My greatest fears for Nigeria
The Executive Secretary of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum(PANDEF), Mr Tony Uranta believes that the All Progressives Congress(APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari has failed even to meet halfway the expectations of the people. He gave this verdict in an interview with WILLY EYA and spoke on other national issues.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration just clocked two years, what is your assessment of the journey so far?
Like every other Nigerian, I had high expectations based on the promises made during the campaigns and immediately after the resumption of office by the president even though I was not one of those that campaigned or voted for him. I was bent on supporting him and I called on all Nigerians to support the administration because it was in our greater interest to so do; if the administration succeeds, Nigerians would succeed better. However, we came very early to realise that there were nuances of differences, nuances of virtual appetite that the administration was determined to portray beginning from Buhari’s first visit to America in that interview he gave where he said that he would naturally favour those that gave him over 97 per cent of their votes over those that gave him five or less per cent of their votes. We had hoped he would improve but as we grew older by the day in the administration, things got worse. The long and short of it is that in two years, we have gone into a depression and not a recession. By definition, a recession is when you have retrogressive economy for two quarters but we have had more than four quarters of that retrogression. Therefore, we are in a depression. Now, we have a depressed economy which as the Minister of Finance and the Acting President have explained to us is getting better by the day. We are praying for it but we on the streets actually pray that things get better. On the economy, we have not seen what sense there was in the wholesale withdrawal of funds from the banks to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) that seems to be lying dormant. It is not being used in any way to boost the economy. We have not seen why there was a delay in the better resolution of the monetary and fiscal policies. More still, in the anti-corruption war, we have seen little transparency. Let us forget about the declarations of monies found here and there. We all know that first of all, most of those monies, they did not identify who has them. The anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) and its chairman, Ibrahim Magu have not yet responded to the demand by President Buhari in early February that the EFCC should submit an audited report of all monies recovered since the time of his predecessor, Lamorde within three weeks. Now, all these are disparities that do not sink with a true anti-corruption war. First of all, it is not enough for us to target the past and personalities especially in a selective manner. We should be looking at how institutions and processes are established and deepened so as to prevent ongoing possible corruption and future corruption. These things have not taken place.
One of the key promises of the APC government is on checkmating insecurity in the country. Many think that the Buhari government has scored a pass mark in that area. Do you share that view?
As far as security is concerned, whether we like it or not, we have to give kudos to the government for what he has achieved in the North East part of the country. The Boko Haram insurgency has been curtailed to a large extent. But unfortunately, while that has happened, the Fulani herdsmen are now roving and roaming free and butchering Nigerians both in Southern Kaduna and other parts of the country including South East, South West and South South parts of Nigeria. So in all, the economy is not too good, on the fight against corruption, not too good, and on security, it maybe average. On the whole, I would score Buhari’s government a low 33 to 40 percent.
In the whole of South East today, (May 30), there is tension over the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) and similar groups to mark 50 years of Biafra. How do you see the development and what do you think are the implications?
Today(Tuesday, May 30) is a day that the people of the South East of Nigeria have chosen to mourn those who lost their lives during the civil war whether they call it Biafra or civil war, it does not matter. If the people say they want self determination, everybody has a right to assemble, to associate and freedom of speech. You do not respond by shooting them. The shittes, supporters of El-Zakzaky came out in Kaduna to march on the road, you respond by shooting them. We have seen elements of fascism creeping into Nigeria during the tenure of this administration which to me is the greatest danger of all. People are now even afraid to speak up. Well, some of us have to speak. We believe that the Lord God is in control of everything. We pray that the president would get better faster but we feel that the Acting President who has been doing fairly well, should be supported with our prayers and in any other way we can.
You are one of the leaders in the Niger Delta area. How would you rate the effort of the administration in the oil-rich zone?
The Niger Delta stability and peace we are enjoying and the commensurate revenue appreciation we are enjoying at the moment cannot in any way be attributed to the Acting President or as he was then, the vice president. This was sorely achieved through the unilateral ceasefire we won through the Pan Niger Delta Forum headed by Chief Edwin Clark in July 2016. It was over two months before we were even invited to meet with President Buhari in the villa. I find it disturbing that Nigerians are still being fed the narrative that the Acting President or whoever is in government won the peace we have now in the Niger Delta. It was peace won by the Niger Deltans who unilaterally decided to calm the youths and other elements in the creeks to support the president in their programme. We regret that so far the Federal Government has not reciprocated in like manner. We have not seen any attempt by the government to engage with PANDEF or the Niger Delta to further deepen this stability and peace that we are enjoying at the moment.
Are you saying that the administration is not doing anything in the Ogoni cleanup project for instance which has since been flagged off?
It is nearly two years since the President said in his inaugural speech that Ogoni would be cleaned up but remember that Ogoni is just a small area in the Niger Delta but till date, Ogoni is still not being cleaned up. They have not even commenced any cleanup. We have no reason to congratulate them. There is nothing that is being done proper at the moment except the passage of the Nigerian National Liquefied Natural Gas(NNLNG) amendment by the House of Representatives to ask them to contribute more directly to the development of the Niger Delta. Then, the Senate cancellation of the decision to sell the Port Harcourt refinery through the back door.
You are one of those who have been advocating for restructuring of the nation? Is there any hope that this can be achieved considering that there are powerful forces who are obviously determined to frustrate the move each time it is on front burner because they are benefitting from the present system?
Nigeria would be restructured. Note that right from the onset, President Buhari stated categorically that he was not interested in revisiting the report of the National Conference of 2014. Now, about a month ago in Abuja, we had a reunion of conference attendees and I can assure you that the conference report would be addressed. Nigeria would not move forward if restructuring does not take place. Any person who comes to run in 2019 or subsequent elections for any federal office and does not support restructuring would not be voted for. Mark my word. Everybody including the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, former Lagos State governor and leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu now support restructuring. Tinubu who used to be a prominent supporter of restructuring but decided for partisan and personal reasons to oppose it in 2013/2014, has come out boldly now to say he supports restructuring. We are all coming back to our senses. When the sky falls, it would not fall on one man’s head alone. All of us are bearing the burden of the stupidity of our decisions in the past. I am sure that all of us would also work toward making sure that Nigeria is restructured if we want to end issues like Boko Haram, militancy in the Niger Delta and the clamour for Biafra among other agitations. This is because these are all reactions to the result of injustice, unfairness and inequity that we live with in Nigeria. They can only be resolved by restructuring. I do not like talking about resource control because it is all part of federalism. All we are asking is that even if you cannot do anything, we say okay, return to the 1960/1963 constitution and in this case let us stay as federating units, you would find out that that alone would change this nation for the better and would make us a nation more than the conglomeration of nationalities that we are at the moment.
What are your greatest fears for Nigeria?
My fears are mainly about the fact that some people through their arrogant myopia have not come to realise that their sensitive words, utterances and actions can set this nation ablaze and we could go into a civil war or a divisive crises that would be much worse than the 1967-1970 civil war.
On the road to 2019 general elections, what do you see?
What I want to say is let us restructure Nigeria. I pray that a restructured Nigeria would be alive in 2019. I am not yet sure we would survive 2017. I deal with the day. As the Bible says, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.