Yesterday evening, I went to the barber’s shop to have my hair-cut. There, I met two elderly gentlemen who also came for the same purpose. As we sat down at the lounge, waiting for our turns to be attended to by the barbers, there was a programme on Channels Television, focusing on the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, who was live on Channel’s Politics Today, setting the records straight on the consultancy contract between New Planet Project Limited and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
According to the report, New Planet Project Limited was one of the consultants awarded contracts from the N3billion given out by Dr Betta Edu for the National Social Register contract before her suspension by Mr President. After the suspension of Dr Edu for breaching public trust, attention shifted to the Interior Minister for allegedly being a director in New Planet Project Limited.
But enlightening the public while appearing on that programme, Tunji-Ojo revealed that he founded the company 10 years ago, but resigned from directorship of the company in 2019 when he contested for House of Representatives. The Minister of Interior, who described the report as shocking, said he is just a shareholder in the company and not involved in the day-to-day running of New Planet Project Limited.
Giving further details, he said, “I have to say this, I saw it and I was shocked because the company in question was a company where I was a director. About five years ago, I had resigned my directorship. Yes, I founded the company 10 years ago, but in 2019, when I got to the House of Representatives, when I won the election precisely and I resigned. I resigned on the 4th of February 2019, with a Certified True Copy of Corporate Affairs Commission as far back as 2019 to prove this. I do not run the company. I don’t have any knowledge of the contract. I am not a signatory to any account. I am not a director of the company.”
“The company is a limited liability company which is a private entity. So, if the company is a private entity, of course, I am still a shareholder, and to the best of my knowledge, public service rule does not prohibit public officers from being shareholders. What public service rule says is that you cannot be a director, of which I had resigned about five years ago. I have no business with it, absolutely no business. Because I am not involved in the day-to-day running of the company. I do not pursue jobs for the company. I do not bid for the company. I am not a signatory to the company’s account. I am not involved.”
“So, the company is an entity on its own. If that is the case, then, the question should be; was the job given to the company? If the answer is yes. Then the question should be; did they follow due process? If it is a yes. Did the company deliver on the job? If it’s a yes. Then the next question is; did they deliver in line with the agreement of the contract? If it is a no, then they should be sanctioned by the book,” said the honourable minister, restating that he came into public office knowing fully well that Nigerians would ask questions and charging relevant agencies to probe the contract processes to ensure transparency and probity.
As we were watching and musing over the programme, one of the two elderly gentlemen who later introduced himself as Mr Ahmed, made a statement that opened the floor for discussions amongst us. The following was his opinion: “I have lived all my life in this country and I had come to a point where I was almost tempted to give up hope on our nationhood. But the bold steps taken by this young minister since he assumed office as the interior minister have given me a reason to believe again.”
Speaking further —trying to explain his position — he went philosophical by saying that “…the major limitation to social progress in any society is for the few good men and women who have the courage to make a difference to be bullied into silence by those who do not want things to change for the better.” His words were too powerful to ignore! Responding in the same vein, the other gentleman noted that “Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is one of the shining lights in Mr President’s cabinet. Just imagine what he has accomplished since he came in as the minister of Interior. Infact, he is one of the frontline ministers who is giving meaning to Mr President’s Renewed Hope Agenda.” I was speechless!
As I left the barbers shop, I couldn’t stop thinking about the words of these elderly gentlemen and some of the minister’s notable achievements. Coincidentally, it was that same Monday, January 8th, 2024, that the Minister launched an automated passport application process for our citizens, —a fulfilment to the promise he made to all Nigerians when he assumed duty as the minister of Interior. With this launch, Nigerians at home and abroad can now go online to apply for passports without interface with personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS.
While speaking on the successful launching of the online passport’s portal, Tunji-Ojo ascribed credit for the project to the visionary leadership and support given to him by President Bola Tinubu. The minister was upbeat that the online passports portal would drastically reduce contacts between applicants and immigration officers, adding that it would revolutionise the process of obtaining passports. He also added that it would speed up the entire process of obtaining a new passport by Nigerians in any part of the world. “This initiative is sure to bring relief to all Nigerians who desire to obtain the nation’s passport. The portal has undoubtedly ended the long waiting period for passport issuance. It has also ended the cycle of daily wastage of man-hours by passport applicants” He said.
To better appreciate the strategic import of digitalizing our passport processes, one has to understand the central role the Nigerian passport plays, especially as it serves as passport to the world for many of our citizens. For millions of our citizens who had almost lost hope in our nationhood because of the untold difficulties they had gone through in their quest to obtain their international passports in the past, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has given them a reason to believe in Nigeria again, deepening Mr President’s Renewed Hope Agenda.
With his performance so far, he has distinguished himself as a shining example, not only to his fellow ministers, but to millions of young Nigerians whom he also represents in Mr President’s cabinet. He should therefore be commended, not only for setting the records straight, but also for the courage to make a difference.
*Vitalis Obidiaghaa is the Author of Nigeria’s Manifest Destiny.