Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, a lawyer, criminologist, one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former minister of State for Education under ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, spoke to some journalists in Lagos on the state of the nation, how to save the naira and why Nigerians must give the President Muhammadu Buhari administration more time to appoint good, competent ministers, among others.
On the state of the nation
I believe that a nation that went down to the rotten level we got to under the last administration will find it difficult to get out of it hale and hearty. I believe Dr Goodluck Jonathan is, in fact, a lucky man that General Muhammadu Buhari won the election. We had reached the end of the road under him. That we had a change of government, itself, has given us a breather. What the breather means is that we have better hope than before. A lot of Nigerians now expect something as against when we had no expectation. What we are looking for now is how President Buhari will get us out of the messy situation we are in. They have started arresting some criminals. What we had in the past were inconclusive arrests and investigations. We must make people account for what they did. Our security agencies must arrest looters. Instead of just taking the money from them, we must take the current arrests to a logical conclusion.
On why he is dissociating himself from the Jonathan regime he served as a minister of state
I became a minister in that government by a lot of interferences. For instance, when I refused to be a minister, no less a person than General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) was contacted to prevail on me. I accepted the appointment and worked for Nigeria. The duty of Jonathan was to appoint, mine was to work. I did my work unblemished. However, there were things in government that went on while I was there and after I left, I dissociated myself from them. I’m dissociating myself from the infractions of the government. I want Nigerians to know that there are people in this country who had made money and had wealth before going into government. The former president himself said several times that he didn’t know I was that wealthy before I joined his government. The point is I’m not directing any attack at anybody. What I’m saying is that the country was misruled and if Jonathan was my father or brother, I will still say so. I won’t keep quiet when things are bad. You will recall I told Jonathan two months before the elections that there was no way he could come back.
Are you saying that you didn’t lobby to be appointed as minister?
Never! I did not. E.K. Clark was the one who insisted that I must be minister. He did everything possible and I said I would not be. When it became so bad, he spoke to my friend, Theophilus Danjuma to persuade me.
Some persons are of the opinion that you are attacking Jonathan because he removed you as a minister?
It is very childish for anybody to make such a statement. Jonathan himself feels guilty that he will have to leave politics for nothing. We held that administration and made it work without any interest. Jonathan has not given me one kobo in my life. I was the one who spent my personal money. If you see all my discussions, I have not attacked him. If I have to do so I have enough reasons and facts to do so; but I have not got to that stage yet. Let us say the truth the way things are and I like people to contradict my facts. Most of the ministers were working against Jonathan in his administration. They were double-dealing. They were collecting money. People who go to serve in government are supposed to make it as a sacrifice. I told the president once that it was not good to say you are doing an economic summit and all the people in the front row are all ministers. The ministers are supposed to be behind. How many genuine business people are in Nigeria? The ministers are the contractors. The ministers are the ones doing the businesses. Civil servants are the richest people in Nigeria. The companies that are doing business with banks and bank-related matters in Nigeria that have no name registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) are more than the ones that are registered.
But thank God, with this new Bank Verification Number (BVN), it is a development in the right direction. With the BVN, we are getting to a state we can now say we are in a country. With the BVN, let the security agency man their computers back-to-back with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the banks, you will see that the country will get better.
If President Buhari does what he needs to do properly with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Department of States Services (DSS), the currency will appreciate. The only reason our currency is going down is because we are doing round-tripping. At the end of the month, governors, local government chairmen, doctors, ministers go to black-market and convert all the money belonging to taxpayers to dollars and carry it away. So, with proper check and balance with the BVN and what we are now going through, the currency will drop. We don’t have any reason for our currency to be over N200 to a dollar.
On Buhari’s delay in forming his cabinet
Let me tell you that because of the level of rot in the polity, you have to be extra careful with some appointments. I know that Nigerians can be impatient. We are becoming restless. What Buhari is going through is a result of the distrust we have for our leaders. We cannot live in a country like this. The president now has difficulty appointing ministers not because he does not want to appoint ministers. What the president saw when he got to that office was shocking to him. It is shocking that Nigeria has degenerated to that level. Now looking at the whole states, you have 15 names; you go and vet the names, all you will see are former thieves. So, I ask that people should be a bit patient with Buhari. I think the country is heading positively to a success. Now, we have a President that everybody can say will not steal from the treasury and people are not lining up in the evening to go and give him and his wife money. It is a positive development, if you ask me.
On rising poverty levels since May 29 that Buhari took over
After the war, there will be restitution. Today, we say Warri Refinery is now producing at 90 percent capacity, Kaduna is also producing. Leave Buhari to settle down and let us attack him when we need to attack him. Let us give him till end of this year then next year we can start asking questions. A great father just sits down in the house and by his behaviour, all his children behave well. If you watch, people who rushed for appointment in Jonathan’s government are running away from going to pick appointment in Buhari’s government. Nigeria has got something good.
Do you think the steps Buhari has taken so far will help us out of the situation?
As somebody in the business world, I will say that Buhari himself might not have done something, but the fact that you cannot take $100,000 to the President for any favour has put a different orientation into our heads that it is no longer business as usual. It is clear that at over 70, Buhari will never get to a stage where he would have any other interest than the good of Nigeria.
On observations that 95 percent of his appointments are from his section of the country
There are appointments that the President has to make under constitutional conditionality but there are some that are strictly under his prerogative. We can compare him with other former presidents of Nigeria and see if he had done anything different. You cannot appoint a minister of Niger Delta from Lagos. It is not possible because the Constitution has taken care of that. But if you talk about some appointments, they are based on what the President wants.
What about the appointment of the DSS Director General Lawal Daura, a man from the President’s village?
Nigerians must learn to remove pettiness from our reactions. Given the sensitive nature of this country, in terms of coups and counter-coups, it has become a practice to appoint someone you can trust as DSS chief. Let me start by saying that Daura is a wonderful and honest man. He has not been found wanting or accused of corruption. We have had several instances of Presidents entrusting security to persons they are comfortable with. The former Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Sunday Areh, was dismissed from the Army. He was a Lt. Col when he was dismissed from the military. He was brought back by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Areh was like his son. He became DG of DSS.
Lt. General Patrick Azazi was appointed as Director of Military Intelligence and later National Security Adviser (NSA) because former president Jonathan believed in him. Azazi was from Jonathan’s region. Every major appointment in the security forces then were coordinated by Azazi. That was what the former president was comfortable with.
The point is that today, people feel comfortable with certain persons. Nigeria has become so distrustful that you need persons you can trust for certain roles. So, the President has not done anything wrong by picking a man who left the service voluntarily. We have to be careful with many of the things said in the social media because most of the activists are sponsored by vested interests.
For the first time in the nation’s history, the President and the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission are from the same region. Will this augur well?
I can confirm to you that Amina Zakari will never be chairperson of INEC. A government’s business cannot be left in a vacuum. When the last chairman was leaving, somebody necessarily must take over in an acting capacity. What we have is a transition to a different government. In a country where the President is inundated with many criminals, he has to take his time to appoint the right person for an important agency as INEC. But I can assure you that Buhari is too sensible to make Amina the substantive INEC chairperson no matter how competent she is. The history of Nigeria has made it that the President and the INEC chair always come from different regions. Amina is only bidding time in INEC. She will go when Buhari finds a competent person.
As a veteran Delta State governorship aspirant, are you still in politics?
It destroyed all my businesses. I can play an advisory role. I can play roles that are not directly opposed to my business successes in life. I don’t think I want to be involved, I am too old now. At 53, I should bow out.