Rep member, Prof. Ihonvbere, APC chieftain
Doubts South South will support him
Fears Igbo may ruin their chance
Speaks on Zamfara gold, hopes for resource control
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Hon. Julius Ihonvbere is a Professor of International Relations and Political Science. He represents Owan West/East Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House of Representatives where he also chairs the Committee on Basic Education and Services. A former Secretary to State Government, SSG, Ihonvbere in this interview speaks on sundry issues in the polity, advising former President Goodluck Jonathan to check his hobnob with the President Muhammadu Buhari APC led government.
Appraisal of the 2020 and 2021 budget defence
This is not the first time we are going through the ritual of budget making. President said that this was going to be a budget of recovery, nation building, a budget to take care of those areas where you have imbalances . If you look at the provisions, there were efforts to put a lot of resources in security, education, health. We work till late in the night to see if January to December budget cycle will work. But many MDAs still think this is a joke. They don’t take it seriously. When they come for the defence they are not prepared which shows that those who prepared their document and those who are coming to present are two different entities with no synergy. Some cannot even properly read the document they’re going to present because they do not understand the figures. Number two, there are too many trivialities in the budget. Buying of cars computers; these are things that come every year. Computers are not things you use for one year and abandon.
Security is one of the cardinal points of this government hopes to address.
Yes, it is but it is not going well. I am sitting here with you now but I am afraid to go home in December because of the criminality in the state and on the highways every day.
The House has consistently asked the President to disengage the service Chiefs …
Why the President is still keeping them; he is the only one who can explain. Their tenures have expired. So, why is he still keeping them? Are there no more competent people? You cannot get a different result from doing the same thing every day. If I were president, I would get new hands who would now show me that they can perform. You’re complaining about bandits in the President’s home state. They don’t trek in there, they don’t vanish. They come in on motorcycles. I am not a military man but I have studied military science and I do know that we can do much better and sacrifice less human beings in containing the security problems.
The PIB is back. How sure are we that this time around, it will conclude the circle and become successfully passed?
PIB has been on for a long time. I can speak for the House. We have a little more than two third if I’m not mistaken of new members who have come in there with a zeal and commitment to make a difference. It is evident when you look at the debate on the floor, when you look at the courage with which they speak. I am APC but I have not shied away from having to criticize the Federal Government when I think it is not doing very well. I have not shied away and there are many more like that there. Many of them understand that if we do not take appropriate actions now, institutional engineering, community engineering, social engineering particularly in the oil sector, the #EndSARS will be just a footnote to a bigger thing that can happen. So, I think this time we have the courage. Yesterday (Tuesday), we had it on the floor and the debate was very progressive and for someone like me from the Niger Delta, I decided not to contribute. Let others speak to it and let’s see if there’s a resonance between what they thought and our thoughts. I will take one which is the issue of host communities. It’s only somebody who has not been to the Niger Delta at all that will sit in Abuja and be talking all kinds of things. Most of them are devastated. We have ruined their lives but you see the PIB will help us significantly because, now, they are recognised and their entitlements are recognised and that the resources should go to the host community and not a governor who will direct it to a highway to the airport.
How do you react to the decision of the Federal Government to import fuel from Niger Republic?
Nigeria keeps doing things that are so ridiculous that I do not understand. You have refineries that are not working. We have produced billionaires from turnaround maintenance. They turned nothing around. They only turned a few dollars between them and the people giving them the contracts. We have technology for modular refineries. They just commissioned one. We have new ways. We have a bitumen field in Lagos, Ogun and Edo. I was once the chairman of bitumen implementation committee. We are not even doing much in that area. Yes, bitumen will give you products that sell less than the normal barrel because the major product of it is bitumen which is used to make roads. Petroleum in it is a byproduct. We are not doing much there. We are not getting people who want to invest because I was in Obasanjo’s administration and they awarded about 15 licences for people to build refineries. They started asking for feedstock even before they imported one pin and Obasanjo said I know the game you’re playing. You want to use “I want to build refinery” as an excuse to get access to petrol which you will now sell and store the money there. So there is a whole body of contradictions.
That Nigeria, an OPEC member, one of the largest in the world is not importing fuel from Niger Republic and is it not the same the Niger Republic we are building a highway to? What I believe is that at some point in our history, God has to take some actions against some people who seem to have been contributing directly or indirectly for making life impossible for Nigerians. Problems in this country are created by people we know and we can list them. Because of the level of impunity, you can do anything in this country and get away with it. They keep recycling mediocrity, irresponsibility, poor leadership, poor governance and adult delinquency, it is not only children that are delinquent now. Where do you go with this kind of situation?
Oil in the Niger Delta belongs to federal government but it seems that the gold in Zamfara belongs to the State. How’s that?
The matter is in court. The issue is on the front burner. The constitution is clear that all minerals, solid, liquid, gaseous under and above the earth of the federal Republic of Nigeria belongs to the Federal Government. In fact, at one time when Kanu Agabi was minister for solid minerals, he directed states to abolish Ministries of solid minerals, saying that they had no right but he was not correct there. The states are not claiming that they own it but you as federal, you need people to work with in the state. If you’re going to deal with illegal miners, you need people who know where they are on the ground. Now you find the situation where in Zamfara State, they play some funny games. They said you are producing this thing illegally, instead of smuggling it outside the border or selling it to people who use the money to buy weapons to come and fund terrorists, sell it to us. We will package it and then sell it. In the Niger Delta, that has been one of the critical issues but we are not restricting the demand to the Niger Delta. We are talking about general resource control and the Federal Government can collect taxes, levies, royalties. They can go into partnership. If you’re running a true federal system, the federation in Abuja is obviously too big and it is getting bigger by the day. So, the Federal Government must listen to the grumblings, engage the stakeholders and begin again to talk properly about resource control. Canada is a good example where provinces control their own resources.
On APC, 2023, zoning and the warning by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. Should zoning be jettisoned?
Given the imbalances in the country, resource wise, population wise, access to our control of our security apparatus and so on; when a party does not have zoning then, you turn it into a free-for-all. The purpose of zoning is to give the party the opportunity to ensure that, just like we have the federal character, if you’re going to jettison zoning and then we should jettison federal character. In any case, I have not seen one MDA that is adhering to federal character. If the place is headed by an Igbo man, he recruits all Igbos. If it is Yoruba or Fulani or whatever tribe, you will see it when they bring their nominal rolls. Nigeria is not making any effort to rectify it. So this is a big problem. So I believe that zoning is important. The zoning was between North and South and within the South for example you have the south south, southwest and Southeast. If you look at the political balances, there are some zones that have not held that position at all.
The Igbo are saying it is their time in 2023. Some northern circles have also thrown their weight behind that agitation. Do you support Nigeria’s president of Igbo extraction in the next election?
I’m totally opposed to an Igbo presidency because the man is going to run Nigeria. I will support somebody who comes from the South East of the country because they have not had the opportunity to hold that position. But the Southeast must get their acts together. If they produce 50 candidates, they will ruin themselves. It is a Bonaparte situation where the top contenders fight themselves to a standstill and somebody who was standing by takes the crown.
If they do not present an agenda for Nigeria, if they do not present a relatively unified front and provide commitment to pursue and continue with project Nigeria in a way that all parts of this country will be safe, enjoy economic prosperity, social security, then, other zones will take advantage of them. So, for me, those who keep talking about Igbo presidency scare other people. Why do they call it Igbo presidency? Are they going to change it to villa of Igbo presidency? No. It is a president coming from the South East of Nigeria who happens to be Igbo, maybe but it could be a non Igbo from the South East. There are also Igbo in Rivers state which is in the south south.
So for me, they have every democratic right under the constitution, under the zoning principles of the leading party and the minority parties to aspire for that position. Now, the conversation can begin from there. But it is the way your masquerade dances that attracts others to tell those ones that are not dancing well to leave the dance floor. But if your main masquerade is dancing like someone with a broken leg, people will shift and begin to look at the small masquerade that is dancing well.
Of late, former President Jonathan has been, should I say, hobnobbing with the Buhari government. APC governors also paid him a visit on his birthday last week and some political analysts are beginning to dissect it and read meanings into it that he may be prompted for another shot at the Presidency. What does that mean to you and what advise would you give to him?
I will tell him to be very careful so that the political boost that he got from conceding the election (he didn’t behave like Trump) and the respect he has from those who worked with him and those who loved him should not be squandered on the altar of political opportunism and political greed. He should also be very careful not to allow himself to be used as a sacrificial lamb, as a negotiating tool to carry out other programmes that he is not. If he is interested and he has the right to be interested, the constitution does not say he cannot, the starting point is not hobnobbing with the President. The starting point is to set up a strong tactical team to explore his chances and then to go on a consultation. Now, what he is trying to do now is that if he goes to the consultation, he will be telling them I’ve talked to Buhari and anybody who takes that kind of message to anybody has no message. If it is the same Buhari that we have seen so far, those who are reading his body language, I don’t know how they read it, I have not seen the body language saying that it is Jonathan he is going to present. But Jonathan should also remember that under his administration, there were so many contradictions that he didn’t address. He was president in this country and the east-west road is still not fixed till date. Today people are dying and and being kidnapped. He was president in this country and there was no single improvement in the Niger Delta, in the lives of the people, in infrastructure, insecurity, in education, you name it. So how is he going to explain to his people now, oh I didn’t have time for 4 years, that is not going to be easy for him.
And if your people at home have questions, then, those who are carrying you outside have to think twice because a politician’s strength starts from his home base. But he’s free to consult. He is free to anchor his interest in. It means he will have to leave PDP and come to APC. There are those who are going to work heavily against that now from PDP. Then those who have interest in APC will also work against him because they know is coming to spoil their garri. So you should consider all of this. But I will advise him as a former friend to take it easy, to carry out a widespread consultation, set up a tactical team to explore his chances before making the plans otherwise there are many things you can do as a former president and as somebody who stood for peace, who didn’t want violence and wanted to preserve the unity of this country, there are so many things you can do. He should make himself a statesman, somebody who relies less in politics and more on his own capability.