…Says Buhari has performed well
From Iheanacho Nwosu
Dr. Idi Hong served as Minister of State for Health and later Foreign Affairs in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview, Hong scored President Muhammadu Buhari high in many key areas. The politician, who contested for the governorship ticket to rule Adamawa State in the last election, hinged his reason on the success achieved by the President in the fight against Boko Haram, corruption and some aspects of the economy. He specifically spoke on how the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) mismanaged its goodwill and warned the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to learn from PDP’s mistakes.
How would you assess the government in the last one year?
I will say very categorically that the government has done very well. It has done very well in the sense that one year in the life of a nation or government is not enough for anybody to assess it objectively. There are pluses in some places and weaknesses in some areas. But it is not a good time for anybody to fairly judge the government. There are some areas the government has done commendably well. There are indices to prove that. Yes, I know there are areas of concern but in the whole, I will say that the APC government has performed well.
Would you say that the government is truly committed to the diversification of the economy?
It is understandable. Nigeria is a mono economy . It is so in the sense that the bulk of the revenues of the country comes from oil. It will not be easy for you to move out of that oil mentality. Investments into solid minerals and other areas require to be given 10 to 15 years before it would come to gestation where revenues from other sectors will become competitive to that of oil.
Already, the government has given attention to the agricultural sector. There is also attention on the solid minerals. They have not started translating into money in the hands or money in the bank. It will take sometime, but government direction and policy are already geared to opening of those sectors.When they are opened, we will find out that in the next 5, 4, 3 years, we will start seeing results coming out from them. But so far, we depend on oil revenue. We are expecting that the economy will diversify in a couple of years especially with the challenges in the price of oil and the source of energy. It is very important for the government to be conscious of the challenge of oil because the hydrocarbon is compromised into different directions while innovations, research and development and other sources are coming up. That is the reason prices are coming down globally. We have to start thinking like the president and support it. Oil would not be a dependable source of revenue in the future. We have to commend the president for this initiative.
Agriculture and solid mineral would have the competitive advantage. We are blessed by nature. The country is endowed with so many minerals. There is no viable mineral that Nigeria is not endowed with. There is a large expanse of land in the country. All we need is a very strong foundation of agricultural policies and incentives for the farmers that will be huge revenue for the government. It is highly commendable that the president is thinking like this, because in the future, oil is not going to contribute much, because oil is being highly challenged.
Looking at your area, the health sector in the last one year, what will you say has been done differently from your government?
When you come in as a new government, there is a lot to study and a lot to plan. There is a plan to build more health care facilities around the country. There is a struggle and fight against infectious and non infectious diseases. There are policies to strengthen the tertiary hospitals so that the effort to curtail medical tourism is put in place. If all this come into fruition with the promises of the minister, there would be a lot of achievements in the health sector. The major challenge of the healthcare is the weakness of the primary health centers because health is predominately provided by the health care facilities and the local government who are not properly endowed with the responsibility. If the Federal Government and States join forces, there would be positive results. More than 90 percent of the illnesses should be handled at the primary health care so that the pressure on the tertiary health centers would not be too much. In that case, the tertiary healthcare centres would be for middle intervention, middle diagnosis and also for researches and development.
The national hospital is not supposed to be for all kinds of illnesses or situations. The minister wants to have a thousand healthcare in the country. But in doing this, there is provision for the facilities in all communities and also the nearness of the healthcare to the houses. The issue of maternal and child mortality would be reduced because of the access to health cares and if there is a serious problem, the patient could be referred to higher level of the hospital setting. The allocation given to the health sector is very low. It should have been higher because of the challenges we are facing in the sector.
Are you happy that you were part of the PDP?
I played my part with the best of my ability when I had the chance. I do not think it is a matter of the PDP, rather than those accepting the responsibility. These are all subjective assessments. There are a lot of challenges in the party. There are good people as well as bad people. Most of them were ill-advised. It is not a political platform or a generational challenge. The major thing to know is that in a party, the heads of the party and the heads of the government are to be vigilant and conscious about their plan and they should also have in mind that there would be a day of reckoning.
You are from the North-East. Can you assess this administration on what they have done to bring peace to the region?
That is their A card, irrespective of the shortcoming of the government. We know the government has done remarkably well. As far as we are concerned, Buhari’s administration is hundred percent successful. We do not know what it means to be abducted and chased out of your homes. The fact that we can go back home, go to farms and be free, I think we have done very well.
What about the humanitarian crisis?
The humanitarian crisis would not be solved over night. The level of damage and dislocation is so huge to the extent that the government needs to do something drastic to resuscitate the life of the people. Any area that the insurgents have taken over, 90 percent of the homes cannot be habitable because they have burned down the houses or vandalized the homes and farms are not available again, families have lost their breadwinners. If you are 50 years and above and your house is burnt down, you have to wait for the government. The lives of the people have been completely destroyed. In other words, they need the government. It has been going on for a long time and I do not think it can be solved in a short time.
People say PDP did not have a strong party structure because of the leaders. Do you subscribe to that line of thought?
APC cannot be compared to the PDP. It is a learning process because the APC has a chance to learn from the downfall of the PDP. The PDP gave the party to the executives. The president is to be informed about what is happening. He is a member of the party from the NEC to the caucus, to the BOT of the party. He should be familiar with what is happening, but it does not mean he should take charge of the party because he is the president. But everything should be under his guidance. Unlike the PDP that put the party in the hands of the governors, to an extent, the president did not have the control of the party like the governors had. The governors were the leaders of the party. The APC is not like that. The order of the party is slightly independent but the president is keeping that distance but he has to give them direction and participate. But it should not be run like the PDP where if the governor does not like you, you cannot be in the executive. The party should be decentralised in every level of responsibility with the supervision of the elected people.