Former Chairman of Police Equipment Fund, Chief Kenny Martins, believes that it is wrong for the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to continue to blame its inability to fix the economy on the failure of the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government. He also speaks in this interview on the governance at the various tiers of government, security challenges and the clamour for state police as well as the 2019 general elections, among other issues. ADEWALE AJAYI reports
What is your assessment of the state of the nation?
It will be difficult to say things are going on well. Definitely, things are not going on well and this is reflective in many directions, platforms and context, but the most crucial issue in a democracy is the economy,; that is the democratic dividend. Everybody goes to the poll to vote because they believe they have some payback coming their way, and what is the payback they expect. Their payback expectation is to have their standard of life sustained or elevated; for their security to be guaranteed; to have job opportunities and to have peace and stability. Once these human expectations are taken care of, the people usually appreciate any government in place. But a case where they vote in a government and there are deficiencies is why the people always clamour for a change of government.
So, it is easy to score this government in power if it has done well or not. In the area of provision of infrastructure, are we faring well? Whether at the state, local government or federal level, we always try to assume that everything that goes wrong or right with us as a nation is about the federal government, but some of these issues stem from the local government to the state before the federal level. If I were to score the government in power at the national level, it will score below average, and that is not too good.
The government in power has persistently said that the mess in the economy was not its making, blaming it on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government. How would you react to that?
The APC-led Federal Government cannot blame its non performance and their inability to improve the economy on the PDP because if the PDP government then had performed, Nigerians wouldn’t have voted for APC. So, they should be happy over the non performance of the immediate past government because that made it possible for Nigerians to buy in into the APC Change mantra and voted the party into power. Now that they are in power, how well are they grappling with the problems? Putting into consideration, the problem of global recession, dropping of prices of oil that the government in power is experiencing, there is no doubt that, some of the actions of the past government will still reverberate in terms of negative considerations, but over two years in government is a long time to find their feet and move away from those setback and move away from the liabilities of the past government.
I think the government has not done well enough in the area of internal security. In the area of provision of jobs, nothing concrete has been done and to make it worse, you hear of state governments laying off their workers, giving the excuse that they don’t have money to pay their salaries as they had when they were recruiting the workers. In the private sector, there is high rate of retrenchment, especially in the banking industry, which is as a result of introduction of the Single Treasury Account, which could have been a good anti corruption move. Lack of regular supply of electricity has grounded activities of industries in this country. It is disgracing that after almost two decades of civil rule, we have not been able to increase power generation and distribution in any major marginal way beyond what the military left.
It is sad for a government that promises so much to now blame the last administration for its short coming. And those in charge of the power sector precisely, who were the major critics of the past government’s capabilities and incapacity not to be able to meet expectations of Nigeria. That I don’t think has to do with recession. If the government provides power, the industries will rev up, and if the industries are kick-started and attained the level it ought to be, the issue of unemployment would be taken care of. They claim they provide jobs, but I do ask: In what area of the economy are the jobs opportunity provided? I want to know the people they gave the job opportunities to.
In terms of provision of infrastructure, not much has been done, the Lagos-Ibadan road was being done at enviable rate when the last government was in power, until when that government was voted out of power, and the road construction was halted. I am quite sure there was quasi private sector involvement then. Suddenly, it was stopped and put totally under government budgeting process. You can still see that till today, construction work is going on the road, but much success would have been recorded if they had kept to the initial arrangement.
There is the issue of herdsmen killing people with none of them been brought to book; there is also Boko Haram, which the government said it has technically defeated even when they are still wrecking havoc; rising cases of kidnapping and the agitation Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Don’t you see the need to address the security challenges the country is facing?
Yes, there is the need to address the security challenges. The issue of kidnapping is worrisome and I believe there is the need for collaboration among the various security agencies. More so, the states should collaborate with them in tackling this security challenges because the Federal Government cannot tackle the problem alone. If the Federal Government gives a directive that the state should parley with the security agencies, it would help. You will discover that most of these security challenges are even beyond the police. So, the Federal Government should provide the necessary support, and in dealing with these challenges, party sentiments should be put aside.
Take for example, Ekiti State government first passed the anti grazing bill into law and other states followed suit. Why did it take other states so long to act? The governors need to be proactive. Sometimes, we have the assumption that only the Federal Government should get certain things done, but no. We need to take the state governors also to task on some of the challenges facing us as a nation. There is a need jobs creation, tackling of security challenges and provision of infrastructural facilities. You know that when people want to invest in the country, their first port of call is the state, but some of the state governors demand for impossible conditions from the investors. It is the business of state governors and local government to give investors a receptive welcome, but that is usually not the case. The states need to take the bull by the horn, even the issue of power supply. I see no reason why a state government can’t tackle issue of power generation as there is no law that forbids the state from building a power station. Instead, some governors are selling off power plants build by their predecessors. The placement of responsibilities should not rest on the shoulder of the Federal Government, local government chairmen and state governors have a major role to play in ensuring security and stability in the system to attract investors.
Does that not lay credence to the call for state police?
I agree there is the need for state police, it is a necessity and there is no way we can continue to shy away from it. At the federal level, they keep talking about community policing, but until it devolves to the local government level, there can never be an effective community policing. The last time the Badoo group struck in Lagos State, the deputy commissioner of police then, now the commissioner of police visited the affected areas and called all the traditional rulers to a meeting, threatening to hold any king with report of Badoo incident in his domain responsible. Since then, cases of Badoo group killing have gone down. Traditional rulers are the first and the nearest point to feel the pulse of the people, there is no person that comes to the community that they don’t have information about. So, I support state police, we need it, but all these can be done without the coordination at the centre, to use the Nigeria term.
How would you assess the government’s anti-corruption fight and the inter-agency conflict it has triggered?
There are two areas I may be unpopular. One, when this government came on board, we advised on amnesty on corruption. Let’s say you have a record of three people (A, B, C) being corrupt, and you have the figure of the amount they have embezzled, you can tell them to return 50 per cent of the amount stolen, and 25 percent to be invested by the culprit under state supervision, and keep the rest, and the person should be given a time frame to get it done, and if the person fails to do as directed, government will unleash the instrument of state on the person. I am happy that, that is the pronouncement of current president of Zimbabwe 24 hours after taking over. Why I supporting this approach is because it is what the Asian countries used, when they became sane to develop their system just as we are trying to be sane now.
If we don’t follow that path, then you need to go and look for a system, whereby you will arrest them, shame them, maim them, take them to court, until when they sign voluntarily or you win the case. Mind you, we are still fighting for the money stolen by General Sanni Abacha, many years after. Our money won’t be available when we need them most, they will be left in those countries for 20 to 30 years. Those countries would have invested the money, what they now pay us is the interest on the money, and that is where we found ourselves. Have we won any case since this government came on board? But, if the approach I suggested was applied, the government would have recovered a lot of money.
I do not believe that the anti-corruption agencies are going after only Buhari’s enemies. Let them fight any form of corruption, either his enemies or people close to him, at the end of his tenure he will leave office, whoever succeeds him will fight the other side. There is no time limit to fighting corruption.
Don’t you think that the approach you suggested will encourage corruption?
No, it will not. You have to draw a line, so that whoever steals after the amnesty for corrupt people would be jailed or killed like they do in China. For those who have stolen before then, that is what I think we should have done.
What about inter-agency conflict?
I think that is a dark side of this government. It portrays the President as not being in charge because there are things that are happening now that have never happened before. There is the need for government to call all these actors to order. We don’t need these distractions. We saw APC members fighting themselves and that was the beginning of the disconnect between the National Assembly and the Presidency and it has not healed up till now and business of governance get bogged down and the masses are at the receiving end. Mr, President needs to be advised to call for a harmony retreat, where all the three arms of government will agree to work and fight corruption and uphold government policies.
Giving of bailout to states to pay salaries of workers was not the practice before, but since the Buhari administration came on board, it has been giving bailouts to governors to pay their workers. Does the President has the power to direct the governors on how to spend the funds?
There is the need to know what the bailout is all about; is it money due to the states, or federal government’s money, and out of largesse it decided to assist the states. If it is Federal Government’s fund, then the President has a right to advice them how to spend it because he is giving it to them on such purpose. I am aware of many times, when the president with a condition of a particular road that is critical will give a state government, money to rehabilitate it. You can’t take the President money meant to rehabilitate a road and apply it somewhere else. If the governors were given the money to pay salaries, they can’t apply it somewhere else. I am sure in using the money accountability must have been ensured.
But some of these governors have been collecting the bailout funds and they refused to pay salaries. In some states, what workers earn at the end of the month is half of their respective salary…
It is totally wrong for governors not to pay salaries to their workers. The excuse given by some of the governors is hinged on paucity of funds and that they have more workforce than what the funds available can take care of, but that excuse is not tenable when funds are provided to pay the workers.
We talk about some states finding it difficult to pay workers, but the Federal Government has set up a committee on a new minimum wage. How feasible is that?
It is a very contradictory position. Out of the 36 states of the federation, how many of them are able to meet up with the salary obligation of their workers? When you now increase wages, how will they be able to pay? I don’t know if setting up of the committee on review of wages is just a gimmick or real. Let us wait for the committee to come up with its recommendation though I will say that the feasibility based on reality now is zero.
2019 general elections is around the corner. Wwhat do you think the electorate should do to ensure that Nigerians are not taken for a ride again?
Nobody can take us for a ride. I may not be Goodluck Jonathan fan though he is good friend. Let’s forget about him performing well in office or not; what Jonathan has done and we will forever be grateful to him is that he put in place a near perfect electoral system. That is so impossible to twist. When Godsday Orubebe and the rest were confronting Prof. Attahiru Jega over the outcome of the presidential election, Jonathan put a call across to Buhari and congratulated him on the outcome of the election.
We have a system put in place by Jonathan through which proper leaders chosen by the people can emerge. We have had couples of elections after the 2015 general elections, but we have never had a leader not chosen by the people and that is the solution to corruption and bad governance. That is why APC found it difficult to engage in hanky-panky in the elections so far conducted under them. It is impossible now to rig elections, so Nigerians should get ready to vote for the candidates they believe in come 2019. The electorate should not allow their conscience to be mortgaged; they should stop following rich politicians with dubious intentions, who will go into office to recoup money they spent.
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