Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communications, is a former member of the Oyo State House of Assembly and former commissioner in the state. He describe himself as a member of the Awolowo school of politics, having been a student member of the Committee of Friends, which metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic. In this Interview, he talks on marketing President Muhammadu Buhari for second term in office and his gubernatorial ambition. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, presents the excerpts:
the inauguration of the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign platform in the South West seems shrouded in division. Are you not treading a difficult terrain?
There is nothing which can be farther from the truth.
The two leaders were not present?
Tinubu himself was invited to that programme and he excused himself from it because he said he had an engagement in Abuja that weekend.
What of the Governor of Oyo State?
Well, for reasons best known to the governor, he didn’t attend. He was equally invited. And I don’t think his not coming is in any way connected to Tinubu’s absence that day. Tinubu gave a reason for not coming. But the governor didn’t give any reason and even if he eventually set up a meeting to coincide with that. But we don’t regret the fact that we had an event, it was held and it was very successful. More than 2,000 people of voting age attended.
But leaders of that zone were not there. No Governor …
Am I not one of the leaders of that zone, having remained in politics for close to 40 years in the progressive camp and by the grace of God, I have been a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly for four years, twice, I was a commissioner in the state and by the grace of God, I have also attempted to contest the governorship twice. And today, I am a minister representing Oyo State in the Federal Executive Council. So, I don’t know what else you are looking for.
In politics, you talk in numbers and there are some people that pull numbers who you need for such events. This indicates a crack in the Southwest APC?
You know as well as I do that what I brought to Oyo State at that time was a campaign support group for Mr. President and it is not the only support campaign group anyway. It cannot be. It’s a voluntary association of like-minded people who believe in the President. I want to believe that there will be so many other similar organisations which people can belong to. As a matter of fact, leaders at that level may want to maintain a neutral position so that since there will be so many such groups, it will not be seen as if they are leaning towards one more than another. But what is more important is that the subject matter of our efforts, during that office commissioning, is one that is acceptable to people across the party. Whether they believe in me or not, whether they want to associate with me or not, what is important is that the subject matter, that is, President Muhammadu Buhari, is a beloved of all party men and anybody can decide which platform he wants to give support to Mr. President’s second term.
So have you got the assurance the governors and the other political leaders of the APC in the zone concerning this project you are spearheading?
Have you seen any of these governors who said something different or contrary to what our group stood for and still stand for? There is something in law we call consensus ad idem – consensus by many parties on the same subject matter. So, whether somebody decides to wear a Yoruba cap or another man decides to wear an Igbo cap or whatever, what is important to us is the ultimate aim of getting Mr. President re-elected for a second term in office.
Are you convinced it will be successful considering the mindset of the people about the President?
People who are ignorant will say the economy has not stabilised. Recall that he came in when this country was in a state of recession.
His government brought recession, he didn’t inherit recession…
How did it bring recession?
The country was not in recession in May 2015 when he took over?
Then how did he bring it? What were the policy actions?
The recession that we talk about started in 2016, so it coincided with his government…
It started as a result of years of bad governance, as a result of years of stealing by officials of last government. You recall what has happened to the fact that for 16 years, Nigeria was earning $140 per barrel on petroleum. For almost 16 years; it was an upswing thing. In any case, as at the time the last government was in place, petroleum was selling per barrel for $140. By the time Buhari came on board, it nosedived to $38. Was that his fault and is that not enough to cause Nigeria going into recession?
Critics would say that your government misread the fate of the economy and then made promises that were not realistic?
We were not the only one making promises at that time. Even the then government, which was outgoing, even if they didn’t know that they were outgoing, they kept making promises which had little or no foundation. But you have to read a number of indices. Number one, even if you assume for the purpose of this argument that Petroleum as at the time Buhari came in, was $60, when he came in, it crashed to $38. What is the difference? More than 40 percent decrease. You remember also that went on for almost two years. Even as at today, it’s not up to $70 a barrel, whereas, all expenditures of government remained on the upswing. Salaries will continue to increase. Several other expenditures will continue to increase and you know it is on record that this government is the most frugal government. This government is the one, officially and in practice, which has ensured that today we have TSA in operation and being implemented to the fullest. It is one government which has officially waged war against corruption at all levels. It is one government which has ensured that everybody who had been known to have stolen or pilfered government resources are made to bring back what they have stolen and you can go and on and on.
If you look at the oil industry, for instance, when Buhari came in, you recall again also that the Niger Delta avengers were at work destroying oil infrastructure. Again, when Buhari came in initially, we were producing 2.2 million barrels. As a result of the criminal activities of the Niger Delta avengers, you will agree with me that oil production had gone down to 800,000 from 2.2 million barrels. So, all of these speak volumes and would necessary, have an impact on government resources and government income and, of course, government will require money to do a whole lot of things. But for the good management of resources and so on, Nigeria would have sunk to more serious financial quagmire.
So apart from frugality, what else would you say this government has brought on board?
Let me say this, his campaign was based on three prongs. The first one is that he was going to fight insurgency in the North East and in the Niger Delta. Number two, he was going to fight corruption and number three, he was going to revive the economy. On each of these, he has excelled up 60 percent.
But the same insurgency seems to have regrouped considering the recent kidnap of schoolgirls in Yobe?
The fact that it happened does not mean that they have regrouped. Of course, you know very well that all across the world, criminals will always find a way to stay afloat. If they carried out what they did, I will even believe that there are questions as to who carried out what happened, because for instance, we have heard of military withdrawals here and there and I’m happy that the Federal Government has even set up a probe to really find out who actually carried out that and whether there was complicity by the people of the security forces. These are possibilities and until the probe is concluded we may not have heard the last on this. For now, I want to believe and I know that the average person in the North East is better off than what it used to be two, three years ago. Of course, you know that in the Niger Delta, insurgency has almost been eliminated.
In your quest to be Governor of Oyo State, how acceptable are you to the generality of the state?
I thought you would know that today, I am the AgbakinAfiwagboye of Ibadan land. If you translate that title, Agbakin means a form of commander; Afigboye – who became crowned because of his Good nature. If Ibadans have decided to appoint me to that exalted position, will that not speak volumes? Besides that, you must recall that I have been an Ibadan resident since 1979, consistently up till date. Two Ibadan daughters are wives to me and they have children for me. I have lived and socialized with virtually every important Ibadan person and I don’t have any bad record and I believe the Ibadans feel very comfortable with me and will give me every support. I don’t have cause to fear whether I am very acceptable to the people of Ibadan with whom I have lived, done my social life, my political life, my religious life and even my professional life.
Do you think the APC will deliver a second term to president Buhari?
Currently, I don’t see any competition to APC.
Is the PDP not a strong party?
Which PDP? The same PDP that is in disarray?.
But the APC has crisis in so many states as well?
The fact that you have crisis – even in individual homes, we have crisis. That does not make that family to go into extinction. You must appreciate that political parties are not classrooms where you have one master, one teacher who beats everybody to line. We have a party which came as a result of the agglomeration of several interests who all believed in the symbol that President Muhammadu Buhari represents. No other party has that symbolic leader who can be respected, who commands the followership of millions of ordinary Nigerians, and I believe all active participants in the APC appreciate that Buhari is a blessing to the party. He’s the one whose euphoria, whose whirlwind brought a lot of people into political offices in 2015 and he is still available to do the same magic there. In any case, if anybody doubts you, you want to ask them who is the alternative who can beat Buhari and which is the alternative political party which can compete with APC in 2019?.
Are you in good terms with Governor Ajimobi?
He is my brother.
And political friend or political foe?
We have come a long way but I hope you will look for an opportunity to also ask him the same questions. I as a person, I don’t have any problem with him. I’ve always said it and reemphasizing that Governor Ajimobi will support me in my effort to become his successor, no matter the appearances. I don’t have any problem with him. I have supported him since 2007 when he sought to become Governor.