Minister of Communication, Barrister Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu requires no introduction. Born on March 23, 1953, he became the youngest member of the Oyo State House of Assembly at 26 when he served from October 1979 to September 1983. Following this position, he served as Commissioner for Information, Culture and Home Affairs between October and December 1983. The Shaki, Oke-Ogun born legal luminary-turned politician hosted World Street Journal at his Samonda GRA, Ibadan, Oyo State residence on Sunday, February 10, 2019. Here the minister reels out his achievements in the ministry where he knew next to nothing before assuming office barely four years ago. He gives insights into his frosty relationships with his state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and some of his former aides in the ministry. In spite of the growing popularity of the People’s Democratic Party PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in this weekend elections, Shittu is emphatic in his submission that President Mohammadu Buahri of the APC will defeat Atiku by a 70 percent margin.
WSJ: The continued popularity of PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and chances of your party, APC in the presidential election in view of the general mood of the nation.
Shittu: In all honesty, I can beat my chest and say that the chances of Buhari winning the election are 70 per cent to Atiku 30 per cent. By the grace of God in another one week you will bear witness to what I’ve said. It’s obvious that in 2015, Buhari was not in government when he won the election by a landslide. He defeated the PDP who had in 2011 purportedly defeated him by a margin of 10 million votes. From the 22 million (votes) of 2011, they came crashing to 12 million in 2015; which shows that the 2011 figures were really fake. Buhari having won in 2015, has been in government for almost four years with a string of achievements in pursuance of all the three cardinal programmes which were the hallmarks of his campaign promises. i.e. fighting insurgency, fighting corruption and revamping the economy.
In all of these, he has distinguished himself. It’s not a surprise, however that wherever he went, he’s been greeted with ecstatic crowds committing themselves to getting him re=elected.
WSJ: Many Nigerians would see things differently from the picture painted….
Shittu: People can see things the way they want. What were their complaints?
WSJ: That the war against corruption was far from being won due to selective justice on the part of government agencies. EFCC is only after opposition while those alleged to be corrupt in this government were never touched.
Shittu: Which member of his party was in government between 2011 and 2015 that had the opportunity to steal public money? Is it not PDP? Is it those who were not in government you want EFCC to be pursuing?
WSJ: But some people have been alleged to be corrupt in the present government and EFCC and other anti-graft agencies are not looking in their direction.
Shittu: Mention their names, mention them…
WSJ: Babachir Lawal, ex-SFG’s case was poorly handled by government. Only invited by the EFCC almost two years after he was sacked.
Shittu: For the purpose of argument, let me concede that it was poorly managed, who again?
WSJ: The Maina’s case.
Shittu: Two. Who again?
WSJ: Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari and the MTN N500m bribe.
Shittu: What was the problem with MTN? The president took a decision that MTN should be given some reprieve. Even if you go to a court and the lower court imposed a fine, you may go to a higher court for appeal and get some reprieve, which was what exactly happened. Let me tell you, former president Goodluck Jonathan in his recently launched book confessed to the fact that during his time, six years of his administration, only N20 billion was recovered from corrupt politicians as against N400 billion recovered by Buhari in less than four years. . look at the wide gap. Nigerians should appreciate the efforts and appreciate the man in the difficult war against corruption in Nigeria.
WSJ: Nigerians would have appreciated the government better if the war against corruption had been all-inclusive rather than being predominantly targeted against the opposition.
Shittu: People who have petitions against anybody in government should bring forward the petitions. If people have facts against anybody they should bring them up. It’s not enough to be an arm chair critic. I think people should be charitable to compare one president who in six years recovered only N20 billion from corrupt politicians and one that recovered N400 billion into the coffers of government in less than four years. Is this not enough result for which this government should be respected and Mr President should be respected? It’s merely begging the question to try and look for baseless lacuna in the fight against corruption.
The issue of TSA (Treasury Single Account) for instance, was initially introduced during the Jonathan administration. But Jonathan prevented the project from being implemented because it would expose corruption in his government. At least his minister of Finance and economy confessed to that much. The Buhari administration ensured the immediate implementation of that policy and today all MDAs are hooked onto it. If Buhari was to condone corruption he wouldn’t have insisted that the policy be fully implemented.
This is a president who even his legitimate earnings he decided to cut by half. He receives 50 per cent of his salary. Again, as a retired general, he was supposed to be taking pension. But this is a president who says no, no, no. I can;t be taking two salaries from the same government. So, for now I suspend my entitlements as a retired general. Who can match that level of integrity?
WSJ: Majority of Nigerians believe that the president is a honest man who is surrounded by corrupt individuals that has stained his government.
Shittu: It’s only a criminal that will use as an excuse the fact that other suspects have not been arrested to escape arrest. You’d recall that it was during Jonathan regime that the government got approval for $1 billion to purchase arms and ammunition for the military to fight insurgency. But not a single gun or ammunition was purchased. They simply shared the money among the political juggernauts and military chiefs of the Jonathan administration. That cannot happen under Buhari. Agreed in the implementation we may not have had a perfect mode. Of course, we can never have perfection, except with God. People should be charitable in seeing the difference in the level of corruption under Jonathan government and what it is today.
WSJ: Implications of President Buhari being booed and called names at the APC rally in Lagos
Shittu: The PDP is looking for the alibi to explain away their imminent defeat on Saturday. If what you mentioned happened indeed, then that cannot be a spontaneous action. It must have been politically motivated and politically instigated. If you have mentioned what happened outside, you should be charitable enough to mention what happened at the stadium and in all the states where President Buhari has campaigned. Even in Taraba which is not an APC state, you saw what happened there. In Akwa Ibom you saw what happened and so on and so forth. I believe PDP has already seen defeat which is boldly written on the wall.
WSJ: Mr President’s heath and mental capabilities and the Cabal’s selfish reasons to make capital gains therefrom.
Shittu: I don’t know if a cabal exists or not. What is Buhari’s age? Obasanjo is older than him.
WSJ: Good health may not necessarily be a function of age.
Shittu: This is one man, like all human beings, who fell ill and was on sick bed for about six months. A lot of people had wished him dead. Many people thought he would not come back alive. But because God has a lot for him he was miraculously healed. Otherwise, he would have gone with the sickness at that time. In a situation where you are engaged in intense campaigns, you could have slips. It’s human. But that is not enough to wish that the man should simply abandon Nigeria. He’s been going from state to state campaigning seeking re-election.
WSJ: Crises in APC across Nigeria, particularly, in Ogun, Imo, Zamfara and Rivers States, Cross River, and implications for the party’s chances at the polls.
Shittu: There’s no doubt that recent primaries organized within the party were very badly managed by the leaders. And I want to submit that APC is lucky to have Buhari as the gum that continues to sustain the party. Notwithstanding, all the brouhaha that has happened and the crises, you’d agree with me that the president’s presence in the party has kept and will continue to keep the party going. I’m confident that despite all the hullabaloo, all the members of the party before and now including those that have had cause to exit our party, we will all vote for Mr President.
I will concede that we may have a mixed bag in the elections into other layers of offices being competed for. Even in Oyo State, most of our people had to leave. Abiola Ajimobi’s foot soldiers in the 2011 and 2015 elections have left. I’ve decided to remain in the party because of President Buhari so that whatever fight you want to fight, it will be an internal fight and not from outside. All of this is aimed at ensuring that justice is eventually done. I can assure you that the crises will not affect APC in the presidential election.
WSJ: You decided to remain in APC in spite of what you called injustice meted out to you by governor Ajimobi because of the ministerial position you are occupying in the government.
Shittu: Not only because of that. I also had the option of leaving. I was a member of Congress for Progressive Change CPC which aligned with ACN to form APC. I still believe in the leadership of President Buhari. In spite of the dispute, I’ve made up my mind that I’ll either swim or sink with Mr President. Even in my case, we are still in court looking for justice.
WSJ: The case has been overtaken by events.
Shittu: Let’s wait and see. When impunity is allowed to thrive unchallenged, it breeds further and multiple acts of injustice. We need to have records straightened so that in future people will be properly guided.
WSJ: Your frosty relationship with the governor and democracy dividends for the people of Oke-Ogun
Shittu: There is no doubt that my people were the key determinants of Ajimobi’s success in 2015 election. He acknowledged that and he went round on a thank you tour and promised that it was the turn of Oke-Ogun to be governor in 2019. He was merely deceiving the people. My frosty relationship with him which was not caused by me anyway, should not be used to deny the people of Oke-Ogun of whatever belongs to them. It shouldn’t stop him from compensating them with developmental projects.
WSJ: Your relationship with governor Ajimobi now.
Shittu: I’m a victim of an unlawful exclusion from the election primary process of the party.The governor probably believe that I’m too principled to be entrusted with the governorship of the state, particularly, I heard from the grapevine that because he believes that if I succeeded him he could be in jail. I don’t know why he should have that belief. He sees me as another Buhari. He feels uncomfortable to have Buhari at the centre and and another Buhari at the state level.
WSJ: But you were disqualified by your party’s leadership as a result of your NYSC Certificate scandal
Shittu: The NYSC certificate issue was just an excuse to get me out. The government and its backers would least have me as governor of the state for obvious reasons of suspected mismanagement of the resources of the state.
WSJ: The situation you met in the ministry of communication and what is on the ground now.
Shittu: Let me start by saying that the mandate of the ministry is to be the agency of government in charge of creating an enabling environment for the ICT industry and postal industry to strive. In doing so, we are to rely on some of our agencies to ensure that the right regulations, the right monitoring, and the right supervision of the industry is guaranteed. When I got into the ministry I found that it was in business in progress. The previous administration of the former minister had done the best that he could. But one thing I found lacking at the time I came on board was the fact that there was never a roadmap. Again, having regard to my own background as somebody who knew next to nothing about ICT world, I decided to evoke a retreat where more than 400 experts were brought together to analyze the past, examine the present as at that time and forge the pathway for the future progress and development in ICT industry.
The outcome of the retreat has now been put together into what has become a government-approved ICT Roadmap 2017 -2020. The roadmap is a first of its kind and it’s the encyclopedia or the Bible or Quran of the industry today. I’m happy that ever since then the various departments and various agencies are being guided as to how to ensure a consistently dynamic development of the ICT industry. And I’m happy that, for instance, as at the time we came on board, the broadband of the industry was 18 per cent. Today, it’s 31 per cent. Again, as at today, we have various other policies to take care of different sectors of ICT industry. I’m happy that the various stakeholders of IT industry many of who initially protested my appointment as being that of a square peg in a round hole are now very happy that I’ve been able to provide the right leadership to grow he ICT industry.
This symbolizes the fact that within three and a half years of my assumption of office, the umbrella association of the industry, that’s the computer Association of Nigeria gave me a fellowship award of the association. Today, I’m a fellow of the association of Nigeria computer scientists.
WSJ: What you would like to do differently if given another opportunity in the ministry.
Shittu: I’d like to have established an ICT Development Bank to cater, especially, for financing sustainable development of ICT industry. As of today those who wish to seek funding, either seek assistance from the western world for funding or the commercial banks with exorbitant lending rates. I think it will be better to have a bank that will specifically cater for the industry. I’d like to have an ICT Exhibition centre in Abuja, something similar to what we have in Barcelona, Spain, to host all the big names in ICT development in the world, particularly with regard to their research and development efforts so that local production of ICT equipment and services would be made much easier.
Again, I’m looking forward to expanding the deepening of ICT connectivity, the broadband of 31 per cent to about 70 per cent within the next four years. That will certainly assisting in ensuring that all those in the under served and unserved areas will also benefit from ICT connectivity. We have a digital Nigeria project on hand now to ensure that our processes, particularly at the government level, go completely digital including enhancement of financial technology services. Again, the hope that within the next four years it will be possible, if I have the opportunity, to concretize the establishment of five new companies within NIPOST. This will include the establishment of a NIPOST Bank, and Insurance company, a NIPOST Property and Development company, a NIPOST Transport and Logistics company and NIPOST e-commerce services company. The main purpose is to provide services to all Nigerians, particularly, those who live in the rural areas where banking and insurance services are not available. These are some of the very many great ideas I have If I’m given another opportunity.
WSJ: Your relationship with your former aides in the ministry, particularly, Victor Oluwadamilare, former Special Assistant on media, which was not properly managed.
Shittu: Well…nodding. How did it end? I’m sure they must be licking their wounds now. I tried to give them jobs, expecting that they would appreciate the fact that I went out of my way to get jobs for them; because as at that time they were jobless. But they were expecting much more than I was even earning. They thought the appointments I gave them would be a goldmine. Whereas, Victor in particular was told by writing that he would be earning N100,000. per month which was what I could afford because the ministry was not in a position to be paying his salary. I was to be paying from my salary and my salary is less than one million naira. You now have an SA who was expecting to be receiving N500,000 a month, you’d know that he was certainly looking for some other job.
WSJ: Ministerial appointees and their aides usually receive their salaries directly from their respective ministries. Why is your ministry different? Why do you have to pay your aides from your pocket?
Shittu: No! No! No!. It’s not! There is no difference. Most others, for instance, now, I have an SA media who is a civil servant. That’s what I ought to have done to start with. If I had done that I wouldn’t have been burdened with having to pay from my salary; because that civil servant from the ministry of Information or NTA or News Agency of Nigeria will be receiving a normal salary relevant to his position. But I brought him in, thinking I needed someone form the private sector. By the time we got in there, I discovered that there was no way I could pay him more than N100,000. More so, that he was not the only aide I was bringing on board from the private sector. So he got annoyed. He thought he could blackmail me. But I asked him to go to blazes. More so that I also wrote a letter affirming that; and he acknowledged the letter. He did not protest, he did not resign from his appointment. But he was hoping that he would blackmail me into bringing out money in a Buhari regime when there is no way of stealing public money.
What do I do? Do I turn myself into money or I surrender my own salary to him? I say no, it will not happen. And blackmail will not get him what he wanted.
WSJ: Payment of backlog shortly after he was sacked or he resigned. Why was he given a lump sum when you claim you were not owing him?
Shittu: I did not owe him. I’m not owing him any money. It’s more than a year ago. I asked them to go to court. I paid them off. They were only demanding for what they thought I should be paying them. If we did not agree that I should be paying N500,000 and you feel that is your worth. It’s unfortunate! I can’t pay it!
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