By Obidike Jerry
Sir Nnamdi Obi, Chairman/CEO, Embassy Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company Limited, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to look at the rising incidence of Boko Haram insurgency holistically. He said the combined effect of rising unemployment, hunger, and illiteracy is fueling the insurgency.
Nigeria is now in election season and campaigns for 2019 general election have started. President Muhammadu Buhari-led government is going to be assessed based on what he has done and what he has failed to do. Looking at his performance from the angle of economy, war against corruption, and security, what will be your verdict?
For me, this government seems to be overwhelmed by the insecurity situation in Nigeria. Yes insecurity was one of the issues during the 2014/2015 campaign. But at a point in this government, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, told us that Boko Haram had been decimated/technically defeated or degraded. This is a beautiful language but the reality on ground is left to the imagination of Nigerians. Nigerians have to decipher whether what the honourable minister said is the reality on ground. But I do know for a fact that the insecurity situation in our country has been exacerbated by a lot of factors. There’s this new threat caused by Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA), and it does seem to me that we Nigerians don’t seem to appreciate the enormity of security challenge that we have. One, our borders are so porous. If Donald Trump, President of United States of America says he wants to build walls across America’s border with Mexico and our own borders are still left unchecked, your guess is as good as mine. And regarding our military guys it seems to me that they have been taken out of their primary responsibility, major constitutional responsibility to do internal security which is secondary-our military has been stretched thin doing internal security operations. If we had equipped the police properly and deployed them to these areas we have our soldiers internally and equally equip the soldiers-men and women that lay down their lives for us to sleep with our two eyes closed then we must have to provide them the requisite materials to do their work effectively. Although I just read recently that our president has approved a new welfare package for our police. That move is very commendable.
Some stakeholders believe that the war against Boko Haram or the rising incidence of insecurity is a complex problem and concentrating on military offensive without doing something concrete to check rising unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy may not work. What do you think?
I do not understand this government at times. This government recently received about $320 Abacha loot and deployed it into social/special intervention scheme (Trader moni, etc) and turned back and borrowed the same amount from abroad at interest, simply gets me confused. I do not understand the sense of sharing that Abacha loot and going to borrow the same amount. Maybe those that thought it necessary to do that are super human beings than the rest of us. Personally, I do not understand the rationale behind it. For me, as long as the high illiteracy level in the North -East is not given any degree of attention by the northern governors, a kind of state of emergency, we shall be having a rising security challenge there. It did gladden my heart when the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, said that those that do come to him requesting to build mosque, he asked them that he doesn’t want more mosque again, he wants schools. We have now turned out to be the poverty capital of the world. I don’t know if it is something that we should clap for ourselves for with a population of 180-200 million and then India with a population of over 1billion we have overtaken them as the poverty capital of the world. It is something that has to be addressed so urgently. And this can only happen if we restructure. So the government will now have to make maximum utilisation of resources available to them. I tell you today, if we restructure, it is going to be a win-win situation for everybody.
What do you make of APC’s ‘Next Level’ document?
I have not actually read that ‘Next Level document’ so I cannot speak authoritatively on the document and also I have not read the policy document of Atiku-Getting Nigeria Working Again. But I am saying in a very broad term that it is better to have more private sector participation to drive the economy. Can you imagine/remember what happened during the time of NITEL? I can still remember very vividly when I went to then NITEL to make a call, they called my name and said go to booth 202 and I ran like a mad man to booth 202 to make my call. And somebody sent me a telex and I had a box in NITEL that time, the NITEL staff would pick the stuff and put inside my box and I would come some days later to pick my message. Compare it now that my message comes straight to my phone. There was no privacy then. The man could easily give it to my competitor. But now it comes direct except somebody hacks into my line or box. That is one of the gains of private sector initiative. Imagine when it was Nigerian Airways only, compared to so many local airlines now operating. Stiff competition brings out the best in you. Do you know that bitumen deposit in Ondo and Lagos alone can to very large extent take care of West African demand? But it is lying there untapped. It was some years’ back that we exported over $600 million of coal. Since then nothing has happened. We are no longer talking about coal export and coal is in demand. America has increased its coal export to China by about 200percent. We are sitting on so much wealth in all parts of Nigeria and doing nothing about it because of the ‘Father Christmas’ government we are running. What I want to stress here is, let everybody in the country know that it is not in the interest of present day Nigeria and generations yet unborn if we continue to practice this faulty federalism. It would do no person any good.
As someone from Anambra State, what is your position on the South- East governors’ grouse with former governor, Peter Obi’s choice as Atiku’s running mate?
Well for me, any right thinking Igboman should be happy with the choice of Peter Obi. Any right thinking Nigerian should be happy with the choice too. Why? Peter Obi ran Anambra State during his stewardship in way and manner that, that expression-His Excellency, was demystified and reduced the cost of governance considerably and used the savings to deliver verifiable dividends of democracy. I watched him recently on national television and he was instrumental to giving Innoson Motors which manufactures vehicles the opportunity for government patronage-cars produced by the company were used by government offices. He placed an order of N3 or N5billion worth of vehicles and paid up front. He did the same thing to Leo Stan Eke, an indigenous Computer company. He was able to do those things because he saved and reduced the cost of governance. If Peter Obi gets to be the vice president, the cost of governance will drop considerably and those savings channeled to more productive sectors for the common interests of everybody. This country is so endowed in all facets of life. It behooves on us Nigerians to do what we want with our country. The choice is ours as to what we intend to bequeath to generations yet unborn. If we want to hand them over a nation that is going to command respect among the comity of nations, we are going to be responsible. If we are going to bequeath to them a nation that will be a laughing stock amongst comity of nations, that’s our own business too. I respect Peter Obi for his managerial acumen and if we have up to 50 or 100 Peters manning respective governmental agencies, Nigerians will see remarkable differences.
Politics and economy, they say, work hand in hand. Some stakeholders believe that restructuring, that is devolution of powers, will solve at least 50percent of our economic and political problems. Is that correct?
I am in total agreement with that. I don’t want to mention the name of one governor in North- Central who was asked what is his state total Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)? He said he doesn’t know. I don’t blame him because he goes to Abuja every month to collect federal allocation for his state. So once we restructure this country these governors will put on their thinking caps and look inwards. Every state in this country has enough natural resources to provide for infrastructure and human capital development needed to boost its economy.
Let me have your final comments on this issue of port decongestion?
It is to our own common super national interest that these ports be decongested, that we open up all the ports. Lagos ports should be functional, Calabar port should be functional, Warri port should be functional, Onitsha port should be functional, Sapele port should be functional. If we open up all these ports the issue of congestion will cease. And as more vessels come into Nigeria through these ports, the more money Federal Government makes. Any person in Calabar, Port- Harcourt, Onitsha that wants to do export, which is what the present government is preaching, it becomes an easy thing to do and the government rakes in revenue from it. Do you know how much money Kenya makes from exporting flowers? Yes, roses! Where do you think the roses you see in Nigeria especially during valentine period come from? They come from Kenya. We are supposed to be a nation in a hurry because that our status of being the biggest black nation of the world is being lost slowly as days go by. If we continue to go by this trajectory we are into now in the next ten years we will not only lose relevance but be described as the backyard of the world. So it behooves on all of us, those in government and others, to do what is right.
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