Finance Minister under Buhari's Military Rule Tells Nigerians what to Expect
byNaija Blog Queen Olofofo-
Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, served for twenty months as minister of finance in the federal cabinet constituted by Maj-General Muhammadu Buhari in his stint as military head of state between January 1984 and August 1985. A former lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Dr Soleye, 82, in this interview gives a personal experience of his working relationship with Gen. Buhari affirming that change indeed is coming Nigeria’s way from next Friday. Excerpts:
Can you assess the just concluded general elections in the country?
It was a successful election during which Nigerians spoke with their votes and chose their
leaders into various elective offices including the office of the president.
The elections also laid to rest the much talked about disintegration of Nigeria as a country. We thank God for making it possible amid fears and apprehension. Nigerians must also appreciate the personal contribution of the out-going President, Goodluck Jonathan who conceded defeat even before it was concluded. This to an extent, doused tension across the country.
What lesson has the outcome of the elections taught Nigerians?
I don’t know what lessons the elections had taught Nigerians, but personally speaking, it has shown that there is a limit to which we can rely on the media, including the so called social media. The media hype on the elections was so high that you will think Nigeria was going to collapse. To God be the glory, the elections have proven pessimists wrong that the media could speculate, create tension, but Nigerians would make up their mind on how to move the country forward.
It is also a great lesson that, in spite of what people say or write, God has destined what would happen and what would be. If not that, Buhari would not have emerged the president, if all the negative things said about him were anything to go by. The lesson that I also learnt is that the Nigerian electorate is now more enlightened than before and can differentiate between what they want and what they don’t want.
As one who served under Gen Buhari what do you think Nigerians should expect from him?
I expect discipline and austerity which will later in the years lead to buoyancy of our economy. I expect him to turn around the fortune of Nigeria for better, turning her economic woes to economic gains for the country and Nigerians. I expect him not to compromise his frankness, straightforwardness and thoroughness in the name of anything. In anything he will do as the president, I want him to always place the interest of Nigerians and not his party, the APC at heart.
No doubt, because he is now a politician, his party would have some elements of influence on him but he should always remember Nigerians that voted him into power. He must not compromise critical values he believed in like his anti corruption stand. Under no circumstance must he concede to people who in their lives, they have known nothing except corruption. He must by his actions and utterances let them know that the situation has changed.
You served as a minister of finance, under him and with the economic situation in the country today, what should be the thrust of financial policies you would like Buhari to adopt?
It is not only his financial policies that are necessary, he must also maintain national stability. There are other many areas in our national life which he must address. If he wants to succeed in office, I suggest that he starts by addressing the inability of many state governments to pay workers salaries. Ordinarily, one may want to say that it is not the Federal Government that is owing them, but he should not forget that he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is shameful and a national disgrace as well as unethical and great disservice for governments not to pay workers that they are using to execute their programmes. I urge Buhari to address the issue as soon as he assumes office.
The President-elect also needs to get the cooperation of the trade unions in the country. As much as workers welfare should not be jettisoned by him. I want to canvass that there should not be wage increase for the first two years of his administration.
Since the first two years should be sacrifice, I also, want to canvass reduction in the cost of running government by at, least 50 per cent. I am of the opinion that we are, wasting money in running government. I find it scandalous that our senate president earns more than the US president. That is spendthrift which must be addressed. Although my suggestion may meet with stiff opposition from members of our National Assembly, I think, this is the best for Nigeria at this critical moment of her economic life.
How do you want Buhari to handle the series of new appointments by Jonathan few weeks to his exit from office?
My reaction is that he is still the president and can still make or mar irrespective of what anybody or group says. All these things some people are saying about the appointments Jonathan is making in the twilight of his administration are nothing but pettiness. The task before Buhari’s administration is enormous than appointments, this I want Nigerians to note. He can’t succeed without national stability and discipline which we lead to eradication or reduction of corruption in the country.
Do you think Buhari of today can still have vigour to effect the desire change in Nigeria?
I will answer this question by appealing to Nigerians to support Buhari’s administration and see whether he has or lacks the vigour to run the country. As someone who had the chance of working with him, I know he will run this country well.
He is a man who is highly religious, fears God and has absolute confidence in those working with him. Even as a military head of state, he was not as dictatorial as many of his adversaries want Nigerians to believe.
I remember very well that there was a situation when he crossed the name of somebody from a list of contract brought to him for approval not by me though, but I went to him to know the rationale and he explained that he did not want to be blackmailed. He is such a person who carries along his subordinates in the scheme of things.
There was also an incident when the Chief of Air Staff took a proposal to him to purchase alpha jets or do something. What the Chief of Staff was expecting was that Buhari in his capacity as the commander-in-chief would just say ‘minister, go ahead’.
But the service chief got the shock of his life when Buhari asked him to get in touch with the finance minister. In a military regime, that was strange because the Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, and other security chiefs were expecting the Head of State to call the minister and say ‘Minister, call your perm sec, and see what you can do’, but instead, Buhari would say go and convince the minister of finance.
That is Buhari’s personality for you and I don’t think he has changed. So, I expect those who will work with him to bear this in mind. As much as he will have confidence in them, they must know, that, they will be under careful monitoring and make sure that they don’t betray the confidence he will repose in them.
Should Buhari probe the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan?
To me, probe is diversionary and when you talk about it, you continually look back, when actually you are supposed to be moving ahead. Probe wastes a lot of time and I want to advise that Buhari should look elsewhere. But If in the course of running the country, he crushes people along his way, I am sure he will have the cooperation of Nigerians instead of probe.
How do you want him to handle the problematic oil subsidy and power sector?
As a former minister in charge of ministry of petroleum, he will know how to handle the issue. But I want to appeal to him to handle the issue with national interest.
Do you think Buhari has the skill to fight politicians who made him president?
There is a limit to decadence that Buhari will tolerate, whether anybody or group financed his election or not. Having worked with him, I know he is a very disciplined and courageous man.
Let us wait and see whether he could do that or not, but if it is the same Buhari that I worked with as finance minister, politicians should not expect business as usual.
I am sure he will not fight them, but he will let them see reasons why certain things cannot be going on. So, Nigerians should brace up for austere period if they want Nigeria to be a better country. They must be ready to cooperate with him as well as ready to make unconditional sacrifice.