Though he hail from Idoani in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State, but the name Lateef Raji is ubiquitous in the camp of the All progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State. Friendly, accommodating, brave and plucky, LR, as Lateef Raji is fondly called by his admirers is among the greatest men and women of the team that changed the face of governance in Lagos State during the governorship reign of Babatunde Raji Fashola where he served as Special Adviser on Information and Strategy. In this no-hold-barred session with Maxwell Adeyemi Adeleye, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief, The Elite International Magazine and The Elite Times online Newspaper, Raji speaks on his experience while working under Fashola, the state of governance in Ondo State and the nation of Nigeria. Excerpts;
How would you describe your tenure as Special Adviser on Information and Strategy during Fashola’s administration in Lagos State?
It was a very nice experience. It gave me enough knowledge about how the bureaucracy works and how it could be efficiently used for the good of common man. It was an experience you couldn’t have picked off on the streets. It was a lifetime experience for me.
How would you rate your team?
The government set a standard between our team and the previous team; remember I came in during the second term of Fashola’s administration. The governor set a standard that our team was going to be better than the previous team and I want to say with all sense of humility that we were better. There was a time that we had a budget implementation of 85%. The least we had all through the four years was 74%. This to me is the most universally acceptable indices of measuring the performance of a government.
How would you rate the Buhari’s administration vis-à-vis the subsidy removal and deregulation of downstream oil sector, anti-corruption crusade, alarming fall of naira and unemployment bazaar?
Well, things are getting better. I am in support of subsidy removal. Oil subsidy is anti-people. Besides, the price of crude oil is falling unexpectedly in the international market. Therefore, paying subsidy would add to our woes being a nation in progress. The anti-corruption war is been a tough one. The system deserves the kind of action we are getting now. I want to say with all sense of modesty that President Buhari is doing well in this regard. The ongoing arraignment and prosecution of suspected looters of our common patrimony should continue. It also wants to call on the judiciary not to allow itself to be used by corruption to wage war against the anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari. The judiciary should partner with the executive to ensure that Nigeria is rid of corruption, mal-administration, fraud and sleaze. Once again, let me say expressly with all sense of responsibility that Nigeria would in a jiffy, be a better place for all and sundry if the judiciary buy into the Buhari’s war against corruption. With endemic corruption booming, it would be difficult to create jobs and employment. In terms of unemployment, I think the government is progressing. The 2016 budget makes provision for employment of 500,000 teachers. That means 500,000 jobs would be created in 2016. This is unprecedented.
Contrary to the electioneering promises of President Buhari to make one naira equal one dollar in value, stabilize oil price, create jobs, pay unemployed youths N 5,000 monthly stipends, today, what we have are anti-thesis of these promises. Therefore, let me ask you, economically, how would you rate President Buhari?
I don’t know why the media is saying a dollar naira is 400. The price in the parallel market which you guys are using to bash Buhari is unofficial and unknown to universal financial policy. It is not known to Central bank of Nigeria. The parallel market could not have been used to rate the value of our naira. The international bank-wide rate as at today is less than N200 per a dollar. One fact that is incontestable is that the parallel market cannot boast of $10million which is nothing compared to international transactions that take place daily in our financial institutions. Nigeria is a consuming nation. We are not even producing toothpick. So, like I earlier stated, our problem is majorly corruption occasioned by lack of good leadership. Our leaders loot at will from Nigeria to Europe and Asia to the detriment of their people. They are using Nigerian money to develop the economy of those receiving countries and trust those countries; they inject those monies into their economy. They use our money to build roads, hospitals, electricity and other infrastructures for their people.
Some Nigerians are of the view that the anti-corruption crusade of Buhari’s administration is a mere jamboree and selective. What’s your take on this?
The opposition led by the PDP is suffering from its own shadows. The PDP ran Nigeria for 16 years, so, their members and gladiators are to answer whatever question in need of an answer by anti-graft agencies. However, contrary to the absolute mendacity being told by the opposition, a former member Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Sanni Yerima, an APC chieftain was recently arraigned for N1bn fraud by the ICPC. A close ally of Buhari, Isa Jafarau was recently picked by the EFCC over his role in the dasukigate scandal. Having said that, I want to re-echo my earlier affirmation that PDP members were in power for 16 years, they ran ours economy for 16 years, thus, they are the one to answer for why poverty is still booming like wave of ocean in Nigeria despite being the 6th most oil producing nation in the world.
But if you critically censor the APC, you would discover that removing Buhari and Tinubu’s clans from the party shows former PDP members are still in charge. Consequently, why were suspected looters those who served Nigeria under PDP but now in APC not being questioned?
Allegations are wide. So far, the corruption we are talking about is not limited to Dasukigate alone. So, let the anti-corruption agencies finish with Dasuki and see what happen next? Soon, I mean, very soon, other frontiers of corruption shall be opened. Were APC members in charge of NIMASA, Custom, security etc? I challenge the opposition to expose any member of the APC found to be corrupt. They have the right to do as suggested. The one done by Wike in Rivers is shoddy that’s why he wasn’t taken serious.
The 2016 appropriation is presently generating furor in the media space. The Aso Rock that was renovated in 2014 is to be renovated with N3.9bn in 2016. The Aso Rock clinic is to be maintained with N3.8bn while the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile/Ife got a paltry sum of N162m. A ministry is to design her website with a whooping sum of N795million. Feeding in presidency was increased from N580m in 2015 to N1.7bn in 2016. The one that caught my attention most is the allocation of N127m for C-caution and N363m for internet data in 2016 for presidency. Are all these mind-blogging allocation of figures not antithetical to the change your party preached to Nigerians?
I don’t think you are right. I want to believe what you are saying is not true.
I stand corrected Alhaji Lateef Raji. I challenge you to get a copy of the budget and peruse it and thereafter prove me right or wrong.
Well, I don’t have a copy of the budget yet. But I believe the National Assembly would do justice to everything if all what you are saying is anything to by. However, I know the United States spends about $200m on her website. The website you talk about might be built to cover the geological survey of Nigeria. Therefore, you will be doing a great disservice to those implementing such a policy by condemning them. Not under this Buhari’s administration someone would make a bogus proposal and think it would see the light of the day. If the Minister has come out to defend the N795m appropriated for the said website then there’s more to it than you have just said.
Let’s go back to Lagos. How would you rate the performance of Governor Ambode of Lagos State thus far?
Ambode has been doing wonderfully well. He has shown clearly that he want to work for Lagosians. I don’t know how much travels you have done within Lagos but today, virtually every porthole in Lagos have been repaired. All the street lights in Lagos have been illuminated. N2.4bn was recently spent to purchase security wares for the police. Let me say explicitly that Governor Ambode is very effective, meticulous, resourceful, intelligent and disciplined.
Do you agree with the declaration of Alhaji Yahaya Bello by INEC as Governor of Kogi State?
The case is in the court at the moment. I am not a lawyer but I don’t think my party is right to have denied Hon. James Abiodun Faleke the ticket. On this note, I want to salute the courage of James Faleke’s team to legally put our democracy to test. To me, what is happening presently in Kogi State is a travesty of democracy. I am in support of it that It should be pursued to a logical conclusion via constitutional avenue.
Do you agree with how Governor Olusegun Mimiko is currently governing your biological State, Ondo?
Ondo State is presently suffering from misplaced priorities in governance. The Mimiko’s administration has deviated from the core concept of governance. Mimiko is doing what ordinarily should be handled by the private sector. What is Mimiko doing with Dome when our hospitals have no drugs? He just announced that he would be building another Dome. This is what the private sector could do for him while he concentrates on core governance. As I speak, there’s no pipe-borne water anywhere in Ondo state. There’s no state road in the entire Owo/Ose/Akoko axis that is motorable. Why building market for people that are in need of good roads? Mimiko has made no significant improvement on the life of Ondo people. A government that spends N10bn on Dome and Event centre in 21st century should not be taking serious. The moribund industries are daily crying for attention. Ifon Ceramics, Oluwa glasses, Arigidi Akoko tomato pastes, Okitipupa oil palm mil are all yearning for attention. How would Mimiko recoup the N10bn he spent on Dome back? How many medical doctors do we have in Ondo State? When last were teachers recruited in Ondo State? The late Agagu’s government constructed a bridge that link the riverine community with other parts of the state but today, the roads to get to the bridge are untarred. The last time we saw pipe borne water in Idoani was in 2002. Apart from a needless market, nothing has been done by Mimiko in my community. Erosion is currently on rampage in Akure, the state capital. My verdict is that governance is presently on vacation in Ondo State. Governance has collapsed in my State. Mimiko is presently de-robbing the palace chief but I can assure you that the APC is taking over from Ondo State come February 2017.