…Buhari clearly against South East
By Iheanacho Nwosu
FORMER Minister of Health, Prof.ABC Nwosu is a respected chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He speaks frankly on any issue. In this interview, the erstwhile presidential adviser on political affairs shared his thoughts on happenings in the country. According to him, the incumbent administration should act speedily to lessen the economic hardship and sufferings in the country. He urged the South East not to expect anything from President Muhammadu Buhari’s government arguing that the administration would not change from its alienation of the zone.
How do you rate APC government in the nearly one year it has been in power?
I don’t think APC realizes that it is in government. It is still thinking it is trying to oust PDP.
What do you mean?
APC is saying one year after that lack of fuel was 16 years of PDP’s misrule. APC is saying that poor electricity supply is 16 years of PDP’s misrule. APC is saying that the low price of petrol is 16 years of PDP’s misrule and that PDP did not plan for the rainy day.
The PDP 16 years is made up of eight years of President Obasanjo, did he misrule? Two years of late President Yar’Adua, the only one who declared his assets publicly from day one. Did he misrule? And six years of President Jonathan. After saying this, the next day, the APC invited President Obasanjo to the Villa to advise it.
So, we don’t know whether it is 16 years of President Jonathan’s misrule or 16 years of PDP misrule including President Obasanjo and late President Yar’Adua. Until APC gets its acts right and realizes that the buck stops on its table, it will still be having a little problem. I look at the Minister of Information who should be informing Nigerians of the policy, programmes and projects that would improve the welfare of the people that the government should stop talking about PDP and its misrule. I feel pity for him that this is a minister of Information of Nigeria leaving the real issue about what his government is doing to focus on issues that make little meaning to Nigerians. Does this 16 years of PDP misrule include the fact that PDP removed the debt burden of Nigeria? Does it include that PDP introduced GSM and the heavy investments? Until they realize that when somebody comes in he builds on what is on the ground and adds to it, they would continue to complain.
Some of us have been ministers. You succeed a minister. You look at what is on the ground and you see how you can improve on it. Let me give you two examples. When I became minister, PDP had started to build health centres for each of the local government areas. Of the 774, they started with 200. That was under the legendary Prof Ransome Kuti. I worked with him. We followed what my predecessor did. We said lets have improvement of teaching hospitals and we did that. It is things like that that I want to hear from Nigeria’s minister of information.
When we came in, there were fake drugs. It was under me that we sorted out and appointed Prof Dora Akunyili. She waded into it fully with my support. This is what the minister of Information should be telling us. It should not be everyday you are telling Nigerians that PDP did this and didn’t do that. That was ok when he was publicity secretary of APC.
Are you saying that APC is yet to face governance one year after?
In summary yes, yes. I can illustrate that. The minister of Agriculture who I admire, who incidentally was chairman of my party is talking of policy. This his policy includes ranches and feeding of cattle with hay and removing the menace of clashes between herdsmen and farmers. He is making sense to me. He is also talking of agriculture. However, he must go full detail and talk about commodity boards. Eastern Nigeria had a marketing board that built University of Nigeria etc. Western Nigeria had a marketing board that built everything. States must be encouraged to have marketing boards to have this standard. People would ask why didn’t PDP do that? But my answer is that PDP was in the process. Many of us had suggested that to the PDP. That PDP did not do it is not a reason why you would not do it. That is a major area of diversification. The second one is solid minerals. The minister is talking of Nigeria could, we don’t want to hear that. That is sophistry. We want to hear Nigeria will or shall. With due respect to the minister of Information because he is a very intelligent person, let him look at the fact that the item in the constitution that lists mines and even geological surveys under the federal exclusive list, how does he plan to bring states into it. He has no capital venture fund that would bring whether Gold which the Governor of Kaduna has identified or the bitumen or coal which we know. More importantly, in diversification, Nigeria is likely to become more important as a gas producing nation than in petrol. PDP brought the Bony Liquified Natural Gas. We are supposed to have Brass. I want to hear that Brass is going to be on stream and not taking money from dividend and saying that it was corruptly being hidden. It was not being hidden. The dividend was being kept so as to meet Nigeria’s own part of the money to bring Brass Natural Liquified Gas on stream.
If it is Science and Technology being supervised by Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, another first class mind, we need to do the right thing. I recall that I was one of the aides as a young professor that was invited in 1982 and 83 to write the first science and technology development blueprint for Nigeria. People are making motor parts in Nigeria. Our boys are going into website, microchips, etc; we should be more daring.
When I was in government in the 80s, we had what we called Centre for Adaptation of Technology in the old Anambra State. Federal government took it over and lost trend. We were to have both ferrous and non ferrous foundry. Right now, where do you melt iron, where do you produce machine parts? We had the Osogbo Foundry and Machine Tools. Again, you ask me why didn’t PDP do it? I will tell you, PDP is a human organisation. You do certain things right, you do certain things wrong, you forget certain things. APC should look at those things which we have done right and the ones we didn’t do right. That is why there is continuity in government. What we have done wrong, you correct them and then have your own idea.
Don’t you reckon with the APC’s excuse that the delay in fixing some problems is because its first budget is yet to be passed?
It is self inflicted. You formed a government on May 29, you left June, July, August, September and you said that you won’t appoint minsters, that they are noisemakers. Later you woke up, got the ministers and gave them six weeks to prepare and present budget. You remembered late in the day that permanent secretaries cannot present budget. You presented the budget, you withdrew the budget, you amended the budget. We are patient.
The National Assembly is dominated by APC. This is a self inflicted wound. We are not hurting them at all. Instead, they are hurting themselves. We are not even criticizing that you did it to yourselves. They cannot blame us for it. What should be essay now is for them to meet with members of the National Assembly, get all parties together, sort out their differences and have a properly cleaned out budget as soon as possible.
They cannot blame anybody for the late submission. How can I blame the Minister for Budget who I know. He went to school at Oxford. There is nobody who would call him anything other than competent and intelligent man. But he has to have time to do it. If you didn’t give him time, then you must accept responsibility. We hope this is the last time that things of this nature will happen. In the first outing, one is always allowed to make a mistake. Even a dog is allowed the first bite.
What approach do you suggest should be applied by government in handling the current hardship occasioned by fuel scarcity, poor electricity supply, forex challenges?
Government must show greater sensitivity. The welfare of the governed is the only reason government exists. You cannot say this and that were caused by the last administration, that you are cleaning up the mess. That was what you said you would do that made people to elect you. Let them start cleaning up the mess. They should not be insensitive to the sufferings of the masses. That is wrong.
What is your take on plans by the government to borrow money to fund the 2016 budget even in the face of claims that much money has been recovered from officials of the past administration?
I don’t think government has recovered much money but it has recovered substantial money. Government has recovered about N1.3 trn unexpended money through TSA. That is verifiable. Government has recovered almost a billion dollars from the previous president. I don’t believe that government has recovered a lot of money from its current anti corruption fight. I said so because a governor once said that there was $6 billion dollars in one minister’s account in the US and that they were told that it is in the State Department.
If the US said they are ready to assist the government recover such money, then why is it going to borrow $2bn? You can see that a lot of the anti corruption trillions and billions of dollars claims are simple propaganda. The arithmetic does not add. Government should just use what it has and begin to apply them. It should focus on things like power now. If you do not invest in power now, you cannot harvest the gains two years from now. You have to go to General Electric etc now.
People say Obasanjo spent billions of dollars and they focus on corruption but people like me look at that we have; turbines here, we have set up several NIPPs , we need to gas them and transmit them. People are only looking at who got the contract, who pocketed the money but I look at what are the things on ground. This government should invest now in electricity. It should invest now to mine gold and all the solid minerals. This government should invest now to increase agricultural production etc. Unless you do that now, you can’t harvest tomorrow.
All these borrowings, we need keep our eyes on the fact that we just came out of debts through Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who negotiated it and we got an $18bn dollars reprieve. Let us not go into it again.
Would you say the APC government is hiding under the excuse of cleaning up the mess left by the PDP government as a cover for its failure?
My answer to that is simple, straightforward and direct. I was part of the PDP government, so I am part of whatever mess they say was left. I served under President Obasanjo, so whatever mess they say we left was under President Obasanjo and we can debate it. My answer is that they are slow, they are too slow, they are annoyingly slow. Nigerians’ patience is running out. Let me give you one example, on May 29, 1999, I was the first politician appointed by President Obasanjo as his political adviser. The politicians were complaining about how the military left a mess. Obasanjo inherited an oil price that was about $18 . It had risen from $11 under Gen Abacha to $18. It was not $20 or $30. Obasanjo inherited that. He inherited a foreign reserves that was just about $3bn. What did he do? On his first day in office, he called me, removed his ‘agbada’, dipped hand in his right pocket and brought out draft NDDC Bill. He felt the NDDC bill was important to have peace in Nigeria Delta and therefore increase our earnings from oil no matter how poor the oil price. He set out increasing the oil reserves.
In his left pocket, he had the anti-corruption bill, ICPC. He instructed me to look at one, two three models. He had anti-corruption on his left pocket and NDDC on his right pocket on his first day in office. Those were the first bills that were given to the National Assembly. That is how people who come to messes act. They act immediately. So, my feeling is that the government that came to change Nigeria, that came to clean up the mess does not have the luxury of waiting. The time to begin the change is now and not tomorrow.
The PDP seems to be criticizing virtually every step taken by the government, do you subscribe to that brand of opposition?
PDP has never been in opposition, so that party is having its own serious problem trying to be the opposition. To worsen matters, PDP was completely decapitated , it’s head was completely cut off. It had lost President, chairman of the party, chairman of Board of Trustees. So, it is just adjusting and people are trying to say anything. It is also slow, very slow, annoyingly slow in reorganizing itself to be a credible opposition with fully researched answers that show what should be done. It must do this in the interest of Nigerians, in the interest of the founding ideals of the party.
In reorganizing the party, the former governor of Borno State was brought by the party’s governors as chairman. Were the elders of the party carried along? Is the move yielding the desired result?
Nature abhors vacuum. But in filling that vacuum, you can also make a mortal mistake and die finally. I am thankful to the PDP that that was the platform in which I contested governorship that was not to be, in which I became political adviser to the president and became minister also. As a former minister, we belong to a forum and gave our position very clearly and unequivocally that we are not in support of this action and we are waiting for this action to run its course because it cannot stand. Many of us are still in PDP waiting for it to run its course. If it stands, many of us would begin to question our continued existence within that party. I stand by that position of the PDP ministers.
Does the action running its course mean waiting till the convention to see if a change can be made?
The only hope for the PDP is to get this convention right. They will get this convention right by doing these three things. First, consulting the elders, leaders and founders of the party to make sure that the founding ideals and principles are got right. And the key point in it is zoning, ensuring inclusiveness. PDP has already zoned the presidency in 2019 to the North and the Vice to the South. It has been approved by the NEC of the party, it has been made public. Any attempt to go back on it would be seen that PDP is still suffering from the disease that killed it in 2015. Nobody wants to be infected with that disease anymore.
In 1998, once the PDP had zoned the presidency to the South, everybody who had presidential ambition in the North had to drop it. Even when the late Abubakar Rimi was trying to be insistent, he was prevailed upon by Northern PDP elders to drop his ambition so that presidential primaries was among Dr Ekwueme, Chief Obasanjo, Jim Nwobodo, Graham Douglas and Don Etiebet. Ekwueme who was the chairman of the party at that time, who announced the party at the International Conference Centre, yielded to Solomon Lar. Now that the party has said its presidential candidate will come from the North, why are these obfuscating and annoying arguments regarding the PDP chairmanship? The zoning of PDP offices takes its bearing from the presidency. So if they mess it up, they have become undertakers of PDP. Just like they didn’t believe that 2015 would happen, they will see this one also happen.
What you are saying is that chairmanship must go to the South?
Definite, definite, definite.
How about the recent decision by the South West zone to back the incumbent chairman?
It has nothing to do with our stand. When did the party in the South West meet? Is it because of senator or a governor? How many PDP governors do you have from the South west? How many leading members do you have? How many leaders of the party in the zone are in support of what the senator or governor is doing . I don’t want to begin to call names. Who were there in 1998 when this party was formed? Who was there in the South west at Eko Hotel when we had the All Politicians’ summit co- chaired by late Pa Abraham Adesanya and Dr Alex Ekwueme? If people who have personal interest would do this, that is not PDP, that is not to say the South west zone is talking. What killed PDP is self interest like this. It will not be allowed to continue to kill the PDP.
I cannot decide now because I am maneuvering that if the vice presidency comes to the South east, I give IT to myself or I give it to my brother therefore, I have to make sure it goes like this. No , that was not the ideal of PDP. PDP was consensus building.
When we have a consensus from any , we would know that we have a consensus.