MEET FRANK OSHANUGOR
By Winnie Kodilonye
Banker turned publisher, Philomena Ngozi Christopher-Oji is the chief executive officer of Phil Chris Media Concepts, the publisher of Conerstonenews.ng.com, which has over three million followers and subscribers across the globe. In this interview, the graduate of English from Delta State University, Abraka, countered the claims by outgoing Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, that he was leaving the country better than he met it and that his legacy would be remembered for good.
The businesswoman-cum-journalist said that Buhari is leaving the country worse than he met it. She also spoke on the upcoming national population census and other topical national issues. Excerpts:
What is your take on the claim by President Buhari that he will be leaving the country better than he met it?
We should not blame him, because this is not the Buhari that we used to know; he is now a shadow of himself. He is always travelling abroad for medical treatment, which shows that he is not really feeling well, coupled with his old age. He is a good man; he had good intentions when he was contesting in 2015.
Even though I did not vote for him, I was not angry because I thought he would do well, since I read in the newspapers that he performed exceedingly well when he was a military head of State. Second, with the legal battles he was having with previous administrations and the propaganda by his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), and all the promises made that he would bring back the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, end insecurity in a few months, remove oil subsidy, which he described as a scam, he would pay jobless youths some social allowances, create employment, repair our refineries, build new roads, fight corruption to a standstill, etc, we had hope in him and didn’t bother about the loss of President Goodluck Jonathan at the election. The questions are, did he bring back the abducted schoolgirls or fight corruption to a standstill or did he handle any of the issues he raised? Not really. Corruption is still fighting us and staring in our faces more than what we witnessed during the previous administrations. The fuel subsidy is still there. Our refineries are still in coma. Our jobless youths have not been paid the allowances. Insecurity was limited to the North-East during Jonathan’s tenure, but it has spread and is still spreading nationwide every day in Buhari’s administration. Kidnappers are on our roads, bandits are ubiquitous and terrorists are hijacking trains and extorting billions from both government and individuals. Everything is in a shambles. What has he done to say that he is leaving the country better than he met it?
What do you think he will be remembered for?
A man’s end should be better than his beginning but the opposite is the case for our President. His last days in the office are worse than his beginning. We were thinking that he would make some amends, but he ended up embarrassing himself and his government by subjecting citizens to torture and excruciating psychological trauma that are still haunting us with the naira redesign. We are still going through agony because of scarcity of naira. Why did he introduce naira redesign during election period that would lead him out of office? A few months after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that caused so much hardship and people found it difficult to survive, the Buhari administration still subjected us to more torture in the form of naira scarcity. Many people died from lack of food and money for medical treatment. Many went after rats to survive the scarcity of naira. The facts are there to check. I have no hatred for our President, because it is what his aides and kitchen cabinet feed him that he will come out to tell us.
In addition, the last general election was another bad ending for the President. After all he promised the world, to give us free, fair and credible elections, all forms of malpractices, which were observed even by the international community, marred them. There was violence, killings, ballot box snatching, ethnic profiling and bigotry, as some people from certain regions were denied their franchise. Despite all the promises to give us credible elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which ended up compromising the much-celebrated elections, our President could not reprimand INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. The presidential election was rigged in favour of a political party, while the winner was denied victory. This is too bad. The case is before the tribunal but, with what happened in the 2023 general election, we are disappointed in Buhari.
Why are you disappointed?
The elections were so advertised and glorified that the world thought Nigeria would get it right for the first time. The INEC chairman even went to Chatham House, London, to promise the world that the elections would be free and fair. The youths became interested in Nigeria’s elections for the first time and came out to vote but were all disappointed with what they witnessed before, during and after the elections. I monitored the elections and what I saw were outright rigging, ballot box snatching, killing, maiming and sundry crimes, yet our President said the elections were free and fair. If the results of the gubernatorial, senatorial and House of Representatives elections were transmitted through the much-celebrated BVAS, why was it not able to transmit the presidential and House of Assembly elections results? The INEC and the powers that be knew what they did. They decided to rob a candidate of victory.
What do you think of the handover on May 29?
My take is that the case, which is at the election petitions tribunal, should be decided before the swearing in. I know that, after the tribunal, the case will still go to court and will end at the Supreme Court. Let the courts decide the issues before swearing in. It happened in Kenya, the electoral matters were decided in a few weeks, before the handover. There is no big deal in deciding electoral matters before handover. They should not swear in the President-elect before the case is decided, otherwise, he could use the power of incumbency to frustrate the case.
The outgoing administration is still awarding contracts; what would you say is behind this trend?
Awarding contracts when the government has fewer than 50 days to go is a way of leaving the government with huge amounts of money in their pockets. They are planning a big jamboree for themselves. I learnt that the government is planning to conduct a census. This is not right. The federal government should not be in a hurry to do ‘fire-brigade’ census. There is no time, so it should leave the incoming administration to plan for the census. In fact, the outgoing administration should stop awarding contracts and just concentrate on how to pay back the loans they collected from China.
What is your advice to the incoming administration?
When the presidential candidates were contesting, they showed us their manifestos. None of them will claim they did not know the mess this present administration plunged us into. They cannot say they don’t know about the trillions of dollars debt burden for Nigeria. They cannot claim that they don’t know the international community has refused to loan us money anymore. They cannot claim that they don’t know crude oil is no longer lucrative in the international market. So, they have to be innovative and technologically driven to device means on how to survive. They have been talking of agriculture but they are not naive that bandits and herdsmen have sacked farmers from their farms and food scarcity is imminent. Look at Taiwan. The country was not blessed with mineral resources, but they are surviving by building microchips. They are living large with just that technology. The incoming administration should know that it is now consumption-to-production level, as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party used to say. They read other candidates’ manifestos. So, the incoming President should go through his opponents’ manifestos, choose the good points and blend them with his. The issue of security is paramount. With insecurity, no reasonable person will invest in our country. We have so many youths who are Internet gurus. They should be employed to use the Internet to solve some of our economic challenges. Nigerians are doing exploits in all fields, including medicine, abroad. They should be invited home to help us out of our predicaments. With medicine alone, Nigeria will be able to solve our economic challenges.
I would advise the incoming administration to go into renewable energy, as oil is no longer fashionable. When I see gas flaring in the Niger Delta, I always weep for Nigeria. All the gas they are flaring is enough to take care of our national budget. Nigeria can export gas. If successive administrations were proactive, innovative and invested in gas, we would have cashed in on the crisis in Russia and Ukraine now by supplying the international community gas. The incoming President should forget about ethnicity and religion and encourage people from the South-East who are good in fabrics and in other businesses. They should encourage northerners who are good in farming. The South-West used to thrive in cocoa production and kola. They should be encouraged. Let it sink in the incoming President’s head that it is no more business as usual, as he is coming to face enormous challenges. The incoming administration should make sure that power is decentralized. The federal government is too powerful such that the states look inconsequential. The states should be allowed to utilize their natural resources, give a portion of the proceeds to the federal government and use the balance to develop their states. By doing so, you will see that there will be competition among the states. You will see that the states will no longer depend on federal allocations. Nigeria is blessed with mineral resources and there is no state that does not have at least one gift of mineral resource. Some states are mining gold secretly, but if the federal government had made it clear in the residual list that states can utilize their natural resources, gold mining won’t be done secretly and the federal government would benefit more. Again, the incoming administration should, as a matter of urgency, decongest Lagos by developing other seaports across the country. It is a shame that the only functioning seaport is in Lagos and that is why Lagos is over-populated. Why do we have only one seaport? The population of Lagos is over 20 million. I don’t know why successive administrations had not looked into the issue. The moment there are other functioning seaports, many people will leave Lagos for other places and this will bring employment.
The incoming administration should also look into the issue of wealth creation by supporting small-scale businesses. We have talented youths who have one skill or the other, but they have no money to set up business. The incoming administration should grant such people loans and the issue of unemployment would be reduced to the minimum. The issue of security is paramount. Some communities are predominantly farmers, but bandits and herdsmen have sacked the farmers. The majority of the farmers are now living in internally displaced people’s camps, especially in the North. In my community in Delta State, the majority of young people, including women, who were surviving by farming, are now at home doing nothing as herders have sacked them from their farms. The boys are now into commercial motorcycle riding. Security is key to development. Our roads are no longer safe, to the extent that passengers are being abducted daily on our roads. Kidnappers are now so daring that they can block the roads for hours unchallenged. What is more worrisome than the fact that kidnappers go to people’s homes to abduct victims, herdsmen would totally exterminate a whole community without the intervention of security agencies and terrorists would have the effontery to attack Nigerian Army formations and sack police stations? If the army and the police are at the mercy of terrorists, who even threatened to take over the seat of power in Abuja, who are ordinary unarmed citizens to confront the brigands? I am appealing to the incoming administration to review the security architecture of the country. There is the very important issue of the appointment of service chiefs and other areas. The incoming President should not consider tribe, ethnicity, religion or friendship when such appointments are made. It should be done on the basis of competence and pedigree. Let the best be appointed, regardless of his or her ethnic or religious background. The President should make the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police a constitutional one, and he should be given powers to act when the need arises, not minding the body language of the President. The bureaucracy before a state Commissioner of Police takes action in times of eventuality is shameful. Whenever there is a distress call or emergency, the Divisional Police Officer would first call the Area Commander, who calls the CP, and the CP would call the IGP who now calls the President before taking action. That is why herdsmen would sack a community without security agencies responding, yet we have military and police checkpoints at intervals along our roads. Again, the federal government should fund the police properly and equip them with modern weapons and technology. The police should be well kitted with bulletproof vests and should have necessary tools to act. Because the government does not take care of the police, that is why state governors would have the audacity to determine the posting of choice CPs to their states. During protests or riots, the police can use water cannon, stun guns and teargas to disperse crowds or troublemakers, instead of shooting live bullets.
The challenge is enormous, but we must start from somewhere.
What advice do you have for women in Nigeria?
I would advise women not to be intimidated by the male-dominated world but to do something unique to stand out. We have many women who are doing well more than men. With the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Chimamanda Adichie, the late Prof. Dora Akuyili, Prof. Grace Alele Williams, Hillary Clinton and a host of other women who singled out themselves. Women should not feel inferior to man, because we went to the same schools and we used to beat some of them in the classroom. However, you have to balance issues, because God made men a little higher than us, so we should respect them. If you are a married woman, whether you are richer than your husband or not is immaterial. Don’t use the new-normal woman emancipation to destroy your home. If you respect your husband he will love you. Keep your matrimonial home holy and don’t soil it, so the blessings of God will remain in your home.
General advice to Nigerians…
Nigerians don’t need to be told that there is fire on the mountain. It is no longer business as usual. We have been told to tighten our belts. We should not expect the next administration to save us from hardship in the next two years. So, we have to work hard and do chains of businesses to survive. Our money has no value. Prices of food have skyrocketed beyond what an average Nigerian can afford. We are also expecting removal of fuel subsidy. So, it is not business as usual. We should do streams of businesses to survive. As we work hard, we should also be prayerful.