Otunba Henry Ajomale is the immediate past Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lagos state chapter. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on current developments in the polity. Excerpts
What is your take on the uproar trailing the recent increase in price of fuel and electricity tariff?
I believe the timing is wrong for us to be having this increment on virtually everything. The federal government is taxing people and the state governments are also imposing taxes on the people. If you want to build a house, they ask you to pay for permit before it can be built. Even if you have a house already, the federal government wants to collect stamp duties on the rents collected by agents. The question we should ask is, was the building located on federal or state lands? How can you pay the federal and state governments at the same time? Once the federal government charges you for stamp duty, there is no way you are still not going to pay your tax to the state government. It’s unfair for the federal government to take out of people’s rent. I have travelled far and wide and have not seen where that is done. I don’t know where that is part of the federal government’s constitutional duties; trespassing on the duties of the state governments. If the federal government should take over everything the way they are doing now, what do they want to leave for the states and local governments for their own development? That to me is unfair especially coupled with the fact that we have been on lockdown for about 7 months.
Many people have lost their jobs while many companies that are still in operation can barely afford the payment of salaries for their staff. So, this is not a good time for the government to come up with all these policies because this period is not a good time for the average Nigerian. The government is supposed to defend the interest of the common man and not to churn out policies that will deepen their poverty level. People are already overwhelmed and adding more to their problems can make them run mad. We have seen cases of people jumping from the bridge into the lagoon because of debts and other problems. The government must take things easy except they want to create more mental homes.
Many Nigerians are saying restructuring will get us out of this quagmire. Why is your party not doing anything in this regard?
I believe the APC should implement the El-Rufai report on True Federalism. When (Goodluck) Jonathan set up the 2014 national conference, many of us felt it was a waste of time. We believed that it was another trick by Jonathan to keep the leaders busy. Once they are busy with the conference, they won’t be able to criticise some policies of the government. He was not after the implementation of the confab. Now, the present government rejected that report and set up another one headed by Governor El-Rufai; I think we should look at it. Honestly, I don’t believe in all these patch-works the government is doing in the name of constitution amendment. It is like using a new cloth to patch an old cloth, there is no way it won’t cause more damage. Let another constitution be drafted and submit it to the people. Let Nigerians decide on it, not the National Assembly. That is only time we can say ‘We the people’. The present constitution we are using now was handed over to us by the military and it is unitary in nature. I think we should make use the El-Rufai true federalism report and also bring it for referendum. A constitution must be submitted to the people for approval. Let Nigerians make input and criticise it where necessary. That is when we can rightly say ‘We The People’.
Some Nigerians have criticised the silence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on the issue of restructuring despite their influence in APC. What do you think is responsible for this?
I don’t think they are silent on it. If there is opportunity for them, they will able to do it. But now, it is only the man there now who can say yes or now; and that is the President. So, it has nothing to do with Asiwaju or Osinbajo. It is the President’s game. The bucks stop on his table and he is the only one who can say let us restructure the country and revise the constitution. I don’t think the President does not believe in restructuring because it was on the basis of that that a lot of people voted for us. They voted for APC on the basis of the promise to restructure the country. But it is unfortunate that that has not been done. Maybe the President saw something wrong which makes it difficult for him to implement it. I don’t know. I cannot answer for him. It is him alone who can answer that question.
What advise will you give to the President on calls by Nigerians for the replacement of the Service Chiefs?
It is not about whether we replace the Service Chiefs or not. We need to be fair in our assessment and ask whether they are being provided with the logistics support needed. Is it the Service Chiefs that are incapable or the system itself? Have they been able to satisfy the demands of the Service Chiefs or do they expect them to fight insurgents with bare hands? Will fighter jets or armoured vehicle come from heaven? Before Buhari became President, there was a time it was even worse when our military were running away when they run out of bullets. Do you expect them to wait and be killed? How do you expect a soldier whose salary has not been paid to be motivated? What about their welfare? Do they have life insurance? Even if they are going to sacrifice their lives, they know their families will not suffer in vain. If an American soldier is going to war today, he knows he is secured because everything must have been provided. Some people joined the military today because of unemployment, not because they are committed. For Christ’s sake, let us stop putting blames on the Service Chiefs. Whether you replace Service Chiefs ten times, it is the same result you are going to get.
Even though he is yet to formally announce, some Nigerians are already mobilising for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to contest in 2023. What is your take on this?
I am in support of the fact that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is the best man to succeed President Buhari in 2023. I will support that without any hesitation because Asiwaju Tinubu has traversed the whole country. He knows where the problems of each constituent are and the solution to it. These problems are diverse because the problem they have in Ondo is not the same as the one in Kano state.
Tinubu was a governor and we know the role he played in the development of Lagos which makes it envy to other states. If a man can develop IGR from N600m to billions of naira, I believe if given the opportunity, he will turn Nigeria around for better. If people like Babachir Lawal from Adamawa and Tanko Yakassai can be rooting for Asiwaju, it goes to show you that the man is a pan-Nigerian.
I am not saying he is a saint or he is perfect. There is nobody who is perfect except God. You may not like his face but you should like the idea and experience he has to make Nigeria better. He is a financial expert and so there is nothing the Minister of Finance can tell him that he doesn’t know.
He knows where the money Nigeria needs is hiding and he can bring it out. That is the type of person Nigeria needs now.
We should not make the political mistake of putting somebody who has been contesting for the presidency for more than 20 years and he knows he cannot do it. He just wants to acquire power and after getting it, he has no idea about what to do. Let’s settle for somebody who has the interest of the people at heart, who can turn things around and make Nigeria become one of the best nations in the world. That person is no other than Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
There is also a school of thought who believe Buhari should allow Osinbajo succeed him having understudied him as deputy so as to continue with the policies of the administration. Do you think that argument is logical?
I don’t have any problem with the Vice- President of Nigeria. He is also a great man; very intelligent. Yes, Osinbajo is also capable and qualified of doing it. It not one person that has monopoly of knowledge. Everybody is good in his own ways. To me, Osinbajo is also good but experience matters a lot. That is where Asiwaju comes in.