Hon Yusuf Shehu is a former member of the Katsina State House of Assembly and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC. In this interview with DAILY POST, he described the recent military coup in the neighbouring Niger Republic as a great lesson to political leaders in Nigeria. He advised leaders in Nigeria to do the right thing by providing quality leadership that would improve the people’s livelihood, stressing that anything short of that could predispose Nigeria to the same fate as Niger. He expressed his thoughts on such other issues like the ongoing presidential election petition tribunal, fuel subsidy removal, and the rising cost of living among others. Excerpts!
The recent coup in the neighbouring Niger Republic took most ECOWAS member states by surprise. What are the implications to Nigeria?
Even though the reasons for the military coup, according to the mastermind, are uncalled for, a closer look will show you that what Nigerians are going through are far more than what was happening in Niger before the coup. But Nigerians are still very patient with their leaders, although Niger is smaller than Nigeria in terms of population; it is just about 20 to 30 million people.
Again, the Francophone countries are different from the Anglophone countries. Most of the countries that were colonised by France are the ones that are now having this problem of coups, probably because of the French policy of Assimilation. They are independent in some areas but they are not fully independent; that is why their soldiers are answerable to French policy and her allies within the African continent.
So, you can see that most of the countries where coups have taken place in Africa recently are French speaking African countries. They have a common agenda and one military school that they attend. They are always cooperating among themselves, and they are tele-guided by France. Niger is lucky to have a president like Basoum. I say this because Katsina, my State, has a common boundary with Niger, and we know what he has done in terms of provision of infrastructure and his efforts to stabilise his country.
But, from the media report, there was a statement that he made which touched on the French policy, and that necessitated the coup against his government. As I earlier said, Nigeria is a bigger country. We have so much insecurity and corruption in Nigeria, there is no electricity, no health care system and so many failures and vices, but the Nigerian Army has been able to maintain its cool and remain in the barracks and allowed democracy to thrive. Democracy should be allowed to thrive. People should be allowed to elect credible leaders so that there will be development and prosperity for the people.
Do you think that there is any lesson for the Nigerian leaders to learn from the Niger experience?
Of course there is. There is a Hausa proverb which says that if your neighbour’s beard catches fire, you should run to get water to rub on your own. Niger is our neighbour, so if this coup could happen there, it is time for our leaders to change and do the right thing to avoid what happened in Niger from happening to us here in Nigeria. It is a big lesson for us here in Nigeria and we should take it seriously.
What do you have to say regarding the recent announcement by the Federal Government that Nigerian vehicle owners would be required to pay N1000 as vehicle proof of ownership renewal every year?
I think some of the government’s tax policies are too much on Nigerians, but anybody who has travelled to other countries in Africa, Asia, America or Europe, will agree with me that tax is paramount to the development of any country.
However, I am not in support of adding to the hardship that Nigerians are already experiencing. But I want Nigerians to understand that contributing our own part, like paying dues and taxes, is the only way we can help to develop Nigeria. I support whatever measure that will make Nigerians to be patriotic in paying their dues but at the same time, I am also in support of Nigerians that more hardship should not be imposed on them.
Nigerian leaders are fond of comparing Nigeria with countries where social amenities are provided for the citizens when they want to talk about tax. Recently, they have been talking about patriotism and making references to other nations where public taxes are deployed for the benefit of all. What is your take on that?
Truly, the leaders in Europe, America, Asia and even some African countries, deploy the public fund realised from taxes to provide amenities like good health system, education, transportation, water, roads, and security among others, unlike in Nigeria, where such amenities are lacking, and even where they are available, they are beyond the reach of the masses.
So here, Nigerians contribute without result, but that is because of the ‘Nigerian factor.’ Some of our leaders and their cronies corner what we collectively generate as revenue, and that is why you are not seeing results. But, we hope and pray that one day, we must come to the end of all this nonsense. One day, Nigerians will challenge their leaders through the electoral process or other means so that what we contribute will be accounted for. Those other countries that are enjoying social amenities as we have noted earlier, equally underwent these processes of hardship before they got to where they are now. That is where we are going now. We are heading towards that through patience and endurance, as well as checkmating the leaders that are cornering the money.
Nigerians are going through agony and pain as a result of fuel subsidy removal, what is your take on that?
The subsidy removal is necessary and very compulsory at the moment because the monster has been depriving Nigerians of good governance for the past 20 to 30 years, because the benefits of the subsidy have not been enjoyed by Nigerians. The subsidy in the first instance was introduced for the masses to benefit from it but the reverse has been the case; only few individuals have been benefiting from it.
So, somehow, the subsidy was meant to end, the only thing is that Tinubu’s government is the only one that has mustered the courage to confront it headlong. Therefore, Nigerians should be patient and I hope they will do that and understand that this present government has no alternative than to remove the fuel subsidy. Nigeria is in debt, so many infrastructures are dilapidated and the government has come with a mission to move Nigeria forward. So, without removing the fuel subsidy, there is no way to generate money to carry out the progressive works that the Tinubu’s administration has marshalled out for Nigerians.
Some people believe that the fuel subsidy removal was ill-timed, do you agree with that?
No, we cannot clearly say that it was ill-timed because waiting for the right time as some people think, would be another way of wasting time too. This is because when one is sick, doctors will take immediate action to proffer solutions; if they wait for the patient to get money or for other reasons, it may lead to loss of life. So, the right time is now. The subsidy has been removed once and for all, and we are going through hardship now, but in future, we shall all enjoy it.
For Tinubu, who has been in active politics for over 30 years, to take such a difficult decision a few hours after his swearing in, meant that he had a good reason. Maybe in the course of the relationship between former President Muhammadu Buhari’s transition committee and his own transition committee, he has encountered these monsters in the subsidy regime, and he understood that the only way for his government to start on a sound footing is to remove the fuel subsidy.
Some people blame the president for removing the fuel subsidy without putting in place measures to cushion its effects. This has brought untold hardship upon the people, a development that is almost pitching the labour unions against the government. What are your views on this?
I agree that he should have considered the palliative measures before announcing the removal but you should also note that before he became the president, he was considered as an outsider to the government. His role was just to give advice, which the then president was at liberty to accept or reject. It is also correct that he knew about all the issues surrounding the subsidy regime in Nigeria before he became president, but like I said, he was an outsider. But, with the prompt removal as soon as he was sworn in, he has only shown that he has been monitoring the development.
However, we cannot say that he did not advise the Buhari administration, that of Goodluck Jonathan or even Obasanjo, but he was an outsider. They all knew the level of rot in the fuel subsidy regime but they all lacked the gut to do what Tinubu has done. This is because there were untouchable elements in their governments that were benefiting from the subsidy fraud. But, Tinubu did not agree that anybody was untouchable and that was why he mustered the courage to do what he did.
So, like I said earlier, patience is the only solution at the moment. Nigerians should be patient. We are not happy that we are suffering from the inception of the Tinubu presidency; that was not what we voted for or what we anticipated, but the situation at hand has necessitated that we should bear the hardship for now. I am sure it is not going to be permanent; very soon there is going to be a solution. The economic team and the policy makers in this government are working day and night to proffer solutions to this hardship that Nigerians are currently going through. It is either in the form of palliatives, salary increase or other ways; there are several ways that they are now looking at to ensure that the suffering of the masses are alleviated.
Some people would disagree with you on this point that the president was courageous to have removed the subsidy. They argued that if he was courageous, he should have gone after the fuel subsidy thieves since they are known to the government instead of inflicting so much pain and hardship on Nigerians by the subsidy removal. What do you think?
Yes, I believe that President Tinubu knew about the fuel subsidy cabals but it is not advisable to start arresting people at the inception of his government. I hope he will act decisively against those fraudsters who are responsible for this suffering that Nigerians are currently going through. I agree that those people should be arrested because the government has their data. President Tinubu also has all the forces of coercion at his disposal; so maybe after he has established his government since he just submitted the mistrial nominees list to the national assembly, he will discuss the matter at the federal executive council meeting and see how he can bring these people to book.
The government has been consistently asking the citizens to make sacrifices, while those in leadership keep living large. For instance, recently the government planned to give N8000 palliative to 12 million households, while a whopping N70 billion was earmarked for only 469 members of the National Assembly and about N35 billion for the judiciary. Don’t you think those in leadership positions should also cut down on their expenses to complement the people’s sacrifices?
Of course, that is the right thing to do. The government officials should cut down on their expenses. Even former Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State has handed down the same advice to the government and its officials. I want the leaders to listen to the advice. The executive, the legislature (National Assembly), and even the judiciary should cut down their expenses because the gap between and the masses is too wide. They are enjoying a lot of benefits while the masses are suffering and dying of hunger and starvation. I call on the leaders to cut down on their expenses so that they could feel what the masses are going through.
Recently, the president was quoted to have said that if the tribunal nullifies his election because of his failure to secure 25 percent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, that there would be chaos and anarchy in the country, do you agree with him?
Obviously, I can’t agree with him on that because for a man of his calibre, who has been in politics and believes so much in the rule of law, justice and democracy, such a statement shouldn’t arise. He should allow the judges to act on the facts before them. I don’t buy that idea; I believe that the judiciary should be allowed to be independent to decide on the election tribunal.
There are also claims that judges of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal are being threatened to deliver judgement in favour of the ruling APC; what do you think about that?
That is politics. It is mere rumour; that is the normal story from the opposition in Nigeria. The government in power will always be accused of threatening the judiciary to get favour from the election petition tribunals, but we have seen so many cases where things have turned out to be different from the allegation. There are governors from the ruling party whose elections were upturned by the judiciary. So, I don’t believe that the ruling party is threatening the judiciary to deliver judgement in its favour. I still have confidence in the judiciary and I know that they will deliver justice in the presidential election tribunal.
What advice do you have for the judges that are handling election petitions across the country?
I always say that justice is truth, transparency, honesty and giving right to who deserves it. So, I advise the judges handling all cases, not only the election petition cases, to be above board and do the right thing. They should listen to the doctrine of their vocation. I believe in the Nigerian judicial system and as I said earlier, justice is doing the right thing.
As a judge, there is another judge that is ready to judge you in the hereafter. Therefore, they have a great responsibility to do what is right without fear or favour, so that democracy can thrive in Nigeria. The Nigerian judges have done their best. We have commended them in so many instances, where they overturned elections in favour of the opposition and against the ruling party. They should continue on the same path now by looking at all the evidence before them as they pass their judgement. They should be able to make a decision that will be accepted by the majority of Nigerians and people of other countries who are watching us. That is my advice for them.
Looking at the ministerial list that the President just submitted to the National Assembly, which included some former governors believed to have performed poorly in their states, what is your impression about the nominees?
I saw the list and it included about three or four former governors. To be fair, two of the former governors are progressives, and they did well in their states; I can bear witness to that. For example, the former governor of Kaduna, Nasir El’Rufai has done very well. Anybody conversant with Kaduna before he became governor, knows that Kaduna is wearing a new look now. There are so many gigantic projects executed by his administration. He has sanitised a lot of ministries, including that of education. So, to be fair, former governors like El’Rufai and even Badaru of Jigawa State are good. I don’t know about the former governor of Rivers State, Nyesome Wike, but from what people say, he is also a progressive governor, despite his shortcomings in some areas.
Reports in the media are that a particular nominee, Sani Abubakar Danladi, is alleged to have been barred in 2019 for 10 years by the Supreme Court from holding any public office over certificate forgery. This is four years after the ban, and the President has found him worthy to make the ministerial nominees list. What do you have to say about that?
If that is true, then the government should revisit the list. I don’t know about the person and I have not heard about it but if it is true, he should be removed immediately, and replaced with another person. We don’t want such people that were barred from holding political office by a competent court in the land in this new government. I don’t support that. I support those calling for the removal of such names and I want the government to act immediately.
Why do you think that successive governments, including the current APC government, have refused to put the refineries in good working condition?
We are all Nigerians and we know that the reason is the ‘Nigerians’ factor.’ Those that are benefiting from the subsidy fraud are untouchable, including their boys. If only two refineries out of the four can work for two years without disruption, the problem of fuel will be history in Nigeria, but they will not allow that because they are enjoying the fuel subsidy; that is why they don’t want our refineries to work. So, because of the Nigerian factor, there are untouchables who sabotage the government’s efforts; and that is why we are still in one place.