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Nigeria collapsed the day Tinubu took over – Ex SGF Babachir

Babachir Lawal, an engineer, served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under former President Muhammadu Buhari and is a frontline critic of…

Babachir Lawal, an engineer, served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under former President Muhammadu Buhari and is a frontline critic of the President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima joint ticket under the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics, Lawal spoke on Nigeria’s current governance trajectory, saying the country collapsed immediately Tinubu took over power on May 29, 2023, and that power must come back to the North in 2027.


There is the likelihood that the federal government will launch buses that would be using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as part of May 29 celebrations. Do you think this would bring succour to Nigerians one year after the removal of fuel subsidy?

They will buy and give us for what?

For public mass transportation.

Last time they gave the state governors money to buy buses, isn’t it? They call it palliative, isn’t it? I’ve seen one bus.

In Abuja or your home state of Adamawa?

I have seen one bus plying the Mubi-Yola road. I took note of the number. I have not seen any other one.

Is it diesel-powered or CNG?

I don’t know whether it is diesel or CNG. But sometimes, we go for exotic solutions that don’t make sense. The other day I was talking to one of the ministers when I was complaining about the cost of diesel which I spend on tractors. Every week, I use about 75 litres of diesel in my farm at N1,700 per litre. And that is a lot of money. But it has come down. Yesterday (Wednesday) I bought two drums of diesel at N700, 000.

How long will it last?

One week if I am lucky. If all the tractors are working, it lasts me one week. If I need to use it as a generator, I will need a third drum. So now, when I was complaining to him (minister), he said, convert your tractors to CNG. I am an engineer. Then I asked him, where will I get the gas to refill the CNG-powered tractors? Where are the CNG filling stations? If I am going to Kaduna from here (Abuja) and I run out of gas, where do I branch to refill my CNG vehicle? So the infrastructure must be on the ground.

Are you trying to say they are putting the horse before the cart?

It is typical of this government. They talk grammar and then it fizzes out in terms of implementation. We should have seen the filling stations first.

But President Tinubu has directed ministries and government agencies to start using CNG vehicles as a matter of policy…

He is putting the cart before the horse. Let us see the infrastructure for refilling the gas-powered vehicles.

Are the CNG vehicles cheaper to manage?

The argument is that it is cheaper and more efficient. I have seen some of the Dangote trucks, they carry hefty cylinders. And when I asked one, he said, oh, that is CNG. But even them is dual purpose, dual system. When you run out of CNG in Mubi, you can go to the filling station and buy diesel. That is how they do their own.  So, first of all, put the infrastructure on the ground. It is like when they are hyping electrical vehicles. When you run out of charge on the highway or somewhere, it is not like there is a filling station you branch and recharge. So if you are going to go into things like that, put the recharge stations as a priority. Don’t buy the vehicles before you start to put the infrastructure for recharging.

Why the rush in buying the CNG vehicles?

You know we are having a government run by Lagosians.

How do you mean?

We are having a government run by Lagosians; shakara is too much, and grammar. They are very well known for that type of thing – fanciful things, which in practical terms don’t work outside Lagos.

Well, they have won the election

They didn’t win, they rigged themselves in.

But they are in government.

Yes, but don’t tell me they won.

Now, do you see Tinubu as your president and Shettima as your vice president?

I don’t have to see them for what they are. I know the Villa very well. I know the office of the president. I know the office of the vice president. So, whether I see them or not is immaterial. But they are sitting on those chairs. They are riding the presidential jet. They are making policies.

What is your take on their take-off and the journey so far?

I can only repeat what I said before.

What is it?

I have spoken on this before. First of all, I did say one time that you come into government on the day you were inaugurated. After swearing in you embark on the first major policies that are very impactful on the life of the citizenry. Like a cowboy, macho man. ‘I have removed subsidy on petroleum.’

That was his statement as president.

Yes. You didn’t have a minister of planning who would have planned the outcome, the consequences, mitigating circumstances. You didn’t have a minister of finance who would calculate the impact of this on the society, economy or the finances of the country. You didn’t even have a Federal Executive Council that would approve that. At that time, there was nothing, nobody to advise and nobody to work out the what-ifs of this big policy. So, immediately after that inauguration, Nigeria collapsed.

That word is heavy, why using it?

Nigeria is like a balloon; it collapsed. It’s like you deflated it completely immediately transportation tripled. I used to buy animal feed for my cows from Zaria at N270,000 per truck, but that week, I couldn’t buy any more because transportation alone was going to cost me N1million. That is times four. Last week, I bought some equipment, tractors for my farm and wanted to transport it to Yola from Kano and they were asking me for N3 million to transport three tractors on a trailer. I just bought four bags of groundnut seeds from the Institute of Agricultural Research in Zaria and they are demanding N500,000 for a small pickup.

So, everything just collapsed on the basis of the cost of fuel. For a long time in my place, we were unable to sell grains because the transporters who used to come with trailers to our local markets in Mubi to buy these grains are no longer coming because of the cost of fuel. So, that policy (subsidy removal) alone crashed everything.

But even the previous government said subsidy must go. In fact, since the 1970s, people have been saying that subsidy must go. Why are you complaining now?

You are forgetting that at one time I was part of the government. We used to have a running battle with former President Buhari. He would give a very simple explanation as to why it would not be good to remove subsidy because he would relate it to the masses. He was able to relate the consequence of that on the poor man. And by the time he explained it, you would have to sympathise with his position because the masses would suffer as prices would go up.

Subsidy is not sustainable, but Buhari foot-dragged. Can we say he plunged us into where we are today?

No. In government and the society generally speaking, you prioritise your purpose. It is to serve the citizens, make their lives easier and comfortable, peaceful, in harmony and in prosperity. As a government, you should be careful about any decision that is going to endanger the peace, harmony and prosperity of the citizenry and their ability to eat and live well. That is your whole aim. It is not about textbook economics. It is not about balancing the books, it is about the fact that the citizen must be comfortable in the end, living peacefully and healthy in a way that guarantees his safety so that he could do whatever he wants to do within a peaceful environment. All these things are very important. This is not the first government to remove subsidy on petroleum. We have ample evidence of sensible governments.

Previous governments only carried out partial subsidy…

Yeah, but they tried to ameliorate the suffering and negative consequences of the partial removal. I remember Abacha with his Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Even today, you still see the signs of the PTF – the work they did with that money. What about Sure-P by either Goodluck Jonathan or Obasanjo? They tried to do the same thing with the money they saved from the increase in the petroleum price.

But even Tinubu rolled out palliatives.

I have just told you that they said part of the palliative was to give transportation to the masses. In my state, I have seen one bus going up and down.

You were part and parcel of the take-off of the APC, is that correct?


If you are alleging that Tinubu rushed everything, what would you say on the fact that you people didn’t do anything? It took Buhari many months before forming a cabinet. And you were part of that government. Can we say maybe you laid the foundation of the mess we are in today?

Well, the thing with governance is that we make mistakes in Nigeria. That’s the way I see it. We don’t hold them to their manifestos. And the reason is very simple: We elect somebody as president and he goes into that Villa and sits there and starts to think that he has become a little god.

Are you making reference to Buhari or Tinubu?

All; everything with government. Once you are there, nobody holds you accountable anymore because you are the one that dispenses with the favours. And once you are favoured, you have arrived. It is as if you are out of the poverty circle. So everybody wants to worship the leader. Few are able to look you in the face and say, ‘oga, this is wrong, this is what I want.’

Did you speak to Buhari on the delay in forming his cabinet?

First of all, General Buhari, as I prefer to call him, had been in government as a minister, governor, military head of state before becoming a civilian president, so in my personal knowledge of him, he is not somebody with a very wide cycle of friends. He is a very purpose-driven person. He has little leisure. So he needed time to get the people he could trust to assign responsibilities to. He is straight, honest, and sincere person. That’s why he took time to form his cabinet.

I will give you a funny story. One day, I was gisting with this president, Bola, and he said, “This government is like a pilot that drives an aircraft to the takeoff point and switches off the engine. Nothing was moving.” And he said we must work on Buhari. Two people he needed at that time were the secretary to the government of the federation and the chief of staff. Bola would tell me that “if he gives us these two people, we don’t need to go to him and we can work through them.” And that’s the truth. That was at the time people were calling Buhari Baba Go-Slow.

Tinubu told you this?


This was before your appointment as the SGF?

Yeah. I wasn’t expecting to be SGF.

What were you expecting to be?

Nothing; I am a businessman. After the election, I told my boss that I would go back to my office. I painted my consultancy office white.

 Are you trying to say that you did not expect to be appointed anything in the government?

I did not expect to be appointed.

Are you saying he didn’t consult you before he offered you the appointment of SGF?

No, he didn’t. I only got a hint later through the late Abba Kyari. He asked for my number from my brother and he gave him, so he phoned me and said, “Why are we not seeing you? You don’t keep away from government, from power. This is not how it is done etc.” I said I was preparing to return to my consultancy job and he said the man was considering me as SGF. I told him that I had never minuted an official file. As an engineer, my file was a toolbox.

Is that why some people are saying you didn’t perform well as SGF?

Oh no, I did. Nobody ever said that; I have never heard it. Nobody in Nigeria ever told me. Everywhere I go, they say you are the best SGF.

But it took time for Buhari to form the government…

Eventually, he did.

Okay, but some people are saying that it is a lost opportunity, especially for the North, could that be correct?

I don’t know what they mean by that.

Are you satisfied with how Buhari handed over the North to Bola Tinubu?

I know Buhari very well. There are so many things I know about him as a person. He is a very patriotic person.

But how patriotic, looking at the level of deprivation in the North after his eight years?

Buhari would not go out to undermine the North. I was not happy when eventually the cabinet was formed and I mentioned it in passing. Southern ministers, former governors, former ministers, big people were there, including small girls and young boys and people who had never held positions. I told him that these people were just going to be interested in making enough money to go and become governors in their states.

You told Buhari this?

Yes. I said they did not have experience. So, when Fashola came to the Federal Executive Council with all sorts of procurements, all based in the South-West or something, they knew what they were doing, or the minister of science and technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, as well as Ngige, Kayode Fayemi, all  of these people from there. When you came to us you would see Khadija, Sirika, Hajiya, this girl from Sokoto, all of us; except maybe this lady, Aisha, the minister of women affairs, who was a senator.

Could that be the reason the North still doesn’t have anything to show? Look at the Abuja-Kaduna road; we are unable to complete it in eight years.

President Buhari will not deliberately go out of his way to do anything that would be considered selfish or favouring anybody. As a good leader, you should try to be fair. However, a situation arises in which your subordinates do not share your view. I mean that a minister of works would not see anything wrong in making sure that most of his procurements, these substations, new transformers, new distribution lines, new transmission lines, new roads were restricted to the South-West because he is from there. You have to be more proactive in checking it. And it was my duty as the secretary to the government to see that equity is done across board.

Did you do that before you left?

By the time I was driven out of the cabinet, I think everybody wanted me out.

But many believed that you went overboard…

With what?

Look at the issue of the corruption allegation they levelled against you. Maybe that was why you left the government. And some are wondering why Buhari allowed it to happen?

It is his style; his life. I am not the only one. I am sure it is one of his weaknesses. Buhari knew that they were getting me out so that they could get at him because I was his shield.

Are you saying you did not commit an offence?

No. They said I gave my company, or a company under me, which I was to be a managing director.

Are you talking about Rholavision?

Yes. Rholavision got a consultancy contract of N7.2 million.

But it is your company…

I had resigned, but they didn’t want to hear that.

But the documents were there…

Why did the court decide to discharge me? The court eventually said we didn’t even have anything to defend.

So you are now saying maybe it was because of your uprightness?

They wanted the position so that they could do what they did eventually.

What is your relationship with Buhari now?

Buhari is the only person in the world I call my boss.

You still hold him in high esteem?

Extremely high.

The Tinubu administration is exactly one year, can you rate it?

There is nothing to rate there.

How do you mean?

Zero. You don’t rate zero.

They did not perform at all?

In what area do you think they have performed? In bringing misery and suffering to Nigerians in a cavalier manner? They continue to tax (people), they bring policies that impoverish. Now, as I was trying to tell you that fertiliser is N37,000 per bag. During Buhari’s time, it was N7,000.

Garba Shehu, for instance, had said severally that Nigerians would be longing for Buhari. Are you one of those who are longing for the former president?

No, I don’t long for Buhari. His tenure was eight years; that’s what the constitution states. What can we long for him?

Finally, Atiku, Obi and Saraki met; are you part of them?


Will you be part of them?

Of course, when the time comes.

You think they would make a difference?

Atiku is my uncle and brother; you know he is from my state.

Why did you support Peter Obi instead of him?

Yes, because Anambra too is entitled to producing the president because, first of all, I was one of those who championed, ab initio, that the presidency should come from the South. I had done that. I had even gone around at my own expense. I had gone round long before the debate became an issue. I spoke to key political actors to help us get a president from the South. So, if I have fallen out with Bola Tinubu, I should look for another southerner; isn’t it? But  in the next election, the president will come from the North.

 You want the president to come from the North?

Not that I want, it should come from the North.




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