Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, explained the need to separate the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation from Minister of Justice
How would you look at the bench warrant issued against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen and his subsequent arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal?
It’s quite saddening and abhorrent to hear that the CCT issued a bench warrant for the arrest of CJN, Walter Nkanu Onnoghen. For God’s sake, this is bordering on vendetta, the ridiculous and trivialization of the judicial process. I condemn this unwholesome step which puts the CCT in the public domain as being on a vengeful and extra-legal mission against the CJN. It must be pointed out that this latest step by the CCT which has argued it is solely under the president and not under the judiciary appears to be teleguided by the dictatorial executive, especially the presidency. These are my reasons for this strong view.
The NJC has since taken over the investigation of the CJN as provided for in Sections 153,158, 291, 292(2) and Section 21, Parts A and B to the 3rd Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution. The EFCC has since written a petition against the same NJC, using the same evidence as that before the CCT. The CCT has itself adjourned the CJN’s matter for argument on whether it even has jurisdiction at all to hear the case against the CJN.
There are at least 4 courts orders directing the CCT to halt further proceedings. The CJN has not yet been physically arraigned before the CCT on the charges filed such as to give the CCT jurisdiction over the CJN.
Under the Provisions of the ACJA, a person such as Justice Walter, can even be tried in absentia. He, therefore, does not have to be humiliated by being bundled to the court for arraignment like a common criminal.
Is he then above the law?
It is not a question of one being above the law. By virtue of Section 8 of the ACJA, every suspect is to be accorded humane treatment with dignity and no suspect is to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. By virtue of Section 3(d) of the CCB/CCT Act, the CJN ought not have been charged at all before the CCT, given his admission of mistaken nonfull compliance with the declaration of his assets.
The section provides that he shall not be charged before the CCT once he admits non-compliance. The matter ends there, as he shall be made to comply by being given fresh forms to fill and make full disclosure.
The earlier order made by the CCT that the CJN shall step aside has since been appealed against to the Court of Appeal and the appeal ought to be allowed to run its full course. It is very clear to me that the CJN is being mob-lynched by the government and a section of the compromised or uninformed members of the public is being harassed, intimidated and deliberately painted with the paint brush of shame, all with a view to presenting a fait accompli as to why he must quit the seat of CJN. It is to put him in the moral dilemma of being unworthy to continue to occupy the exalted position of the CJN.
This is, therefore, a complete travesty of justice, subversion of constitutionalism, breach of his fundamental rights and the executive’s unwarranted incursions into the sacred realm of the judiciary contrary to the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers ably propounded by Baron de Montesque, the great French Philosopher in 1748. I hereby call upon the CCT to exercise extreme caution and be mindful of the irretrievable damage it is doing to our constitutional democracy.
It was some Justices in October 2016. It was the turn of the National Assembly especially the Senate, Saraki, Melaye, etc. Then, it became the turn of the media. Remember Daily Trust newspaper invasion? Now, it is Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Who next? No one can tell. But, we know those who will never be touched with harassment or investigation: members of this government, inner circle, the cabal, their friends, family members, acolytes, minions, friends, bootlickers, defectors, cheer leaders.
How would you describe the alleged role of the AGF on INEC and Zamfara state crisis?
The AGF misinterpreted the ruling on Zamfara APC crisis. This is a party matter. It has nothing to do with the entire country. It is therefore surprising that the Honourable AGF, who should be the Chief Law Officer representing the interest of the whole and entire country, particularly under Section 174 of the Constitution could take sides by acting strictly for one political party, the APC. This is not how it should be.
I was therefore taken aback when my client sent me a letter written by the Honourable AGF which also went viral based on a petition written by M. A. Magaji SAN to the effect that the ruling of the Court of Appeal in Sokoto was that the Yari group could go ahead and contest the election and that INEC should put their names on the ballot paper. With all respect, that is a lie from the pitof hell.
Therewasneveranyruling by the Court of Appeal permitting them to contest, rather what the Court of Appeal saidwasthattheirmotionaskingforpermissiontoallowthemtocontesthavebeen overtaken by event and was dismissed along with a withdrawn appeal. I saw a letter by the leadership of APC to INEC, making the same misrepresentation that the Court of Appeal, Sokoto, permitted them to contest.
Based on this misrepresentation and suppression of material facts, the Honourable AGF advised, wrote the INEC to shift the Zamfara election allegedly on the decision of the Court of Appeal which was wrongly interpreted.
They cited Sections 38 and 39. These aresectionsthatdealwithwhenaprimary isfixedand theprimary couldnot take place on the appointed date. These are primaries that took place in October last year. What the section is saying is that INEC can postpone election in that area when they have not been able to quickly come up with a candidate. But that is not the case here. APC is not saying that they never came up with a candidate.
They came up with candidates and that automatically remove them from the radar of Section 38 and 39. Section 38 envisaged a situation where no candidate has been presented. What the AGF wants to do is to obtain through the back door what they have not been able to get through the front door. In other words, they are trying to circumvent the litigation process going on in all the courts in Nigeria. And you cannot do that.
Judicial process cannot be side-tracked. There is nothing to postpone. INEC should not be blackmailed into agreeing to change constitutional position on this matter. It was self-internal implosion by the APC that should not be allowed to affect over 70 other political parties.
The APC just erected a symbol of broom at the City gate, how will you react to this?
That is the highest form of irresponsibility on the part of the ruling party. In other countries, we have towers. For instance, we have like Abu Khalifat towers in Dubai. You are coming to a country and the first thing you are seeing is broom, which is the symbol of one out of over 70 political parties. If PDP had done this when they were in power by putting up a giant umbrella, they will be the first person to scream. If other political parties that have symbol of cockerel have done same or palm tree, they will be screaming.
How do you now use the symbol of one political party to amount to a national symbol; it is degrading because a foreigner had called me to ask me that he heard that there is a giant broom erected at the entrance to my country’s capital. I said yes. He said what does it represent in Nigeria? I said it is not of any historic symbol but a symbol of a political party. He said “what, and you people allowed that?”
How do you describe this administration in terms of protection of human rights?
We are under locust days like 1984 where democracy receded and absolutism, terror, fascism and dictatorship emerged. That is what we are going through. Let me tell you, it is the job of the press to fight the monstrosity, subversion of the Constitution, the rule of law and collective and fundamental human right. Don’t always support evil because it has not yet come to you. Let us not always say, after all it is them.
When in October 2016 after the invading of some judges houses, some lawyers clapped, saying that the ACJA allows security agents to break into a house at any time. They did not look at Section 8 of ACJA that say you must treat a suspect with humanity and you must not commit degradation of their rights. I warned Nigerians then that they will come for you. After that, they went for the National Assembly, persecuted the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki because he was not agreeing with them. They locked up the National Assembly; put the Senate President and Deputy Senate President under house arrest.
Some people still clapped because it did not affect then. Then, we saw that they carried the battle to the media. They went to Daily Trust Newspaper and locked it up. I went to the television, I issued press releases.
The pressure was so much that they were forced to move out of the premises. Now they have come for the CJN, that they are mob lynching. In spite of the clear provision of the law, some people are still clapping.
By the time full blown dictatorship takes effect, no one will be exempted; nobody will be allowed to speak again because if you speak, they will come for you in your room. May we never get to that point in Jesus Name, amen.
What is your view on the separation of office of Minister of Justice and the AGF?
I have always been advocating the separation of the office of the AGF under Section 174 of the Constitution from that of Minister of Justice. I so proved this idea in 2014 National Conference that it was engrafted into the resolution. The Minister of Justice is necessarily a politician. You can appoint any person but when you talk of an Attorney-General of the Federation, he is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, and not of the ruling party. In fact, the AGF can take up cases on behalf of the people and sue the government because he is Independent of the government. There are in built mechanism on how he should be appointed. But when an AGF as a minister go and hold meeting with politicians and attend campaign rally, then you are no longer playing the role of an AGF.
What is your suggestion on how to go about the separation of the two offices?
The Constitution will need to be amended under Section 9 of the Constitution. It is a whole amendment of the Constitution. Section 174 deals with the functions of the AGF and the other one dealing with his appointment. A Bill cannot be used to amend a Constitution. If it were to be by way of ordinary Bill, it would have been better to do it. It has been pushed through. I think in the ongoing amendment, it will scale through that the office of the AGF should be separated from the office of the Minister of Justice.
Nigeria must do away with fuel subsidy –Comrade Akinlaja
Former chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) Hon. Joseph Akinlaja is a veteran labour leader who rose to the top echelon of the National Union of Petroleum and Nature Gas Workers (NUPENG ) and highly knowledgeable on issues in the oil and gas sector. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, the parliamentarian shares his thoughts on the resurging subsidy controversy and the fuel tanker armada on the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, Lagos
The controversy over the payment of subsidy on petroleum products has bounced back again following the alarm raised by the former Central Bank of Nigeria, governor Sanusi Lamido that the Federal Government spent N1.5 trillion on subsidy scheme which he described as fraudulent. What’s your view on subsidy regime in Nigeria and what do we do about it?
Well, I will like to confirm that subsidy exists in Nigeria. I’m saying this because there have been so many theories on it over the years. Some people say there is no subsidy while others say that our fuel should not sell more the N45 per litre. A lot of theories have been propounded both by people who know and people who don’t know but just assume.
Officially, subsidy existed in budgetary terms up to year 2016 but later the Federal Government said there would be no more subsidies. So the government was no longer bringing budget items specifically for subsidy to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
It went on to increase the pump price of petrol to N145 per litre on the premise that there would be no subsidy any more. But they forgot that we are not in control of two critical factors which determine the price of petroleum products, namely: the price of crude oil at the International market and the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar.
So by the time government increased the pump price to N145, it was saving money because the crude oil price vis- a- vis the foreign exchange did not add up to N145 per litre. They never believed that those factors would ever work together above N145 per litre. But one and a half years after the pump price was raised to N145 per litre, landing cost of the imported Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) rose beyond their expectation.
We’re talking about petrol because as you know, diesel is deregulated. As for Kerosine, we don’t know whether it is deregulated or not because there has been no clear-cut policy on it. It is market forces that have been controlling the price of Kerosine.
So we’re talking about PMS which is widely and heavily consumed by Nigerians. Your ‘I Better Pass My Neighbour’ generator and your small and medium scale industries use petrol engines much more than other engines to power their activities.
At the peak of it in late 2017 and early 2018, there was heavy fuel scarcity and my committee, as the Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) and my counterpart in the Senate went round to find out the reason for the fuel shortage.
We invited stakeholders including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to a public hearing. The NNPC and the Minister for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu told us that landing cost at that time was N171.20 per litre and the pump price was still N145 per litre then asked: ‘Who is bearing the cost of N26.20 per litre of petrol consumed in Nigeria? They said it was under-recovery but somebody was and is still picking that bill. Definitely, it is not the consumer. It is any of the agencies representing the government that is picking the bill till today.
So the Emir of Kano (Sanusi) being a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and an economist knows or should know the situation. That is why occasionally, he comes out with such things that some people consider controversial.
This subsidy controversy has lingered for so many years. What do you think is the best way to resolve it?
As someone who has been at the top echelon of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), I have dealt with this matter over the years. I was the Deputy General Secretary of NUPENG under Chief Frank Kokori and when he retired, I took over as General Secretary.
As Deputy President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under Adams Oshiomhole, we fought against the removal of subsidy. We were acting on behalf of Nigerians because we asked ourselves: ‘What benefit would Nigerians derive from this God-given resource if they should be made to pay exorbitant price for Petrol?’
We fought that the refineries should work and we formed the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) as part of the fight. Unfortunately the PPPRA failed to regulate anything because it is also overwhelmed by the inter-play of market forces.
However, with benefit of hindsight, I have now realised that in Nigeria, we do not have the discipline to operate any subsidy.
Why do you think so when subsidy operates in other countries?
The developed countries also subsidise products. America subsidises agriculture. When the farmers have produced, government through commodity boards buys it, processes and preserves it until when they would either export it or release it to the market for local consumption.
The essence of buying it off is to relieve the farmer burden of preserving these produce and enable him to have money to go back and farm the following year.
But in our own case, the tomato will get rotten in the farm because the farmer does not have the wherewithal to preserve the produce. He has to look for a buyer; he has to look for a transporter to convey his produce to the markets and he doesn’t have the money to do all these things before the good perish in the farm.
In this country, during the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, which dove-tailed into President Shehu Shagari’s regime, there was what we called essential commodities. It was basically a subsidy of basic food items such as salt, milk, tea, sardine and others. These commodities were sold at subsidized rates. What happened to it? Middlemen took over the distribution chain and by the time these commodities get to the real consumers, the ordinary people, it had passed through many hands and the price had gone beyond the reach of the poor. So those targeted by the essential commodity did not benefit from it and the scheme collapsed.
What exactly makes fuel subsidy a challenge in Nigeria?
The Oligarchy and the Cabal, these are some of the names coined to show what is happening in the place. Up till now, we have not been able to resolve the controversy surrounding how much subsidy Nigeria pays on fuel daily. The government has its own figure and marketers have their own figure. There has to be reconciliation every day.
Today, no oil marketing company can import petrol except the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Why? NNPC gets an allocation of 445,000 barrels of crude oil per day for local refineries that never work up to maximum installed capacity. Therefore whatever remains, NNPC has to swap it with refineries outside Nigeria to be able to import petrol. This is where the subsidy lies now. Otherwise, there would have been fuel scarcity all over the country.
Why are the major and independent marketers no longer importing fuel?
They cannot bring it at the landing cost above N145 per litre and still sell at N145 per litre. It does not make good business sense to continue investing money on a business you can only incur losses. With the benefit of hindsight, with the fact that we do not have the discipline to honestly operate a subsidy regime, subsidy should be removed. But, who will bell the cat?
Nigerians have been so much pauparized that even if a policy is working against their interest, they will resist its removal.
Was the Jonathan administration right when it attempted to remove subsidy on petrol in 2012?
Yes, we ought to have allowed him to remove subsidy at that time because the decision he took was right. I was one of the few legislators that said that we should remove subsidy at that time. If you go to the Hansards – records of parliamentary proceedings, you will see it there.
For many years, people have been importing petroleum products and making huge profits from the business.
It was these fuel importers that killed the local refineries. There is no incentive to make the existing local refineries work or to build new ones.
While we were stuck on fuel importation, Ghana bit the bullet, they deregulated and their Tema Lube is working. The Tema Lube, their refinery was built in 1965 by the Anglo Dutch multinational – Shell BP, same year the same company built our own refinery in Port Harcourt. The irony is that while the refinery in Ghana is still working, ours has gone comatose.
Their own refinery refines petrol and also produces lubricants and started functioning even before oil was discovered in Ghana.
What is the implication of Nigeria not encouraging local refining of crude oil?
We are exporting jobs offshore because our crude oil is being refined offshore. We are creating jobs for those countries where we go to refine our crude oil.
Why didn’t your colleagues in the parliament, the opposition, labour unions and the civil society heed your counsel in 2012?
It is because at that time, subsidy had become a political issue. It had become political so much so that the opinions of genuine people, like we were in the trade unions, did not matter any longer. Some beneficiaries of the ill-gotten money from subsidy payments were fuelling the fight against deregulation. Those who are still fighting against removal of subsidy are an admixture of genuine patriots who believe they are fighting for the poor masses and the pseudo -patriots who are beneficiaries of subsidy.
Many Nigerians including your colleagues in the Labour movement have always demanded that before subsidy can be removed, our local refineries must be fixed and working. How do you see this argument?
Yes. It’s a good argument but who will make the refineries work? It is the people that have the wherewithal but they are either the importers or agents of importers.
Are you satisfied with the way NNPC has turned itself into a monopoly in the business of fuel importation?
I won’t blame the NNPC because it is a responsibility that has been entrusted on it. They did not create it. If the NNPC had not taken up that responsibility on itself, fuel would sell at N250 or N300 per litre on the street. You know what happens during fuel scarcity, sometimes it sells as much as N400 per litre. They will carry fuel in jerry cans and stand along the road to sell both genuine and adulterated fuel. At that time, your driver will be sucking fuel with his mouth forgetting that this fuel contains lead which kills instalmentally.
It is a government policy that made them sole importers of fuel and they are the only one who can do it. Why? It is not their money; it is Nigeria’s money and they are playing this role to prevent fuel scarcity.
Why did the NNPC that has four refineries leave them to rot away instead of fixing them?
Up to 1987, our refineries were working at almost installed capacity. Why? Those who built the refineries and the government had a programme that they must train Nigerian engineers on how to maintain and service it. The agreement was for the refineries to undergo a Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), once in two years and Nigerian engineers were doing it. All they needed to do was to import the parts and fix it.
But then, another government policy came to be awarding it as a contract. They awarded the TAM contract for Kaduna Refinery to Total. We now had a French company coming with French technology to come and maintain a facility built by Chiyoda, a Japanese company.
They abandoned Chiyoda that built it. So government policy is one of the problems.
The second reason is what I’ve told you earlier. When people make commission from importation, it will be difficult to stop them. If you ask NNPC till tomorrow whether they are making money out of the fuel importation, they will deny and there is no way you can catch them. You can only catch them by the elbow and they will simply stretch their hands and walk away. If you make the refineries work, where would the importers make their money from? I am told that those who sell gun- powder will not allow war to end. If war ends, their business will be adversely affected.
So the matter of some people profiteering from fuel importation remains in the realm of speculations. The one that is real is that the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that is supposed to be done once in two years is not done some times for ten years and by the time they come to do it, a lot of parts had been damaged and it becomes story! Story!! Story!!!
We will ever get out of this quagmire?
We will, if we are willing to get out of it. I thought that with the personality and character of President Muhammadu Buhari that he would be able to do it in his first term of office, but then that did not happen. Perhaps it is because he is no more a military head of state and he is operating under a civilian atmosphere and he must work with people.
Some of these people ensured his victory, so when he is fighting, he will be fighting from all fronts. You know he can’t fight alone.
If the government is ready for us to leave this situation and everybody cooperates with the government, we will get out of it.
Has the National Assembly done enough to get Nigeria out of this problem?
Yes, I will say we tried during the period I was there. What’s the evidence? The evidence is that the 8th National Assembly initiated bills on the various reforms required in the petroleum industry. It is a private member bill, initiated from the National Assembly to try and cure a malady that has trailed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), an executive bill that has been in the parliament for more than a decade.
From my own observation, various conflicting interests still bugged the private member bills down. One of them, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which we concluded, passed and transmitted to the President was returned to us with some observations. We addressed the observations for the thing to be on its way back to Mr. President for assent and then we left.
It took us three and a half years to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which we had to split into four parts namely, Governance, Host Community, Fiscal and that’s why I said that if we are willing we can get it done.
We needed to capture the interests of the various stakeholders including the federal government, host communities and International Oil Companies (IOCs), because nobody will give you their technology unless you also take care of their interests.
This drilling of oil is not a thing you use a hoe and digger; it is technology and somebody owns it. So his interest is important before you become self sufficient to be able to take it over. You who want to take it over must make some concessions because technology transfer is theory. You either acquire it or you steal it. Countries that believed they can have done it and I think we too can do it, if we are willing.
Some Nigerians have argued that conflicting regional interests is a major factor why the PIB has remained a proposal for several years. Do you share this view?
No! The one that I can say may have affected the PIB is the host community interests and that is why we had a separate bill to address those community interests. If you are talking about the North vs. South, the issues of ownership of oil; that has been addressed by the concession for increased oil exploration in the North. What is affecting the bill is conflicting interests between the government and the host communities, who are demanding for more than what they have been getting before. The IOCs also believe that they have the technology and if they have the opportunity to cheat us, they will not hesitate to do so. There are all sorts of interests but unless the government which is the overall driver is focused and ready to step on toes and the toes they step on are ready to nurse the wound and allow things to move forward, we won’t go anywhere with the bill. This is why we are where we are today.
What is the implication of our inability to get this bill passed and signed into law?
Let me tell you the danger in it. I am sorry for myself as a parliamentarian and Nigeria as a whole because while we were in this motion without movement, the consultants that were working along with us have taken the issue beyond our shores. What they prepared for us has found its way into the hands of other countries such as Ghana and Angola. They just looked at it, dusted it, adopted it and signed the bill into law while we are still arguing here. Don’t forget that capital is a coward, it goes to places of least resistance. The investors have moved to Ghana, Angola and other places.
At the peak of the oil industry while I was there, we had thirty two drilling rigs operating onshore, swamp, offshore and deep waters. Today, we have only seventeen rigs. So why we were still hesitating, others are moving.
Don’t also forget that many years before now; we did not have more than four oil producing countries in Africa. Today, they are more than eighteen and the IOCs have choices.
You could see how they are divesting from Nigeria. ExxonMobil recently said it was going to divest; Shell has already divested; Total Upstream has divested part of its investments in Nigeria. These are the consequences of not having a clear policy direction and legal framework.
The gridlock in Apapa, is a fallout of the policy on fuel importation and the presence of the fuel depots in the vicinity of the Lagos ports. What is the solution to the gridlock?
Well, our problem is an integrated problem and it is still a policy somersault problem. At the beginning of downstream sector of the oil industry in Nigeria, there were only seven systems. The Esso, Total, Shell and others. They were seven and they all had their depots at Apapa. They had parking spaces for their vehicles.
When the industry developed, there were increased activities and the government started building a network of pipelines to convey fuel to different parts of the country. When the pipelines came on stream, oil activities shifted away from Lagos to the twenty two PPMC Depots across the country.
Trucks could now load fuel from Calabar, Benin, Enugu, Jos, Makurdi and all the other strategic depots and Apapa became empty.
Immediately, pipeline vandalisation started and the integrity of the pipelines became compromised. At the same time, the refineries had stopped working at maximum capacity and importation started in full swing.
The policy of Nigeria being in the commanding heights of the downstream sector led to the building of more strategic depots.
During the building of strategic depots, starting with WAWABECO , Tincan Island and later ASCON and Zenon.
As NUPENG, we put up a battle with the Lagos State Government during which we advised them not to allow any one build depots with parking space for tankers. There was nothing that I did not do because I was directly in charge of tanker drivers. I even made an analogy that it is only in Nigeria that I see people building supermarkets without parking space, hence while you are shopping inside the supermarket, LASTMA is toying away your vehicle parked on the road.
In civilized climes, parking space is often bigger than the supermarket itself and that’s why they make the supermarkets skyscrapers.
We picketed several depots and took over the Ibru Depot by force for tankers to go and pack there. They sold every inch of the land; the Ministry of Physical Planning approved and every inch of the place was depot. So where will the tankers pack?
Now the integrity of the pipeline did not allow fuel to go through the pipelines, therefore almost all tankers must come to Lagos. Where do they have the facility to import? It is only Atlas Cove because it has the capacity to receive vessels conveying 30,000 tons of fuel. The other depots are in shallow waters. So from Atlas Cove, they pump fuel to Ejigbo and to the private depots. Everybody will leave Kano, Kaduna, Gombe , Maidiguri and other places to come to Lagos to lift fuel.
When this was happening, Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa was the Minister of Works and Housing and he ordered that all vehicles packing under the bridge to leave . We told the tanker drivers, run for your dear lives. It was during the military regime. We told them to go to Ogere and stay there until it is your turn to load fuel.
Then there was fuel scarcity and Adisa called me to find out what was responsible. So I told him how his order to tankers caused the scarcity. He then asked for a way out.
I told him there can be only two solutions: Relocate the depots to Ikorodu, Ekpe or Ijebu -Ode and the tankers will go there.
He said we cannot remove those depots. I said then, what do we do? I gave him the second solution which is looking for a large expanse of land to build a park for these tankers because if you don’t want them to pack under the bridges then you must provide an alternative place.
We now got an expanse of land in Orile but the place is in a swamp. It is only the government that can get a construction firm like Julius Berger to sand fill the place and construct a park as a social service. That place can contain 2,500 tankers and if you move 2,500 tankers out of Apapa leaving only those that are ready to load, you would have solved the problem.
Okwuosa: How we’ll raise $2.8bn for Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline
Chief Executive Officer, Oilserv Limited and pioneer member, Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN), Engr. Emeka Okwuosa, speaks on life-threatening challenges confronting indigenous oil firms in Nigeria, including impediments to critical investments in energy sphere in this interview with Adeola Yusuf. Excerpts
Have the Nigerian companies adopted the use of technology/robotics for oil, gas operations?
We are already incorporating technology in our operations. Many years ago, you could not find any Nigerian company doing horizontal directional drilling. You would have had to go abroad for people to come and do it. We have deployed that. We have been able to cross rivers with 48-inch pipeline, which would mean drilling and opening the line to 64-inch, which is a major challenge because it collapses a lot. We are encouraging technology a lot.
For robotics, anything is possible but what we should be asking ourselves is how do we put that side by side with the Nigerian initiative and benefits. If you take robotics totally the way you have seen it by displaying human capital, what happens to our economy? I won’t say it is not in our own interest to deploy that, and I won’t say you can stop that. You can’t stop a moving train, you would have to realise that over time, that may become the norm but what do you do? You start to train people to develop such, you start to train people because somebody has to manage that. You will create a different skill to be able to drive that but you cannot completely take out the human interface.
What are the significances of the AKK project?
AKK is Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline, which is a 614km-long natural gas pipeline project. AKK is a very unique project, not just what it would achieve, which is to be able to move gas to the northern part of Nigeria and create availability of energy to drive industries and create job opportunities.
North does not have energy, but if unemployment continues and security problem continues, everybody will suffer without gas in that axis.
Secondly, AKK is significant because it is the first time a project of that magnitude is being done as EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and Finance. It is not like the previous projects where NNPC and other International Oil Company (IOCs) award you a project and pay for it and you go ahead and execute and collect your money. We are providing the money and to provide such amount of money, the total value of that project, including two lots, is about $2.8 billion. This is not the kind of money you raise in Nigeria, you have to go and raise that capital offshore. And for you to raise it, you need security. That security instrument is a process and part of it requires the Federal Government to guarantee it.
For instance, if you are backing up the financing with the tariff you will charge from that pipeline, don’t forget that most of that tariff, for example, will be in naira. A financier who is overseas doesn’t know what you are talking about in naira. So you have to provide an instrument of convertibility that has to come from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) guarantying that every collection in naira will be immediately converted to dollars. That’s a typical instrument and these things take time to get through government agencies.
So, we are going through that process and we are almost there. We have almost finalized the security and we have also started with the preliminary works. As we speak, the AKK project has started, that is the point I’m making.
What are the impacts of insecurity on AKK project?
We are Nigerians, if there is kidnapping, we will deal with it. You are not going to stop developing Nigeria because there is kidnapping. In construction, we are tested and we are knowledgeable. We worked 100 per cent between 2002 to 2007 when kidnapping was the norm in the Niger Delta. Oilserv remained there. We worked in the swamps, maintained all the pipelines, so there are ways to do that. We are Nigerians, we work in Nigeria and we must create capacity in Nigeria. That is not going to be an impediment at all. It is a concern, but we have procedures to deal with that.
How are the indigenous companies faring in deep-water operations?
We are already operating in that terrain in reality. When you say deep-water operation, you look at it from two different points of views. Are you looking at Exploration and Production (E&P), which is ownership or are you looking at services. I will talk from a service point of view. Nigerian companies participated in the service aspect for Bonga, Akpo, Usan. All these deep-water projects had Nigerians service providers’ input.
There are two key issues with participation in deep-water arena. It is about technology and capital. Both will take time normally to scale up. Nigerians are participating but we are only scathing the surface for now. There is still more opportunity for participation.
Now, how do we increase that? We need to assemble capacity and integrate that capacity by working together in order to have synergy and be able to deal with bigger scope projects. But we are in the integration of FPSO (Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading, which is the configuration of topside modules.
Nigerians are in drilling, pipelines and flow-risers. We are doing a lot but it is very competitive and capital intensive and we have to slowly build it up as soon as we can because we have proven capacity but we need to do more because there is so much out there.
It is instructive to add that we have been adding value but not at the level we desire. So the way we can achieve this is by collaborating and synergizing between structured entities such as PETAN. By collaborating, PETAN members will be able to handle bigger projects and compete favorably with international service providers.
The lack of collaboration among service providers is a Nigerian factor. Everyone wants to do things in his own way and it is not the best way to go.
What is the update on Obiafu-Obrikom -Oben (OB3) project?
Let’s put Obiafu-Obrikom -Oben (OB3) in proper perspective. No pipeline has been built in Nigeria of that size or capacity. You may recollect that in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, we had the likes of Wilbros and others but no Nigerian player was present in the pipeline industry. Look at all our pipeline infrastructure today, nowhere has 48-inch pipeline been built. It is not about the gas pipeline alone, we have the Gas Treatment Plant (GTP) at Oben, which is part of our scope. This is a GTP that is handling two billion standard cubic feet of gas per day (2bscf/d). This has never existed anywhere in Africa. When we talk about OB3, it is not just about building a pipeline.
Don’t forget that, there are two lots for our own section. We are building LOT B that will take the gas from mid-point all the way to Oben plant plus the Oben plant itself. Now, our pipeline was finished three years ago, but the treatment plant took a longer time because the location was changed from Oben North to the GTP location and it took us two years to go through the re-engineering process including getting the necessary approval.
But the story is clear, the pipeline and the GTP are going through pre-commissioning now for our own section. By September, our own lot would have been completed. That much I can only speak for Oilserv.
Would LOT B operate in isolation?
To some extent, no. But it depends on how the owner of the pipeline wants to use it. One thing you have to understand about the technicality is that we have a pipeline going to GTP Oben but we have another 36-inch line we built from Oben GTP to ELPS, which is Oben North that is a by-directional pipeline. This means you can take gas from the GTP in Oben into ELPS or take from ELPS into GTP. So the answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No”.
Again, you can take gas from ELPS into Oben and Ajaokuta when we commission it. But the other section cannot be completed except Lot A finishes – to be able to evacuate gas all the way from Obiafor into Oben.
What gives your company an edge among your peers in terms of pipeline technology for the AKK project? Why Oilserv?
Oilserv is not about singing our praises. It is about the fact. Oilserv was set up on a sound basis and principle. That’s the basis of a sound knowledge of engineering and a clear plan to grow technology and grow the company organically. When we started in 1995, it was a very small company. It was only myself and one other employee and we are slowly building it up. Now, we built it up by re-investing whatever money we made and acquiring the latest technology. It’s not just about technology acquisition but also by knowing the principles of these technologies.
By my background, I am a cerebral engineer and I worked in 12 different countries before I came back to Nigeria. I was principally focused on developing engineering capacity.
Along the line, we moved on to look at the best way of achieving the engineering, procurement, and construction, EPC, work we have. We later introduced the welding works. Welding is at the core of pipeline construction and the major threat in welding is the fact that using traditional welding system. which is the manual welding system will involve welders association.
Some of them are not there to work but to create problems and you can’t control the quality of output too. We moved on to develop automatic and semi-automatic welding system where it is more like being in a production line in a factory. We trained our own staff and they became the welders. Because it is not manual welding but automatic, we are not bound by certain rules of the welder association.
With this, we are able to do as much as 25 joints a day. Manual welding can’t do more than six joints a day. That’s how we sped up. The other technology is our Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) technology system. You may realize that in building pipelines, you cross rivers, creeks and all kinds of barriers. If it is water, you will dredge it, drop the pipeline and cover it up. But by doing that, you disturb the water system, damage the environment and you may muddle the water. If you don’t restate it very well, you create an additional problem down the road, which can be the erosion of the water bed.
We developed a system where we can drill from one bank to the other without touching the bed of the river. In crossing roads, in the old day, we have to cut the road and imagine cutting an eight-lane road. Today, we do cross-boring system by going from one end to the other without disturbing vehicular movement on the road.
These gave us an advantage over others. We train students and graduates and we invest in human resources. We won the AKK because it was through a bidding process and we came out best. We are the only company in Nigeria today that can deliver such a project, the rest can’t. We are the first indigenous firm to graduate from being a construction firm to full EPC company.
To be a full EPC company is expensive. It requires investment and dedication. If you look at AKK, you will realize that we got the first section, which is the most important. If you don’t get the first section right, you don’t have a pipeline.
The AKK project is Oilserv/Oando consortium, what’s the role of Oando in the project because it is not an engineering firm?
You have to fully understand that this project is not just an EPC project but it’s a contractor-financed project. You go into a consortium for a particular reason. Oando is a partner to Oilserv, while Oilserv is the principal EPC Company.
I am talking from the view of EPC, Oando does not build pipelines. We are in a consortium because it’s contractor-financed and it gives us more leverage. Oando has always had concessions from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), to develop, for example, the gas pipeline system in Lagos, through their company called Gaslink. We also like to support smaller projects, which would in time grow into bigger, more reputable and more sustainable entities.
Nigeria remains a giant in Africa, says Namibian High Commissioner
His Excellency Humphrey Desmond Geiseb is the High Commissioner of Namibia to Nigeria, Cameroon and Ambassador to Chad and Permanent Representative to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). During his visit to the Corporate Headquarters of New Telegraph Newspapers in Lagos, he spoke with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE on the relationship between Namibia and Nigeria, his country’s forthcoming general elections and sundry issues
Why are you in Nigeria?
I am coming to Nigeria after 25 years in the Namibia Foreign Service. I joined the ministry in 1994 and I have served in various places. I spent eight years in Addis Ababa, working on our common destiny, the Africa we want in 50 years’ time. And then went to the ministry, went to China and I was told to come here and represent Namibia in Africa’s giant. So, I am here.
The language I speak in Namibia is called Namlish. Initially, it was sort of derogatory name because there is the proper English people speak. But today, we have adopted it as our official language. We sometimes refer to the English spoken in Namibia as Namlish. Some think it is heavily accented but I tell them this is Africa. It is a continent where we have tribes in ethnic groups and communities and we should be proud of people speaking in different languages even in a country like Nigeria, with a lot of tolerance with their interaction with foreigners
So, we are happy for many reasons. We are happy that this giant of Africa has been there for us when the people of Namibia faced dark powers, dark days of colonialism, and oppression. When people fought for basic freedom – freedom of religion, freedom of association, basic fundamental human rights. And in that process came what you may say today is journey of four hours and 30 minutes by plane from Namibia to Nigeria to seek the help of those generations before you in explaining the situation of Namibia. Namibia is a colony that people there are living in difficult situations because of the colonial powers that colonised the country and occupy the territory of Namibia.
So, your (Nigerians) past leaders, heroes and generations supported us and they stood with us and they said Nigeria considered itself as a frontline state. Frontline states then were neighbouring countries like Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana which fought against apartheid and colonialism. But Nigeria took a conscience decision to be associated like a frontline state. They accompanied the people of Namibia to help them achieve their independence.
So, we are very happy that Nigeria took that decision. It is out of choice as an African country but also a giant in being visionary and being far ahead each time to support the course of freedom and today Namibia is free; something that President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged last week. The struggle for liberation in Southern African would have been much different with countries like Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and even South Africa. So, that is the context in which we see ourselves as a great friend of this giant of Africa; a country that has done many things for Africa and continues to still make a lot of sacrifices for this continent.
What are those things you think Namibia can benefit from in its relationship with Nigeria?
In 30 years’ time, there will be half billion Nigerians. So, in 30 years’ time we will have half billion Nigerians to play active roles in the future of the African continent. So, that is why we are here. We think the time to belong in staying in Nigeria is not 30 years from now; the time is now. It is not to wait until a market of half a billion is there to come and be part of that market.
So for us, we have been with Nigeria yesterday, today and very much part of Nigeria’s future no matter the realities that may prevail in these countries. So that is the ambition that we have to see Nigeria as an integral part of this great continent that when we move ahead and when we plan ahead and when we dream collectively, we need to be cautious that there is a giant of Africa and in 30 years’ time, 60 years’ time the role that Nigeria that plays cannot really be supplanted by somebody else because you will need a country with half billion of citizens to replace the role of Nigeria.
So, ideologically, we are very much cautious of the place and the role that Nigeria can and will play in the future of this continent. We are happy and we think that Nigeria is on a good path. What was said last week by President Buhari to dream of lifting up 100million Nigerians by the next 10 years is something that we also support and then we can emulate. Because if Nigeria lift’s 100 million people out of poverty, a country worth maybe fewer millions will not have excuses for not having the same achievement. If Nigeria with all the challenges and its big population can do it in 10 years’ time, we will also do active work to lift large number of people out of poverty. In Namibia’s case, we want to achieve poverty eradication by 2025. The leaders have made it a decision among themselves to ensure that there is no absolute poverty by 2025.
What are you doing to achieve the task?
We have put in place a food bank and people who may not afford to buy food get assistance and they get donation of food to enable them to have a meal. But on the other end, the quickest way of lifting people out of poverty is education. And in the case of Namibia, the Constitution of Namibia says that there would be free, compulsory education for all its children.
The provision was drafted in 1989 and adopted in 1990 but it never been implemented for 20 years. And somebody took the Oxford Dictionary and tries to define the word ‘free’. What does the word ‘free’ mean? That free means, children should still go to school and pay development fund or admission fees. But the people said no, that is not the meaning of the word ‘free’. Just go and read it in the dictionary. The word means absolutely no expenses. So, today Namibia offers free education. You don’t pay anything. Just go to school, no admission fees. In term of health, we also enjoy free health. Although you pay a basic admission fee but you don’t pay for operations in state hospitals – they are free. When you are 60, you are also entitled to receiving close to $100 pension. So, we have free education, free health and free pension. We also have a free media.
Namibia is number one in term of press freedom in this continent. Last year, we were briefly replaced by Ghana but this year we did some innovations and we are again number one. If you look at other things, Namibia is also number one in terms of road infrastructure in this continent.
Over the past four years, the government of Namibia has tarred roads of over 800 kilometres. Also there is a side effect to the quality road when you look at the trend you see now. The number one causes of deaths in Namibia are road accidents. For many years, it was HIV but we made a lot of effort to fight it and we have been able to reduce the infection rate. But cars and driving still remain a big source of concern. So, if there is something that we can learn from Nigeria as to how to reduce road accidents, we will emulate it. We will be willing to learn from Nigeria as to how you deal with accidents and the best practices that we can look at to borrow from this giant of Africa.
How did Namibia address the issue of gender balance?
In Namibia, the ruling party, SWAPO, took a decision in 2005 to increase the representation of woman in our decision-making structure. And the decision that was adopted was to ensure equal number of men and woman in leadership position – 50:50. As you know there is an animal called Zebra, and it has white and black stripes. So, that is essentially what we did, we adopted a ‘Zebra policy’. For every male leader, we also have a female leader. If the president of the party is a male, his deputy will naturally be a female. If the Secretary-General is a woman, which is the case we have now, the deputy must be a male.
So, that is what the party decided in 2005 but it took 10 years before it was finally implemented. Of course, a lot of men went home and many others lost their positions. So, in Namibia, we have made a lot of progress in terms of women empowerment because of the policy of the ruling party. This policy has had a ripple effect so much so that other parties also adopted it. When they elect leaders, let’s say for instance in the Central Committee, you will have 40 male, 40 females in the committee of the party. Of course, in Parliament, because members go from the party there, the policy has therefore increased the number of female parliamentarians. it is not something we are exporting. We are not exporting our model because we are too small to export our ideology anywhere. But we can only tell our story of what happened in Namibia because we came to Nigeria with stories. We came in the 1970s, we told the story of colonialism. We were being occupied by foreign powers and we needed help to get our freedom and independence. But today we tell the story that in Namibia, we are making progress and one of the ways we achieved this was from looking at the Zebra and adopting its colour pattern for electing leaders in the party and in Parliament. So, this is something that works for Namibia; it may work differently in other countries. But if people were looking at options; if Nigeria is looking from where they can take options, it is something that you can look at. In Namibia it works; it works for one party and other party adopted it and now it is becoming more popular. It is not only the policy of the ruling party. But even in the state when they appoint board of directors, they are more sensitive to having a board of directors where you will have an equal number of men and women in the board.
We have a lot of good policies but I have mentioned just two. It took 20 years to implement free education. For women and gender empowerment and equality, the decision was taken in 2005 but only implemented in 2015. This year, we have elections and soon people will go through the process of electing candidates. Again, you will get one list for females and one for males and whatever happens they will merge the list together and at the end of the day, you will have an equal number of males and females in the Parliament. This is how Namibia brought about significant changes in terms of woman empowerment. Of course, we have a Ministry for Women Empowerment.
We also champion at the global level something we call ‘Resolution 2025’ on Women, Peace and Security, which is a resolution of United Nations Security Council, which talks about the role of women in issues of peace, security, conflict prevention, conflict keeping and so on. And this year, Namibia also held a conference on women, peace and security.
What are some of the significant progresses and challenges facing Namibia?
We are a small country; maybe in terms of population. Our landmass is almost the same; just a little bit smaller than Nigeria. But we think our ideas are never small. We always feel that we should project our ideas and in recognition of what others have done for us. We see issues not just like seeing issues but also on the receiving ends of ideas but we should also give ideas and that is where our population might be small but our ideas might not be small.
When people talk about the country, I always tell people we have made a lot of progress in terms of women empowerment. We have free education, free health, free pension and free press. We don’t have political prisoners because for various ideas people went to war and took up arms to fight for our basic freedom. People paid with their lives for their fundamental freedoms. Freedom of expression is guaranted in Namibia. Although we don’t have political prisoners that doesn’t not mean we don’t have prisoners at all. Of course we do but only for other issues. When people talk and we have to talk about free education, free health, free pension, free press, gender equality, they think we are painting picture of paradise. Namibia is not a paradise. We know it; we ourselves know it.
We have a lot of incidences of gender-based violence. For instance there was a woman when she was tired of the relationship she tried to leave but was killed in the process. So, we have these incidents. Nigeria has bigger population. I am not very sure of how Nigeria handles the issues of gender-based violence.
But if there are few ideas we can take home on how Nigeria addresses the issue of gender-based violence, it is something we can look at. We can learn because we are also here for learning on how to reduce such incidents back home. A lot of Namibians come here; religious travellers come to Lagos because of the wonderful work of prophets, especially Prophet T.B. Joshua. I am not a prophet, so I cannot predict things. But if I see one or two best practices, I can tell Namibians that Nigerians are doing ABC to fight gender-based violence. Let us also try these policies and laws also. If there are certain laws that prevent gender-based violence, we can look at it also and copy the model may be it will help in Namibia because our population is only 2.4million and we have higher rate of gender-based violence and higher rate of accidents. There are other social challenges. However, one of the biggest challenges that we have is not manmade – it is draught. Right now, we are suffering drought; there hasn’t been rain for some time. Some people may ask, are these people going to church and are they not praying for it?
Yes we do pray for rain but unfortunately, we don’t get rain. So far rain is absent for many months. Last year, it was a bit of rain and personally I lost 50 cows. There was no grazing but in my own pipe had problem and the people who could have helped me did not come on time, so I started losing them one by one and I couldn’t do anything. There was no water and a lot of people lost their livelihoods because 70 per cent of Namibians depends on agriculture.
And if you don’t have rain, there is a big problem, because cows need access to grazing. Of course in the past few years, Nigeria has donated some food but this year we also have a prolonged drought. The situation is quite serious. But we are doing well in terms of diamond production and we have a lot of uranium mining. We are number four in the world in term of uranium production. China is one of the largest in the world; in Africa it is Namibia. The price of uranium is not like the price of crude oil but we are doing well. It has created a lot of employment. Another of the challenges we face is that we have a high level of unemployment – something between 20 and 25 per cent.
Naturally, the youth will be asking, we are doing very well in uranium mining, but it doesn’t mean a lot for me when I don’t have a job. When you don’t have a job, it is difficult to live a life of dignity because a job, salary and house are things that bring major measurements of dignity to human beings. So, those are some of the major challenges we have.
What are your expectations on the forthcoming general elections in Namibia?
We are looking forward to them and we pray to God to have peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. Normally, outsider observers come and judge if the elections are free, fair and credible. We hope that this will be the case this year. We have had incidents of violence in the past. By the way, we also allow voting outside the country. For this election, Namibians will be voting in Abuja. Right now, we are training our diplomats on how to prepare for elections abroad so that Namibians staying outside the country can go and exercise their franchise.
What are other major things you do in Namibia?
We export a lot of electronics here. We export a lot of salts. The only problem is that the bulk of the salt goes to Cape Town (South Africa) before coming here. It would be better if the Nigerian consumer can get the salt directly so that we can say they are consuming something from Namibia. We have a few companies from Nigeria who have helped us in Namibia, especially in the charcoal industry.
We have two companies that are producing charcoal and exporting it to choice markets in Europe and other places. We are hoping to be able to attract more industrialists from Nigeria. There are lots of natural resources that we have that Nigerians as experts in manufacturing know how can invest in. They are welcome to come to Namibia and set up their factories there so that Namibia can enhance its foreign exchange by exporting finished products.
A lot of charcoal used to go out unprocessed to South Africa but through our two Nigerian investors, we are improving our foreign exchange by selling the processed product abroad. Rather than just exporting raw materials, it is better one exports something that is packaged. It creates jobs and brings in more money. Ultimately, the investor is happy, the country and the youth are also happy.
Nigerians must condemn injustice or suffer same fate –Nnamani
The proclamation and inauguration of the National Assembly which occurs every four years usually brings with it a new crop of legislators brimming with new ideas. A former Governor of Enugu State and Senator, representing Enugu East Senatorial District, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani is one of the of ideas in the current dispensation. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, the former governor unveils his thoughts on the Nigerian Project and how he intends to fill the gaps in the next four years
Your Excellency, you are one of those who were in the National Assembly some years ago and are returning after a break. How do you feel about this your second coming?
It is a privilege for me to be involved in a somewhat second missionary journey because I’ve had opportunities as a young man to test the political waters of Nigeria. I have been involved in the leadership of my state (Enugu State) as governor, after which I also had opportunity to do one term in the Senate. Then I went through a period of hiatus which could be described as my wilderness years.
So this is a second opportunity to play a role in statecraft or leadership of my people. The period of the wilderness years, gave me an opportunity to reflect, think and also go through “hunger” for participation in the affairs of my people. You know, as you get older, the compulsion to have a voice; the compulsion to be heard in the caucus of your elders becomes much more intense.
I can say that on this second missionary journey, I am coming into it with greater and more urgent sense of awareness.
My sense of history is also more urgent because I’m now older with a greater sense of the need for Nigeria to join the comity of nations. I also have a greater sense of the social burden of my country. Being in my twilight years, I am coming with greater sense of urgency to be part of the greater explosion in terms of the economy that we all expect in Nigeria. There is a greater sense of the need for the sleeping giant to wake up because indeed, Nigeria is the giant of Africa. But it is a giant that seems to walk with the feet of clay.
How can we justify this idea of Nigeria being giant of Africa given the situation of things in the country?
Nigeria is a great country because when Nigeria sneezes, Africa quakes. We are the most populous black nation and has contributed more than any other nation in the liberation of other African states. Mention them- South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and the rest of them. Not only that, Nigeria has contributed a lot in terms of human lives and money to the stabilisation and peace in other African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. Nigerians are all over the world.
We’ve had democracy for 20 consecutive years now. I want to be part of the process. I want to be there when the giant wakes up because I know he will certainly wake up. So I’m enthused, I’m ready to participate in this process
What has really changed between when you went on political sabbatical and now?
I have a keener sense of injustice and the price that people pay when they keep quiet. I am much more aware of it now. There is always a price that people pay when they keep quiet in the face of injustice because it (injustice) is going to go round. The system is a closed system, so when you see injustice and you keep quiet, it’s going to come to you. It will come to you one way or the other.
I will be interested in issues of human rights, equality, justice and rule of law. When people are arrested and get bail, we should make sure they are released. Once court grants you a bail, it’s not subject to any other legal interpretation of human manipulation. So basically, I am in the Senate primarily to participate in debates and advocacy of my own viewpoint and the viewpoint of my people on the Nigerian project.
What special interests do you have in the Nigerian project?
The Nigerian project is how these ethnic nationalities have gone through several tribulations such as the slave trade, colonialism, military dictatorships, debt enslavement, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and so on. In the era of slave trade, ethnic nationalities and kingdoms were plundered in order to fund the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America; Africans were captured and shipped overseas to work in the plantations.
These foreigners also approached sovereign African nations primarily for trade and spread Christianity. Somehow, they convinced the rulers of these African kingdoms that if they signed pacts or agreements with them, these foreign powers will defend them. From signing treaties, they moved to asking these Africans to pay for the bureaucracy and machinery that will be used to defend their territories. This was how these sovereign nations were pacified and by the time they knew what was going on, they became a state under colonial rule.
So you have a country in which if you run a line, all the way from the borders in the North to the Atlantic Ocean in the South, there are no commonalities. There are no commonalities in language, history, and religion. The French, Germans and British simply sat down and divided Africa and those of us here ended up in one country. So the debate on the project is how do these ethnic nationalities continue to live together? How do they share their resources? How do they police themselves? How do they relate with their foreign neighbours?
Earlier, you talked about military dictatorship or militarism. How has this affected the Nigerian project?
It started with things that were happening in Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Egypt where military coups led to change of government’s. So militarism became popular and swept through Africa. In Congo, Patrice Lumumba was overthrown; in Ghana, Kwame Nkruma was removed, in the Republic of Benin, it was Matthew Kerekou, in Togo, it was Dylvanus
Olympio and Gyansingbe Eyedema. In Nigeria, you all know the story of the January 1966 Coup and the counter -coup of July that same year.
It was series of coups all through Africa. Militarism set Africa back. It set Nigeria back because rather than talking about four or five year development plans, we ended up with emergency governments. So my interest is to join the debate on the Nigerian project.
Most politicians get elected to the National Assembly on the promise to deliver dividends of democracy to their people. Are you not interested in the basic social infrastructure for your constituents?
Of course, I am also interested in the bread and butter politics, and making sure that my own people get their own share of the national cake. I mean their share in terms infrastructure such as roads in the South-East where apparently the roads are in a state of abandonment. I am also intrigued by the rail system development. How come, nobody is talking about the South-East in terms of rail development? I believe that if you are talking about rail, the South-East should actually have priority because you want to move goods from Port Harcourt into the hinterland; you want to move goods from Onitsha into the hinterland and you want to link Onitsha and Lagos because most of the goods coming into the ports of Lagos are actually bound to end up in the South-East.
So it would be interesting to know why we are not talking about rail system in the South-East or why other areas should have priority over the South-East in terms of development of the railways. I am also interested in aviation and what’s going on with the Enugu Airport. Instead of upgrading the airport, you are talking about even closing it down.
What would you do about the challenge we have with our elections?
I will also be interested in electoral reforms. The pertinent question about Certificate of Return has to be addressed. What is Certificate of Return? It is meaningless. It doesn’t mean anything. It is a distraction. What is Certificate of Return? Is it in the Constitution? It’s an invention of those running the electoral system. It’s a new word in our political lexicon. What is Certificate of Return? What are you returning?
When you conduct an election, you have a Certificate of Declaration where you are declared the winner and it states your result, signed by the Returning Officer and your agent. That’s the Certificate of Return. You don’t need any other bureaucracy to give you a Certificate of Return. All they are trying to do is to put a third party into the process to manipulate the system.
When it’s going to favour you, you remember there is a Certificate of Return. When it’s not going to favour you, nobody talks about it. So this is a new invention by the bourgeoisie and the dysfunctional elite that has absolutely no sense of altruism. They are only thinking of how to profit and gain advantage of the system.
When you look at the 2019 Elections in terms of the paper work, manpower mobilisation and the expenses were totally unnecessary. There should be no interfacing agent between the voter, the vote and the result. You don’t need any interfacing agent. You don’t need anybody to announce results.
I’ve had cause to give an example with the banking system. You get your ATM card, you go to the ATM, collect your money and go. Nobody is there to give you the money. Nobody is there to announce the amount of money collected because everything is automated.
The same can happen with elections. It is a very simple process. You have your voter’s card which is like an ATM card. You can take that voter’s card, slot it into the card reader or an appropriate machine; that machine will recognise you as a voter using several parameters. When it recognises you as a voter, you now vote on that machine and we would all see it.
We’ll see it at the RAC, at the INEC offices and we will see it at the Civil Society Situation Room where oh have the media. It will simply register on the screen as +1 – one vote cast in Maiduguri; one vote cast in Calabar or one vote cast in Port Harcourt or Benin for PDP or APC or any other party. It will be cheaper, faster and it will be devoid of human manipulation. If you can do it with your banking sector, you can do it with your electoral system.
As a medical doctor, what would you be bringing on board in the health sector?
I will be interested in things like maternity leave and making it a law even in the private sector. I also have a member of my staff who have interest in paternity leave where even fathers will also go on leave since we are talking about equal rights. I will be interested in certain cultural practices like female genital mutilation, early child marriages and the problem of visico vaginal fistula (VVF). I will be interested in areas of health jurisprudence for people going to emergency room and being treated without asking for police report. I will be interested in indigent health care where people go into emergency rooms and obtain treatment as a right as long as it is a government -owned hospital.
I will also be interested in statistics because you can’t do anything without data. If you are going to build a rail system between Abuja and Kaduna, I would like to know the data you have collected in terms of the trend in terms of human movement and goods. If you are moving from Enugu to Onitsha, I want to know how many people go from Enugu to Onitsha. I want to have the statistics because that will now tell us the type of rail to do. It is statistics that should tell us where to put the rail system. It will also tell us where to site our airports. I will like to have data on births, deaths and disease. I will also be interested in data on commerce and agriculture.
What’s your perception of the 9th Senate and its newly elected leadership?
I believe we are expecting a vibrant Senate. I’ve had the opportunity of studying closely the new President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and I’ve done a review of his background; he has a PhD in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System from a UK university. That shows he is an academic, he’s a man of study and an intellectual who has information.
I have also had cause to work with him. I was in the Senate for four years. I believe he was the Chairman, Public Accounts Committee at that time and I’ve also had opportunity to interact with him and I’ve found him a gentleman. He comes across as an intellectual and a man in total control of his temperament. So I’m looking forward to working with him and he certainly has my support. I believe he’s going to steer the Senate with listening ears.
I believe that the two arms of government (Executive and Legislature) are co-dependent and as long as we wish each other well; as long as the focus is Nigeria, the Senate can act independently. The Senate can assert itself without confronting the Executive or jeopardizing the goals of discipline.
In the past a frosty relationship existed between the Executive and Legislature. Do you think this conflict can be avoided?
I believe that Senator Ahmad Lawan is going to find a meeting point between the level of independence and the level of frustrating the Executive. It wasn’t envisaged that there will be antagonism between the Executive and the Legislature because it is actually one government.
That is why in America, the Vice President is the President of the Senate.
I don’t want to get into the semantics or allegory of this independence of the legislature but how can you really say you are independent when the number two person in the Executive will cast a deciding vote on what you want to do. Are you really independent when the Vice President will come into the Senate and decide what you are going to do?
When a party gets elected into government, if the party is in control of the Executive and Legislature, it means that both arms would work together. The leader in the Executive will call the Legislature to brief them of their policies and programmes and find out what are workable. The Legislature may suggest some amendments to what the Executive presents. Thereafter, the policies can be formally presented to the Legislature who will now convince the opposition to pass it.
Sometimes, the Executive can even invite the opposition when they are putting together a bill. When they now agree they will present it formally to the Legislature. This will decrease acrimony, time wastage and make things easier.
So if you look at how constitutional democracy was developed, the idea was not that the two arms of government will fight or be antagonistic to each other. The idea was that they are going to be co- dependent and work together. If the party in the majority is in government and controls the Executive, if they are lucky and they are also I control of the Legislature, they are going to work together.
There is no dividing line, it is one government. Now if they convince the opposition and it buys into the plan, it sails through but if they can’t convince the opposition, the matter will be out to vote. If they win, you go along with it. So based on the election of Ahmad Lawan that happened penultimate Tuesday, I can tell you it was a bipartisan effort. As an academic and an intellectual I have been able to read the fine line between an antagonistic legislature and a legislature that is alive to its responsibilities and helps the Executive have a smooth operation of government.
The 8th Senate could not pass the South-East Development Commission Bill before their tenure elapsed. What are you going to do about it?
My role is to revisit it. We are going to look for it and bring it up again. I am surprised that the North East Development Commission Bill was passed without the South East Development Commission Bill being passed. I hope that I the future, in the Senate, what is good for the goose will also be good for the gander. As you pass the North-East Bill, you also pass the South-East Bill, if not you hold it until all of them are ready and passed together.
Not only will this be my advocacy, it will be my responsibility to go to my colleagues, visit them one by one and appeal to them to ensure equity and fairness in developmental matters of this nature. If you look at the Senate Presidents address, he called for the bipartisan spirit to continue. He said there is no party – No APC and no PDP So I will speak to their bipartisan conscience for us to work together.
We’re infusing technology into luxury living in Nigeria –Olusanya
Olukayode Olusanya is the Chief Executive Officer of Oak Homes Limited, a real estate development company that focuses on its niche clientele in the highbrow Ikoyi and Victoria Island. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he says his company is taking luxury a notch higher to home seekers by offering first of its kind in the Nigerian real estate sector a fully automated smart apartments. Excepts
You are making some waves in the real estate, it is not expected to have just happened; what were you doing before now?
All my life until 2015, I have been a banker. The last place I worked was the Corporate Banking unit of Skye Bank. And of course, that was where I got familiar with real estate business.
How deep is Oak Homes in the real estate sector?
Oak Homes is in the business of developing real estate, so we build and deliver luxury apartments to our target customers. That’s basically what we do transforming land and those raw material into houses
Will it be right to say that there is lull in the real estate market now?
Yes, I will say so because the earning power of Nigerians has reduced and also, maybe because of my background as a banker, the access to finance/ credit for individual Nigerians has also reduced, banks are not providing facility for borrowing. Of course, when peoples’ earning capacity is reduced, naturally, it leads to lull in the economy.
The Nigerian population is increasing by the day, and it is expected that the demand for residential and office apartments should equally be on the increase, but the situation seems to be on the contrary. What is the implication of that to the economy?
There is still a lot of activity in the sector, but it may not be as busy as you would want it to be, but it is just the realities of the time; the country just exited recession just a couple of years ago and the economy haven’t yet picked up fully.
I am not an active economist or in a position to advise the government, but anything the government can do to encourage spending, that will stimulate bigger economic activities and growth. That is why you hear the saying, ‘spend your way out of recession’.
Are the price houses, either for rent or outright purchase coming down with the lull in the market?
The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is a peculiar country. In a place like Lagos which is very huge there are more people coming into the city than those leaving, so the demand pressure is there, moreso, the land which we need to build the hoses is decreasing because it is a is diminishing asset, as you use, it does not expand; unless you want to do reclaim land and that does not come cheap.
So it is the role demand and supply that is at play here. Demand continues to surpass supply such that as it closes up, the price goes up, so that’s why instead of the price land in Banana Island decreasing, it is going up even though there is less money in circulation.
So you realize that some of these things follow the economic theories of demand and supply, however, as the land reduce, you go up by doing multi-floor skyscrapers. If you go to my village now, you will probably be doing more bungalows or at best a 2 floor building, but if you’re in Lagos you have to go up because the cost of per square meter of land is increasing.
It is a well known fact when investment is rising and economy is booming, demand for residential and office apartments increase. As a player in this industry, will you say that investors are still coming into Nigeria new?
I will say yes, investors are still coming into the country. Nigeria is an interesting country, when you see foreigners coming into the country, to be honest to you it is not because the like us so much, even though often times they say Nigerians are good people, accommodating, hospitable and all that. I have a lot of white friends saying such nice things about us, but when you see them; foreigners coming into the country, you will begin to ask why would one want to leave the comfort of United States, United Kingdom, Dubai etc, to come Nigeria? It’s not because they love us but it is because of the resources that abound here. Seriously, I tell people that I cannot leave this country because the solution to the economic difficulties of the country lies in our hands. There is limitless world of opportunities in Nigeria. Now I will also tell you why I think Nigeria is a fantastic place, mind you, I had the opportunity of studying in the United Kingdom. The UK and US are perfect countries, if there is anything like perfection, there are no much innovations that you can bring there that can wow anybody there, it is what they have done over 20 years ago. But if you’re doing such thing in Nigeria, it makes whole lot of difference. Take for a example, we are doing what is called smart estate, meaning everything is automated, your taps, your lights, everything is operated from the control of a button of a device, this is something in our minds we are trying the blow the minds of people, taking luxury a notch higher, but if go to the US, they will say you guys are not doing badly, but in Nigeria, we are making some noise about it, that Oak Homes is this, we are bring this and that, so we are making some noise about it and we are proudly doing so because if you look around, pockets of individuals have been doing it, but as a developer, we are coming out to do it on a large scale.
In that case, what should your clients expect you now?
We’re not just in the market to take money from those in need of apartments, we are focused and our sole intent is to do things differently, we have a target market and we have market focus. Our market focus is Ikoyi and Victoria Island. For us, it is more than making a buck,
Now I will tell you what we have done is that we are redefining luxury for our target market. That’s what we are trying to do. So luxury in itself, when people hear it, they will come and say that it is expensive, we are trying to make it affordable, so what we are selling at N70 million, our competitor will probably sell to you at N90 million. We have tried our best to cut it down to N70 million, that is what we call affordable luxury. So for our own target market, it is affordable option, but if you take it out of that target market, they will say it is too expensive; why is it not going for N5 million. That’s a different market entirely, but for our own market, it is affordable. So we are trying to redefine luxury in the market we operate, which is Ikoyi and Victoria Island.
How can prospective buyers locate you?
Oak Homes has a brand and an identity you cannot miss. I believe we are in the faces of our potential clients, and moreover, we constantly open up avenues to be within the reach of the investing public. One of such is our unveiling event this Sunday, we are showcasing some new products and new estates, we are bringing to the fore some of the things we have doing already. At that event, our select audience is invited. We can be found on www.oakhomeslimited.com.
Also, at that event; The Unveiling II, (the second in the series in Nigeria); the idea is that we introduce our developments to the investing public for the first time. We are unveiling our smart estate we are doing in partnership with Schneid Electric, we are introducing developments in Victoria Island in Ikoyi, topnotch luxury. Where everything is carefully intended to be perfect, everything is intended. We are in partnership with one of the best interior designers in the country. So you can be rest assured that from the beginning to the end, everything is intended, everything is intentional, intentional designs. We are trying to take care of all the details.
Now, we didn’t get here by a stroke of luck or by accident, we have really been flogged before, we have gone through the cold, through trial; however we are still learning, constantly evolving to do better than the automation we are have done. It will get better, so I enjoin everybody, if you have the chance, join us at the event.
What will be your advise to freshly out graduates, on struggling to stand on their own rather than waiting for non-existent jobs somewhere?
First and foremost, I would say that nothing fell on my laps, I can tell you for free, right from my undergraduate days. I used to sell packet shirts. There is someone from my past whom I still respect; Pastor Dele Jayeoba, who used to patronize me a lot. I don’t know if he was buying the shirts to help me or he needed the shirts. He will just say Kayode go and bring five. From there I went to other businesses, at a time, I had a telephone call business. So when I finished my undergraduate days and went onto for my NYSC, I remember I went to some corporate organisations in Apapa submitting my CV. What I telling them was that I will work for free, that was in 2002.
Let me summarise by saying that you don’t sleep and wake and expect things to happen. Ofcourse, there has been a God factor in everything I’m doing. I don’t have a godfather somewhere, just God. However, I have helpers who have played crucial roles in my life. I have a lot of supporters, a lot of mentors; I have read a lot of books. But I tell you that nothing fell on my laps, even if you are praying for God’s blessing, lay your hands on something, so that God will find something to bless for you.
Along the story of my life, most of the people who have assisted me are people I do not know. God has always sent helpers our way and I have also tried not to disrepute my name. One of the things that my father taught me is that your name is your greatest possession and I have grown up to learn that there are people that speak for me where I don’t have access to.
Have you diversified?
Ah, there is something I learnt from Aliko Dangote, he said that he will not put his money in any business he does not understand. I have lot friends who say that they are into crypto currency, that they are doing oil and gas, I like the good life but I also know you cannot make all the money. So I engage only in the enterprise I am comfortable with. The one that you can make and go but when you put your hand into what you don’t understand and you get burnt, so real estate is what I understand. I love the art of creation. Real estate is what we do, but we recently started facility management.
We’re working on regulations for crypto assets – SEC DG
Acting Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Mary Uduk in this interview, speaks on the state of Nigeria’s capital market and the efforts of the Commission to help boost investors’ confidence, Chris Ugwu was there.
What is the position of the SEC in regulating crypto currencies?
In the last Capital Market Committee (CMC) meeting we talked about it and inaugurated a committee in respect of FinTech. The committee was charged with coming up with a FinTech Road map on the capital market community and we also informed you that we now have a dedicated Division in the Commission on that.
The committee is working assiduously to decide what regulations we can make in this area. The Commission has the mandate to protect investors. We know that crypto assets are volatile unlike ordinary assets. Since January 2017, we have been asking investors to be vigilant when it comes to that area. We don’t want to get in the way on innovation. Regulators across the globe are paying attention to what is happening in this sphere.
On the one hand, they want to protect investors and on the other hand they want to support innovation. On all fronts, SEC is looking at development in the FinTech space.
There is also an on-going collaboration led by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there is an inter-agency committee on virtual currencies on which SEC is working with other market operators. In no distant time, SEC will come up with regulations on crypto currencies. We are embarking on investor education so that investors understand what it is all about.
The gambling industry is doing very well, is the SEC looking at introducing a product that will allow youths to invest money as is done in some advanced countries?
We presently do not have any laws on gambling, but we have mutual funds and it covers every asset in the capital market. Whether it is money market, insurance, capital market, real estate, infrastructure among others, the youths can invest in these, rather than leave your money in savings account, you can invest in mutual funds. It runs like savings account and after three months, you can withdraw your money same way as you do with the banks. We don’t have to go and gamble, you need to let them know that there are so many products in the capital market that they can invest in rather than going to gamble and losing their money.
We have various products that are very attractive where they can invest their money. We have commenced investor education and enlightenment for Nigerians to understand the benefit of these funds, which gives more interest that saving money in bank account.
NSE has been down; does it mean investors do not have confidence in the market?
Market depends on several factors- some are global and others are domestic. Some are industrial and some has to do with the company’s performance. You can see sectors that are doing better; you can also see specific sectors that are not. Around election, its possible people have different expectations, some want to keep their money, some sell their shares to vie for political office, but as elections are over, we expect that some of those people that withdrew prior to elections will come back to the market. Around elections in the history of Nigeria, we will see that there is usually a lull in the market. The statistics are not that bad, the day after the elections, the market actually moved up and around sub-national elections we saw that market came down a bit.
There was a time we did 42 per cent and there was also a time we did -17 per cent, there would always be sentiments. What is very important about the market is that in the long run even though you have fluctuations, do you have something that is looking upwards? The stock exchange index started in 1984 with 100, today we are in over 30,000. There will definitely be ups and downs.
How strong has NSE been and what has been the contribution of the market to the Nigerian economy?
In terms of the contribution of the market to the economy, we can look at it in terms of capitalization ratio as well as how many new issuances were made in the market. We know capitalization ratio has increased; it should be about 21 to 22 per cent when you talk about equities and bonds. Last year, we were able to make more corporate bond issuance than the previous year. In 2017 we did about N23 billion and in 2018 we did about N323 billion. Going forward, we are hoping to do better.
Given the fact that we are working to reduce transaction cost as well as time to market, we also advice sub-nationals to come to the market so that we can have new issuances in the market. We have seen quite a number of activities in the bond segment recently and we are hoping that we will see more in the equities segment too. Not just private placement and Rights Issue, we also hope we will see more of Initial Public Offerings (IPO).
How many people have requested for the e-dividend and how many mandated accounts do we have and what is the quantum of unclaimed dividends?
About one year ago, SEC stopped the free registration exercise, specifically 31st of March 2018. At that time, 2.2 million investors had mandated. It is interesting to observe that just because the free registration stopped, members of the pubic appear not to come forward again. As at the last CMC meeting, only about 2.7 million investors had mandated their accounts.
There is a strategy that is going to be reviewed and developed by the market in concert with the banks and registrars to entice investors. The fee for every approved mandate is N150, but investors are not going to be asked to pay the amount before they are registered. If you have 120 accounts, you just mandate them company by company and the only thing you will pay per company is N150 even if you have dividend of up to N200, 000. It is just a processing fee for maintaining the portal and investors are not to be asked to pay at the point. Please encourage them to proceed to their banks and register.
We believe that by the time we are giving report next, we would have improved.
Unclaimed dividend in the market is being tackled in minimum of two solid approaches. One of them is e-dividend. For every account that is mandated all accrued dividends is automatically paid. Then there is the use of regularization of multiple accounts. We discovered that while dividend is growing and it is increasing unclaimed dividends, the pace is not as satisfactory as when we observe that multiple accounts, which have not been claimed for many years are still being paid dividends. Those people that have multiple accounts can only lay claim on dividends in one account, all the others will keep warehousing dividends as long as they are not regularized.
We want to see how far the registrars can go in regularizing the multiple accounts so that we can have a specific figure for the unclaimed dividends.
We have a provision in Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) that if unclaimed dividends stay for a specified time, those dividends should be returned to the paying company and that is what the Commission is doing. Now any unclaimed dividends, which is 15 months and above is returned to the paying company. That way the shareholders also benefit as those money could be invested by the company and result in more interest for the shareholders.
Recently you gave a directive on fidelity bond, what is the level of compliance?
Fidelity bond is one of the requirements for all market operators; they have to file fidelity bonds every year. It runs from January to December of every calendar year. We observed that some people were not complying hence we issued a circular. In that circular, the management gave a reprieve of 45 days. We have started compiling the list of those that have not filed, those that filed after the date that we gave as the deadline. All of those persons will be sanctioned according to the provisions of the law.
What’s the update on margin loans so we don’t have the kind of abuses we saw prior to 2008? What is the level of discussion with CBN so that processes are not abused?
Actually when there were such abuses, we did not have a comprehensive margin loans laws but now we have specific rules.
After the meltdown, SEC and CBN came up with a rule on margin loans and it was after that we came up with comprehensive rules on margin loans. But after the issuance of the rules, we discovered that there were almost zero activities on margin loans. That is why the market suggested that it appears the rules were too stringent and suggested the need to look at the rules again with possibility of amending it. Due to our experience of the past we excluded banking shares from the list of margin loans but we also found out that in other jurisdictions you can give loans to buy bank shares. Due to that we now started engaging with CBN, the engagement is still going on and we believe that at the end of the day we will be able to amend our rules.
Market operators have been yearning for derivatives and ETFs, have there been training for those that will drive the process of course?
Derivatives are a very good product to be in the market. As we speak, the Rule on Derivatives will be ready soon and we have been building capacity in-house in partnership with South Korea. We have a Knowledge Sharing programme with them, they have been to the country twice now and our staff are scheduled to travel to their country for more training. Even their ambassador has been to the Commission and all of that are part of building capacity and training the staffs.
Even in the market, NSE is doing a lot in the area as well as the FMDQ who are taking some people to India this month on capacity building. All stakeholders including CBN, have been joining hands together to ensure that we get it right.
SEC recently held maiden awards for the Committees in the capital market, is there plan to sustain it?
My only regret is that the award took this long to hold. The reason being that the regulator cannot work on its own; we require the support of the capital market operators who are one of the most important stakeholders in the market.
I have been in this market for a while and I know that capital market operators are key stakeholders to the development and growth in the market. They have been there over the years. They are helping as much as they can to ensure the market is revived and they are doing that in partnership with the SEC.
If we did not have their cooperation and partnership it would have been difficult. And a lot of the time they work with us pro bono.
We set up these committees after the launch of the 10-year capital market master plan. A lot of them work in the various committees pro bono. Sometimes they have to travel and they do so at their expense. They bring their experiences to bear in the work that they do and we thought that it was important to let them know that we appreciate all that they do. We thought it was important to let them know that we appreciate what they do and we think it is the beginning of such partnership in the market.
CRFFN a misnomer created by FG to settle loyalists -Agbogu
Raph Agbogu is the Managing Director of Sovereign Gate International Limited and the National Public Relations Officer, National Council of Managing Directors Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA). In this interview with journalists, he said that the creation of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) by the Federal Government was an error. PAUL OGBUOKIRI brings the excerpts
Would you say that the Nigerian maritime industry has recorded any form of progress under democratic system of government since 1999 till date?
I will say the maritime industry has recorded some level of progress since in the last 20 or years of democracy in Nigeria but the problem we have is ignorance and the inactive nature of the government during this period. NCMDLCA under the leadership of Mr. Lucky Amiwero has been involved in over 164 government committees and nine presidential committees with that period, thus we are still on it. However, the government of today does not really understand the principles and the need to carry stakeholders along in its policies and that is one major challenge we are facing in the sector.
In days or weeks to come, the president would name his cabinet members and in what way would you advice him as regards maritime industry?
The first tenure of Mr. President can best be described as “situation ethics”. Now what is situation ethics? This is when you make people believe that what is white is perceived as green.
The truth is green is green and white is white. In the last four years, the maritime industry has been suffocated and most especially is the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) which has not done so much.
The NPA is a regulatory agency of the government and must be seen to be such in the seaports. The port access roads have suffered so much and if we come out to say NPA is performing then in what capacity?
NPA and Nigerian Shippers’ Council have not been able to checkmate the concessionaires in terms of pricing and charges and these are the major problems we have in the port industry and this conspiracy has made investors to abandon Nigerian ports to patronise neighbouring ports in the West Africa sub region.
Every terminal operator and shipping companies operating in Nigeria are here to enrich themselves at the detriment of the port users. For example, APMT is a sister company to Maersk Line Shipping, PTML is for Grimaldi Shipping, TICT is tied to Lagos and Niger Shipping etc.
The essence of all these collaboration between the shipping companies and terminal operators can best be described as conspiracy to milk the importers and agents. What we need at this point to checkmate these groups to ensure a legal framework is put in place by the National Assembly that will introduce what we call Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Human Development Project (HDP).
I recall just recently when I was walking along the port access road, I saw this huge refuse dump and I asked myself, is this access road to the premier port? I really want to know what the NPA is doing because it is a shame to the nation. Imagine the defecations by truck drivers and conductors along the corridors on a daily basis.
What is NPA doing to check tramping? What do I mean by tramping? A situation whereby truck driver and mechanics loose their engines along the corridors leading to traffic congestion is what we call tramping.
Again, 70 per cent of the trucks we see along the access road have no business being there because when you observe the traffic situation on the Wharf Road on Fridays, you find out that the vehicles would have disappeared to their various yards or parks; only for them to resurface on Monday morning.
NPA should enforce the laws to nip this monster in the bud. NPA needs to enforce the laws on road users and transporters constituting nuisance on the corridors because it will help in service delivery.
What is your view about the call up system of trucks?
Where is the call up system they talked about? Where are they? What is NPA and Shippers Council doing to sanction these shipping companies who are yet to provide holding bays for the haulage trucks.
The Ijora Liliypond truck park can not solve the problem of traffic in these corridors .NPA needs to put in place a sustainable maintenance mechanism in place in addressing what we are faced with in port operations.
Enforcement without policy on the part of NPA will create more problems for us all as far as traffic is concern
What is your view about the lingering court cases over arbitrary charges between the shipping companies, terminal operators in one hand and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council on the other hand?
It is ignorance and lack of knowledge on the part of the government agencies that is responsible for what we are facing in the port system. My national president in so many fora has given lectures to officers of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council at a time when regulators are playing in between the gap.
For Christ sake the agency called Nigerian Shippers Council must be definitive and decisive on its roles; as a regulatory body, their first primary assignment is to carry out an economic port regulatory roles and not the issue of who enters the port to do his or her legitimate business.
It is not the responsibility of the council to determine who enters the ports. It is not the duty of the council who determines the role of a freight forwarder or licensed customs agent in port operations.
So which of the agencies should be responsible for the regulation of agents and freight forwarders?
The responsibility is that of the Nigeria Customs Service. Every existing port is owned by the Customs and that is why it is called the Customs seaports and airport because they are in charge of cargo control.
Customs is cargo whilst excise is manufacturing, therefore, by law the Customs is responsible to handle and control the agents and freight forwarders.
But we have CRFFN in place to regulate freight forwarding practice in Nigeria?
Like I said in previous events, Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) is an agency of government that came into existence in error. What is freight forwarding in the first instance? Freight forwarding means, movement of cargoes, consignment or goods from A to B ,which is transportation and when a licensed customs agent finishes his jobs then he hands over to the freight forwarders who is the transporter ,who brings truck for the agent to load and deliver. In view of this, is the council regulating the cart pusher boy on the road?
Why is the council not regulating the tanker which comes from the north to the west with cargo? They are all involved in the business of freight forwarding. Is their operation limited to the port alone?
The man that left Maiduguri to Lagos with tanker to load fuel is a freight forwarder and the council should be regulating these set of people I mentioned. CRFFN is just there because government created it to settle their loyalist.
On a serious note , the Nigerian Railway Corporation is suppose to be a freight forwarding institution, same goes to Nigerian Shippers Council and Dangote group . Are they inclusive as those to be regulated by CRFFN?
Do you support Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) collection which has been introduced by CRFFN?
I choose to disagree with CRFFN on the POF collection because there is no law backing that collection from licensed customs agents. I told you that CRFFN was established in error and that is what is playing out as we speak. Recalled that the Nigerian Shippers Council came up recently with one registration levy to be paid by freight forwarders and licensed customs agents but at the end what happened? These are some of the issues we can classify as self enrichment at the detriment of Nigerians.
Do you support the introduction of Customs Strike Force participation in cargo examination at the seaports?
I think that is another error from the Customs because it’s just like running round the table. There is no law that established this strike force team introduced by the Comptroller General of Customs. There is nothing like strike force in any customs formation and it is all about management of fallacy. Customs has resident officers, Customs Intelligence Unit, known as CIU, there is enforcement then excise these are the four components of the Customs Formation. So how come that we are having this strike force. This initiative is just a mere manipulation to extort importers unduly. Even the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) is not supposed to go near the ports but land borders. The laws are there. We are running a confused system of government in this country and that is why Nigeria is experiencing hardship and poverty. Smaller countries in the region are taking the shine off Nigeria.
Our ports cannot take bigger ships because what we have as seaports are just river ports. Bigger vessels cannot call at the ports yet you are talking about multiplication of examination by customs officers.
Ozekhome: Buhari should implement 2014 Confab recommendations
Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, speaks on his assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in office, planned creation of local government and state police, removal of service chiefs and sundry issues
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in his first term in office on issues bordering on economy, security and the fight against corruption?
I will most honestly and patriotically describe the last 4 years of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government as quite uneventful, below average, colourless, clueless, vindictive, selective, exclusionary, non-nationalistic, non pan-Nigerian, haemorraging, economically and highly sectional, cronystic and prebendaslistic.
In terms of security, his performance is below par, since whatever gain he would have made in the much trumpeted degradation of Boko Haram (you and I know this is merely theoretical as the sect is more deadly today than ever before) has been replaced with a more potent escalation of herdsmen insurgency and unrestrained banditry. Nigeria has been turned into a gruesome killing field by rampaging gun-weilding bandits of different genre.
The economy is in tatters and at the lowest ebb. Hunger, squalor, ignorance, despondency, abject penury, corruption, hopelessness and haplessness have been enthroned as fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
Rule of law has been replaced with rule of might and of the thumb. Fundamental rights of citizens are wantonly breached. Disobedience to valid court orders has become a norm. Corruption is on the ascendancy, rising geometrically where it used to be antithetical.Only a tiny cabalistic few have unrestrained access to the national treasury.Yet, when traumatised citizens complain, they are dismissed with a wave of the hand as wailing wailers.
What is your agenda for the president in his second term in office?
He should take Nigeria out of the doldrums his APC government sank it into. Be more nationalist, less sectional and nepotic.Give democracy dividends to the people through security, robust economy and infrastructural development. More importantly, dust up the over six hundred 2014 National Conference recommendations and implement restructuring of Nigeria to be a truly fiscal and federal system.
What is the legal and social implications of President Buhari’s Executive Order withdrawing arm and short gun licenses?
Ordinarily, one would have readily applauded the president for signing an Executive Order banning possession of guns, having regard to the unbridled proliferation and possession of small and medium scale politically motivated and banditorily-induced arms currently in circulation.
However, Buhari’s sectionalistic perception of governance from the opaque prism of ethnicity and religious nuances do not give one such euphoric comfort of nationalistically induced decisions.
It seems to me a panicky measure meant to forestall the threats by Niger Delta militants to declare their Republic by 1st of June, and also for the now historic struggle by IPOB for self-determination.
Whatever be his reasons, the president and his handlers appeared to have lost the larger picture of the citizens’ rights to life and self defence. Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to life. Section 258 of the Criminal Code which operates in the Southern part of Nigeria and Sections 59-60 of the Penal Code that operates in the North, all guarantee the right to self defence and the defence of one’s property.
What the Executive Order has unwittingly done is to leave honest and innocent Nigerians most vulnerable to the unrestrained murderous and blood-letting activities of marauders, herdsmen, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers. People may now decide to possess these arms illegally and under cover as guerrilla tactics, since even a legitimate licence cannot guarantee same, after thorough screening by law enforcement agencies. After all, self- preservation is the first law of nature.
The Executive Order is also gravely flawed in the sense that those known and notorious to illegally possess these same arms, like herdsmen, were not even named at all.There now appears to be two sets of laws for Nigerians.
Can the president summarily direct the setting up of state and local government police forces without constitutional amendment?
Mr. President cannot unilaterally, whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily set up state and local government Police without the necessary constitutional amendments to that effect under Section 9(1) of the same 1999 Constitution.This Section requires two-third majority approval of the bicameral National Assembly made up of 109 Senators, 360 House of Representatives members and also two-third majority approval by the 36 States Houses of Assembly and FCT. Sections 214 and 215 of the same Constitution establishes the Nigeria Police Force, giving it powers and duties and its major operatives, such as the Inspector General of Police and State Commissioners of Police. Surely our non- performing behemoth, unwieldy and elephantine organisation needs to be broken up into State and Local Government Police Forces, as we have it in more advanced countries of the world.
The result is great synergy of purpose and inter-agency cooperation in detecting, preventing, fighting and prosecuting crimes. President Mohammadu Buhari should go beyond mere rhetorics, presidential directives and sheer populism, by instructing government officials to immediately draft and send an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for amendment of Sections 8, 214 and 215 of the Constitution.Then, I will verily believe him and know he is serious about this project of giving Nigeria a new security lease of life.
Are you in support of the calls for the removal of service chiefs owing to the growing spate of insecurity in the country?
Yes. The service chiefs have since outlived their usefulness. They are part and parcel of the insecurity problems we are experiencing.The corruption within the security architecture, IDPs, equipment, etc, are too mind boggling to be swept under the carpet. In any case,they have since passed their compulsory retirement age.
What is your take on the call by the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), for the rejection of the Supreme Court’s judgement which annulled the victory of all candidates of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Zamfara State at the last general election?
The judgement by the Supreme Court is robust, reasonable and met the justice of the cases based on its facts. I handled and won the cases at both the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division and at the Supreme Court. Justice does not operate in vacuum.
Law is the hand maid with which justice is midwifed and delivered.That is what the same Supreme Court had said in Bello Vs AG of Oyo State.The same Supreme Court had also in the earlier case APC Vs Karfi, involving the same APC, held that where a party, such as the APC, ignored its own Constitution, Guidelines, the Electoral Act and the Nigerian Constitution in conducting illegal primaries, whatever votes it garnered in the main election with other political parties are deemed wasted votes, since in the eye of the law, no candidate was ever fielded by the APC.
In such a situation as held by the Supreme Court, the apex court must make consequential orders to meet the justice of the case. Incidentally, PDP benefitted just as their Amaechi had benefitted Omehia’s sweat more than 13 years ago.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.Those crying wolf where there is none should advise their intransigent party, APC, to learn what is called internal democracy.The party has shown much impunity and utmost disdain for the most elementary adjuncts of democracy and democratic practices.
What is your assessment of the 8th National Assembly?
The 8th National Assembly has been the best so far in the legislative history of Nigeria, in terms of sheer productivity and daring insistence on being truly independent of an overbearing and rampaging executive that did everything to annex it to its apron strings.
Right from the emergency of its principal officers when it insisted it was its inalienable right to produce them in accordance with Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution and outside the dictatorial, whimsical, capricious and arbitrary desire of any political party as if we were operating a parliamentary system of government, it has held sacrosanct, the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers, as ably propounded by great philosophers of yore and famously dilated upon in 1748 by the great French philosopher, Baron de Montesque.
In the entire legislative history of Nigeria, the 8th National Assembly has passed the greatest number of pro-masses motions, resolutions and bills (into Acts of parliament) than any legislature before it. It has also incubated and thrown up the most daring, courageous and brave legislators that spoke truth to power and authority, at the perilous risk to their lives, families and property.
Future National Assembly should and must take a cue from the 8th National Assembly, that it is an independent arm of government specifically created by Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution, to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria.Though expected to cooperate with the Executive, it must not do so at the expense of its own independence as an arm of government that participates in the inbuilt constitutional checks and balances.
It is not a rubber stamp to executive desires and nuances. Any National Assembly worthy of its name as the last one, must rise up and use its oversight powers under Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution to check the excesses of the other Judicial and Executive arms of government, especially of the usually intolerant, overhearing, dictatorial, arm-twisting and imperious Executive arm that controls the coercive apparachick of state power and forces.
A National Assembly must defend the Nigerian people at all times because governments like soldiers, come and go, while the barracks (the people, the real owners of power) remain. They constituted the dog that wags the tail (government).
I am offering the House a credible alternative, says Dyegh
Hon. John Dyegh represents Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency of Benue State and is a top contender for the position of Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. In this interview with PHILIP NYAM, Dyegh, who has a Ph.D in Economic History, says his ambition is to join hands with President Muhammadu Buhari to reposition the nation
You want to be the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives, what exactly do you think makes you fit to be the number one man in the Green Chamber?
First of all, as an elected member of the House of Representatives, I am qualified to vie for any position in the chamber. But most especially I believe that I have the requisite experience and competence to lead the 9th House of Representatives having spent eight years in the Green Chamber. I am mentally, physically and psychologically prepared and it is my conviction that my colleagues who know my abilities and capabilities would like to have a speaker like me.
Remember, I am coming in for third term and in the legislature, the longer you stay, the more experienced and efficient you become. So, I am coming into the race with a rich wealth of legislative experience that will benefit Nigerians. Again, my decision to contest for Speaker is also a response to the clarion call by my Constituents, Honourable colleagues in the House across party lines, party faithful and other stakeholders in the North Central geopolitical zone and Nigeria in general, for me to offer myself for this office. And like I said, when I was making my declaration, I am ready to offer my time and talents, and make sacrifices for the good of every Nigerian. Also, my decision to join this race is based on my unyielding faith in a united and prosperous Nigeria.
Besides being qualified, what is your plan of action or policy thrust you intend to implement should you be elected Speaker on Tuesday 11?
My coming into this race is not by accident. I am well prepared and have a seven-point evidenced-based legislative agenda. This agenda is an elaborate work plan that when implemented will transform the legislature and repositioned it for better service delivery. And what does the evidenced-based legislative agenda sets out to achieve? With the evidence- based legislative agenda, we intend to ensure enhanced capacity of legislators and legislative support services through training and retraining to enable the 9th National Assembly pass National Priority Laws in critical sectors such as security, em- ployment and productivity, power and agriculture.
The 8th Assembly has so far set a standard by passing the highest number of bills ever in the history of the legislature in the country. I intend to improve on this in the 9th Assembly, if I am elected as Speaker. The House under my leadership would improve on what the 8th Assembly has achieved and I believe that we can do. Thirdly, we will deepen oversight processes of the National Assembly to ensure value for money and project performance by Ministries Departments and Agencies in compliance with the Appropriations Act. My administration will also instill openness in the financial operations of the National Assembly to guarantee accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
Most importantly, we intend to initiate Legislative measures and Laws that will promote and engender national unity, providing equal opportunities to all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic, political, social and religious affiliations; and work with legislators in a multi-partisan manner for the stability of the House and Nigeria at large. We will also work round the clock to create effective collaboration with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Groups and Development Partners for active participation of all sectors of the society in the law making and legislative processes. Then, we will sustain and deepen the independence of the National Assembly and ensure harmonious interdependent working relationship with the Executive arm of Government without undermining the principles of Separation of Powers. The independence of the House is very important so that lawmakers would be free to work in the interest of the constituents without any interference.
We are ready to work with the executive but will not mortgage or surrender the role of the legislature to the executive. We will discharge our responsibilities in line with the provisions of the constitution. Like I said, our relationship will be anchored on mutual respect and compliance with the laid down laws.
One of the key components of your legislative agenda is to champion the amendment of the Constitution to prolong the tenure of legislators from four to six years. How feasible is this?
This may sound strange or odd to some people but, it is not a personal or partisan stand. It is a proposal that when implemented will benefit Nigerians; it is an idea that will deepen and strengthen our democracy. Don’t forget that the legislature is the only arm of government that has suffered so much interruption and legislative knowledge is garnered over time. But with what we have today, not much of the institutional knowledge is there because of the high turnover of legislators. Lawmakers are elected for four years and most of them are not return; and then we have a new set, so a lot of experienced lawmakers are thrown out. If you look at the judiciary, judges spend many years on the bench and this gives them enough experience to deliver quality judgements. Again, look at the executive; for example the civil service.
Civil servants are allowed to grow on the job and by the time they get to the position of directors or permanent secretaries, they become authorities in their fields. This is adding value to their job. But when a lawmaker comes in and spends only four years and leaves, Nigeria loses her investment in the person. So, straight six year tenure can help to improve our legislators.
At different fora, you have reechoed your loyalty your party, yet you have joined the race to be Speaker in spite of the fact that the APC has zoned the position to the South-West and even endorsed Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as its preferred candidate?
This does not in any way vitiate my loyalty and commitment to our great party. My loyalty to the party is not in doubt.
I did the party’s bidding in 2015, in spite of the odds against us then. I worked for Gbajabiamila and supported him fully. But this time around, we are giving the party an option; we are offering the party and indeed members of the House a credible alternative to choose from. We are giving members of the Green Chamber an option to look at fair play. We are insisting that there must be fair play in Nigeria. We are insisting there must be fair play and justice in the Green Chamber. We have no quarrel with that. My loyalty to the party is 100 per cent. When I was doing the party’s bidding in 2015, everybody said I should go the other way, I said no let me do the party’s bidding. I am a party man. So if I am giving the party an option today, they should also look at what I did for the party yesterday.
It is not in my character to disobey constituted authority and I am a loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari and the party. You can see the emblem I am wearing on my chest is that of President Buhari. He has done very well in the last four years and I wish to join hands with him and deliver good governance to Nigerians in the next four years. I am not contesting the election to fight President Buhari or his government, but I want to complement his audacious and ambitious efforts to transform this nation.
I am still contesting for Speaker because the zoning arrangement as announced by the National Chairman of our great party is lopsided. It is not fair and that is injustice; that is why we are given the party an option. It is not fair because you said you are taking the speakership to the South West but you have failed to give us convincing reasons why those of us from the North Central should not contest. But we are saying the South West already has the office of Vice President and the north central has nothing at hand.
It will only be fair, if the position of Speaker is given to the North Central, having taken away the seat of Senate President to the North East. We do not have problem with that. All we are saying is, if you are taking away number three from us, give us number four and not number six. But I want Nigerians and in fact our party to know that the North Central has neither produced Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker since 1999. We are saying that reward in politics is based on what you bring to the table and the North Central brought the third highest number of votes in making President Buhari’s second term a reality and enabling the APC to form Federal Government. We are not quarrelling; we are only appealing to the party to take a second look on its zoning arrangement based on the facts we have put before the leaders, perhaps they were not aware of this.
But these are the facts on ground. Most importantly, I want our party to also take a closer look at the provisions of Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (As amended), which states that: “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies”. Does the present zoning arrangement conform to this provision?
There is this contention in several quarters that you are not so visible in this campaign unlike some of your opponents especially candidates like Hon. Gbajabiamila?
This is not the first time I will be contesting for elections; and I want those who think I am not visible to know that the election for the post of Speaker is not being conducted for the general public. It is an election to be conducted in the chambers of the House of Representatives. So, it is laughable when people flaunt posters and display them all over the place.
As far as I am concerned, I am reaching out to my colleagues in the chambers as well as fresh memberselect who will be deciding who becomes the speaker of the 9th House on Tuesday, June 11. But, I wish to advise Nigerians to wait for that day to see who God will crown as speaker.
I think it is not how loud you sound or how flamboyant your campaign is that matters, but it is ones acceptability amongst the honourable members. So far, I do not think there is any candidate with the wide acceptability I enjoy among our colleagues. And I want you to know that if majority of the lawmakers were not behind me, I would not have come into this contest. I am contesting to win and I believe with the special grace of God Almighty, victory will be ours come next Tuesday. I am still in the race and I have no reason whatsoever to step down. I will see this election to the end by the grace of God.
There are insinuations that the PDP, led by the outgoing Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, may file behind you. How true is this?
I will be happy if this is true. But I want people to know that when you are canvassing for votes, you do not restrict your campaign to a particular group or political party. We are 360 in the House and each of us has a vote; but we are from different political parties. So, being an APC member should not make me to limit my campaign to only APC members I must seek for votes from my colleagues in APGA, Labour Party, SDP, PDP, AA, APM, APC and indeed from all parties. In fact, the coordinator of my campaign in Benue is a Labour Party lawmaker.
He is not even an APC member. I am the only APC lawmaker from Benue State in the House, so if I say I will go only for APC members, it means I will lose all lose votes from my own state. You have to understand that if I become Speaker by the grace of God, I will not be the Speaker of APC, I will be the Speaker of the House of the Nigerian people and that is the House of Representatives. So, we have to get this right in our minds. I don’t think there is any of us contesting for Speaker that would not seek for votes across party lines. Even in the general elections, it was not only APC members that voted for me to return to the House for the third time.
The votes came from party members and non-party members. People from different walks of life voted for me. I know as a fact that PDP and SDP members voted for; it is a fact that Labour Party and APGA members voted for me; PRP members voted for me, ADC members voted for me and so and so forth. So, don’t expect me to be a divisive Speaker; I will be a Speaker that will unite the House to be able to pass quality laws that would stand the test of time and improve the lot of our constituents.
How do you intend to resolve the perennial unhealthy fight between the legislature and the executive?
Everybody is concerned about the constant misunderstanding between the legislature and executive arm of government. I believe there is no harm in disagreeing in order to agree; but when it degenerates to a level that the Nigerian people are left to suffer, it does not augur well for us as a nation. We intend to run a responsible House that will be anchored on the principles of separation of powers and check and balances. We will work for Nigerians and Nigeria. Whatever decision we would take will be in the interest of the nation. We will not allow our personal biases or interest to override national interest.
The transparency in handling of the legislature’s finances has been an issue of concern. How would you resolve this?
The House of Representatives is the house of the Nigerian people and as a speaker; I will lay everything bare for the public to savour. The House under my leadership will not hide anything from Nigerians because the money that is used in catering for the needs of lawmakers belong to Nigeria and Nigerians; the funds used in executing projects is Nigerians money and our constituents have the right to know how their common purse is being expended. We will be open and transparent in all our dealings.
You can’t underrate Bago in Speakership race –Hon. Afam Ogene
The 9th National Assembly is due for inauguration on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and it’s a three-legged race in the House of Representatives. In this interview, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene, the spokesman of a frontline contender in the race, Hon. Mohammed Bago tells ONWUKA NZESHI that his principal was already coasting to victory
How prepared is your camp for the elections coming up next Tuesday?
Thank you very much. It has been two months of intense engagement with members elect, the civil society, critical stakeholders, including present and former leaders of the country, and the mass of the Nigerian people.
During this period of electioneering, we have endeavoured to stay on the issues, without recourse to personal abuse or mudslinging. And what are these issues that have dominated the campaigns?
For us in the Hon. Mohammed Umaru Bago Campaign Organisation, what we have put out centred on the need for justice, equity and fairness in the leadership recruitment process of our dear nation. Quite unknown to many persons, or maybe they simply elect to gloss over it, is the constitutional requirement for equity in the choice of leaders so as to consciously reflect our geo political diversity as a nation.
In fact, under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, as captured in Chapter 2, section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended,” the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
In fact, this provision of the constitution aptly sums up the entire disputation as far as the contest for leadership of the 9th National Assembly is concerned.
But in spite of this constitutional provision which you have cited, your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), remains resolute on its choice of particular candidates as presiding officers. How do you reconcile this?
You see, a lot of people do not quite understand what is meant by the phrase “Spirit and letters of the Constitution.” Which is why I think that going forward, Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution ought to be made justifiable. When the Constitution talks about commanding national loyalty, those two words are far deeper than many ascribe to it. Today in Nigeria, a lot of groups no longer show loyalty to the nation, be it Boko Haram, insurgents, ethnic militias, kidnappers and the likes.
Now, while not excusing their recourse to self-help, our collective failings as a people in giving them a seeming sense of belonging could have unwittingly contributed to their disenchantment.
Going forward, therefore, I would suggest that leaders across all strata would not only memorise the wordings of the section I just mentioned, but would also indeed commit to its faithful implementation.
Can you therefore see why it has been such a herculean task getting the other side speaks to the issues of equity, justice and fairness which we have deposited in the public domain?
Besides the country’s constitution, the APC’s Constitution promotes same ideals, which is why they don’t have any strong grounds to canvass their candidature. Now, we no longer hear the popular phrase ‘Baba so pe’, literally interpreted to mean, ‘the leader has spoken’, which has dominated Lagos politics, but the party has endorsed.
With this endorsement, where does that leave your candidate, Hon. Bago?
Oh, he’s doing very fine and by the grace of the Supreme Creator of the universe, we shall emerge victorious on Tuesday. The National Assembly is not the Lagos State House of Assembly and so cannot be equated to it. While they play draft in Lagos, the name of the game in Abuja is cheese.
You sound so confident, but would you react to Hon. Abdulmumuni Jibrin, Director-General of the Femi Gbajabiamila Campaign, who was on a TV programme with you and dismissed you as a non-voting member?
(Laughing), He did more than that. In fact, he contended that I am not widely travelled to understand the issues surrounding Gbajabiamila’s Supreme Court of Georgia conviction. That has been the nature of their campaign, riddled with personal abuse. With every sense of modesty, I am sure I saw the outside world before Abdulmumuni.
In February, 1998, when I was chosen as the only Nigerian participant for that year’s prestigious International Visitors Program which took me to five American states, Abdulmumuni was probably still unsure if he would escape the almajiri scourge. You see, my friends, I do not want to waste valuable space on the fellow because Nigerians know him sufficiently. Here is somebody who was at the centre of the budget padding saga, got suspended from the House for over a year and has hopped in and out of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) offices for sundry allegations.
My understanding of history teaches that felons cannot sit in judgment over just men. I do not have a file with the EFCC, so if he junkets around the world, you should understand why, and how. His indeed is a classic case of the blind leading the blind. Here is someone who in 2015 taunted Gbajabiamila with the same conviction issue, nominated Speaker (Yakubu) Dogara on inauguration against the same Gbajabiamila, and went on to name his new principal in the budget hoopla which he ignited in 2016.
As a matter of fact, Abdulmumuni has never remained loyal to a cause. In 2011, he promoted a new members forum, pretending as if he was working for the Presidency only to switch to the camp of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal camp when he sensed his impending victory.
It was the same scenario in 2015, when he crossed over to the Dogara camp only four days to election. I will, therefore, not be surprised to see him seek to join us before voting commences. Yes, I may not be a voting member but I played same role for Dogara’s campaign in 2015 and to the glory of God, we got victory. That should tell him something.
A lot of people have pointed at your camp as being responsible for the allegations trailing Hon. Gbajabiamila. Is this true?
First, let me start by saying that besides the fresh allegations that have come to light, the conviction of Hon. Gbajabiamila has lingered in the public domain for over a decade now. Even the subject himself has severally admitted to the facts of the matter which is why it is tantamount to spitting in the face of Nigerians for the same Hon. Jibrin to publicly deny the existence of the conviction and 36-month disbarment by the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Besides this, it is out there in the public arena that the same man has engaged in identity theft, used a dead American’s social security number, defaulted in honouring fiduciary obligations as recently as 2016, and above all else engaged in perjury by lying under oath.
Now, how does my campaign organisation come into all of this? Did any of us in any way precipitate any of these scandalous acts on his behalf?
I thought that in a situation like this, silence cannot be golden. For a man who seeks to speak for all Nigerians and their country, how come it has become extremely difficult to get him to speak for himself? A Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot be a speaker of the APC, or of only members of that house; he is the Speaker of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and so his private and public life must be beyond reproach. To seek to enthrone anyone with reputational deficiency, therefore, would amount to doing violence to our party’s anti-corruption battle, as the opposition will regularly remind us of the log in our eyes whenever we seek to remove the speck in theirs.
Our leaders must as a matter of national pride move to prevent the occurrence of this avoidable tilt to legislative damnation.
In the final analysis, do you think you have the numbers to swing victory to your side?
We’re aware of plans to engage in massive deployment of financial resources for the election, but thankfully majority of the members elect are self-made individuals who cannot be swayed by monetary inducement.
Only one week ago, no fewer than 195 members elect, across party lines, had signed on to vote for us. As we speak, we have grossed over 200 and counting, and with their desire to foist a strange open voting pattern having crumbled, many more APC members are expected to come on board, paving the way for not only a landslide victory but the continuing guarantee of the independence of the House of Representatives.
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