From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Amidst rising tension across the country, the Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, has said that leaders, especially members of the National Assembly, must act fast to save the country.
Nnaji, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), representing Nkanu East and West Federal Constituency of Enugu State, warned that this is not the time for unnecessary politics.
The lawmaker also spoke on issues in the aviation sector and the zoning debate in the PDP and Enugu State, ahead of the 2023 general elections. Excerpt:
What is your take on the state of the nation, especially against the backdrop of rising insecurity and separatist agitations?
The problem is assuming a dangerous dimension. And l believe it is time for those of us in the parliament to demonstrate extreme patriotism. We should be sincere and speak out without fear or favour. This is not the time to play politics and nepotism. Our nation is on the verge of breakup. There are the challenges of banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and several other criminalities staring us in the face. The problems are multifaceted and the growing unemployment rate is equally not helping matters. It is time we sit down as legislators and representatives of the people to discuss the problems with clear mindset, minds that are not polluted with sentiments, ethnicity, religious bigotry and tribalism. Believe it or not, the country is fast sliding into anarchy and if we fail to act fast as leaders, we will all be consumed.
There are divergent views on whether or not the country should be restructured; where do you stand?
If restructuring will give us the peace, we so desperately need now, l am for it. But let me be honest with you; the agitations for restructuring were not this pronounced until we entered democratic rule. One is tempted to ask why? What are we doing wrongly? And the answer is not far fetched. There are lots of injustices in the system. The constitution is very clear on the issue of federal character in recruitments and appointments into public service. But we are not obeying this aspect of the constitution. This alone can trigger off agitations as we experience today. If you look at the Southeast, where l come from, for instance, we are the only geopolitical zone with less number of states.There is no single person from the zone heading any security agency; not to talk of extreme low quota in public service, coupled with poor presence of federal institutions in the zone. With this level of imbalance and deprivation, you cannot rule out restiveness from the youths.
What is your take on the debate over the zoning of the Enugu governorship seat in 2023 polls?
We thank God that in Enugu State, zoning has helped us maintain peace. Since the advent of this democracy, we have never had crisis during elections like several other states in the Southeast because of the adoption of zoning.
In 1999, Enugu East Senatorial Zone took the first shot through Dr Chimaroke Nnamani. In 2007 it went to Enugu West and Sullivan Chime emerged. While in 2015, it was the turn of Enugu North, which gave us our amiable, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi. It is the turn of the Enugu East again to take its turn. We cannot change a system that is working for us. As a matter of fact, other states want to copy us. So, it doesn’t make sense trying to jettison the zoning arrangement. The Enugu East people are not afraid of the zoning being discontinued rather what we are saying is that the existing peace we have achieved through zoning should not be disrupted. Anyway, we have a leader who loves peace and l believe at the appropriate time he will guide us through the right part.
A committee in your party, the PDP, recently recommended that the presidential ticket for the 2023 polls should be thrown open, while some stakeholders are of the view that the Southeast should produce the candidate of the opposition party. Where do you stand?
Where do you think l stand? I know the feeling of my people as a federal legislator. So, l stand for Southeast. We plead that our compatriots from other parts of the country should see reasons to support us. In 1999, our party zoned the presidency to the Southwest and we voted overwhelmingly for the candidate. In 2007, it was the turn of the North and Southeast equally voted for PDP massively. We did the same in 2011 and 2015 when ex-President Goodluck Jonathan from the South-south was given the mandate. In 2019, the Southeast did same for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was the PDP flag bearer at the time. By 2023, when the presidency will be returning to the South in line with the zoning system of the party, it should clearly fall on the Southeast, since it is the only zone yet to produce the president. We have quite an array of eminently qualified people who can occupy the office of the president. For instance, the Enugu State governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, a former federal legislator and having interacted extensively with people across the country has what it takes to lead the nation. He has demonstrated capacity and quality leadership, so with his experience both as a former federal legislator and a serving governor, he is eminently qualified.
What are the efforts of the House Committee on Aviation to reposition the Aviation sector?
Our duty as you know is basically to make laws, oversight the industry and appropriate funds for the Ministry of Aviation and its agencies. You may recall that we recently held public hearings on bills for the amendment Acts for the six aviation agencies: the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NIMET), Accidents Investigation Bureau (AIB), and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT). And the amendment of the Acts was intended to reposition the agencies for greater efficiency and safety of air transportation in the country. You may also recall that in my inaugural address, l assured Nigerians that we would strive to bequeath to the country a virile aviation that is safe and reliable. We are resolute and determined to do so.
Nigeria does not have a single MRO (Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul) facility to serve domestic airlines; this digs a hole in their finances as they are compelled to take airplanes overseas for maintenance. What is the House Committee on Aviation doing to end this nightmare?
It is in the budget. The establishment of MRO is in the budget. We are also expecting that private sector should also get involved. We encourage private sectors. We have discussed with the Minister that it is so important for the private sector to get involved in MRO.The ministry is disposed to the involvement of the private sector in MRO. It (MRO) will help to reduce flight charges and other airport charges. It is in the making.
The Southern governors a few days back, announced an end to open grazing in Southern Nigeria amongst other resolutions. But some persons think the ban on open grazing is more or less empty talk, as there is no legal backup yet. What’s your take?
A lot of states are complaining about open grazing. And many believe that the way to go is ranching. The good thing about ranching is that it will also create jobs. When you ranch, a lot of persons will be involved. You will see people that will supply feed, you will see people that will supply water. It will be more of an organised system. The veterinary doctors will also be going there to take care of those animals. The issue of insecurity as you know is a concern to everybody. Not only those in the South. The people in the North are also concerned about insecurity. The only difference is the approach. Some are biased.
This is the time the Federal Government needs to be firm in tackling insecurity in the country. One will applaud the 17 Southern governors for coming out now. It is a welcome development. The Southern caucus of the House of Representatives and the Southern caucus in Senate have thrown their weights behind the governors. It is a welcome development. They have already told the Federal Government. They will now go back to their respective states and set up the mechanism. The lands in the states are vested on the governors. So, what they will do is to trigger the issue in their state assemblies. And the ones we can do, we can start pushing them at the national level.