From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
There appears to be no solution yet in sight in the current crisis in the Niger Delta, how depressed are you over the situation?
To suggest that there is no solution is against my faith; there is nothing God cannot do. I know there is a solution and we are working towards it. I am bold to let you know that some elite in the country want to take advantage of this to get recognition; that is why the issue of militancy has continued. The approaches we are adopting to end the crisis are strategic.
To begin to tell you what we are doing will not be okay. When you give out information, it means you must be able to manage it. We are getting down to the roots.
Is your allusion that the elite want the crisis to continue based on investigation; and are the elite you fingered from the Niger Delta?
The crisis is traceable to the elite from the region and other sections of the country. They are doing that for various reasons which are not connected to the Niger Delta improvement.
Why do you think that some leaders from the zone are against federal government dialoguing with the militants?
I am not aware of any leader that said we shouldn’t dialogue. The Minister of Transportation said, ‘If you will have to negotiate issues of the region, then call the leaders of the region, not those who pose to be representing the region whereas they are only representing criminality.’ That means he believes that the solution can come once and for all without facing it on the basis of social strategy. That the governor of Edo State suggested that government should drop charges of those who committed crime against the country as object of negotiation isn’t correct; this is promoting crime that was what I heard them say.
The only pressure I feel is the pressure of the normal work of an office that is encumbered with crisis. Since the ministry was formed, there was no much measure of militants; maybe true or not true. Not everyone is willing to see and appreciate the change in the governance, in strategy, approach, vision, in the total fabric of Nigerian moral content. The difficulty of adapting forms the agitations. The Niger Delta region in appreciating the change is sentimental than rational. Many are more sentimental about the administration, they have forgotten that every administration since 1999 has come in by the ballot rightly or wrongly perceived, rightly or wrongly introduced, legitimately or otherwise. But when there is a government in place, we have learnt to accept that all along. Why is it that at this time, we will not learn to accept that? Some people think that if it doesn’t happen the way they want it to be, then it is wrong. Before the election, it was said that if the Niger Delta indigenous president did not win the election then the country would not be in peace. So, various theories that can be accommodated in the speculations subject to prove and otherwise.
The tangent of reality is between the pronouncement and the eventualities, otherwise there is nothing else you can say. Are they really carrying out the threats? If they were to carry it out, how will it have gone other than what is going on and I think there is no reason for that.
But don’t you think that it was this way that the Boko Haram insurgency began?
Between 2003 and 2004, there was no Boko Haram, the US issued a warning of Nigeria as a terrorist state and instead of us digging into their investigation, we decided to ask for apologises and abused their Parliament. If the foresight was there or crafted on the account of intelligence; the issue of them using Boko Haram to destabilize Jonathan’s government wouldn’t arise. The first time the bombings occurred in 2010, the President said the bomb wasn’t made but later when the evidence proved otherwise, a Nigerian was convicted in South Africa, did it make any meaning? Can you draw chronologies between the eventualities? It was safe for the president to conclude without waiting for due intelligence. It suggested a mindset of ethnicity and the government does not run that way. If we say again that Boko Haram was used to destabilize his government, I ask a question, who has the capacity to degrade Boko Haram? Is it you and or the government?
This now drives us to the current vogue of hearing the confessions of how money which was supposed to be used to fight insurgency was shared, who presided over it? During the campaign, there was a claim that the present president sponsored Boko Haram, he was almost killed in a bomb blast, it was the same man that said the fight against insurgency must leave the headquarters to the location where it is happening and within one year, have we not seen the effort? Maybe he is pretending but if that pretence leads to safety and peace, let it continue.
I am not just uncomfortable by the things happening in my state but by the things happening in Nigeria. We may not have a nation soon. Where is there peace in Nigeria? Other countries that have problems were not like this, ours is worse in terms of foundation. The case in Cross River State where politicians want to seek recognition, we have ideas of the funding and those funding them.
The threats are not overwhelming the government; government has a spirit, any man in authority is a minister of God, biblically, politically; the strength of government by its foundation is such that it can’t be overpowered no matter how small it is. This government doesn’t want to be at war with the citizens. Idle minds would want to endanger the citizens the county is trying to protect. When the government wants to defend the state, those ideal people would start talking about human rights. Do rights only pertain to a category of people? Rights have duties and responsibilities, you can’t have a right when you don’t have a duty to perform and you can’t have a duty when you don’t have a responsibility. Government has the rights to protect the people, and a duty to sustain the rights and the responsibility that goes with it to provide the social security. Government cannot be weighed to provide without them carrying out the security. The difference between the criminals is that one section is educated and they call themselves elite.
The fact that government isn’t confronting the people means they are thinking outside the box. The killing of the woman was condemned by the government. It is a collective responsibility. If you say the killings are not your business, it will get to the point where it’s at your doorstep and you will be ignored.
The popular thinking is that the president has not been fair; that he is favouring one section of the country?
In Nigeria, gaps are widened with the vocal posture of advocacy on any matter, because some people have learned to cry out loud, the gap seems to be widening. Look back at the appointments from 1999 till now and let us know the time it has been rating in favour of one region to another until we carry out that analysis, then we will understand. Some of the appointments we are crying for, we don’t have a reason to cry because appointments that border on the administration of the presidency and his personal security are not the issues any one should talk about at all, we don’t have to play democracy. People want to attack anyone that says no to corruption.
When Obasanjo set up EFCC under Malam Nuhu Ribadu, those same people made the allegations that they were using him to fight those he didn’t like. In the present administration, have you not heard that the close associates of the president are being arrested, those who will speak and it will be like the President has spoken; that’s what I mean by close associates. The government wants to show a transparent face.
The transition committee of this administration recommended the removal of subsidy, but the President said it would bring a lot of hardship on the poor people; then it got to a stage where the foreign reserve was so depleted that there was nothing there to import, and they agreed to deregulate totally. Non-payment of salaries existed before this administration came and the president came and gave bail out for salaries to be paid. There is a social justice to ensure that the administration takes care of the citizens. If you are using the money gotten to solve problems from the past, then you need money to solve that of the present. Then economic infrastructure which is destroyed by the people; you cannot ask a day old child to chew bones when he or she has no teeth, how do we attend to the economy without resources? Some ministers are living in boys’ quarters or are even squatting in two bedroom flats. The truth about this administration is that they are determined to solve the problems of the country; they were pretending that the country was doing well. Economic growth doesn’t amount to development, economic development doesn’t even amount to human development, it is policy framework that distributes the resources, and once the policy framework are faulty, nothing can be done. The money recovered from the former NSA alone; presume that it was ploughed into the economy what will happen by now. It is not the lack of consent but the lack of resources that limits the government.
There is no hopelessness. A hopeless situation would not be better than the attempts of the government. This nation has been affected with something more dangerous than cancer. There is no alternative than to keep doing what we are doing to recover the economy.
What are you doing at the level of the Niger Delta Ministry in this whole process?
The first thing in respect of achievement is to juxtapose the mandate of the ministry with our activities. As a ministry, we are working strictly by the terms of our mandate. We have set up several things that you will want to see in the near future. The great challenge we have is that the economic capital is a critical infrastructure. Our bidding processes are on and trying to send people to the site to work on what you see. It is the intangibles that shape the tangibles. We have put in place frameworks that could ensure that work is done appropriately. The achievement is that we now have a focus.
Nigeria’s economy will bounce back under Buhari
–Uche Nwosu, Chief of Staff, Govt. House, Imo State
By Dan Onwukwe
Uche Nwosu is a member of the Imo State Executive Council and Chief of Staff, Government House Owerri. He spoke with Dan Onwukwe, member of The Sun Editorial Board, on various state and national issues.
Only recently, President Muhammadu Buhari took 10 days vacation to the United Kingdom, to attend to some health problems. Even though he has since come back, apparently looking hale and hearty, the medical treatment abroad attracted a lot of reaction. What’s your take on that?
We must thank God for Mr. President’s successful medical check-up in the UK. I was however taken aback by some of the uncomplimentary remarks by some people over his trip abroad. There’s something we Nigerians are not doing right. We ought always to pray for our President and all other leaders in authority. That’s how it is in other climes. Nobody is above any health challenge, no matter how small or minor the ailment might be. All the same, one is elated to see the President back, hale and hearty. We need to imbibe this spirit of wishing those facing any health issue quick recovery.
I am convinced beyond doubt that Mr. President is fit and sound to lead Nigeria. It is nothing strange for anybody, including a president to go abroad to attend to his health. In that regard, it’s important that a qualified medical doctor who knows his health record attend to him. That, to me, was the essence of his UK trip. That should not be misconstrued that Nigeria lacks good medical centres to attend to health challenges of our leaders.
I am aware that the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration has an excellent healthcare programme for the country. But, going abroad to seek medical treatment sometimes is a matter of exigency and personal choice. Nothing wrong with that.
Many people have also expressed deep concern about the economy under the APC government. Critics accuse the President of having no desirable economic plan to turn things around. Do you think such worry is not genuine?
I don’t believe that such criticism is well founded. On the contrary, the Buhari-led administration has a realistic plan that will soon bolster the economy. He needs time and patience from all Nigerians. In rushing into conclusion on the economy, Nigerians need to bear few things in mind: what we are seeing today is the outcome of long years of a mismanaged, badly run economy under the previous PDP-led government. Sadly, Buhari inherited an economy in distress.
But, the President is not running away from the challenge. You don’t give birth to a child and expect him to start walking over night. It takes some time. Very soon, Nigerians will begin to see the results of government’s strategic economic plan. One thing is certain, Mr. President is well equipped to steer the economy to sustainable and inclusive growth that will make all Nigerians believe that the ‘change’ mantra is not a fluke. It is better to go through a little hardship and have a prosperous future. Most countries went through what Nigeria and Nigerians are going through now. The President is capable of transforming the economy. I can bet on that.
But the opposition against the President’s style of governance is becoming strident by the day. Some accuse him of being an autocrat, a dictator of some sort, and a danger to our fledgling democracy. Do you disagree with the opposition’s view?
One must admit that a strong and virile opposition is necessary and essential for any democracy. But such opposition must criticize constructively when the need becomes inevitable. However, I don’t agree with those who have been unleashing attacks on the President. Certainly, Nigeria is no longer ‘business as usual’. I side with the President on how he is handling the affairs of the country, and only the ‘guilty are afraid’. You can imagine the shocking revelations that have been uncovered on those who have looted Nigeria’s funds. Any country that thrives on graft is doomed. And that is what the APC administration is trying hard that this country does not slide into anarchy through unbridled corruption. Those pillorying the President’s style have things to hide. They have to come clean. I am sure the vast majority of Nigerians are happy with the President. Opinion polls before and after President’s one year in office attest to the fact that the country under his leadership is in good hands.
Let’s come down to Imo State. The opposition parties in your state have heavily criticized Gov. Owelle Rochas Okorocha on his style of running the affairs of the state, and have given reasons for their disapproval of his style. What’s your response?
We are not unaware of these criticisms. But, believe me, these castigations are blind. They are completely misplaced. They fly in the face of reality. And the reality is that ordinary people in Imo State are happy with the government of Okorocha. Take a trip to any part of Imo State, the people that matter, the ordinary Imolites will tell you that Governor Okorocha has done wonderfully well. He has changed the entire landscape of the state. He has unarguably brought good governance to the grassroots.
Take for instance, the free education of the state government. Today, poverty level in the state has dropped to 15 percent, down from 56 percent record in 2011. This is according to a recent World Bank Report. The question to ask is: why did this happen? It’s because of the state government’s free education policy. The result is that today, poor parents, those without any visible means of income can now send their children and wards to school, from primary, secondary up to university level.
Security is also one other areas even the die-hard critics of the government acknowledge that the governor has made remarkable impact on the lives of Imo citizens. Recall that before now, Imo was noted for kidnapping. But the story has changed. This has had a multiplier effect in terms of investment inflow into the state, and job opportunities for many of our people. It’s not in doubt that today, Imo State can compete favourably with states like Port Harcourt, Kano, Lagos and even Abuja, in terms of transformation. You cannot say the same in the past 11 years that PDP ruled the state.
Very recently, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) listed Imo State as one of the 15 states in the country that risk bankruptcy because of its low Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Should Imo people be afraid?
There is definitely no reason for Imo people to panic. The fundamentals of Imo economy are strong. Our IGR has improved tremendously in recent times. We currently generate over N500m monthly and measures have been put in place to double that in the coming months. This is as a result of the recent reorganization by the governor in the State Board of Internal Revenue. All the former staff of the board have been redeployed and new ones brought in. The governor found that the place was a cesspool of corruption.
Before now, government did not see the bulk of the revenue realised from taxes and vehicle licenses as they are reportedly diverted to private pockets. But, with the reorganization last month, the state has seen much revenue coming into the state treasury. A new chairman of the Board of Internal Revenue has been appointed by His Excellency and competent staff have also been appointed into key units of the agency. Positive results are already being reported. We appeal to Imo people not to entertain any fear or report of imagined bankruptcy. Within the available resources, the state government has prudently managed its funds and blocked all leakages of corrupt practices.
The state is cutting its coat according to the resources available, just as new measures to diversify the state economy and improve its revenue base have been put in place. One of the ways we have done this is through Direct Labour. We negotiate with contractors and tell them that they should not cut corners, because we know what they know.
Pensioners in the state are complaining about non-payment of their arrears. What is the true position of things regarding pensions?
The true position is that: first, the state government is not denying it is not owing pensioners. Here are the irrefutable facts when Owelle Okorocha’s administration came to power in 2011; it cleared 11 years of pension arrears. By 2011, both the state and Local Government Pension was not more than N600m. But today, it is N1.3bn. The question is: how did it increase by over 100 percent? The answer is simple: There was high-level fraud in the state Pension Board. We found, for instance, that a grade 8 civil servant when he retires goes to the pension Board to change his grade level to 15. There are also “ghost pensioners”. All of that was what the government found and decided to audit all prospective pensioners. Organized Labour in the state knows this. But government has assured all pensioners that this July, their pension arrears will be cleared. We want to get things right. The pension fund is included in the government 70:30 ratio. This formula means that every allocation that the government receives, 70 percent is for payment of salaries and pensions, while the remaining 30 percent is for personnel cost and the daily running of government activities. It has not been easy, but the state has been prudent enough to make both ends meet.
What is the philosophy behind the recent introduction of public rendering of stewardship by top government officials such as Commissioners?
The governor doesn’t want everything to revolve around him. It is a step in the right direction by which all serving commissioners must give account of the stewardship of their respective ministries. It is an innovation in leadership. It reflects team work and governance as a human enterprise that must respond to the yearning of the people. Today, all commissioners are conscious of the burden placed on them that their appointment is a public service. As a group working for same goal, to deliver service for our people, this account of stewardship has elevated governance in Imo State, and has made the people the judge of those appointed to serve their interest.
It has redefined governance in the state. We are all happy for it.
As close as you are to the governor, can you tell us his succession plan, and how he would like to be remembered?
Honestly, I can’t read the governor’s mind. Three years in politics is still long to predict what could happen. But the much I know him, the governor has an open mind. And when the time for a successor comes, he will consult widely. At the right time, the governor and relevant stakeholders will decide. Time will take care of all this.
As for his legacy, I can beat my chest and say that Owelle Rochas Okorocha will be remembered for free education at all levels, massive infrastructural development that has made the state a one-city state where every part of the state is linked to the state capital.
Also, his legacy will stand tall in making the people, the ordinary people in particular, have a voice in the running of government activities. That is the essence of democracy and Owelle Okorocha has made Imo better than he met it.