Hamman Adama Tukur, an Engineer of repute and academic of high reckoning has an unmistakable streak of radicalism embedded in conservatism —an admixture that shot him to prominence in his career in the public service.
While some perceive him as controversial, others see the Adamawa-born bureaucrat as a patriotic, no-nonsense man who insists on due diligence and transparency in the handling of national assignments.
Nigerians cannot forget his constant brush with the Presidency when he headed the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission; nor his tenure as the Chief Executive Officer of defunct National Electric Power Authority, (NEPA), that raised power generation in Nigeria to 6,800 megawatts.
Little wonder then, that Tukur who boasts a degree in Physics and Masters’ in Engineering from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Hamman is passionately worried about the sorry state of power in Nigeria.
In this interview with TheEconomy’s Chinedu Obike, he expresses strong views on corruption, patriotism, and the imperative of achieving the lofty dream of the nation’s founding fathers.
It has been a while since you left the public glare. What is it that has been engaging your attention since then?
I have been reading and writing about the power situation in Nigeria. In our time, there were certain structures we built to make Nigeria great and it’s disheartening to see those structures going down. It is hard to sit back and watch while the degeneration goes on; one feels a sense of duty to write about it and that is one of the things I have been doing.
To what extent have you succeeded in drawing attention to the degeneration?
Well, I consider it my duty to say it as it is and show the right way as I know it. It is up to those running the affairs now to make their choice.
As a trained engineer, how easy was it for you to fit into the role of the Chairman, Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission?
Recollect that when I left the academic world, my first port of call was NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) where I served as the Chief Executive and from there to the Petroleum Ministry. From there, I moved on to the Ministry of Mines, Power and Steel Development and that’s where we started dealing with the Ajaokuta Steel and the rolling mills. So, the public service experience helped to the extent that I had a fair idea of what it’s all about and most of them are engineering skewed. It’s all about management. By the time I got to Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, it was not a very strange environment and I was lucky to have been surrounded by seasoned commissioners who were prepared to teach me the ropes. I was ready to learn and I did.
You fought quite a running battle with the government of the day during your tenure as Chairman of RMAFC. What was behind the quarrels?
It was a matter of principles, rule of law and adherence to the constitution. We didn’t quite agree all the time. I told President Obasanjo that my loyalty to him was to tell him the truth always, but that what he did with it was entirely his own affair. So, when the idea of NIPP (National Integrated Power Project) came and he was taking money from the federation account, I said no. That was the first point of disagreement between us. The federation account is only accessible to the three tiers of government and nobody else can possibly take money from there. So, he quickly set up the Niger Delta Power Holding. You know Obasanjo can be very tricky. We disagreed and even had to go to court to resolve certain issues, particularly things that had to do with the federation account. Our quarrels were based on principles. It was not personal.
You see, we guarded the federation account and prevented access to it from other quarters except the statutory tiers. Even at that, we insisted that the revenue sharing formula be strictly adhered to.
As you mentioned earlier, you were once in the power sector as the head of NEPA. What actually is the problem with the sector?
The problem of the Nigerian power sector is of our making because we generate and distribute the power ourselves. But then, who is at the head of the power sector in this country? Who is the chief executive that can be held accountable for the operations of the sector? That was the question I posed to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Power when I visited him. It doesn’t make sense that a country like Nigeria does not have someone who is charged with the responsibility of managing the affairs and policies of the power sector.
The power sector has a minister. Remember?
No, it’s not the same. The minister can be kicked out anytime by the President. I’m talking about a bureaucrat, someone who has been raised by the system and knows the nitty-gritty of the work; someone in authority who is charged with superintending over a sector as crucial as power and not a minister who stays for some time and goes. Who is the person?
The question you ask suggests disapproval with the management of the power sector. Are you disenchanted?
They took power generation and sold it to eight different companies owned by different individuals and they called it unbundling. Unbundle what? Do they think electricity is like telephone that you change from one service provider to another?
It is extraordinarily embarrassing that you generate only 4,000 megawatts of electricity for 170 million people and when the generated megawatts are shared among the eight distribution companies, you discover that there is nothing to distribute. If you had 400,000 megawatts, privatization might be justified but not when you have next to nothing. You don’t give what you don’t have. When I was the chief executive of NEPA, we achieved 6800 megawatts and celebrated. Today, 2017, you are generating 4,000 megawatts for 170 million Nigerians. What type of country is this?
If you were in authority, what will you do differently?
First of all, I would ensure adequate generation of electricity. The starting point will be to balance the energy sources: coal, water, gas. I asked (former President Goodluck) Jonathan, how can you build 10 power stations without securing the source of the energy itself? He said that was how they met it.
The mistake we made was to design 10 gas-powered stations without securing the gas. Then you started the unbundling exercise and brought in the Niger Delta Power Holding Company. How can you bring in a regional body to handle a national assignment? I remember Obasanjo explaining that all states and local governments have shares in the company but nobody has adduced an evidence to show that state assemblies ever empowered their governors to buy shares in the NDPHC.
During the campaigns, a top official of the ruling party was quoted to have said that any responsible government will fix Nigeria’s power problem within six months. It’s been two years since then. How do we get things to work in that sector?
(Laughs). Being a lawyer, he may not really have understood the technicalities of the power sector and he is in charge of a ministry that is loaded with too many responsibilities: Works, Power and Housing. Infrastructural development in Nigeria requires exclusive attention. To be able to cope with all the three at the same time is near impossible.
Are you saying the result would have been different if the power sector stood alone?
Hopefully! People will respond differently but then power is a peculiar thing that requires special attention.
Are you suggesting that the ministry be split into three separate ministries?
In fact, it should have been done 200 years ago. It should be split to enable the government to serve the people better. You need to have a ministry that will deal exclusively with electricity in Nigeria. Then you can ask professional engineering bodies like the Nigerian Society of Engineers to come up with their assessment of the problems in the sector. Unless, the problem is defined, you cannot find a solution to it. Then you can begin to look at the issues affecting the viable sources of power, such as coal, which is available in large quantities in Nigeria: Enugu, Benue, etc but sadly, we have abandoned it.
Is coal still in contention in this era of renewable energy?
What is renewable energy? Don’t try to deceive me with that junk; just big words being bandied about. What can you possibly do with solar energy; to run an industry? You are merely wasting your time. First of all, you need a huge space and you will be lucky if you ever get enough power to run some part of a city. Even when it’s used for street lighting, you will notice that each pole has its own panel. You simply cannot run away from coal, water and gas in generating power, particularly for a large country like Nigeria. You fix it or you will be in trouble. You have all these in abundance in Nigeria.
You identify your problems and then look for the resources to tackle them. I worked in the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission for 10 years and cannot pretend not to know the available resources in Nigeria; resources that are just being misused. If the resources of this country are used for its development, the country will go far.
What is your prescription?
The government and the people must change their attitude to governance. In fact, it is the citizenry that determine the pace of their nation’s development, if they are informed. The citizenry should be able to react to government’s policies.
There is no reason to owe workers for several months. In fact, from my own checks, state assembly legislators receive their salaries as and when due but teachers are owed. What an embarrassment! How can this happen when, unfailingly, monthly allocations are made to the states and local governments? What happens to the money?
The argument is that it is sent to the states, but the essence of the joint account between the states and local governments is that the states are also supposed to make their own contributions to the local governments and they have a duty to make sure that they get their share. How can you sit on somebody’s thing and refuse to give it to him?
At the moment, only a few states can afford to pay salaries. What’s responsible for this degeneration?
I object to the use of the word “afford”. I will rather use the word, “can”. Anyway, the reason is simply politics. The governors are given money based on the number of local governments they have. The Governors in turn invite the LG Chairmen to give them their share. It is simply corruption and my attitude to it is that it will be better to develop the country before the stealing begins because you cannot steal from nothing; you don’t steal from nothing. It is senseless to steal N1billion and put it away. In fact, it takes you 32 years (of per second counting) to count one billion Naira. What are you going to do with it? You need to have your head examined by a psychiatrist for touching that kind of money. But in Nigeria, it has become routine.
Let’s look at the plight of workers in some states and the bailout funds by the federal government…
(Interrupts)……….When the revenue is released based on the revenue formula, every tier of government gets its own share. Where did the federal government get the extra money to pay the bailout? Who approved it? Was it appropriated? Of course, you are aware that the Federal Republic of Nigeria is different from the Federal Government of Nigeria as a tier of government. If the President wants to spend a certain amount of money, the National Assembly has to approve of it while the state assemblies are required to endorse for the Governors. That’s how democracy works.
I still do not know where Mr President got the money with which he intervened in the power sector by releasing N702billion to the GENCOS as bailout. This is illegal. If you are entrusted with public funds, please use it positively.
Despite the bailout intervention, some workers are still being owed salaries. What do you say about the Governors of such states?
Such governors should be shot. For their incompetence, wickedness and insensitivity, they deserve nothing less. Look at the scenario: I work for you for a period of time with an agreement that I be compensated based on the approved minimum wage. I do my part and you fail to do yours. I am tempted to use the word, irresponsible. Worse still, the state assembly is sitting there doing nothing about it. It is gross indiscipline and self-centredness. Build the nation first, I say.
As someone who knows the workings of government, are you satisfied with the performance of the government based on its promise to fight corruption, diversify the economy and stem insurgency?
Corruption cases are dragging for too long in the courts. You find that someone has stacked away some dollars in a room, what do you do? Shoot him straight away. That is what you need to do. You don’t have to go through the process of using lawyers who will be asking you to bring this and that.
But that will be extra-judicial….
What they do is criminal. That I should go to the market and not be able to buy a bag of rice and someone is stacking money somewhere. Is that not criminal? For your information, the cost of Indomie has increased, too.
Listen! Petrol was selling at N97 and out of the blues, it rose to N145. No country in the world does that. How do you justify the difference of N48? I estimated that the government gets N600billion monthly from the ordinary citizens and call it subsidy removal. For that, I threatened the EFCC in Kaduna with a lawsuit. It’s deception. It is not removal but subsidy transfer.
Transfer to where?
For every litre of fuel that is sold, N48 is passed on by the motorist to the attendant. Where does the money go to? Who is the beneficiary?
When Buhari was in charge of the Petroleum sector, subsidy was created by taking a certain number of barrels of crude to the NNPC for refining in the four refineries in the country. It was done on the condition that the NNPC will not sell a barrel of it outside Nigeria. In the present case, who is gaining and what is the place of the common man?
Are you questioning the increase in the pump price of fuel?
Is it reasonable at all? How dare you make that kind of increase of N48 difference? In fact, I’m saying that there is no subsidy at all. What subsidy are we talking about? How does the ordinary Nigerian get the N48 difference from the N18,000 minimum wage? In Malaysia, they increased the pump price by 2 cents and directed rice sellers to reduce their price by 2 cents, as well. Here in Nigeria they increase the pump price by N48 and a bag of rice goes up to N18,000.
Are you suggesting the citizenry is shortchanged by the government?
No! They are shortchanging themselves because they are not holding governments accountable. What contributions do they make to debates in their state assemblies?
Why do you think Nigeria ever got into recession?
We asked for recession by increasing the pump price of fuel the way we did. When that was done, every seller in the market made upward adjustment of their prices based on the N48 difference. The question is ‘who is benefitting from the increase?’
Can the situation be ameliorated?
Yes! If you changed the pump price of fuel overnight by adding N48, you can also drop the pump price overnight by removing the N48 because it’s unfair to ask the people to pay that amount for every litre they buy.
If you ever want to increase the pump price, do it gradually; possibly by N1. N48 is simply crazy and the effect is what you see.
What’s your stand on the agitation for restructuring?
Things are pretty difficult in the country and some people are talking about restructuring. Restructuring what? Are you going to redraw the boundaries? The problem we have in the country arises from our approach to governance and this attitude must change if we are to move ahead as a country. The politicians are daring and the citizens are letting them do whatever they like; creating more and more problems. Like Obasanjo once said, politicians use two years to learn the job they are elected to do and after that, they ask for re-election. No time to work. We bureaucrats have no idea what the restructuring agitators are talking about. In other climes, proceeds from oil are used to develop infrastructure but in Nigeria, they are stacked away in soak-away pits. That’s the problem we should be solving. There’s nothing to restructure.
It’s been alleged that political appointees in Nigeria are paid more than their counterparts elsewhere. How true?
The question should actually go to the Clerk who is the Chief Accounting Officer of the National Assembly. He’s in a position to say who gets what. But I am aware that each Senator receives N45 million monthly and that is why the Senate has become an attractive retirement centre for ex-Governors.
There’s a formula for the payment of every political office holder in the country; from the president to the last man and that was why I could say to Obasanjo, “Mr President, I am going to pay you a little less than the Chief Justice of the Federation,” and he was shocked. I explained that whereas his decision as the President can be reversed by the Chief Justice, the decision of the Chief Justice cannot be reversed by the President.
Civil servants have often been described as the engine room of corruption. Is that a fair assessment?
Everybody is entitled to his views. If the civil servant is corrupt, the National Assembly is there to act as a check. Truth is that if the campaign against corruption must be successful, everybody must be involved.
What level of confidence do you repose on the managers of Nigeria’s economy?
Ask me that question as soon as the issue of petroleum subsidy is addressed and the increase in pump price reversed.
There is a noticeable reduction in the prices of some agricultural produce. Isn’t that an indication that the economy is picking up?
Does that sound fair? Overnight, they increased petroleum pump price by N48 and here they are, reducing the prices of commodities gradually. Why didn’t they increase the pump price gradually instead of inflicting pains on the ordinary people?
How do you feel about the aborted dreams of the founding fathers of Nigeria?
It does not make any one happy that we are the way we are. Malaysians came here to pick a seed and today they have gone ahead of us. Our industries are closing down and the youths are getting unemployed and there’s Boko Haram and other agitations.
Is there any hope that things will get better someday?
I think it’s getting a little late. The youths are getting different ideas about life; they are not coached in the right direction and so are coming up with their own version of life. They are insisting on quick fixes, for something that should ordinarily take a process to attain. A youth now goes to the market place with an explosive device tied to his waist and someone is somewhere with a remote control ready to detonate it. It is that bad and parental care is lacking. Unless the younger ones have a change of attitude and orientation, with the parents playing their role, things might get harder.