What I am assured is that government has the force of character to see through the implementation and get us moving in the right track.
The economy is import-driven because we do not manufacture a significant number of items we consume locally. To reverse that trend, we need to produce more of our consumption locally and the easiest thing to start with would of course be agricultural produce where fortunately Nigeria has competitive advantage. If government is able to continue on the drive to encourage large scale agriculture, then this should be the start of higher level of consumption of locally produced goods as opposed to imported items.
One of the things, and I think it is an accidental development, that happened when government did not allow free access to foreign exchange was that a lot of the big conglomerates went into agriculture which should yield benefits. I don’t think that was the intention of government but it had positive result none the less.
The unity of Nigeria appears to be threatened; agitations and hate speeches here and there, and nobody is sure of what happens tomorrow. What do you think is responsible for the agitations?
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I hold a rather different view on that issue. I believe a lot of the agitations are driven by underground politics, there are different groups trying to position themselves ahead of the elections in 2019. And I think that you will find when you dig a bit deeper into the source of the agitations that they are being pushed by such groups. Where it is not political, then it is financial and I would strongly suspect that one, two or more of these groups have been founded by people who wish to make a personal financial gain, it is a business.
So by creating a nuisance factor, they believe that they will be rewarded and unfortunately there is a precedent as some people who disrupted the economy (in the past) have benefited personally from such disruption.
I would like to see security agencies look into the source of these threats and uncover the issues that gave rise to them.
Everybody is making threats. What stops me too from going to my village and saying all Igbo must leave?
By the time I spend some money having 1,000 people camped outside my house for a month, press conference, I wear one yellow bandana or something to signify that I am different, government recognises me, security agents recognize me, and people are giving me money to continue the work, it is business. It needs to be exposed. Nigeria has more to gain being together than being separate.
Yes today oil comes from this region and not that region; tomorrow diamond may come from one region and not from another region. We should see ourselves as a brotherhood; that is the way Nigeria started and know that we need to work to support our brothers in different parts of the country when we had the resources and they don’t because the position can easily be reversed tomorrow.
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I believe the cost of governance is too high and I have had some little experience with local, state and federal governments, there is a significant amount of administration cost that could be reduced significantly if government was restructured. So that argument leans towards the administrations by regions. Having said that to dissolve states and move them to regions, the practicality is a little bit difficult.
The main arguments for restructuring is on the way resources are shared and the way the central government powers are reduced leaning again more towards the America model of independent states. There are some pluses for that but at this stage of our development my feeling is that we still need a stronger central government that can give overall policy direction.
I give you a small example; in all the states the local government elections are managed by state electoral commissions, when you have local government elections, the ruling party wins all seats automatically; and in some cases there were never any elections, so results were just written and published.
So giving control of the police, giving control of the electoral commissions etc to state government where essentially the governor controls the state House of Assembly as an absolute power will create little monarchies that are beyond control. I don’t think we are ready for this.
You are from the Niger Delta and the bulk of the infrastructures in the area are dilapidated. This is the area that produces the major chunk of the wealth of the country. What do you think is responsible? And is this the reason for the agitations in the area?
The reason for the agitations looking backward is the sharing of wealth. But with the whole dilapidated infrastructures available within the Niger Delta, you have to blame successive governments and, when I say governments, I want to include federal, states and local governments because very often, we, from the Niger Delta, complain that the federal government has deprived us of our resources.
But you do not hear the same Niger Deltans say that our state or local government did not develop our area with all the resources available to it. But the local government chairman is from the local government and he did nothing, the state governor is from the region and he did little.
So our primary complaint should be with those individuals and if they have performed then we can go up to the federal government to say ‘you have not given us a fair share’. So we need to have more responsible governments at the local and state levels in order to ensure better infrastructure development.
They called for restructuring for example, but restructuring is not something that Niger Delta on its own can call for and the federal government will agree to it. It takes the whole country to sit down and agree. I cannot list all the points for you but, if I recall correctly, I think five or six of the 16 points are not possible to achieve. Then again I hear that there are some credibility issues within PANDEF so the representations are getting weakened because the stakeholders have started to argue among themselves.
It is in the government interest to discuss and negotiate with one body rather than a multitude of different organisations. But at the same time, there must be an organisation that is credible and can carry everybody along in order to get to a situation of peace that can lead to development.
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The agenda must be practical; I am not trying to say that those that put it together did not do enough work but they have put in their best shopping list and the best shopping list may not allow a peaceful agreement to be reached within a short possible time. So maybe they should have phased out what they want over time and maybe have some low hanging fruits that can show that government is working towards development. The agenda within the time frame, I think it is 1st of November or something of such; it is going to be very hard to meet.
In what way should the federal government handle the Niger Delta situation?
I think the presidential amnesty programme was a credible programme. It brought out a large number of militants from the creeks; it reduced the level of agitation. Solving the problem is to provide better infrastructure in the region, to provide better education and health care for the people of that region and so on. And I think that the drive to succeed that the Niger Deltans have will take care of the rest.
The oil wells you talked about are those that have been allocated to individuals or private companies without a transparent process and, through the last 20-30years, most of the oil wells held by the private individuals or private companies as opposed to multinationals have been shared on that non-transparent basis. To reverse that government needs to set about a policy where future allocations will be done and skewed towards people from the Niger Delta.
I have argued since my first political days that any politician that says that he is in politics to help his people should also be open enough to say that ‘if I don’t become the president, the governor, the senator, the representative for my people, that does not mean that I still cannot help them’.
So if your mission is truly to help your people whether in your village, state or country, then as a skilled person you should find other ways to give back. You can do it through charitable contributions, through foundations, through accepting NGO positions, so many other ways aside from becoming the DG of NNPC or what have you; you can give back without government appointments, that is the way I look at it.