By Fred Itua, Abuja
Senator Bassey Albert Akpan popularly called Oba by his political associates is one of the youngest lawmakers in the Red Chamber. He represents Akwa Ibom North-east in the Senate and chairs the committee on Gas.
Since he came on board, he has remained one of the popular voices in the Red chamber. In this interview, the lawmaker spoke on a number of issues including the recession and what led to it.
Since the inception of the 8th Senate, there has been serious in-house fighting. Nigerians are wondering if they have achieved so much or anything at all in the last one year. Are you worried?
Yes, of course. For me, I think it is not always good to talk out of ignorance because if I was out there, I think I would be thinking like an average Nigerian. But now that I am part of the Senate, I can actually attest to the fact that this is the first time in the history of our democracy where we have a National Assembly without a clear-cut majority. So our Senate and other representatives are platforms where issues and consensus are built and this is borne out of the need for national integration, the unity of the country and the progress and prosperity of our people. So, we are up to date in our responsibility because we are conscious of the fact that we represent the consciousness of the Nigerian people. We are the true representatives of the people and we live with our constituents often and we can feel their pulse and we are in the best of positions to say anything about the feelings of the masses of this great country. So, at the Senate, to the best of my knowledge and judgment, we have done very well so far.
You just spoke about your constituents. You just returned from a two-month break and while you were there, I am sure you interacted with your people to feel their pulse and relate that with what is happening in the country. So would you say they are happy about the situation in the country?
No. I have to align myself totally with the speech of the President of the Senate. His Excellency, Bukola Saraki upon our resumption from our long vacation. I align myself to every content and every word of that speech. I think the feelings of Nigerians in Yobe is the same feelings you have in Kwara. The same feelings you have in Nasarawa State, is the the same feelings you have in Akwa Ibom. The same feelings you have in Cross River are the same. For the first time in the history of our country, the rich and the masses are complaining all at the same time. So, something must have gone wrong fundamentally.
So, in what ways do you think the Senate could intervene? And you would recall that before the Senate went on break, PDP members said that they would be withdrawing their support for the President. They have not withdrawn that statement. So, how would your bi-partisan efforts help to salvage or help the executive?
Well, as a party, we met at the caucus on Monday night and considering the agonies and the hunger in the faces of Nigerians, we decided to shift grounds. Hunger will know no political party. Once you are hungry, you are hungry. Nigerians are hungry and of course as the saying goes “a hungry man, is a very angry man”. I have always stated it that we should not take the patience of the citizens of Nigeria for granted. We owe the masses a duty and responsibility to ensure that we alleviate their suffering within the shortest possible time. So, this is one burning desire that we all carry and I think the atmosphere and the spirit of members are that of consensus. Something must be done and must be done very drastically.
On the part of PDP, have they resolved the issues?
We have resolved at the caucus that we would be looking at things in a bipartisan way. Where the interest of Nigeria is, then there should be no compromise. So, we will be debating the economy at the Senate and I will be talking as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I want to see myself as a solution provider, as the one who has the answer to the Nigerian question, because it is my generation that is grossly affected, which is the youth of this country. They are the ones that are bearing the pain. There are no jobs. Unemployment is almost at 90 percent, and about 80 percent are underemployed. So, it is a very complex situation. I am not really concerned on how we got here. I am only interested in how we can take Nigeria out of the pit.
There is this proposed bill in the National Assembly as we speak seeking special powers…
Where is the bill? Is it in the National Assembly?
We gathered that it is here, but we have not confirmed yet. It is still in the sphere of rumour. Let us assume that it is ready here. Do you think the President needs any special powers?
The President has all the powers already. We have given him the budget and if the budget had been fully implemented, I do not think we would be where we are and we are here to partner with Mr. President. The only power of the National Assembly is the power of appropriation and the power of approval and we all have our own constitutional responsibilities as a body. The executive knows its powers; we as the Parliament, we also know our powers. The Judiciary, they also know their powers. I think the only power we have in line with the partisan one is to make laws that will lead to the good governance, the security and welfare of this good country.
You are well vast in economic matters and Nigerians will want to know from your own perspective as a Senator, what you think the country or the leadership is not getting right and what they need to do right so as to get us out of the mess we are in?
There have been so much inconsistency in terms of policy formulation and implementation in the last couple of months. The President came in and in seven months, there was no cabinet and there was no economic direction. So, this brought about fear in the minds and hearts of foreign investors. How can a government come in and seven months after, nobody knows the policy direction of the government. We do not even understand what kind of economy we are running. Are we running export economy? Or are we running an import position economy? So, these are some of the fundamental reasons. I believe that when the government came in, they had their own medium term framework and these are basic options. What has happened to those parameters? What happened to our projections?
To what extent have they varied?
I still believe we have not done enough in terms of economic analysis and deploying the economic principles. It is normal all over the world. Once you are faced with inflation and recession, you fight recession. Inflation will take care of itself, but what we have seen here is that even the Central Bank of Nigeria has been concentrating on fighting inflation and how to create a disincentive for the banks not to stimulate foreign exchange to the detriment of their core mandate. The economy has shown us a trend and an established trend that economy was going down. So all we needed to do was to see what we could do to arrest it at that point in time. But we come from a country where everybody believes that even when you see fire burning, you say ‘no I cannot leave this house. Let that fire stay’. All over the world, you find people take two – three years to find solutions based on the existing projections and forecast. Look at Japan. A Typhoon was passing Japan and they spent the last two years planning for that same Typhoon, but in Nigeria, we do not even have the capacity to handle emergencies and we do not also have the patience and the planning to plan for exigencies. These are the issues. So I think we should stop the blame game because Nigerians are the ones bearing the pains.
Some people have partly blamed the current situation on the implementation of TSA and that banks did not have enough money to inject into the economy. They have argued that it led to loss of jobs, manufacturing sector not functioning well and other things went wrong. Do you share in that thought?
I think I was the first person who threw light on the issue of TSA in the last three weeks even when I was on vacation when I heard that banks and insurance companies were retrenching and sacking their Staff. I believe that there cannot be a virile economy without a vibrant financial sector. It is not only the Central Bank of Nigeria that will make the system work. Central Bank is to proffer policies. The implementation of CBN policies are the financial institutions and there is no bank today that does not own an insurance company or a mortgage finance company. Most of them have become warehouses. So, if anything happens to the economy, it affects the whole financial system.