Embattled National Chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in this interview with select journalists speaks on some national issues including the clamour for new minimum wage and post-primaries crises of the party. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there
Some foreign commentators are predicting doom for your party and President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, how optimistic are you of victory?
In all honesty, it is strange that it is foreigners who are crying more than the bereaved. I also heard Nigerians saying pension benefits that have not been paid for 20 years under the PDP, they are being paid now by this government. I have heard the Head of Service say for the 16 years of PDP, there were promotions that were delayed but that through the intervention of this government we are beginning to settle these huge arears and promotions. People talk about the huge amount of money PDP spent on power. The more they spent the more darkness Nigeria found itself in.
For me, there are people who find joy in quoting foreign sources, I like to talk about Nigerian people and they are our primary constituency. They are the ones that hired Mr. President. I am not accountable to financial intelligence and everybody is aware that some of these papers don’t have the reputation they claim to have. After all, these are the same institutions that wrote lavishly about Nigerian banking system but few weeks later, we realized that some of these banks were empty.
I think we have done a couple of things that will form the basis of our campaign. This is the only government that gives bailout money to state governments to enable them meet their most basic responsibility without bothering whether they are APC, PDP or APGA. I don’t know any government before now that was fair and just regardless of political party affiliation. These are the things we should be talking about. We had governments that spent billions doing ground breaking ceremony for the 2nd River Niger Bridge, but this government as we speak is not doing ground breaking, it is actually constructing the bridge. These are the things we want to talk about.
Secondly, there are a couple of things the Federal Government is doing in Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of the country; these are things I think we should talk about. It is not the views of sometimes hired foreign commentators, these people are not superior to the Nigerian journalist. These are things we must discuss, if the opposition does not want to do that, we will do that.
In any case, we have moved the government from that one that service the elite to one that looks at the forgotten majority of Nigerians, the voiceless. I think very soon, we will begin to talk about what this government has done and who has benefited and how the previous government converted private debts to public liabilities and privatized public funds to private pockets. And of course, we are going to get people who are knowledgeable about micro economy issues to assist Nigerians to understand that there is always a time lag between when certain policies are put in place, when certain mismanagement occur and when the impact of those mismanagement begins to occur in the lives of the people.
The Apapa gridlock has persisted, it seems the APC is yet to find solution to it three years after?
I think you should just play back your own stories about the Apapa crisis, the whole issues around the ports, you will find that for 16 years of PDP they grappled with that problem, and what they could not fix in 16 years, they are not going to disappear overnight. But the good thing is that right now there are conversations. And beyond conversations, there are policy issues with regards to what the private sector can do. I am aware there are agreements that have been signed to encourage the private sector come into the matter.
What will APC do differently if voted to power in 2019?
I believe that President Buhari will certainly be re-elected on the basis of his personal integrity and the fact that those who are contesting against him, there are a couple of things they can’t say about themselves that this President will not only say but other people will say for him. Nigerians are wiser now, it is cheap for people to make promises but again it is also easy for people who have been in power before to pretend that they don’t know what is going on. Some have been ministers and we know the controversies generated when they were in office. We are going to ask them what they will now do differently in those sectors and their records are very clear in those sectors. You have been in the centre as number two man, Nigeria was turned into a completely unitary state. I heard somebody now talking about autonomy of local governments. When I was in the NLC, I joined the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) to campaign for autonomy, to ask the Federal Government to stop controlling the local government and even withholding money meant for local governments. This government respects the autonomy of local governments. Some of those issues are no longer there. But those coming now, that want to be president, were part of the administration that almost imposed a very suffocating unitary government on Nigeria. We are moving consciously from those and see how we can re-order the federal system. But I can tell you, of all the presidential candidates on parade, Buhari is number one and I believe he will win because Nigerians know the difference.
What is your take on the clamour for higher minimum wage being demanded by workers?
My views are clear that payment of wages is not an act of kindness for an employer to pay the employees’ wages at the end of the month. There are provisions in our Labour Act that say that you cannot delay the payment of salaries in excess of 30 days interval, which means salaries ought not to accumulate beyond 30 days. And the government decides the size of its employment but when it made the decision to employ it has the obligation to pay. Even the Holy Bible says that the labourer is entitled to his wages. I think again, this is where President Buhari stands out clearly. He has publicly asked public sector employers; how do you sleep when you have not paid your employers for one year? But he did not stop at lamenting it, he went on to provide the much talked about bailout fund and said please use this money to pay your workers and pay pension arears. And even the deductions from states that were done under the PDP in the name of settling our foreign debts, they went into state treasury and they over deducted, that was done under the PDP.
But under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, even in spite of the huge financial challenges that he faces, decided that in order to assist the states to meet up with their social obligations, to begin to pay what is now referred as Paris Club refund. He has done that on two, three instalments and each time the governors are told that you must use this money among other things to settle pension arrears and be up to date in the payment of salaries. But I am very proud that this president has rich conscience, he recognises that the Nigerian worker deserve his wages and that is why he has publicly lament that there are governors who have not paid salaries as at when due, whether they are PDP or APC it is immaterial. And in seeking to deal with it he has also provided support across party divide and I think that is statesmanship at its best.
As for my views on the minimum wage, I tried to deal with it as a governor. I told my colleagues then that wage is not a burden in the society. In economics, when people work and get paid, purchasing powers is enhanced and because purchasing power is enhanced producers will respond to that by seeking to produce more goods and services. And in the process they will recruit more hands. But when you don’t pay wages you create a circle, no payment of wages leading to low purchasing power. None payment of rents, compounding the problem of those who have invested in real estate. Depressing the commercial life of the state and of the country. And I tried to settle this question by increasing minimum wage in Edo State to N25,000 from N18,000. I remember some people calling me to ask how will you pay it? I am on record of having paid it and as we speak my successor in office is paying it. I do not agree with those who say Nigeria cannot afford a more realistic minimum wage.
My being in government or now chairman of a party cannot change what I believe in. The real problem in the public sector is money being stolen in the name of salaries, I found it embarrassing when we talk about ghost workers. And I ask the question who counts ghosts, it is only in Nigeria that ghosts are known. The labourer deserves his wage, the primary purpose of government is the welfare of its people. So, we must pay wages as at when due.
Now, let’s talk about the primaries of your party. What went wrong in Ogun and Imo states?
The truth is that in Ogun state, we will win. The PDP also has its share of crisis in Ogun. As we speak, we don’t know who is the actual governorship candidate in Ogun because the National Secretariat parades another candidate while the other group parades a candidate and running candidate. So, while they are sorting out those issues, we will be sorting out our own issues. Governor Amosun is my friend, people as human beings are entitled to feel disappointed if things don’t work out the way they want.
Like any leader, after sometime, he will recognize the greater interest of the party, I know he is a loyal party man. I cannot see him voting with his feet, I think he recognizes that as a statesman who has contributed to the growth and development of Ogun state he will want to ensure that his party continues to govern the state and play the role of a statesman. I have no fear at all, I believe we will be comparing APC’s strength, relating it to PDP strength. We are going to take into account the serious internal divisions in PDP also in Ogun state. All of those will play out and APC will remain the stronger party.
And given governor Amosun’s contribution in terms of governance, those will be compared with the PDP administration when they were in power for the first sixteen years, Nigerians will ask what they are going to bring on board after 16 years without any meaningful development. Whatever we have as internal issues in APC they do not in any way undermine the fact that Amosun has something to show for his governorship of that state which I am so proud as chairman of the party and I am sure that he will overcome his anger and I will work with him to see how we can reconcile all our various interest in Ogun.
As for my dear friend Governor Rochas, he talked about nepotism. You know, as the head of the family, I will not want to behave like some people who will want to bring a family matter to the market. As the elder, I will keep the family matter within the family house. That is what my level of responsibility imposes on me. I will not join issues with him. But the truth is while I was in government there was no other Oshiomhole in government. As a journalist you can go and find out how many Oshiomholes were in government when I was governor.
Governor Okorocha is a great guy, he is one of those who left APGA to join APC and he contributed his quota to the formation of APC. But we also have to agree that a tree cannot make a forest and we have to encourage those who think otherwise that this is a fact. What we are doing in Imo is to try to reconcile individuals with the great people of Imo state. You know sometimes the limitations of some analysts who are not in the real business of politics, is that we limit our conversations to the big names. But you know the beauty of democracy is that it is not about big names, it is about big numbers. Now the big numbers in Imo are with us. And I think Governor Rochas appreciates that fact. As for whether people will decamp or not I am not so sure, but again even if they do they will make no history.
After all, in the recent past, sitting governors decamped for one reason or the other because they wanted to be President, having decamped they found there are too many presidential aspirants, they have since reconciled themselves with the realities. They decamped from APC believing that they are going to be the presidential candidate of the PDP, they got there and found over crowded house. I think some of them have quietly taken governorship ticket, some have taken senatorial ticket and they are living with the new realities and that is how it is.
So, people can have expectation but the beauty of democracy is that it is the mass of the Nigerian people that will prevail, it is a game of numbers.
In Imo state we have the numbers to defeat any other aspirant and I am sure Governor Okorocha, when he overcomes his disappointment with regards to who he would have preferred on a good day to succeed him and he recognises as a democrat that sometimes it can produce shocking outcome. And I think it shows that our democracy is evolving because we are not running traditional rulership where we know that the first born will be the next king and everything should be done to make sure he does not die before his father. But in a democracy, we can plan who succeeds us, we can project but if the people think otherwise the outcome might just turn out to be a bit embarrassing. My pride is that contrary to what Nigerians have always believed, that in Nigerian politics whatever a big man wants he gets. We have tried to return our party to members of the party. The members of the party can do no wrong, if majority prefers someone and on election day it is those majority that will vote.
By February, March next year, the vote of a governor will be one, the vote of the unemployed person will be one. The vote of the guy in Ariaria market will be one. We are all equal shareholders in the Nigerian project. I believe we will make peace with Rochas. He is a great guy, we all worked together when I was governor. You cannot build a house just because the person you thought will occupy your bedroom when you vacate it, the other members of the family choose another person to occupy it, I think over time you recognize that it is a family house. Tenants will come and go but the family house remains.
Amosun has something to show for his governorship of that state which I am so proud as chairman of the party and I am sure that he will overcome his anger and I will work with him to see how we can reconcile all our various interest in Ogun