From Kemi Yesufu
Hon. Anayo Nebe, the Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Sports, is one lawmaker that speaks his mind, no matter whose ox is gored. In this interview, the former Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly speaks on his recent confrontation with the minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola over the dearth of capital projects for the South-East in the 2016 and 2017 budgets.
During a recent appearance of the minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, you confronted him over the low number of capital projects for the South-East in the budget. What was really the issue?
For me, the legislators from the South-East, both in the Green and Red chambers have been doing their best. If you go through the 2016 budget, you will see that the initial submission made by the federal government didn’t take care of the South-East, at all. But we insisted that the region must be taken care of or we wouldn’t be part of the budget consideration process, and amendments were made. You know, each individual is entitled to his or her opinion, no matter how absurd it sounds. People that are talking of legislators from the South-East, not taking action may be thinking of a situation where we will go on a demonstration. But they must remember that we as lawmakers are not part of the militants’ wing of South -East politics, like IPOB and MASSOB.
We also have the Ohaneze Ndigbo to speak out in a certain way for the South -East. What we lawmakers do is to seek for means to impact positively on our people and we kick -started this process with how we drew the attention of the minister (Fashola) to failings of the 2017 budget. I told the minister point blank, that he is a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not the minister for one region, state or group. I told him very clearly, that his argument that the federal government was creating employment by paying contractors, who then returned to site, wasn’t an argument that can survive scrutiny. How can you talk about creating employment by making small releases to a contractor after months, when he simply collects the funds, uses it to settle his bankers, pay debt, work for a short while and again has to lay off staff because the money was insufficient? If someone has raised a certificate of payment for N1 billion and you pay him N100 million, he will settle his bankers, other creditors, maybe work for a week or two and then ask people to go. I then informed the minister that I was a member of the House Committee on Works that toured the country, looking at the state of work on infrastructure and I discovered in the South -South and South-East zones, most especially in the South-East, that the releases being made for contracts there was so meager, it would be impossible to make reasonable impact.
Many say, the perceived marginalisation of the South-East is the fallout of the last presidential election, which saw the region voting massively for Goodluck Jonathan. Do you agree?
Yes I do. Again some think the South -East should be constantly reminded that it lost in the civil war.
You think the Biafran war is still used against the South-East even in 2016/2017?
Yes, the marginalisation of the South-East is still on. There is a musician from my place, though now late, who recorded a song about the 3Rs by (Gen. Yakubu) Gowon. He sang that Gowon carried out Rehabilitation, Renovation, but the Reconciliation had not been done. And if you quarrel with someone, who you hardly reconciled with and you have the power of sharing amenities, definitely, you will cheat the person who quarreled with. The only way you can be fair to the person you quarreled is to reconcile with the person. We talk about forgiving and forgetting, forgetting might be difficult, it is forgiveness that is necessary for fairness and justice, especially in a country like ours. In any case, who should forgive who? It’s Igbo people that are aggrieved, or who? You don’t expect us to go cap-in-hand to beg people to forgive us. After the war, we were told: no victor, no vanquished, but events keep showing us that these words are far different from the actions we see.
It seems Fashola’s explanations on the 2017 budget as it relates to the South-East weren’t satisfactory to you?
He didn’t give any response to the issues we raised. Rather, he said people can have any opinion about him that he is not ready to change it. However, the second Niger Bridge has never been awarded. As we speak, it has not been awarded, whereas there is no other project of such importance in other parts of the country that hasn’t been awarded. This project was in the 2016 budget and there is high probability that it has again been inserted into the 2017 budget, yet it has never been awarded. He (minister) said second Niger Bridge was conceived as Public Private Partnership project and that he would recommend that it be awarded.
What can Igbo leaders, especially those in the National Assembly do to get the second Niger Bridge project awarded?
Well, we have taken it up with the minister, what he does with the fact that we have drawn his attention to the importance of awarding this contract is a different ball game. But the fact remains that we are Nigerians, we are members of the National Assembly and we should be accorded respect. But the minister was unapologetic, when we spoke to him about these issues; he was saying people have the right to hold whatever views they had of him, that he is not willing to change people’s perception of him.
He has failed to recognise that there is difference between Fashola, the individual to Fashola the minister and public official. As a government official you have to listen to people, to do otherwise is quite unrealistic, it is the height of impunity. He is playing god by saying he is doing what the president told him to do. Is he now saying the president told him to marginalise the South-East?
The Anambra People’s Democratic Party (PDP) met back home recently, presenting a united front. For you, what does the future of Anambra PDP look like?
I am not interested in running for governorship. I have never had interest and as I speak with you, I have no plans of running, though I cannot say for tomorrow. We (PDP) are preparing just like other parties are. Undoubtedly, things are a little different now because we are no longer in power at the center. But also remember that when PDP was in power, other parties won at the state levels, other parties won in the South-South, South -West and the north because these states weren’t PDP. Anambra State is not APC in any ramification, in fact, almost all parts of the South -East are PDP. So I see the PDP winning the governorship election in Anambra State.
You sound confident even with media reports of Governor Willie Obiano enjoying huge popularity due to his investment in infrastructure…
You have returned to relying on media reports. First you said a senator decamped to APC according to the media and now, you have assessed the governor based on media reports. Have you been to Anambra state, to conduct a poll on those in support of the governor and those who aren’t? In any case, I am not saying whether the governor has done well or he has not, but no matter how well anyone performs, there is always room for improvement.
You noted that the South-East remains the stronghold of PDP? But does the region have much to show for remaining in the opposition?
Well, it is easy to castigate a party that lost an election. But I can say Jonathan did well for the South-East in terms of development and appointments. Jonathan was not parochial. He was interested in developing the entire country like his constituency. When you have things to disburse for the development of the country, you share it evenly. And under Jonathan, there was freedom of speech and freedom of association. These things are lacking now. On the South -East remaining in opposition or not, I say, you can only go to the mainstream when you are wanted, appreciated and regarded. In any case, it wouldn’t necessarily be right to say the South-East preferred being in the mainstream simply because we stayed in the PDP all the time it was in power.
The Super Falcons resorted to protesting on the streets of Abuja to get their allowances paid after winning the cup in Cameroun. As the deputy chairman of the House Committee on Sports, how do you think we can avert this kind of scandal going in the future?
Yes, you could describe it as a scandal, but there are many scandals in the country. When the minister was called, he explained that provisions weren’t made to pay the players. There are many ways the president could have salvaged the situation, there are ways the president could have raised funds to pay the girls. It would have been a different ball game, if it came to the fore that the president released money for the girls and it didn’t get to them. Did you hear anything like money for the girls’ allowances was released but it couldn’t be accounted for? The minister even said that the NFF didn’t envisage that the girls would win and therefore didn’t have a plan on how they would be paid. People misconstrued what he said. Yet, here was a man telling the truth about what happened before the girls left for the tournament.