Nigerians Elected Buhari, Not NLC President – Ugwu- Oju | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigerians Elected Buhari, Not NLC President – Ugwu- Oju

Posted: May 22, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

EMEKA Ugwu-Oju is the President of South-East/South-South Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN). In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on the achievements of his organisation, developments in the South East, South-South region and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

As the president of the South East South South Professionals, what do you think your organisation has achieved so far since it was formed?

South East South-South Professional came into being about 10 years ago, about the time late President Umaru  Yar’adua was elected. We had a retreat in Calabar and many professionals from the South East and South South came together in order to look at the state of the nation and the situation in both regions. After much brainstorming, we decided that the way forward is for the South East and South South to come together as a regional bloc to see how they can take their destiny into their own hands through cooperation, regional integration and development. So far, our major achievement is that today, people take the South East South South like they are in existence which wasn’t the case before. Before it used to be South East on its own and South South on its own, but today, you see people talking about the South East South South combined. More importantly, we have been able to put our money where our mouth is and the major thing is ‘how do we actualise that development that we all want?’. We have tried to facilitate a 20-year development agenda for the South- East South South which will be unveiled this year after necessary input and endorsement by all the necessary stakeholders.



Looking at the state of the nation, can you say that Nigerians have gotten the desired change they voted one year after the presidential election that ushered in President Muhammadu Buhari and ended the reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?

For the first time since the democratic dispensation, there has been a change in governance at the national level from one party to another; that is from PDP to APC. That to me was a major change because even the PDP was already thinking of ruling the country for the next 60 years; and then a new party spring up by way of merger and they (PDP) were shown the way out by the people of Nigeria. I think one of the reasons for the change was that people felt they needed something better. They believe that the standard of living is not what it should be and that with a change in government, things will improve. I think in the next few days, the new government would have spent one year and from the look of things, the misery index of Nigeria, instead of improving has gotten worse. Whether it is the fault of government or not is a different matter altogether but the reality is that people expected improvement in the standard of living but instead it has gotten worse in the first year. The new government still has four years. So, we hope that in the next three years, people will get the sort of change they voted. But right now, they don’t seem to be getting it with regards to improvement in standard of living. I must admit that we have seen a lot of action in the fight against corruption and in the war against Boko Haram insurgency; even though unfortunately, we are now seeing an upsurge in the attack on innocent people by so-called Fulani herdsmen.  It looks like the gains from the war against Boko Haram insurgency is being lost through the activities of the Fulani herdsmen.  It also took the government some time to put the structure of governance in place, especially as regards the appointment of ministers and also getting the first budget on the ground has taken a bit of time. All these has also created an environment where people feel that though there is change, nothing much has changed for the better.

On the Fulani herdsmen crisis, what is your take on the Grazing Reserve Bill?

I haven’t seen the bill so as to digest the content but I want a situation whereby cattle rearing is done the way it is being done all over the world; which is as a business. That means if I want to rear cow, I will do it in a ranch. I have to acquire a ranch where I will rear my cows and then sell for profit. The idea of cows moving about all the place is not modern. So, if the bill is saying let’s stop having cows move about all the place but if you want to rear cows, get ranches, maybe  with the support of government, then that is good. Right now, we still have the Land Use Act which vests ownership of land on the state government. If a state wants to establish ranches, they can do a Public Private Partnership with the cattle rearers and probably get some benefit from it. But if the bill is talking about government acquiring land and just giving to the cattle rearers just like that, then it doesn’t make sense.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo said President Muhammadu Buhari is not sound on economic matters, do  you think  that is responsible for the slow pace of the Nigerian economy today?

I think the former president is entitled to his opinion, which I may say is subjective. But since the current president served under him in the military, I think he (Obasanjo) is in a better position to assess his strength and weaknesses. In my view, looking at the statement by Obasanjo where he said President Buhari is not sound on economic matters but on issues of security, I believe that being president doesn’t imply one should be a specialist in all fields. The important thing is being able to take the right decisions and have professionals who are knowledgeable on economic matters in your team. Then as a leader, you listen to them and take their advice. One major problem with some leaders is having brilliant minds in their team but failing to listen to their advice. But if president Buhari has people who have a sound knowledge about economic matters in his team and takes their advice as at when due, there shouldn’t be any problem. He doesn’t have to be an economic expert. For example, US President, Barack Obama is not an economic expert. He is a lawyer but he has people who are versed in economic matters in his team.

What do you of the recent blow-up of oil installations by a militant group which labeled itself as the Niger Delta Avengers?

Right now, Nigeria is a mono-product economy, which is oil. It is like our lifeblood at this point in time and that is why there is renewed efforts on diversification of the economy so that we don’t depend on only one product. Truly, oil production has dropped from 2.2million to 1.4 barrels which may be adduced to challenges in the environment such as sabotage. So, it will be tough for the economy losing a lot from your main foreign exchange earning both in terms of price and volume. The impact of course, will be very negative on the economy. I think from the South East South South Professionals point of view, we have tried to analysed the issue in a professional manner. I remembered that we wrote a letter to the president during his first three months in office. We told him that some of his actions and inactions are providing an environment whereby the majority of the South East South South are feeling that they are not part of his government. If that is the case, it will also provide an enabling environment for those who have issues with the government; to feel that they are in good company with people who have resolved to fight the government through sabotage and other means. It will be easier for these ones to get away with it because the sympathy will be there irrespective of the public posturing. It is important for you not to create that environment of sympathy whether the people are trying to fight for their own selfish reasons. But if you provide an environment whereby fighting for selfish reasons can get the coloration of fighting on behalf of the alienated people of South East and South South, it won’t be good enough. We pointed that out in our letter. How far the president has gone in addressing that issue, I think we should be able to judge. It is neither here nor there.

How best do you think the Federal Government can handle the issue?

The reality is that there has been a lot of sabotage whether from the Niger Delta Avengers or other groups and it is not good for our economy. If the government wants to seek our advice, I think it will be in line with what the British has suggested that it is not something you go and crush. Doing that, you may end up crushing all the refineries and pipelines and end up with zero products. You crush the saboteurs and the products. So, what will be the gain at the end of the day? The solution could be that the government must fashion out how the people of the Niger Delta or South East South South could feel that they have a stake in the government. One major solution is the resolution of the 2014 National Conference. Government should stop making it look like it is Goodluck Jonathan’s document. It is a decision that was reached by a lot of our credible representatives. If they insist that we should start implementing the decision reached at the conference, I believe the enabling environment for the Niger Delta Avengers will not be there anymore. Rather, it will give room for us to do things that we need to do, in other words, address structural issues, while at the same time, provide that environment for our oil and gas sector to actualise its actual potentials which is not there now due to externalities like attacks and so on.

Your organisation recently issued a statement where you declared support for the fuel hike and urged the NLC to tread cautiously. Don’t you think the NLC is justified in fighting for the masses who will be affected by this increase?

We did not support the fuel price increase. What we are backing is the deregulation of the oil and gas sector and allowing market forces to drive that sector. If the market price as at today is higher than what it was before, so be it, because today it may be high, tomorrow it may be low based on factors that guide the market. What we are totally against is this idea of subsidy. If government can afford it, it should be able to subsidise but what we are subsidising should be based on what is best for the people. If it is more beneficial to subsidise education, that is where subsidy should go. We can subsidise other sectors like agriculture, health sector and so on. Nobody should just say ‘ we must subsidise fuel’, that to me is arrant nonsense. It is unfortunate that the former president (Goodluck Jonathan) allowed forces to get him to backpedal in 2012. If not, things could have been different. He is the president and if the people of Nigeria have given him the mandate, he would have known what to do. It is not a popularity contest. You are supposed to do what is good for the people and that is why we have issues with the organized labour.  Some of them have been behaving as if we Nigerians elected them to govern us. We elected only one president and that is President Muhammadu Buhari, not Ayuba Wabba.  If Buhari’s promises are wrong, we will vote him out in the next three years. But if now, he believes that what is best for the country is for the market to be deregulated, let NLC start forming their own party and come and ask our votes in three years time. But this idea of going on strike, what will be the effect? At the end of the day, it will punish those we said we are fighting for. By going on strike, are we saying the government should bring the price down to what they can’t afford? Where will government get the money? Government is complaining of inability to pay salaries and labour wants it to keep an artificial price. The government has been trying to dodge the reality for a while but they can’t do that anymore because they don’t have the money. If Labour can bring the money, no problem. The price can be N50. If Jonathan had taken that decision,  we should have had a different oil and gas sector than what we have today and less corruption in that sector. A lot of corruption we are having today is due to not allowing market forces.