By Taiwo Amodu, ([email protected])
Ahead of the Ondo State governorship election, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), Senator Ayo Arise has expressed concern over the internal dissension tearing his party apart.
In this interview, the Senator who represented Ekiti North senatorial district between 2007—2011 says the ruling party in the state could be the ultimate beneficiary of the crisis rocking the APC.
Your party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) has consistently mentioned the deleterious economy it inherited from its predecessor as responsible for its failure to deliver.
Nigerians take it as a lame excuse, with opposition leaders saying the ruling party has nothing to offer. What is your take?
There is no question about the fact that Nigeria’s economy is facing crisis. The situation is compounded by the activities of the Avengers that have laid siege on all oil installations and pipelines in the Delta region with the consequential reduction in crude oil production capacity. This is in fact, a self-inflicted pain.
The price of crude worldwide has been gyrating like a yoyo falling below $40.00 many times. I don’t think there is any opposition that can force the price of crude oil to $100.00 or more which was enjoyed for most of the 16 years of PDP government. If the previous government enjoyed production of over 2 million barrels daily, then it is unfair to imagine that there can be an immediate miracle now that production has dropped to under 1 million barrels daily. This government is providing a lifeline of hope for our nation.
But they often accused the government of lack of concrete economic blue print to turn around the economy. Is there any that you are aware of?
In terms of economic policy, I believe the government is on the right track. Policies don’t get implemented in a day. It takes time. It requires some patience and it requires waiting for a plan to materialize. Most of the economic policies that relate to diversification cannot be faulted. It is the most logical step to take to address the issue of our monoculture income earner. The focus on agriculture and infrastructure development can also not be faulted.
Most importantly, the focus on manufacturing which I believe there is not yet sufficient incentive to drive the sector is also a way to go.
History has it that despite the best efforts of former US President, Franklin Roosevelt and his cabinet, after two years of introducing yet the most enduring and boldest steps toward revamping an economy in recession recorded anywhere in the world at that time, the Great
Depression continued–the ‘American’s economy continued to wheeze; unemployment persisted; and people grew angrier and more desperate.
So, in the spring of 1935, Roosevelt launched a second, more aggressive series of federal programmes, sometimes called the Second New
Deal. In April, he created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide jobs for unemployed people. WPA projects weren’t allowed to compete with private industry, so they focused on building things like post offices, bridges, schools, highways and parks. The WPA also gave work to artists, writers, theatre directors and musicians’. In addition to the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, Roosevelt had won passage of 12 other major laws, including the Glass-Steagall Banking Bill and the Home Owners’ Loan Act, in his first 100 days in office.
Almost every American found something to be pleased about and something to complain about in this motley collection of bills, but it was clear to all that FDR was taking the “direct, vigorous” action.
Whereas the social engagements of Mr. President will deliver almost the same result that FDR delivered for his people over 83 years ago,
Buhari now stands on the threshold of history to deliver to our country the same rescue mission accomplished by his peer for the American people in their time of economic crisis less than a hundred years ago. We must be more businesslike. Technology exists now to make decision making faster and more accurate. Things are damn too slow to get to the people. Whatever is holding the wheel of quick achievement in our government must be arrested now so that this nation can move forward to allow this President earn his name in history.
We should all appreciate that there is no immediate tonic for recovery outside building our production base, getting people to work, embarking on massive construction work, paying some stipends to those who have no jobs so as to boost the purchasing power of the population, otherwise our country is in deep trouble.
We either beg the international donors or borrow massively to produce our way out of this recession by implementing these policies or allow the populace to vent anger on this government for lesser people-oriented policies that may come in the future.
That many Nigerians cannot afford to feed their families is now a stark reality, hence the school feeding programme will take some heat off the indigent families who would gladly take their children to school to at least ensure a good meal for them daily.
Our president needs to take bold actions on revamping the economy.
Many of the requirements hindering or throwing spanner in the implementation of his policies should be waived by executive actions under this extraordinary circumstances. Abuses that may likely surface should also be dealt with under these special circumstances that would allow for summary actions against economic saboteurs. Sharp practices cannot be eliminated in Nigeria so fast. We should just be ready to deal with the criminals rather than allow bureaucracy to paralyze the urgency of the moment. We are now in September of 2016 and nothing is happening outside irregular salaries to those that enjoy some form of employment or the other. The majority of no less than 70 per cent of the population are waiting on government to act.
But people are of the opinion that there is a serious disconnect between the APC leadership and Buhari. Can you really say there is a sustained interface?
We must all realize that Buhari is not a 60 year old man who could still have close friends who are in their 30s and 40s; so his penchant for junketing around to make him accessible to a large number of people is certainly subdued on account of his age.
This therefore could fuel the suspicion that not many people have access to him. The few around him too are likely to have developed a sort of taciturn relationship with the larger population.
Unfortunately, there is no other avenue to reach him outside his immediate aides. I doubt if you can find him on twitter or Facebook and if so, whether he has time to read such by himself or whether those who maintain such for him bring any unflattering comment to his attention. The duty of a president is awesome. We all pray that those working with the president will ensure that they create some avenue for him to meet ordinary people once in a while. I don’t see any challenge to a sustained interface once the line of communication is constantly opened and explored.
Given the urgency that the economy deserves, if you were to advise him, what would you tell him to do to stimulate growth and investment?
There is immediate need to reflate the economy. The time for a project circle in Nigeria takes forever and a depressed economy cannot wait forever. The bureaucracy can be cut down to achieve meaningful impact on the people by reducing the red tapes to a minimum without allowing fraudsters to hide under the urgency to rubbish the whole process by hijacking the whole process again.
The conditions coming out of the Bureau of Public Procurement, (BPP) is sure to cripple this economy further. The requirements to get things done in Nigeria today doesn’t exist in any civilized world. Mr. President , please remove these barriers. This country is one of the most difficult countries to do business in the whole world. Everyone can understand the requirement for tax. It is so throughput the world as mandatory. What is the need for financial reporting council? What is the need for NSITF, ITF, Pencom, Education Tax, VAT tax, etc.? What use are these to someone who is a new business owner trying to get a simple job to eke out a living? Why do countries provide tax exemption for many new businesses and those making losses? How many small businesses have been able to get tax refund from FIRS based on legitimate filing and over deduction? There are businesses that the government taxes only leaves about five per cent profit margin, yet 10 per cent is deducted as withholding tax while one is expected to pay another five per cent for VAT, yet another 10 per cent for Pencom, yet another two per cent for education tax, yet another one per cent for NSITF and so on and on. It is just crazy. How do you jumpstart such economy under the guise that we are trying to generate more tax revenue? The greatest enemy of the business environment is the penalty for not filling on time. It is better to abandon a company that had been out of business for a while rather than try to resuscitate such company. You are not asked to pay what you owe but you are asked to pay penalty that is beyond the value of the company? No government shall place such burden on her citizens. It is criminal. The officials now hide under such ridiculous policies to rip off the businessmen. They have the power of discretion. We all know the meaning of that in Nigeria. President Buhari should please, tear these anti-business growth walls down and very quickly.
Let us now discuss South-West politics. Does your party stand a chance in the forthcoming election in Ondo State? Two, can it displace PDP in Ekiti?
The APC certainly stands a chance. There are challenges for the two parties in Ondo State. The APC has the challenge of primaries which many times have blown away parties with electoral chances away in the general elections due to anti -party activities. The chances of managing this within the APC is better than what exists in the haemorrhaging PDP. It depends on how fast the various factions in PDP can resolve their differences. It appears this might be a tall order in Ondo due to the gladiators there.
We must not forget the incumbency factor in Ondo and the fact that PDP now has an Akure indigene as their candidate. The two largest voting blocks in Ondo Central Senatorial Districts are Akure and Ondo (Akure north and Akure South.) The governor will deliver Ondo and Ile- Oluji without question. Every incumbent governor certainly faces challenges of loss of popularity not because of what he failed to do but more because people are strategizing on where the next honey is coming from. I also believe that the incumbent governor of Ondo State, Dr Segun Mimiko is a very experienced politician, so he cannot be taken for granted.
Ekiti state is a different scenario. While there is no lynching mentality hatred for the governor of Ondo, same cannot be said of the governor of Ekiti. The incumbent governor is not eligible to contest again having served for two terms. His actions and inactions will drive him and the PDP out of power in Ekiti.
So, Ekiti remains a state we can comfortably predict 60:40 clear advantage for APC. This prediction is also hinged on picking a good candidate, wasting less energy on primaries and praying that the programmes of Buhari government would have taken firm footing before the election.
There is this allegation that federal lawmakers mismanaged fund earmarked for Constituency projects which has informed the Presidency’s resolve to investigate fund allocated for such projects in the past.
You were in the Senate and served as Chairman, Senate Committee on Privatization. What is the process, because some of your colleagues have argued that lawmakers don’t handle disbursement of funds meant for such projects and therefore not culpable?
I have spoken on this topic severally and the argument of how allocated funds are managed is such a sensitive one that I like to confine myself to the issue of what the best practices are in the more advanced economies and how best to handle this under our very peculiar cultural challenges. The process is covered under the budgeting process as stipulated in the appropriation act of the National assembly. The peculiarity of the constituency project has been dealt with extensively during this lingering debate between Honourable Jibrin and Speaker Dogara. I am sure the court of public opinion is not on the side of legislators on this topic.
This does not confer guilt on the legislators. On the surface of it, there is really no law broken unless individual violations can be established and it is really a tall order. The mood of the nation now may be that of moving forward, believing that the role of the legislator is to influence projects into their respective constituencies through the budget office of the federation. Such projects should be owned by the federal government less such projects die as soon as such legislator departs from office.
It is settled by the constitution that the legislature controls the wallet of the nation. The executive spends the money. To all intent and practice, this is the situation because no member of the National assembly can award any contract to himself and write the cheque for payment to himself. If in actual practice this principle is violated, it is the responsibility of the executive to investigate and prosecute any offending party.
It is clear that the greatest challenge facing human kind is the existence of criminal minded fellows in any sphere of endeavour. That is why there are laws and that is why there is the judiciary to try offenders. The best solutions to any issue should still be to plan for what can go wrong.
Arguments for and against restructuring of the country, where do you stand?
I am for restructuring because dogging the issue will not maTAke it go away. We went to war over restructuring before, I believe we do not have to go to another war whilst we can all sit and deliberate on our collective future. If we all agree that each state should control their resources and pay taxes to the center, it is a giant restructuring step. This may not necessarily provide the solution to all our problems; it certainly would provide a succour to many agitators.
The issue of state or community policing is part of restructuring. The federal police would still have commanding authority where there is overlapping duties. These are few examples of areas where we need restructuring. These certainly would not bring immediate comfort to all the states except for a few, it will take some time before states can start reaping the benefits.
For example, those who need control of their mineral resources would still need to acquire the skills or enter into contractual agreements with those with the knowhow for exploration or mining. This is not plug and play but we should start from somewhere.
Besides the core North, do you think the South, particularly South-west have had a fair deal so far under the Buhari presidency?
The fact that the Vice President is from the southwest, regardless of the fact that he derives his power from the President, removes the sympathy anyone would have had for the southwest in the scheme of things.
The personality occupying every position defines the pros and cons of the office. Our current Vice President, a very cerebral Professor of Law is a complete gentleman who is not likely going to rock any boat.
He will certainly deliver on any responsibility given to him by the constitution and his boss. Is he someone who will be throwing his weight around? I do not think so. He is also a practicing Pastor endowed with humility and good character. Can these characteristics satisfy the politicians? Hardly not. Everyone needs something from government. In terms of appointments by numerical strength, I think the southwest should do better under our President.
Having said that, there is no basis for comparison with what the southwest experienced under the previous government where the southwest had no representation in the 1st to 7th most senior government officials of Nigeria in terms of hierarchy. This government should be very different.
The sensitive issue of any region feeling dissatisfied in relation to their political contribution is dangerous for our polity and should be avoided by all means possible. The President should find a way of measuring the barometer of his political supporters from time to time.
Everybody must feel a sense of belonging. That is the joy of our common heritage.