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BREAKING: Experience in public service failed Betta Edu, Tunji-Ojo in carrying out their duties – Ayo Arise

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Senator Ayodele Arise was elected to the National Assembly for the Ekiti North constituency in 2007 and was appointed as the Chairman Senate Committee on Privatization and member of other committees including Local and Foreign Debts, Water, Banking, Insurance & Other Financial Institutions. In this interview, Arise who is now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, examines the President Bola Tinubu administration. Excerpts:

How will you assess the Bola Tinubu administration in the last seven months?

In terms of the assessment of Mr. President, as long as we are comparing with what we are used to, I think Mr. President has done extremely well, particularly the actions that he has taken in the last few weeks.

Apart from the fact that he is trying to live by examples, bringing the cost of governance down, which has been part of the cries of the public, that the cost of governance has gone through the roof and he has decided to cut living by example.

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He has said the maximum number of people that should follow him when he is travelling shouldn’t be more than 20 and five for the vice-president. So, when you have a President that is listening and gauging the tempo of the country, and he is taking actions to address issues, responding to meet yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians, he has done extremely well.

Now, if you look at the general assessment, of course, there were challenges and he has been meeting them headlong, providing solutions.

He has approved the tax systems. There are challenges that are ordinarily because of extant laws, the President can’t just stand up and say, “This is it”. There are ways of doing things and he is following every step of the way on how to make life a lot easier for Nigerians.

Some of these challenges that we are faced with, which include, this social , I won’t say scandal now because he has suspended any Social Investment Programme in the country until things are put in place to ensure that malfeasance or maybe what you want to call grand corruption can be reduced to a minimum and of course, this isn’t the first President that will experience corruption in Nigeria but he is the first one that we are seeing that is taken a very swift action immediately and saying, ok, let my Minister step aside, let us investigate what is going on. If you are found not guilty, you may come back but you may be given another assignment. But if you are guilty, then it is very likely that that person may be shown the way out.

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It is not to say, this is the only guilty person when you talk about corruption in Nigeria but he is responding as it comes and we have never seen this kind of swift action from any President in recent memory.

We have seen several that have come to the public forum but this President has taken a decisive action and of course, the effect of this is that if corruption was at 95%, this action will reduce it to maybe not more than 50 or 60%, because people will now follow due process and ensure that they don’t incur the wrath of the President.

I think when a person does well, please, let us give him a little credit. Some are saying he doesn’t want to fight corruption. What do you want him to do, he has suspended a Minister and it is when you get caught. If you get caught, what is the response?

There is no saint in this country as we have it. Don’t get caught, if you get caught, you must face the music and that is why I would have preferred that we acknowledge the fact that the man has done something that has turned the hearts of most Nigerians at this point in time.
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I believe there are numerous things that the President has done to address the concerns of Nigerians and I believe it isn’t a problem that can be resolved within seven months of his being President. But the foundations are being laid to make a more prosperous, more equitable, just and of course, we can’t be totally corruption free but we must reduce corruption for us to grow in this country.

What will you say to those who say that only women in Tinubu’s cabinet are facing suspension? The Humanitarian Minister has been suspended, same with Halima Sheu as CEO of NSIPA, but we have had allegations against another Minister in the Interior Ministry, Tunji- Ojo. What would you say to people who say only women are suffering the consequences of these allegations?

I will say that it is a very unfair assessment, because this problem was discovered that it was Betta Edu that awarded the contract; she was the one that requested to transfer money to a private account. That shouldn’t be used as a yardstick but a mistake has been made of grave proportion and if we look at it, who committed the infraction? Two ladies: one was trying to take money so that maybe the Minister won’t have access to it, she kept it in her private account and the other one was busy, issuing contracts out to the best of everybody’s knowledge. I can’t remember when the jobs were advertised and how come somebody got almost a N500 million contract.

If the jobs were done, fine and we have a register that is dependable that we can count on we will say yes, probably maybe mistake or carelessness because even if we want to believe that he didn’t know that his company was given the contract, did she follow the due process?

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Did she follow due process? Betta Edu or Tunji- Ojo?

No, Betta Edu was the Minister in charge of Humanitarian and she was the one that awarded and gave a contract to a company that belongs to her colleague, I think with the kind of profile that the Minister of Interior has, Nigerians would have been willing to overlook it because he has done well.

He could have apologised as well and even the President could possibly overlook it but coming to the public and start saying that you don’t know anything about it, a contract of about N500 million, I think he was just trying to play on our intelligence and you can say maybe these are very young people, maybe the experience in public service might have failed them in the process of carrying out their duties.

So, do you believe Mr. President should overlook Tunji-Ojo because of his performance in the Ministry of Interior?

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I haven’t said that. If he had come to the public to say, “I am sorry, I didn’t follow up and it was a mistake, I believe people will overlook it but coming to the public to say you knew nothing, is making people angry about the whole situation.

For me, the President has the prerogative to say he has forgiven but we don’t have the powers to say we have forgiven anybody.

It is the President that appointed him. He is the boss. He is the one that can say this is the step that I want to take. But ordinarily, if such happens in the future, it is better for you, to come clean and let people feel like this is a genuine person that is sorry about an error about a mistake and there is nobody that can’t make a mistake.

So, that’s the area that I think he really bungled the whole thing. The Minister of Interior PR was a fiasco and a disaster.

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I know Tunji-Ojo very well, he is an extremely polite individual but I am not the one to say what he has to say, or whether he has to go but the issue of women alone being suspended isn’t a deliberate action for Mr. President and when you look at this situation, what happened with Betta is in the public domain.

Now, the person who is a beneficiary from one of the companies or his company is a different question. Did he bid? Was his company qualified? Were people invited to do this job? But if people just sit down and they allocate contracts and forget about due process, then we will be set back for another 30 or more years, because before the (DPP) Due Process, that was the practice and even now people in Nigeria have looked for so many ways of circumventing the process.

But at least, they still meet the minimum. If they have been able to meet the minimum, and have gotten a contract, the government can make him return the money because of conflict of interest and that could be a solution. But I think, as far as the President is concerned, he has taken the correct steps so far.

Let us talk about a few other things. First is security, which is one of the key areas that the Tinubu administration has been in for eight months now, people are using to assess him. It isn’t just about what has happened in Plateau or Kaduna or a few other states but even about what we are hearing that is happening in Abuja. That’s where you reside; there are cases on a daily basis of abduction and kidnappings of individuals. What is your assessment of security in Abuja?

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First, on the issue of whether I feel secure in Abuja, I will say yes. This is the seat of government and I don’t think that insecurity would take an upper hand here. It is very unlikely. They could happen just like it is happening and the reportage too because it is the capital will always be there and of course, I keep on saying almost every day when you open up the TV, even in the United States, in the city of Atlanta, you will hear that somebody has been shot in the South west and I live in the Northside of Atlanta and I never came to see this.

But I have been very careful in Abuja; anywhere I go, not only in Abuja but across the country because we haven’t been able to resolve the issue of kidnapping, totally. But I look at it that the President has been one of the advocates of state policing because I remember those days when I was in the Senate and we were pushing for it and I got feedback from those who are close to him and I know that in his heart that he understands that state policing is a necessity.

Not only state, local government and cities and because he had lived in America he understands the structure of policing. So, I don’t know why when the President gets there, they know something that we don’t know is disturbing, making that a priority.

It should be a priority so that people, if in Plateau, they have a state police, and they have local government police, if a stranger comes to your local government or state, you can easily detect, you know within 12 hours somebody troops is here not to talk of people moving a population of army to go and attack defenceless people. So, there is a need for that decentralisation to the city level, the local government, and the state. When we do that, then we know that the foundation has been laid for the future of fighting insecurity.

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When we even say that the FCT where the IGP lives and operates from and most of the DIGs are here, that shows to tell you that yes, there will always be problems, there will always be insecurity but it is the responsibility of the government to reduce them to a minimum possible.

“It is not to say, this is the only guilty person when you talk about corruption in Nigeria but he is responding as it comes and we have never seen this kind of swift action from any President in recent memory”

It isn’t that there will be any government that will be able to say, “oh, there will be no crime, no kidnapping.” It is almost a utopian idea that there will always be crime and that’s why there will always be police and there will always be architecture for curbing crime in every country.

So, it isn’t a thing that the President can say, within seven months or one year, have been eradicated. He can only, by the time he finishes his tenure, God willing, eight years, he can say this is the position I met this country, this is the position I am leaving it. Crime has reduced by almost 70, 80, or 90%.
But it is not total eradication that’s like the problem of corruption, nobody is going to tell us that he will eradicate corruption because it is ingrained in the blood system so everybody wants to get rich quick and that’s why this President is working hard in such a way that the attraction to government office is actually reduced and the issue of employment is no longer solely in the hands of the Federal Government but in the hands of private individuals as well.

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That’s my take on that.

Now, coming to the second leg of your question, the NIN with the policy of Front End Processors, that came in under the last administration through the World Bank ecosystem, the enrolment within two, three years the National Identity Management Commission was able to enroll over 60 million people, whereas 15 years prior to that they were able to enroll about 40m people or thereabout.

So, the enrolment exercise is in process and it is going on well although the new Director General, correctly, she needed to ascertain who is being owed, how much is being owed, and so she had to do revalidation exercise to ensure that she gets the correct figures because you know Nigerians.

For example, if she is just paying money and some of that money just disappears into different accounts, we will all come here to blame her. So, we appreciate what she has been able to put in place and there were a lot of problems even with the software, there is what we call the processing error- when you register somebody the thing won’t register at the backend.

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So, with all these problems she came in and she confronted them but I believe she has meticulously tackled most of them and that’s why I think she has come to the public to say she is going to pay the entire backlog before the end of the first quarter.

But of course, there is still always a problem that the FEP is putting forward. When the agreement was made, to engage FEPs, it was agreed that they will be paid $1 per enrolment and that’s in the white paper produced even with the World Bank and $1 at that time when the project started was N350.00. So the agents are asking us, are these people trying to pay us our $1 at the equivalent? That’s one of the major problems that’s actually very unclear because if you say it is one $1 but we can’t pay you in dollars in Nigeria we pay you the exchange rate. Now you have held that money for more than two years, unpaid and so are a number of the agents who are already having problems with their banks who took loans.

There are a lot of stories on the NIMC but these are carryover problems, not caused by Abisoye Coker-Odusote, the new Director General. So I think we are comfortable if she is able to pay the equivalent of $1.

Whatever the equivalent is, whenever they want to pay, that should be their primary focus for now. The World Bank is now taking over and once they take over fully, we will begin to do the enrolment in large numbers as well. But now it is restricted to offices of the NIMCs and I think it might be a little bit slow.
But right now she has said she wanted to revalidate the vendors and she wanted to be sure that it isn’t the people awarding the licenses that are the ones controlling the business and so many other things that has informed her decisions to be a little bit careful, meticulous and put things in place and that will take some time.

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That’s a little that I know about NIMCs and I happened to have employed over 1200 people as agents.

Finally, if you want to assess President Tinubu, over a hundred, what is the score card that you will give him?

I am one of those who have always believed that Tinubu will perform.

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