Former Minister for Petroleum, Professor Tam David West is an ardent supporter of General Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 presidential ambition. He believes that the former head of state is the only one that can change Nigeria if given the chance to rule the country again. In this interview, the professor, who is President Jonathan’s kinsman, describes the president as the worst Nigerian leader in the nation’s history and speaks on other national issues. Excerpts:
You have never been known to belong to any political party but the way you have been speaking about General Buhari’s 2015 presidential ambition makes it seem as if you have become a politician. Have you?
I see Gen Buhari as an extra-ordinary man, a real man and detribalised Nigerian. He is clean, not corrupt. He is a man of integrity. And I challenge anybody, both President Jonathan and all his sup¬porters, to contest it in an open debate. I believe that only Buhari can fight corruption in Nigeria because he honestly detests corruption. He has been head of state, minister of petroleum and governor of a north-eastern state. He was also the executive chairman of Petroleum Trust fund (PTF) and in all that, he was not soiled in any way. When he was accused of corruption, he challenged them to show the world his corruption. Till date they have not. He is the only former head of state that has no plot of land and house in Abuja and no oil block anywhere.
Whenever he goes to Abuja he stays in a hotel. He stayed clean in and out of office. And I think that we need only clean individuals to lead this country. I can assure you that when elected, Buhari will fix Nigeria within his first 100 days in office. In the first 100 days, the price of petrol must come down from N97 to between N40 and N50. He has done it before and he will do it again. He is honest and you can trust him. He has proved to be an extraordinary Nigerian in and out of uniform; and a leader of rare qualities
So, I support him, I have my reasons for that and I am free to express them. I am not a politician. I don’t belong to any political party. But I am APC at heart and I have no apology for that.
Why are you APC at heart?
That’s because Buhari is the nucleus of APC. And then when they were go¬ing to form the merger committee, Buhari nominated me to represent him. So, I was in the merger committee that oversaw the coming together of several political parties throughout, even as a non-member. But you see, every effort was made to prevent the merger. They planted some moles in our meeting and we knew them. When they said that the ruling party had offered them bribes, Buhari had no money to bribe anybody. In fact, he said that he was the poorest presidential aspirant. And as was reported in Thisday Newspapers, all aspirants were rated in the categories of deep purse, shallow purse and middle purse. Buhari was in the shallow purse category. He didn’t even have N3 million to hire a hall to launch his campaign.
He said he is the poorest of the poor presidential aspirants. So, he told them that he doesn’t pay anybody and that they should use their money to support him. I was in Abuja during his decla¬ration and I can tell you that the Eagle Square was packed to capacity. Many people couldn’t even enter. I support Buhari because he loves Nigeria. I sup¬port him because I’m confident that he is the only man that can take us to the promised land. I have said it many times that I have worked with him and that he leads by example.
But many Nigerians are concerned about his lack of funds. Is it really possible for anybody to contest the presidential election without enough money in present day Nigeria?
That is a very good question. I believe 100 per cent that it is possible because I foresee a paradigm shift in Nigeria. The country is learning to put more emphasis on integrity than money. People are be¬ginning to see that what we need is the quality of the individual – one who can put food on our table, help our children to get good education, good jobs and all that. As for those who share money, the money they are giving you is still yours. It is the money that had been stolen from you that they are giving you back to corrupt the system again. Why should an hon¬est person spend millions and billions of naira just because he wants to be elected president?
The moment he brings the money, know that he is a crook. So, if he is able to bribe his way, with say, N10 million, he knows that within one month, he can get 10 times that figure. I believe that the June12 issue showed that we can win election without those unnecessary diversions like the Muslim-Muslim ticket issue. The Muslim-Muslim ticket of Abiola and Kingibe paid off without any problems during the build-up. Abiola was advised against it but he insisted, Thank God he did. And rather than create problems, everybody voted for him. So, I say it again that 2015 will witness a paradigm shift in this country. People will vote for their conscience.
It was alleged that Tinubu’s overbearing influence on APC was the reason for the collapse of the planned Muslim-Muslim ticket for the party. What’s your reaction?
That’s a lie. I think Tinubu is a good man but they are giving him a bad name. They give the impression that Tinubu is the prime mover in APC. But he is not. I told you how the merger came about. In fact, designing the party logo took a lot of time before they adopted the broom as part of the logo. Forget the logo for the merger. They accommodated the broom because an election was coming in the South-west. So, Tinubu pleaded and explained that the common man could easily associate the party with the broom as it had been in the ACN and that it would be better than changing it to an entirely new logo. So, the broom was adopted. Even the colour combinations of the party were not Tinubu’s making.
Also , the rumour that Tinubu was struggling to be running mate to Buhari was not true at all. They had deployed Tinubu to pitch against Buhari but they failed. Tinubu is a good politician and he came to realise that Buhari enjoyed mas¬sive support. They say Muslim-Muslim but are we going to be better if it were Christian-Christian? Buhari is not against Christians. Three of his cooks are Christians, his confidential secretary is a Christian and his second security officer is a Christian. As PTF boss, three out of his five directors were Christians. I have all their names but would not want to embar¬rass them by disclosing them but I men¬tioned their names in my new book. Idiagbon’s wife was a born-again Christian. It’s also in the book. So, if Buhari does not like Christians, I would not agree with him. But do those that used Christianity to cause confusion go to church or are they Christians?
But why is Buhari always brand¬ed a Muslim extremist?
The simple reason is that it is the strategy that can sell fast. There are religious beliefs, religious fundamentalists and religious extremists. Buhari is a religious fundamentalist and being a religious fundamentalist is a positive thing. A religious fundamentalist is a person who believes in his religion firmly. If you are a Muslim, you believe in the Quran and if you a Christian you believe in the Bible. I am a Christian fundamentalist and I feel proud to be one. I am not an extremist. And Buhari is not one. They only use that to scare people but they have failed. They tried corruption and failed. And they now introduced the religious extremism thing.
What is your take on the recent happenings at the National Assembly where lawmakers were seen scaling the NASS gate and even allegedly tear-gassed by the police?
It’s a big shame. You see, President Jonathan said he has Ph.D but he thinks like a secondary school boy and I am not being rude. Why should he take that chance? Tambuwal has defected and he knows he cannot touch him. PDP never wanted Tambuwal to be Speaker. He only emerged speaker through the support of the opposition parties. And he is a Speak¬er for Nigeria not for PDP. He left PDP and it’s paining them. They wanted to impeach him and it didn’t work out.
So, I was so sad watching lawmakers being made to climb the NASS gate. What the police did was bad, yet, they were not able to stop the lawmakers from entering. They still went in, sat and did business. What Jonathan did was out of desperation but by the grace of Almighty God, the God that loves Nigeria, I believe we’ll get PDP out in 2015.
But both the Presidency and PDP in separate statements denied any involvement in the whole issue. They said the police acted independently. Is that true?
Don’t mind them because Jonathan can deny anything. When a company that was working for him went and built a church in his village, didn’t he deny? But later on when they commissioned the project, he was there in the church.
It was alleged that General Buhari said he was not going to con¬test again. Why is he now contesting?
I know of ten instances where Jonathan made a u-turn. He told the world that he was going to serve for only one term as president. Obasanjo said he signed a contract that he would serve only a term. Is Obasanjo lying? Didn’t Jonathan and his wife deny that Chibok girls were not abducted? When the President accepted that it was true, he said he knew where they were. Here is a man who said he had Boko Haram in his government but cannot identify any of them to weed off. Integrity must matter and I think that it will come to that.
When I was commissioner for education, somebody came and gave people huge sums of money and they took blood oath that they will vote for him. But after taking blood oath to vote for him, they voted against him. That will happen in 2015. Nigeria will vote for integrity not money. I have told Nigerians when they bring the money, they should take it. It is their money they are giving to them. But after collecting the money, they should vote for the person they think can serve Nigeria better and better the lots of the nation.
PDP has been accused of being desperate about the 2015 general election. If that is true, what do you think will happen if PDP loses?
Nothing will happen. Desperation is a tool of fear. The President is afraid. If you are sure of yourself, you cannot be desperate. I heard about a certain threat by the leader of Niger Delta Volunteer Force that they will strike if Jonathan is not re-elected. But that organisation no longer exists. It died long ago. So, I say it again that nothing will happen if Jona¬than loses and he will certainly lose.
There is growing concern over a security report that some are stockpiling arms across the country particularly in the North-east. What does this portend for a country that is preparing for gen¬eral election?
We all know that there is high rate of illegal possession of arms across the country, but nobody has monopoly of violence. Only God will decide for us and by His grace, the election will come and go. PDP will lose and those threatening that Nigeria will burn if Jonathan is not re-elected will see that Nigeria will not burn. I strongly believe that by the grace of God, the coming election will be based on merit, not on money. Jonathan just gave national award to the baba who designed our national flag. Something he should have given him long ago, he did not.
Now that he is blind and in the last stage of his life, he’s giving him an award and life salary because election is coming and he’s contesting for re-election. Why didn’t he give it to him three years ago? He went to Lagos and changed the University of Lagos to Mos¬hood Abiola University but didn’t realise that the name was given to the school by an Act of the parliament and only parliament can change it. They opposed it and finally, he backed down. When I was commissioner of education in 1979, the president was in the secondary school. And unfortunately, he is the worst leader Nigeria ever had. The country is more divided under his administration. But they will lose in 2015.
Many people are of the view that the president is naturally a nice person and means well for the country but that there are so many sycophants around him who usually thwart his plans for selfish reasons. Do you believe that?
That’s rubbish. Machiavelli who wrote The Prince over 500 years ago said, ‘For the priest that needed to be wiser when advised , he should be wise himself’. You can take any advice but you can tell the people to hold on so you can check well. During the last fuel subsidy crisis, he swore not to rescind his decision. But didn’t he later? Nigeria is the only country in the world that makes provision for fraud in its annual budget. Anybody that earmarks N1 trillion on petrol subsidy is already making provision for fraud.
What does the crashing oil prices at the international market portend for Nigeria?
They are claiming that it will not affect us but that is stupid. How can falling oil price not affect us? 95 per cent of our foreign reserve was derived from oil while 85 per cent of our budget is financed from oil. If the price of oil has come down, how can it not affect you? It is like somebody on N2,000 monthly salary and suddenly there is economic reason to reduce his salary to N1,000 a month and he says, no it will not affect him and his family. Isn’t he deceiving himself?
But the thing is that the oil price will still go down further. Why I’m saying that is there are a lot of things that would not let oil price rise. If there’s problem in the Gulf, oil will not come in and then prices will rise. But now, the problem has subsided and they are sending oil into the market. America is no longer buying oil from Nigeria and they used to be one of our biggest customers. Now, they have changed the benchmark to $73, and like I said, the oil price will still go down. So, we should get ready to tighten our belts because it will affect us badly and people will react against it.
You don’t take Nigerians for granted on the notion that Nigerians cannot demonstrate for long. Jonathan cannot pay N18, 000 as minimum wage but he was quick to approve N5 billion for himself and the vice president. Is their stomach digesting rock? They will go by the grace of God. In every country of the world, poor people outnumber the rich people and that is because God loves poor people. So, any country that is not taking care of poor people has a bad government which must go.
Are you not concerned that many people may ascribe your unalloyed campaign for Buhari’s presidential ambition to the fact that he gave you an appointment as head of state?
The argument could have been valid if it was “why would he not support Buhari who gave him appointment and made him a millionaire?” But I was earning less as a minister than I was earning as a professor. When Buhari appointed me in 1984, I was earning N18,000 a month as a professor and consultant. But as minister, my salary was N15, 000.
But why did you accept the job?
Is it not a greater honour to serve a great country like Nigeria, to serve my country? I worked seven days per week. Buhari appointed me without knowing me. So, I had to work to justify my appointment. If they say I am supporting Buhari because he appointed me, why am I not supporting IBB?
When Buhari left, General Babangida made me minister too. But I dislike Babangida. And I told him that I don’t just dislike him but that I detest him. I sup¬port Buhari because I am convinced that he is the best for Nigeria, not because he gave me appointment. The values we share made us friends. I worked with all of them. Babangida is a lazy reader but give Buhari a 500-page script by 9:00 am, by 11: 00 am he has finished read¬ing it and has come to discuss it with you. But it will take Babangida one week. So, I’m proud to support Buhari because he can change this country for good. And by 2015, I would surely be vindicated. I am very certain that Nigeria will be much, much better and the people will be happy if Buhari is elected.
Looking at all the problems INEC is experiencing in the distribution of permanent voter’s card (PVC), does it seem to you that the commission is really prepared for the 2015 general election?
It is good that those problems came out early. The witch or wizard that is by the village cannot kill any more. If everybody identifies you as a witch in a village, you cannot kill again. So, the PVC problem has been discovered very early and INEC cannot kill again. Jega has to do well be¬cause he ought to realise that he will go after this election. He has to do all it takes to see that the election is clean and acceptable. If he fails, it will be difficult for him to either go back to his university or the general public and he will be in trouble.
General Abacha was to make me chair¬man of INEC and people were already coming to congratulate me. I had not been contacted then but I told them that I knew I would not take the appointment. By the grace of God, everything boomeranged because those around him wouldn’t want somebody like me. Aspirants who throw money around are thieves. The bribe money they offer is public funds. Why should one take the trouble to spend all his millions to buy votes for him to serve his people? It’s because he knows that when you elect him, he would make it up in no time.
As former minister of petroleum in this country, how would you rate the sector under the present ad¬ministration?
The petroleum sector is a disaster and Jonathan cannot sack Diezani for reasons best known to him alone. This is a lady who voted as much as N10 billion to hire a private jet. When I was minister, I could not use the Nigerian Airways. Travel allowances for ministers under Buhari was just N200.
You can spend N200 without accounting for it. But if you spend more than that, you must give convincing account of how you spent it. If you are traveling outside the country, the estacode was controlled by the Central Bank. I once had to pay for the expenses of my delegation when we traveled out at a certain time because they did not have money to buy presents for their wives. So, estacode was strictly controlled by the CBN and not Buhari.
What is your message to the Nigerian public as 2015 general election approaches?
They should vote for their conscience. They should pray to God to help them to know which of their leaders has integrity that can move the country forward and not a man under whom parents and their children will suffer.
Some people are of the view that Gen Buhari borrowed N24 million from a bank to purchase his nomination form for the presidential election because he was unable to manage all that he earned as head of state, PTF boss and his monthly pension as former Nigerian lead¬er. What’s you view?
It is even complementary to him. If he had amassed wealth as head of state or PTF boss, would he have borrowed? It shows that he has no money. I remember when they laughed at him that he could not bring out N10 million to rent an office to campaign for election.
If people were going to get it for him, they will say he is being bribed. Those saying he didn’t manage his money well are saying rubbish. I am interested in facts and figures. He never earned salary as PTF boss.
He refused to take salary and only took allowances. How much was he earning as head of state and how much did he earn as sitting allowance at PTF? All the former leaders who are building universities and other big businesses across the world are they doing that from their own money? So, it is more honourable for him to say that he borrowed the money from the bank than say some friends bought the nomination form for him. When Aminu Tambuwal got his form, was it not his friends that took it to him? It’ a great cred¬it for Buhari.