The Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Suleiman, spoke with OLUSOLA FABIYI of Punch Newspaper on national issues, including the plan by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to wrestle power from the grip of the Senator Bukola Saraki-led All Progressives Congress in Kwara State
You left the university community to become a minister. How will you compare the two environments?
They are different. One is the parlance of theory, the parlance of gestation of ideas, while the second one is the parlance of pragmatism, practice and empiricism. In other words, the university environment is where ideas are being germinated, where theories and principles, ideals are being taught, where what guides the society and how to administer it are being taught. In the outside world, especially government, what we have been taught or the ideas you have imbibed are being implemented and practicalised. My leaving the academic environment and coming to government now gives me the opportunity to practicalise those ideals, principles, theories. If you are into government without ideas, you won’t know where to start from. But here I am, coming from the academia with lots of ideas, with lots of theoretical prognosis and lots of experience. It enables me run the ministry given to me and assists me in meeting the challenges in the ministry and government with ease. It makes my work much easier. The two environments work together.
The National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan has just been approved by government. When and how will it be implemented?
The implementation is on. As a matter of fact, the 2015 budget addresses the matter. We just met with the state commissioners of planning few days ago and we agreed on the need to put in place coordinating units concerning this. We want to make sure each of them puts this on the front burner. They should also put in place infrastructural plan. We are meeting again soon at Ibadan to discuss this matter.
Are you thinking of having a legal framework and other measures in place to make sure the plan is not abandoned by successive governments?
This master plan took along with it, every stakeholder in Nigeria: the business community, bureaucrats, civil society, civil service and all. They all made inputs. Again, for security purpose and for it not to be jettisoned, we are thinking of taking it to the National Assembly. But for now, it is a policy document that is implementable. But to avoid any attempt to discard it when another government takes over in 2019 after Mr. President, we may decide to give it legal support by taking it to the National Assembly.
What is the current level of collaboration between Nigeria and donor agencies?
We have been having good discussions with them. National panning is not just a commission that plans policy ideas, our agencies facilitate technical assistance. We had a little gap when this ministry did not have a substantive minister, but as soon as I came in, that gap was closed. Quite a number of the grants are ongoing. The only thing I observed was that some of these projects were not coordinated and there were duplications with what they were doing. Projects were being awarded without monitoring.
Your ministry recently sealed a N3.3bn pact with the European Union for the 2015 elections. Can you explain the type of agreement you had with the commission?
The money is not in cash, it is a facility and it is for the Independent National Electoral Commission. They are not giving us any cash, but technical support for training, vehicles, and all that. We are not getting any cash from the union.
You are from the same ward with the former governor of your state, Senator Bukola Saraki, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress but, you are a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The fact that we are from the same ward is not a problem to me, it is not also a challenge to me, I think it is more of a challenge to the APC because they are in government. Theirs is a situation dating back to some years while mine is a crusade over oppression on the people of the state. My appearances on various fora, my analysis of issues and what I stood for over the years, people know me with them. They know I want a change not only in Kwara State but in the entire country. Bringing me on board all of a sudden sends a signal to them that things might not be easy for the APC government in the state. I’m a prominent person who has been there for years.
What do people know you for?
As a teacher and as a student union president, as a leader of many organisations in the state and the community, as someone who has refused to join the status quo in the state because I don’t believe in that status quo. This is a status quo that is very oppressive, very anti-people and anti-value system in Kwara. For years, I rejected pressure on me to join them. I’m a popular person from this ward and the APC may not get it right from this ward, the local government and the state. It is something I have been waiting for and I have it by the grace of God and my people. It is a challenge to forge ahead, but to them, it is, ‘how do we confront this challenge.’
You are going to vote at the same polling unit with Bukola Saraki in 2015, at the end of the election how would you feel if as a minister you lose your polling unit?
Politics is a process and a means to an end. I don’t see that as an ultimate gain or the end of life. But again, I don’t see the possibility of losing my ward to Saraki. I don’t see it at all. Most people today that are contesting and are in government in the state met me on ground. I’m a man of the people. I’m highly principled. I have made contributions to my society especially through the younger ones. People were hoping that this man would be our governor, senator and minister with what I have done for them. I don’t know the number of students I have admitted and graduated from universities without knowing who their parents were. I don’t know the number of people I have given employment . So, I don’t see myself losing that polling unit. As I said earlier on, the reception and enthusiasm that followed my emergence is a testimony in my ward and my state. After the reception and in order to prove a point about whether I have a grip of my ward or unit, I went beyond just moving in the ward to even entering the enclave of the APC leader and what we experienced that day in terms of the rousing welcome given to us in Agbagi, if election is taking place tomorrow, not only will I win my polling units, the entire polling units for the ward will be for the PDP. The Ilorin people will tell you the reception I got was only seen during the era of the late Senator Olusola Saraki. It was not a rented crowd. It is a genuine love and concern. Elderly people were shedding tears and weeping, listening to my speech. I spoke on things that touched their value system. With the little months I have spent as a minister, coupled with what I did as a lecturer, the people are convinced the end had come for the APC in the state.
Go to the place and see the light I have provided on the street where the APC leader lives. You can only get this from a committed person. I’m not asking for votes, but just a change. This can only come by voting out the government in the state.
Doesn’t the movement by PDP members to the APC mean the PDP had never been beneficial to the people of the state?
The people in the state that made PDP a wrong party for the people of the state are the same people who have now moved to the APC. The fact I’m presenting here is that we have to remove the Saraki institution. The people of the state are saying that institution, whatever it will take us, must leave Kwara. They must be driven away from Kwara. It is that institution that has left the PDP and moved to the APC.
But Bukola has been winning elections in the state…
No, he has not been winning. Bukola as a person has only conducted one election which was 2011. The other ones were backed up by his father.
Are you saying the people voted for his father and not him?
Yes, the father gave him the structure. The only election he did was in 2011.
He defeated his father…
Bukola was the outgoing governor that time. He was the governor in charge and if someone wins election, you don’t look at the victory election from the results from the rural areas, look at it from the urban areas. Whatever votes you have from there is a true picture of what obtains. Bukola as a sitting governor in 2007 won marginally from Kwara Central. The urbanized part of this is Ilorin South, Ilorin East, Ilorin West, especially Ilorin West and South. The other one is Asa Local Government Area, which you cannot even access easily due to bad roads and the topography of the area. From Ilorin where Bukola hails from as a sitting governor who wanted to install a governor and who wanted to be a senator, Bukola lost, his party lost, his candidate lost in his local government as declared by the INEC. In Ilorin West, his party won marginally with less than 2000 votes. In Ilorin East, it was very marginal. The only place they were able to get votes was Asa where the cooking was done.
Are you saying if Saraki returns to the PDP today, people like you will go to the APC?
One, Saraki cannot return to the PDP. That road is closed. The hypothesis should not come up at all. I’m telling you the PDP at the federal level has realised that. The era of admitting people anyhow is gone. If you come to the PDP now, there are some screening exercises you have to undergo.
You mean in Kwara?
Not only in Kwara. Anyone coming to us as a burden will not be taken. Those who will come as a liability will not be accepted. Kwarans have seen PDP as a platform they can use to get freedom. We have told the party at the federal level not to consider such an idea of bringing these people back to the party. So, the possibility of bringing such people back to the party is zero.
You talked about liberating Kwara from the grips of the Sarakis, yet one of them, Gbemi, is angling to become a governor on the platform of your party. Isn’t this a contradiction?
As far as we are concerned, Senator Gbemi Saraki is with us as a lady who has in date with the cause of Kwara. As such, we will be following the cause of retrogression if we turn her back. From what she has demonstrated, from what we know, from what she told us, and from her activities so far, Gbemi Saraki is a born again person. The one that wants to follow the trend is the one we are trying to annihilate.
APC government in Kwara State has not been fair to Kwara people. We are aware of the allocation that goes to Kwara. We are aware of the special intervention fund that goes to Kwara, we are aware of the amount of money in the name of Sure-P that goes to the state and when you look at these and the development on ground, you will know that the state is in trouble. Also, we are aware of the draconian policy embarked upon by the state in the name of urbanisation that takes land from the people, commercialises it and hands it over to outsiders. There are many public owned companies that belonged to the state. Almost 80 per cent of these public-owned companies or firms have been taken over by some cabal in the state and these cabals are members of the APC.
With the crisis in your state, how is your party going to wrestle power from the APC?
Democracy is about competition. Seeing about 13 people coming for governorship position in the party means it is a party to beat; it is not like the APC where one man will sit down and decree someone as the sole candidate for governorship, others for House of Representatives. They say endorsement is part of democracy.
But not by one person. Democracy is about election and when one person makes decision for others, it becomes autocracy, monarchy or dictatorship and if not checked, will lead to tyranny. What we have in PDP in Kwara state is democracy. I’m a product of democracy because President Goodluck Jonathan called the stakeholders together and I was chosen.
If Gbemi wins the governorship primary and goes ahead to win the election, she will become the governor.
So it shall be! If the majority decides she shall be the governor and she goes ahead to win the primary, we are going to support her.
Where then is the cry for liberation from the grips of the Sarakis?
If the people decide that Gbemi Saraki is their choice, that means that they have seen a new thing in her. It could be a gender issue. Or maybe she has been able to prove certain mettle, it is okay. In her, I want to believe she is a newborn person who now identifies with the people. It is not the same Gbemi as a senator or as a member of the House of Representatives. She sits at home with them and sees to their welfare now.
At the end of the day, if APC wins in Kwara, how would you feel?
If they win genuinely in the state, that’s democracy at play. But it will be sad because it will be a bad thing. It will be the beginning of another four years of suffering, anger and hunger for the people. I don’t think the people of the state will give their votes to the APC. If it happens, it will be a tragedy. The people of the state and the PDP are however ready for them. They dare not rig. Look at the array of the people in the PDP now, they are ready now to defend their votes. People are battle-ready. They should not rig the election because Kwarans are ready.