Senator Bassey Albert represents Akwa Ibom North East at the National Assembly. In this interview with TONY ANICHEBE, he speaks on the need for a harmonious working relationship between the legislative and executive arms of government and his relationship with Governor Udom Emmanuel, among other issues
As the leader of the Akwa Ibom Caucus in the National Assembly, how do you network with others to protect and advance the interest of Akwa Ibom State as regards projects and programmes of the Federal Government?
Our basic responsibility as parliamentarians is to make laws. Law making is our cardinal objective and primary responsibility. We will be adjudged and measured by the number of laws each of us contributed in making. It is not necessary that you must be the initiator of the law since it is collective responsibility. While lawmakers at all organs of government make laws, the executive implements them, while the judiciary interprets the law. In the course of law making, there are other things that play out depending on the platform you find yourself. First, is the ability to attract government’s attention to the plight of your people back home. It is on that basis that one can measure if one is a good representative. I want to thank God for the opportunity given to us to represent our people and also thank our people for finding us fit and capable to represent them at National Assembly. We are synergizing with our colleagues across the country to ensure the best for them. We will do our best to leave the stage better than we met it.
In your first term in the Senate, you headed the Committee on Gas. What would you say were the achievements of that committee?
I must thank the former Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, for finding me capable then to head that committee. I always tell people that once God gives you an opportunity, you must take advantage of it and add value. We made tremendous achievements during our oversight functions of that sector and they are there for all to see. We were able to frame a gas policy for the country. We were able to strengthen the country’s Gas Master Plan, which brought about the privatization by the present administration and of course I sponsored the Gas Flaring Bill that was passed into law by the Senate. I think my elevation to the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry was because of my performance as Chairman of the Committee on Gas in 8th Senate. The challenges no doubt are enormous, but we are making progress with God who has already taken the centre stage. We are striving to leave a foot-print for all to see and also to make the state proud.
Your leadership of that committee must have opened your eyes to the challenges of the region…
When I was announced as the Chairman of the Upstream Oil and Gas Sector, it didn’t come to me as a surprise. It is one of the four top committee positions in the Senate and National Assembly. In the House of Representatives, the Upstream chairman went to the north, the Downstream chairman went to the North and only the Gas committee was given to Delta State. Even in the Senate, the Downstream went to the North and only Gas committee went to Delta State, but the Senate President insists that I must drive the industry for Nigerians to see a positive change and we are already working. It is a huge responsibility and I must tell Niger Deltans that we must take advantage of the opportunities God has given to us. In the next couple of weeks, we will tour the entire installations to know how our people are coping with the oil and gas exploration. A lot is in the offing and we are desirous of doing our best to leave the industry far better than we met it. I can assure the people of Niger Delta that the 9th Senate is working for their good and will improve the living standard of the people.
Fifty-nine years after, will you rate Nigeria as a great nation or one still struggling for survival?
I always make it clear that I have high hopes for this country and also have seen great hope on the horizon. Nigeria has been desirous of leadership and I pray that God will give us leaders who will work for the good of the country. One of the good leaders I have seen is President Muhammadu Buhari. He believes in the greatness of this country. He may not be perfect, but has great love for Nigeria. I believe that those who will come after him will also do their best to alleviate the sufferings of the masses. We must collectively work together to turn around the fortunes of Nigeria. The leadership of the country must be seen as a collective responsibility and we must stop the blame-game. Nigerians who trusted us with their mandate are also waiting to see the manifestation of that decision. The interest of our people should remain paramount at all times. As a member of the National Assembly under the leadership of the impactful Ahmed Lawan, I can assure you that we are doing everything possible to alleviate the suffering of our people. This National Assembly is going to be different from the last one because one of the contentious issues, which surrounded the emergence of the leadership of the last one, is not there this time around. We believe the Senate should allow the President the opportunity on the choice of leadership to avoid blaming anybody if he fails. He has been given all he wants and we are ready to support him to the latter to ensure that he implements all his policies and programme for the benefit of all.
Early in the life of this administration, you moved a motion demanding the President to immediately send list of ministers to the Senate for screening. What motivated that action?
I did that to clear road for the quicker implementation of his plan for the country and avoid the blame-game of the past. When his failure were blamed on lack of having his cabinet in place on time, so it was a patriotic action and barely a week after, to the glory of God, the list was sent to the Senate for screening.
The National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal recently affirmed your election, but your opponent believes that he will get justice at the Court of Appeal. Do you feel disturbed or distracted by his action?
I am not disturbed because it is his right to do so, but I am confident that even if he takes the matter to the court of heaven, it will not change. I wish him well, while serving my people with the greatest sense of responsibility. Their support has strengthened me.
There are speculations that you have parted ways with Governor Udom Emmanuel. How would you react to that?
My relationship with the governor is fantastic. The governor is my brother, my confidant, my mentor and my leader. I don’t have any issues with him and anybody waiting for us to quarrel will wait till infinity. Udom and I are working together for the good of our people and I hold him in a very high esteem and he respects me too. We have a mutual relationship and my support for him during the 2019 election was what my people mandated me to do. The people of Uyo Senatorial District overwhelming resolved that Udom’s second term was not negotiable and as their senator, I could not do otherwise since you cannot move without the followers. I was only the voice after the leaders met and resolved to support him.
You worked under former Governor Godswill Akpabio as commissioner. What isyour take on his appointment as Minister for Niger Delta?
One of the things I want to say to Senator Akpabio is to inform him that once again, he has the opportunity to work for the unity of the state. Another one is to remind him that it is time for governance and people must benefit from voting President Buhari for a second term, which gave him the platform to become a minister. The same applies to Governor Emmanuel and I, who emerged through the peoples’ support. We must work for the collective good of the people as politics is over and it is time for governance. I will not be a party to any group that will play politics with the collective destiny of Akwa Ibom people.
The 2023 elections are more than three years away, but speculations are rife that you have thrown your hat in the ring for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State. What is your reaction to that?
I think it is too early to bring this discourse. All I can say is that from the bottom of my heart, I see that year as one in the hands of the Almighty God and He will manifest his glory and power in 2023. I will abide by the wishes of my people when that time comes. This is time for governance and the governor needs a serene environment to succeed. It is only God that knows tomorrow, so let’s leave the 2023 matter in His hands.
There is the fear that you will join the All Progressives Congress (APC) if Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fails to give you its governorship ticket in 2023. How true is that?
I am going to stay in PDP for life.
Ex-commissioners: We didn’t indict Ambode before Assembly panel
Former Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget in the immediate past administration in Lagos State, Mr. Olusegun Banjo and his Energy and Mineral Resources counterpart, Mr. Olawale Oluwo, have denied reports that they indicted ex-Governor Akinwunmi Ambode before an ad-hoc committee of the state House of Assembly.
The commissioners, who debunked reports in some sections of the media that they indicted their principal in the ongoing probe of 820 buses purchased by his administration, in separate statements, noted that the reports were deliberate misrepresentation of what transpired during at the proceedings of the investigative committee probing Ambode’s administration.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, had constituted a nine-man ad-hoc committee under the chairmanship of Hon. Fatai Mojeed (Ibeju-Lekki I) to probe the procurement of 820 high occupancy vehicles by the Ambode administration under its Bus Reform Initiative (BRI).
The House had claimed that the Ambode administration did not seek its approval for the procurement of the vehicles and directed the committee to ensure that Banjo and other top functionaries, who were involved to explain their roles in the procurement.
At the proceedings, reports had claimed that Banjo indicted the former governor and that Ambode sidelined his ministry in the controversial purchase of 820 mass transit buses as the way the ministry was structured under Ambode did not allow him to function well.
In his statement, however, Banjo denied the report, noting that he did not say anything before the committee to condemn or indict the Ambode administration under which he served as the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning between February 2018 and May 2019.
He explained that he appeared before the committee on October 15 based on a letter of invitation dated October 11, requesting him “to answer some questions on the purchase of 820 buses as they relate to the function of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget headed by me during the last administration.”
Banjo said he told the committee that he was appointed in February 2018, at a time the issue of bus purchase had already been on the ground. He further said that he pointed out before the ad-hoc committee that the bus issue was not contained in the budget he managed, though it could have been in earlier budgets.
The former commissioner said: “I am deeply saddened and disappointed by such sensationalism by a section of the press and by its uninhibited and deplorable abdication of a basic tenet of professional journalism – impartial reportage.
“I wish to state that I am not in a position to know what exactly transpired on the issue of the buses as I was not in government, when the issue was tabled and approved by the State Executive Council and neither was I drafted into the Bus Steering Committee on assumption of duty in February 2018.
“My response to questions asked by the committee under oath was intended to explain technical issues pertaining to the operations of the ministry and explain the anomalies they noted and seek explanations to, and nothing said by me there was intended to or said in any manner as to condemn or indict anyone.”
However, Banjo said he brought to the attention of the ad-hoc committee that the operating system of the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning should be reviewed, He added that he pointed out mentioned other weaknesses of the ministry’s operating system in a professional manner.
His words: “It is pertinent to note that these observations had earlier been included in my handing over note to the new administration and as it affects all arms of government and not the executive alone. I was therefore, contrary to the impression sought to be portrayed by the press, not saying anything new that had not been said before.”
In his own statement, Oluwo acknowledged that he attended the second session of the committee proceedings on October 15 alongside former Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. Toyin Suara, noting that reports in some sections of the media over what transpired were not true.
According to him, Suara and I were called into the conference room at the same time. The lawmakers asked both of us questions in the open. While Suara was asked questions about Lagos Rice Mill Project in Imota, I was asked questions about the LED-UK streetlights installation, a UK Exim Bank funded project.
The former commissioner said it was strange “to read reports that Suara and Oluwo said many of the projects including Oshodi Transport Interchange and others were never captured in the state budget. This is rather strange.”
He added: “For the avoidance of doubt, I reiterate that I did not and could never have indicted former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. I am a committed democrat, a loyal team player and a strong believer in the principle of collective responsibility.”
He, therefore, noted that the reports were completely false and indeed a misrepresentation of the proceedings of the ad-hoc committee of the State House of Assembly.”
Anambra South: Uba brothers take battle to Appeal Court
Following the last month ruling of the Anambra State National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal, which upheld the victory of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah in Anambra South Senatorial District, the Uba brothers – Andy and Chris Uba, who were his main opponents, have taken their case to the Court of Appeal, OKEY MADUFORO reports
Senator Andy Uba, the immediate past senator for Anambra South Senatorial District may have underestimated the enormity of the last general election in the area and may have gone to sleep oblivious of the capacity of Ifeanyi Ubah, who was the senatorial candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in the February 23 National Assembly elections in Anambra South.
As a result, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officially declared the oil magnate winner of the election, it came like a shocker to Senator Uba and many people in Anambra State, considering how Ubah defeated Andy and his younger brother, Chris, in the senatorial poll.
Andy, who was then the incumbent senator representing Anambra South in the Red Chamber, contested on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), while Chris was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Ifeanyi Ubah’s victory without any iota of doubt was a surprise to many people in Anambra State. For Chris Uba, the self-styled political godfather of the state, his loss at the senatorial poll painted a picture of a grand master beaten in his own game in a local derby. Chris, who had installed some public office holders in Anambra State as a political godfather in the past failed to actualise his own political aspiration. His brother, Andy, also failed to return to the Senate for third consecutive term.
The businessman turned politician, polled 87,081 votes to defeat 26 others. His closest rival was Chris (PDP), who got 62,462 votes to place second. Nicholas Ukachukwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) came third with 51,269 votes, while Andy (APC), got 13,245 votes to place a distant fourth.
The Uba brothers, who felt dissatisfied with the outcome of the February 23 National Assembly election, took their case to the state’s National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Awka. But rather than getting succour at the tribunal, their predicaments deepened further, as the three-man panel affirmed that Ifeanyi Ubah was validly elected and that the two petitioners, Chris and Andy could not prove their respective cases beyond reasonable doubt.
The tribunal dismissed all the 19 witnesses called by the petitioners, observing that the testimonies of the witnesses have evidential value and that it was bound to reject the evidences because the prosecution witness 1, who relied on the card reader did not prove the allegations leveled against the respondent.
Reacting to the ruling, Senator Ubah, who dedicate the victory to God, his wife, children and party, said the verdict in his favour is an attestation of both “the perfect will of God and the irrefutable choice of the good people of Anambra South at the February 23 polls”.
He described the judgement as victory for not only his senatorial district, but also for the entire people of Anambra State. He further stated that the ruling reinforces the confidence the people have in the judiciary.
He added that his victory is a good development for the advancement of democracy in Nigeria, noting that the judiciary has shown that it is indeed the last hope for all.
But, the Uba brothers were dissatisfied with the ruling of the tribunal and the duo has approached the Court of Appeal praying it to upturn the judgement on the ground that the tribunal erred in the process.
Ever since tribunal ruled on the petition instituted by the Ubas against Ifeanyi Uba, people have been x-raying the judgement placing the appeal alongside the ruling of the lower court.
This x-ray of the tribunal’s judgement is being considered by legal analysts on the submissions of the 19 witnesses and prove of manifest rigging and falsification of election results, which Justice Okara Ebimie Thelma, who delivered the judgement took time to elucidate as grounds upon which he gave his ruling.
The judge had held: “General comment on the Petitioner’s witnesses testimonies. PW1, PW10, PW14, PW16 and PW17 out of the 19 witnesses that testified for the Petitioner only five witnesses were polling unit agents for APC who gave evidence on what transpired in their polling unit but their testimonies were all impeached under cross examination. The tribunal therefore attaches very light weight to their testimonies only to the fact that they were within the Senatorial District on the day of election.
“The evidence of PW2, PW3, PW4, PW5, PW6, PW7, PW11, PW12, PW13, PW14, and PW18 who were ward collation/supervisory agents cannot be reliable as the evidence of the polling unit agents who were eye witnesses of all facts in their deposition. Having admitted under cross examination they were not at all the unit at the same time as they were moving round from one polling unit to the other. We therefore attach no probative value to their testimonies as roving agents.
“PW8 and PW9, these witnesses could not substantiate the allegation made in their depositions which were also badly discredited under cross examination. Their reference to voters reward voucher was vague and unsubstantiated and could not be linked to the 1st Respondent.”
“PW6, PW7, PW8, PW9, PW15, PW16, PW 17, PW18 and PW19 all deposed to the same set of facts in their affidavit. The question that comes to mind is could the same set of facts have happened in all the wards same time on the Election Day? This goes to show that such evidence is well rehearsed and makes such evidence unreliable see the holding of the court of Appeal.”
Another very curious finding of the tribunal in the evidence of these aforementioned set of witnesses is that a common denominator in their affidavit is the fact that card reader did not work during the February 23 elections.
Paragraph 3 of PW4, PW7, PW8, PW9, PW15, PW16, PW17, PW18 and PW19 witness statement on oath states: “The 11 witnesses as outlined above took a nose dive in their respective depositions of the 26th day of April and all relied on the ‘smart card data analysis’ product of a smart card that was not put to use during the elections. It is sure not the responsibility of this tribunal to choose and pick which line of evidence to follow between the two contradictory evidences of the above listed witnesses. This no doubt, has rendered the evidence of PW4, PW6, PW7, PW8, PW9, PW15, PW16, PW17, PW18 and PW19 very unreliable, no probative value or evidential value can be placed on such evidence of these witnesses.”
Be that as it may, the Uba brothers are indeed optimistic that the Appeal Court will give them justice, but the duty of the court is to weigh the judgement of the lower tribunal in order to reaffirm the victory of Senator Ubah or to call for a fresh election, which in recent times has become unfashionable.
As it stands, the appellate court also has that task of proving to the people of Anambra South Senatorial District that Senator Ifeanyi Ubah did not win the said election or to uphold the rulings and submissions of the lower tribunal.
Voter inducement on the prowl, says YIAGA Africa
YIAGA Africa, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), has alleged that voter inducement is already ongoing in Kogi and Bayelsa states ahead of the November 16 governorship polls in the respective states.
Executive Director of the group, Mr. Samson Itodo, in a statement, yesterday, said that the organisation noticed voter inducement during its voter education campaign and pre-election observation.
Itodo said that YIAGA Africa’s Watching The Vote (WTV) project deployed long term observers to local government areas in both Kogi and Bayelsa state to observe pre-election environment.
He said that some findings were in the areas of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) preparedness, political campaign, voter education and participation of marginalised groups, and early warning signs of electoral violence among other things.
The statement reads in part: “Generally, voter inducement was reported in at least one in every three of the 21 LGAs in Kogi, and in all LGAs in Bayelsa.
“WTV observers witnessed or heard of cases of voter inducement in Kolokuma, Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa, Brass, Ogbia, Nembe and Sagbama LGAs in Bayelsa State.
“They also observed or heard of voter inducement in Adavi, Ogori, Mangogo, Okehi, Okene, Bassa, Ibaji, Idah, Kabba/Bunu and Kogi K.K LGAs of Kogi State,” he said.
Itodo said that observers also monitored the pre-election environment relating to the activities of INEC from September 9 to October 3.
According to him, it was noticed that Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) distribution were conducted by INEC and voter education was also conducted in collaboration with National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the states.
He recommended that INEC should ensure inclusion, especially for all marginalised groups because there was need for proactive and targeted communication using different channels of communication on the electoral process.
He also urged INEC to beef off its oversight and monitoring mechanisms to further strengthen and ensure compliance to the electoral laws and guidelines, while avoiding unnecessary postponements of poll.
Itodo further called on the electoral umpire to come up with robust mechanism and collaborate with both state and non-state actors to curb the menace of buying and selling of PVCs and other forms of voter inducement.
He also advised security agencies to be more intentional in addressing early signs of violence like hate speech, physical attacks, communal crises, voter inducements, and other criminal activities ongoing in the pre-election environment.
According to him, security agencies must engage in active communication with citizens on the principles regulating security deployment and operations ahead of the election.
He encouraged candidates and their supporters to ensure that they promote unity and peaceful election by refraining from any form of physical or verbal attacks on opponents or their supporters.
PDP is drowning in its own lies – APC
The spokesman of the Bello/Onoja Kogi State Governorship Campaign Organisation, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, has described the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a party drowning in its own lies.
Fanwo stated this in Lokoja, while responding to an allegation by the Kogi PDP that Governor Yahaya Bello has imported tainted vehicles for possible rigging.
According to Fanwo, who is also the Chairman of the Media Committee of the Kogi State All Progressives Congress (APC) Governorship Campaign Council, the allegation was “another PDP-made garment of falsehood.”
Insisting the Bello has already “shown capacity and readiness to win the election,” Fanwo added: “Combining Governor Yahaya Bello with the master strategist, Chief Edward Onoja, is too hot for the PDP to handle. They don’t even know if they will have a candidate yet as there are litigations challenging their bloody and inconclusive midnight primary.”
He further said: “It is therefore understandable that they have chosen the ignoble path of promoting lies to mislead the good people of Kogi State. The November 16 governorship election will be the most peaceful, fairest and freest in the political history of the state.
“All their lies and allegations of non-performance against the governor have been pummeled by the reality on ground. We have developed their villages and towns and it has become obvious that the PDP is striving to avoid an issue-based campaign.
“We are prepared to engage the PDP because the records of the Governor speak for itself from water provision to road construction, education, health and security. Let them come up with issues and stop creating further confusion for their party.
“The PDP has been dazed by the mass defections from their party to APC. They know the game is up. Kogi State will never go back to the terrible era of PDP.”
Fanwo also warmed the opposition party of the consequences of giving misleading and false information, challenging the party to show proof of their allegations.
“Security agencies are fortified to deal with insecurity in the State. The governor will never subscribe to violence. This election is about the good of the present and the evil of the past,” he said.
He urged Kogites not to panic as security agents have been charged to ensure the security of lives and property before, during and after the election.
APC accuses Dickson of procuring arms
A head of the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused the state governor, Seriake Dickson of stockpiling arms.
APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, who made the allegation, while speaking Abuja, said: “Bayelsa State is being transformed to a war zone ahead of the election. Governor Seriake Dickson has seen clearly that defeat is imminent for his candidate and has now resorted to deploying violence to force his will on the people.
“Recently, traditional rulers in Bayelsa State reported to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the arms stockpile in the state which is happening on the watch of the current state government. As the INEC chairman stated, traditional rulers don’t belong to any political party, and they don’t support any candidate, so our security agencies cannot afford to fold their hands on this, we must take their reports very seriously. We have a duty to protect INEC and the voters to ensure free and safe elections.”
Nabena therefore called on heads of security agencies to closely monitor the operations of their personnel in the state before and during the governorship election.
“Coupled with the state security outfit, Operation Doo Akpo, which Governor Dickson is using to harass political opponents in his party, PDP and APC members, supporters and leaders in the state ahead of the governorship election, the governor has also boasted openly that he has the money to pay the police and army, including their retirement benefits if they work for him in the election. He has gone ahead to set up an army and police base in his village (Toru-Oras). The Inspector General of Police and Chief of Army Staff must not allow this happen.
“Which money is Governor Dickson relying on to rig the election? It is the federal allocation meant for Bayelsans. I call on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and particularly the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to monitor deployment of Bayelsa funds,” he said.
The APC chieftain said the people of Bayelsa State are ready to defend their votes and to reject the PDP’s candidate, who according to him is Governor Dickson’s stooge.
“The popular APC candidacy of David Lyon has thrown the camp of Governor Dickson into disarray. The recent wave of high profile defections from the PDP to the APC is clear proof that the wind of change is blowing across the state. Governor Dickson’s rigging and intimidation plans will fail because Bayelsans are ready to defend their votes,” he said.
Epie/Attissa denies endorsing any candidate, says APC
The Chairman of Bayelsa State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Peace/Reconciliation Committee, Diekivie Ikiogha, yesterday, declared that the Epie Attisa people of the state have not endorsed any candidate for the forthcoming governorship election.
The reconciliation committee chairman therefore stated that his party ss in good shape to face other parties in the governorship election.
“There was no endorsement or adoption, but people just went to pay a courtesy call. APC will also go and pay courtesy call on the traditional rulers and they are going to also bless APC. That is a normal protocol within the traditional council and they do it everywhere. There was no adoption,” he said.
Speaking to New Telegraph in Yenagoa, Ikiogha maintained that in order to make sure that the party was in good shape before the election; his committee has tried to reconcile all the aspirants except few cases, which the committee is still working on. He added that the matter in court would soon be resolved.
He said: “We have tried to reconcile all the aspirants. There are two cases that Mr. President himself or the National Chairman of the party will have to handle, but as far as I am concerned, we are one big family.
“And if you talk of integration, we are still making contacts. It is a continuous process even one day to the election. That is why we are going out to campaign. We will continue to make contacts and we solicit for supports.”
He also stated that the issue of suspension and counter-suspension that rocked the party recently was due to misunderstanding, insisting that it has been resolved.
Boasting that the APC will win the November 16 election, Ikiogha said: “If I were in PDP, I will be very cautious, if I were the governor, I would have been very cautious to spend money because the picture is glaring right now.”
Bayelsa poll: Stop attacking my officials, INEC Chairman warns
As the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections come up on November 16, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu has warned that anybody that attacks any of his officials shall be thoroughly dealt with.
Speaking on Thursday in Yenagoa during a stakeholders meeting, the INEC Chairman advised all the governorship candidates to conduct themselves and their supporters in a proper manner in order to ensure a violence free and credible election.
He said: “Let me remind candidates and their supporters that attacks on commission officials at the polling units or through the collation processes will this time attract sanctions.
“We will not tolerate attacks on INEC officials to force them make a declaration and once we receive that report that the declaration was made under duress by the officers we appointed, then we will not issue the certificate of return.:
Yakubu assured all stakeholders that the commission was committed to a free and fair process adding that: “We shall maintain our integrity and I have said over and over that I wouldn’t be tired of repeating myself that INEC is not a political party. We have no candidate in the Bayelsa State election.
“However, we have a few areas of concern that I want to share with the stakeholders. Number one is the actions and utterances likely to lead to violence during electioneering campaign, during voting on election day and during collation of results and declaration.
“We have promised Nigerians that the polling units will be open by 8am. If the officials are waylaid then we can’t get to the polling units by 8am and that is why we are appealing to all stakeholders, most especially the political actors and their supporters, to ensure that you call your supporters to order to enable us deliver the election materials in good time.
“Our third concern is the voter’s inducement including the phenomenal called ‘vote buying’ on the election day. This is not a good commentary on our elections. Please let’s respect the will of the people.”
Earlier in his address, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Bayelsa State, Monday Udom Tom said the Voter Education Department of the commission has been involved in massive sensitization of the electorate particularly those at the grassroots to desist from selling their votes.
APC has moved Nigeria up from where it was in 2015 – Fayemi
Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, believes that Nigeria has made progress since the coming of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government in 2015. In this interview, he speaks on some critical national issues as well as the first year of his second term in office. Felix Nwaneri reports
Almost five years of All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government, the general belief among Nigerians is that nothing seems to have changed as the people are yet to witness the Change your party promised, when it came to power in 2015. How would you react to that?
But the fact is that Nigerians just re-elected the APC-led Federal Government for a second. Of course, you will agree with me that election is the best option of measuring performance by political parties as we haven’t devised any other means to judge political parties. You may argue on the fairness and credibility of the processes of the recent presidential election, but there is only one vehicle of sorting it out. The jurists are still on that; there is still one leg to go, so we won’t push that any further. But, let me come back to your substantive question that concerns every Nigerian and which is: How far has APC gone in taking Nigeria out of the woods? I think it is fair to say that it is work in progress. We are exactly not where we ought to be, but we are also not where we were in 2015, when our party took over.
No doubt, there are things that are in our manifesto, which for one reason or the other that we have not done, particularly on issues such as restructuring. But, when you put that in proper perspective, the power to do that resides with the legislature, it doesn’t reside with the executive. However, a determined executive can still push the legislature to it. You know what happened in our first four years, there was no synergy between the executive and legislature and sometimes I wonder if Nigerians even want synergy between the two arms of government.
I think Nigerians want enmity of some sort. They think that progress will come if the two arms are not on the same page, but I believe that we have seen the result of that from the Bukola Saraki-led Senate and the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. That clearly contributed to the slow pace of activities during the first term. For me, growth is key, but stability is probably what most Nigerians are interested in right now because it is when we suffer a reversal that we will know how much progress that has been made.
To what extent has the feelings you had when you were leaving Ekiti government house in 2014, influenced your actions in your second term as governor of the state?
Naturally, the reason why people seek for a second term in office, in my view, is to consolidate on their achievements. Theoretically and practically from my experience in Nigeria, you can do a lot and you can also do a little if you worked out an agenda before you come into office. By the time I was leaving, my state had the highest enrolment of children in school with about 96 per cent; it had the lowest maternal mortality, child mortality and they were not accidental because when you looked at what happened four years after I was out office, we fell to the lowest in terms of enrolment of children in school in the South-West.
In just a period of four years, maternal mortality went up, child mortality also went up. And it is easy to see why these happened. I ran a free and compulsory education programme, but my successor came in and introduced education levies and fees. The consequence was that those who could not afford it, stayed away. So, you can see a correlation why enrolment dropped and retention also dropped. Even some of those who were in school and were asked to go and look for West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Council on Education (NECO) fees, which I paid for the four years I was governor had to drop out of school. These are things that we don’t often pay much attention.
Again, the N5,000 that I was paying to the elderly may not mean much to somebody in Lagos, but in Ekiti, it meant much as some of those elderly people even saved out of the money after taking care of themselves and were also able to contribute to other things, including taking care of their grandchildren or even their children who had no jobs. So, in terms of human capital development indices, it wasn’t perfect, but we achieved close to what we would have loved to. However, in terms of opening up Ekiti, which was my major priority, we tried to make the state a destination for business and tourism by doing Ikogosi and other things.
In doing this, we had challenges and these challenged tied in to our status as a state within a federation. Of course, there were a lot of things that I started, which were abandoned by my successor; not just about education and healthcare, but also about infrastructure. Virtually every project that was ongoing then was stopped by my successor and left for four years in abeyance. It was only when I came back that I restarted them. The disadvantage of that is that instead of moving on with new things, we are going back to resuscitate and rebuild schools, hospitals as well as Ikogosi, which was running before we left.
For me, I don’t want to dwell on that because it generates negative energy. That is why I have basically refrained from the usual blame-game and exchanges over probe and others because what the people want is good government. Yes, people must account for their time in office, but there are mechanisms in place that should do that without distracting occupants of the office and that is basically the advice I have been giving to my colleagues as chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). I’ve had cause to sit down with incoming and outgoing governors to resolve issues in the interest of their state.
Once you start this run on the law courts, it never ends and you won’t even have time to focus on your own work. My believe is that anybody who has issues should go and sort himself out with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offence offences Commission (ICPC). Those are not state institutions; they are federal institutions, so that you can focus on governmental activities.
You earlier mentioned restructuring, which is a major component of your party’s manifesto; where do you stand on the issue?
I have never stopped from pushing for restructuring in all its ramifications. Sometimes, I get into trouble for pushing for it, but everywhere you hear me speak, I push for a multi-level security arrangement that takes into account of the gaps that we currently have. I deliberately say a multi-level security arrangement because some people think that when you say state police, you want to get rid of federal police, but that is not what the concept is all about.
The federal police has federal jurisdiction; state police has state jurisdiction and local police has local jurisdiction. Part of the problem is that we have overloaded the federal police and they are suffering tyranny of unfunded mandate. They have this huge mandate, but they don’t have the resources and the states that make resources available to them, don’t have control over them. So, we are all in suspended animation.
The other day, somebody asked me a question at an event organized by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) about cost of governance and restructuring. I gave a comprehensive answer, but the only thing that interested the media was that I said that we should go for a unicameral legislature. But, I think that if we should go for a unicameral legislature, it should be the one that really represents the people on account of the population because the House of Representatives is a product of federal constituencies and you know that the average population of federal constituency is 100,000.
It is not the same with the Senate and I used my state as an example. Ekiti has three million people, Lagos is about 20 million and it equally three senators. There are issues that warranted that, which include fear of oppression of the minorities. The constitution provided that because we have equal mandate as states, but the same constitution privileges landmass and population in the distribution of resources.
So, why don’t we reduce institutions whether it is at the level of the executive, especially Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as the Oronsaye report proposed or at the legislative branch? So, I think there is really need for restructuring, but not just restructuring of public institutions alone. We also need restructuring of the mind. What does Nigeria mean to all of us because if the tribe does not die, the nation cannot rise!
Can you shed light on the proposed Ekiti State Airport?
You know that I was not a great fan of the airport and Chief Afe Babalola and I had some exchanges over the project because he has always been a big fan of the airport. When I was governor for the first time, I set up an Airport Committee and asked Chief Babalola to chair it and come up with how much we are going to spend and how we are going to go about it. He did a brilliant job with others who were on the committee, but I was skeptical because I felt that what I needed to do was to fix the Ado-Akure road.
When I was young, I used to drive from Ado to Akure within 30 minutes. So, I felt that if we can fix the road, from Ado to the Akure Airport will take a maximum of 40 minutes. That was my argument then. I didn’t think that having an airport is much of the problem, but the competing needs. I felt that I could spend more money on social benefits and human capital development than on such an infrastructure. It wasn’t that I was outrightly against it.
And this time around; if you check my manifesto in 2018, I had nothing on it about the airport. But after I became governor, my friend, Dr. Akin Adesina came to collect an honorary doctorate degree at Afe Babalola University and drove on the Ado-Akure road after he landed. He was very angry and he came to me after the ceremony and asked about the issue with the Ado-Akure road, which I explained to him. He was impressed with the Afe Babalola University and his organization – African Development Bank (ADB) – had already given money to the university to support what is probably the best hospital in Nigeria today.
And that area is where we have what we call the Knowledge Zone and the ADB was going to support us on that. This was what led to the conversation that if Ekiti was going to be a centre for medical tourism, how do we get people to come. This was what led to Adesina, agreeing to support the construction of an airport in Ekiti State besides some other projects they are supporting us on like the agro-processing zone, the Ado-Akure road and the Smart City.
What is the position of the NGF on the status of local governments, especially as regards the directive by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) on council funds?
As far as we are concerned, the position of the NGF on the issue of NFIU’s directive on local governments’ fund is the position of the law. There is no law that has been passed in the country on local government autonomy. There have been several attempts, but it has never gotten 24 states Houses of Assembly out of the 36 in the country to make it happen. That is the process. Ccurrently, Nigeria is a two-tier federation; it is not a three-tier federation. Talks about Nigeria been a three-tier federation is a distortion.
It is even an aberration that we even have to go to Abuja to get approval on local governments. If you want to create 200 local governments, it is your business because you and your people in your state should figure it out. It should not be the business of Abuja because that for me is surreptitious unitarism. You cannot go behind to do what the constitution does not allow you to do and that was what informed our position at the NGF over the ridiculous instruction to banks. You know that you cannot confront us; you are now going to bankers. What is the business of the banks with the accounts maintained by local government as long as the accounts are funded and the proper persons run them?
Besides, what is the business of the NFIU on local governments’ funds? When you read the NFIU law, NFIU monitors what is going on in the banking system, internationally and locally and if you have a specific case of money laundering, please bring it up. You cannot have a general rule to address a unique problem. You can’t because you want to fight money laundering; you now say that states and local governments cannot run joint accounts, which is in the constitution of Nigeria. Section 162 and we have a case pending in court on the issue.
What is your take on the new National Minimum Wage and threats by labour to embark on strike over its non-implementation?
We don’t workers to down tools, but you will recall that the governors’ proposal in the course of the tripartite negotiation was N24,500. But, negotiation back and forth, we ended up with N30,000 and the governors’ in principle said ‘we will pay.’ However, in private discussions with the President, we made it clear that this is another recipe for future bailout. To be frank with you, I don’t even consider N30,000 a living wage in today’s Nigeria, but you cannot promise what you don’t have.
It is also a fundamental principle of labour relations because you get into trouble if you do that. So, we agreed N30,000 and we all agreed to look for ways to boost revenues going to the states and we are working on that. We are doing reconciliation with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on issues concerning pipeline vandalizing; we have a committee headed by Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasri el-Rufai working on that. We don’t want workers to down tools, but we made it clear during the tripartite negotiation that an increase in the National Minimum Wage is not tantamount to a general wage review.
The fact that we moved people who are below N30,000 to N30,000 and wherever they should be on the scale should not automatically mean that we must increase the salaries of people who are on Level 17 and who are on N400,000. It is a minimum wage law; it is not a general wage law. Yes, if you promote levels 05 or 06, they may go over what the current level 07 is earning, so that calls for consequential adjustment, but that adjustment should not go over levels 08 and 09.
The Federal Government has even agreed to do nine per cent for levels 07 to 12 and five per cent for levels 13 and above, but they said no and insisted on 45 per cent. Where is Nigeria going to find the money? I mean the economy is in doldrums. Whether we openly admit or not, everyone knows. If you have an economy that N2.4 trillion is for debt servicing; then what are we talking about. So, I hope good sense will prevail and that people will be able to convince labour that it is futile effort if they do so because Nigeria cannot pay what it doesn’t have.
A year into your second term as governor of Ekiti State, how has the journey been?
I will say that I am at an advantage because I am not a rookie governor. What I did immediately I came in for a second term was to recalibrate my government, but I must also live with the resources available to me in order to deliver. One of the greatest challenges I met on the ground was about 10 months arrears of salaries. So, first, I had to stabilize and I said, let’s pay salaries as and when due for people to plan their lives. We have achieved that; salaries are now regular and people get paid as and when due.
That has impacted positively on our local economy such that Value Added Tax (VAT) contribution to the federation account has increased significantly. We have also settled part of the arrears. People say government is a continuum and I agree with that, but when I was leaving after my first term, it was only the last month that I was in office that I didn’t pay and the only reason why I didn’t pay was that my successor went round the banks and said that he was in charge, so whatever I was asking them should not be honoured.
Now, I am saddled with the burden of the arrears, but we are clearing it though it tells on bottom line for direct development and yet that is what affects the bulk of people. But, if you come to Ekiti now, we are not just fixing roads, all the dams are being rehabilitated; we are doing reconstruction of pipelines for water in the state; we are rebuilding hospitals and schools and we are doing rural roads to ensure that farm produce gets to the markets.
We are also restarting the social security to the elderly. Really, the critical thing for us is to take Ekiti Sate out of that economy of civil service. This explains some of the things we are doing in the agric processing area as well as expansion of the entrepreneurship base of the state.
Ebonyi: Umahi strategises for zero oil economy
In view of dwindling oil revenue, Ebonyi State governor, Chief Dave Umahi, says he has marshalled out plans for the survival of the state by the time the nation runs short of revenue from crude oil, UCHENNA INYA reports
Crude oil was first discovered in Oloibiri Bayelsa State in June 1956. Since then, Nigeria has largely depended on it for survival. But there are worries that the nation may run out of oil in the next 20 or 50 years.
It is against this backdrop that Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State had since he came on board in 2015, has been advocating for diversification of the economy as a result of the dwindling oil revenue.
Oil has remained a major source of revenue for the country and most of the states depend on it for survival. But Ebonyi State has started strategizing on life after oil. To this end, the state has shifted attention to agriculture as its people are predominantly farmers.
The government had established three rice mill clusters across the three senatorial zones of the state. It has also launched what it termed “one-man-one hectare policy,” which makes it compulsory for all government officials and every individual in the state to own a farm.
The one-man-one hectare policy explains why the state is one of the three largest producers of rice in Nigeria as 53,000 farmers in the state were profiled on rice production in 2016.
Cassava production has also remained a priority crop in Ebonyi State. Apart from introducing hybrid vitamin A and C cassava stems, the government procured for farmers in the state, four numbers of five-ton/hour cassava processing machines, including machines for cassava starch and flour.
Reiterating the need for diversification of the economy, Governor Umahi, who was the guest lecturer at 59th Founders’ Day Celebration of University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), last week with the theme: “Preparing Ebonyi State for tomorrow’s zero oil economy,” said apart from oil, there are great opportunities for non-oil sectors to grow. This, he said, has been visible since 2001.
According to him, the country can develop different sectors by taking the important steps from the government’s side.
Umahi said Nigeria needs credit access for small business, opportunities for medium-size business, modernization in agriculture sector, development of textiles, development of tourism and creative industry, independence of businesses and private sector participation in economic development, reduction of the involvement of the government in economic production and introduction of new opportunities as well as human capital development through education, capacity building and empowerment instead of relying only on traditional sectors.
His words: “This topic otherwise captioned planning for the inevitable: “Ebonyi State must survive in a restructured Nigeria and in a zero oil economy” is a wakeup call to all leaders of the various levels of government. Before I start, I wish to refer to the remarks by President Muhammadu Buhari, in a lecture titled: “The zero oil plan: Nigeria must survive in a world in which we sell oil no more.”
He said that “for over 50 years, the Nigerian economy has depended mainly on a single export product, crude oil, as its main source of national and government income. Crude oil has essentially funded almost everything in Nigeria-from the goods we import, the infrastructure we build, to our public sector wages. It has also provided the primary underlying support for our currency. While the obsession with oil may have worked in the past, Nigeria needs a very different economic paradigm for its future. This is a great inspiration to leaders at all levels.
“Countries like China, United States and the European countries are now focusing on the future and the urgency of the complicating realities of oil economy in the midst of daunting climate change and technological innovations. As it is today, the European Union is projecting that by 2050, wind and solar energy will displace energy generated from crude oil. This is aimed at tackling climate change, international petroleum competitiveness and economic diversification.
“China is leading the world in the manufacturing of electronic cars and machines. All these technological innovations will surely crash the value of oil in the near future. There are probably three reasons why Nigeria needs to genuinely pursue zero-oil economy or diversification.
“First is to insulate the economy from the risk of being vulnerable to a single commodity as the different oil prices crashes have shown. Second is to create jobs that can raise the living standard of an average Nigerian. Oil and gas jobs account for less than one per cent of total employment and the young population can no longer be absorbed by the public sector. Third is to prepare for life beyond the oil revenue.
“Nigeria’s economy potentially lies beyond oil. In 1960, Nigeria had a leading position across several of her export crops, especially groundnut, cocoa, cotton and palm oil. At that time, her share of the world’s agriculture exports was in excess of one per cent. By the mid 1980s, however, agriculture exports collapsed as the country shifted towards petroleum exploration and by the 1990’s, Nigeria’s share in world export of agriculture had declined to less than 0.1 per cent.”
Umahi explained that the 45-year dominance of oil in the country started waning in 2016, when its prices and the value of the naira crashed, leading to recession.
He regretted that over the past five decades, the nation has been running a mono-product economy, entirely dependent, financed and operated on income generated from crude oil exports, which according to him has created vulnerabilities within Nigeria’s economy.
He said: “On aggregate, 90 per cent of the budgetary revenues of states in Nigeria are funded through allocations from the federation (mostly oil), while only 10 per cent is funded by Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) within states. The capacity for self-sustenance in many states has therefore been largely unexplored.
“This over concentration on a single commodity creates deep fault lines within the economy as global oil price crashes travel through all facets of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria’s oil resources should be used as a down payment to build a robust diversified export basket of other products – to create jobs, earn foreign exchange and attract investments.
“Essentially, Nigeria must ‘use oil to move beyond oil.’ Our large population of 180 million people means we do not have enough oil to meet the needs of all our citizens. A lower nation with a lower population than Nigeria has oil reserves of 9,900 barrels per person (for each citizen), Saudi Arabia has 9,241 barrels per person, while Nigeria has only 214 barrels per person.
“To translate this in another way, assuming Nigeria produced all its proven oil reserves in one day and immediately distributes the financial proceeds to all its citizens, the maximum amount each person would receive is $15,000, at $70 per barrel. In this scenario, after this ‘one time’ $15,000 cash distribution, there will be no oil for anyone.”
Umahi, who is the chairman South-East Governors’ Forum further opined that a restructured Nigeria based on a zero oil economy will transform into a nation with a different constitution in which the Exclusive and Concurrent legislative lists will look different from what they are at the moment.
“My vision is simple; to build a state economy that will thrive even when our income from crude oil goes to zero. A restructured economy is a diversified economy. It will usher in the following – new jobs, macro-economic environment stabilization, encouragement of youth development, supporting high social standards, fight against corruption at all levels, protecting environment, foreign exchange rate improvement, safety in public places, better coordination between cities, states, and government and cleaner environment.
“We are working on the stack reality that one day, federal allocation will diminish or worse still extinguish and the world would have moved forward without oil. Ebonyi State does not have her oil reserve yet developed and does not enjoy 13 per cent derivation. In planning for tomorrow based on our conviction that one-day oil will become history, we focused on these Programs: solid infrastructure, agriculture, solid mineral, human capital development, tourism, water production, entrepreneurship, vocational development, education, health, industrialization and security as critical sectors that will drive our initiative on zero oil economy.
“Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and has the propensity to provide employment and wealth creation to majority of both skilled and unskilled population of our state. We have introduced entrepreneurship activities in agriculture, in primary, secondary and tertiary productions value chain. Our target is to encourage agri-business. We started by making farming compulsory for all public and civil servants and we had to declare one-man-one hectare programme to all elected and appointed people, including civil servants.
“This made Ebonyi State to emerge as one of the three largest producers of rice in Nigeria. We profiled over 53,000 farmers on rice production in 2016 and since then we have continued to increase the zeal of rice farmers and we gave them improved rice seedlings and other inputs, including soft loans.
“We launched mechanization of agriculture wherein many modern farm implements such as tractors, threshers, tillers were procured and given to farmers. We already have a history of being a state with the biggest rice milling clusters in Africa, so we had to increase the tempo by rehabilitating three numbers of five metric tons per hour capacity modern rice mills. We procured equipment and installed three numbers of three metric tons per hour capacity parboiling plant to operate side by side with the rice mills. This has increased activities in the rice value chain and we propose that by 2020, every local government area shall have a modern rice mill.”
Payment of salaries’ll be our priority – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has told the people of Kogi State that its first assignment would be to clear outstanding arrears of salaries and pensions owed to workers in the state by the All Progressives Congress (APC) government if elected on November 16.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, who made the promise when he hosted investors from state in Abuja, yesterday, said payment of salaries and pension arrears, top intervention list of the party’s governorship candidate, Engr. Musa Wada
Ologbondiyan added that this would run simultaneously with job creation initiatives and direct empowerment of citizens in various income generating sectors for greater competitiveness, productivity and personal prosperity which the Yahaya Bello administration denied the people.
According to him, PDP was already in discussions with captains of industries, investors, professionals and experts in various fields from Kogi State and beyond on strategies to effectively and transparently transform the state, revamp the economy and empower the people.
“Our primary focus is the welfare and personal prosperity of the Kogi people. Kogi state is blessed with abundant human and material resources. It receives federal allocation in billions of naira every month, so the people of Kogi have no reason to live in poverty.
“There is no excuse for non-payment of salaries and pensions. The problem is that the APC has been stealing and mismanaging our resources. As you are aware, the people are looking up to us for solution and we must not fail them.
“I am happy that we have intensified discussions with professionals, investors and business people from Kogi and beyond on ways to harness and manage our resources and empower our people.
“Already we have perfected a strong template that will enable us, as soon as we are elected, to swiftly pay the arrears of salaries and pension accumulated by Bello.
“Kogi State is largely a civil service state and our people depend on their salaries; so payment of salaries must be a priority for any government that has the interest of the people at heart. Unfortunately, Bello has failed to deliver on this.” he said.
Business13 hours ago
Border closure: Used vehicles flood Apapa port
Metro and Crime11 hours ago
Four youths, fleeing police arrest, drown in Lagos lagoon
Business14 hours ago
‘Confluence Rice’ll be affordable to Nigerians’
Sports23 hours ago
Obaseki, Pinnick attend funeral mass for former NFF Vice President, Obaseki
Metro and Crime23 hours ago
Police discover decayed corpse of sergeant’s wife in Benue
Sports14 hours ago
Osimhen valued at 48m Euros
Metro and Crime20 hours ago
Plateau: Police arrest notorious kidnapper, 16 others
Politics11 hours ago
Anambra South: Uba brothers take battle to Appeal Court