BY INALEGWU SHAIBU
Nigeria is on the brink of socio-economic and political breakdown over the Federal Government’s removal of fuel subsidy. Hon. Justina Eze, the first female federal legislator from South East Nigeria, who was elected on the platform of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, in the Second Republic, in this interview proffers solutions to the lingering problem, saying that proceeds from subsidy should be managed by Nigerians from all walks of life.
In this interview with Vanguard, the one time Nigerian Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, also spoke on insecurity, unemployment and jumbo allowances of lawmakers and suggested that legislators should operate on civil service salary structure. Excerpts:
COMPARING the politics of your days with what is obtainable today; would you say we have made progress?
How can we make progress? When I was in the National Assembly in 1981, the late Chief Edwin Ume_Ezeoke took us, members of the House Committee on Industry, to South Korea. We visited Daewo Yard. We approached the Daewo Industry to build ship, aeroplanes and many more and in the process, the company offered to come to Nigeria to build refineries for Nigeria.
They advised us that it was better for us to deal with Third World countries if we must grow. They offered to come to Nigeria to build refineries in our land, they will transfer technology to our children, build us industries from the by_product of crude and that will create jobs for our children. I am talking about 1981. We came with the entire report. Bamanga Tukur was the general manager of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) then. They offered to build a ship for Nigeria.
Processing of crude oil
I personally wrote to Daewo that the general manager of NPA would like you to visit Nigeria to build us a ship. They came to Nigeria and saw Bamanga Tukur, they entered into a big agreement and they built a ship for Nigeria and it was commissioned.
If the executive and indeed those who ought to implement the report of our committee had allowed Daewo to come and build one or two refineries, we would have been processing our crude oil here, using the by product to build other industries which would have created jobs. But we did not do that. And most importantly we lost in the area of technology transfer.
The greatest mistake our country is making at the moment is the association with the Chinese. They are parasites: when they come into your country, they will take everything, they will not teach your children what they are doing and then when they are finished and gone, we go back to maintenance culture and our children will not know how to maintain anything because nobody taught them.
So, as far as I am concerned, we have not done well. We, lawmakers are always junketing around the whole world bringing back reports. Lawmakers would travel out of the country as a group, spend billions on tour of the industrialised world.
The question is what about all the reports? How many have been implemented? In fact, I was thinking we should save money, stop all these tours of the whole world, look at our archives from the Second Republic get a group of people to sit on them and let us start implementing some of these recommendations. Some of the reports are still relevant and can serve the country well.
I was watching a debate the other day, people were crying that we are wasting money on the legislature and people are complaining about the salaries of lawmakers Do you know much how much is being expended there? For doing what? How much were we paid as legislators then?
We were earning about N3000. We were paid as civil servants. That is what it should be. Nigeria legislators should be paid as civil servants so that you will know who is willing to go and serve and not as a place where one individual will take millions of naira; for doing what?
We built Apo village for legislators to live in there and they ended up selling the whole thing. Where is the money? If they had left those houses, another person coming would have taken over; we will not be paying this kind of money we pay on rent every year for them.
It is still cheaper for Nigeria to go and build somewhere, not a sophisticated building, a two bedroom sitting apartment for every legislator, and they can stay there and still have their mansions in their homes. For God’s sake, the money they are expending is too much. What about the governors? Why can’t the 36 state governors reduce their security votes? Let everybody show commitment.
What is your view on the removal of fuel subsidy?
If they say subsidy is the only way out, okay, my own is that if we give them the opportunity, let them get this money into a trust fund. A fund that will be managed by the Press, the Judiciary, Organized Labour and other representatives. Let every union send its representative to manage this money.
Question of legislators
If they are taking this money everybody should be there to decide what Nigerians want. It is not question of legislators, or taking it to a common fund and you will not know how it is spent. If they can create such a committee and even the market women can be represented: that out of the money we are going to put so and so billion in making sure that the trains will move from Lagos to Kano and from Kano to Enugu and most of these haulage will be done by rail.
Let us see them deploy this money to electricity, health and children, good education and let it be managed by a trust fund of all representatives because, if we do not do so, where will they get money to repair the roads? Where will they get money to do all the things they say they will do?
They have cried out to say there is no money anywhere. They have quoted what we earn, what the subsidy takes and what is the balance. I support subsidy but it should not be managed by government alone.
Do you think the insecurity problems we face today as a nation is being caused by unemployment alone?
Some of the security challenges can also be as a result of greed. We have a number youths becoming fraudsters. A situation you would see a small boy who was in the village doing nothing, and all of a sudden his mates saw him coming back to the village one day with jeeps.
Some of them would want to join him to get rich quick and by doing so, could join armed robbery. Some are pushing cocaine. Our youths today have lost the morals, good orientation and l values, all of them are thinking of jeeps and being big boys.
Growing by serving
Nobody is prepared again to serve and grow by serving. So, we have lost our spiritual morality and religious values and this is because of the decay in the education sector. Our religious teachings have been relegated to the background in our schools.
You have come a long way, could you share your background and experience?
By way of introduction, my name is Ambassador Mrs. Justina Eze, I am the first female legislator from the old South East. I started my political outing in the Second Republic with Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).I can proudly say here that am a product of late first President of Nigeria and Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Today, I am still a Zikist, and by extension a nationalist.
My political background is more of national interest than local. We were brought up by a man who had a very large heart for Nigeria. A man who believed so much in the unity of Nigeria and Africa as continent. I was elected into the House of Representatives in 1979, which was about 32 years ago.
I had always stood by what I believe would keep us together as a country. That is my major interest because my leader then, the Owelle of Onitsha told me that Nigeria is a great country and God has made it so and we his followers should always see ourselves as people who are contributing to keep this country stable.
I suffered a lot of political victimization as a result of my trust in this country called Nigeria. We paid so much to keep this country together, but we are not happy today with what is happening. The country is under threat. We should learn from what is happening in Egypt.
We are worried over the present political tension. So many countries are engulfed in political crisis and we should be very careful. They should not sacrifice our youths on the streets for whatever it reason We should take caution of what we are saying or doing in this country. We should not ignite problems.
You mentioned not being happy, what has led to this unhappiness?
I am talking about the increasing level of insecurity, youth unemployment and of course the issue of fuel subsidy and these are the three things that are likely to blow up our country. These are potential threat. Why I am saying this, because each of them have an inflammatory capacity. It is like an infectious disease. When somebody has an infectious disease, it moves about, so right now, the whole problems started from youth unemployment.
Let me make this illustration. I come from a place (South East) where I know that parents use to sell their lands to train their children in the university and maybe that empty land is the only thing they have as a family.
It may not be the wish of the family to sell this land, but they decided to do so with hope that after the training that boy will in turn train others in the family.
But the boy after graduation from the university will remain unemployed for more than five years. There are many graduates in our streets today without job for 10 years. This unemployment causes what we call today youth restiveness. Some of them have even become threat to the country.
If a child is gainfully employed, nobody can push that child to go and carry gun and go after another person. It is because they see them as people who have no means of livelihood they use them as guinea pigs which is wrong. Some of them go into such business because the rich entice them with money.
But I am happy about this new idea of going back to agriculture as a means of creating jobs. Building more fertilizer industry in Nigeria is also good because it would enhance agricultural activities and reduce the traditional method of farming. Many people cannot get fertilizers and farm equipment to boost their farming.
If you go to my village, the people who are farmers are 50 years and above, retired teachers, retired whatever, there is no young person in the village, everybody has left for the city.
So the output in agriculture is very low. But if the environment is made comfortable, an average graduate can feel comfortable staying at home because at the end of the day he could have a room, toilet and bathroom to himself with electricity.
We need to have a conducive environment to push them back to the village. Some gate men you see in this Abuja today are graduates. They prefer to stay in the one room gate house and receive the meager salaries instead of walking about without jobs.