War on corruption: ‘Is Mr. President telling us that APC is a party of saints?’
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member representing Ondo East/Ondo West in the lower legislative chamber, Hon. Joseph Akinlaja spoke to TUNDE THOMAS on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, especially on the latter’s anti-graft war. As a former Deputy President of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Akinlaja also discussed the lingering fuel crisis and the controversy of the N18,000 minimum wage, among other issues
What is your assessment of the ongoing crusade against corruption by the Buhari administration?
It is a welcome development. I, for one, will never support corruption. I detest it and I will never shield anybody found to be involved with the vice. However, from all indications, it appears as if the ongoing war against corruption is one-sided. This is glaring for all to see. Look at those being put on trial or investigated by the EFCC, they are PDP members. Is Mr. President telling us that APC is a party of saints? Nigerians can’t be deceived.
For the ongoing efforts by Buhari to tame corruption; to have meaning or credibility, the whole exercise must be very transparent. It must be devoid of doubts. To many Nigerians, what is going on is persecution of PDP members. The day four or five prominent APC members are put on trial by the EFCC, then Nigerians will stop being cynical.
Again, Buhari should realise that there are other pressing national issues that require his attention. He should not be so obsessed with his crusade against corruption to neglect other areas of our national life that require his attention.
Six months after his assumption of office, how would you assess his administration?
Candidly speaking, to me, nothing has changed. Rather, I would even say that this is not the type of change Nigerians had bargained for. Tell me, where has this APC-led administration been able to provide succour for Nigerians in the last six months?
Rather, it has been excuses. APC has been busy giving one excuse or the other for its shortcomings, and if they are not giving excuses, they will be blaming PDP and Jonathan. The impression APC was giving Nigerians before the party was voted into power was that the party possessed the magic wand to turn the fortunes of Nigerians around, but sadly, things have been going from bad to worse. Today, many Nigerians have to sleep for days at filling stations in order to buy fuel. I believe that, rather than giving excuses every time, APC leaders should admit failure; they should apologise to Nigerians for deceiving them. Nigerians voted for change and not excuses as now being given by APC leaders.
Some people have advised President Buhari to travel less so that he can be in tune with the reality on the ground every time, what is your view?
I absolutely agree that President Buhari needs to cut down on his numerous foreign trips. Why is the foreign affairs minister in the cabinet? I believe that if Buhari has been staying more at home, he would have been able to find solution to some of the problems currently afflicting the country, especially the lingering fuel crisis. Travelling out to 17 countries within six months of his assumption of office is not good. His frequent foreign trip has been having effects on our domestic lives.
On the lingering fuel crisis, what do you think is the way out, and of course, you were once the Secretary-General of NUPENG?
Speaking as a patriotic Nigerian, I believe that President Buhari should do everything possible to break the ranks of the cabal holding the oil sector hostage. Why must Nigeria be importing fuel when it is an oil-producing nation? The answer is very simple, some people are benefitting from the import regime, and that is why they have been frustrating efforts by some previous administrations to construct new refineries or even put the existing ones in good shape.
Buhari should take the bull by the horns by ensuring that new refineries are built, and also the existing ones put in good shape. But it will take him a lot of courage to do this. When you have new refineries and the existing ones are in good shape, petroleum products will be in abundance.
How do you view the face-off between state governors and the leadership of the NLC over threat by the governors to stop paying the N18,000 minimum wage?
It is very unfortunate that some state governors can make such declaration. What is N18,000 that they are now saying that they can’t pay? How much is N18,000? What can N18,000 buy? How can N18,000 sustain a family of five? Governors should not embark on any action capable of triggering industrial unrest. Governors should look for other ways to increase or shore up their internally generated revenues. They should also diversify to other areas where they can get money.
What is your assessment of the INEC under the new leadership?
So far they have not been inspiring; they need to buckle up. Look at the recent elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, both were initially declared inconclusive. This was not the situation under Professor Attahiru Jega’s leadership. There are bigger challenges ahead for INEC. If need be, its officials should be made to undergo training and retraining on issues relating to electoral matters.
Nigeria is confronted with myriads of problems, especially youth unemployment, as a former labour leader, how can these problems be solved?
I believe that there is no problem that is not insurmountable. Where there is a will, there will always be a way. Our leaders need to evolve right policies and programmes taking into consideration the needs of the populace. Our leaders should also realise that no individual has monopoly of knowledge. What this means is that, if PDP leaders and members are giving advice that will help Nigeria to move forward, government should not discard the advice out of parochial sentiments.
As for the rising army of the unemployed youths, I think one important step that government needs to take now is to effect a curriculum change, which will lead to the introduction of entrepreneurial studies in our school at all levels. The moment a child is exposed to courses in entrepreneur right from a tender age through university, he would realise that his university degree is not only meant for white collar jobs; that he has also been trained as an entrepreneur who can be self-employed. Gone are the days when government can provide job for everybody. Times have changed and we must learn how to change with time.
Gubernatorial election is coming up in Ondo State next year, and some are saying that APC may sweep PDP out. Do you agree?
APC sweeping PDP out of Ondo State? Never. Ondo State remains a stronghold of PDP. We have always been defeating APC in Ondo State, and the election coming up next year will not be different. PDP will humiliate APC, not only in Ondo State but in 2019, PDP will bounce back at the federal level. PDP will defeat APC during the next general elections.