. Everywhere in the world, when somebody is sick, people pray for such person to get well in time; that is the normal thing. Buhari has shown that Nigerians would say “may God help you to die in time.’
Many people are saying he should die. He will not die now and he will only die when God wants him. And those of them saying he would die, they will die first. For instance, Zik (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe) died many times. I was very close to Zik. I have his personal handwritten letters to me when I was Commissioner for Education and when I was in Bama Prisons. Babangida (Ibrahim Babangida, former military president) put me in Bama Prisons for nine months. I was in Kirikiri Prisons for two weeks…I have forgiven him, but God will judge him.
Some time ago, there was a rumour that Zik had died. I was so surprised that even influential Igbo people set up a burial committee for Zik. But they had not found out whether he had died. Some of them in the burial committee died before Zik died.
Another example is TOS Benson, a great mentor of mine. One man, a parapsychologist, who used to write a column in a newspaper, said TOS Benson would die that year. TOS Benson told him ‘you will die before me.’ The person died many years before TOS Benson died.
So, Nigerians like to wish people dead. If you wish evil for somebody, the law of karma should come to you. Those that are wishing dead, some of them will die before him.
What actually gives you the assurance that President Buhari will return to the country to continue his mandate?
What gives me the assurance is that I have the fact. I know that he will come back. With the evidence I have at the moment, I know Buhari will come back to continue his work. This time around, his style, I think, will change. He is an intelligent man. I am confident that by the grace of God that he will come back hale and healthy, and he will continue his job.
What do you make out of what the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari, said that when the Lion-king returns, he will throw out hyenas and jackals from his kingdom?
I congratulate her for it. I commend her greatly for it. I am a friend, a loyalist of Buhari. But she sees him every day. If I am concerned about the nonsense things they wished about Buhari, if I am concerned that some people around him are not working in his interest, his wife should be more concerned.
I have said it many times that some people around him are not working in his interest. So, if his wife, who is the closest to him, should make that kind of statement, it means I am vindicated. It is true. I congratulate her for it. I also pray that he should throw away the hyenas, the jackals, and the monkeys.
Who are the people you suspect are the hyenas and the jackals?
They know themselves. They asked the wife of the president and she said ‘they know themselves.’ He knows them. They know people around him who are working in the same programme with him but are working to enrich themselves. They even did it to the extent that they are spoiling his name.
One thing they don’t know is that Nigeria is a very transparent country when it comes to corruption. Whistleblowers have been in our culture right from the beginning. We don’t need a whistleblower. Nigerians don’t like corruption.
But the hyenas and the jackals are powerful animals and are many in the animal kingdom. When the Lion-king returns, how do you expect him to throw them out of the kingdom such that it will not affect his reign negatively?
Hyenas and jackals are powerful to the extent that they have a forest that you can’t expose yourself to. If you have God, however powerful the hyena is, the good thing is that you can shoot him. Lion, though very courageous and powerful, sometimes take cautions. If you go to the zoo to see lion, if you jump very close to a lion, he does not attack instantaneously. First, he runs away, though it will attack. This means that the lion himself is not invincible. So, the jackals and hyenas around him are not invincible. The opportunities he gave them made them hyenas and jackals. If he takes the opportunity from them, they will not be hyenas and jackals again.
At this time, many politicians have been calling on President Buhari to run for the second term in office in 2019 to complete the good work he has started when Mr President is still battling with his health. Would you rather say the calls are good or ill-conceived?
First, were they the people that asked him to run the first time? But he had the conviction to run. If he has the conviction to run again, it is over to him to make his decision. The public position is that based on the first term, I don’t think he should run again. The long and short is that whether Buhari should run for a second term or third term, the decision is purely his own. Was it the public that made him run the first time? Why should the decision to run for the second term come from the public?
But where do I stand? I stand wherever it is the way. If he wants to run the second time, will I support him? If it is his decision, I will not go against him. My duty is to point out areas he should improve on because to go for the second term, he must base it on the credentials of the first term. It has not come up in our discussion that he would run for the second term in office. But let’s assume that he wants to run for the second term. What will you do as a friend? I will tell him, let us sit down and analyse the first term. We must sit down and analyse the first term. What he had done right and what he has done wrong. Then, we talk about what the public wanted when he started and now. When we analyse that, then we will be able to identify areas that he should have done better. Do you have time to make amend so that the people will be impressed that things have turned around? These are basic questions to be asked before jumping into the issues of the second term. You don’t just jump into the second term like that, you have to analyse and come to a seasoned self-introspection to guide your decision.
Some people have advised President Buhari to resign so that he could rest. Do you subscribe to this
Rubbish. Why is it rubbish? First, there is no provision in the Constitution that says he should resign. If Buhari believes, especially after thorough medical examinations that he has gone through many times, that he should resign, it is his own decision.
Some of the people attacking Buhari, are they medically fit? Let us send them to medical examinations, whether they can come back 100 per cent healthy. Even some of them, their brains need to be tested by psychiatrists.
The way a person ceases to be president is clear in the Constitution. Why should Buhari resign? On health ground, no. If it is on health ground, he is the one that will decide that he is too weak to run the government again. The final decision is between Buhari and his doctor. If the doctor gives him a clean bill of health, who is Fayose to query him?
What will you suggest as a way forward on the face-off between the Senate and the Presidency over the appointment and confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Magu?
I felt bad with what happened in the upper chamber. It made me feel ashamed and worried. I know a lot of very good people in the Senate. I know Saraki (Senator Bukola Saraki, the Senate President), I know his father (Senator Olusola Saraki). There are some very few good people in the Senate. Like in every other organisation, there are some rubbish people there too. Look at the National Assembly on television when they are debating, it is like a play case. Look at their presentations of the year 2016 on national television, compare that with British Parliament, or the Congress in the United States. You can see that the atmosphere is so different, our own is so careless.
The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), is one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. From his records, he was Attorney General of Lagos State and his brilliant record is there. The man is a great intellectual. He is a professor of law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). What is happening here is the interpretation of the Constitution.
He has said that Magu does not need confirmation by the Senate. That is the issue at stake; it is a constitutional matter. And his reason was that there are some appointments that do not need to be confirmed by the senate. He supported his view with Section 171 of the Constitution.
Some members of the Senate said the Vice President was wrong.
So, I expect the Senate to solve this matter by going to the Supreme Court. The ultimate interpretation of the Constitution is the Supreme Court. The Senate should tell the apex court that the Vice President or the President has acted against the Constitution, which he swore to protect. They can make the Supreme Court give it accelerated hearing. The Supreme Court can set itself to hear and dispose of it within two weeks.
So, is the President or the Vice President right? For me, when I read that section in the Constitution, I tend to agree with the Vice President, that it is not every appointment that needs to go for confirmation. I am one of the people that drafted the 1979 Constitution, I may be wrong. But if a great legal mind like the Vice President and a very well respected professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, says a part of the Constitution did not compel the president to do so, so, so, I will go along with him. I may be wrong.
He may be wrong too. Senate may be wrong. The only ‘person’ to decide is the Supreme Court. So, let the Senate go to the Supreme Court and challenge the Vice President and the President, de facto, that they are violating the Constitution they swore to protect. So, let the Supreme Court rule and that will end the matter.
How can the Senate and the Presidency work together harmoniously for the growth and development of Nigeria?
What we are experiencing now is a question of personal interest and national interest. Is the President’s party not controlling the majority in the parliament? But we have a situation where the President of the Senate is from one party, the Deputy President of the Senate is from opposing party; it has never happened in the history of Nigeria and anywhere in the world. But have a very weird construction. How can they work together? Are they working for themselves or they are working for Nigeria? If all of them say they are working for Nigeria, the interest of Nigeria, which I think they should, no quarrel. So, let them address the national interest, not personal interest.
Agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria has gathered a lot of momentum from different parts of the country. Some thought leaders have been asking for a referendum on whether some parts of Nigeria should go or remain. So, what is your position on the agitation for a breakup of the country?
Some said the 2014 amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates, which brought Nigeria into existence was wrong. If the amalgamation was wrong, why did we celebrate the 100 years of Nigeria in 2014? This shows that most of the points they are making are no points at all.
What we need is for Nigerians to restructure themselves. Human beings and human organisations are dynamic. You will change by time. Fortunately, a book of mine will soon be on the shelves soon. I have talked about this on June 1, 2012, at ASUU lecture in Abuja, which took over two hours. I have been writing about this since 2010.
So, a section of the country feels that one section is monopolising and marginalising the other. Specifically, the South complains of Northern domination. Northern domination is a myth, nurtured by the South, it doesn’t exist.
In my book that is coming out, I gave more than 20 examples that Northern domination does not exist.
What you call Northern domination is the weakness of the South. If they know the Constitution, no part Nigeria can dominate the country. The Constitution says to be president of this nation, in an election, win a majority of votes. Not only that, but your votes must spread across every part and you must win at least 25 per cent of the votes. We have 36 states with 19 in the North and 17 in the South. Two-third of 36 is 24. Even, if a Northern candidate wins 100 per cent of the votes in the North, which is not possible, he cannot even be the President. He still needs Southern states to give him 24 states. So, there is no domination. The Southerners were the ones that sold out themselves. We are being hunted by this silly idea of northern domination. It does not exist.
After Aguiyi-Ironsi died, who was the most senior Nigerian Army officer? It was Brigadier Ogundipe (Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, who was the de facto Vice President of Nigeria during Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s 1966 military government). A junior northern soldier insulted him before senior Southern Generals. Did they defend him? No. That was why he decided to be High Commissioner in London.
Yes, every organisation needs reconstruction. That is why we also have the review of the constitution. Every human organisation is dynamic and can change with time. But I cannot see reconstruction based on myth and fear and wrong reasons.
First, you said we want true federation. The Constitution is clear in white and black that Nigeria is a federation.
If a particular president comes from a particular area and he’s taking all the powers to himself, is it his fault? You go and challenge it in court. He supposed to obey the Constitution, which he swore to obey and protect because we are in a federation.
In a federation, the states have their powerful rights. The states are not depended like a parasite on the federal government. But states have allowed the federal government to be powerful because state governors that should fight for their rights secretly go and get patronage from the centre, and they keep quiet. I know what I am talking about.
If you say the centre is too powerful, who made the centre powerful? If a particular president wants to take more powers from the states, it is left for the states to challenge him in court that it is against the Constitution.
Also, they said they want reconstruction because Nigeria is not a true federation. Reconstruction alone cannot give you true federation. The true federation is that we should insist that the Constitution must be respected. The Constitution has already provided for it. If you stayed in your house, a thief came to take your television, you did not talk, it is when the thief has run to the street that you are shouting thief, thief, thief. Why didn’t you stop him from taking your television set?
They also said we should go back to the 1963 Constitution. They are ignorant of the 1963 Constitution. When we were drafting the 1979 Constitution, all the 49 of us were given a copy each of the 1963 Constitution. Any one that is saying we should go back to the 1963 Constitution is an enemy of Nigeria.
The copy of the 1963 Constitution was given to us each to study, and write out what we think is wrong there, that we should change. We spent more than one month working on the 1963 Constitution and why it is not good for Nigeria.
Some people have said the states should be converted to six. Chief Emeka Anyaoku (former Secretary General of Commonwealth of Nations) just said eight units. They surprised me and disappointed me. The Constitution is clear that states can come together. There is a constitutional provision for state merging together. The conditions are in the Constitution. So, there is nothing new that they are saying. Let them give me convincing reasons.
The 2014 National Conference, there is nothing from that confab that is so strange, though there are big brains there. But why should your country pay you millions of naira for every sitting when you want to do something in the interest of your country?
We did 1979 Constitution, none of us was given one kobo. None of the 49 of us had the sitting allowance. They only paid for our transport and accommodation. But those that were at the 2014 Confab, the country paid them in millions and fed them too. But one day, they were so childish that they said the food they gave them was not enough for children, and they protested because of food. Tell me, you cannot be the serious person now. There is nothing they said there that is a panacea.
Nigeria does not need any more national conference. Let us set up a body that will go to the archives, bring all the reports of conferences we have had so that we can work on them.
This is why I don’t support restructuring. How can the 36 states be merged into six geographical regions? To me, it does not make sense. Have you ever seen somebody, who after he enjoyed political independence, would voluntarily say take my independence, he does not want to be independent again? Freedom is part of the basic aspect of people. You cannot convert the 36 states to six or eight just by fiat.
On the referendum, sometimes people don’t convince me that they understand the rule of the referendum. Some of them even suggested that we should have sovereign national conference and thereafter, we will have a referendum. It is stupid. After a sovereign national conference, you don’t have referendum again. The two cannot go together. Whatever is said at the sovereign national conference is permanent, and I don’t support that. I have not supported it over the years because why should sound 170 million people surrender their rights to few hundreds of people to decide their fate and whatever they decide will be sacrosanct as the Quran or the Bible. Anything that comes out of sovereign national conference cannot be changed again. National Conference can say Tam David-West, from today on, you are a woman, not a man.
So, all the reasons they are giving for restructuring, I am not impressed. It is not that there is no need for it. But they have not impressed me. What Nigeria needs is restructuring themselves. We must think of Nigeria and believe in Nigeria for the good of Nigeria.
If you make every village in Nigeria a state, some families will still complain of marginalisation. Until the people operating it changed their orientation to say that we could all work together. If you are talking of marginalisation, what will I, an Ijaw man, say? We are the most marginalised.
In Nigeria, we are too full of formula. We always look for a panacea to solve our problems. The problem with Nigerian is Nigerian.
Poverty, is no doubt, prevalent in Nigeria, though Nigeria is said to be coming out of economic recession. Many have lost their jobs. It is likely that Nigerians will pay more for electricity tariff to enjoy more power supply and pump price of petroleum products. Nigerian expect Mr President to do something about it when he comes back. What would you advise him to do?
I will be the last person to support an increase in electricity tariff. I will be the last person to support the increase in petroleum pump price. The petroleum price should come down. I am saying it loud and clear, I have already discussed it with Buhari, he knows where I stand. Anybody that is suggesting that we increase petroleum price is an enemy of Nigeria. Most of them that are suggesting the increase is not paying for petrol. The state is paying for their petrol.
On economic recession, when I listened to Minister of Finance, I used to laugh when she said the economic recession will end in eight months. I don’t believe you. Is it magic? You don’t take economic recession by magic or by wish. What have you don’t to the economy that will make the recession to stop? You are not the only country that went through a recession. America went through the worst recession. In the 1930s, America was finished. Recently former US President, Barack Obama, before bringing us the stimulus formula. We talk, we don’t act. I don’t believe the recession is finished. If the recession is finished, I challenge the Minister of Finance if she says the recession will finish in few months time, if it is true, I will go and hold a party for her in Abuja. I don’t believe them. In fact, I have to see it physically that something is changing. People are suffering. It is a wicked government that can add more suffering to the people. Government exists for the interest of the people.
Edmund Burke said a government is a contrivance of human wisdom, and human beings have the rights to expect that the government should satisfy that wisdom. Any government that cannot serve the interest of the people and give greater happiness to the greater number of people is a failed government. I will not be part of it. I will never support it and I know Buhari will never support it. (The Sun)