By Charles Kumolu
Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, erstwhile permanent secretary, governor of Anambra State with masters and doctorate degrees from Harvard University, USA is undoubtedly well versed in the operations of the free market economy. In this interview, he questions the implementation of the subsidy regime in petrol pricing by the federal government affirming that the removal of the alleged subsidy was tactless. Dr. Ezeife also responds to issues on the killing of Christians and Southerners in the North. Excerpts:
HOW can the crisis arising from the fuel price hike be addressed?
I have done a proposal that strictly deals with fuel price, and the proposal frowns at subsidy and fuel price increase. And the thing is so correct that it will be impossible to fault any extent it.
But government did not do anything on it. It is a perfect solution in the context of Nigeria. It is not just the solution, it is not something that I presented to government alone.
Three years ago, I presented it to former permanent Secretaries like Ayida, Asiodu and all others, who can puncture holes on any paper. And it was cleared. Then I have been summarising it and bringing it out. I sent it around again before going for Christmas.
We can remove subsidy, we can have pump prices unchanged and we can create more employment as a result of this process I am talking about. I called it Win Win Win. No body in government has called me to defend this proposal which I am talking about.
The solution does not involve payment on subsidy, it does not involve increase in prices and it can not be faulted because, it is strong and practicable. it can be implemented. Removing subsidy without doing all those things they are talking about now is like committing suicide.
Your house is burning because of insecurity and you are getting kerosine and petrol to pour into a burning house. By removing subsidy at this juncture, I will say that something is wrong about the decision making in this country.
What is your response to the government’s claim that the marketers are the real beneficiaries of subsidy?
Going after those, who brought about the corruption in the oil sector is correct. Instead of fighting corruption, the government is killing the ordinary people. What is very bad about subsidy is not the subsidy itself, but the corruption around it. You import hundred litres of fuel and you are paid for one million litres of fuel.
The excess money will now be shared. And people know it. The best thing to do was to fight this corruption that they know about. If they can assure Nigerians that two months after announcing the removal, they can stop fuel importation, that will be good.
Also our country’s refineries should be fixed in partnership with foreign expertise. We should also create refinery margin, which will make all those importing fuel now to take advantage of and refine crude oil here in Nigeria.
What do you make of the deadlock between government and labour on this issue given the tension in the land?
The governors are supporting fuel subsidy removal because it will leave a lot of money in their hands. This country is making enough money to drive the development that Nigerians urgently need, but bribery and corruption is consuming the money.
There is no magic that can prevent the money you are saving from subsidy, from going into leakages like what you spent on subsidy earlier. So, government should go back to that strategy that I proposed. It will create massive employment in Nigeria and make the economy to grow.
As an Igbo leader what do you make of the order from Boko Haram to leave the north?
I will react to it from various angles. First, they are attacking Christians, most of the Igbo in the north are Christians. Secondly, they gave Southerners quit notice and most southerners in the north are Igbo. but it is clearly targeted at Ndigbo in the north. If you bomb spare parts shops in the north, you know people, who mainly sale motor spare parts.
When you bomb the Roman Catholic or Anglican church, you know people, who are predominantly Catholics and Anglicans. If you bomb a town union meeting, where they are talking about holding funeral of someone to be taken home, we know who you are targeting.
Even the fuel subsidy removal is like targeting Igbo because we are the most people, who travel massively during the yuletide celebration. We went home to celebrate and after spending all our money, you increased fuel price, which had in turn led to hike in transport fares. It is as if Igbo are targeted all round. The target is from all corners.
So how do you think these wanton killings can be stopped?
Months ago we called that a state of emergency should be declared in Bornu State but it was ignored by the federal government. Months after, it is now being done in parts. The government must realise that it is its responsibility to protect the lives of our people. Our people, who went for Christmas, who do not want to go back to the north should stay back.
But those, who are in the north should stay back and avoid coming back to the east because of the threat. Our tradition is against killing people who are living on our soil and who have not done anything wrong.
Our religion which is Christianity does not even allow us to kill our guest on our soil or to kill anywhere, therefore there is no question of reprisal attack from our people in the South East or any where.
We are peace loving people. People, who may be talking about killing northerners in the East as vengeance for what is happening in the north, do not know that Igbo culture frowns at taking away lives. And it is neither in our character. As far as I am concerned, we are staying put wherever we are in Nigeria and we will defend ourselves to the best of our ability.
But the Christian Association of Nigeria,CAN, has urged Christians to defend themselves anywhere they are. Does this not contradict your position?
Yes they should defend themselves anywhere they are. But we have nothing to defend in Igbo land, because no one is attacking us there. But if they are attacking us in the north we will defend ourselves, but we will not kill any northerner in the south east.
Do you think Northern leaders have done well in speaking against Boko Haram?
I think those who argued like this are right, because it is the belief of most Nigerians that the northerners listen and follow their leaders. Therefore if the leaders of the north were really against what the Boko Haram is doing, they should be able to stop them.
But the things we are seeing about the way they are handling it, is making us to think otherwise. We Igbo lesders did not support that reprisal attack from our people, because it is a taboo to kill in Igbo land.