The causes of the stress in Nigeria, let us take economy, is that we are not in charge of the price of oil. It is a world event. Unfortunately more than 80 percent of our income comes from oil and this oil, the price of it in the international market, is less than $40 barrels a day and the production of oil, about two million barrels a day, has reduced to less than one million barrels a day because of the Niger Delta Avengers’ destruction of pipelines. So, we are not in charge of the price of oil and we are not even in charge of full production of our quota. Those are areas to address. And then addressing it is through short term and long term.
Address the problems through short term and long term, how?
Long term is talking about other sources of earning, for example, agriculture. If you know the massive output we have from agriculture now in the North, you will wonder why we did not do so years ago. If what is happening now is followed through, within the next two, three years, we will be exporting food. That is a solution because it is better late than never. That is part of diversification of our sources of revenue. We cannot be a mono-economy. Then solid minerals; the danger of what is happening in the Niger Delta, and I am from Niger Delta, is that the region will lose substantially on derivation and so if you have solid minerals being tapped from all over the country and 70 percent of such solid minerals are from the North, you will see the governments in the North accessing the 13 percent derivation which is Constitution guaranteed, we will now be abandoned in the South-South and Niger Delta to our pollution arising from the anger we are expressing now through the Avengers.
But critics say if there was any grievance, it should have been expressed during the time their kinsman, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was President. Do you realise any grievance as a Niger Delta yourself and leader of the ruling party?
Why not? But the grievance of a person is his perception of how life is manifested in the environment where he lives. The people of the Niger Delta feel marginalized. They quarrel about ownership of oil wells. They quarrel about the neglect of the communities. They are even asking for the control of the resources there. Then again they are also asking for the restructuring of the country. Those are what they believe will solve the problems of denial, the problems of deprivation. But that is from their own perception and so, as far as they are concerned, there is injustice if what they are asking for is not done.
Then what is the solution from your own perspective?
In what way?
Through dialogue. All wars have always led to dialogue because, peace comes not through war but through dialogue.
But government appears to be in dilemma in the sense that, as it prepared to dialogue with a group of people, some other groups came up. What do you say to that?
Yes. The fact is, if there are one hundred groups, there should be one hundred dialogues. You cannot say because there are many groups, therefore, war will resolve the situation. War has never resolved any situation. People who say “If you want peace prepare for war” are misrepresenting life. If you prepare for war you have war. If you want peace, prepare for peace through dialogue, communication. There is no substitute to communication. War can only draw attention when you have parity in the power to inflict, the power to ensure your presence. Then people are weakened or you recognise yourself. You can now sit down and talk and, at the end of the day, dialogue.
Last year, you told me in this office that there was no issue with the opposition the PDP and others were mounting against the government as they were only doing the needful. But that needful has led to why Nigerians are now saying that the executive has tried, but one year down the line your party, the APC seems not to have moved Nigeria forward due to the challenges posed by opposition elements in the National Assembly. Do you still hold that view?
Well, our party has moved Nigeria forward because it is the party that presented Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian people and Buhari has moved Nigeria forward. You see, when things go on well they take you for granted. For the first time, there are no fuel queues. And when there is power, nobody will say there is no power. When the roads are done, nobody will say there are no roads. When there is no water and boreholes are drilled, you can’t say you have no water. So, infrastructure, satisfies the aspect of governance that addresses stabilization of the system because, first of all, you secure the system, you stabilise the system through infrastructure satisfies development, then prosperity will emerge. The only language that the hunger understands is food. You can’t be talking to the people to be patient about hunger. The fact is someone is hungry, you put food on his table and he fires on because that is the language that hunger understands. And that food you must grow. If you have not grown food for years, it is rather late than never. You must grow food.
So, the people crying that they are hungry, going by where the leadership stands, are right?
Of course. The people who are crying that they are hungry are right. There is a government now in town growing food and is addressing the issue of food which ought to have been but, before now, they failed to grow food as they were, spending billions of dollars importing food. When I was Minister of Information I brought a campaign slogan which I reflected in “Letters to My Country Men”, especially the one dealing with the food question and I said, “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow.” If, for instance, what you want to eat you don’t grow it, don’t eat it. Don’t spend money on what you can’t grow. Why do you import rice from Thailand when you can grow rice here?
What at that time were the challenges that slogan of ‘Grow what you eat and eat what you grow’ was faced with?
Do you know that, at that time, while we encouraged agriculture, market women refused to sell our rice? They said there were stones and so they preferred to sell Uncle Ben’s. When Jonathan was there, they had a lot of dollars, more than $100 per barrel. But now, we don’t have such money. So, how are you going to import food? Are you going to borrow money to import food?
They say you should cut your coat according to your size. But the fact is we must cut our coat according to our cloth. A barrel of oil is less than $40 and production is not two million barrels per day but less than one million barrels per day and we are losing. We earn less than a billion dollars and, if our needs are one billion dollars a month, where are we going to get the balance from?Are we going to borrow money to import food? These are the challenges which someone must be strong enough to face and Buhari is strong enough to do that. But Nigerians really have to understand that.