Mr. Ben Murray Bruce, a businessman and philanthropist, is a senator-elect representing Bayelsa East. The media mogul speaks on issues relating to accountability, prudence and transparency in government. Excerpts:
I have not criticised any government. I have not criticised APC. I have not criticised PDP. I have not criticised Goodluck Jonathan, neither have I criticised Muhammadu Buhari. I have raised good government issues and policy issues. These are issues that I have raised all my life. Maybe these people on social media have just discovered Ben Bruce but, go and check the speeches I made two years ago, three years ago, twenty years ago, even in front of President Goodluck Jonathan to ascertain whether they are different from what I am saying now; maybe they just discovered me. Go on youtube and see my speeches.
8th National Assembly
First of all, seventy percent of the senators are first term senators like me, so who am I to judge them? How can you know what they think and make that assumption that they will not buy into my ideas. It is a brand new National Assembly. Let us get there, debate and argue things out. I will be tweeting on daily basis. It will be premature to accuse innocent people of a sin they have not committed and they may have no intention of committing. They may all agree with me. I may be the most vocal, outspoken but that does not make me the only one that believes in a just Nigeria.
My views won over the electorate. During my campaign ahead of the election, I never said anything negative about Timipre Silva or insulted him. I did not run him down or any other candidate, either in the PDP or APC because it is not my style. All I did was to speak on key issues such social development, infrastructural development and how to get the people out of poverty and create jobs for the people in my senatorial district. They loved it and voted for me.
Rumour of Dickson’s decamping
Dickson is not going to move to APC, he is one of our leaders. He is not going to switch party. He is a PDP member, people will stick to their party, days of moving around are gone.
Green energy Few weeks ago, I launched my electric car and already big companies and institutions like Eko Hotel, Hi-tech, Eko Atlantic have shown interest and ready to convert all cars to electric cars based on the campaign that I started. What is the value of that besides environment benefits? If two or three hundred cars are purchased in the next few months and they don’t buy petrol, how much will Nigeria save from importing petrol? Eko Atlantic’s buildings will use solar power and all their staff will drive electric cars because I raised the issue. I hope President Muhammadu Buhari will drive an electric car and send a clear message to all.
Poverty and unemployment
The level of poverty and unemployment is devastating. We need to focus on laws that protect the poor. What is the biggest problem in Nigeria today? It is consumption versus production. Our leaders are guilty of consuming the resources of the majority. What do we have for the poor – the millions of people living on two dollars a day? And then you have governors in large convoys, commissioners driving N20m cars, flying first class in states that cannot pay salaries. The governors fly private jets. Commissioners live like kings. If three policemen guard a commissioner, how many policemen do we have in Nigeria? Less than 200,000. So who is policing the poor when they are being raped, maimed and killed, their goods stolen?
In Bayelsa, sea pirates steal from boats. They steal N200, N500, fishing nets; they attack people and rape their women. There is poverty and frustration everywhere in the land. And then people we voted into offices are living like lords. Does that make sense? Is it legal? Is it ethical? Is it moral? Can you justify that consumption behaviour because they voted you into office? In most states, the only employer of labour is government, the rest are jobless.
Some government officials will wake up one morning like monarchs and dash money to the people on the street because they see them as beggars. You turn your people to beggars and you get scared that they could kill you. Why won’t you live in fear? What if you consume less and distribute what you have to the rest of the people so that they can be happy and you can live in peace?
It is a class war between the rich and the poor. I have said it for 35 years and I am saying it again because it is worse today. Boko Haram in the North, militancy in the South-South, kidnapping in the South-West and South East; raping, paedophile, maiming and stealing everywhere, what does that tell you? We have a problem in our hands and everybody must be held accountable.
President Buhari, who I like, is leading by example. He is a simple man and, because he is a simple man, I expect him to appoint people who will live simple lifestyle, people that will not consume the resources of the people. As lawmakers, we will checkmate their lifestyle. I will remind every minister and appointee of the need to live moderate life.
Fight against corrupt elite
I am fighting against the corrupt elite. I am 59 and you only live once. The worst they can do to me is to take me out, so what? When the corrupt elite see me, let them know I am fighting them. When they drink that bottle of champagne that can educate a child, let them know I am fighting them. When they fly first class with tax payers money, let them know I am fighting them. Let them know that I am totally against their lifestyle because it is destroying the economy. We are broke, the elite deserve to be fought and they should be ashamed of themselves going by the way they live.
You go into government and fly first class but in your private life, you fly economy. You go into government, one man carries your phone, another opens the door of your car, another carries your bag, another reads the newspapers to you and you have ten policemen protecting you, what for? Were you born to the world as a king and everyone of us must worship you? They should apologise to Nigerians for looting the treasury and destroying the economy.
We don’t have distribution of wealth in Nigeria but the apportioning of wealth by the small minority and nothing else for the poor majority. There is no wealth distribution and that is why we don’t have the middle class. There are the poor and the champagne drinking super rich.
Petroleum Industry Bill
I have not read the entire Bill; I have read part of it, where the House amended host community to mean the entire country which makes no sense. People should not be afraid of the Niger Delta; they should take a tour of the place and see the misery and the type of life the people live there.
Let me give you an example. The Federal Government gives away oil blocs and marginal fields. For all those that have received oil blocs and marginal fields, what the government did was to say “Mr. A, I am going to make you a billionaire”.
Giving someone an oil bloc does not create wealth; you are transferring wealth from the state to an individual. He becomes rich and becomes ‘intelligent’ and gets invited by government to make policies, obviously not for the country but for himself. That is what we have in Nigeria and it has to stop.
You can have the IQ of minus 50, and all you need do is to sell the oil bloc, look for a partner and you are rich, you don’t have to be intelligent. If that is the criteria for giving out oil blocs, why don’t you give that same concession to the people whose area the blocs are located? So give the oil bloc to the local persons and let them develop their community since the criteria is IQ-5. They will pay tax and levies, case closed!
Buhari is a father of all Nigerians. He is the father of all the regions in the country; he should look at the needs of the regions objectively and deal with them. If he does that there wouldn’t be war. Those that are beating the drum of war are doing it for strategic reasons or legitimate reasons. I don’t know but I am not in favour of war or destruction of pipelines, but for the economic growth of the country and her wealth. Buhari is a good man; he has run the oil sector before, so I don’t want to talk of a possibility of something that may never happen. He has a good team around him and they will solve the problem.
If I get to the Senate and I am told that my constituency will get N30m, I will call the elders of the senatorial district, tell them how much has been allocated and we decide on what to do with it through the ministry that the money has been given to.
Agenda for Buhari
First, we must deregulate the oil sector but we must have a mass transit policy. In other words, if it costs you N100 to go to work, when you deregulate, it will still cost N100. We have been subsidizing the rich; now, subsidize the poor. Nobody cares for the cost of petrol but the cost of transportation. Focus on the cost of transportation and I have a blueprint that I can give to President Buhari. If you subsidize mass transit, you will deregulate and become a hero.
Second, light – you want everyone to have light in the country but with the way we are going, in 100 years, not everybody will have light. Give them solar power and inverters in the villages and create a billion dollar budget every year. In five years, all Nigerians will have light. We only have electricity for the rich because it is too expensive to have transmission lines across the country, too expensive to generate it and there is nobody to pay the market value for light, so the best way to go is solar power.
Buhari handoverI bought a car that is electric, I don’t use light. If I can drive an electric car through the use of solar power, why can’t the government do same?
Then you focus on a $100m a year grant to universities of science and technology so that they can start inventing things. We are a nation of traders. The richest people in Nigeria today are traders, people giving handouts from government. If you look at the list of the top 100 richest people in Nigeria today, how many of them created wealth because they invented something? They all made money from trading – buying and selling. So how can you develop when you don’t create anything? We are buying and selling, expecting patronage from government. If you go into a village, all the hotels are usually owned by former commissioners, governors, former deputy governors, they own all the assets in the state. It is never owned by businessmen, always owned by people in government. The economy will not grow like that. A nation of traders will find it difficult to grow because you need inventions to grow.
It is poverty that causes insecurity. Do we have insecurity in London, Norway, Denmark? We have insecurity in Nigeria, Somali, Sudan, Mali and other poor countries. Insecurity is poverty. What is poverty? Lack of opportunities. What is lack of opportunities? Ineptitude by those who rule.
The best way to tackle it is to first address our population that is growing too fast. At the rate we are going, by the third of the century, we are going to be 970 million people. Not long ago, the entire population of West Africa was 114 million. If we don’t address it, we will have to create 4 million jobs every year to keep the growth in population happy. Forget about the backlog. We don’t have the money; the government has not created the policies to enable people to invent things like in China, India, USA or Great Britain.
We need to have our girls in schools to the university level because, once they are educated, they won’t start child-bearing at the age of 15 or 16. Once they are educated, they will be bored of staying at home and will want to invent.
The artistic industry grew on its own. Imagine if you say I will give you one million Naira if you invent something, do you know how many Nigerians who will start creating things?
It is good that PDP is in disarray. When something goes wrong, you break it and build again that is the best thing that can happen to the party.
They have to fight, people have to leave, but they will be stronger and better. They will come back as a party with the right ideology.
It is Buhari’s time. Buhari won, not the APC. Any other candidate would have lost. Buhari is unstoppable, nobody could have stopped him. If Buhari stood by himself, he will knock everybody out. He has a following that is unbelievable and you have to admire how he runs the campaign.
In 2011, it was Goodluck’s time, he was unstoppable. Four years ago, Goodluck Jonathan was seen as a saint and knocked everybody out. I was having dinner with Jonathan after his victory in 2011 and I told him that he won the election and not the party. The leadership of the party that were at the dinner were annoyed with me but I insisted that Goodluck won. I am a very frank speaker. Buhari won, not APC. When it is your time, it is your time. It has nothing to do with political party.
Accountability and simple man
My people should hold me accountable. The day I can’t be held accountable, I should not be re-elected and I will not even contest. I have done different things in my life and I have never complained. I want to serve; I want to make a difference. I love what I did in the past and I can always go back to it. I am a busy guy, politics is not a do-or-die affair for Ben Bruce. I am a simple person; my needs are very simple and I don’t need too much to survive. If I don’t have a car, I can go by bus. My favourite drink is palm wine and coconut water. If you take away the pleasure of life, I can cope with life.
I once had a party and I made palm wine and coconut water available. Guess what? Nobody wanted to take wine but the palm wine and coconut water. There were guests from the foreign embassies. Palm wine and coconut water are available everywhere in the country. We forget what we have. In the North, they have the biggest mango you eat with a spoon, beautiful fruits, fish, but the simple things in life are the best things in life. I am a long distance runner and I don’t need to give up.
I was born in Yaba, Lagos. I am proud of who I am. When we produced Miss World, I said I will produce the Most Beautiful Girl in the world from Nigeria and we did it. I said Nigerians will drive electric cars and, in less than a week, a whole organisation is buying into it. When I brought cinema to this country, even when there was no cinema in 30 years, did I not make it a vogue? It is also the same for the mall. When I took over NTA, it was broadcasting six hours a day. There was no daytime television in Nigeria but I did it, I gave the country 24 hrs television; I gave the country entertainment on radio and on TV.
Nigeria is going to change, the arrogance of leadership will stop because those days are gone when you lord it over the people and throw breads at them on the streets.