A former Governor of Kwara State and senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, fielded questions from PREMIUM TIMES Editors, Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete and Sani Tukur two weeks ago. In the interview, Mr. Saraki speaks on why he defected from the PDP to the APC, the politics of his defection in the Senate, the crisis in the NGF, Kwara politics, the nation’s economy, the politics of 2015 and other sundry issues. The first part of the interview ran last week. Find it here.
You are a local politician and you go home all the time to interact with your people. That philanthropy that you do every Ileya that causes problem in Kwara, what are you going to do about it to ensure that the processes are better, that there is no death?
First of all, it is wrong to say it causes problem all the time. It is unfortunate that it did happen in some few instances. We have been looking at how to improve on the method, and how to improve on the facility. It is unfortunate really. A lot of people came up with sincere recommendations which we have looked at. Majority of the people who lost their lives are not just strangers, they are people that I know personally. We have become a tight family unit in the set up, so I feel it more than anybody else. These things used to run smoothly. What happened last time was because it was the festivity period and there were a lot of things on the table. We are now looking at how to get it better organised and avoid the unfortunate incident of last year.
Can you tell us in clear terms if our economy is in danger. I ask this because the Minister of Finance has stated repeatedly that our economy is healthy.
Let me give you both the good and bad sides. In today’s global economy, we are growing at about 6. 7%, inflation is down, currency is stable; these are good things happening. But we should always remember that is happening at a time we have oil at $107 per barrel. At this amount one should see an increase in our Excess Crude Account and increase in Foreign Reserve. Unfortunately that is not happening. For some of us, it is more frustrating because the revenues are down. It should be much higher than that, but because there are lots of leakages. I am sure even the Minister of Finance will agree, even when she was talking about what she has been able to achieve. She was saying that the budget under her supervision is detailed. Those are the good things we have achieved. How can you have a budget when the oil finances that account for majority of the revenue is not transparent? You cannot say leave oil finances and look at my budget because oil finances is your budget.
So if oil finances is the way it is, when expenses are incurred and the Minister of Finance has not signed off to it. Or you are incurring something which the Minister of Finance has said I don’t want it done! She has on several occasions said that kerosene subsidy is not okay for payment, meanwhile payment is being made. So how can you say such finances are satisfactory?
The Minister of Finance is saying I want to carry out forensic audit. Forensic audit! Money is gone, why? If we tighten all these leakages, there will be more money coming into the system; there will be more money for capital expenditure; deficits will be less; and foreign reserve will grow. But at the moment, our foreign reserve is low, and our currency is very vulnerable.
We are also having low production level of less than 40% and so that too is impacting on our economy. We can do much better.
What do you miss most about Oloye (Mr. Saraki’s late father, Olusola Saraki)?
I think, it is largely his capacity to continue to be there for the people and the ability to absorb all the pressure. He had this indefatigable personality about him to be able to continue and continue. That is huge, and having been able to do that by being in the Senate, party leadership, that is tasking. I think it will take time to build that capacity. Being a good leader goes beyond whatever position you are holding. You must have the ability to be there for the people. It takes time to acquire it because that is what makes you a good politician. Many politicians today are seasonal politicians who only go to the people six months to election. After winning their election that will be it again until the next round of elections.
Being there for the people is not just about money, which is the mistake some people make. They think that it is about money. But people just want to feel you and know that you are always around. They sit down with you and discuss, may be even watch TV and generally do stuff together. People should be free to discuss their problems with you and get your advice.
You can’t say for three years, you can’t do that until election period. How do you know how the man or woman you expect to vote for you lived their lives in the last three years? That is what makes a good politician and I think that was one of the strength of Oloye – having to do that and combine with other responsibilities.
Are you playing that role at the moment?
I am trying because I don’t really have a choice because that is the way we run politics in Kwara. People in Kwara wonder how it is possible for this man or this family to continue to be so relevant. It is because we work hard. Election or no election I am always at home. The others go away as soon as they finish election. Like now, one year to election you will see them arriving. People are not fools. When you are there for them year in, year out, they too will be there for you when the time for election comes. They know that your care for them is not just about winning election.
So are you still going to run for the office of the president, or you will still ….?
Why are you not asking me if I am running for the Senate again? Well, whenever people ask me this question, I always say I am not going to answer that question because there is something I have noticed. When you stand for what is right; or you take a position on what is right; people will easily blackmail you to say the only reason why you are doing what is right is because you want to aspire. That, therefore, belittles what you are fighting for. The issues that I am talking about to me are so germane and crucial to the sustainability of our economy and the growth of this country.
Let me focus on these issues now. We are just forming a party and if we can get all these things done….. The only reason why you aspire for a position is so that certain things are done properly. Once things are done properly, you don’t have to insist that you take that seat. I remember in 2011 when I raised the fuel subsidy issue, that propaganda came that it was because I want to run for president in 2015 – an election that was three and a half years away.
Just because they don’t want to address those issues, the people who were benefitting from it would always find a way to blackmail it. They said there was nothing in it, that the facts were not right. They said the figures I was quoting on the floor were not right, not until Ngozi and former MD of Access Bank formed their committee and they confirmed and informed the president that this thing is real. I know what I went through. So some of these things when you say them, they try to bring politics into it and it is frustrating. These things are the easiest o! It doesn’t take sacking of people. It just needs the political will to say no, stop it! By this time tomorrow N700 million has landed, you don’t need any difficult decision to achieve that. It’s too early to talk about my political future.
But does your party stand a chance in 2015?
Stand a chance? I like the question. PDP today has 18 states, and two other states that I will say are in alliance with the PDP. APC has 16 states. First of all, if you take these 18 and 16 states, you realize that this is the first time that PDP will go into an election with an opposition party that has as much as 16 states.
If you go back to the time of President Yar’adua and President Jonathan’s last time, you will notice that they have never had that number of states. You know in our politics, it is the states that drive the process. So let’s assume that each party will hold their states and in our own 16 states, we have Kano, Lagos and we have Rivers. That is if you look at the numbers.
Even in the PDP states, there are six states that the PDP has never won in presidential election since 1999. PDP has never won in Bauchi, Gombe, Kebbi, Katsina, Jigawa and Niger. I am calling them PDP states because they have PDP governors, but they have never delivered for the party.
So, take them out of that 18? The reason people are saying PDP might win is because of the incumbency factor, and that they have security and the likes. That is nothing, but a mental psych that people have.
Going by the party registration that we just had, people will be shocked. Just wait for the result. Take Kwara for example – as of last week when they were compiling, because they have not finished yet, but we had 387,000 registered members. Hear my figure o! 387,000! In the last election that we had, Governor Abdulfatah (Ahmed) won by 256,000 voters o, not party members. So if today I have 387, 000 APC members, what do you think will happen?
What I found out from this registration exercise, and I urge you to also go and find out, is that there is a desire for things to be done differently. What is happening is a movement. It is a movement for change in the country. That is where Nigeria is today for whoever doesn’t want to deceive themselves.
So whether APC can win is a non issue. All what we need to do, which is also a challenge for us, is to really present ourselves as a true alternative and that we stand for something different from the PDP. We should carry out our internal processes democratically and I am sure, Insha Allah, APC will win because the numbers are there.
You should be asking, how does PDP think they can win? Because first of all, their states do not have as many voters as our states, and if we now assume that six of their states have never voted for the party in the presidential election, then how?
Just wait and see the total number of registered members of the APC when the numbers are collated; I am sure it cannot be anything less than 16 million.
In the last election, Buhari only scored 12 million. So if as a party, my members are already 16 million, how many votes would I get when we go to voters? I definitely believe that our party is in a very strong position to win. The performance also of some of our governors is going to make it easier.
I know we have work to do in the sense that we have a strong competitor and there are people with ambitions, but we just have to make the necessary sacrifice for collective interest.
The elections are actually for us to lose. I honestly believe that we can win the election.