interviewBy Kelvin Ebiri
Port Harcourt — Professor Tam David-West was a member of the 1979 constitution drafting committee and minister of petroleum and energy in Major- General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime (1984-1985). He told KELVIN EBIRI in Port Harcourt that those saying President Buhari is undefeatable are not helping him, stressing that the latter has to strive within the shortest time possible to tackle insecurity and improve the economy.
– Mistakes in appointments hurting his economics, says David-West
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari deserves a second term in office?
Absolutely. What Americans call backlash, is setting in. Those to him are already helping him to win namely, (Olusegun) Obasanjo, (Ibrahim) Babangida and (Theophilus) Danjuma. If not Buhari, who is the alternative?
If you ask those opposed to him, they will say alternative will come. Less than one year to election you are still saying alternative will come. I am not saying that he has done well completely.
I have told him people are suffering, and that he should do something about it. There is no question about that. Even if it is not your fault, there is a limit to which you can use alibi.
You are elected to change and you can do the change. He made a mistake in the first four months. The mistake is what is haunting his government. The people, who he surrounded himself with, now cabals are not working in his interest. I told him before his wife went to the press, that the people are working against him.
But, I want him to contest, because by our constitution, he has the right to contest and sentimental too. He suffered a lot to be elected. I have never joined any political party, but I support principles and persons. I do not see anybody in the political terrain that can contest against Buhari on moral turf. That is his greatest asset. Buhari is clean and upright. I cannot say that of any politician. All of them who are saying he should not re-contest are not better politically and on a moral turf. None of them can contest integrity with him.
But, with rising unemployment, unpaid workers’ salaries unpaid and high cost of living, does he still stand any chance?
Yes. Mr. President can make impact in few months that people will clap for him. He stands a chance, because all those against his second term do not have alternative yet. That is in his favour. There is discontentment in the land no doubt, but can you change this condemnation to commendation? You can if you do the right thing, but some of these things take time to mature. Can people still vote for him? I heard someone say that you cannot defeat Buhari and I said no. The probability is that they will still vote for him. People are suffering. I am a diehard Buharist, but I cannot close my eyes and my conscience to admit there is not a lot of suffering. And something should be done about it. Don’t believe your people who say nobody can defeat you. As you can win, so can you be defeated. I read in the papers some people saying nobody can defeat him. By saying that you are not helping him. Any politician going to polls either wins or loses. So, if you say nobody can defeat you then there is no point for election.
How will you rate his handling of the economy?
I have said it before that the economy is not doing well. People are suffering. I told him to alleviate the suffering. Give greater happiness to the greatest number. Let me be personal, if I were Buhari, the person I would have appointed the minister of finance is Udo Udoma, who is the minister of budget. That is not a good place for him.
The economy is not doing well because of the mistake in appointment. I am not saying the minister of finance is not doing well. I do not know her. From what I have seen on television, she talks well, but talk is not enough. He (Buhari) in one of our interaction told me that if President Goodluck Jonathan had stayed another four months, Nigeria would have been declared bankrupt. That is true. I said, you are not starting from zero, you are starting from minus.
But then, to complain is one thing. You have identified it, then, do something to correct it. The economy would have improved if you had taken decisions. A good friend would tell you when you are wrong and when you are right. I won’t be afraid to tell him in the interest of the country. He should make some drastic changes.
I have told him before. He can make some impact in the economy within few months if you make the right decisions. I won’t be the one to tell him the right decisions to make, but I know he can make some drastic changes.
Look at what he did with June 12. Everybody was commending him. He can make several decisions like that to improve the economy. He has to change his team.
Does it worry you that Nigeria is still importing refined petroleum products and paying subsidy?
That is madness. It pains me because Buhari and I agreed that subsidy does not exist. You can argue that subsidy exist, because they are importing. But, must you import? Subsidy has no right to exist. Any minister of petroleum or any government that allows subsidy to go on to me is crazy, because it is not necessary.
If you get your refineries working, the amount you are paying for subsidy can build ten refineries in Nigeria. Most of the subsidies are fraud anyway. When I wrote many years ago on the sabotage of the refineries, people never believed me. The Senate also agreed that the refineries are sabotaged.
The problem is that people from NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation) are profiting from importation of fuel. It is a racket. Why don’t we build more refineries? You are spending money most unnecessarily.
I have fourteen items marketers are adding on imported fuel. Some people claim I said petrol will sell for N40 per litre and I say, if certain things are done, petrol price will come down.
A professor in petroleum management, a Nigerian now in Houston, did his own calculation, it was N36 per litre. Buyers are paying for transportation, you are paying for demurrage, and paying for insurance on the loan they take. I am disappointed and shocked, but he knows better.
Buhari had told me that we should not import fuel at all. I expected that the first thing they should have done was to get the refineries working or build more refineries. The fourth refinery in Port Harcourt, I signed the contract during his time and it was said to be the best in Africa.
The experts told me that when you build a refinery it can go for 25 years without major trouble. Why is our own like this? These days they complain about smuggling of petroleum products outside Nigeria. The president knew what we did. We closed all our borders and you cannot open a petrol filling station near the border. We carried air, land and sea surveillance. To come and complain that we have porous borders is senseless.
Can you assess his handling of Fulani herdsmen issue, which has continued to fuel speculation of Islamisation agenda?
It is a terrible thing that Nigerians are dying. They are humanbeings like us. You must feel it whether you are from Rivers or Zamfara. The killings have nothing to do with Islamisation. It is political.
I have lived many years in Jos. I know the north more than I know the east. The killings are terrible and nobody can accept it. What is the causet? Politicians are behind the killings. Have anyone bothered to find out how Boko Haram started? Was it not a governor that started Boko Haram?
And then it became like a Frankenstein’s monster that he cannot handle anymore. Take the Niger Delta militants for instance, who started it? Was it not politicians? As a president and commander in chief, the buck stops on his table. But you cannot take responsibility for a criminal offence.
Unfortunately for him, he is a Fulani and before this time they said he wants to Islamise Nigeria. Nobody can Islamise Nigeria. I know that is far from the truth. In 1984, OPEC (Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries) had fixed a meeting for December 26 and I said no, because if I have to be in Vienna on that date. It means I must leave Nigeria on Christmas day. When I returned, I went to Dodan Barracks to tell Buhari what I had done. You will be surprised, he congratulated me that we must recognise each other’s religion.
Buhari cannot Islamise Nigeria. He has no intention and he cannot. Unfortunately, I told him the two problems he must confront. As a Muslim and a Fulani, he needs to do something drastic about the herdsmen. There must be a way of containing it and I know that in the north they respect elders a lot. Why don’t you get the elders? Through them penetrate the herdsmen. When I was small boy in Port Harcourt we used to play with herdsmen, because they were always holding sticks. Now, they carry AK 47. He can handle it.
Is the president fighting corruption head-on?
Yes. Even his worst enemy should at least give him credit. Buhari’s fight on corruption is good, but there are certain things he should do. If the public is saying someone is corrupt, I am not saying you should go by public opinion you should investigate. You have intelligence to investigate allegations of corruption, especially of people around you and if you find there is evidence, do not treat them with kid gloves, drastically punish them. Then the public will see. But, if you are fighting corruption and the people know that the people around you are corrupt, then you are committing suicide.
Punish people who are corrupt around you. There is one particular person whose name I will not mention that was very close to him and very top in his government. Even the Senate said he was corrupt. Allegations from that height should be looked at more seriously.
When allegation is made in the press, lawmakers, critics, look at it very seriously and take actions expeditiously, not months. Now, there is something happening in one university. I got audit’s report of a panel set up by the Accountant General and they found a particular university fraudulent by N5billion. That report has not seen the light of day. Buhari is fighting corruption, but let people see some punishment.
What can you say about the recent spate of cross carpeting?
I am ashamed. Many years ago, Nnamdi Azikwe called people like that political harlots and I think he is very correct. Look at what they are doing. We are in a country with a lot of foreigners. Have you ever heard in Britain, where somebody changes from Labour to Conservatives? They are not there for principle. They are there for what they can get.
How can you be proud that you decamp? Do you think the party you are decamping to will take you seriously? When we were drafting the 1979 Constitution, I was a member of the Aminu Kano subcommittee on political parties. I suggested we should proscribe cross carpeting. Any politician that was elected on one party and later on decides to go to another party, should go back to the constituency and get a mandate.
The proposal was killed. It is irresponsible. If you came to me to ask for vote and I voted for you on party A’s flag, and you won. Then before the end of four years, you want to go to party B, it is only fair that you come back to me to ask whether I approve your switching. Most of our lawmakers are not responsible.
Are you bothered about the rift between Governor Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi?
I am very disappointed. Wike used to be Amaechi’s chief of staff. Governor Wike has come to congratulate me before, for supporting Governor Amaechi. I didn’t know him (Amaechi) then, but I was supporting him. Wike was very close to Amaechi. I am not passing judgment I support principles and causes. They can resolve their problems, but will make it difficult is that Amaechi never likes to play second fiddle.
What is the way forward for Rivers State?
Rivers State will continue to suffer except you have a good candidate. Rivers should vote for people they believe can give service. There is controversy amog Amaechi and Wike and Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe. Wike was chief of staff and Abe was secretary to the state government. Amaechi and Abe were very close. Somebody that always fights close to him is suspect.
One day I was in my room in Hilton. Somebody knocked on my door. When I opened, it was Amaechi. I said I don’t want to see you because I am very disappointed in you. I was trying to close the door, but Abe bridged the door, so I opened, saying I am opening this door because of Magnus Abe. Everybody has his fault, but that is somebody (Abe) I think has his substance and he is polished.