Ex Gov Niyi Adebayo: How We’ll soon flush Fayose out of Ekiti

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…Short-term suffering now will usher in long-term enjoyment

 Former Governor of Ekiti State, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, was born on February 4, 1958 to General Adeyinka Adebayo, former Governor of defunct Western State and one of the oldest surviving army generals in the country. Otunba Adebayo started his formal education at Corona School, Yaba, and University of Lagos Staff School, Akoka, Yaba. He proceeded to Methodist Boys High School, Lagos. Adebayo attended the University of Lagos, Nigeria to study law and obtained LL.B Hons in 1981 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1982. Thereafter, he joined Vigo and Company.  He was Senior Partner, Adebayo, Mohammed Adewumi &Abudu; Chairman, Iyin Ekiti Community Bank; Director, Okitipupa Oil Palm plc; Chairman, Magnificent Interiors.

 Niyi experience in a covers a wide range of disputes, legal and advisory work. He has also played notable roles and achieved so much in the areas of project finance, oil and gas, contract procurement and business facilitation.
He was elected as the first Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria, from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003 on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy, AD.
Adebayo is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the International Bar Association (IBA). His current chamber, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, George Ikoli & Okagbue Legal Practitioners is at Plot 864B, Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victora Island, Lagos. A keen sportsman, he plays tennis, squash and football.
In this chat with The New Diplomat duo of YEMI OGUNSOLA and LAOLU ADEYEMI, the All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftain who was part of the constitution-drafting committee of the party, speaks on sundry national issues ranging from Ekiti politics through part-time legislature, budget padding to the harrowing economic situation in the country and efforts of the Buhari Administration to build a new, better Nigeria.

Let’s start from your state, Ekiti. Many believe that Fayose, the PDP state governor has been a thorn in the flesh of the APC and was able to upstage your party in the last election. Do you think your party will be able to oust him in the next election?

  I don’t agree with those who say Fayose is a thorn in APC’s flesh. He only won through fraudulent means.  All the revelations lately in the Ekitigate scandal show that he won through rigging perpetrated with the help of the PDP federal government. He got money from the federal government through the NSA with which he was able to bribe the military, the SSS and INEC officials. The two elections Fayose has won in the state are through PDP and federal government rigging.

But in spite of all the alleged evidence against him, he keeps talking; he’s not subdued.

Moves are ongoing to ensure the law takes its course.

Do you believe your party will be able to defeat him in the next governorship election?

Of course. He won’t have the PDP federal government to help him this time around.

There appears to be trouble in Ondo APC, how are you tackling this?

There’s nothing happening in Ondo. Just a situation where many are interested  in  the party’s ticket mainly because they believe the APC candidate will win in the state. And then they didn’t have confidence in the party executive to hold a free and fair primary. But there was a meeting at the weekend with the national chairman of the party and the state exco and all the aspirants in attendance. And they were assured that election will be free and fair and whoever emerges the candidate of the party will be supported by the whole party family.

What’s your candid appraisal of APC’s performance so far?

  We recognise the problems of the party and the national executive is working to resolve them. The party came together in a hurry, less than a year to the election. APC is work in progress. When you have diverse people coming together, it’s not easy to put everything in place; for everybody to understand each other. As time goes on we get to understand each other better and become one big family.

The peoples’ perception of the APC-led administration is that some of its policies are not masses-friendly, what’s your response to this?

  What many don’t realise is that when the APC took over, what was handed over to the party was not the realistic situation. Added to this is the massive drop in oil revenue. The new government had to seek new measures to keep the nation afloat. Thank God the APC won the election, otherwise with the way PDP was wasting funds, the country would have been bankrupt by now.

 Take the ban on rice importation. Nigerians are being told to patronise local rice. But they say this local rice are not enough in the market and rice now sells for N22,000 per bag. How is the APC government handling this?

  I am not aware of that wholesale ban. The ban, I think, affects only the land borders. And the ban is to prevent leakage of revenue that should come into government coffers to use for development.

Also, government is trying to invest in agric. An importing country is at the mercy of other countries. Yes, we may suffer now because of some policies but in the long term we will begin to enjoy. Short-term suffering for long-term enjoyment.

Many people who believed in Buhari before are now having a rethink—

I disagree with you.

You are free to disagree but some Nigerians insist that political corruption is distinct from economic corruption and that while the president is busy fighting economic corruption, he himself appears guilty of political corruption. For instance, they say, for about 10 months while Fulani herdsmen were slaughtering Nigerians, Buhari kept quiet despite stringent calls by Nigerians. How do you react to this?

Did you know what he was doing all the while? Look, a president can’t come out to comment on every issue. Security issues are sensitive issues. The president can’t just come out to say anything. He must take his time to study the situation. The President is committed to a united country. He has said repeatedly that he belongs to nobody and belongs to everybody

True, he said he belonged to nobody. But those are words. His actions must match those words. His actions should not send wrong signals—

Wait. If there is problem in a family, does the father tell his children everything? But the father is busy working. I know this president, he’s always working for the good of the country.

Some critics cite another instance. They say barely two weeks after the herdsmen attack on Enugu during which it was alleged that emergency calls to the presidency were not responded to in time, Democracy Day, May 29 came and the president gave a nationwide address. According to them, the president mentioned all other security issues but kept quiet on the Enugu killings. What will you say to this?

  I am sure he had his reasons. I know Buhari. He would do everything to keep this country at peace.

Many say his appointments are skewed and the military promotions were —

 Look don’t bring military promotions into politics. The military have their own tradition of doing things. And it has been so for years. The only political aspect of the military is at the top. Again, Most of the first appointments were personal aides. The president has about 5,000 appointments to make. But he’s not able to make them yet because there is no money. He’s not the type who will just make appointments and then be looking for money to pay them. He’s being sensible. For once, we have a president who does not want to appoint people to just go and chop. There must be discipline. Without that this country will die.

Some say the Buhari government appears too slow, that there’s so much movement with little motion. What’s your response?

  I disagree. You have to understand the damage already done to this country. This is not a normal country. We are a country in major recession. The man is working carefully, trying to do things in a methodical manner to put things right. This man is being careful. He has to put structures in place, systems in place. This country has no system. They just took money from the Central Bank to distribute among themselves. These are the things this man is trying to correct.  Restructure the place. They claim the Jonathan government initiated the TSA (Treasury Single Account) but it was never implemented. But this man came and implemented it so that we know where government money is. There was government money they didn’t even know they had.  The damage of 16 years cannot be healed in 16 months.

You were a governor. Now many of you successors can’t even pay workers’ salaries. What are they not doing right?

They have to be more innovative. When I was governor, we had no money. My immediate predecessor was owing six months teachers’ salaries and four or five months civil servants salaries. So my first five months in office were spent paying salaries owed. We had to tighten our belts. First, you set your priorities. Make arrangements for belt tightening. Then Find out how much is really the salary. Then get rid of ghost workers. Look at areas of wastages. Cut down security votes. When I hear what they take now for security votes, I marvel. Look at the personal emoluments of the chief executive himself, cut down on them because many times they are too much.

How about internally generated revenue?

  You have to look at that too. But you must be careful how you implement that. Use what you already have to get what you need. Look at existing laws to use them to get what you need.

There is the issue of Budget padding. There have been a lot of complaints over the emolument of lawmakers, then came the padding thing. How do you think the scandal should be handled?

It’s already being addressed. I don’t think anything I say will influence that.

There have been attempts to confuse issues with different definitions given to it. The idea of part-time legislature has also resurfaced, can you comment on both?

  I don’t want to go into a matter on which I am not fully informed. You yourself has said there are different definitions. So what am I going to say? But I believe the presidency has said the budget the president signed was not padded. So I don’t think there is anything to discuss again.

What about the idea of part-time legislature to cut down expenses?

  Then we have to go back to the very essence of our constitution. If we say we are practicing the federal system of government borrowed from America. There they have full-time legislature.

But should that deter us from adopting a style that suits our own circumstances?

That’s why I say we must look at the whole constitution. There must be a reason why they have full-time legislation.

Yes, but in our own Nigerian experience we spend so much on the legislature—

 We spend more on the civil service, shall we then cut the civil service? The government says it spends N60billion monthly on the civil service.

But civil servants are by far more numerous than the National Assembly lawmakers

  Then why not revert to military rule since it is much cheaper to run a military government. Is that what you are saying?

Nooo! This kind of argument is not, not right—tying what looks obvious in one section to another and saying ‘why can’t we do this here too if we want to do this here—’

Are you not talking of part-time legislature because of cutting cost?

Yes

Ehen, that’s what I am saying. If there is cost here, there is cost in other areas too. So let’s cut costs everywhere.

We don’t mind

(Laughs) Go ahead. Seriously, what you need to do is look at what the lawmakers earn and fit it in with what the country can afford. Simple.

So you prefer that to making the legislature part-time?

I have no, eeem, I have no opinion on this. I am not a legislator.

But you are part of the system?

 I am satisfied with the present system. But if other Nigerians say they are not okay with it, so be it.

The private sector is particularly affected by the harsh times—

They were enjoying when there was free-for-all, so in times of pain, they suffer. When they were doing anything they liked they were enjoying it.

What’s your advice to them — even banks are laying off staff?

  You talk as if I am not also in the private sector. We are all feeling the pains. You see, to make omelette, you have to break eggs. We are breaking the eggs now. There’s no way out of it. When eventually, the omelette is ready, we are all going to enjoy… When Obasanjo was in government, the price of oil was up there. He cleared debts and when he was leaving, he left about N50billion in our reserve. These people came and cleared everything. This was a time when oil price was almost double that of the Obasanjo regime. These people should have left over N100billion in the reserve – that would have taken care of the country during this crisis. Then Minister of Finance, Okonjo Eweala,  said in a recent interview that Jonathan had no interest in saving money. So, we are suffering now for the indiscretion of the past administration.

Remember an attempt was made to safe excess crude money and the governors rose against it

  That was a different matter. It is money shared between the state and the federal governments. Give the states their own. You can save yours if you wish but don’t say you want to save for the states. If I don’t want to save my money, that’s my business. You don’t say because you are my father, you must save my salary for me. So, did the federal government waste its own money because states did not save their own?

But today, states themselves are collecting money meant for local governments

  Unfortunately I don’t believe in three tiers of government. I believe in two tiers of government. Federal government and state; that is what you call a federation. Local government is not part of a federation. But the military in their wisdom put the local government. Ordinarily, local governments should not collect revenue from the federation account.

But now that local governments are on ground, shoildn’t they be well treated?

  But it is wrong. I don’t agree with it. When I was governor, we had the system in place. The constitution stipulated how local governments funds should be administered and we administered them in that manner.

Unfortunately, some states are not doing that now

I cannot comment on that

But you can!

I cannot comment on something I do not know.

Do you know that Lagos State is doing that?

I don’t know that for a fact. I can only comment on something I know. I am a lawyer. I will not take your statement just like that. Because you say it does not mean I will take that as gospel truth. I must have to investigate it and come out with my own findings.

In the efforts of the Buhari administration to fight corruption, it has been said that lawyers have been using their knowledge of law to shield criminals from justice. Buhari himself said the judiciary has been a major headache in the anti-graft war. What is your comment on this?

 I am not government. I am a lawyer. I cannot criticise the judiciary.

It is suprising that you are saying this openly

That’s not my job. I  Work in the Temple of Justice, I cannot criticise the judiciary.

 Okay, what’s your own appraisal?

Of what?

Of the Nigerian legal system

I have no comment to make

If you don’t comment, who will comment?

  There are people that are commenting. You can’t come here and expect me to just open my mouth and talk. I won’t do that. If I have a problem with the judiciary, I know who to talk to. Not on the pages of the newspaper.

There have been conflicting judgements from the courts and many are getting worried by the trend.

 That is the beauty of the judicial system. At the end of the day, it will go up to the Supreme Court. There, final judgement will be delivered.

People have been calling for restructuring; for the kind of regional independence that used to be. They believe this will fasten development like in those days.  What’s your take on this?

My party has made a comment on that and I stand by it.

What is your opinion on the ongoing discussions on negotiating with Boko Haram to release the Chibok girls?

 I am sure government would do the right thing.

Despite all the revelations in this administration, some critics say no looter has been jailed. What’s your reaction to that?

Buhari is not a judge. The court has to do the jailing.

But the cases are dragging

  But there are judicial processes that must be followed. That is democracy. You cannot have your cake and eat it. People feared Buhari would be autocratic. And he promised to be a democrat. He’s keeping his promise. The president has given the attorney general and other legal officers marching order to investigate, arrest and prosecute. The cases are in court. But the judicial process has to be followed, you can’t blame the president for that.

What can be done to speed up the processes?

I am sure the Chief Justice of Nigeria is doing that.

What exactly is he doing?

You’ll have to ask him that.

What is likely to be the fate of APC in 2019 — if there is a 2019?

  Nigerians have a short memory. Otherwise, nobody will wake up and be thinking of voting for PDP. If they remember the damage PDP had done to this country, no PDP member should be walking the streets of Lagos or anywhere in Nigeria. Every PDP member should be covering their heads in shame. By this time next year, Nigerians would be happy. Buhari would have solved most of the problems facing us now. The economy would have bounced back.  When he is through with his work, we will all be happy. I have campaigned with Buhari and I know the pain he feels when he sees the sufferings of Nigerians, youths being jobless and all that. When we went for rallies, he saw all these unemployed youths.

When APC came in many thought that was the end of the road for PDP. But today, PDP has virtually captured the Senate. The Senate President is virtually a PDP member.

  That’s not fair. He (Bukola Saraki) has said repeatedly that he is not a PDP member. Why should we say he is?

Must we take a politician for his word? This is Nigeria. He has been working with PDP members to have his way. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, is from the opposition party.

  In America, the leader of the Senate is Republican. Obama the president is a democrat. Congresses all over the world have ways of doing their things. These things have been discussed several times at our party level.

And what is the consensus?

 You have to ask the party’s national chairman. I am not the party’s spokesman.

What would you say on the handling  of the Boko Haram menace so far?

  The man (Buhari) is doing a good job. This government is trying its best. This is a problem we shouldn’t have met on the ground in the first place. But PDP was busy sharing the money meant to buy arms. Now, this government is tackling it head-on. See the action the Airforce took at Arepo in Lagos. If the Buhari government had not acted responsibly, those militants would have overrun Lagos. And when you overrun Lagos, what is left of Nigeria?

On Niger Delta militancy, what’s your advice to the APC government?

  I don’t give advice on the pages of the newspaper. I am a party leader. When we hear things people are not happy about, we take them to the party level and discuss them.

What do you have to say to Nigerians who have to buy a small tin of rice for N150 and a bag for N22,000?

Government is worried. Nobody wants anybody to suffer. It’s the situation that we find ourselves. And the Buhari government is working to ease the suffering.

 

Some senators today are collecting double emoluments— pensions as  former governors and emoluments as senators. Is that right? What’s your comment on this?

  I cannot comment on that until I see the law. I must look at the laws before I say anything. I must speak responsibly. Does the law give them the right to collect both?

There is Natural Justice. Is it fair in a country where the minimum wage is pegged at N18,000 for some persons to be collecting double jumbo emoluments?

  I have no comment. I have to look at the law. Anything that comes from my mouth must be carefully weighed. I am not in politics to make noise, or make a name.

Your parting advice for Nigerians

  A mess has been made of the country but President Buhari is committed to clearing the mess. But it’s not an easy task. A mess of 16 years cannot be cleared in 16 month. Soon Nigerians will begin to see the results and have cause to rejoice.

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