Minister of Communications and one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s loyalists, Adebayo Shittu, recently called on the president to run for a second term in office during the 2019 general elections. In this interview with LEADERSHIP, he speaks on his reason for the call and why Nigerians should return him to office. He also speaks about his ambition to govern Oyo State in the next political dispensation. MUYIWA OYINLOLA and ANDREW ESSIEN met him.
Two years in the saddle as minister of communications, what would you say has been your greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge that I have had is the challenge that the entire ICT sector has been facing over the years and that is the challenge of having enough broadband in place Broadband is what facilitates communication whether digital
telecommunications or even voice telecommunications, telephone, Internet and all of them. You would observe that throughout the country we are still less than 30 percent with regards to broadband coverage of the country.
We’ve been working hard because ICT is about the private sector, it’s not the business of government to roll out broadband. Of course, government has to intervene in certain aspects but it is primarily the duty of the private sector people who undertake the business of ICT entrepreneurship.
They are the ones required to provide connectivity. You know when you have low capacity investment, it becomes a huge problem, so I would say that has been the major problem but we have been working hard. At least in the rural areas we also intervene to get the private sector foreign direct investment to provide solar based telecommunications facilities.
We discovered that both in India and in Canada, there are companies which have manufactured masts which do not use electricity, which use solar power because the problem of telecom companies as of today, to construct just a mast, they need about N40 million; not less than N40 million to build one mast and even when you succeed in building one mast, you must also provide two generating sets of 100kv but that is not also as challenging as the fueling of it and in all countries all over the world that I have studied, virtually in every place, entrepreneurs in the ICT sector can take for granted provision of electricity.
Unfortunately in Nigeria it is not so, so the investors would also have to look for regular funding. I have an example of one of the GSM operators who has almost 300 masts located in rural areas across the country. To lease space for these masts, about 300 masts, each one costs them $300,000 and yet income for each of these masts in a month is not more than $200,000. So, what would they do, we must appreciate them, they are in business to make profit and not to make losses so such companies eventually get forced into closing down such unprofitable masts and that makes interconnectivity more difficult for us. For me, my prayer is that we would be able to persuade foreign companies which have money to come in and also get Nigerians to look into how to also invest in this area in such a way that the profits from on area may be used to subsidise the other areas.
Provision of uninterrupted power supply was one of your campaign promises when you were coming on board. Up till now, we only have about 7,000 megawatts that are been generated and then you are canvassing for second term for presidency, how do you justify this?
Well, I will justify it because I know for once we have a government that is focused, that is determined. You see, a basic criteria of governance is issue of incorruptibility, if you have a government whose members or leaders are corrupt, every other thing would be frustrated in the sense that, for instance fund which is supposed to build 10 kilometers of roads, would be used to build just one kilometer of road. That means the country is short-changed.
When the President came on board, he did promise three major things, the first is the fight against corruption, the second is the fight against insurgency both in the north east and the south south and then economy and security.
On these, I can conveniently establish the fact that government has succeeded more than 50 percent. In fact, in the area of fighting corruption, we should be counting our stars, we should be thanking God that for once people now appreciate that it is not business as usual. For once, TSA has been introduced and it is being enforced.
Leakages in government incomes are being blocked, for once all monies of government that were hitherto either being misused or mismanaged by the banks where these deposits are, and they use it to make a lot of money, they use it to lend out and make money and nothing of it comes to government. That has stopped.
Today, all government fundings are centralised and properly monitored such that government is able to you know and retain the money that should be in its coffers. In so many areas, government has been doing a lot, a lot of monies are being recovered from people who have stolen our commonwealth and so on.
With regards to fighting insurgency, a lot has been done. Today, Boko Haram has been degraded completely and in the Southsouth where we had Niger Delta militants, you will all agree that today there is relative improvement in the peace there, and that has impacted positively production level of oil and on general stability.
With regards to the economy and specifically I would mention the issue of electricity which you mentioned, we’ve never had up to 7000 megawatts since in the last 20 to 30 years, it has never happened. Today, from Taraba, we have signed a deal to construct a new power plant which will be producing 3,005 megawatts that would take two years but the job has started. You know the project has taken off. The Mambilla power plant is a huge project which would certainly change the situation of electricity in this country.
Again, I know that there are smaller electricity projects. In Iseyin local government area of Oyo state, we have a project there which would be producing six megawatts of electricity. It will be adding that to the national grid, six megawatts is enough for the whole of Oke-Ogun to be utilised and you are talking of 10 local government areas. That project is on. There are so many similar projects which this current government is doing. I know and I think that Nigerians must appreciate that these things cannot be done in a day, as it’s often said that ‘Rome was not built in a day’. So, I believe that government is doing very well in this area.
There is also the issues of diversification or substitute to generation of electricity like wind energy, like solar energy and all of that, there are prospects in it and there are investments in all of this.
So, I am convinced that this president deserves another term of office, having regard to the wonderful things he’s been doing. It is unfortunate, I must admit that the government has done so much and yet we have not been doing sufficient publicity but I can assure you things would change with regards to publicising many good things that this government has been doing.
Another area I must not forget is, before Buhari came on board, works on road contracts of about 26 or 27 roads contracts had been abandoned for two years because there was no funding for them, consequently, labourers and workers on these projects had been shown the way to their homes. When this government came, it looked for funding to revive all of these contracts and today, authoritatively I can tell you about 38 new road projects are ongoing and they are all being adequately financed.
Again, in the area of railway development. Today, we have the Calabar-Lagos railway project which is a standard gauge, before now there was no either standard gauge or any other thing on that route, this a new project that is coming from Calabar to Lagos. Of course, you know what that would mean, it would complement the East-West highway, which is also being done by this government and there would also be a new standard gauge from Lagos to Ibadan, and from Ibadan to Kano. Another one from Kano to Maiduguri, another one from Calabar to Maiduguri, including projects conceded by this government to ensure that Nigeria is adequately supplied with both roads and railways to enable transportation to be made easier for the benefits of Nigerians.
These are new things that this government is doing, there is need for government to have sufficient time to consolidate on these activities and to ensure that they are delivered at their due times.
But one worrisome issue about the fight against insurgency is that while the government has said that insurgency has been technically defeated, only recently, government approved over $1billion to fight it. It it has been technically defeated, why the need for such huge sum of money again? People believe that that money is for 2019 project. How do you react to this?
Let me start with the Boko Haram insurgency. There is an adage which says if you want peace, you prepare for war, because Nigeria never prepare for war, it never had peace, throughout the period of the previous government of Jonathan, the Boko Haram controlled 14 local governments spread across three states, they hoisted their flags there.
They captured a lot of people, they engaged in a lot of horrifying activities and we had a lot of IDPs all over. Today, by the grace of God and the activities of the Mr president, that has become history. Today, Boko Haram does not control any inch of Nigeria and in fact they are fleeing all over looking for a hiding place, they have moved from Sambisa, they are hovering around, and they are been pursued by members of the Nigeria Armed forces.
Today, IDPs are being resettled in their homes and so on. Before this government came on board Boko Haram had started attacking locations in Kano, Kaduna and in Abuja and were threatening that they would soon overrun Lagos but today all that is no more. I am sure that but for the activities of the president using the armed forces, people even in Lagos would be finding it difficult to sleep with both eyes closed.
So, these are things we must credit this government for because the government made a promise when it was coming on board and it has fulfilled it. So, with regards to fighting insurgency, I think we can fairly say that the president has scored more than 90 percent in achieving that goal.
Number two, recall that today even after the Boko Haram has been degraded, Nigeria took possession of fighter jets to be used in pursuing these people, if you don’t consistently pursue them to completely an 100 percent degree, the possibility is that the would regroup, the possibility is that they would find new colonies,
the possibility is that they would continue to threaten communities and all of that. The minister of information only about two or three weeks ago released the expenses incurred on each fighter jet, each raid the policemen and soldiers on ground would be taken not only their salaries but they would be having provisions at the expense of government. They would also be having allowances for themselves and for their families, all of these must be funded. Up to that moment, the funding of the war was entirely the work of the Federal government but you do know very well that citizens affected all over the country are citizens of states not necessarily citizens of the Federal government.
In any case, if we assume that all of them are Nigerians, responsibilities in funding the armed forces to maintain peace throughout Nigeria must be shared because in sharing the consolidated referral fund, no special provision is made for the added expenditure of the war, it is still the whole formula of federal government fifty-two. States, state government maybe twenty something, local government eleven or so. So, if it’s still that same formula which is being used to share our resources, and now federal government has the added responsibility of maintaining the armed forces in a war time, it only makes sense that states and local governments should contribute to it because at the end citizens of the states would be the victims and we know that war does not discriminate.
It is not only citizens of Adamawa, for instance, that live in Adamawa; not only citizens of Borno that live in Borno. Nigerians move across the country to do business, to engage in social activities and all of that, so all of us must consider it as our responsibility.
In any case, this money, the $1 billion was not arbitrarily taken, it was the states which came together and felt that they have a duty to contribute to the management of the war implemented against Boko Haram by the Federal government. So, I think it is a welcome development.
The president has not told us he wants to contest, you are canvassing that he would contest, are you taking cognisance of his age, of his health and some other issues, you know he is been visiting hospitals abroad?
Have you ever seen anybody who does not get sick? if people
get sick and they get recovered, must they still be living under the
shadow of their previous ailments. If you see the president today, you
will know that he is much stronger and more active than he was before.
Those of us working close to him are in the position to appreciate this. In any case, nobody can force him, those of us agitating for his coming back are doing that out of patriotic duty because we know that leadership makes all the difference. If you have the right leadership in any environment, in any community, in any country, it makes a whole lot of difference.
I mean Nigerians deliberately made their choice of choosing him in 2015, they had a leadership in place at that time, because Nigerians were not satisfied with that leadership, they decided to change and he has not disappointed them. So, why shouldn’t we out of patriotic zeal start to ask him to come back and mobilize support for him to be able to continue this government which would make Nigerians feel proud?.
If you have been a traveller abroad before he came on board, you know how foreign authorities used to look at Nigerians. Today, things have changed. There have been compliments even by foreign government that Nigeria is now in a better status to raise its head in the community of nations.
But in case the president does not contest or he contest and loses, what will you do?
Let me tell you that as a democrat, I am convinced that in a free and fair election, the president would never lose in this country. But if the unexpected happens, democratically, of course, I would welcome who ever comes in. I as somebody who is a veteran in politics, when I lost election to Ajimobi in 2011, I went to his house to visit him and congratulate him and that would not be the first time
that I would loose election.
In 1983, I wanted to go to the House to Representatives, some people manipulated me out of it because they thought I was too independent minded and they brought in another person who I defeated clearly, and then I worked for that person and that led to my appointment to the higher office of commissioner in the state.
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