John Ikeotuonye is the chairman of the Young Professionals for Tinubu (YP4T), In this interview, with CHINYERE OKOROAFOR, he speaks on the current challenges in the country and how the Tinubu administration can overcome them

Nigeria is currently facing several economic challenges. In your view, how did we get to this level?

Let us start by stating that economic downturn is not peculiar to Nigeria, so we must understand that. It is a global trend. Also, Nigerians must come to terms with the fact that to build up, there must first be a breaking down.

We must also remember, that though President Bola Tinubu, has remained stoic in accepting responsibility for the state of the nation, as a leader, he did not put things in this state. It is the failure of past governments that got us here and it will not be solved overnight. However, the President has the capacity but he needs the support of Nigerians. Nigeria is like a train with failed brakes. While the brakes are being fixed, the train keeps moving and covering more ground. To the passengers, it feels like nothing is being done as long as they see the train moving. It doesn’t mean repairs are not ongoing. That is how it is with Nigeria. Serious work is going on but we can’t see the effect yet. But, very soon, it will be seen. Nigerians just need a little patience.

The value of the naira keeps depreciating against the dollar and other foreign currencies every day. What can the Federal Government do to save the naira?

The problem is multi-faceted. One major part is sabotage. Are you not surprised that though the economy is so bad, banks that hardly lend money are having humongous turnovers and their executives flying private jets? A lot of foreign organisations are also putting a false value on the naira versus foreign currencies, therefore causing a stampede for the forex. But a major cause is the fact that we are not producing. Farming which would have been a major contributor in the export sector has suffered due to many years of insecurity. That would have brought some balance. But the government is addressing these problems head-on. The Bureau De Change (BDCs) are being properly regulated now. The president was in Niger State the other day to inaugurate a major move in farming, promising support for other states that will follow suit. We have to remember that it is not only the federal government that we should hold responsible. All the efforts are reflected in the gradual improvement in the value of the naira. But like I have always said, one step at a time. Patience.

Nigerians have been groaning under the poor economic conditions and the high costs of food. Yet, we continue to read about foods being smuggled to foreign countries. What is your comment on that?

Remember that there is politics in most of everything that is done in the country. There is also the opposition. So the things you read, you must take with a pinch of salt. Smuggling of food across borders did not start today, hence cannot suddenly become the cause of our problem. The problem is that production fell due to insecurity which the government is tackling. This is not to say this government is not tackling smuggling. It is being tackled. But let us not allow the ‘opposition’, who by the way, brought us to this bus stop, to push a narrative that sounds like it is the fault of this government. No, this government is not playing the blame game, but the opposition should not be allowed to take advantage of the pains of the people to paint the government in bad colours.

What should the government do to encourage the private sector?

The private sector is the key and this government understands that, hence the private sector-friendly policies. Most of the people hired are private sector professionals not politicians, as was mostly the case. The plan to move some departments of the Central Bank and Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to Lagos is part of the plan to boost the private sector. As we speak, the private sector is being encouraged to generate power as was seen in the Geometric Power project in Abia state. The role of the government is to generate policies that will help better the lots of the people. Remember that  President Bola Tinubu is a product of the private sector.

In your view, what are the major problems facing the country?

Politics. Playing politics with everything. The country has never been as divided as it is now. Never have we been so divided and it is because of politics. Also, lack of trust among the citizenry and a lack of trust for the government. Then we have corruption. Unfortunately, whenever we mention corruption people look at the politicians alone. But the level of corruption in the civil service is mind-blowing. I can tell you that, the civil servants are the ones corrupting the politicians. Look at what happened in the Ministry of Health under the Obasanjo administration. Look at what civil servants are doing in one or two ministries to frustrate this administration, but thank God we now have a president whose response is timely and on point. I hope that the president will conclusively implement the Oronsanya Report on the reduction of the size of government parastatals and agencies. Of course, we can’t talk about problems facing Nigeria without mentioning insecurity. But Nigerians must recognize how bad things got and be patient for the fruits of the policies of this government to emerge.

Why did your group support President Bola Tinubu?

We are a group of young professionals from different walks of life. Our ideology transcends the politics of class or creed, believing that we’re all one and must work together to make an impact in our society for a better Nigeria. We’re ordinary people, striving to achieve the extraordinary through social responsibility and governance. Our support for the President is in line with our ideology. In him we have identified a man who has impacted his community, his constituency, his region; and now a nation. By his track record, we can recognise in him the skill of discovering talents and encouraging them. Tell me, have we ever had more participants from the private sector in government, than now?  Have we ever seen more youthfulness in government before now? I am sure he’s just starting. I can tell you for free that his government is the one that will point Nigeria in the right direction. This government begins our journey of recovery. The ‘not too young to run’ mantra will surely see the light of day during and after this administration because of His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR). And we at YP4T recognized that early enough to support the mandate. Most importantly, he is the man with the capacity needed to drag Nigeria out of this doldrums.

What should the government do to curb the incessant attack on farmers by some criminal elements in society?

It is not just belief, it is the reality. Benue State, our food basket is not having it easy. So are other places in the North. Who goes to the farm again? So if the source is shut down, what do you expect? But the president is ensuring that the bandits are being tackled head-on. But the citizens must also help. The states have to also sit up and not leave everything to the federal government. Until farming resumes full scale, things will continue to get worse. But this government is equal to the task.

How optimistic are you that President Tinubu can bring the smiles back again on the faces of Nigerians?

Like the President says all the time, ‘I asked for this job’. He has a track record. The blueprint being executed by Lagos up to now was put together by him. He is even more experienced now. Few people understand this country like he does. Few have contacts across the board like he does and very few have his experience. He has been in the legislature and executive, hence he understands how they work. But more than all these is a deep and desperate desire to salvage this country and leave a mark in the annals of our history. I am hopeful and confident that he will put a smile on the faces of Nigerians. But I do not delude myself that it will be done overnight and even the President has not lied to Nigerians like most politicians do.

But it is going to be well with Nigeria again and Tinubu is the man to lead that recovery, but Nigerians must come out to help. The elections are over. Nigeria is our country. If this government fails (God forbid) we all fail and that means another four years of our lives lost. Let us not join politicians who for their selfish ends want the government to fail.

Now that the campaigns are over, in what way are you supporting the government to succeed?

We are just like so many other groups around the country and even in the diaspora will continue to do the little we can, and hope that someday we’ll be able to do more for our country. We give palliatives here and there to indigent people in the society, we support sports at the grassroots level. Most importantly, in our various constituencies, we’re doing what we can, and trying to co-opt more of our kind to do the same, because charity, they say, begins at home. The job of sensitization is very important. And people need to know, Nigerians have been misled for a long time by the political class. Here we have a President who puts so many things ahead of partisan politics. We have a president who is willing to give opportunities to talents to prove themselves. I’m calling on young Nigerians home and abroad, this is the government that will listen to us and empower us. YP4T will continue pushing every positive of our dear country, and relentlessly, we’ll support the mandate of President Tinubu.

What is your assessment of President Tinubu so far?

The first way to rate a man amid harsh conditions is his comportment and readiness to take responsibility. The President has not been in office long enough for us to start enjoying the full benefits of his effort. Ten months in a term of four years tenure, cannot be enough yardstick to measure and pass judgment on performance and capacity. But you can see that he is not passing the buck. You can see that he tackled the issue of petrol subsidy, which we will soon see the benefits, and those propagandists who do not understand the economics of the withdrawal will bury their heads in shame. He is meeting with international allies for assistance. In the few ministries and departments where there have been scandals, he has been swift to address them. So I will rate him high despite the harsh conditions the country is in.

The removal of the oil subsidy and the floating of the naira appear to have backfired. What is your view on this?

Backfired? No. Do you see the pain that goes with birthing a child? Or pouring disinfectant into an open wound. Removal of subsidy was an issue every presidential candidate and indeed every well-meaning Nigerian subscribed to. It was a matter of the guts to do it. He demonstrated the guts and what we are feeling is the birth pang. Yes, people will complain and, of course, the opposition will take advantage. But, in a short while, we will see the benefits.

There is a growing perception that the government has failed security-wise, considering the upsurge in mass kidnapping of school kids in Kaduna lately. What is your assessment?

My heart goes out to those who have lost their lives or loved ones and also the victims of kidnap. Their lives will never be the same. So we must address this issue with sensitivity and not play the usual politics with it. Over the years, these bandits, kidnappers and herdsmen, due to negligence, politicization and tribalizing of the issue, have amassed arms, territories and connections. So it will not be an overnight victory. But from the reports we get, you can see we are making progress. But we can and will do better. But if there is anyone that can do it, it is Mr. Pesident.

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