Barrister Adebayo Shittu is the former minister of communication and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics programme, he spoke on President Tinubu’s recent policies, the disquiet over the appointment of Hannatu Musawa as minister without NYSC certificate, saying those dissipating energy over the matter lack knowledge of the law, among others.
We have a new government; did you play any role ahead of the commencement of this government?
Well, with all sense of humility, I would say that I have been a professional politician for upwards of 45 years (I started politics in 1978) and I have always been active. So, as a member of the APC, I found it as my duty to contribute to the emergence of a president on the platform of the APC.
About one and a half years ago, I initiated the establishment, at that time, of Asiwaju Tinubu Presidential Campaign Organization. Later, I was persuaded to change the name to Asiwaju Tinubu-Shettima Coalition for Good Governance.
At the last count, we had 1,141 support groups under my leadership. We have retired generals, professors, all kinds of professionals and the aim of establishing the organization was to drum support for the emergence of Tinubu, now president as the presidential candidate of APC.
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When the organization was established, a lot of people were surprised that I was rooting for Asiwaju Tinubu because a lot of people knew that I had never been an Asiwaju person. Our path never crossed; I had been in PDP, then CPC.
You were a Buhari person…
I was a Buhari person, a core Buhari person.
Are you still a Buhari person?
I still consider myself as one but in determining to work for Bola Tinubu, I put myself in the position of a shareholder in a new company which was just being formed with a view to employing or engaging a chief executive who would run the company profitably.
The company was symbolized by Nigeria as a whole and the chief executive was to be the person who would become the presidential candidate and so I put all the aspirants at that time – about 11, 12 of them – on the table and said look, with regards to antecedents, past experiences and accomplishments, Bola Tinubu was the best irrespective of the fact that we’ve never worked together before. I didn’t support him because he’s a Muslim or because a Yoruba man. It was simply because he was the best of all the candidates potentially.
Okay, now, in the last two months, do you still believe that he is the best candidate?
I believe so.
Number one, if you look at the most contentious issue of his governance, the oil subsidy removal, all the front runners in the 2023 presidential campaign also agreed that oil subsidy had to be removed.
But removing it using which template? Because I’m sure you are also a witness to the difficulties in Nigeria.
Sadly, I am a victim of the difficulties also.
How? You are among the elite.
I mean, currently, I am not engaged in any income yielding engagement, so as somebody who has spent so much time in politics, I remain a politician and I have no regret about it.
But I see the continuous provision of subsidy over the years as merely postponing the evil day because how many of us, or which person among us will be producing a product at N100 and be selling it at N40? It simply didn’t make sense.
The only regret I have is that our government, that is the Buhari government, in 2015 when we were taking over, promised to revive the refineries and we said we’re going to do that in four years. Unfortunately, in eight years we couldn’t do that and that is one regret I have.
Do you feel guilty?
I feel guilty of course, because we ought to have been able to do it and up to this moment, I cannot provide an answer for why we could not.
I wanted to ask because you served as a minister. What really happened at Federal Executive Council throughout the years?
Well, I don’t know because it was never an issue in different Federal Executive Council (meetings). At best, it would have been an issue between the minister of state for petroleum resources, Mr. President who was minister and officials of NNPC and all of that; it was never brought to FEC, so I don’t have any answer to it.
But I’m happy that we now have a president who described his mantra as hope being renewed and that is to reassure Nigerians, to ensure that the goal of reviving refineries would be met.
Are you certain that the relief will come? This is because even in the palliatives, people can’t see the intervention.
I will tell you; I hope it will not shock you. If I had my way, if I were Mr. President, instead of the palliatives which are being distributed, I will make education and health completely free in the country. Yes, let us use the money we are using for palliative for that instead. When there’s free education, there’s no family that would not be positively impacted because if people don’t have to pay their children’s school fees, or pay for their children’s medicals, then whatever remains with them should be used for other things.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said “Educate the children of the poor. If you fail to educate the children of the poor, these children would ensure that your own children cannot sleep with both eyes closed.”
Look at the banditry, insecurity, and criminality going on in most parts of the North today. I want to say this with due respect to all parts of the country, the level of poverty in Yoruba land where Awolowo reigned and the level of insecurity in Yoruba land is so much reduced compared with what happens in other parts of the country.
Is it because of the level of education in South West?
It is because of education. Once people are educated, they are able to decipher right from wrong.
Okay, can we say that President Tinubu got it wrong in terms of mitigating the effect of fuel subsidy?
I would say that he needs advice; he needs new perspectives to it.
This brings me to the issue of the ministers he has appointed, over 40, the highest number since 1999. Did you expect him to have this large cabinet or you have some reservations?
A lot of people will see it as large but you see, when you know the quantum of work available to be done, you don’t behave in a manner of penny wise, pound foolish.
For instance, he has brought in a number of innovations to governance. In the past, we never had anything like ministry of marine and blue economy. That is certainly an opportunity for Nigeria to rake in billions of dollars by ensuring that rather than lumping all aspects of transportation together in the minister of transportation where the minister hardly knows what is going in the marine sector, now there will be a minister who would need to concentrate and think outside the box to ensure that Nigeria is able to maximize all the potentials in the marine environment.
But we had the ministry of mines and steels right from Shehu Shagari days and nothing tangible came from there Mines and steels are about exploring mineral resources, which is different from marine.
During Shagari’s administration, we were told that the ministry of mines and steel will revitalize Nigeria’s industrial sector because every state had one mineral or the other, but there is nothing on ground yet. Now, we have two ministries there.
The whole thing was done together then, but President Tinubu has taught it wise to now separate mines and steel because each is very huge and requires a lot of expertise and innovativeness.
You headed the ministry of communications during President Buhari’s administration, it was later renamed ministry of communication and digital economy. Have you noticed anything in the nomenclature because people see some of these things as being deceptive?
Before I left office, I was at the verge of changing the name of the ministry of communications to ministry of communications, digital economy and postal services, that was my plan.
And what did you aim to achieve?
The aim was to expose the potentials of that ministry to the public. For instance, I had then planned to break down NIPOST into six or seven new companies.
Yes, NIPOST only and the booklet I did in 2017 is still available, I hope to be able to present it to the new minister and to encourage him to read. Unfortunately, the last minister didn’t attend to it but the proposals are there, where you would have for instance a NIPOST Bank.
You recall that in Nigeria today we have 774 local governments. In more than half of these local governments, there are no banking facilities or banking services at all.
So, my plan was to ensure that post offices develop part of their schedules into banking services, so that the person who is in the remotest village would also have access to banking services.
I also intended to have a NIPOST property and logistics company, such that if you go to Lagos for instance to purchase goods, instead of looking for a vehicle that will go to your village in a remote place, you just take your goods to NIPOST logistics, drop them, pay the necessary fees and NIPOST, with all their vehicles, would certainly get to every place where there’s a post office in this country.
So, you think the creation of more ministries is not really bad? Is it not a contradiction of the Oronsaye Report?
Oronsaye Report is not a law; they are mere recommendations, unfortunately, and the subsequent governments have never looked at it. If Tinubu considers it as appropriate, I hope he will take a look at it.
Before inauguration, President Tinubu was saying that he was going to have a lean government, lean cabinet and all that.
Yes, what is important for Nigerians is that we don’t want to be penny wise, pound foolish. It’s important for a leader to be able to assess the quantum of job available for him to do and recruit competent people. He could as well say he doesn’t need ministers because he wants to maintain a lean government but would that make sense?
Some people are saying the appointment was meant to compensate politicians
Whether you like it or not, politicians brought about the government, so while there’s a need to compensate them, it’s more important to bring in quality people who are capable of delivering good governance.
How qualitative are they because we heard of some under hands ahead of the appointments; some of the ministers allegedly bought their ways?
I’m not aware of that.
But it’s like things have started falling apart in earnest. There’s a story flying around now that some of his ministers have issues, take maybe Hannatu Musawa, she doesn’t have NYSC certificate, have you heard about it?
Of course, I read it.
Why are you laughing?
As far as I’m concerned, that is not even an issue.
We are guided in this country by the 1999 Constitution.
What did the 1999 constitution say?
The 1999 Constitution did not make it mandatory that for anybody to hold public office, he/she must have NYSC discharge certificate.
I don’t understand. We called the NYSC here in Daily Trust before we reported her case; and they said she breached their Act.
Was she the one who appointed herself? The president appointed her and the president has not broken any law because the constitution and several court judgments have said that to become a politician or a public office holder, having NYSC discharge certificate is not a requirement.
In 1979, I contested election into the Oyo State House of Assembly; I was coming directly from law school when I contested.
You didn’t serve then?
But you know that issue has been trailing you.
Let me say this, I didn’t serve. I went to do higher service in the Oyo State House of Assembly and my opponent, who I defeated from NPN, took me to court but the court threw out his case. He said the court should invalidate my victory because I didn’t do national service.
Even though you are a graduate?
Even though I was just coming out of Law school; and the court asked, where in the 1979 Constitution is there a provision that to contest election into the House of Assembly or any other political posts, you must have NYSC discharge certificate?
By the time I finished my service in the House of Assembly, I was already 30 and I also automatically got appointed as honourable commissioner for Home Affairs, information and culture. That was in 1983, I was 30 by then.
As a lawyer, are you not aware whether that clause in the constitution has been changed?
That aspect of NYSC has not changed in the constitution, subsequent constitutions retained the provision as it is, it did not say for anybody to go and do service or go and enter political office or something, he must first do NYSC, there is no such law.
When you went for screening to be appointed minister, did they ask you for your NYSC certificate?
They could not have asked because it is not a part of the requirements in the constitution, so it will be out of place for anybody to start asking me if have served. Must I serve before I enter the House of Assembly or National Assembly or become a minister?
But I remember in 2019, you wanted to vie for the governorship in Oyo State and I think Oshiomhole, who was in charge then as APC national chairman, didn’t allow you scale through and he brought the issue of the NYSC.
Let me tell you what happened then. It was fraud! The person who brought my case to the party secretariat that I didn’t serve was the late (Abiola) Ajimobi. He himself never served and he was given a ticket for Senate while I was disqualified after I had paid N20m for the form.
And you took them to court later?
I went to court but, somehow, my lawyer then also frustrated me by withdrawing the case without my authority, so I just decided that all is well.
So, when you heard of Hannatu Musawa’s case, what was your reaction?
My reaction was that it was an irrelevant issue. The president needed her at a higher level than NYSC level and so be it. It was the president’s decision; the woman did not appoint herself as minister.
If she is taken to court, will you defend her?
Of course, if I’m engaged to defend her, I will.
Are you now saying she should go to bed and sleep?
She does not have to even worry herself about all the noise.
But what about the noise all over that Nigeria is waiting for Tinubu’s action, do you think he will act on this?
What is the offence of Tinubu? They have to come and tell us and use the constitution as the basis for their arguments.
But what is the difference between her case and that of Kemi Adeosun?
The problem with Kemi is that she didn’t serve and she ought not to have served because she schooled abroad and stayed abroad until after 30 years.
She went to procure a forged exemption certificate which she didn’t need, so that was the difference.
Now, who will educate NYSC that this is not actually a problem?
NYSC has a legal department.