By Chinelo Obogo
Lynda Ikpeazu, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who represents Onitsha North/South constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, speaks on how the country could overcome the economic crisis and other national issues.
At what stage is the 2017 budget in the House of Reps?
We are currently working on it. You know usually, when the President lays the appropriation bill on the table, it now becomes the responsibility of the House and the Senate to actually work on the 2017 budget from that spot he presented it. But before we can work on that, we have to look at the 2016 budget. That is why we invited all the ministries, all the MDAs to come and show us how the previous year’s budget performed.
What is the oil bench mark for the budget?
Just recently, we passed the MTEF to $44.5. But you know of course that our economy is largely dependent on the oil, if we don’t secure the Niger-Delta area where we’re getting this oil, and if we don’t have peace there, then this whole estimates will get messed up but not the oil price because oil price is not determined by Nigeria. But then we are predicating our budget mainly on getting 2.2 million barrels a day.
In the past two years, the inflation rate increased drastically and recently, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria said Nigeria has dropped from being the number one trade partner of the Chinese government to number four. What has the House been able to do to ensure that the policies that are been churned out by government are pro-people?
Don’t forget that there is separation of powers; there are certain things we can do and certain things that we cannot do. The issue of policy is strictly that of the executive arm of government but we at the legislature, we can’t just also sit back and see things go wrong. That is why we intervene, that is why through our resolutions in the House and of course in the Senate, we try to guide the executive arm in the path that we feel that will best represent the interest of the Nigerian people. So that is all we are doing.
Would you say the forex policies of government have been business friendly?
Definitely we have a problem with the policy, but no matter what policy you have, you are not going to pretend that you don’t also know what caused that. Like the issue of our currency, we are now talking about exchanging about N500 to a dollar in the black market. What we should ask is what happened to the dollar? Why is the naira so weak? You know we have put unnecessary pressure on the dollar; Nigerians want to buy to import even things as little toothpick from abroad, Nigerians want to get everything foreign. So that puts a lot of pressure on the dollar and because we are not producing as much oil, the oil prices has gone down, so obviously we don’t have enough dollars to cater to the real social needs for everything foreign. So except we take that into consideration, the naira would continue to be weak. Definitely the CBN needs to make a better policy but even in making that policy, we also have to realise that there are situations that we have also gotten ourselves into that we have to deal with. So for me, I like to look at this from a larger perspective not just a narrow perspective.
The government has tried to ease the pressure on the naira by banning some imports, but in a situation where we are not producing enough quantity that would cater to the needs of Nigerians, would it not further cause an increase in the prices of commodities?
Well, definitely there are certain items that the executive should ban. But I will use example of the rice – we need to start producing more so that we can meet up with the demands, even the local demands and that is why the executive says it won’t ban rice now but intends to ban it like next year, because they have plans that maybe by next year, we would have started producing enough to cater to the local needs. But definitely they should ban certain products but in planning they also have to make sure that they have provided alternatives. So I definitely support ban for where there are alternatives. That’s why I supported the ban the idea that the ban on importation of rice should begin next year.
If the government is saying it wants to increase the production of rice, what is it presently doing to ensure local production of not just rice, but other locally made goods?
Right now in Nigeria, there are a lots of rice mills that have all the equipment as you find abroad. It is just that Nigerians want to buy stuff that is made outside of Nigeria, meanwhile there is rice produced in Nigeria. Rice is rice, whether you are in Bangkok, Malaysia, America, rice is rice and you have one way to process rice once you have the equipment. A lot of factories have the same equipment that you get elsewhere in the world but Nigerians love to buy made in anywhere but Nigeria. So, we also bear that responsibility; we should also start buying our own self because they are as good as the foreign produced rice. So we should also start buying our locally produced products. The rice produced in Nigeria is even healthier, because this rice that we import may have been put in silos over ten to fifteen years ago, but any rice produced in Nigeria you know definitely cannot stay more than one year, that is healthier. They neither have preservatives nor colour. So, it is Nigerians that also have to take that responsibility and stop blaming the government. Everybody should say to themselves, let us patronise our products because if you are saying oh, the products are not up to par with the foreign made product I will understand that but it is not the case for rice.
Do you agree with the critics of the government who say that the government should as a matter of urgency, constitute an economic team with competent people?
I think every government has economic team.
Does this government have a team that can revive the economy?
They have a team. Well, first of all, I don’t speak for the executive; I think they have a team but in life we can always improve, we can always make things better, get better that is what life is all about, you don’t stay in one place. Whatever they have now, they can improve on it because that is what life is all about; get newer ideas and all of that. Whatever it takes, it won’t hurt if they improve on it because the objective is to make Nigeria work.
You belong to the PDP and you are abreast of the leadership crisis in the party. What was your reaction when you learnt of the Port Harcourt Appeal Court judgment?
I am in support of Ahmed Makarfi, and I know that if there is a judgment that you are not happy about, you appeal.
What is really the problem of the PDP?
How can you stand out when you have internal strife? You know there is nothing as bad as having an enemy within; if you have problems within you, you have to solve your problem first before you go outside to solve anybody else’s problem. So the issue of standing out, I don’t think we have a problem with that. I think the issue now is to make sure we solve whatever problem we have within. It is only then that you can go outside.