By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Senator Ayo Arise is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ekiti State, but with business interest in Abuja.
In this interview, he insisted that creation of state police is the panacea for the current security challenge in the country.
What is your perspective of the outgoing year 2020?
The 2020 is like a year we have never seen before. It is a year that COVID-19 took over completely and the effect of it is being felt everywhere around the world. But in Nigeria, we have been fairly lucky. I also believe that the NCDC is trying its best to ensure that the disease is largely curtailed. All the same, I think those who are healthy must have also caught the disease and recovered on their own without any recourse to hospitalization. And that, of course, must be true of Africa and other developing parts of the world. As you must have noticed, the effect is felt more in the developed nations. As we speak, America has recorded over 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 despite their technological advancement. Having said that, I think this second wave is very dangerous because most of us have let down our guards. So, people should continue to use their face mask and observe other safety protocols laid down by the NCDC to reduce the spread of the virus. Because of this COVID story, businesses have suffered and so development has been stunted. It took a negative toll on the economy of most countries of the world.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, have given the assurance that Nigeria’s economy will exit the current recession by the first quarter of 2021. Do you see any indication to that?
If the economy contracted, the natural way to go is to improve and expand it. So, I want to agree with the minister and the CBN governor that the economy will expand in 2021. There are so many indicators to believe that. Once the world is back on its feet as people get vaccinated as already started in America and Europe, the global economy will begin to improve again, factories will start to operate, vehicles will begin to move on the road, and other activities will pick up. Once that happens, our mono product -Petroleum – will also sell more. When you look at all these indices, it is certain that the economy will begin to grow. This is more so with a number of measures introduced by the CBN. If those who benefitted actually invested those funds in the economy, the only thing to expect is an improvement in the economy, in productivity, especially in agricultural sector.
How do you expect productivity in agriculture to increase when farmers could no longer go to their farms owing to the rising spate of killings and other forms of insecurity in the country?
The issue of security is a major concern for everybody. The fact that farmers are running away from their farms is a present and clear danger. It is a clear danger for the survival of this country. We cannot run away from the fact that the government is responsible for the welfare and safety of the citizens. It is a very big challenge and I am sure the government is listening. They must put things in place to ensure that insecurity is addressed in this country; otherwise, economic prosperity will become very difficult. In the coming year, there must be significant expenditure on security. And we should not run away from the idea of state police. The politics on it has to stop because Nigerians are dying. The unnecessary fear some people are entertaining should stop because life is more important than any other thing. We need to ensure that the National Assembly takes the necessary steps towards the establishment of local and state police structure. This does not remove the fact that we can still have the federal police. In the United States, they have the Federal Police, which is FBI. The moment they move into a state showing that the Federal Government has an interest in a particular matter; the local police will step aside. We need to have state police in our constitution. If any governor wants to use state police to terrorise the opposition, people will rise up to curtail such excesses. No governor can just harass the people and believe he is going to get away with it. So, the Federal Government needs to leave security in the hands of state police funded by the state and controlled by the state. By so doing, a sizeable number of employment opportunities will be generated by the state governments. There is no need for us to start playing game with this matter. It is a necessity.
How would you react to the insinuation that the people who are benefitting from the prolonged insurgency are the ones fueling insecurity?
Unfortunately, there is no enough data to either affirm or deny that assertion. It is the way things are going in the country that gives room for all manners of speculations. There is no doubt that in any warfare, some people must benefit. But will they now be creating artificial chaos or raining terror on the citizens because of such benefits? That is something to look at and queried. If some are as that callous, I can assure you that they will soon be exposed by a few good men among the people in positions of authority and they will be brought to book. The major problem in this country is corruption. Everybody is afraid, but our country cannot continue like this. We need to take firm decisions.
You also spoke about the fact that earnings from oil will shore up due to possible increase in the international market price of crude oil. How much will this translate to improvement in the welfare of the people, knowing that they would be slammed with higher pump price of petroleum products?
Most of these things are not one plus one equal to two. I think the policy of deregulation is one of the major issues that have been a problem in this country. When the Federal Government paid so much money to some people as subsidy, how much of it was felt in the economy? How many countries of the world are subsidizing fuel? Deregulation will enable marketers to buy and sell petroleum products at competitive prices. That is the way it is everywhere. I have lived in America for so many years. And I have to salute the courage of this government for putting the policy of deregulation in place.
How then would you rate the performance of the APC-led government on its three pronged agenda bordering on economy, security and anti-corruption war?
Corruption is not an ailment that can be cured in one day. It is an ailment that started long ago. Where do you want to start the fight? When you go to any office in this country, you can only imagine the way people who are securing the gate will be looking at you. Ordinarily, they may have anything to ask from you, but you will hear them harassing you, good evening sir, this and that. So, when we talk about the endemic nature of corruption, we are actually looking at those who embezzle our money. And because these things have been going on for so long without penalty, it has trickled down to the poor people. This government has started with good intention to deal with the problem, but it has been very difficult. It is a difficult fight to win. It is a very complex thing. We can only fight it to an extent. But on a scale, I will give this government 50 or 51 per cent in terms of performance improvement over the previous administrations. There is no area of economy or security that this government has not performed above average.
One of the indices for measuring the performance of economy is the level of poverty. How come Nigeria became poverty capital of the world under this same government?
It depends on the yardstick used to make Nigeria poverty capital of the world. Even at that, we have to realise that a number of things are wrong. We are not doing family planning and family control adequately. Children are being born in several thousand on a daily basis in this country and the resources are not expanding. As such, foreign reserves continue to dwindle because the pressure arising from the increase in population is there. And, of course, our appetite for foreign goods is another major problem. I have seen pictures of commoners from Somalia, Sudan and all those places; I pray our level of poverty does not reach that level. Yes, people are poor in the rural areas and that is why government is trying to alleviate poverty level with cash distribution of N5,000. But the challenge is that some of those who got the money don’t even want to talk about it. And because they are not saying it, those in charge of the programme are beginning to develop some kind of apathy. But measures have been put in place to monitor the beginning and the end of this money.
Even with all these measures, you would need concrete evidence to really prove that Nigerians are better off under this government than the previous administrations?
(Cuts in) You will also need to prove that this government has created more hardship for the people than the previous governments. If you are not going to deceive yourself, you cannot say that the supply of electricity you get now is what you got in the past. When you are talking about tariff, we asked for deregulation and people have bought into power generation and distribution. Before now, most people didn’t care to put off their lights all the days round. They put their gadgets on as if electricity is free. This is a country where people leave the tap running when they have water. When you have a service, it takes money to keep that service running. For me, I have a generator, but the rate at which I put on that generator now is lower than what it was four or five years ago. I have a friend who lives in Ogba area of Lagos; he said he doesn’t even put on his generator anymore. We want to have electricity, but we don’t want to pay for it. There is no government that has the capacity to provide everything for free. It is not possible. How many people working on the streets in Nigeria pay tax? I am not in government; I am just looking at things in a broader perspective. To say that everything is 100 per cent okay in Nigeria will be a lie. But in some areas, this government has done extremely well. In some areas, they need to do a lot better. In the area of security, nobody finds these killings funny. I have been a victim of kidnapping and I know what it means. This government needs to sit up in terms of security. And that is why I said for us to have the presence of police; we need to increase the number of police. We must stop the blame game and find a permanent solution to insecurity problem.