BY OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
The politics of power sharing in the National Assembly is still a major issue engaging the minds of concerned stakeholders in the polity. In this interview, the presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) in the last general elections, Chekwas Okorie, decries the dilemma of the Igbo race in the present arrangement, blaming the situation on selfishness of political leaders in the Southeast. Excerpts:
Looking at the crisis in the petroleum industry, what would you suggest to the new government as a way forward?
My number one suggestion is the removal of subsidy because money assigned to that has not been actually accounted for. It is not being used for the purpose for which is meant and it is quite a huge amount of money. With the removal of subsidy, there will be steady in flow of petroleum products, refineries will be encouraged to produce because they will be operating at a better profit margin. But at the same time, the money realized from subsidy should be deployed to other developmental projects to cushion the effects of increase in price of petroleum products. Once this is done, it will bring to an end the perennial shortages. Subsidy has continued to encourage creation of artificial scarcity for some people to make money.
Could that be done without first putting the refineries in shape?
You don’t need to wait for the new refineries. In fact, it will even encourage those who have been given license to build refineries to get resources together and put them on stream because their product will now sell at a better profit margin. In any case, these products are available in the global market for importation by those who are already in the business of importing. For so many years, the issue of subsidy has been abused. I can assure you that if the subsidy is removed, it will make the price to be stable. In any country where there is no problem of fuel supply, there is nothing like subsidy. There will also be some rejuvenation in terms of quality of products that are being imported just like every other commodity is subjected to quality control. And, Of course, petrol station will be compelled to reduce their prices as it is done in other countries. That way, nobody will dictate the price to make people run away.
You recall that the House of Representatives conducted investigation into the issue of fuel subsidy which at the end of the day ended in fiasco. Now that the same House is about to embark on another round of probe into the oil sector, do you expect anything different to come out of the exercise?
I don’ honestly have confidence in the House of Representatives or senate to do anything in that regard because they have always not lived up to expectation in their oversight functions. Also, they have been part and parcel of the system. But just as President Muhammadu Buhari has assured the nation that he is going to look into the rot in the oil sector, I have confidence in what the president is doing. One, he has been minister of petroleum before. Two, he is standing on a very high pedestal to conduct sincere and honest probe into the sector. If he does that, whatever is the outcome, I am sure, he will not hesitate to implement it. That is the kind of probe Nigerians will like to hear, not the kind of probe by the National Assembly members who do not have the facility for the probe and who have also not conducted themselves creditably well. So, their renewed move to look into the sector, to me, is a waste of time. It is government that can set up a probe panel with all the necessary facilities and expertise to look into it, including the capacity to hire reputable firms that will go into the books of the NNPC and have the eagle eye to see what the ordinary eye will not see.
What role do you expect the passage of PIB bill to play in the resolution of the crisis in the oil sector?
The answer to most of the problems in the oil sector is in the PIB, but unfortunately, because of politics and narrow sectional interests and fear of certain people, the passage of PIB has scandalously remained on the drawing board for too long a time. It has seen so many dispensations in the National Assembly. One would have thought that former President Goodluck Jonathan would have used instrument of lobby and power of the executive arm of government to ensure the passage of that bill. But it didn’t happen. So, I will urge the present government to take a look into it because nothing guarantees the comfort and welfare of the host communities more than the PIB Bill. It is something that will be beneficial to the areas where the crude oil in being explored and the country as a whole. It is also going to be beneficial to the industry itself. I do not know why some people feel that this PIB bill will not favour them. It could also be that the oil companies are lobbing not to make things work because some of the areas these companies are using to defraud this country of legitimate revenue will be blocked if the PIB Bill is put in place. I will join other Nigerians to persuade the present government, especially the new President of the Senate to dust this PIB Bill. He has made assurances about the bill, but there will be a need for Nigerians to urge him to ensure it is passed.
You saw the drama that played out in the House of Representatives over the emergence of its leadership. What is your take on this?
I must restate my disappointment in the very shameful drama displayed by members of the House of Representatives. It is very unfortunate. I wished it had been avoided. Having said that, the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has a lot to do to be able to show appropriate political leadership that will bring about peace among its members. You can see that it appears that it is the PDP that is having the last laugh.
And this shouldn’t be the case. I earlier supported and I still support to some extent the decision of the President not to interfere in the affairs of the National Assembly. But having said, he is the leader of APC and therefore he must be interested in how the leadership cooperates with one another. If the party continues like this, its stay in government will be as short-lived as just four years because they are dealing with Nigerians. And if this is the brand of change they promised, it is sad. Whether the leadership of the APC is the ones acting behind-the scene, I have not heard their voice. May be they are doing what they are doing by remote control. They have not come out to call their loyalists to order. Clearly, APC is being pulled by some centrifugal forces from different cleavages that came together to form the party. Each of the forces is working to gain an advantage over the other. Cohesion that is necessary to hold the party together is seriously lacking in its leadership. It is an indictment on its leaders, not a question of singling out the Chairman for vilification. The President must not totally stay aloof in this matter because in one way or the other, it will rob of on his government.
Do you see the party getting out this crisis?
Although the parties that came together to form the APC have withdrawn their certificate of registration, the lines of that cleaves are still there. That is why there is a need for a more sagacious leadership. But unfortunately for the party, people started making claims even before the president was inaugurated. As soon as the party was declared the winner of Presidential election, people began to make all manners of claims. Some people somewhere are insisting that one of their own should be leader in the National Assembly, other people are saying, ‘no, you cannot dictate to us from outside’. That is what is playing out. I am not a member of PDP; I am in the opposition. But when PDP had a similar situation, they didn’t allow it to escalate; they quickly accepted it. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was quick in congratulating Tambuwal and PDP came out to say they had resolved their family affair. It couldn’t have been resolved to the satisfaction of all because the Southwest that was schemed out did allow it to show on the floor of the House. I thought that APC should even be better organized than that; one being an agent of change and two having seen the PDP experience. I think APC really haven’t learnt anything. APC is feeling very badly. Its future is not bright at all. What is bringing them together now is the fact that the President of the country is a member of that party.
How would you describe the position of the Southeast in the Nigerian politics as at today?
The position of Southeast is not enviable at all. Unfortunately, some of the political leaders in the Igbo land have pushed the Southeast to a tight corner in which they can hardly make any serious claim to anything in this particular government other than what the constitution guarantees them or rely on human kindness by president who is supposed to be for everybody as he said in his inaugural speech. The Igbo have never been in this kind of political coup detat in the past.
It is only the civil war that can be likened to this type of self alienation. And some of us saw this coming. I was vehemently opposed to 100 percent endorsement of former President Jonathan without any form of negotiation. It was based on sentiment that he was given 100 percent support in 2011 and he took it for granted.
didn’t come back to show appreciation not necessarily to any individual but by way of doing something that will be beneficial to the generality of the people. There is still no federal presence in the Southeast and there are so many thing agitating for attention. If you look at the second Niger Bridge, the contract was based on public/private partnership. Other similar projects are by direct government contract. But in the case of second Niger Bridge, it is by Public/private partnership with the price going as high as 300 percent at about N317 billion as against what is done with N25-30 billion elsewhere, the same size, the same length of bridge. And still, nothing is happening because of the method of funding it. Now, some terrible people we have in the leadership of PDP never addressed some of these issues. Today, people from the Northeast are talking about Marshall Plan to rebuild the areas devastated by the Boko Haram. That is fair enough; it should be rebuilt.
The Amnesty thing and reconstruction of Niger Delta region is still ongoing and the president has promised to continue. What about the Southeast that was promised reconstruction and rehabilitation after the civil war ended in 1970 and nothing has happened? None of the successive government has addressed it. Yet, we have people as Deputy Senate President. Also, we have had Senate President, Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Government of the Federation and so on.
These are the people who should draw the attention of government to the dilemma of the people of Southeast but they always look after themselves and their families. We have not surrendered. Quite a lot of meetings are going on and I can tell you that I am at the centre of it. If anybody thinks he can do without us, that person has nothing to do.
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