Media Shop Interview with Ajuri Ngelale, Senior Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Public Affairs for Media Shop Series Magazine. Download the Magazine HEREAll rights reserved. (c) 2019 Media Shop Network
Q: How would you introduce yourself to a stranger or someone meeting you for the first time?
A: I would introduce myself as Ajuri Ngelale first of all, I think if you look at my Twitter bio and you see the list of what I’ve put there, you will see the prioritization, you will see what’s first what’s middle and what’s last. That’s what I would tell anybody. The first thing is that I am a son of God, the second one is I am a family man and after that, I am a Nigerian citizen; a patriot and then a journalist.
Q: We would love to know more about your professional background.
A: Well, at the moment I am a Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Public Affairs but of course I did not start here. My background, coming out of Youth Service, the NYSC, I served in Batch A, 2011 and I was posted to the television station, African Independent Television under DAAR Communications Plc. I spent almost 5 years with DAAR Communications as a Television Presenter, Producer, a Senior Reporter then after I left DAAR Communications I went into some independent media practice, documentaries and some of that then after that, I was employed by Channels Television, Channels Media Group where I was a Journalist, a Presenter and a Producer and from there, I was appointed into the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Q: The Presidency as we all know, is entitled to make several appointments, so as a Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the President, what are your duties and responsibilities?
A: Well as a Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, it’s limited to the Public Affairs Department which I head. A lot of people have asked me what is it that you do in relation with the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity what I would tell them is that the Department of Media and Publicity with the Presidency is specifically focused on the activities and events around Mr President; the daily activities. Public Affairs is a bit broader, and it has to do with ensuring that there is a linkage that is created between this Presidential Administration and the People of this country so, it’s a Federal Government-wide outlook, we can look into oil & gas we can look into agriculture we can look into education and really give Nigerians insight into what’s going and even more importantly, listen to Nigerians so that we have the input of our people that will have an implication for policy formulation and implementation. We are looking to create dialogue as opposed to what we’ve done historically, which is to have a monologue.
Q: Why do you think you were selected for this appointment?
A: I think that’s better answered by those who hired me because they know what they were looking for but I would say this: there’s no substitute for integrity. There’s no substitute for conducting yourself on the basis of principles because no matter where you find yourself, you will always be consistent so, I want to believe that I have demonstrated some level of ability, capacity in my previous roles and that on the basis of that I was selected or appointed. I would also say this, I acknowledge the fact that I don’t have a political godfather as it were; somebody who has sponsored me throughout my career up until this point, I don’t have one so I think it speaks to what God can do and it also speaks to the increasing importance of merits on government appointments. It hasn’t always been that way but as time is going on we are moving towards a more meritocratic basis for government appointments. Certainly when it comes to my appointment, that’s all I can point to; I don’t have a godfather I can point to.
Q: What aspects of your duties do you find most interesting and what parts are most challenging?
A: Ah! Interesting question! Certainly the most interesting would be the interactions with Nigerians. I so much enjoy visiting radio stations around the country, television stations around the country, having direct engagements with Nigerians and look, it’s not always rosy you know; you get abuses, you get people who would slander you just because you are associated with a government that maybe they did not vote for, for example and all of that so that’s part of it, you accept that as part of the territory but then you also get the interactions which I enjoy most which are with genuine well-meaning Nigerians who may not even have a particular perspective politically or particular political preference but they are very interested in the growth and development of the country and they want to know what is this administration doing and what are they not doing; what is the truth because on social media there’s so much obfuscation; some people are saying this is true some people are saying this is false and it’s very difficult to know what is true so I like having those interactions where I can lay out facts, verifiable facts before our people, for them to make well informed judgements because obviously in a democracy where people are voting people into power, they need to be informed when they make those decisions on election day.
The challenging aspects of the job I would say, is understanding what it is that people want and creating that meeting point between the peoples desires and demands and what this administration is doing because a lot of what happens is, government is a complex process and it involves a lot of complex solutions to very complex problems and one of the challenges you find is that you are trying to communicate very complex issues and solutions to a civilian population that may not have the benefit of insight that government has. So for example, you want to talk about security, there are elements of very sensitive intelligence that you can’t share with the public; that the President is very aware of, that the officials are very aware of but you can’t share them openly for security reasons yet you still have to communicate to our people how some of these issues will be managed without divulging information that will put them at risk. So, I think fundamentally, in terms of information management that is one of the challenges that we encounter but I believe God is giving us the wisdom to be able to navigate that.
Q: You’ve seen from the outside and now within the corridors of power, what do you think the youths can do to help the economic growth of the country?
A: Very good. One of the biggest and most important pieces of advice I would give to any young person in this country based on my experience is that wherever you find yourself, maximise your capacity. Maximise your impact. When I was in AIT for example for my Youth Service and the years thereafter, I really focused my attention on human interest reporting because I always felt that it’s very easy for anybody to get on TV and talk about statistics and he said, she said and all of that, very easy to do that and then you go home and collect your salary; very easy to do that. What is difficult is to focus on those areas where people don’t pay much attention to; those areas which may not be lucrative financially. You may not get a bonus working in some areas but those are the areas you find that you can make the most impact on the lives of people. I used to focus a lot on human interest reporting. You go into a poor man’s house and you know maybe they had just hiked fuel prices by removing subsidy as we saw it in 2012, and you see the suffering of a man who can no longer afford medication and you are able to look into that man’s life present that to the public and affect the direction of government policy and action on the basis of that reporting, to move public opinion in the direction that will favour a common man, I think in every sector, young people have opportunities to create uncommon impact. It requires them to think. To just sit down and not be distracted; not be too focused on what is happening in Big Brother Nigeria or these other distracting issues, like how many album sales an Artist has and all that. There are serious issues in the society that we have to address across sectors and we have an opportunity to do that but I think our generation has been caught in this cycle of perennial distraction and we haven’t figured out how to breakout of that and the people that breakout of that, you see them doing very big things. In Financial Tech industries, look at the new apps that are being created from boys in Lagos, you know within the Computer Village, the innovations that are coming out of that place so it just gives you a sense of what is possible when our young people decide that they are going to apply themselves in a way that is holistic. Let me also say that aside from the issue of distractions and focus, I also think that there’s something that needs to be said about collaboration. Too often we are so focused on comparing ourselves to the next young person like ah, this young man he’s 30 and he’s in government or this young man, he’s 35 and he’s a billionaire what am I doing with my life and then we begin to get envious, we begin to get jealous and say how can I get on Twitter and tear this person down and all that instead of thinking, how can I collaborate more effectively with other young people so that we can rise together. Collaboration should be the new competition. Competition of yesterday is collaboration today. How do we put minds together to create new innovations and ideas to be able to expand ourselves? I may be here now. If a young person comes into this office and say I have this idea, what can we do together? I have had meetings like that with young people and now we are able to progress with something that is of benefit not just to the government but also to those individuals for the betterment of society. These are the opportunities that exist and I think that our young people should begin to have that mind of collaboration and coordination.
Q: As we know, government policies determine a lot of things when it comes to businesses, education and so on. What are the avenues for people seeking information on government policies; how will people find the information?
A: Let me say that the administration of the President has been very determined to bring to an end the days when you go to a government website and it’s 7 years old, they have not posted an update in 5 years, they have a number on the website you call it doesn’t even ring and all that. We have actually began the process of putting all information of all government agencies on the MDA’s website, updated it’s an on-going process but I think for example if you go to the website of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) you will see up to date and accurate information. That’s one sign it hasn’t always been like that. Now it’s a bit more committed you can see it on a month by month basis as opposed to before. You go to the Nigeria Police Force website you are going to see new updates and statistics etcetera. Well I think ultimately it requires a shift in the culture of our people in terms of research. A lot of times we want to be fed information as opposed to seeking information that is a major challenge. It is absolutely the responsibility of government to make sure that information is available but we cannot force you to find that information what we can do is tell you where the information is; this is where you can find it but you will have to pick up your phone or laptop, whatever the case may be to find that information. But I think often times what happens is people want government to literally find them wherever they are and give them that information wherever they are but that’s not how it works anywhere in the world. In the past years the information hasn’t always been available but that’s not the case now. However I will say this, its not just about our people not looking for information, something has to be done about government bridging gaps so for example, instead of just saying there’s information on government websites, if there are issues or stories that are trending right, for example, the 2020 budget after Mr President’s speech, naturally people on radio and TV are talking about the budget, there is absolutely a responsibility for government to ensure that in times like this we are out talking to people telling them what’s going on and answering their questions because there is no replacement for direct engagement. When a Nigerian sees that information and they need clarifications, they can only get those clarifications from human beings; government officials who can explain to them so we also have a lot of work to do in that regard and we are doing it. In fact I have been appointed now for approximately 40 days and we have already visited well over 30 stations so a lot of work is going on and we are going to continue to do that but one of the challenges that I want to ensure that I have overcome during my tenure is to create mechanisms for direct communication between our citizens and our officials. I’m not talking about just people like me or spoke-persons of agencies and all that I’m talking about the CEO’s of MDA’s, Ministers etcetera. How can we get them in direct touch with our people?
That’s part of what I want to put in place.
Q: As we all know, Nigeria is a very wealthy country in terms of Human and Natural Resources, and a lot of Nigerians complain, mostly justifiably. We believe we should have gone much farther than we have now. What kind of rare opportunities are there today that the youths can tap into seeing that they cannot all just jump into the oil sector?
A: Thank you very much. When I was with Channels Television I presented and produced a programme called Africa’s Future Leaders and what I would do is I would talk to young people who have achieved extraordinary things across sectors and they would guide our audience through how they got to where they got to. One of the very interesting finding which was consistent throughout; whether na male or na female, I would say about 95% came from lower to middle households they didn’t come from the rich families or silver spoon families. They came from very ordinary circumstances. They came from situations where they were not funded where they literally just used their capacity, the education they have; some of them are not graduates you know but they just decided, I want to go into this field I’m going to learn as much as I can, read as many books as I can and I will apply myself in this field and then they created NGO’s and they can get grants and they take off. This is what I will say about that, government is creating a lot of opportunities which I’m going to delve into in a moment but let me start by saying there’s no substitute for drive! My brother there is no substitute for drive, the ‘I’m going to make an impact on this world’ and nothing will stop me, there’s no government that will stop me there’s no money that will stop me, I will do it. There’s nothing that replaces that. Once that drive is in place, whether government helps you or not you will get to where you want to get to, that is a fact of life I have seen it myself. I have done it myself. So that’s on the one side. On the other side, government does have to create an enabling environment ideally for those to access opportunities I will start from Agriculture. Agriculture is the oil and gas of tomorrow. It is the place that if you enter now, no matter at what level, you can be a millionaire in three to five years if you are serious. We are already seeing stories about young Nigerians who didn’t have any access to resources and maybe got their hands on a plot of land, even by renting and turned a rented plot of land into a production outfit; the people are now producing eggs and chickens and beef and maize, you name it, out of land that they didn’t even own; that they rented. Just as an example you know, so, agriculture is it. I will say furthermore that this administration has put in place a set of policies that favour lower income Nigerians to be able to access capitals that will allow them to start businesses across sectors. Let me start with the ones that we know very well, the Social Investment Programmes, as we know it now 9.8 million school children across the 36 states of the federation are now being fed Monday to Friday. We have empowered 300,000 Vendors and Cooks in the process; local Cooks in all the localities. We have created access to interest-free capitals for 1.7 million petty traders under the Government Empowerment and Enterprise Programme (GEEP) that’s trader money, market money, farmer money. Then we have empowered 500,000 young Nigerian graduates who were unemployed under the N-Power. This is the interesting thing I don’t think a lot of people understand about N-Power is how diverse it is. You have N-Power Creative that deals with the creative industries, animations and all of that, you have N-Power Tech which deals with Robotics and all these things, coding, etcetera. You have N-Power Agric where we are putting young people who have no background at all in agriculture in farming practice, we are putting them on farms, bringing experts to teach them the very best in farm techniques so that by the time they leave there all they need to do is access a plot and begin production and now they have a stipend which they can use in renting and cultivating the plot on their own and then they can expand. You have N-Power Education where we are putting young people paying them to go into schools and teach, we have N-Power Medic where we have young Medical Doctors going into rural communities and hospitals. These are all parts of the N-Power scheme right now we have five hundred and twenty-six thousand (526,000) we are going to escalate that into one million within this four year period. Now, all of that said, the trader money, farmer money, market money scheme of the 1.7 million traders some people will say ah, what will you do? You are giving ten thousand Naira what will that do? Not knowing that we escalate it from ten to twenty thousand and when you pay back you can access fifty thousand and so on. People don’t understand the extent of poverty in some parts of this country, I tell you the truth. Go to Zamfara, enter a small market square you will see a woman, who on her entire tray, what she has, her entire business, no be shop o, na only tray, she has five hundred Naira cumulative in a day. Twenty twenty Naira worth of goods on a tray, in a day, if she has a good day and she sells all five hundred Naira, she has made a hundred Naira profit and for her, that is a good day because all her goods have been sold and she has made one hundred Naira. She can feed her family that day. That’s the kind of poverty we are talking about so when you hear these elitist arguments from urban centres where people are using two thousand Naira to recharge their phones for data, they are using five thousand Naira to fuel their car, two thousand Naira for drop and all of that they think ten thousand Naira is a joke but they don’t know that that is changing the life of somebody you know. So what we are going to do with that program is we are going to escalate it from ten thousand, fifty thousand and up to one million Naira. How are we going to do that? It’s called the People money Bank. The People money Bank is going to provide interest-free loan facilities to up to 10 million Nigerians I am on record so everybody can hear me and hold us accountable for this statement. Ten million Nigerians from 1.7 to 10 million now this is what we are going to do: we are going to open up the possibilities, not just for market operators but now we are opening up the process to Carpenters, Tailors, Plumbers, Hairdressers, Taxi Operators, Keke (tricycle) Operators you name it. Retails store owners. If you are a Nigerian Citizen and you have a verifiable and auditable business. Small or micro or medium scale business, you will be eligible to access up to one million Naira interest-free loans now some people would say how will you give one million Naira to up to ten million people but they don’t understand one million Naira is the ceiling you don’t start with one million Naira. You get a hundred thousand and then you pay it back, you escalate to two hundred and then you grow, up to a million depending on your capacity so these are some of the things that we are putting in place to encourage Nigerian Entrepreneurs and we believe that by investing in our people, I mean imagine a Nigerian Entrepreneur that has access to 500,000 in cash, you think that that industrious Nigerian will not be able to employ three or four maybe even ten or twenty other Nigerians? Of course, he will because he has never that level of capital before on an interest-free basis so that on the one side. On the other side, for youths, we are putting in place a five hundred million dollar innovation fund separate from N-Power which is going to create five hundred thousand jobs for Nigerian youths in the areas of innovation. We want the next Mark Zuckerberg to come from this country we want to create a series of Zuckerbergs across this country and we believe that’s one way we are going to do it and separate from innovation funds which is the direct funding direct jobs and all of that, we are going to create what we call the Entrepreneurship Bank which is separate from the People Money Bank, we are going to empower young Nigerian Entrepreneurs with access to capitals to start up their operations. The last thing I will mention is what we call Skill Up Nigeria. This is separate from all I have mentioned before, under Skill Up Nigeria we are offering companies, world-class companies like Dangote, like Unilever, companies operating underworld best practices, we are offering them 1% contributory tax relief yearly in exchange for bringing in young Nigerians who we will give stipends to go and train in actual practice in those industries and by the time they finish, which we are calling skilling up, they have the skills they have the understanding of the operation, they will then be able to access capital from the Entrepreneurship Bank to start their own industries. These are a lot of the measures that we are putting in place because we recognize that the government cannot create every job for Nigerians but we can ensure that they have the skills they need to create opportunities for themselves, just the way you see it in the developed world.
I have not even started in terms of Agriculture and what we are doing there for job creation and youth empowerment, it’s a major priority.
Q: Talking about the youths and policies, there’s been talk recently on some sort of educational reform in Nigeria. Can you shed some light on that, please?
A: Very good thank you. This is an area we are proud of now. A lot of Nigerians have criticized this administration in the first term because they felt that he did not make adequate investments in healthcare and education; these human capital development sectors. Now, what I tell people is there’s a contest I want our people to understand. When this administration came in, we were in a recession; the currency was devaluing by the day. We had all-time lows in terms of our foreign reserves so we didn’t even have enough money to support the value of our currency and all of that and we had to invest heavily in terms of infrastructure to put our people on roads and rails and bridges across the country to create opportunities that will take us out of recession. Now we are out of recession and we can reprioritize. In this second term, education reform is at the front. Last year, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo took a tour to Silicon Valley where he met with CEO’s of Microsoft and Google. Part of the fall out of those visits was that under the second administration of this President, we are putting in place the ‘no child left behind’ education system. What that is going to entail is that we are going to revolutionize the nation’s educational curricula from public primary and secondary schools. What we are now doing is we are bringing in practical skills, before it was all theoretical. Our education system as it is right now is about 40 years behind. We are still running the colonial legacy education system where they come and tell you the theory, you regurgitate the theory on an examination paper and then they grade you on the basis of what you are able to regurgitate. We are now in a knowledge-based global economy that’s based on practical skills so what we are saying is our new curricula is going to reflect practical skills and practical training. Robotics, coding, animation, design thinking are all part of the new curricula that we are introducing this term. Now you may say how are we going to introduce the curricula when we don’t have the teachers that have the capacity and the training to deliver the curricula and you don’t have the physical infrastructure that will enable you to train the children and this is the answer. Over the course of the next four years, we are retraining our teachers in public primary and secondary schools in digital literacy in addition to their primary areas of specialization whether it’s maths or science or English whatever it is so that they can deliver on the new curricula, that’s number one. Number two, we are making a promise to Nigerians that every year for the next four years, we are going to renovate ten thousand public primary and secondary schools. When I say renovate I’m not talking of painting the walls and putting new tin on the roof. I’m talking about facilities that are ICT driven; ICT laboratories with stations for design thinking, coding, animation, robotics and all of these practical skills that are going to be in the new curricula in collaboration with Microsoft and Google. That is what is in store and that is what we want our people to hold us accountable to.
Q: Speaking of students and youngsters still preparing for life, I’m sure there are a number of them looking at Ajuri thinking I want to be like him. Do you have any advice for them?
A: Yes! Follow your passion. Don’t follow money. Follow your passion and don’t follow money. If I had one sentence to share with Nigerian youths it will be that sentence and the reason why is that we are oriented around materialism, let’s say it as it is. You go on Twitter, if you say ‘retweet if you want to be a billionaire’ you will get twenty five thousand retweets within twenty four hours but if you tweet something that will build their capacity whether morally or professionally or mentally whatever it is, you will see maybe a hundred retweets. The challenge we have is very complex in the sense that you go to church and they are telling you that success is defined by how much money you have. Success is defined by being CEO of an organization. Success is defined by promotion in your job sphere that’s how it’s defined. It’s not defined by your moral principles. It’s not defined on whether you are an honest man or whether you are a man of integrity. It’s all defined by what you have. So, this is the environment in which our young people are growing up and what I say to them is reflective of my own personal experience; if I had chased money instead of my passion, I would not be here. That is a guarantee! Why do I say so? When I was with AIT and I was being paid salaries once every few months, you know everybody knows the situation in the Nigerian mediascape. When that was going on, it was passion that drove me to work every day. It wasn’t money! It was passion that made me say I want to go and do a report today. I want to make an impact today and it’s on the basis of that critically acclaimed work that people will now find you, and they will promote you and put you in a position to eventually succeed and all of that. So, that would be the first advice; no matter what sector you are in, no matter what your passion is, follow your passion, money may not be there on day one but if you follow it, God will bless it. If you do it sincerely, do it with integrity and honestly, money will come!
Q: That’s great. Now, it is inevitable that as someone who works with the government, especially in the public relations field, you are like the bridge between the people and the government, there’s a tsunami of emotions towards you; both negative and positive. How do you manage these emotions?
A: Well, first of all let’s look at what you get from people. As soon as you get an appointment letter the idea in the eyes and minds of many Nigerians, I don’t want to say all but many Nigerians is you receive your letter, you go into office the first day and a man in a suit walks into your office with a briefcase filled with euros and dollars. You are now given a form to sign your soul over to the devil and once you have received your money, you are sent into the world to tell only lies; truth has nothing to do with you again. So, this is the perception and we understand it, we move forward understanding that this is generally the perception and everything you do is moving against that perception you know. So how do you manage that? The way to manage that is to stay true to yourself, stay true to the values that got you where you are. The reason I accepted this appointment, you know an appointment is an offer that can be declined, was because I had confidence in something I wouldn’t have had confidence on in the past administrations and I say this openly, I knew that I was going to work for two individuals in a President and Vice President who will never call you into their office and say Ajuri, I want you to paint white black; for me. They will never do that because they are people of integrity and this is not a campaign slogan, this is who they are. What you see is what you get and with such individuals, it is very easy because you know that you can do your job in a way that allows you to maintain your conscience, your interests and values.
Q: Now it’s time to discuss the hashtags. There have been a number of hashtags that have made headlines. We will like to know the stance of the government on these issues, for example, the SexForGrades with lecturers harassing students and EndSars campaigns.
A: I think we have heard from several government officials (regarding the #SexForGrades issue) that these individuals who are involved must be prosecuted number one and that number two, we are going to support any new efforts aimed at curtailing this problem at the level of the leadership of these universities because many of these are administrative issues, they come down to administration. If you have adequate sanctions regimes in place in these universities, these lecturers that are randy and that are corrupt are not going to be feeling free in these kinds of corrupt practices because at the end of the day it’s not just promiscuity its corruption. You are essentially compromising on academic standards to suit your own personal interest. So it comes down to that and I think the President has been very clear on his stance on any issue that has to do with corruption. That’s the first thing I will say. It was this administration, when the issue with Busola Dakolo came out and all the controversies surrounding that, that said this individual that has been accused, no matter how highly placed must come for interrogation and that has happened and that process is still unfolding as well. In fact in this assembly, they are considering whether the death penalty should be used as punishment for rape. So we are doing the best to protect the people.
Yes, when Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo was acting President at the time, he instituted a reform of SARS. We already saw that there have been some institutional adjustments made to the SARS outfit as it were in terms of what arms can be carried, in terms of identification. Before they could wear jeans and T-shirts with no identification at all and abuse and harass people but that is no longer the case. They have to have certain identification components in place before they can discharge their official duties. Clearly, more has to be done. I think when you are looking at the SARS issue you are looking at the larger issue of the police right. You are looking at issues of capacity building, training, issues that have to do with adequate remuneration which has been a major issue, you are looking at recruitment because our police are understaffed. A lot of things happen when you have an understaffed police force. So, you are working two shifts, you are under a lot of stress, you are not well paid, the place you are sleeping in is a place that most Nigerians won’t sleep in. The place you are trained in is not a place most Nigerians would want to be trained in. These are serious issues and that is why Mr. President in the 2020 budget has increased the remuneration and allowances for all Police Officers in this country to ensure that some of these systemic and institutional issues are addressed at the root so that when you talk about SARS you now have Officers that will be compliant because they know that for the first time, they are being looked out for.
As I understand it, it was led by a presidential aspirant by the name of Omoyele Sowore who ran for the presidency and did not win the election and then began this move but yes, this is a very sensitive subject because many people see it many different ways. But, I think it suffices to say that since a judicial process has already been established, we will allow that process to play out.
Q: There are quite a number of issues in the country right now. Security is one. So, how does the proposed budget look to address the security issues in the country?
A: Thank you. First of all, funding is only one component of institutional reform. You can effectively fund but if your strategies and other things are not in place then funding is not the issue. So, this administration is taking a very comprehensive approach to it. We understand that funding is very critical because like we said, training, equipment, welfare etcetera, those are very serious issues and that is why we have raised funding, not just for the Police Force by the way but also for the Military. They are also taken care of in this budget. But, we have placed emphasis to ensure that we do procurements on a government to government basis to cut out the kind of middleman corruption that we have seen in the past. Now when we are doing arms deal with other countries we are doing government to government transactions; we are removing the contractors and consultants and cronies and friends of the government from the process. That’s why the US government contract for the TUCANO fighter jets which are going to be delivered in 2020 was done under that format. We’ve seen the same thing in the power sector, the SIEMENS power deal which is going to transform our power sector in a verifiable manner, not like the false promises of yesterday; that is also a government to government transaction to ensure that the money doesn’t just come out and officials take it. Those days are over. So, in terms of security, funding is a major one and that has been put in place. The second one is to ensure that we build our local content. This president has recapitalized the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) for the first time we are beginning to manufacture our own small arms. Since the 1970’s we have been importing because our officials just got oil money and began to get lazy so they went to India, Turkey, Pakistan and all these countries buying small arms that our people have the capacity to build here. So now we are beginning to manufacture again for the first time in forty years. Armoured vehicles were manufactured in Ogun State for example. So these billions of dollars that we were spending are now being sourced locally which creates jobs for Nigerians and creates that capacity locally. These are some of the issues. The other thing I will say is, in terms of effectiveness, I will challenge our people to do a bit of research and look at the month by month statistics on those who are being kidnapped, on those who have been killed by bandits and herdsmen. Just do the month to month analysis, what you will find, I remember I was doing a report on it last year. January 2018, when the herdsmen thing exploded, we were losing in high numbers in Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau Stae and all over but if you look at it now, the number has gone down but people are not talking about the progress, they will talk about the one person that has been kidnapped in Ondo State. So I think we need to look at the statistics because if we do, we will see that there’s a gradual reduction in the kind of casualties that we have been seeing and I think that speaks to the effectiveness of the adjustments made by the President.
Q: A few days ago I saw on your timeline where someone asked for you to run for governor in your state but you declined. What do you have to say about that?
A: Let me start by saying that I’m a sheep being led by a Shepherd. So if the shepherd leads me I will go and attempt it but the Shepherd must tell me. It will not be the sheep acting on its own intuition or instincts. So that’s where I am.
I also think it’s going to be difficult for a person of my nature to fit into the political sphere of Rivers State. But like I said, if by some kind of miracle the Shepherd tells me I will go but that’s a long ways away and it may never happen and I’m going to just do my best where I am as I have always done.
Q: Talking about your background, you just mentioned that you are from Rivers State, some years ago there was some kind of argument about your origin on the internet. Some said you were Lebanese, some said you were American. Can you give us a little insight into your background?
A: Well, I’m from Rivers State; I’m from Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State. I come from a line of public officials. My grandfather was the chairman of Eleme county council. He was also a headmaster in several schools across Rivers State and a teacher. My father was a geologist and a former legislator in the Rivers State House of Assembly in the second republic as a young man representing Eleme Constituency and then under President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was appointed a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So I have a family history in the public service of this country. I spent a significant amount of my youth in the US. My mum is American she is a Caucasian white with roots in Germany. She has German ancestry on both sides of her family even though for some generations they have been in the United States. So, That’s my background.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to?
A: My favourite genre of music will be jazz, gospel and a selective bit of hip-hop.
Q: If you had a playlist, which artists am I likely to find in it?
A: I like some selective music. For example Davido’s Skelewu is a song I like. I don’t know that I have a particular artist that I follow because some artists produce some songs that I love and some songs I would never listen to; I don’t like listening to songs that offend my conscience. So, if I can find clean songs with lovely beats I really enjoy that a lot. Then jazz I find very relaxing it allows me to meditate, think and write; smooth jazz in particular and then of course gospel music, you can never go wrong with that because it puts you in a state of reflection and healthy meditation so those are my favourites.
I like some J. Cole songs as well, some Jay-Z even MI. different guys you know if it has a nice beat and it doesn’t offend my conscience, I love it.
Q: So when you have a day off, what do you do?
A: Rest. There’s no substitute for rest when you work hard. I always tell people you know people chase money and so many different things but there’s something about making sure you can sustain your tempo. If you are a hardworking person the only way you can sustain that hard work is if you are healthy and you have to rest to stay healthy. I also like to engage my friends in very harmless intellectual debates, I enjoy that a lot. Issues based discussions around Nigeria around Africa around where we are and where we need to go. Those things I find very therapeutic.
We have come to the end of the interview. We really appreciate you giving us your time because we have learned a lot ourselves and we are sure a lot of people who will have the opportunity to read this interview will, too.
Thank you very much!