Owuru: President’s team ripe for rejig

Ambrose Owuru

Ambrose Owuru

The national chairman and presidential candidate of Hope Democratic Party, Ambrose Owuru, tells KELVIN EBIRI why President Buhari must bring in persons with progressive ideas to change the seeming rudderless direction of his administration. What is your assessment of President Buhari’s cabinet?

The cabinet is due for rejigging. It is a new government and there is need to try new hands at intervals, to get those who can turn the vision of the opposition to reality. We have written to him on this matter, that is the Coalition of Progressive Presidential candidates. What we have seen, so far, just as his wife has indicated, is that he hardly knows those who are with him. And perhaps, they don’t even share the same ideas. So, there is need for him to change the cabinet he has now.

He should look around for those who share the same progressive ideas, to bring about the required change. If you look at people from the South South, they were all from the former PDP. I don’t want to call names. They crossed over, even after the presidential election. So, what is the idea or basis for these appointments? I believe he has to change his style of governance. He has to bring in new hands; people who share the same vision.

The cabinet is barely one year. Why bring in new hands?
A lot is wrong. The ministers he has, today, most of them have been part of the old system. We know them. They still think the same way. They were not part of the struggle and the idea that Nigerians have gone through some measure of suffering. The hands we are talking about are those who have gone through the same suffering and trials as he did; people who will say, ‘we are here to change things’, not there to occupy positions and share the loot of office.

We need new hands. Those we are seeing there, like Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Heineken Lokpobiri, all these people were in the PDP. When did they cross over? They don’t even share the ideas of the progressives. I told people, right from time, that this government would not fly. The President knows former presidential candidates who will do better than he is doing, who think better than he is even thinking. Why is he going back to people who were part of the system we voted out of power? The Central Bank of Nigeria is still manned by certain people. The Police Service Commission has the same set of people appointed by the last government.

Nothing has changed in this government. We were thinking of a revolutionary change. But there is no form of change. It is only Buhari who thinks he can perform. He hardly knows the rest of the people. We know them better. They are politicians who think it is all about occupying position. That is all .

Will you blame the cabinet for the poor perception Nigerians have about this government?
It is sadly so. But he also has a role to play, as a leader. I have not been seeing him telling Nigerians his policies and programmes. You need constant dialogue with the people. He needs to tell people what he is doing and what his ideas are, not just fighting corruption. The way to fight corruption is not only arresting people. We were thinking corruption would be fought from many directions.

You have to do something about wealth distribution. As you are arresting people, you should look at how lives will become better through the policies you initiate. I haven’t seen any. We need to see him talk and build confidence in the people and not allow corruption fight back. Those who are being attacked have the resources to engage all sorts of people, whether militants or anything, to distract the government. And that is what they have been doing. And he has not been able to talk to fellow opposition members who fought along with him, to also strengthen these whole ideas and policies he thinks he has. I think we all need to hold a meeting. There should be a government of national unity at this point. We think the whole struggle shouldn’t be lost at this point because of ego or whatever.

Ultimately, this government will be judged by its economic performance. How would you rate the President’s economic team?
I have to understand his economic policy before I can assess it. Right now, I don’t understand the economic direction of the government. Are we practising capitalism? I need to understand. That is why we need to sit and dialogue. He needs to carry everyone along, for us to understand and also be able to ask questions and proffer ideas. There are a lot of us out there who need to help the government. The government is still being run like the old PDP.

It took the President six months to constitute his cabinet. Are you disappointed at his choice?
It was his method, but I didn’t quite feel comfortable with that. I thought, no matter how little, a cabinet should be changed every six months or one year. You don’t just put people in office and relax. You should have a scorecard such that every quarter, you score them. The ones not performing, you shuffle or drop. You don’t run a government like this where people stay in office whether they are performing or not. He needs to hold meeting with Nigeria’s political leaders. The election was won on the strength of coalition, interest and parties. That is how the government should be run as well. You don’t do coalition during election, and after election, think you can run on your own.

Seventeen months are gone already. If the President sustains this cabinet, what will be his legacy?
One year is a lot of time for a government. By next year, election time will come up again. I believe that the legacy to leave is the anti-corruption fight and security. But we think that what will bring about the success of a government is economic improvement and progress in the lives of our people.

I think he has to change his direction and see that the government succeeds because there is little time left. From next year, based on the rumblings around him from the National Assembly and everywhere, you can see, they are all fragmented…they may not give him a chance to thrive. He has only one more year to do anything he can to salvage the situation and perhaps leave a legacy.

If you ask me, I am a bit reluctant to proffer ideas on the pages of newspapers because they don’t listen to these things. We were thinking that there is need to diversify the economy. The issue of diversification has been on but we haven’t seen anything. The programme I am seeing is like SURE-P, which is limited to party patronage. We need to have a holistic programme that Nigerians will embrace. Even the military set up things like People’s Bank where you can have direct access to funds. There has to be programmes on ground where people can access capital for development. But if it is all these talks of saying they have provided loans for a scheme, those things never get anywhere. It is always controlled. Diversifying the economy is very important. There is need to review a lot of the institutions we have. The perception on corruption cannot go away if you still have the same kind of police in place. You still have the EFCC who are now deceiving him with their endless trials without conviction.

We said it from the beginning that there is no legal instrument on ground to fight corruption. You cannot take people to the same regular courts, the same judges, and expect different results. You can see what has happened. The kinds of judges we have had in the last 10 years were people who were put in office by the PDP. Now, you say they are corrupt. What were you expecting?
We had thought he would hold a meeting with the judiciary, through the Attorney General of the federation, and recommend the retirement of a lot of them, and infuse new blood, quietly. You don’t have to dramatise it. The police, by now, we were thinking that a lot of the rank and file would have gone and you would bring in the civil defence to fill the gap before recruiting fresh graduates to do the policing. We thought the EFCC put in place by the PDP would have been overhauled and tested army officers brought in to head those organisations. It has to be according to law. You set up special courts to fight corruption.

Are you worried that Nigeria is still importing refined petroleum products 17 months into the life of this government?
That is the issue. He was advising former President Jonathan on this same matter before he came into office. That is why presidential debates are important. You don’t just run into office without preparation. Some of them just wanted to occupy positions because they had the resources. In future elections, we may begin to look for people who may not have the resources but have ideas.

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