Mr Bayo Onanuga is a member of the Media Subcommittee of the Presidential Transition Council. He also served as the director, media and publicity of the defunct All Progressives Congress (APC’s) Presidential Campaign Council that worked for the emergence of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shettima as president-elect and vice-president-elect. In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics, the former managing director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) spoke on what the president-elect would most likely do in his first 10 days in office, those that would make his cabinet, the possibility of setting aside or fine-tuning some of the economic policies of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the fate of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, among other issues.
What should Nigerians expect in the first 10 days of the president-elect once he gets to the Villa?
By the time the president-elect is sworn in, we expect that he would announce some of his key officers. Of course, in the first 10 days he will also promulgate the National Assembly so that they can elect their leaders. I think he would be making some very strategic appointments.
I cannot say for sure whether his list of ministers would be ready in 10 days, but I am sure he is working at it and he would have it ready by that time.
Some weeks ago, the issue of having the cabinet within the shortest time came up; what do you think about this?
This is a very complex country, so you need to consult and carry everybody along. You cannot just sit down somewhere and make up a list so that you don’t have the kind of flares we are seeing now, with regard to positions in the National Assembly. Even on that one, I can say that consultations are still ongoing so that whatever conflict we are perceiving can be resolved before the Assembly comes to life in June.
Some people were surprised when it was announced that Tinubu was travelling out of the country to avoid distraction. Some Nigerians are saying that he may rule from London like President Muhammadu Buhari at a certain time. Is it a good narration that before he gets to the Villa he has started feeling distracted?
No, that won’t happen. You cannot imagine the kind of pressure people who are looking for positions in the government are piling on ordinary members of the committee, not to talk of the president-elect. People have been bringing all manner of requests. So, as the press release rightly pointed out, the travel was just to avoid pressure and distraction.
Shortly after the elections, Tinubu travelled out of the country. He was supposed to go to three countries – France (Paris), United Kingdom, and thereafter, Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj, but I think he only went to Paris, what happened?
He wanted to go to London to see his grandchildren, but I think that at the last minute he decided not to go. He came back home instead.
Also, he was in Saudi Arabia before the elections, so he decided not to go there again. So he decided to cut those ones and then decided to come home.
When he didn’t go to Saudi Arabia and London as planned, many people suspected that he was sick; is there anything being hidden from Nigerians?
As explained earlier, he decided not to go to London and Saudi Arabia.
What is the assurance that when the president-elect takes over he would settle fully in Nigeria and face the challenges ahead?
I believe he would do so. But you know we now live in a global village, as they say. So, even if he is in Russia, he can hold zoom meetings and do all kinds of things. But I can assure you that he will be here physically to do his job. He will not be an absentee kind of president.
People are also appalled that he left at the height of the tussle over the leadership of the National Assembly. Many Nigerians are shocked that after the declaration by the All Progressives Congress (APC) that there was a consensus, it is like hell has been let loose. How did he arrive at the choice of Godswill Akpabio and Tajudeen for the position of Senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively?
The statement by the APC released by Mr Felix Morka noted that the National Working Committee (NWC) was still looking forward to more consultations with party members. This is because they know that whatever decision they have taken may not sit well with everybody.
When the president-elect travelled out after the elections, pressure was on the NWC, and Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Morka and those who mattered kept saying they were waiting for his return because they could not take the decision in isolation. And he returned before these names emerged, so why did you get it wrong in choosing these people?
Well, I don’t know whether we got it wrong, but I think there would be a way of resolving whatever issues that may have emanated from the names being suggested.
It was not only the president-elect’s decision, the party was involved, and if some errors have been made, I am sure the party has enough time to reach some consensus before we go to the National Assembly floor.
Looking at the way things are degenerating, do you think the APC would do the needful?
Yes. The party actually said it was still consulting. In any position you want to give anyone, some interested people will say all manner of things to create conflict.
So you need to appeal to everybody. And if the party sufficiently feels that the candidates it is putting forward are the ones they want to back, then members will stay along. But if they feel that other members who are disgruntled have enough case, I am sure they would look at it and do the right thing.
In the race for the Senate presidency, there are quite a number of aspirants, including Orji Uzor Kalu, Ali Ndume, Abdulaziz Yari, Sani Musa, among others. Apart from David Umahi and Ndume, who came out clearly to say they would support Akpabio, after consultations with the president-elect, all the rest are adamant; is this not a recipe for crisis?
I am sure the party will deal with all these grievances. They are politicians, so they will talk and resolve issues.
What about the House of Reps, where many are still in the contest?
The same thing will happen there.
There is this allegation that some elements, especially in the House of Reps, are working alongside the opposition parties, who are in the majority, which means that it is going to be a hectic task for your party; what do you think?
Well, that is what they said, but until they get to the floor of the House. But I insist that the party will meet and resolve everything.
But it doesn’t appear that the APC is reaching out to the opposition; I think they have a feeling of self-entitlement, don’t you think it is dangerous?
No. Just like what happened in 2019 when Ahmad Lawan was made the Senate president, the party reached out to the opposition. I am sure it will not be different. It was not just APC senators that voted for him. So the APC is not going to say it will do it alone.
Opposition parties only need to get one vote to be able to produce the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, don’t you think they will reincarnate what happened in 2015 when Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara emerged Senate president and Speaker of the House, although they were not the preferred choices of the party?
I think the party would try to avoid that. We still have plenty time before June, so the issues will be resolved.
Some of the aggrieved aspirants and civil society groups have expressed disgust over the decision of the APC to allocate the deputy Senate president and speakership positions to the North West and nothing for North Central; don’t you think this is also a legitimate grievance?
Well, there are still other positions; they have only mentioned four.
The North West gave the APC the largest number of votes in the last election and I think it is fair that they are compensated. Without the North West, there is no way the APC would have won the election. So, as far as APC is concerned, you have to recognise that and compensate them accordingly.
Of course they brought almost 2.7 million votes, but you know they lost quite a number of states, including the governorship in Kano and Zamfara.
They are for local reasons, not because the people there didn’t like the APC. I think Zamfara people had a problem with Governor Bello Matawalle, but generally, the party did very well in the North West.
It also did well in North Central.
Yes, I agree.
What do you have to say on the allegation that even members of the NWC of the party are not in tune with the selection of Akpabio, and that is why some of the disgruntled members-elect have the effrontery to say they would engage in anti party activities in the event that no action is taken to address their grievances?
I think we should not protract this because I am sure the party will resolve all these issues. The party has to do some reality check and see if it would make sense to go along the path we want to go or listen to what our members are saying. Consultations have not closed.
So you are hopeful that the party would come down from its high horse?
They will talk and resolve whatever issues.
It is said that the North West did very well during the presidential election because the governors of Kaduna State and Kano championed it, looking at the roles they played. And they are allegedly behind the choice of these principal officers of the National Assembly; are you not scared of a kind of resistance from the so-called cabal?
I am sure politicians have a way of resolving issues.
Do you think APC governors from the North who are rounding off their tenures, such as Bagudu, Badaru, Ganduje, El-Rufai, Masari would be part of the new cabinet?
Let me not second-guess the president-elect. All those people you mentioned are very close to him and very pivotal to his emergence, even at the primary election. I don’t know what he has in store for them.
What about Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau?
Lalong was the campaign director-general, so they are all there. I am sure he will find use for all of them. He cannot abandon them because all of them were very useful in his campaign.
By the time you have people who are deeply entrenched in government forming the cabinet of the incoming government there will rarely be the desired change that would resonate with the people; do you think there would be much difference between it and the outgoing administration or the one before it?
Of course there will be change if you go by the action plan. There is already a guide to things we want to do. Any cabinet the president-elect forms will have to read the action plan and go by it. You know there is a wrong perception out there that the current president did not do well.
You can see how desperate Nigerians are for President Buhari to exit power; so, how wrong is the perception?
There is what I will call a very uncharitable kind of perception that the government has done nothing. This government has done a lot.
Are you saying the government has done lot in taking loans? Even yesterday, they spoke on borrowing $800million for social interventions, over N3billion for consultancy for the Abuja airport runway. There are so many promises and initiatives that are not really in tune with what Nigerians expected. Do you still say that this government has done well?
That is your opinion.
It is the opinion of Nigerians.
It is not the opinion of the generality of Nigerians. Yes, the government may not have solved a lot of problems, but when you weigh what he has done, vis-a-vis the government before it, you have to give this government a lot of pass mark.
Maybe in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of managing the economy, many people believe it didn’t do well.
Using infrastructure as an omnibus does not totally reflect what this government has done in many areas. I read somewhere that Fashola said they had built almost 20,000kms of roads, but you have to break infrastructure down. This government has done well in rail. A lot of things were abandoned by the former government, but you can see what this government has done.
In the South West, for example, the Lagos-Ibadan rail was done by this administration. They also awarded the Kano-Maradi rail line. A lot of things are going on.
In fact, the Tinubu administration is going to benefit from a lot of projects that you will even think it is Tinubu that did them, whereas Buhari laid the foundation.
How can Tinubu cope with the N77 trillion debt that would be left behind by the outgoing administration?
How much is America owing?
America is different. If you have been there you would know that in terms of infrastructure, they are not even talking about building roads when they come for campaign and all that.
Now, they are being confronted on whether to increase their debt ceiling or not. You should not be frightened about debt, what you should be frightened about is what we are using the money to do? Are we taking the loan to just consume or putting in on infrastructure?
What the Buhari government has done mostly is to put a lot of the money in infrastructure.
Are you saying the incoming government would not be scared of more loans?
When Tinubu was asked this same question in January at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group in Lagos, he said he did not believe in the conventional wisdom that borrowing money for a sovereign country is bad. The only way it is bad is if that money is being used for unproductive things.
Is the Buhari government taking the loans for productive purposes?
Yes. A lot of the loans are being used to do roads and all kinds of things.
We have 18 or 20 days to handover and this government wants to take a loan of $800million, and it is for consumption, not infrastructure; are you in support of that?
It is for a social investment programme.
Do you think it is okay?
Is it not for a productive venture? They are not using it to pay salaries.
Some people are saying that all these are landmines for Tinubu; do you agree with them?
No. For him, they are not landmines. He believes that any sovereign government should not be scared of borrowing. Once it is for a productive venture, there is nothing wrong in borrowing.
In the area of insecurity, when Buhari took over in 2015, it was only Boko Haram in the North East, but now, almost all the six geopolitical zones have one issue or another. Should Nigerians expect anything different or it is going to be business as usual?
No, it will not be business as usual. The president-elect has tried to tell Nigerians what he plans as the new commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He wants to increase the number of people involved in security. He will also bring technology to bear on the operations of security.
When you look at the way our soldiers are being ambushed by these terrorists, you know that the way we are doing it is not right. We are just putting them in harm’s way. If you use a lot of drones, even before they move, they have already surveyed wherever they are going to know whether there is any danger. They can even be in their base and attack terrorists; they don’t need to appear there physically. So, a lot of technology will come to bear in our operations.
It is very fundamental that we have to deploy technology to make our people safer. Look at the case of the people kidnapped in the Kaduna train attack – drones were used to locate them.
The problem is that when Buhari came on board, and even before he won the election, of course you were all part of the campaign, many promises were made, especially in terms of increasing the numbers, but because of lack of coordination and cooperation among the security agencies, we found ourselves in the mess we are in now. How do you think the Tinubu presidency would checkmate this rivalry among security establishment in the country?
Well, I do not believe he will do that. On the rivalry you talked about, in the last few years, the Buhari administration has been trying to make sure that all the armed forces try to collaborate and not see themselves as rivals. I have seen a lot of publications about that, having to share information among themselves and having to do a lot of things together. I think this kind of thing would continue.
But you can see that he could not actualise his dream of recruiting thousands of security operatives because of inter agency rivalry. For example, the Police Service Commission and the Nigeria Police Force have been fighting over recruitment; what is your take?
The chairman of the Police Service Commission and the Inspector-General of Police met over this about two weeks ago. It is just a mere ego problem. I am sure a lot of these problems can be resolved. They are not really big issues.
But the problems have been lingering for years, even before the coming of President Buhari.
Well, I believe that Tinubu would not tolerate things like that. If they can’t work together he just has to fire them.
People have been saying that President Buhari despises asking people to go; do you think we are going to see a departure?
Buhari is a bit conservative; that’s his nature. He is not the fire brand Buhari that Nigerians knew in the 1980s; maybe he has mellowed down a bit because of age.
But I am sure that Tinubu is more of a combustible person, he will not tolerate a lot of things. I am sure that by the time he gets there he will redesign all the acts of the leadership of the armed forces. He knows that collaboration is very crucial in security?
Should we think of a government of national unity by maybe picking people like Wike as ministers and all that?
I don’t know; I can’t say anything about that. I don’t know what the president- elect is thinking. Maybe when he returns I will ask whether he wants to bring non-APC members into his government. There are ways he can collaborate with others, not just by appointments.
The cashless policy was introduced ahead of the elections and people like you voiced out your anger, saying it affected the masses. Is it true that it was also targeted at Tinubu’s ambition to become president?
You would expect that in the runoff to any election, the ruling government or party should not do anything that would affect its chances to win. So, when the cashless policy was announced and being implemented, it triggered a lot of resentment. There were already resentment against Tinubu’s ambition but the policy heightened it. The public was really mad about the government; and to add fuel to the whole thing, we had fuel scarcity.
It was double jeopardy, and it was clear to us in the Tinubu camp that someone was behind it. We did not blame the president because when Emefiele came out with the policy, he said it would be done seamlessly. But when it came on board we saw what happened; there was nothing seamless about it. In fact, the policy de-capitalised the poor people of Nigeria. It affected more of the poor people, not the middle class people who can transfer money.
But do you believe that it was targeted at your candidate?
It was against the APC. The policy alone would have made the party lose that election.
Some said the president allowed the policy because he did not like Tinubu; why do you think he accepted it?
All these are just rumours.
Why did he accept the policy?
As I said, he accepted it based on assurances by Emefiele that the programme could be done seamlessly. The CBN governor printed about N400 billion and the money was inadequate; and withdrew about N3trillion or so from circulation.
What do you think would be the fate of Emefiele after the inauguration of the new administration?
I cannot say for sure; you know it is not easy to sack the man. By the CBN act, his position is statutory.
There has to be recourse to the National Assembly?
But Jonathan kicked out a former CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi?
Maybe the same thing would happen with him, but I cannot say that for sure.
If you were to advise, what would you tell the incoming president?
If I were to advise, after the swearing in on May 29, the first person that would be suspended is Emefiele. Mr President should ask that man to go because he is the number one enemy of the people of Nigeria.
They said a lot of things happened, would you also recommend his prosecution?
If they found out that he had done something wrong he should be prosecuted. And it is clear that the guy has done a lot of things wrong. It has never been so bad in our country. Look at the management of our monetary policy, especially the exchange rate. He messed up the country; he punished the poor and everybody, as well as banks. From January to March were bad times in this country; everybody was agonising.
What becomes of the cashless policy after inauguration?
Nigeria has been doing cashless policy for some years, but Buhari said we must now do it 100 per cent. And it was not compulsory to do it 100 per cent. How many of our people are actually using the banks?
I think I read some statistics that stated that about 60 per cent or 40 per cent of our people are using the banks, so you cannot achieve 100 per cent cashless policy. We need a very literate population to make our economy really cashless, and we don’t have that.
It means we have to continue to do the policy the way we have been doing it and expanding it, not trying to do it in a very short period.
The lifespan of the old naira expires in December if we are to go by the Supreme Court judgement, but we are not seeing the new notes, how would the new administration handle the situation?
You can see that the policy was targeted at Bola Tinubu, but it failed to stop him from winning the presidency.
Does that mean the old notes would most likely survive the Supreme Court timeline?
They will go to the Supreme Court and ask that the old notes continue.
There are multiple social intervention programmes targeting the poor. Should Nigerians expect a more coherent approach to reaching out to the poor?
The Tinubu administration will continue with this because it is in our action plan. You see, most of you people in urban areas don’t know the effects of these policies.
The timeline for fuel subsidy is June, going by the Petroleum Industry Act; is total removal feasible?
Well, Tinubu has said he would do away with the subsidy. And during the campaigns, both Atiku and the Labour Party man, Peter Obi, said they would do the same if they won.
So fuel subsidy will go in June?
I won’t say it would go in June because Tinubu would like to ask for figures while discussing with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited.
As at today, some petrol stations are selling at N184 while some are selling at N194; maybe they will find a way of increasing it.
So, most likely, the timeline will be extended?
Gradually, until it is taken off totally.