By Sunday Ani

Chief Modestus Umenzekwe, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview, expressed confidence in the ability of the President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to ensure corruption is reduced to the barest minimum in every area of governance in Nigeria. 

The Yuletide is over; businesses are gradually picking up, what is new?

You said businesses are gradually picking, that is a wrong assertion; businesses have since sprung up in full swing. The President on January 1, signed into law N28.7 trillion 2024 Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly, budget of Renewed Hope, I am sure, so what else? If you are still in the village popping champagne, that is your own, the president has shown the way and Nigerians should key into that business-like spirit of the president to inculcate a new mindset of doing things in this country so that Nigeria will be better for it. There is renewed hope everywhere, Nigerians are in high spirit and there is atmosphere of conviviality; what we need is peace for children to go to school, people to go to work, businesses to thrive and government to do the business of governance, nothing more.

The President appears to have started the year on a good note and Nigerians are applauding him

When the President was campaigning, he was unequivocal in stating that he is ready to work. Ironically, the naysayers continued to doubt him, some said he was sick, but today the whole thing is history. While people were away enjoying, he quickly returned to Abuja and started work immediately. Just the first week of the year, he indefatigably carried out commendable official assignments never seen before in the annals of this country.

He signed the budget; he suspended the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, and Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, Hajiya Halimotu Shehu, for alleged financial misdemeanors. He banned the money-for-degree universities in Benin Republic, Togo and other countries; embarked on the clearing of the N12billion outstanding allowances and other arrears for the Super Eagles; the same with arrears owed other national teams were also paid by the President.

The government has earlier started the payment of wage support benefits to civil servants, the disbursement of N105.5 billion for 266 road repairs, the launch of the automated passport portal and the unfolding of plans to build a new Chinese-funded plant in Nigeria which was hatched during the visit to China by the Minister of Steel Development, Shuaib Abubakar Audu.

Of course the suspension and investigation of Betta Edu, is indicative that there are no sacred cows in the anti-corruption war of Tinubu-led government.

Tinubu also cut the cost of governance by drastically reducing the number of people in his entourage on local and international trips. He also directed that the top government functionaries, dignitaries and aides on his travels be slashed by 60 per cent, more than half. He ordered that in the area of security, his team should rely more on the capacity of the security establishment and existing protocols in the host states.

The importance of cutting the number in the President’s travels, apart from reduction in total cost of the trip, first, it is in agreement with the difficulties of the present time when prices of goods and services have gone up owing to what many tie to the prevalent foreign exchange rate.

More so, by slashing the presidential entourage, President Tinubu has of course demonstrated leadership by example. He has shown he fully understands what the people are experiencing at present and shares in their pains, which he says will be temporary, according to his New Year Day speech.

There is no gainsaying the fact that, the cost of governance in Nigeria is high and it has become imperative to bring down this cost. Every possible avenue must be deployed to do this. According to the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, Tunde Rahman, it is estimated that the country mostly spends over 75 percent of her federal budget on recurrent expenditure, leaving less than 25 percent for capital expenditure. The present administration is set to change this governance narrative. For instance, in the N28.7trillion 2024 budget, recurrent expenditure was pegged at N8.7tr and capital expenditure at N9.9tr. Of course, there is every tendency that this trend is expected to continue for the betterment of the nation’s economy.

With Tinubu’s stance on anti-graft battle, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will grow, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will grow, I am sure with what the executive arm is doing, the legislature and judiciary have no excuse than to key into his anti-graft stance.

President Tinubu was in Imo State for the inauguration of the second term of Governor Hope Uzodimma, what does this portend for the APC in the Southeast?

Tinubu was in Imo State for the inauguration of Uzodimma; it shows that the entire Southeast are collapsing into APC, it shows that the few of us that have been dedicated right from the time of AD, ACN and APC have done a great job to have attracted the President to attend the inauguration of a governor, the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria. That shows that we have done a lot of work and that shows that the negligible number that voted him, he has put them into consideration. And that also showed that the governor being inaugurated, Senator Hope Uzodimma is a go getter and a trail blazer. With all these, it is hoped that more infrastructural development will follow in the Southeast, and security in the Southeast will greatly improve.

How do you assess the claim by some Nigerians that APC traded off Kano?

The speculation that APC traded off Kano is absolute nonsense, yes, it is absolute nonsense. The Court of Appeal saw it the other way, the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the land and highest arbiter saw it the other way round, and their decision is final. So for anybody to say that APC traded off the state is absolute nonsense. It is neither here nor there; their claim is dead on arrival. The president and APC as a body are not known for illegality, so it is the hatchet job of the opposition, it is the opposition seeking cheap popularity, and such assertion cannot be sustained. The Supreme Court is the highest arbiter in the land and they have spoken and everybody must comply.

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So the issue of trading off Kano is absolute nonsense. And I have said it time without number that they should stop accusing Tinubu of so many things he doesn’t even know about. When the Supreme Court gave him victory, people said all manner of things, now the Supreme Court has given judgement the other way round, if it was APC they would still say something, they should allow the man and APC to concentrate to reposition this country for better.

The former Honourable Minister of Works and Housing appears to be silent in the Tinubu government, why is it so?

Who told you that he is quiet, has he been making noise before, do you know him as a noise maker, do you see him on the pages of newspaper every day, do you see him on Television every day? The man is a silent achiever and a trail blazer. People should leave him alone; he has served this country creditably well and nobody should rubbish him.

The bill intending to criminalize non-payment of salary is a good one but it appears Labour is not giving as much support as they should, to get the bill passed, do you think this should be so?

You should know that our people most times only look out for wherever there is fault, when there is a little problem or mistake, they hyperbolize it, make it look larger than life. Look at such marvelous bill that is aimed at taking care of the interest of the workers. I have not seen solidarity support for the lawmaker that sponsored the bill or the entire lawmaking body looking at the bill. And tomorrow you see them calling for strike and all that.

But that notwithstanding, I commend the assembly for at least going through the bill and it has passed the first reading or second reading or so, this bill is at the fundamental of the problem workers are going through and it should be passed and assented to by the president.

Your advice to Nigerians this new year

Nigerians should be their brother’s keepers, Nigerians should be patient in all things especially in dealing with government because government is not a private business that is based on the whims and caprices of the owner; government pays attention to details, sometimes bureaucratic, so sometime there is delays in bringing democratic dividend to the people but it would surely come, so patience is needed.

As individuals we must be diligent, make budgets before we embark on anything that has to do with money. Things are hard and so we must do things now based on our budget, don’t imitate others especially on things you know you can’t afford at the moment.

You see globally, things are no longer the way they used to be, recession, unstable exchange rate, crises, war between Ukraine and Russia and war between Israel and Hamas, oil prices; it is global so that nobody should think it is only in Nigeria.

If you look at this year’s budget you see that the president got approval for a budget that has more money for capital expenditure than recurrent; in the past, we always have a situation where more money is in recurrent, paying salaries and all that. Tinubu is changing the narrative and instilling confidence in Nigerians.

President Tinubu needs our collective support, when our leaders do well, we must support them. If you hazard opinions, you would see that Nigerians are unanimous in commending the president on his prompt and decisive action on the Betta Edu case; the old ways of doing things must stop and Tinubu, yes, he has demonstrated that Nigerians have a leader they can trust.

People, especially Easterners who travelled for Christmas were of the view that transport fare was too high, why is it that high fare has become a recurrent issue during Christmas season?

You see, it has been like that and, maybe, will continue like that, because of the interplay of demand and supply as it were. It is a concomitant of so many factors in the transportation sector. During the yuletide, there is massive movement of people to the eastern part of Nigeria because many of them are Christians; they go back to their roots. This is usually necessitated by the fact that people want to see their loved ones whom they have not seen for so many months, some, years. It is also a time for family reunion, there are also other events during that period; many fix marriage ceremonies, burials, conferment of chieftaincy, even some cultural activities take place during that time. So, all these factors make travelling home quite inevitable for so many people from that region; that is one.

Now why are people complaining? They complain because the transport fare is high, why is the fare high, it is high because the cost of petrol is high, transporters now buy fuel, diesel and whatever at a very high cost. There is also another factor. During the yuletide you discover that when the movement of the people is towards east, the vehicles would take passengers and on their way back to Lagos or other non-eastern states, the buses usually come back empty, who pays for the empty buses or vehicles? Then after the Christmas the movement changes direction, and the same thing happens, from the east towards wherever the people are residing, and when the buses are coming to the east, they come empty; who pays for the empty buses. You can now see that the fares for going and coming are calculated together, and who pays for it, the passengers.

However, I want to use this channel to appeal to our transport operators to be moderate in the way they hike fares so that the people can go home and enjoy the Christmas and New Year with their loved ones. On the other hand, I implore our people too, to work according to their budget, if you look at your budget and you can’t make it, you can stay wherever you are and celebrate maybe by the next year God would give you more money to travel conveniently.

I also use this platform to call on the Federal Government to look at the issue of rail transport from Lagos to Calabar and North to Eastern axis so that the people who cannot afford land or air transports can conveniently make use of train and get to their destination in real time.