In this interview with the National Publicity Secretary of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, (PFN), Bishop Emmah Isong, he stated that President Muhammadu Buhari should not just look at 2019 as a time to contest election, but should fulfil the promises he made to Nigerians in 2015, by putting food on their table so they could be happy.
Isong, who doubles as the President and General Overseer of Christian Central Chapel International, CCCI, Calabar, said it was high time Buhari adopts the late Nelson Mandela’s option and quit the scene as advised by ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo ahead of 2019.
Obasanjo’s letter to President Buhari is generating a lot of reactions. What is your own take?
You know that Obasanjo is the former president of the country and he is speaking as a citizen of Nigeria as well as one of the key players of Buhari’s emergence in 2015. You remember that it was the tearing of his PDP membership card openly that somewhat swung the votes to Buhari within the south-south and south- west. Politically speaking, I do not think anybody should wave his (Obasanjo) reaction aside. However, every Nigerian has the right of speech and that is what he did. Whether the letter will affect Buhari’s chances in 2019 is a matter for discussions. His ancient reaction, of course, after a long silence brings fear.
But no matter how much you hate Obasanjo, you must not overlook the fact that he is very articulate. If it were the enemy of Buhari speaking, I would have at this point in time waved it aside and possibly defended Mr. President. But remember Obasanjo stood for Buhari, staked his life and membership of the PDP and voted for him. Mr. President should not take this letter lightly. Jonathan did not come out of that letter because he ignored that letter but the presidency can come out of it because the issues raised can be tackled if the administration is really rooting for change they promised Nigerians. Is it the Fulani herdsmen, he can handle it; is it the economy that is nose-diving, you can change it within six months; even the negative public image within the international community, three months is too much for Mr. President to change that without applying propaganda. He should rather see these criticisms as windows of opportunity for changes that can come to the APC-led administration.
It was written a year ahead of 2019. The letter is like a person seeing the result of an examination before it comes. Firstly, if I were Mr. President I would call for a meeting of the council of former Heads of State, meet with them and deliberate on that letter. It’s just that in Nigeria, we do not want to repent; we want to pursue political enemies. We want to attack those who criticize us. We want to possibly imprison those who have made comments. Do recall that Obasanjo wrote letters to Abacha and it came to pass; to Jonathan it came to pass. People say he wrote to himself under Atiku.
The letter has proven that the APC change mantra has collapsed. This is my tenth time of saying it in the media. The APC was not ready for the change they promised. They did not know they will win the election. It was huge surprise to them they won the election. Nigerians were generous to them because we believed in the change they promised. But with electioneering around, ahead of 2019, they must put their house in order because even within the APC, people are tired.
Even a blind man can see that things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold. They should stop pursuing shadows because for two years, they were pursuing Dasuki for $2.8billion, we have not seen all the money; they are pursuing Metuh and the tenure is over. Those cases have not come to an end. What Nigerians are saying is make even a positive impact. Even if he cannot change for him to become the next president for the second term, he can make the desired change, so he can arrive safely in 2019 and possibly after he might have achieved, he tells Nigerians that he is not contesting. ‘I’m not contesting because I was a failure. I’m not contesting because I want to hand over the baton to a junior person who will become a hero while I am alive’. How many years does the president have to live? So you he does not need to work to go for a second term; he can even work to prove posterity and critics wrong.
Are you saying that Buhari should not run for a second term?
The race for his second term started in 2015. I’ve always said that the Nigerian election seasons are too frequent and quick. This 2019 kicked off immediately they swore in the president and governors in 2015. Campaigns started then through appointment, through body language and that is why the system is heating up. In fact, some crisis we cannot fully discern is because of the body language of many politicians for 2019, which started from 2015. I believe that many of these campaigns should have started when INEC released the timetable like they have. But this thing started too early and we had no idea.
The President has the right to contest for 2019 but is he willing to throw in his years of integrity and personality on the altar of failure and disgrace in 2019; to stand a risk that Nigerians do not accept him? Is he willing to play that ball? Nelson Mandela said ‘I am going for one term, no matter what the people did’ and at his death, he is a hero. I feel the President should not just look at 2019 as a time to contest elections, he should satisfy Nigerians first. Make us happy, put food on our table before you go again. Change your cabinet because many people in that cabinet are noise makers. Buhari should open the door of Aso Rock and tell people to come inside and ‘let’s talk,’ but now, those doors are locked. I doubt if he has an idea of the level of anger and frustration in Nigerians. If he knows, he should not even mention 2019 now; I think he will just want to correct things before leaving office even if he is not going for 2019. I’m telling you, he’s a human being, he’s a good man.
Do you think that the call for a coalition is feasible considering Nigeria’s political structure?
Yes, the call for coalition is apt. Nobody has won election against the ruling government in this country without a coalition. Obasanjo knows what he is saying. APC is a coalition of the defunct CPC, ACN, AD, ANPP, and APGA. They came together and dealt with the PDP. So Baba is saying, like they did to Israel, let them do to the gentiles. He knows the game and the people criticising Obsanjo know that it is the only game that can remove the ruling party and that is very dangerous. I hope you know that this APC is not one, just as PDP is not one.
The APC led committee on restructuring has submitted its recommendations and they have recommended state police and devolution of power among others. Can it work?
The El-Rufai led APC report is belated. If Obasanjo did not write letter to Buhari they would not have submitted their report. I see it as a smokescreen. Let them go back and execute the recommendations of the 2014 national conference report. How do we spend such amount of money, raise such number of intelligent Nigerians over such a period of time to work on such important document which we all endorsed and now you put it under the carpet. People are angry and hungry. The buck stops at the desk of Mr. President. He should wake up. I am very sure that if President Buhari corrects the anomalies of the last few years, he can get back the votes of Nigerians. I’m very sure but if he does not correct it, other letters like the OBJ letters are coming.
Recently, Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, NBS, told us that the economy grew by 0.3 per cent. Are they being realistic?
You know why I like politicians; they can use figures to bamboozle people. I am an economist by profession and I will not go into the semantics of statistics because Nigerians do not have enough instruments to gather statistics. In some countries, before you make such statements, there are parameters, yardsticks and indicators in the market system that will give you feedback; it is feasible and can be substantiated. It is not something you talk about politically. But my answer is if the Nigerian economy is improving by whatever percentage, it should show in my family and life. If the economy has improved by two perecent, it should translate into our lives. We should see it in the life of the common man. I think people should not sit in Abuja and draw statistics on how the economy has improved because there are indicators of improved economy – production, exchange rate improvement and all these affect the economy.
The fuel crisis has persisted. As an economist, how do we overcome the challenge?
I will give you three simple mathematics of fuel crisis. Firstly, using government subsidy on private marketers should be revisited. In fact, it has been revisited but secretly. The secret of availability is in subsidy but provided in a technical way that there will not be corruption for people to go and enjoy Nigerian money. Number two is private refineries. We must encourage, promote and sponsor private refineries. You can turn all the bunkering units to cottage units for production that can pay tax to government without breaking pipes and puncturing holes. The technology is there. The petroleum industry should be competitive, less of government monopoly and more of individual marketers at play. The third one is, of course monitoring units. They are not doing well. I’ve seen them on television, just going to one filling station to open and put stick that is not enough because people are ready to hoard. You know the law of supply. People are ready to hoard the product and the product is subject to the law of demand and supply.