Chief Willy Ezugwu is the Secretary General, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and National Coordinator of Save Enugu Group (SEG). In this interview, he speaks on plans by the Federal Government to rehabilitate the Port Harcourt Refinery and the move by the Enugu State House of Assembly to amend the state’s pension law for ex-governors. FELIX NWANERI reports
What is your take on Federal Government’s recent approval of $1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt Refinery?
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) administration has not done any single thing differently than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since it came to power on the wings of its change mantra. In 2015, most Nigerians were made to believe that an APC administration, headed by a retired General like President Muhammadu Buhari, would do things differently.
But we now know better. It is disappointing that after spending over $25 billion on so-called turnaround maintenance of Nigeria’s refineries without any improvement, the Federal Executive Council, chaired by President Buhari will approve fresh $1.5 billion (about N575 billion) for the repair of Port Harcourt refinery. How can a whopping N575 billion be wasted again on the 32-year-old Port Harcourt refinery instead of building a new one? While the 100 per cent capacity of the Port Harcourt Refinery, a twoplant complex, has a combined capacity of 210,000 barrel-per-day (bpd), Dangote is building a 650,000 bpd refinery with just about $15 billion.
The Dangote petrochemical complex is reported to house a gas processor and the world’s biggest plant for am-monia and urea, which is used in making plastics and fertilizer. The Dangote refinery will produce Euro- V quality petrol and diesel as well as jet fuel and polypropylene. It means that the $25 billion already wasted in turnaround maintenance by successive administrations would have built a bigger refinery for Nigeria than Dangote’s celebrated refinery complex. It is, therefore, a shame that after wasting $25 billion, Nigeria is spending the sum of $1.5 billion, about N575 billion, for another fruitless round of rehabilitation work on a 32-year-old Port Harcourt refinery.
What do you suggest as the way out of this fruitless round of rehabilitation as you described the move by the Federal Government?
The ruling APC and President must be told that Nigerians are fed up with the rehabilitation of refineries in the country as well as the attendant waste, we should be proactive as a country to minimise waste of resources. We see the planned maintenance to be done in three phases of 18, 24 and 44 months, a proposal by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, as one of the conduit pipes for siphoning Nigeria hard earned foreign currencies.
Your group, SEG, recently kicked against a bill to amend the pension law for ex-governors and deputy governors of Enugu State. What informed that position?
It is unfortunate that the Enugu State House of Assembly, through its leader, shamelessly insisted on continuing the process of amendment to the pension law for former governors and their deputies. How can the House claim that it won’t disappoint the people where the deafening outcry against the bill is a loud expression of deep dissatisfaction on the quality of representation? Regrettably, the House leader is allowing himself to be used by the Speaker, who is said to be eyeing the governorship seat in 2023 and working towards a futuristic benefits if the bill is eventually passed into law. Otherwise, what is the special interest of the House of Assembly in making a law to further swell the bank account of already rich former governors and their deputies at the expense of the masses whose money will be used to service those politicians?
How will passage of the bill affect Enugu State?
It is shocking that while a state like Lagos, with high Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) that runs into billions of naira monthly, has abolished pensions for former governors, the Enugu State House of Assembly allowed such a bill to pass first reading when such a law will deplete the meager revenue of the state to the tune of over N2 billion annually. It’s more disheartening to discover that the proposed law is an executive bill. More worrisome is the provision in the bill for medical allowance not exceeding N12 million per annum for one surviving spouse of a former governor, provided that such spouse was married to the governor while in office.
What is more unfortunate in the bill is the provision seeking to mandate the state government to provide three vehicles for ex-governors and replace them every four years. Also very insulting to the sensibilities of the suffering masses is the provisions that when a former governor or former deputy governor dies, the state government should make adequate arrangement and bear the financial responsibility for his/her burial and that the state government should pay a condolence allowance of a sum equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor to his next of kin.
This is a country where people, who served their states as civil servants for over 30 years are struggling to get their terminal benefits while a governor or his deputy who may have spent eight years, or even less, will be buried at the state government’s expense and the next of kin paid thereafter. It is very unfortunate and we call on the Enugu State House of Assembly to kill the bill within the next 21 days or face the wrath of the citizens.
In addition to other legal measures, we shall mobilise and guide all constituents in the state constituencies to immediately initiate the process of recalling their representatives at the state House of Assembly in the event that the lawmakers failed to kill the bill. To pass such a bill into law, the State Assembly must include a provision for all retired state civil servants to receive exactly same retirement benefits as the Governor and the deputy, including the exact condolence allowance to the next of kins of all retired civil servants in Enugu State.