By Ben Etaghene
*’We are destroying our home – grown petroleum refining technology’
*Says agitation for oil dichotomy provocative
Professor Patrick Muoboghare, a former leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Delta State University Abraka chapter turned Commissioner for Basic Education in Delta State, is never scared of controversies. In this interview, he bares his mind on the war of words in the aftermath of Chinua Achebe’s newest book; state police; indigenous crude oil refineries destruction; kidnapping; armed robbery; and sports. Excerpts:
Your government could be commended for the manner it handled recent teachers strike in the state…?
We met one another midway. They raised a few issues which bordered on welfare, promotion to directorate cadre, that is Level 17, payment of special teachers’ allowance that was approved by the Federal Government for professional teachers, about 22½ percent of their basic salary. Others related to the personal evaluation of their personal relationships with the Commissioner for Basic Education, his decision making processes were subsumed by the major issues of the strike action.
Government accepted to pay the allowance as from January 2013 for those who are qualified for it as stipulated by Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN). We agreed to promote deserving teachers to Level 17 based on vacancy and equally made them to understand that Delta State has the highest number of teachers (1400 of them) on Level 16 in the federation. There are about 1,900 on level 15 and 2,000 on level 14. We had a mutual understanding on these and those who are parading themselves as teachers when they are not. The commissioner took the responsibility to resolve that issue.
Commentaries on Chinua Achebe’s new book – There was a Country – are becoming ethnic war of words between the Igbo and the Yoruba. What’s the reality as you see it?
We are back to January 15, 1966. We really do not have a nation called Nigeria. That is why even without reading the book, every Igbo man is in support of Achebe and, even without reading the book, every Yoruba man is in support of Awolowo. Awolowo was a demigod of the Yoruba nation. Some even don’t believe he is dead. So one does not speak ill of Awolowo to them. In fact, nobody dared conjecture that Awolowo was hungry at any point in his life time. Fatwa could be declared on any one who dared to say so. To many of them, the man was a god.
However, the truth of the matter is this: Nigerians are grossly misled about the events that led to the January 1966 coup. There is a misconception embedded in it which Nigerians have always gone away with that it was an Igbo coup. It was not. They might have been made to fire gun, but, naturally, the man firing the gun is not the coup plotter. They planned to go to Calabar to release Chief Awolowo from prison and make him the Head of State. The Igbo would not take that risk.
There is need to do a research about the origin of that coup. And if it was an Igbo coup, why kill Okotie-Eboh, what did he do? Go back, Okotie-Eboh was the champion of the creation of Mid-Western Region. We thank God for his life in this part of the country. He deployed his stupendous wealth into the growth and development of the NCNC. He was a close friend of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. The West wanted the COR Region to be carved out of the then Eastern Region. These acrimonies were there. I believe the Igbo were given a bad name to hang them. This is the background from where Chinua Achebe was coming….
Was Ojukwu not a party to the coup plot?
Certainly not, he had no regard for them.
What of Akintola?
He was an ally of Zik, Okotie-Eboh was a close friend of Zik. Would the Igbo plotters kill these close associates of Zik? The nuances became clearer later. On the issue of the usage of hunger or not as instrument of war, both of them were right. Achebe was right on his allusion of hunger as being originated by Awo. And the late Awolowo was equally right on his suggestion of same to the federal military government. There was war, what weapon do I use to win it? This follows the Machiavellian principle, “All is fair in war.” In fact, we should congratulate Awo for the use of hunger which contributed to the early end of the war. Gowon said there was no apology. He is equally right. War itself is a crime; so these should be no war crimes.
Why has it taken Achebe this long?
History is not an immediate work, people are still writing abou World War II Mousillini’s invasion of Greece in 1940, Hitler’s background, et al. History is never written when its unfolding.
On state police
I align myself with well-meaning governors who are asking for state police. How do you substantiate the fact that the state governor is the chief security officer of his state and he has no control over the state police commissioner of police? Such a situation makes the governor a lame duck governor security wise. This is not good enough. There is this loose talk making the round that when state police is introduced, governors would use it against their opponents. Has the Federal Government used the Nigeria Police against its opponents? The last election in Edo State, was the federal police used against Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) members? What about in Ondo State? What makes people think a state governor would do otherwise?
Recall the manner they (state governors) manipulate the local government chairmen. Why don’t we compare the way the federal government controls the states. The federal government carries Delta State money to Abuja and gives only 13 percent of it. Is that not looting? Is that not worse than what any state government is doing with the LGA funds? ….
Is that not constitutional stipulation?
In Delta, the state government had to pay N528million monthly to augment the councils in the payment of teachers’ salaries otherwise teachers in the state would not be paid. Without this, the LGAs cannot even pay their other workers and function properly. The inference that state governors would misuse the state police is insulting. All over the country, states provide much; for example, vehicles, gadgets, et al to the federal police.
That is not their constitutional role. This is to show how responsible these governors are. This generosity is also extended to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) with the provision of wire, transformers, et al, bought by Delta State government. But any money collected goes to the agency.
On the return to true federalism
According to Itse Sagay (SAN), there is nothing like a true version of federalism or a false version of it. Right now, Nigeria s practising a unitary form of government. A member of the National Assembly once demanded that “the South South governors should account for the 13 per cent we give to them.” They are the “we” while the owners become the “they” (laughs). We will continue to agitate for true federalism.
On the agitation for the on-shore, off-shore dichotomy
Take a good look at the Nigeria map, the land belongs to the states and Nigeria and the sea belongs to the state and Nigeria. If Borno State extends to Lake Chad, it is Borno State, why will our water mass not be our territory? The issue of littoral boundary and ownership has long been concluded. Let us move forward. They have landmass while we have water mass. They use theirs without interference but it is ours we cannot lay claim to. These guys are provocative.
On the destruction of some 500 local refineries as state policy
The Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) during the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo for our three or four refineries gulped N90billion. They were not turned around for 90 degrees not to talk of 360 degrees. That is why they remain comatose. We have to import fuel, diesel, kerosene and all of that. These people buy crude oil from Nigeria for their refineries abroad. They sell back to us as refined petroleum products. Let me tell you why the price is high and why this “stupid” subsidy must be removed.
Export duty is there, transport is there, insurance is there, labour is there, loading, off-loading. Then it goes to the refinery, the cost of refining is there. When this is done, it comes back to us with import duty, insurance, freight, labour as it lands in Lagos or Burutu, Calabar or wherever (port) in Nigeria. Then the cost of landing and or demurrage before it comes to Warri area from where the crude oil was taken. Add all up. Has it not doubled the price already? Let me illustrate this analogy with a local example.
Cassava is produced in large quantity in Abraka where the best garri in Nigeria is produced. At the moment, a basket of garri is N400.00. Assuming that garri was not produced there and the cassava was transported to Sokoto where the processing machine is. Payment would be made for the tubers, transportation to Sokoto, the driver’s pay and allowances, all the over 300 police checkpoints on the route must be inbuilt. In Sokoto, the cost of processing and the cost of a return journey and labour et.al. Will the cost not triple? This is precisely what happens to petroleum products.
Nigerian leaders who are interested in making money even double the production cost. They do not want our refineries to work. And the painful thing is that because you are exporting the crude oil there and not refining it here, they are creating jobs in those countries while retarding job creation in Nigeria. Yet we complain about unemployment. Why not, it creates jobs in Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere they have refineries. And all talk about subsidy is fraud.
Then we have these boys who have decided to apply their simple knowledge of chemistry into the refinery debacle with their simple application of fractional distillation. It is the same technology with the distillation of “Ogogoro”. Take a trip to these local refineries. It is cost effective. We do not need N50,000 to set up a mini refinery in Nigeria. A few items like drums, pressure pipes, tubes, et.al, that’s all.
If we do not harness and encourage these boys, other up-coming oil producing nations will buy this technology from us. If this technology is available to Ghana, I bet you, they won’t go for these big refineries. If these young men are put in a place, fund them and make crude oil available to them, dependence on the epileptic services from Ekpan, Port Harcourt and Kaduna will be a thing of the past. The impact of this on the economy will be sound.
What to do for the government to end it?
We will continue talking. Government will do nothing if we are all silent. They are destroying our home grown technology. During the civil war, in spite of the economic blockage against the East, their facilities were running. They built their local refineries which they depended on for three good years. After the war, nobody remembered the refineries. So what these young people are now doing in the South – South should not go the way of the Igbo innovation during the war. Instead of thwarting their initiative, they should be recommended for scholarship fellowship from the US Academy of Sciences. Let this science be further looked into for the benefit of Nigeria.
On the revival of moribund industries and why this long?
We have to be very careful. In Delta State, when a road is dualised, there are those who are going to demand the reason for it. Whatever is done in this state, there are always criticisms. Every governor in Delta State is extra careful. Any governor who can rule Delta State can rule Nigeria three times over. As I speak to you, I know arrangements are in top gear. The Bendel Glass factory will soon go. We are fast forwarding action on it.
On kidnapping and armed robbery and whether enough is being done?
We are doing everything possible. But, give us state police, they say no. So who do we control? The federal police is unable to check it. Give us state police that we can control so that we can check it, they say no. So the ball bounces back to the Federal Government. Security is a responsibility of the Federal Government. Nigerians should learn to channel their criticisms towards the proper target. Whatever the state governors are doing is just to assist the federal agencies.
The Nigeria Police is a federal agency. The commissioners of police are responsible to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The state governors have come to the realization that the federal police cannot do this thing effectively. Let us have state police that we can take care of and call our own. Imagine what the vigilante boys are doing.
On the agitation of constitutional role for traditional rulers
The traditional ruler is the king of his town or clan. He is appointed by his people. He talks to the ancestors on our behalf and the ancestors talk to him. Let him sit down in his palace and enjoy that role….
But a republic has no place for them…?
Yes. That’s one feature I like in Igboland. Every Eze you meet, Eze Gburiguan I of so so autonomous community. The average Urhoboman is republican. I concede to the monarchy in Bini. We were republicans. Now we have traditional rulers. There is a traditional ruler in Uwheru. He wields his authority within Uwheru.
Does that not clash with the government?
No. This is to tell, you that the traditional rulership is more of a cultural disposition. For him to travel out of his domain, he must obtain permission from the LGA chairman. In order words, a traditional ruler is as important as his people want him to be, but not as the Federal Government wants him to be.
On the question of payment of WAEC examinations fees for students in public schools to the exclusion of those from private schools, wouldn’t the letter feel alienated?
No, they have a choice. No feeling of isolation because the option is open. Delta State government provides free education for those who want to attend public schools and the WAEC fees. But a word of caution here: what this entails is that one group or agency is picking up the bills. We decided to pick up the bills of those who attend our public schools.
On school development
I am happy to say that Delta State should rank highest when it comes to infrastructural development in schools. In the upgrading of our schools, no state beats us in the country. In the area of academic work is where there is an altercation between the commissioner and the teachers. We are spending so much in infrastructural development, on teachers salaries, we promote teachers very often. What have we got in return? We want results.
The governor is not happy that we are paying so much and our children are not doing so well in WAEC and NECO examinations. It is discouraging. The reasons are not far fetched. They are not being taught. No responsible government will tolerate this kind of situation paying people who neglect their jobs.
On the development of sports
I just returned from a sport summit put together by the governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to enable us brainstorm with specialists form far away Jamacia, South Africa and others on why some countries are doing well and we are not. Why is it that countries we started with on the same level have gone ahead of us and we are stagnated where we were some 20, 30 years ago? This is not good enough. The outcome of this summit is not for Delta State only but for the whole country. Chairman of sport committees of both houses of NASS were at the meeting. And, of course, the minister of sport was represented.
The whole thing boils down to the abandonment of school sports because at a point we had star athletes competing at the national level. Nigeria thought they came from the sky. They didn’t know they came from schools. When those were encouraged to do well, no thought was given to the generation that would succeed them. They can only be replaced from the schools. In Delta State, the emphasis right now is on school sports at the primary and secondary levels.