Tinubu Govt Lacks What It Takes To Change Nigeria’s Economic Fortunes – Suswam

According to Suswam, the removal of petrol subsidy, floating of the naira, increase in electricity tariff, among other policies initiated by the Tinubu government is evident that the former Lagos State governor is out to make things worse for the Nigerian masses.

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Former Governor of Benue State and Senator who represented Benue North-East Senatorial District in the 9th National Assembly, Gabriel Suswam, says the current Nigerian leadership headed by President Bola Tinubu lacks the wherewithal to take the country out of the economic misfortune inflicted by his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari. According to Suswam, the removal of petrol subsidy, floating of the naira, increase in electricity tariff, among other policies initiated by the Tinubu government is evident that the former Lagos State governor is out to make things worse for the Nigerian masses. He also talks about the leadership crisis in his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), insisting that he possesses what is needed to take the party back to its glorious days. He maintains that the PDP remains the party to take Nigeria out of the woods. The Senator was a guest on Channels Television’s Newsnight programme during the week.

Enjoy the excerpts of the interview!

 You’ve been somewhat quiet since you left the seat as the number one citizen of Benue State, maybe because of your senatorial responsibilities. You want to walk us through that point from being governor to here now?

Thank you very much. Let me say that as governor of a state, you are more visible within the polity than being a senator. The reason being that as governor you are in charge of a sub-regional government and a lot of issues that touches and concern the people of that sub-region are your responsibility and so you are more visible. As a senator you have 109 senators and so you can’t be as visible as being a governor as a floor senator except you are one of the presiding officers. When I left office as governor (in May 2015), I felt I should face other things and allow the persons who succeeded me to be in charge. You know it is only in this part of the world that people leave office as governor or as president and still want to interfere in the running of government as if they are still there. Elsewhere in developed economies, once people leave office, they find some other things to do and allow the incumbent operate the way he or she wants. I believe in that so when I left Government House, I felt that had no business as far as the issue of governance of Benue is concerned. I was representing a senatorial zone, and I was more interested in attracting whatever project I can or could to that senatorial district. That restricted my responsibility to a small area of the state and so I just feel that there’s no need behaving as if I am still a governor.

Some will say that you are closer to your people representing them at the federal level compared to when you were a governor. How would you describe this?

Before I became governor, I was a two-time member of House of Representatives. So, I was well-placed to appreciate the issue that confront the people and so when I became governor, I wasn’t a governor that didn’t know the issues, I was well abreast of the issues. I was closer to the people than I was when I was governor because as governor you have lieutenants. Because of the enormity of the work, you are unable to reach the people the way you would want, but as member of House of Reps I could go sit down in villages and have drinks with them and listen to what their problems were. So, I came in into the Government House markedly well-prepared and that is why I kicked off from day one as governor. In fact, when President Yar’Adua visited me on the first 100 days of his government, I was driving with him in the car when he asked me: “How did you do this?” He was surprised that within those few months, I was able to put some things on ground and I told him, well as a member of House of Reps, I knew the issues and so I didn’t need to think about them. I just knew the tasks. So, as a senator also, because I’ve had the experience of House of Reps and as governor and then, now being reduced to a small responsibility I was able to attend to that very well, attracting federal government projects in terms of electricity, building classroom blocks, so I was able to represent those people very well.

Would you say the Nigerian State is on course?

Well, it’s rather unfortunate right from the Buhari Government where the mantra of ‘Change’ was the singsong. Unfortunately, people didn’t ask what kind of change he was bringing into governance. Is it positive change or negative change? What we experienced under those eight years were what dovetailed into what we’re experiencing today because whatever foundation that was built by the PDP was completely destroyed by that (Buhari) government. We now began a journey to the abyss. The state of the nation, economically, is nothing to talk about, it’s unfortunate that the current (Tinubu) leadership does not have what it takes to change the economic fortunes of this country. All the economic policies that they’ve engaged in or they have taken clearly indicate that they can’t solve the economic problems of this country. I give you some example, you remove subsidy from day one, you now float your currency, increase interest rate. Now the tariff for electricity has been increased. How does an average man survive under those kinds of heavy bad economic policies? First, subsidy itself is a problem, it affects the cost of transportation, cost of production, because you’re dealing with energy, now that has been removed. So, the person who is selling foodstuff who now was transporting maybe from inside Abuja at the cost of N5,000 now has to transport that at the cost of N15,000. Where do you think the cost will end? To the consumer. So, inflation in this country is at 31 per cent. It is unheard of!

Now, look at floating of the currency. There’s no developing economy that has floated their currency that have gotten out of it, none. Is it the Latin Americans? They have not. In the 80s and early 90s, most of the problems of Latin American countries was the fact that they took very bad economic policies such as this current government is taking — floating of the currency, removal of subsidies here and there.

There is an argument from this (Tinubu) government or the (Buhari) government before that it’s a product of what your party did that led to this?

No, that argument is baseless. It is baseless in the sense that when President Goodluck left, what was the exchange rate of the naira? What was the pump price of petrol and diesel? What was the electricity tariff? What was the interest rate? So, the argument is baseless; it is people who lack the capacity that give excuses. If you give me an assignment and I have no capacity I will begin to give excuses. That is what is happening, it’s lack of capacity because most of the people put in places as ministers are people who lack capacity to hold those offices. One would have believed that the President, with the kind of people he selected in Lagos, do the same in terms of getting people who understand what they are doing. Unfortunately, maybe it’s a larger environment and so it’s different. When you have lieutenants who themselves have no value to add, then there’s a problem with that. They have no value and so that is why most of these policies are being taken. I’ve looked at the budget, for instance. You have a budget that you know is basically not implementable ab initio, so how are we going to move forward because you have a deficit of close to 9 trillion naira right now? You have financing items for that deficit which themselves will not be realisable. So, you can add that to the deficit because when you say that you will sell government assets to finance the budget. Since 2019 when I was in the Senate, that has been a reoccurring decimal, year in, year out, they sell government assets to finance the deficit. You can’t realise anything that way.

But some assets have been sold, haven’t they?

No, when you have a deficit of over 9 trillion naira then your financing items of that budget is that you are going to borrow money, both internally and externally. Borrowing money internally means that they will continue to print money such as the Buhari government was doing. No matter what you try, (the value of your currency) will continue to depreciate once you are printing money. Not only that, you’ve gone ahead to increase tariff on electricity. What are the manufacturers going to do?  Yes, they can pay that tariff but transfer it directly to the consumers. What is the earning capacity of an average Nigerian? So, you have electricity cost alone about 10 times more than the minimum wage of an average worker in this country. How is the country going to operate? These are some of the issues that we have that worries the PDP and we believe that what we’ve done in the last 16 years where at least we have a middle class in this country has been wiped over completely. Now, we want to come back as a government under PDP that we can bring back those good old days and we can do it. PDP has the resources to do that.

But we have PDP as lawmakers and governors at the moment.

They are in the minority.

Even at that, they can still have their say.

In a democracy, the minority can have their say but the majority will have their way. So, yes, we have PDP Senators, they are in the minority as against the ruling party. As far as the National Assembly is concerned, once you are in the minority you can make a lot of noise but most time that noise ends either in the media or the chambers.

Some people in the ruling party right now used to be in the PDP. Can’t the PDP members now in APC speak to those in government?

They joined the leadership of a different party and have very little to contribute to that government. The late Ojukwu said if you can’t beat them, you join them. So, most of them are joining and just have this laid-back attitude as to what is going on and rather than bring some of the PDP magic wand. It’s very unfortunate that our democracy instead of progressing is retrogressing.

Where then is the opposition that should keep the ruling party on its feet?

This government will be one year next month. We’ve given the government that holiday to see what they are capable of doing, whether there are indications that this government have capacity to take Nigeria out of the woods. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that this government is taking Nigerian down and we are now hanging on the precipice as a country. Every day, new economic policies, new social policies are taken that are anti-people, they are completely anti-people and so the PDP is now building back as an opposition. We will put ourselves together to provide that viable alternative for Nigerians, the PDP that they knew. Now that they have a basis for comparison, they now know that PDP was a far better party than what they promised.

But the PDP is in disarray.

No, it’s not. When you lose an election, you need to absorb the initial shock and we have absorbed the shock of losing that election. Now, we are prepared to move forward, get ourselves organised and then present that alternative that Nigerians are looking for. Now there’s the basis for comparison, the change that was promised is like a mirage. PDP (members) will put ourselves together in spite of the seemingly differences that you read on the newspaper. Most of them are not necessarily true but we have problems, no doubt about that, but those problems, we’re going to sit together and sort them.

What are those problems?

After the presidential primaries of the PDP, problems started where some people felt short-changed. Those issues were not properly addressed and so they didn’t work for the party. The party lost the election as a result. For us to sit down and address the issues, we need a strong leadership at the PDP headquarters that will be able to bring people together, hold constant meetings and look at the issues that are preventing the PDP from presenting that viable opposition that Nigerians are looking for. We’re going to do that. There are meetings that have been slated for this month, hopefully all of these issues will be addressed, and we will be able to come up stronger and you begin to see a renewed PDP, a resuscitated PDP that will address the issue. We’re not going to be destructive in addressing some of these economic issues; we will be very constructive. We will take them one by one; we will look at the issues as they come and address them. We’re not just going to be insulting the APC government, no, we will not do that. We’ll be very constructive. Nigerians already see what is going on. You don’t need to tell somebody who was buying a loaf of bread at N500 who is now buying a loaf of bread at N1,000, you just need to remind him of how much he was buying a bread during the PDP. It’s a simple campaign as far as I’m concerned.

Nigerians wouldn’t expect any less from the PDP because they were the ones that started this whole process, democratic process. The party has lost elections three consecutive times now and is still trying to find its feet. One wonders what happened to that umbrella that covered everybody.

A lot of things happened. When people are in government there’s this tendency that you begin to believe that you are invincible. PDP was in government for 16 years and a lot of people had this messianic attitude towards issues and that nauseated quite a number of people. In spite of the fact that PDP was doing very well, the bahviour of some personalities and some characters within the PDP nauseated some Nigerians. They had no basis to compare the PDP with another party then but when the change mantra was all over the place, people just felt tired of the PDP and went for this change. That change is what has brought us to where we are, it was a negative change and that is what has continued to happened because the APC, unfortunately, was not prepared for governance and so instead of them to sit down and look at what PDP was doing and get resource persons who can address the economic problem that afflicts this country, it was all about we’re in power now. It is not just about voting people. Most of these people you ask them what the GDP of this country is, they don’t even know it and once you don’t know the basic economic issues that afflict your country, there’s no way you can address them. That is what is happening now, garbage in, garbage out. You try this one today, it gets worse. How do you take those policies? Removal of subsidy, floating of currency, increase in borrowing rates and then 300 per cent increase in tariff. Where does that happen? How? When you know that people are already overburdened. It is because the people who are supporting the President are unable to sit down with the President and say: ‘Mr President, this is what we will do to address the sufferings of Nigerians.’ The people just rush there and say: ‘Mr President, this is happening in America, and the UK’. But they forget that the social environments in these places are totally different from the social environment here.

Maybe they are not listening to the President when he continues to use the words ‘homegrown solutions’.

No, I don’t think so and I think quite frankly that the President needs to do something about that because the essence of having lieutenants is for them to add value to what you are doing. As a leader, if you are not aware that people you have around you are not adding value, that is very unfortunate. These people are not adding value, the burden on Nigerians is excessive. It is leading to a situation where people can no longer bear it any longer.

When the PDP left office, suddenly things began to open up, corruption cases here and there, money stolen, billions that were given out for elections not accounted for. What’s going on?

I don’t think I’m in a position to comment generally on the issue of corruption in this country. What I would say is that Nigerians have been pushed to a level where corruption has permeated down the entire gamut of the society and so it is not something that is limited to people who are in office. If you go to the private sector, there’s a lot of corruption there. Corruption in the civil service is beyond imagination. It is for us to sit down and look at how we can address the issue of corruption. Some of the people accused are not necessarily or were not necessary people you can say that they were corrupt. When you are in government, there are certain actions or decisions that you take with good intentions but when they put them through the lenses the lenses of EFCC or ICPC, those actions that you took with good intention constitute corrupt practices. That was what happened to most of these people. If we want to see real corruption, go into the civil service. I have been a budget person, so I know what I’m saying. A lot of corrupt practices are built in that budget and so once we address how we budget; corruption will be drastically reduced in this country.

 The PDP is out of power now and is beginning to find its footing. You have come up to say that you know what it takes to get the party running again as it should be. Should anyone look to you?

Since 1998, as a young man when I joined PDP, I’ve never for one minute left PDP. I participated in all PDP activities. I have done party activities. I have been given assignments by the party which I have carried out. To some large extent I know the party horizontally and vertically. I’m better placed to put the party together. I know the personalities involved, some of them personally and some I have worked with. I know the issues that have confronted the party that have resulted in crisis. It’s not rocket science for one to put PDP back together. These are human beings that need to talk to, some you need to massage their ego and like I said I know these people individually, so we can sit down together with them, appreciate what worries them, what the issues are and be able to come back together once again as a formidable party that will present that alternative to Nigerians.

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