In this interview conducted by Bisi Abidoye and QueenEsther Iroanusi at the PREMIUM TIMES Studio in Abuja, Lagos East Senator Tokunbo Abiru speaks on topics like his stewardship, the performance of the national assembly, the chances of his All Progressives Congress in Lagos and in national elections and what lessons that the federal government can learn from Lagos on financial engineering
PT: Before you contested in the bye-election for Lagos East Senatorial District in 2020, you were commissioner for finance in Lagos State and later the managing Director of Polaris Bank. Can we know more about you before your election?
Senator Abiru: I wasn’t just managing director, chief executive of Polaris Bank by accident and I wasn’t only a commissioner for finance in Lagos State. I spent the better part of my career after school, precisely about 29 years, in the banking profession. I have had the opportunity to be part of the pioneer set of the class that started Guaranty Trust Bank. The bank started in 1990, I joined in 1991, I was one of the early starters. I spent about 10 years there and was also in First Bank for another 15 years. I spent about four years with Skye Bank cum Polaris. That is almost 29 years. It was during my stay, my career in First Bank, that I went on a sabbatical between 2011 and 2013 – to serve the government of Lagos as the honourable commissioner for finance.
My falling into politics as well, I won’t say was completely accidental because I had delivered on the mandate given to me by the Central Bank then. As you may recall, my stay in both Skye Bank and Polaris Bank was informed by the regulatory-induced intervention in the management and leadership of Skye Bank in 2016, when the bank had serious potential challenges that threatened the stability of the bank itself and even the financial system. So that was when I was brought in to lead the management and the directorate of the bank then to stabilise it and put it on the path of profitability, which I was able to accomplish by the transition to Polaris. After two years of running it profitably and the stability had been achieved, I thought my mandate had been delivered so that was why I opted to retire by December 2020 during which time the opportunity to go into politics came up. So, I retired.
I want people to get it right, I didn’t resign to come into politics, I retired after a successful 29-year career in banking before I now went into a second calling called politics.
PT: In an interview during your campaign for the senatorial bye-election that you eventually won, you remarked on ordinary people being remote during the campaigns and being apathetic to politics. What have you found out to be the reasons for that and how have you tried to address them?
Senator Abiru: Now again just to answer your question rightly, I think for me it is also important for a lot of us that have also had the privilege of the organised private sector or any organised setting to also come into politics because it is about giving back and also supporting the development of the society. Part of what you find in politics is that essentially what you are doing, you are managing people and resources. So if you have had the privilege of a very thorough background in managing human resources and natural resources efficiently and effectively, leading in the political sphere will not be that much of a problem. So that is why for me, you know, most of my peers when we meet and they want to know what my experience has been, yes I must not shy away from the fact that politics is a murky terrain, it exists but for the good of the society: So those of us who have benefitted by virtue of exposure and all of that, we need to bring those competencies to support government and development. So what I do when I come across my colleagues in the organised private sector and they want to share my thoughts or my experience, it is more of encouraging them to come into the play as well so that with a handful, we can begin to navigate a stronger future for the country.
PT: Your first participation as a commissioner was rather brief. What accounted for that?
Senator Abiru: Yes. Let me say that, number one, you might say that it was brief but again, being a thorough-bred Lagosian, it was also an opportunity for me to serve and as of that time in 2011, I imagined I would have done over 20 years in banking, so I had the competence and capacity to function as such. Equally, I think as of that time I was the Deputy General Manager at First Bank. In those days in First Bank, once you were in that deputy general manager role, that is the peak of managerial role after which you become an executive director and, if you are lucky, you make it to the managing director role. At the time I was invited to join the government of His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola, and then I was a deputy general manager. It was a very good opportunity for me so I took a sabbatical. I went in, I mean the experience was great. It was a very good exposure to how you manage government, business and government accounting and government finances because I was commissioner of finance.
Again, because I am a career person, I also felt at that time that it was proper for me to wrap up my career in banking. So out of the four years, ordinarily a commissioner should have, after about two years I thought it would make sense for me to still go back to my profession. Thankfully around that time, the opportunity to join the board of First Bank was available. I actually resigned to join the board of First Bank as an Executive Director, knowing full well that serving in government does not have what you can describe as age restriction. I am not saying you should come into government as a Methuselah, no. But I am saying as of that time I was in my late 40s. But you see in the corporate world, you had an age restriction. After a certain age, you probably cannot fit in properly. So at that time, I thought it wise it was important to go back and wrap up the career which by the special grace of God I was able to wrap up as executive director and also managing director of another bank. Of course, as you can see today, I am still back in the public space as a senator
PT: So why did you choose the senate instead of a position in the executive?
Senator Abiru: Well, I think I should make one clarification. You know in a proper democracy, it is the legislature that is actually the heartbeat of democracy, because that is where you have a fair representation of almost everybody which the executive does not have. You stand in as if you are representing an entire nation in the case of the president or a state governor. But in the legislature, what you have is representative of almost everybody present. I think I will describe the legislature as the heartbeat of democracy. Then as of that time, that was the opportunity that was available and I must confess to you, it has been a worthwhile experience. One has had the privilege of understanding how the legislature works and the oversight role it has over almost every other arm of government. So it is a special arm of government that will always remain the heartbeat of democracy.
PT: You have described the legislature as the heartbeat of democracy. But given the experience in Nigeria and your experience in the National Assembly, will you say that role is being fulfilled by the National Assembly to the extent you can describe it as the heartbeat?
Senator Abiru: Yes. I think I can say that boldly. Number one, what you find in the National Assembly, be it the House of Representatives or the Senate, is a combination of people with different professional backgrounds. So you can describe it as an assemblage of people with very strong and diverse professional backgrounds. People bring it into play in terms of policy formulation and debate for a better society. In the little time that I have spent, I have seen some historic achievements. An example is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act, then equally the Electoral Act has also been fine-tuned and I also think we are dealing with the Constitutional Review and, of course, the Power Sector bill that is ongoing right now. These are major milestones that will redefine the entire country. So I think it is a very important role that the legislature is playing.
PT: But the perception Nigerians have of the National Assembly is that they pass laws that are either not implemented or do not have an impact on development and that they pass motions that are ignored. Especially for the Senate, people now see it as a retirement home for past governors…
Senator Abiru: I don’t see it like that. I think the diversity of the background of most people comes to play in the Senate and it enriches the kind of debate you have. I will use myself as an example. I have had cause to move a motion that has helped my corridor. When I say corridor, I mean my district in terms of infrastructure and it started on the floor of the Senate. If you go to a location described as the Ikorodu-Shagamu axis today, the improvement on the road is a result of the motion I moved and the support from my colleagues. I remember when I came to this assignment, to journey along that corridor would take about two hours. But today, because of that improvement, you probably can do it in under 30 minutes. So for me, those are the kinds of opportunities that the Senate gives to us that we should take good advantage of. So for me, I don’t see it as a retirement home. I don’t look like someone that has retired. I am meant to be on recess but I am in the office, you won’t call that retirement anyway.
PT: What are your legislative agenda and special area of interest as a lawmaker?
Senator Abiru: So for me, I think that the way I have approached it, I describe it as the mandate given to me by the people because you derive that authority from the people. It is something that I take very seriously. So my approach, I have partitioned it like I like to describe to people, three main pillars. The traditional role, which is the legislative role, is a pillar for me and I can also have a conversation as to the little things I have done within my 20 months now of my stay. I also have the second pillar described as empowerment and facilitation which is some direct benefits you bring, which has also become a part of our culture in terms of expectation from a legislature. I have also added a third pillar which I call endowment. By endowment, it is a personal pillar that I introduced, which is to give back to society given the prior privilege I have had in the private sector which, as I described, is a very successful one. So what I mean by that is to bring my own experience, my personal resources and the goodwill that I gathered in my earlier corporate life into the support of my constituents. I can give you an example, that particular pillar focuses on human capital development, particularly for our youth and entrepreneurs. So it focuses largely on youth. As you know, we have a very high unemployment rate and part of what I think is the problem is the skill set of our young folks and also the entrepreneurs. Look for ways to support them. They form a critical portion of our larger economy, both in terms of employment and contribution to our GDP. So there is a need to find a focus that supports them. So that is what my endowment focuses on. If you want me to break it down I can go ahead.
PT: One of those things you have taken up for your constituents is the Federal Polytechnic Epe. You sponsored a bill for that?
Senator Abiru: Well, I think time has overtaken that because you know everybody is coalescing most of the polytechnics to universities. So the polytechnic we have in Lagos is now a Lagos State University of Science and technology. If you are talking about some of the bills I have sponsored, I can also speak on them.
PT: Specifically, you sponsored a bill for the establishment of an institution in Epe?
Senator Abiru: You see, as I have just clarified, the intention was to find a federal presence in Epe but if you can see the trend of what is going on now, most of the polytechnics are now being converted to universities.
PT: So that bill has been abandoned?
Senator Abiru: Yes. It only went through the first reading. But if you are talking of bills, I can tell you that my main focus in terms of bills are also bills that will support what you call the Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs). I have been at the forefront of the existing Copyright Act. We have reviewed it and enacted it because the last time anybody worked on it was before the political dispensation in 1999. As you know, there are a lot of initiatives. You can see what is going on here (in PREMIUM TIMES Studio), technology has overtaken a lot of the things we do. Our youth have become very creative minds, so you need to also update some of your bills to rise to the developments that you have in your environment. And I am happy to let you know that has gone through a final passage in the Senate, meaning it has gone through the first reading, second reading, public hearing and third reading and approved. The same has been done in the House of Reps and approved. What we are waiting for is just the assent of the president.
Another bill that is also in the line of MSMEs is what you describe as the Franchise bill. That is also a technical word that we use very commonly in Nigeria. It will surprise you that we don’t actually have any bill regulating it and these are areas where you have clusters of a lot of small, medium-scale enterprises. So there is also a need for a bill to become an Act that will regulate the operators and protect the participants in that sector. As we speak today, we have gone through the first reading, second reading, and public hearing. So when we go back now, we are going to be presenting it for the final passage. So they are all in support of our creative minds and also our entrepreneurs.
PT: Given there is this revenue challenge at the federal level, what will you say Lagos State did that the federal government can learn from and also other states?
Senator Abiru: You know anything around finance, you have to be very practical. What I mean by being practical, if you look at the case of Lagos, by the advent of democracy in 1999, a lot of people have overrated, I say overrated the issue, but it is an important issue. What the military left for us in Lagos at the time was a paltry N600 million monthly in terms of IGR. But today it is over N50 billion. I am sure you have heard it, it’s not going to be the first and you have to give that kudos to the pioneer governor of Lagos State Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He was visionary and successive governments have improved upon that. My saying it is practical, that it is something that has been done, that you can feel and can speak to. In terms of how you can bring those kinds of experiences to the government, I can only speak from the experience I have gathered from the government as well. This is my second year, and I have had the privilege of going through a budget circle. Part of what I see that I believe we can use to improve government revenue, having gone through a budget defence circle with the MDAS, I think that there is a need for a deliberate attempt to stretch most of the MDAS to optimise their revenue opportunities in their respective MDas. It’s not rocket science, I think there are so many revenue opportunities on the table that we need to pick up.
I also believe that part of the challenge that we need to deal with, we need to moderate our expenditure and budget as well. One thing is to ramp up revenue, another thing is to also curtail expenditure. You don’t let it rise almost at the same level as revenue. So we think that is possible and we have advised the government along these lines. Most times when they come for their budget defence, which of course they are going to come for, this time around those are areas we are going to latch on to. You have to optimise revenue and also moderate current expenditure. It will also help us to reduce our appetite for contracting loans if you understand what I mean. So we can also moderate the leverage of the country from that angle. More importantly, there is a lot of improvement around our non-oil revenue receipts, particularly our tax. We need to also introduce technology to drive it so that we can optimise what we collect from there. There is a lot of conversation around that. I believe that if you look at our tax to GDP, I think within the context of some African nations, we are about the lowest. So we need to do a lot. There is room for improvement along those lines. So if we do those areas, look at our tax receipts, how can we improve, how can we bring more people into the tax net, and how can we improve VAT? Our VAT is about the lowest in Africa. Also the revenue opportunities of the MDA’s, I am sure we can improve our revenue profile or the government.
PT: You have been in the Senate for 20 months now. What have you done as a lawmaker and representative of Lagos to deserve being re-elected?
Senator Abiru: In terms of what have I done to deserve a second term, I will say that what I promised the people of my district is the quality representation and I think that, to the best of my ability, I have been able to do that. Not only have I done it to the best of my ability, but I have also done it in a very fair and equitable manner. The document you have here (on his stewardship) tries to capture what I did. This was done when I was 18 months exactly and it captures most of the programmes I have done up until the 18 months. The three pillars will continue to guide me, the legislative role which focuses more on how we can improve the laws of our people who are mostly micro, medium and small enterprises, the MSMEs. I have pushed for legislation that will continue to support them and also support the MSMEs in Nigeria generally. You have the Copyright bill and Franchise bill. They actually target these segments of the population. As you also know, this segment of the population accounts for almost 60 per cent of the employment opportunities that we see. Self-employed people, people who are engaging in micro or medium size business and all of that. That is on one side.
Now the second pillar which also speaks to empowerment and facilitation, within the little time I have spent, I have tried in my little way to facilitate things that have also brought some sort of support to the people. In that area, I think my focus is the area of education, health and socio-economic development. Under education, I have been able to, I also say that I try to make my deliverables equitable and fair. If you go to Ikorodu Local Government, I think in the middle of last year, we expanded the capacity of a major primary school there, by building about four blocks of 24 classrooms with 16 toilets and also furniture. It has become very useful to them way back as of June last year. It has also expanded and accommodated the enrollment of students in that school. Equally, in other locations, either in Ibeju, Lekki… we have also supported by building some classrooms there.
In the area of health, we have also identified three locations where we have improved Primary Health Centres (PHCs) that is in Isiwu, in Ikorodu North local government. In Dagboeke too, there is another one and there is a third one, the Lagos State University of Science and Technology. That campus has a population size of almost 40,000 people. These are facilities that will complement what Lagos State is also doing in those areas. The buildings have not been completed; they are almost 90 per cent, the phase of completion will be done anytime soon, and then we go into the phase of equipping them. That is in the area of health.
If you talk about social-economic development, because I came at a time when COVID came as well, part of the experience I gathered during the campaign was the pain of a lot of people as to how COVID had affected their business. So immediately even before I got my first salary as a senator, I instituted a programme called the COVID relief programme. And that programme is aimed at the vulnerable members of society. I defined the vulnerable members to be a widow, an aged person, someone with physical disabilities, a lady/woman and unemployed youth. Those are the five criteria. So what I did was to say to almost everybody within the district starting with, you can’t afford to forget the platform that brought you into the office so you start with the platform of your party. In my instance, in my district, I have 98 wards. So I said to each ward, give me 10 of such people of that category. So I didn’t select for them, that is also fair. So I allowed them to choose ten people but following those criteria. So from that pool alone, you have almost 980 people.
Again in the party structure, you also have the local government party chairmen. We have about 16. That is what I have in my district. So I also gave them the latitude to pick five people each. That is another 80 so if you add it to that, that is about 1,000. We also have organised the Christian Association of Nigeria within the district. They have leaders, they have about 16 leaders so I also told the leaders to pick ten from their group. That is 160 people. Ditto the Islamic clerics, we told them to bring 10 people each. That is another 160. We have about 31 Obas; so we asked them to bring five people each. We also have other ethnic groups, we have the Arewas, we have the South-south people and we have the Igbo community. We also told them to bring people. So as we speak today, we have a data bank of almost 2,500 so what we do which we had started way back in January last year. We put the total 2,500 into segments so we have group A and group B. So monthly we give them N5,000 so if you belong to group A you get it in January, and group B gets it in February, when it comes to March. So meaning that every other month you get a support of 5,000. B, it may look small but I can tell you for those vulnerable people, it goes a long way. We also do it by way of credit transfer to your account so we don’t need a third party to go in-between. So today is the last month of August which makes it the 20th month that we have been doing this. Just on my way here the head of the Arewa community sent me a text to show appreciation that his people have gotten the one for this month.
As of today we probably would have disbursed close to 130 million because it is an average bill of about 6.5 billion every month. So for 20 months, that is another intervention. We have been able to do this thing in a very seamless manner because all we have from all those people is just their data; their names, phone number and account number so we don’t need an intermediary. They get the direct credit on their own. I think it has been a very successful scheme and has supported them.
Ordinarily, we planned to end this last year in December but due to the clamour from constituents which also confirms how far it helps in supporting them, we were constrained to just continue. Again under socio-economic development as well, we have also set up as you can see here, this is a facility here in Epe, that is a mini stadium. It has a pavilion that can sit about 969 people. So you have a football pitch, basketball court and volleyball court. Those are the things that you use in engaging the youth. This is also live as you can see it.
Also on the very day, we did this commissioning we rebuilt and completely rehabilitated the famous Oluwo fish market in Epe. That is the ancient market that is known to a lot of Lagosians. In commissioning it, we also tried to empower most of our market women. The beauty of Lagos is that you have them organised so just like the way we have 16 local governments, we have 16 Iya Olojas and Baba Olojas. So on the day of the commissioning part of what we did was to also give them the latitude to identify vulnerable members of their market association. Each location came up with 50, in 16 places that are about 800. But in all that you do, you don’t forget the platform that is giving you the opportunity. So you go back to the party platform to say you people give me vulnerable traders as well. So all in all we had close to 1,250 people that we gave a market grant of N50,000 too. That is not small money. That is about 62 million just to support them. We have done all of these just to make sure that we also rise to the needs of our people.
Lastly, as you recall, I talked about endowment. In the area of endowment, two things I have focused on, number one, my endowment programme is very competitive. It is not a programme whereby you can nominate or just select. Because again you know capital is limited so the little you have, you have to employ it properly. But we are doing it in a way that intervention makes a lot of sense to the people. So we have the bursary we instituted last year for tertiary students, we call it Bursary 600. We did it for about 600 indigenous and indigent members of our district. 600 people at an average of N50,000. That is almost 30 million naira.
But I think that what should impress you more is even the selection process. Remember that I said part of what somebody like me brings to bear is that you also must try to organise society in a manner that they appreciate governance. So for me, I lead with a very high sense of governance. So in identifying the 600, I didn’t sit down in my. constituency or tell anybody to pick. What I did was I went to those tertiary institutions that we have within the belt of my constituency, LASU, Lagos state university of technology, the teaching colleges and there is a nursing school as well. We took scholars from there, some of them PhD holders. We constituted them in what we call a bursary advisory council, about seven of them. I have never met them in my life. They came through a thorough selection process. I interviewed them and I thought they were good to go. So what I just did was to give them a criterion that we need to set up a bursary scheme. The way I want it is that it must be equitable. We have 16 local governments, every local government must have a fair share of whatever we are doing.
What is paramount is that you must be indigent and you must be either in the university or college of education and you must be in your second year so that it can be easier for us to validate your studentship in that location because we can’t be dealing with awaiting results or whatever. We can’t handle that. They did a very thorough job so they did the selection. All I just needed to do was to give the criteria that they should follow. So with that, it is difficult for anyone to fault that kind of setting. The most interesting one which is very much in line with the way the world is moving today is what I describe as an innovation centre that we have set up which focuses on technology and innovation. As you know the world that we live in, if it had been before, we would need a studio bigger than this. I believe given my background that yes indeed almost all economies are struggling no thanks to COVID. Just as we are struggling with COVID, we have the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war which is bringing about recession and both economies struggling. It has also accelerated our unemployment issues in the country. As tough as it may appear, it is not to say that you don’t have some job openings but what you find is that most of our youth when they graduate probably do not have the skill required for those limited job opportunities. So I have since identified that and I think that what they need to do is just scale up their skill in the area of innovation and technology. So what I have done under my foundation is to set up what is called the Senator Abiru innovation lab. This is just one of the programmes but I will try to quickly speak to it. The setting up of the innovation lab is not about just setting up a facility and putting computers there, no. The starting point can be that but what you really need is to actually look for the faculty that will teach people to become proficient with these new skills. So what I have done is partner with the foremost technology and innovation company called co create hub (CCHub). It is a major innovation and technology company that combines social capital to wrap up prosperity in most environments. They operate both in Nigeria and Kenya, Malawi and England. It will interest you to know this is a company founded by a Nigerian. What they have done for me is that they have done a survey of my constituency and realised that to do this, five key programmes were identified. You have what is called a tech talent programme which is essentially to pick up graduates or tech enthusiasts that are craving to understand it and turn them into software engineers. We have those who already have businesses but also need technology to wrap them up, they call them the accelerators. We also have young minds, people in secondary school who also must be exposed very early to this new development in the world. They call them STEM- Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Our teachers are also critical so we also have the teachers’ fellowship programme which focuses on what you call inquiry-based learning which are modern-day techniques which are very scarce among our teachers’ folk. The last one is business 101 for creatives and business people. We have those five programmes running. So what we have done way back in March this year, we have reconfigured my own constituency office to be a temporary location for this. At the same time, we are also constructing a purposely built innovation lab that will accommodate them. Hopefully, that should be ready in a month. We will invite you for the commissioning. The good news is that we have been able to put about at least 150 people in this class today. The average stay in this facility is 3-6 months. So for the teachers, STEM and all of that is 3-4 months. Some of them have graduated now but the tech talent is about 6 months. So you can imagine keeping students in a class for 6 months with dedicated training. We also provide daily lunches for them. Because we only have a location, it is a very expensive project I must admit. It is not something you can just replicate in all the five major local governments or 11 LCDAs. So we only want to start with a location. But to encourage those who are coming because we try to be fair in all we do, we also give stipends to them daily for coming. So the average participant gets N2,000 or N3,000. The good news is that the outcome we expect is that as you are coming out of here you are getting jobs and we are seeing it happen. Some who are still in class are getting contracts. I am sure I won’t be the first to say there are Nigerians here who are working remotely for companies across the Atlantic. Those are the kind of minds we are trying to build. I in particular haven’t said because I set it up I will just sit down here in Abuja. At least in a month, I go to the class and when I am going, I typically will look for established people in the society and or accomplished colleagues that also share this understanding with me. One, my going with them is to also speak to some of these minds so you can inspire them. I went with the managing director of sterling bank, deputy managing director of Access bank, and a highly respected senior colleague of mine, Mr Wale Edun, who is also my mentor. He is a former commissioner of finance and a foremost investment banker. So you can imagine putting these groups of personalities in the midst of these young minds. That is how you inspire young people so they can look up to people like this. At the same time, I also go with younger people who are established in the tech space. I have been there with a young man called Inyi Aboyije. I don’t know whether you know him, but they know him and bringing him to class blew their minds. He also told his own story that he grew up in Shomolu but today he is one of the founders of Andela, flutterwave and all of that. So you can imagine. I think that is the kind of impact we should be giving back to society. I think that it will go a long way in the lives of these people. It is foundational but I think it is a very good takeoff for them.
So I think with all of these, I am not saying it is going to be easy, but I think I stand a good chance, I think it will be responsible of me to ask for a second term.
PT: Your party has been running Lagos since 1999. Do you think the record justifies the party continuing to control the state after 2023?
Senator Abiru: Now if you see me as a product of that party, I am sure that should tell you that the party has produced quality people that will always come up with ideas that will impact development. So if the party has produced somebody like me, it has produced somebody like the former governor Raji Fashola, the current governor is somebody I have known in my banking days over 25 years ago. At some point, we were contemporaries before he went to join the government. He is somebody I can talk to and give advice to and I keep advising. I think that he is doing a lot and you can see the changing face of Lagos in terms of rail projects and all that. Of course, we have to give all of this to our national leader. He had the vision and he also displayed the capacity to identify talents that can continue the journey. So for me, we have the right to claim it but I think it is based on performance, competence and capacity. And I think into the foreseeable future, I think that is the way to go for Lagos.
PT: The economy and security situation of the country has been challenging in the seven years your party has been leading the country. With that record, how do you persuade the Nigerian voters to continue along with your party?
Senator Abiru: I think our party came in under very difficult circumstances. I am not trying to give excuses here. We came in at a time when oil prices, which is almost the mainstay of our revenue profile in this country, were at their lowest. But again, given the ingenuity of the leadership, they have been able to still rise to the challenge. You have to give it to this administration in certain areas of infrastructure. The rail project, the construction of major roads. Yes without giving excuses, this is a regime that beyond the low oil prices and revenue, it has been embattled by COVID that has locked down almost all the world economies. Again we have seen the rise of the Ukraine-Russia war which was never factored into our projection.
There is no economy in today’s world that is not challenged. Either you are battling a high inflation rate or some sort of recession. I think that in my own estimation, I think we have fared well under the circumstances. Talking about security, the world has become very difficult to govern. Yes, we have our own share but I think that the major security challenge that we saw in 2015 to a very reasonable extent has been abated, that is Boko Haram. But again we have seen the resurgence of new types of challenges in terms of kidnappings and banditry and all of that. To an extent, the administration has risen to it but it can be better I admit. So, for me, I think that we should keep hope alive and I am sure we will get out of this.
PT: As a financial expert, what will you say about Nigeria’s borrowing?
Senator Abiru: I am equally concerned, let me just admit. I am sure some of what those who are in the budget office will be saying are issues around revenue but again I strongly believe we have to moderate the current expenditure. I also think we need to optimize our revenue opportunities. What is borrowing, borrowing is the shortcoming of your budget in terms of your total expenditure, current and capital expenditure less your revenue. So your deficit is what you try to finance or leverage. I must admit it has been very high under our current leadership but I think the room for improvement is there and we just need to take it. Beyond the size of the borrowing, I think I am more particular about the revenue. I think we need to work very seriously around the revenue parameters in order not to allow the borrowings to choke up or the payment of interest in the borrowing to choke up all our opportunities to develop.
PT: There is a new phenomenon which is the heightened awareness of the youth. What do you think it portends for your party, governance and politics post-2023?
Senator Abiru: Well, I think the issue of the youth is very clear. If you look at the demography today even just taking from the INEC registration you will look at the newly registered voters, look at the demography of the new voter register which also speaks to the larger population the way it is partitioned. You will find that between the ages of 35 to 18 years is about 70 per cent meaning that the youth really constitute the larger portion of our population so we have got to have plans for them. The plan for the youth for me is you must be able to communicate with them and understand their needs. I think part of the yearning is that they don’t want to miss out on the fourth industrial revolution which is innovation and digital technology. Our own generation has missed out of the first, second and third revolutions. You see, this instrument has also opened their eyes to what the world is talking about. So clearly I believe they need a leader who can understand and lead them along this corridor. That is all that they need because the opportunities there abound. Don’t forget if you take your mind back to what I explained as my focus under endowment that is essentially what I am focusing on because the opportunities are tremendous for them. So they need leaders who will understand that particular need and it’s a need across the world. For those who have been able to find their way, we have the likes of flutterwave, there are young people running all of this. There are a lot of success stories and that is the only way development will come about. That is the fourth revolution in the world today. So our youth are yearning for global competitiveness. They want to be part of it, they don’t want to miss out. Those are the leaders they are asking for. So for me, I think that is the summary of it.
PT: Do you think your party and its twin brother, the PDP, can survive the backlash of that anger of the youth?
Senator Abiru: I can speak for my party, I can’t speak for the PDP. So if I represent my party and have displayed understanding then it shows that we understand the needs of the youth.
PT: What do you know about Bola Tinubu that you would like to share with the Nigerian voters?
Senator Abiru: I think he is very simple, he is a visionary. He is somebody I can describe as a talent hunter and he is a man that will always surround himself with talent. He is also a brilliant mind. He understands the issues around political capacity. I am not just saying this, this is a man that has displayed this in Lagos. The legacy that he left behind is also what successive governments in Lagos have also built upon. I can also attest to the fact that during my time as commissioner for finance, it was also a template that other governments within the country would come to learn and borrow from.
In summary, I see him as a competent leader, a leader with the capacity to lead and identify those who can challenge his thoughts as to how leadership should continuously be challenged. And he is a visionary, as well. I think that is the kind of leadership we need in this country. A leader that understands the complexities of this country and also understands what leadership is all about.
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