Hon. Chris Emeka Azubogu, who represents Nnewi North/ South/ Ekwusigo Federal Constituency of Anambra State, is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with CHUKWU DAVID, he speaks on the 2021 budget, involvement of youths in government, recent #EndSARS protest and his governorship ambition in Anambra State, among other issues
The National Assembly is currently working seriously on the 2021 Appropriation Bill to pass it in good time but during the debate on the general principles of the bill, many lawmakers picked holes with the content of the document. In your view, what are those fundamental flaws in the budget?
It is true, people were complaining and criticising the budget generally but there are realities we must face. One, our economy is not in the best state.
We went into recession, as we were trying to recover; we were hit by COVID-19. Though it is a global pandemic which has negatively affected the economies of the world including the strong economies of the world, but you know that we seem to be feeling the impact more in Nigeria because of the poor state of our economy even before the pandemic.
You can see that in this case, you cannot blame it on government or anybody because it emanated from a natural situation which is beyond human control.
There is what they call force majeure in law. That is, when the unpredictable happens, there is nothing you can do about it, and you cannot blame anybody about it. The pandemic is a force majeure. That was why, we the lawmakers, in our wisdom, called Mr. President to return the 2020 budget. We now reviewed it and passed what is called a revised budget for 2020, considering that COVID- 19 was not part of our plan.
You know that budget is a plan. People were complaining but what would have the President done? Our source of revenue crashed the pandemic.
So, we need to borrow to survive; we are trying at all cost to keep the country to stay afloat, and keeping the country to stay afloat is a great achievement. We know that this harsh economic situation in the country has also brought a lot of hardship on the people.
If anybody says that there is no hardship, the person is lying but we need to be realistic about our demands and everything.
The other thing that aggravated our challenges is the insecurity that has been in the country even before the COVID-19. We are practically in a state of war. Imagine the fight against the Boko Haram, the bandits, farmers/ herd-ers clash, the vandalism in the Niger Delta and other security vices in different parts of the country, the poor and infrastructural deficits, all these things are the things negatively affecting our economy generally.
So, we must holistically look at our structure of governance.
The youths of this country are clamouring to actively participate in politics and governance of Nigeria. You, being a young man in government in the last 14 years, do you think that the problem of this country is the absence of the young people in government, is it a matter of age?
It is a matter of preparedness. I have talked about this. Every society must determine the kind of leadership that they need. And in the course of determining that leadership, you must be prepared. You must strengthen the process of leadership enthronement, so that it will not be flawed and a wrong person will enter and deviate from the norms.
So, you need to be up as a vanguard to protect the processes. That is why one of the key areas of corruption is electoral process. If you can ensure that the process that will enthrone leadership is devoid of corruption, then you are on your way to success in governance.
We can see that corruption is both endemic and systemic in our system. It is part of the system and part of the culture. If you must reform the system, you are going to start from the key resources.
Who will do this? A leader must emerge from a corruption free process before he can have moral right to say that he is going to fight corruption. You cannot build something on nothing and you cannot build nothing on something. Again, the society needs to be properly educated so that the people can make proper choice of those they want to lead.
The people should have elementary knowledge of what you are going to do when elected into power. It should not be a situation where by when somebody gives them N2,000 or Indomie or rice. They vote for the person without knowing what the person can offer. Some of them give you N5,000 and you vote for them for four years. Even the electoral body has a lot of work to do on voter education.
Every society deserves the leadership they have and as you know, leadership is a product of society. Leadership cannot come from outside; it has to come from within the society. So, you must develop clear indicators or indices for choice of leadership. So, we have a lot of work to do.
Also, the media have a lot of work to do because you are part of the society. We must sit back and ask, how prepared are these people? If you bring somebody who is not properly prepared, then that is failure of leadership, and the major challenge we have in this country is failure of leadership.
What major lessons do you think that we should learn from the recent #EndSARS protests across the country?
Yes, the society is becoming very restive. There are a lot of things which the youths tolerated in time past which they cannot take any longer today. So, we have to review the steps we have been taking.
We have to involve citizens in leadership and governance for them to take charge. Communicate with them and let them know what you are doing. In governance, you must communicate. People talk about participation, participation is about communication.
Electing a youth is not the issue; youths are also in governance. The youths that are complaining, when you gave them opportunity to lead, what did they do with it? It is when you pass primary one then you go to primary two. Involvement is not governance.
Leadership involves everything, from community to offices. If you are employed in the office, how do you do your work? Governance or leadership involves responsibilities. So, if you discharge the first one very well then you will be given another, and perhaps a higher responsibility. If you say that you want to be President, there is no problem.
We will make you President but you will first of all tell us how you want to govern. It is not about noise-making; it is not like the military, it is not command. Modern day leadership involves genuine skill of managing men and material resources.
If you can’t manage 50 men, you can’t manage 1,000 men. So, you have to start in your small office, where you have five people under you, then you will be elevated to manage ten people and from there you take more responsibilities until you go into what you are talking about, that these are the experiences you have.
But if what you mean by involvement is to pick you up and place you on top of those who have more experiences and skills than you, it will not work.
Even in the military, it is not done that way. They respect and follow experience, skills and seniority in assigning responsibilities to personnel. These are the things we are talking about leadership. Youths are involved in government but what we are talking about is that we must have service delivery index.
We as people in government must showcase service delivery indicators or indices. People must take responsibility for their actions. We are practicing democracy based on the rule of law. The system must ensure that people comply with requirements of governance.
So, we have to be concerned about how to enforce compliance in the system. These are the general things we are looking at. While we are looking at it, we must continue to improve on it.
As our function in the Parliament is lawmaking, if some of our laws get obsolete, we legislate and improve on it to meet up with the times. So, there are things all of us need to do. But the truth is that government must focus on the productive sector of the economy, improve on the decaying infrastructure.
As a nation, we must be ready to produce what we eat and eat what we produce. We must produce for ourselves and produce for others. We must work out plans on how to feed the population with what we produce. And if we do that, our economy will improve. It is not a rocket science. What we need is the political will to do it, and if we are determined, we can achieve it.
Our institutions are not working. What is the problem? Is it lack of enabling laws or lack of will power to enforce existing laws that is affecting the workings of the institutions?
You have said it all. I have said it before; we must be able to institutionalise governance.
Even if the laws are deficient because no laws are perfect anywhere in the world, we can amend them. It is just that we have not developed the culture, the discipline and the political will to enforce the laws. Leadership is not only about penalty and deterrence; it can be educative too. A leader should lead by example.
When people see your body language, they know that this is how it should be done. Not when somebody fails in his or her responsibility you use cane immediately on the person.
The question is, did you lead by example. You should be a role model; you must inspire hope in the people, and by your action people will know that you are a leader, at any level, at any stage; either in a corporate institution or larger body.
Is it true that you have ambition to be the next governor of Anambra State, after Willie Obiano, and if it’s true, what is your driving force?
I am a third term member of the National Assembly, and by the special grace of God, I am the highest elected member of my party, the PDP from my Senatorial Zone; and that makes me the leader of my party in Anambra South Senatorial Zone by providence, by geography and by everything.
And also in terms of preparedness, going by what my party people are saying, that I should come and lead the party to the Government House in Awka, and this is hinged solely on my competences, exposure and readiness to undertake the huge task ahead and many years of adding value to gover nance.
So, it is based on antecedence, and after weighing the options, I felt that it is something that is reasonable to venture into, in the sense that we have spent good time in government and we are determined to make a difference.
In 2010, when I was running for the House of Representatives, I told my constituents that I was going to make a difference. And in the 10 years I have spent in the National Assembly, they have confirmed that I have really made the difference.
So, I believe in saying what I mean and I mean what I say, and also do what I say. And if I am not prepared enough, I would have backed out but having looked around, I have not seen anybody who is as prepared as I am. I am not talking of qualification this time, I am talking about being prepared, if you talk about the knowledge I have about the state. I worked with the state government for four years continuously.
Then I have worked in the National Assembly for first term, second term and this is my third term.
So, I am a hybrid of what Anambra needs today. I believe I have the right temperament, the right skill, the right exposure and deep understanding and knowledge of the state, and the challenges of the state, and we have come to proffer solutions.
What are the things the past and present administrations of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have not done in Anambra State, which you want to do; in other words, what gaps do you want to fill if elected as governor?
It is not about filling gap, government is a continuum. Again, it is not about APGA, it is about government, and after election comes government. It is not about party now but about individual that will head the government.
How prepared is he. And you know that our democracy is evolving. The needs of 10 years ago might not be the needs for today but how are you preparing for today and tomorrow.
That is what we are talking about. APGA has also done its best; it is not for me to judge them but because I have been part of the governance of the state over the years, I know where we have done well and where we have not done too well. I know where we are in terms of development and I know what we need to do to take us to the next level.
It is not a question of saying I will do; the question is how. That is the difference between me and most of the people who are coming on board to say that they will do this and that. Having been part of governance, I know the system that will work. I have tested some of them.
And because I am a scientist, I am an engineer by training, I do what is called proper study and analysis. As a matter of fact, I have done study and analysis; I have done urban planning and I have done design of the solutions and I have developed more results on key sectors of the economy. I have done prototypes and I have done pilot schemes on some of them.
For example, if you come to area of social services, you mention security, mention education, mention health. These are key primary reasons for governance.
That is the role of government; protection of lives and property. As a government, you can’t drive health on profit alone because it is a social service.
The same thing is applicable to education and security. You may not measure the economic impact physically but without these things in place, you cannot develop economically. If the people are not educated, they cannot drive the economy.
And the type of education we are talking about is not about being literate only. We are talking about having the requisite skill that will drive the economy. When you are talking of education, you need to equip men and women with the needed skill that will drive the economy; whether from production or from services.
You must produce goods and services, so everybody must be productive between the age of 18 and 65. Check how many people within the working age are genuinely and properly employed because you have unemployment and underemployment.
So, as a government, you need to create the enabling environment for those things to thrive. This is the kind of knowledge we are talking about. The same thing applies to health; if you don’t have a healthy population, you don’t have a productive population.
Then, if you don’t secure the environment, you can’t have a productive and stable economy. Security is not only about crime prevention. Security is all encompassing. You have job security, food security, health security and others. It is a very important factor that determines success or otherwise in governance. When you talk of crime prevention, it comes with a lot of things.
Do you have adequate facilities for intelligence gathering because that is the basis of security. You must mark crime and study it and develop capacity to tackle it because crime is always evolving. So, if you want to minimize crime, you have to be proactive, and you must have database to be able to manage it.
So, these are core things about governance which a lot of people don’t know how these things work. But for me, because of my background, having been in the Executive, and having been in legislative work for a long time in the committees, working with the Executive, over-sighting the Executive, being a member of the Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Committee on Industry, Committee on Appropriation and Budget, Public Finance, Capital Market, it is not a problem to me.
So, when you want to talk of security, it is an all-encompassing thing. Put that aside, if you want to talk of critical economic infrastructure like building industrial park and the rest of them, these are the things you need to look at if you want to go into governance and succeed.
One major problem facing Anambra State is serious decay in road infrastructure. How do you intend to tackle this?
The problem in my state is far beyond decay in road infrastructure which you have mentioned. If you build road for them, and what drives the economy are not there, I mean the economic drivers, it will amount to nothing.
And the truth is that the economic drivers are simply not there, and that is why people migrate out of the state.
The State is left with lack of needed infrastructure, and it’s all encompassing. You can’t do pick and choose; it is integrated development that you need.
Obiano will soon serve out his second tenure in Anambra, what specific value or new things are you going to add to what he has done?
Very good, what we are doing now was not done before Obiano was enthroned. That’s why we are going to engage and interrogate everybody who wants to be governor. We want to look at their backgrounds and antecedents of what they have left or what they have done before, and that brings the question about how prepared are you.
It’s not what you say that is important; it’s what you get from what the person is saying. As an investigative journalist, you know that what people are talking is different from what they are doing. People are coached to come and tell the electorate anything.
But see what is happening with our citizens, look at the EndSARS and other things that are going to happen. The electorate is going to query more on who is coming to lead.
What kind of leadership are they going to offer to us. The things you are telling us, where have you done it before? People need to understand what it takes to be a leader.
You have been in the National Assembly for the past 10 years. People will like to know what you have done in your constituency and how you are going to replicate that and even more in the larger society, which is now the entire Anambra State, if you are elected?
That’s very good. If you go to Anambra State and talk about Chris Azubogu, they will tell you Mr. Project. In 2010, I told them that I will make a difference. Then I came to the National Assembly for the first time, and after my four years, they saw that I have proven that I can be trusted. I went the second time, and they voted for me.
When I came, I performed marvelously well. So, when I went for the third time, it was a walk over for me because I say what I mean and I mean what I say. So, now the entire state is aware; am not talking of my constituency now because there is media everywhere; everybody knows that this man has excelled in what he is doing.
There is a proof of that, this man, since he came to National Assembly, he has done well. I have never been governor but if you want to be President and you have been governor in your state, and you did well, that is what will be used to assess you because it is the same mechanism.
If you have discharged your responsibility well in a smaller place, giving you a bigger place will not be a problem because that is preparedness, and you have shown competence in your earlier position and assignment.
They are things I have done that made the electorate to continue to vote for me, and that is what I am going to bring to the larger society. I worked in the state before I went to the House of Reps.
So, I understand the state at the back of my heart. I worked with Peter Obi for four years. I was a practical member of his government. I was paying salaries for all the workers, worth over N2billion every month. I know civil servants; I know their work schedules.
So, am not just new to Anambra State. I managed pensions, managed key projects and others in the state.