Femi Gbajabiamila is the Majority of the House of Representative and a leading member of the ruling All Progressive Congress.
In this interview with Punch this weekend, Gbajabiamila talks about the subsidy removal, corruption and the Buhari administration.
Here are 10 things we learnt from the interview:
1) Nigerians are no longer as corrupt as before
“The most important thing that has changed is the psychology of the Nigerian man. The idea that it is not going to be business as usual is change in itself. That is the very fundamental thing that one needs to change before every other thing begins to change. One has to change the psychology of the citizens; change the mindset and attitude of Nigerians, at least as far as corruption is concerned. There is nobody that can tell me today that a civil servant or public officer, or even ordinary Nigerian, will not think twice before committing any kind of perfidy or doing anything that appears to be corrupt.
“I am not saying that Nigerians are no longer corrupt or that corruption is no more, but the fact that one would think twice and look over their shoulders is the most fundamental change. Based on that attitudinal change, a lot of things will begin to fall into place. Thus, yes, in the last one year, there has been a lot of changes.”
2) One year is a short time to judge a government
“This government has been in power for less than a year but the clamour for a drastic and dramatic change started even from the second month that we got in. The framers of our constitution and other constitutions in other parts of the world, in their wisdom, called for a four-year term for the President and eight years if the term was extended. They called for four years because they probably realised that it would take that long for the government to make any meaningful impact or change in the lives of the people. They didn’t put one, two or three years.
“If the framers, in their wisdom, called four years, I think that we must be patient; at least allow the government to go halfway. Particularly, under the circumstances in which this government came into power, I will continue to ask for patience and a little more tolerance. Those who mean well will see through this President that he is trying to clear the mess first. Sometimes, one needs to jump-start an engine to give it life again. And I think that is what is happening in this case.”
3) The 2016 budget is the most robust in history
“The first budget of this administration (2016 budget) is clear to all. It is the highest, most adventurous, most robust in history, at N6.06tn. Now, that tells you the direction of the policy of this government; that in the midst of lack, where the income from oil has gone drastically down, we are still bringing a budget of N6.06tn.”
4) The economic policy of Buhari administration is….
“The economic policy of this government, I think, is going the way it should: to re-jig the economy by pumping more money into it to add to capital projects.”
5) The Buhari administration has out performed other governments in terms of budget implementation.
“Prior to now, budget performance was 20 or 30 per cent. I think the highest at a point was 33 per cent. But, the current government has outperformed any preceding government in recent times in terms of budget execution, even if the budget it met was not its budget. That shows you the level of commitment of the President to the people of Nigeria.”
6) Budget crisis is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria
“It is not a Buhari or APC thing. I have been in government for over 12 years, there has never been a single year — right from (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo’s administration to (Umaru) Yar’Adua’s, to (Goodluck) Jonathan’s — that there was no budget crisis. We had a crisis where even a former Minister of Finance had two budgets; she was implementing her own, whereas the official budget was under her table. We have had budget crisis, where even Yar’Adua decided he was going to go to court for interpretation.
“We have had crisis where even Jonathan cut tradition and sent somebody to present the budget. In the most advanced democracies — it is happening in the US right now — there is no time when it comes to money matters that one will not have a crisis. It is that singular document — the Appropriation Act — that determines your worth as a representative or President. There are too many contending issues as there should be. If it is a healthy disagreement; that is what is expected. That is why there are checks and balances.”
7) No, the budget didn’t come late
“people forget that the budget year did not end in December. Prior to now, budgets had been signed in March and this is May. People forget that the executive and the legislature came together and extended the implementation of the 2015 budget to March 2016 to make it one year, as provided by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“As of last year December, the budget would have only run for seven months. Thus, the 2016 budget was not five months late strictly speaking. If the previous budget was implemented till March, then this one was late by just one month.”
8) Removal of subsidy is a fundamental problem
” I have always led the fight against the removal of subsidy. I have never believed in it. Even before the 2012 debate, which I led on the floor of the House as an opposition leader, I wrote a letter to then Acting President Jonathan, berating him for even thinking of removing subsidy.
“Once petrol price is increased, everything in everybody’s life is increased. That, for me, is a fundamental problem. It doesn’t make sense to me that a country, which is blessed with a natural resource is also importing that resource. It doesn’t make sense that you have oil in your backyard and at the same time price it as the international price simply because you are importing it. I don’t expect the price of tea in China to be the same with that of South Africa or any country that doesn’t produce tea.”
9) Deal with subsidy thieves and not Nigerians
“Subsidy is a good thing everywhere but why it is given a bad name in Nigeria? I asked those questions then. I was told it was the fraud in it, perpetrated by one per cent of the population. Now, my answer is that you cannot punish 99 per cent of Nigerians for the inefficiency of the government or the fraud of one per cent. What you need to do as a government is to plug those loopholes and deal with those fraudsters.”
10) If subsidy wasn’t removed, we may not have a country in the next couple of months.
“I was at a stakeholders’ meeting at the Vice-President’s office with labour leaders. By the time a graphic picture of what was happening — with facts and figures — was reeled out and what was about to happen if we continued this way, much as I resisted, it was clear to me that we might not even have a country in a couple of months.
“I saw clearly that no state would be able to pay salaries in two months’ time; even oil-producing states like Bayelsa would not be able to pay salaries, if there was no federal allocation. Thus, I had to reconsider myself and my thoughts prior to now and what was in front of me.”
11) Deregulation will pay off in the long run
“I came to the very painful conclusion that in the short term, deregulation was the best way to go and that in the long term, it would pay off for everybody. Again, this is not the government’s fault. Research has shown that other oil-producing countries are re-adjusting their subsidy regime.”
12) Is there any political will to build refineries?
“I believe certain things should have been done prior to now. For instance, where is the political will to fix our refineries? It is like putting the cart before the horse to deregulate before fixing the refineries. It should have been the other way round so that we can subsidise production and not importation. The real issue is even that 70 per cent of the subsidy figure is made up; it’s not real.”
13) 2012 subsidy removal is different from 2016
“2012 was totally different from 2016. In 2012, oil was selling for over $100 and we had plenty money to throw around for subsidy. Hence, my position then was no; you could not allow people to suffer because you must remove subsidy. But 2016 is totally different. Oil prices have dropped. There is no money.”
14) House members travel to the bush to inspect project
“I agree with it to the extent that the money could best be utilised for something else but we also have to look at it vis-a-vis, ‘are the cars necessary?’ A lot of people out there don’t believe the cars are necessary, perhaps, because they don’t understand the work being done. A lot of people believe that members of the National Assembly really don’t do anything. They just go to the National Assembly and come back home, so what do you need cars for? This is not true. National Assembly members travel with cars for three or four hours into bushes to inspect projects.”