A former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, says former President Goodluck Jonathan fell short of the expectations of his South-South people during his six-year tenure in Aso Rock.
Nwuche also, in this interview, speaks on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
What’s your take on President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war?
It is important that, for once, in our country, we begin to address the problem that corruption has posed for so many years and we need to see it as a dis enabler for development and growth. Corruption, as people have said, if we don’t address it, will kill Nigeria because, if you look at the quantum of resources earned by this country since 1960 till date from oil and look at the development that are on ground, you will find that there is a mismatch which means there is a black hole somewhere the money goes to.
It is important that we begin to fight it because we will become a laughing stock to the world over. People see Nigerians now as people who are corrupt and that impression must change because we have Nigerians who are honest, have integrity but haven’t been given a chance to serve in government but they too are been tarred with the same brush. So, it is important that we fight corruption also so that they can realise funds for development. Corruption that we have only goes to government people’s ego and it drives conspicuous and needless consumption.
It drives lavish life style. For instance, if you drive in our cities now, like Abuja for instance, you see luxury car everywhere but you don’t see factories. What should produce those cars should be factories. So, that itself is not a good culture. We must get back to work, production. A country where everything that we require is imported is not healthy for development. You can’t create jobs, we are simply exporting jobs to other countries to manufacture and give us the finished goods, even tooth pick.
So, we must look inward and the starting point is to fill the basket and, to fill the basket, you must, first of all, plug the holes, otherwise it is like pouring water into a basket. So, fighting corruption is trying to plug the holes so that we can see the result with our own efforts clearly. I believe the fight is good. It should be holistic. Having said that, we should also avoid the sectionalism that is often tied to corruption while so much noise is made and there is no diligent persecution. We must be able to see through that the court system also works so those who are found to be guilty will be given fair trial; in all, this, there must be adherence to the rule of law which presumes you to be innocent until proven guilty.
Let’s look at the appointments so far made by Mr. President. The recent ones into the SGF office, the Customs, Immigration and all of that generated unease from the South-East and South-South. Many said it was lopsided. What do you think?
It depends on the president’s target. If he wants to drive a particular agenda in national interest and he believes he needs people of a particular view to achieving it, then he may decide to use people that are well known to him in areas like capacity and integrity. But if you look at national character, those who have complained so far have talked about the Constitution.
The Constitution realises that we are a diverse country and that, ultimately, we should get to a point where it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you are qualified and can deliver, but I am not sure we are there yet. But I understand the point they are making about the need for ethnic balancing, but it is still early in the day and the president will make amends as we go on. But coming to the merit of appointment, don’t forget that people always assume that if their people are there they will benefit, but experience has shown that is not always the case.
For instance, look at the last government, people from the South-South who believed they will benefit from appointments or because their brother was in government didn’t benefit both in the private and public sectors and, even in terms of infrastructure in the South-South, there is no infrastructure. So, you can find out that people can be there in government and do nothing for you and you can even find out that you will find it more difficult to access them.
So, at times, we argue from the point of view that our people are there and they will help us’, but they often don’t. So, what is important is that those who are appointed should be nationalistic. They should be fair-minded. They should support the president to succeed because, to succeed, he has to impact on the whole nation. He is not the president of the North, he is the president of Nigeria. So all these people, once they have integrity, it doesn’t matter where they come from because experience has shown me that when people from my own area were in government, they did nothing for our people; after all, the UNEP report, our people were there for six years but they didn’t implement it and this is a report we would have used to clean up Ogoni land and other parts of the South-South.
Our people at times don’t understand that the essence of service is that you serve the people. They don’t serve you. That is why when they get into office, they become inaccessible, they become too big and engage in life of luxury and needless ego. So I believe that once the people that are appointed are nationalistic, once they have integrity and capacity, it is Ok. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
Can you say that APC has a strong presence in the South-East, South- West?
For the first time, a south-southerner had gotten to the position of authority or had been enabled by former President Obasanjo to get there because we didn’t really put him there. So the sentiment was there and most people who were there were naturally PDP, but I think, as the days go by, I see APC getting stronger because of the traditional alliance between the North and the South-East.
What do you think of the government after 100 days in office?
First of all, I don’t believe in 100 days. It is barely three months and 10 days. It is not enough for any government to make impact but, having said that, even in these 100 days, I think the APC government has achieved. The first thing we needed to do was to set the right examples. Buhari’s body language has shown that he is a man of integrity, a man who is fugal and a man who is fair. So, you will find that Nigerians are good followers. Many people are corrupt before.
Now, if they have the opportunity, it won’t have been because Nigerians generally follow their leaders. So, when a leader is shown to have integrity, it is demonstrable, not just by precepts; by acts and deeds. He was offered new vehicles as president, he turned them down because his cars are still good. He took a pay cut. So that in itself is an achievement. The power of example at times people under-estimate it, but that is what sets the tone for government. That is how power has improved because people that have been sabotaging are now more careful because there is now order and discipline. So I think that is enough achievement for even six months, not to talk of 90 days.
The past government, those who were in the helm never led by example. They allowed those under them to become lawless. When I hear the kind of figures that I hear now of what transpired, many of us, if we were in the picture, would have criticized it openly and they made business very difficult because they didn’t follow the rules anymore. It was based on people’s whims and caprices on whom they preferred, whom they liked. So, I believe that this achievement that we have mentioned and the fact that the president has every opportunity to impress upon Nigerians the seriousness of his campaign, the fight against corruption are enough examples and people will now take you seriously. A leader is a preacher. He must preach constantly so that people won’t forget what you stand for and will imbibe those attributes.
It is over 100 days of the present government and the Chibok girls are still at large. And it seems the “noise” is dying down unlike what obtained in the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Does it mean that APC campaigned with the Chibok girls to get power?
Let’s look at it objectively. When the girls were abducted, a lot of time elapsed before government reacted and, at some point, a story came that they had been found and I am surprised that the person who made that statement was never sanctioned and appeared to have retained his position even in the army. So we lost the momentum to track the girls from when they were kidnapped. If when they were taken, government had acted promptly, they could have apprehended the hoodlums and rescued them but people who have been gone for almost 100 days before government came in, they would have gone to any part of the world.
But if there are still here, I am sure they will be found, but to judge this government using the yardstick of the failure of the past government will not be fair. The agreement is that the government never responded properly. For instance, the army chiefs were based in Abuja and fought the war in Maiduguri. That wasn’t proper. This government has done the right thing by saying that the military should move their headquarters to Maiduguri. So, if these girls are available, there is a higher chance now than before that they will be found.
Are you shocked that a man who was former Head of State, Military Administrator, PTF Chairman and Minister of Petroleum and now president could have less than N30 million in his account?
That is commendable. It shows that the president is an honest man. And that is why I said to you that the president must be living by example for people to follow and, for once, he is making frugality fashionable. So, what Nigerians need are good leaders. Nigerians are good followers.
Let’s look at the oil and maritime sector. We have a new man as GMD of NNPC. With the reforms the man is coming up with, are you convinced that Nigeria would seen tangible changes in that sector in the coming months?
That sector perhaps is the most important sector in our country. For the past six years, it has been almost underground because the people who were at the top weren’t open to advice. So you find that many of the oil companies lost interest in Nigeria and taking their investments elsewhere. Oil is priceless but you must give investors incentives to come, otherwise oil is found almost everywhere in the world. So, that monopoly we had before is no longer there. Therefore if Nigeria puts obstacles on the path to business, people will go elsewhere. I give you an example.
A company which I was involved with facilitated, at a great expense, the engagement of China’s Prime Oil and Gas Company in 1998 when they came to Nigeria. Those who were at the helm of affairs placed obstacles in the way of their investment. They came to acquire block and invest. They left Nigeria and went to Sudan; today Sudan has a robust oil and gas sector with facilities and plants and pipeline networks. They came again in 2000, Obasanjo was very anxious and motivating.
He engaged them and approved that they come and invest in the country in pipeline, in power projects, in refineries and they were going to bring 10 million dollars into Nigeria but, after the president’s enthusiasm, the ministry dropped the ball again. So, they left here and went to Chad and Niger and today Niger;has a refinery and they export to Nigeria. So you find out that our biggest problem has been people in position of authority. Many of them don’t have vision and they are short termists.
They believe in doing the things that are easiest to make quick money, therefore they don’t think of the middle and long term. That is why I am happy at the calibre of persons that government is appointing now. For instance, the gentle man in the NNPC is someone, if given the right environment, will perform because he knows what time it is and understands that capital is looking for opportunities. You must be attractive to attract capital. If you keep putting obstacles on the path of capital by putting incompetent people in position of authority you will not develop. Even in the past government, they couldn’t fund the oil and gas companies joint venture; so there is no new investment in the sector.
The local content we were advertising, Nigerians in the sector have had no business to do in the past four years, that is why they are laying off staff. In the maritime sector, I believe that the same would happen. I hope that those in charge will be objective because it is important that you put nationalists, people who will look at people’s ideas and do what is right not minding where they come from.
For instance, look at the cargo charge funds for Nigerian ship owners which have been kept in accounts in banks yielding interest. They haven’t disposed them and you ask why? You want to develop international shipping, government has put funds in place which have been available for the past five to six years in billions of naira, but the people at the helms of affairs prefer to use that money to trade in the banks and take interest. That is a shame for the country. That happens when you put people that are not qualified, people who are driven by greed.
You were among those who participated in the 2014 National Conference which made far-reaching recommendations on how the country can move forward. Now, you are in APC and APC didn’t participate. What do you say about the report of that National Conference?
The report of the National Conference is in the area where we had consensus of different parts of the country and different organisations. I think they are worthy to be implemented because you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. At times, out of a fraudulent system can come some good things and I think the National Conference brought together our best minds and, at the great expense, we deliberated and arrived at conclusions on many issues affecting our country and our development and there are areas that are very clear where we believe that even this government can benefit from and should implement. I think government should look at it a second time.
Which of the areas?
Power, health policies, amending the Constitution and areas on making the component parts a little stronger than they are now and then centralising the centre and areas of election for instance are areas i think we can look at to make things much balanced.
As a Rivers State man, what do you say about the face-off between Governor Nyesom Wike and former Governor Chibuike Ameachi? I saw a similar thing happen between you as former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives and the then Governor Peter Odili.
Nobody is saying government shouldn’t probe people but it is important that the same government doesn’t first accuse the person of corruption and set the tribunal to confirm it. When you say someone is guilty before you start the trial process, the person has the right to believe that he won’t have justice. So, these are the mistakes that were made and we must draw the line between electioneering campaigns and governance. At times, when people are campaigning for office, they make lavish statements like ‘this man is a thief’. That is different from when you are governing.
You now have access to facts, therefore you must be more guarded in the utterances you make knowing that you have executive powers and you have a legislation in the judiciary as well and that you have powers now to begin to investigate things properly and get more facts. When you are in the campaign mode, oftentimes, you don’t have facts; so you only make allegations but, in governance mode, it is not right for you to accuse someone of already being corrupt and then seeking now to put in place a tribunal to try him.
The person will believe rightly that he won’t get justice and also, in Rivers State, what I find curious is the fact that, at each point, the progress of Rivers sons is often stunted by Rivers people. So, we must try our best to support each other, the idea of pulling people down; I have been a victim of this for many years. You see people believe that they must play god; that without them, you shouldn’t go anywhere, but we know that nobody is God and there is only one God. So our people must learn to live and let live.
If a man has worked for a government and the time has come for reward, why must you be the one to pull him down? Let him get his reward. He has contributed, he has worked for the government, so I think it is not right and people will say he is saying something different but we are now in the governance mode, the campaigns are over. We all know who did what for each party. If you have been given a position to govern, then govern. I don’t like to see Rivers sons being the Achilles heel of other Rivers people and this is a thing that we must begin to learn in the South South.
Let’s not pull ourselves down. Ameachi’s contributions to the APC are known to all and are indeed commendable; therefore I see it as only just that he is given a prominent place in government and government should be mindful of those people who are trying to pull him down because allegations are allegations ultimately until they go through a formal process. He worked hard for the government and a president must reward loyalty which was part of what killed PDP: Lack of loyalty. Those who worked for the party weren’t rewarded. That is why the party failed as it did. So, APC must learn from that and reward those who have worked hard for the party.
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