A former Governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki, is a stalwart of All Progressives Congress, APC, and member of the Nigerian Senate, representing Kwara Central Senatorial District.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete and Adebayo Hassan, he says President Goodluck Jonathan stands no chance of winning the forthcoming election. Mr. Saraki says the president’s inability to deal with insecurity, bad economy, and corruption, has improved the popularity of Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
PT: There is still the issue that Tony Blair did not meet Muhammadu Buhari in London. How do you convince Nigerians that your candidate is not in hospital in the United Kingdom?
Saraki: That’s not true at all. He had the meeting on Saturday. He has the speech he (gave) at Chatham House on Thursday and I think he is also meeting APC in diaspora and a few other schedule. He will return to start campaign again on Monday.
PT: Still, why is Mr. Buhari away at this time?
Saraki: Because of the postponement. Even before February 14, he was meant to travel out to the United States. You know, there was a time he was supposed to address CSIS. So, since the election was postponed, we told the campaign council to redesign a new time table. So, there is a break. You can see it all over (Nigeria). It’s not just APC that’s using this period to take a break and do other things.
PT: Meanwhile, President Jonathan has been going around Nigeria, campaigning.
Saraki: I’ll go back to Jonathan. Let me finish with ours. So General Buhari just used the opportunity to travel out of the country because before now, the international community had been saying, “We have not met your candidate; we haven’t engaged him” et cetera. And we said, why don’t we do a visit to the UK for few days to engage the international community and come back to continue campaign.
Yes, I am aware that the president has been moving around. He was in the South-West for a whole week meeting with royal fathers and other persons. And it coincided with the time we were hearing PDP wanted to be buying PVCs. They want to bring money into the game. I think PDP are missing the point. They really don’t understand that Nigeria is not the country that it was a few years back. Now, Nigerians are just determined they want a new country and want to go a new direction. We saw it in our primaries. If it was money, Buhari would not have won. With that experience, we have seen Nigerians are now totally different. They will bring the money, spend all the money but that perception that everybody can be bought is wrong. And by March 28, PDP will see, sadly for them but good for the country, Nigerians have opted for change. So when you say they are moving around, it’s more or less like money is moving around.
PT: Ayo Fayose, Governor of Ekiti State, has continued to say your candidate is sick.
Saraki: (Laughter) You see, Fayose does not deserve a response from me. Please, I don’t want to…
PT: Do you think anything is wrong with him?
Saraki: (Laughs) I say I don’t want to comment on him and you are still asking if I think something is wrong with him. Even his party has dissociated themselves from him a couple of times. We should not be wasting too much time on somebody…
PT: The Director General of the APC presidential campaign, Rotimi Amaechi, has dismissed Mr. Fayose, saying he has no credibility.
Saraki: I am not talking about Ayo’s (Fayose) credibility. My point and worry is he is talking about a meeting I attended. He is saying the meeting with Tony Blair never held. I know that at 10 o’clock in the morning I left my house for the General’s rented apartment, and with Ibikunle Amosun, we went to Tony Blair’s place for a meeting that lasted for an hour. And after that, the General said he wanted to surprise Awujale, and then we left for his house. So this is not hearsay, it’s what I was part of. So, if somebody keeps saying otherwise, why will I continue to respond to him?
PT: In the last interview PREMIUM TIMES had with you, you gave details of how APC would win the forthcoming elections and said the PDP had no solution. Do you still stand by that?
Saraki: Yes. See I said it long ago that PDP was no more what it used to be and in position to win election. But now I believe more people will agree with what I had said and I stand clearly by that. Had elections held on February 14, we would have won the elections; they know that, Nigerians know that and they too know that. All they have done is just postponing the D-Day. There is no magic that they will do to win the election because the fundamental issue there is that Jonathan Government and PDP understand that Nigerians are tired of this Government. Whatever they do they will still lose election. And you could see that when we were going for campaign, the acceptability of our candidate and party is massive and not restricted to just one part of the country but with national spread.
PT: Your candidate seems not to be accepted in the South-South and South-East.
Saraki: No, that’s not true. When you say may not be as popular… but there is still that acceptability. What I am saying is that unlike in 2011 where you could say he was a sectional candidate, now he has gained acceptability in all parts of the country. And the part is strong nationally with his presence everywhere.
And when you talk to people, there are three issues, namely: insecurity, youth unemployment and corruption. Whether Muslim, Christian, Southerner or Northerner, ask who do you think can secure Nigeria, the answer is clear – Buhari! And corruption, people have understood it means stealing money that should be available for health, human development, infrastructures etc. In that respect, put Buhari and Jonathan side by side, the answer is Buhari again. This government cannot solve the problem of unemployment since it can’t guarantee stability and flow of money to development owing to corruption. So nothing has changed. So I am even more confident now.
PT: Let’s be realistic, Mr. Jonathan has commissioned a few power plants and the military has been doing well recently. Don’t you think that may change the game?
Saraki: And I think that again, with all sincerity, a president that decides when it is convenient to provide security for his people honestly is not the type we need in this country. You have got to ask yourselves why what we are seeing now was not done years back. I commend the military for the good job they are doing now. Are you telling me all those lives that were lost could not have been saved? What kind of leader will allow that? Is it because there is an election around the corner? That’s a big question he has to answer.
You talked about power plants. But it is deception. There is no gas. It is not working. It won’t improve the electricity because there is no gas. What we should hear tomorrow is that power generation has gone up if the commissioning is not deception. However, nothing will happen. I challenge them. It is all deception. No power is being generated.
PT: Why are you so confident APC will win the presidential election?
Saraki: We have gone round the country. Nigerians are tired of PDP and Jonathan. We are confident because of the massive support for Buhari and the party. It’s now like a movement. Although we don’t have the resources to contend with the PDP, yet people are telling us they don’t even need our money. You look at the people’s keenest desire and passion to vote, it has never happened before. People are determined to ensure Jonathan does not come back. People will come out on Election Day to vote out Jonathan and I have seen the trend.
If you look at the three key issues – insecurity, economy and corruption – the best person campaigning for Buhari is Jonathan because while he has failed badly in these issues, the alternative on the other side of the spectrum is Buhari. If it is corruption, who can fight corruption? If it is insecurity, who can tackle it? Nigerians are saying Buhari!
PT: In the light of the Ekiti rigging audio, do you believe the elections cannot be manipulated?
Saraki: Well, when I say we are confident, it is in free and fair election. Jonathan has said he is committed to free and fair election. So, I want to believe him. For instance, in my personal view, they were not ready to conduct elections, if you look at the trend leading to February 14. But now, with the pressure locally and internationally, they have to conduct election. But look at their opposition to PVCs and Card readers; these are signs of people who are not confident and don’t want credible election. So, my confidence is based on the condition of free and fair election.
We have seen the record from Ekiti. We have seen what the military can do if they are not allowed to be independent. We are opposing the use of the military for elections as a court of law has already ruled it illegal. Nigerians should not be intimidated. Let them freely exercise their rights. Let’s follow what the constitution says. By and large, we have been having peaceful elections, so why do we have to use the military election.
PT: What is your view of the Ekiti rigging scandal and what do you think should be done?
Saraki: There should be a serious investigation. And the institution involved, the military, should not just dismiss it. It has to investigate because of institutional credibility. President Jonathan should not have dismissed it as fabrication. There should be investigation because of the public institutions involved.
PT: What will you say about the country’s economy?
Saraki: We have to tighten our belt. Hard times are ahead. There is no point pretending there is no problem. This government of President Jonathan lost a golden opportunity to prevent this problem before oil price slide in the international market. It did not prepare. There is economic downturn now owing to oil price slump but if you look at other countries that prepared, the story is not the same.
PT: Is Nigeria broke?
Saraki: The country is broke. If you are having problem and are unable to meet your fiscal commitment and obligations as and when due, you are broke. Even the FAAC meeting has failed to hold twice because the Government could not see sufficient money in the account. So it’s just waiting for when the revenue would go up a bit.
We are in this situation because we did not do the right thing when oil price had not declined. Other countries in Asia also face this problem but they are not feeling the effects like we do because they prepared. They were not wasteful. But unfortunately we didn’t prepare.
Mismanagement, corruption, wastage and leakages that characterise oil subsidy management brought us here. Oil subsidy amounting to $8 billion annually accounts for about 80 per cent draw down from the ECA. But with proper management and without corruption we could have been spending 20 per cent of that. This is money that could have been saved to cushion the effects of the oil price slump now. If you had done that, you could still have maintained your currency whose value is now depleted and everybody is feeling it. You recall I warned against the leakages in 2011. I said with the way we were going, there would be problem.
We are spending about $4 billion on kerosene subsidy when Nigerians are buying the product cheaply. You are just throwing the money to some persons.
The Minister of Finance says pressure by States to share ECA depleted it. No. Subsidy payment accounts for 80 per cent of the draw down from the ECA. It was not because states were demanding their share every time. If it is true that it is the states that caused the depletion, and not Federal Government and its waste, they (FG) should not have spent their share.
By now, that problem arises, they could have shown example by telling Nigerians to see their own part saved in an account; that it’s only states that needed the money, hence the pressure to share the money every time as said by the Minister of Finance. So please let’s change that impression.
PT: You were campaigning against…
Saraki: Oh clean cook stove. The issue about it is clean energy. It is not just about clean stove that you ensure clean energy. In an economy where to get a project of N60 million into the budget is difficult, all of a sudden, from nowhere you just awarded a contract of about N6 billion, without bidding or any due process. And the money is taken from Ecological Fund that is meant for such disasters as flood, erosion et cetera. So for me, it’s not a best a way of managing our resources. Yes clean energy is good idea but not the way it’s being done.
The Senate Committee on Ecology has expressed objection to it and told them to come and explain how they want to go about it. And we will definitely keep our eyes on it. If I see anything good, definitely I will support it. But there are better ways of managing 6 billion on clean energy; capacity building, training women, ensuring due process . . .
PT: You have severally accused Mr. Jonathan of poor performance. In 2011, you were one of the key players that brought Mr. Jonathan to government, did you not envision the situation you are now lamenting or it was about personal interest?
Saraki: Well, you know then, I also offered myself to serve as the president of the country. We went through a process and eventually I and others opted for him among those that were finally in the race.
Well, we did not envision this situation. Even the fact that he is from a minority group was enough reason to support him then. We felt it would be fair and strengthen our unity, you know, supporting him. But we never thought he would not perform. See how he even mismanaged the party. There’s no leadership at all.
PT: So do you owe Nigerians apology?
Saraki: (Laughs) Seeing visions is not one of my skills. I couldn’t have seen the future.