By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Engr.Chris Ogiemwonyi was Minister of State Works under President Goodluck Jonathan. The former Group Executive Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) last month and since then has been working assiduously for the success of the APC in Edo State. It is speculated that the former NNPC boss is one of those eying the Osadebey Avenue, after Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure in 2016.
In this interview, Ogiemwonyi says corruption stinks in the NNPC under Jonathan, just as he describes the recent attack on Gen.TY Danjuma by a former militant leader, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, and his colleagues as disrespectful and urges them to apologize to Danjuma. While declaring that the PDP has lost ground in Edo, he predicts victory for Maj. Gen.Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and the APC in the forthcoming general elections. Excerpts:
How has the campaign been?
I think both parties are trying to speak to the conscience of the people, both at the state and federal levels. But the people’s decision will be based on performance, they will look at the parties and what the parties have achieved for the people.
Are you comfortable with the war of words between some Niger Deltans and the North on the forthcoming elections?
I like to caution people, those that saw war, they know it is not what we pray for. Some of us saw war at the beginning as young students in 1967, we saw the aftermath, how people were killed. So in our electioneering dictionary, I will like us to take away threats, we should be civil because no one has monopoly of violence. We should pray for a civil election devoid of threats.
I equally expect those called statesmen to be responsible in their utterances so that we don’t encourage those who are throwing stones at their elders. We should tell these younger children to respect our senior citizens, I can’t imagine Asari Dokubo saying such words to an elder statesman like TY Danjuma, it is very unfortunate, it is bad. Gen.Danjuma has seen battles; so when he is warning people to mind their utterances, he knows what he is saying. I don’t expect people to abuse him, rather he should be commended.
From what you have observed so far from the campaigns, how do you think Edo people will vote?
Let me talk as purely as an Edolite not like a politician.
What we are saying as a people here is that we want to look at issues the way they are. They will vote for who has impacted positively on their lives. And here in Edo, Oshiomhole’s APC has changed their lives, modernized the cities and towns unlike the ten years reign of terror of PDP in the state. We want to compare PDP during their last ten years of governance in Edo with the six years of governance by the Adams Oshiomhole administration.
Today if you look at the ten years of PDP, nothing really was done. They had a very good opportunity, they did not achieve anything. Whereas in six years of the Oshiomhole administration, you can see tangible things he has done especially the road network. And that is very critical to our economy. In Benin City, one of our biggest problems has been drainage, he has now tackled the problem with the Benin City water storm project which will take the flood through to Ogba River.
If you go to Teachers House where houses submerged in the past, those houses are back to life today. If you want to help the people you must address education. Oshiomhole has built schools almost in every ward, equipped them with modern equipment. Teachers are happy, students and pupils are happy.
There is peace in Benin City today because the governor created employment opportunities and those youths who used to be bad are all employed. Many states cannot pay salaries today but Edo is paying. He has rehabilitated the Okpilla cement factory, industries are springing up every day in Edo. He has taken the state out of poverty to wealth. All the governor will do now is to ensure that whoever will succeed him will ensure the continuation of that growth and if that is done we will start comparing Edo with Lagos.
On the elections, President Jonathan has not done anything for us as a nation and a state. You heard when the governor lamented that he gave N2billion to states where they did not vote for him in 2011 to fight erosion while Edo people who voted massivedly for him he gave us nothing just because Edo is not a PDP state. He did not remember us as his brothers, so in the elections we will not remember him as a brother.
Edo people will vote Buhari because things must change in this country. I worked with Buhari as a young engineer in 1975 and 76. And I worked with Jonathan as a Minister. If you look at Buhari, you can see a man that has courage, he has discipline, thorough, financial discipline, abhors corruption. So if you look at both of them, you will see that the APC candidate has all it takes to take Nigeria out of the woods.
Therefore I see a band wagon effect happening. Once people vote for Buhari, in subsequent elections, everybody will vote APC.I see a situation where you have APC at the center and probably about 25 states voting APC in this election. Because what the people are saying in a subtle way is that we need a change.
The import of that is that APC will win at the center and turn around the economy. In Edo, PDP is not on ground, they are just deceiving Jonathan. Oshiomhole’s performance will give APC victory here, there is no road for PDP. I even heard that many PDP leaders are buying tickets to take off when Buhari wins.
Okonjo Iweala Vs Soludo
I used to respect Okonjo Iweala during her first outing with President Obasanjo. I had so much respect for her that time. But this second coming is rather unfortunate, all her predictions have gone the other way.
The indices have all proved very negative, our foreign reserve has depleted sharply. Our exchange rate, the Naira is crashing daily. The oil price is going down, about 47 dollars per barrel. Unemployment is soaring, poverty level is on the increase and we are talking that the economy is getting better. I want them to leave Abuja and go to the cities and villages and talk to the average Nigerian.
People are collapsing out of poverty. You recall that a former governor of the CBN spoke about missing funds, high level of corruption, all those have so far reduced our foreign reserve that if you compare it to the regime of President Obasanjo, that left N45billion dollars, today we are told it is barely above N20billion. The reckless spending in government, the high level of corruption, the high level of leakages account for this situation that very soon we might find ourselves not able to support imports.
You were Group Executive Director in the NNPC. What is your take on the alleged fraud in fuel subsidy?
The history of fuel subsidy is one matter that Nigerians expect there will be scape goats, that was in 2011 when we spent about N2.6trillion to import products vis a vis a national budget of about N4.7trillion. In order words, we spent over 50 per cent on importation of products. People alleged scam, some paid for products that never came.
If you recall, after that incident the number of private jets in Nigeria sky rocketed, that today in Africa we have the highest number of private jets in Africa. But the sad story of that scam is that till today EFCC and ICPC have not sent one of the culprits to jail. So in a nation where you encourage corruption, what you expect is that because you encourage it, that thing will be on the increase. The institutions to check corruption in Nigeria are so weak.
The refineries are another issue. I have come our boldly to speak on behalf of the NNPC to say in terms of capacity, NNPC has the best workers, but the problem bedeviling NNPC is the high level of interference from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, specifically the Honourable Minister. And until we allow the NNPC to run a business model, we should not expect much from them. The same just applies to the refineries where the MDs are handicapped in terms of ability to perform.
The staff of the NNPC want to perform but everything is interference from the Ministry of Petroleum. So my take on this is that we should allow NNPC to run a business model.
I spent 34 years in NNPC. During our time, we ensured that there was proper oil and gas accounting. We ensured true transparency. The proceeds from crude sales were deposited in the CBN, but now we are told that NPDC, for example, doesn’t pay directly to CBN, I think that is contrary to the extant laws.
That is why the CBN governor raises issues that there was some money he was expecting to be paid into the Federation Account but the money was hanging somewhere. These are areas that must be investigated seriously.