Big Challenges Await New Ministers – Joe Igbokwe | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Big Challenges Await New Ministers – Joe Igbokwe

Posted: Nov 15, 2015 at 9:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Mr. Joe Igbokwe is an All Progressives Congress chieftain and APC Publicity Secretary in Lagos State for the past seven years. He spoke on renewed agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra and his activities at the Lagos Tincan Wharf as the chairman, Wharf Landing Fee among others

There is a renewed agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra. What is your view on the agitation?

It’s a needless distraction in the sense that Nigeria provides a bigger space for Igbo people. I do not share their sentiment because the recent upsurge to Biafra was as a result of the political decision that our people took in the 2015 presidential election, which did not favour them. They thought Goodluck Jonathan was going to win but he failed.

They have been angry since then and the only way they can console themselves is to talk about Biafra. I would advise our people to play better politics. We are playing politics of hate and if we continue like this, there is no way we can get Hausas and Yorubas to support us in the race to produce the President of the nation. For you to win the presidential race, you need an alliance with the North, which we saw between the Yorubas and the North in the last election.

We have told our people that there is no way 11 states can defeat 25 states. There is no way two zones can defeat four zones but they did not listen. Their only argument was that an incumbent can never be defeated.

So, when it became obvious, they got angry and the only way is to lay their hands on Biafra. If Jonathan had won this election, there won’t be the need for this and I don’t want my people to begin to blackmail Nigeria because an election was lost. Nigeria provides a big space for Igbos.

What would you say about the killings of pro-Biafra protesters demanding the release of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu?

It’s totally uncalled for. I don’t see any reasonable person that will be talking about Biafra in this 21st century. We have moved on. This is 45 years after the civil war. What we need to do is to play better politics. The people that are doing this are not better informed and our people must speak up.

The intellectuals must speak up. Among the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, Igbos are not the worst. My fear is the hate language. Nnamdi Kanu has created one million enemies to himself because of what has come out of his mouth and a lot of the little-minded elements that are following them.

The first move was not debated but this one has to be debated. They have to convince me why I have to go for Biafra in this critical part of the nation’s politics. Let us work with the rest of the nation and let’s not work in isolation.

New ministers have been inaugurated. What are the greatest tasks facing them, especially with the trimming down of the ministerial list?

It’s just to have a very small government and also reduce the cost of government because our resources have gone down considerably. I think what happened on Wednesday was a call to duty. Oil revenue has dropped and we have unemployment problem, poor road transportation; our hospitals are in the worst states of dilapidation with tertiary institutions in the country going down.

There is a lot of work to be done and I believe that this cabinet is going to be on their toes to answer their fathers’ names when they get there. I have seen people who have been given work to do and I want to say that they are round pegs in round holes. We are going to get good results, especially in the areas of infrastructure and power generation. I think there will be a significant improvement. I think it is not going to be business as usual, given the calibre of the people there.

What will be their major challenges?

Look, let me tell you, Nigeria needs to generate over 50,000 megawatts in the next four years. I don’t know how they are going to do that but this is a real challenge to the newly constituted cabinet.

We need to build an East-West coastal highway; we need to complete Lagos- Ibadan and Lagos-Badagry roads. We need to build rail to Tin Can Island. We don’t have any good road infrastructure in the country. These are the two critical things the cabinet must pay attention to. Of course, we have to create jobs and make investment in agriculture.

These are challenges. If the government provides electricity and builds our roads, Nigerians will find their way. It’s just like showing somebody the light and he will find his way. Work, housing and power sector are the areas the President must have confidence in himself and focus on because they are critical to this country. There are places that huge amounts of money will be required.

A quite a number of big firms in Nigeria have been posting the worst financial reports since the beginning of this administration. What are the reasons behind this development?

What you are seeing now didn’t start today. We are suffering from the incubus of the Peoples Democratic Party’s misrule in the past 16 years. The country made too much money but they looted and plundered the whole treasury and we are suffering the effect. They never created jobs; they never created housing nor built roads, nor built our hospitals and schools. We are suffering it now.

Everything is gone and we are trying to build again from the scratch. I think things will improve again by the time people have confidence in this economy and come back.

Nigerian has been moving round over the past 16 years. And I think God has decided to answer our prayers if we think about the way the Buhari emerged. He has been in this race for years. And what he is doing now is what God wants him to do in order to stop corruption and take the country to the path of growth. We all voted him into power so that he will fight corruption. Our major problem is corruption.

The money that would have been used to build Nigeria entered into the private pockets of those who constitute less than three per cent of the total population of the country. We need to get the money back from them to invest in our economy. Let’s support this government for good.

There has also been a downward slide in the Gross Domestic Product of the country since APC assumed power at the centre. How soon do you see Nigeria’s economy recovery?

You know that our economy is dependent on oil. We have a mono economy. Now, oil has gone down and I do not see it going up to $120 or $125 per barrel again. What we have is a bastadised economy but the President has started working on it by reducing the size of the government in order to cut down on overheads. We must spend according to what we have.

We cannot depend on oil for long. There are so many things to exploit in Nigeria. Our population is an advantage. There is nothing that we produce here that they can’t buy.

And for you to produce in the country there have to be power and security. These are the things we must do and I thank God that the ministers have been given portfolios that suit their pedigree and where they are coming from. I think we will overcome soon, if we bend down to look inwards. If we continue rushing to China to import these things, we will not be helping this economy. We can do this when we change the attitude of Nigerians towards foreign goods.

What is your view on the anti-corruption crusade of this government?

Oh fantastic. It’s been really renewed. Do you know how much this administration has recovered so far? Before you do anything now, you have to ask yourself a question what will happen to you in the next couple of days if you do that. People are conscious that there is a government in place that does not condone corruption. He has told the ministers that they are coming to use their positions to add value to the country and not their pockets and families. We have left Egypt and we are going to the promised land. No going back to Egypt.

There is a rumour about town that you are being considered as the replacement for former APC spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, following his appointment as minister of Information and Culture. How prepared are you and how would you contribute positively to the party?

I believe that the promotion does not come from the East, West, North or South. Promotion comes from the Lord. God is the judge. If my party feels that I have done very well and decides to give me another position, I will be glad to receive it and do the job. It’s just that one is going to step into big shoes. But like I said, I’m not the person that would determine what happens.

I have been APC Publicity Secretary in Lagos for seven years now, so, if they feel that I can do the job and give it to me, then, I will do it. If there are to be six people that will be presented for the position, I know I won’t be the least. I’m not a push around in this business of publicity. But I leave everything entirely for my party to decide, I’m not campaigning for myself.

As the chairman, Wharf Landing Fee in Lagos, how has your chairmanship benefited the economic growth of the state, especially in the area of Internally Generated Revenue?

Well, one is doing what one needs to do in one’s office and every little bit of it adds to the growth of the economy. Handling fees for the containers and cars that are coming into Lagos is what I do for the state. Very small money and it’s for the local governments in the state. Though it has been in existence, yet they want me to add more momentum to it.

But when I got to Apapa, I discovered that everywhere was in ruin and I started drawing government’s attention to the dilapidation of the wharf, where trillions of naira are generated every year.

The governments are taking from the wharf but nobody is putting anything back to the system. They have allowed that place to decay over years. We need someone who will pay attention to the roads and other infrastructure in the Tin Can Island, where you have the worst roads.

The whole of that place is in a total mess. And nobody will come from the United Kingdom or Ghana to do it for us; it has to be done by us. That is to say that those who have been port managers in that axis never cared about the state of the wharf. It’s a hopeless situation.

What would you consider as the major challenges facing your operations there?

Infrastructure! I had to set up an office there with a customs officer and used the power of engagement to dialogue with the critical stakeholders in the sector. Again, I’m going to leverage on the fact that most people who do business there are our people.

A number of Igbos are in clearing and forwarding as well as shipping business there. But one thing I want to say is that if you want to take that landing fee, you have to make it sufficient enough to attract infrastructure. We need to build the roads to that place, provide security and the government must do her part before asking others to pay fees. You cannot take money from somebody and he will not see the effect of it on the environment. These are the things we are going to do.

They said two plus two is four but because of synergy, it becomes five. That is what I’m going to do there. The major issue with the Apapa Wharf is the lack of road infrastructure. Again, the original design of Apapa Wharf has been abandoned. The rail is to take off the containers coupled with congestion created by the importation of fuel.

A picture of you was captured climbing a palm tree. At 59, do you still have such strength to do that?

No, no…these were the things we did when we were growing up to make money. I started feeding my mother when I was young, right from my primary school days. Then, when I came back from school, I would carry my rope to go and climb palm trees to make money. And I did it.

So, one day, somebody came to my compound and said he wanted to remove his palm fruit and they charged him so much money. I told him that I can do it and he said, “Oga, it’s is a lie…Oga, it’s is a lie.” I then took up the challenge, went there and brought it down. And the man was surprised. So, we did that while we were growing up. I was not born with a silver spoon. I saw poverty and came out of it.

So, how did you break out of poverty?

By dint of hard work, I went to school. If you want to come out of poverty, you have to go to school up to university level and train yourself. I would have gone to do one apprenticeship or the other somewhere else but I went to the University of Nigeria Nsukka and studied Mechanical Engineering.

If I hadn’t gone to school, I wouldn’t be speaking to you now. If you are very poor and you are in school with ministers and governors’ children, the only way you can become equal to them is to beat their children in the class. That was what we did those days. When you beat them in the class you become a hero.

It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, they will respect you. I was the head boy of my school. I have always been a leader all my life because I went to school. That’s my advice to people.

If you want to break out of poverty, go to school first, pass through university and allow the university to pass through you. You will never be poor.