…Says PDP has learned from past mistakes
By Kemi Yesufu
Hon. Leo Ogor, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives is one of the country’s most experienced lawmakers. In this interview, he speaks on a wide range of issues such as the controversial 2016 budget, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to China and the investigation into the allocation of oil blocks by the House.
The controversies surrounding the 2016 Appropriation Bill has led to many scoring President Muhammadu Buhari low on his first budget presentation. What is your assessment of the entire process?
The budget is a law that must go through the whole process of law making and the laws we enact do not come out exactly the way it was first presented. But unfortunately, President Buhari told the world by himself that the budget was padded, that it wasn’t a very good budget and the first document he presented was not a very good one and through the back door, the president withdrew the budget. He didn’t follow the correct procedure of withdrawing the budget but because we knew that the budget is the most important law that must be passed annually, we allowed it to go through. And of course, correcting the budget became the responsibility of the National Assembly. And in doing that, it (document) was sent to various committees of the House. They are complaining the budget was reduced and re-padded. But I tell you the gospel truth; budgeting is about resource sharing. A minister will not understand and appreciate the demands of the people in a host of constituencies and it is the chore responsibility of lawmakers that are close to these constituencies to address these fundamentals. And they (lawmakers) cannot sit down here, knowing that governance is about resource sharing and allow their people to suffer some level of deprivation. I stand to be corrected, but I have emphasised that we are running a government without any clear policy direction. What we have is a ship without an engine. The only thing I saw in the budget which I probably can attach to Buhari is the issue of the welfare intervention which he made available N500 billion for distribution. Outside this, I look at the budget and I cannot see the direction which this government is going. If a government doesn’t give a direction to where it is going, what you have is a budget with figures. We need to see and understand the policies of this government, so that we can work with it to make these policies meaningful to the people. My appeal to President Buhari is that though I believe in his anti-corruption crusade, that it will sanitise the country, he should please also think about the people and how we can move this country forward through well articulated economic policies.
Talking about resource sharing, many are asking what southern lawmakers were up to when an important project like the Lagos-Calabar Rail wasn’t included in the budget and the allocation to other projects such as the Benin-Sagamu Road, Lagos-Ibadan Road and the Ikpe-Warri Road drastically reduced? Would it be fair to say that you were not alive to your responsibilities?
I don’t think it would be fair to say so. I state with all emphasis that some of the positions taken by some committees will not stand. This is because there were even projects that were introduced into the budget that didn’t come from the Executive. So, if you say that N50 billion was floating in a ministry’s budget, that wanted a project with something close to that amount, why not allocate it to that specific project. I don’t want to go into the politics of the rail project, but I can tell you that it will be re-introduced. I hear their complaints about the reduction of the allocation to Lagos-Ibadan Road. But the minister, (Babatunde Fashola) who is a former governor of Lagos should know that there are other roads people from other geo-political zones consider to be their own Lagos-Ibadan Road. A good example is the Aba-Port -Harcourt Road. So, if a minister pumps so much money into one road project because he comes from that zone, it would be the responsibility of the committee involved to ensure equitable distribution of resources in line with the constitution. So, nobody can really blame committees that tried to ensure the equitable distribution of resources.
Does equitably distributing resources among Nigerians also involve just one lawmaker taking N4.1 billion to his constituency? Or that N60 billion goes to principal officers for their constituencies?
First, you have to understand that no money goes to the lawmakers and that people in our constituencies are Nigerians. More importantly, it is the Executive that executes projects and not lawmakers. If these projects in the budget will be beneficial to Nigerians, we shouldn’t be complaining. If the lawmakers are allocating these monies just to put in their pockets, I will never support such a thing. But since you called it constituency projects which we all know will be awarded by the Executive, I tell you that such budgetary allocation is what governance is all about. Governance is about the welfare and security of the people.
What is your opinion about President Buhari’s recent trip to China and the offers made to Nigeria such as the $6 billion infrastructure Loan? Do you agree with those that said Governor Ayo Fayose went beyond his constitutionally allowed space by writing President Xi Jinping not to grant Nigeria loans?
We need to properly analyse the President’s trip to China and I laugh at those saying Governor Fayose’s letter is treasonable. We need to first look at why he wrote the letter and if you ask me, I would say Governor Fayose was being very patriotic. I have to point out that the president went to China with a very good heart; he is someone who wants to achieve things by building infrastructure; he proposed to sign an agreement of about $6 billion. But we have to be mindful of the fact that we will pay counterpart funding for the projects and our experience with China is not a very good one. And I state with emphasis that with Chinese companies, we have key projects that we have not been able to move forward. Good examples are the failed $470 million contract for the installation of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in Abuja and Lagos. There’s also the $200 million National Rural Telephony Project or is it the rail projects? The Chinese government brought in Alcatel for the telephony project, I challenge anyone who has seen any community that project was sited. Before we stand up to celebrate, we need to have dealt with issues such as the Bureau of Public Procurement costing the projects, so, we know nobody is taking us for a ride.
People would like to know what is happening with Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). It was passed by the 7th House but was it assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan. What is the situation with this bill or is the plan to unbundle NNPC sufficient enough?
The bill that I have seen and taken time to study, doesn’t look like the PIB. It looks more like the plan to unbundle the NNPC. The bill looks like us doing what the minister said about restructuring the NNPC. I can fault this bill; first is that part of it is not in consonance with the constitution and this has to do with disposing some shares of NNPC in the stock market. I don’t know where they derived the powers to sell our collective assets. There is also the introduction of the frontier funds. These funds are meant for drilling in some specific areas like the Lake Chad basin but soon as you discover oil in those areas, they become host communities. I can assure you that there is no way that bill is going to be passed in the House without addressing the issue of host communities. How can you tell people that have suffered so much environmental damage, people that have been drinking polluted water, people that have sacrificed so much for project Nigeria that this bill will pass through the National Assembly without the issue of host communities being looked after. I can assure our people that they have some of the finest lawmakers in the National Assembly and that there is no way that bill will be passed without taking care of the host communities.
Still talking about host communities, why do you think there has been a resurgence in pipeline vandalisation and what is your take on President Buhari’s promise to deal with vandals like Boko Haram?
Well, for me I have never believed in violence. I believe in dialogue. I want to appeal that-please this is our land and if it is further destroyed by oil spills, we will suffer the consequences. The approach of blowing up pipelines will not help us in any way.
What is your take on the move by the House to investigate the Oil Processing Licenses and Oil Mining Licenses?
There is no way we can resolve the problems in the oil sector or issues like the current fuel scarcity without looking into how oil blocks were allocated. There are some oil blocks that were given out, on the basis of the right of first refusal. These companies took the blocks and they were supposed to have built refineries. But today, they are busy drilling oil without keeping other parts of what was agreed to and the NNPC sits there without taking action. Some of these companies have not even paid their signature bonus and these monies run into billions of dollars. Now, the NNPC has signed Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) with these companies in violation of the Petroleum Act. And I think it is the basis of this recent development that the House said it must look into what is happening.
What is your opinion about the moves by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to reposition itself?
Well, as a party we are waxing stronger. We are going to face a party that has lost direction. We in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have recognised the mistakes that we made. We are re-organising ourselves. The people have seen that APC lacks an understanding of governance. As it is said, the taste of the pudding is in the eating and Nigerians have started seeing the difference.
all the promises made, now, they are telling us that they didn’t make any promise. But Nigerians are looking, they are not stupid. They are watching things even as they have kept their PVCs and in 2019, they will speak as many of them have learnt a lesson. For me, I have nothing against anyone contesting for any office. I believe that the constitution allows for anyone to contest for any office. The law also says that you are innocent until proven guilty. And I am one lawmaker (without making reference to my party’s zoning arrangement), who doesn’t believe in zoning. But if the party has given a position to your zone and you think you are qualified, I believe that you should contest.