November 29, 2015

Buhari must prove he is serious about his anti-corruption campaign — Rep. Pondi

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Abuja

Honourable Julius Pondi represents Burutu Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he says Nigeria has celebrated 55 years of nationhood but has really nothing to show for it and that the much talked about fight against corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will not achieve much result. Excerpts:

Nigeria recently celebrated 55 years of its nationhood. In your own assessment did we have anything to celebrate?

October 1, 2015 was a very unique day in our collective history as it marks   the 55th anniversary of the day our forefathers refused to be consumed by the pretty differences and were united to get independence for Nigeria. 55 years ago, the British Union Jack flag was lowered for the hoisting of our national Green-White-Green flag to herald the independence of our nation.

Yes, it is our day of independence and we are all expected to celebrate, but we do not see any reason to celebrate as Ijaw and  Niger Deltans, as the very principles of our equity and fairness, upon which this nation was founded, have since been abused.

Perhaps, we are expected to celebrate the daily exploitation of our natural resources without recourse to the degrading effects on our environmental and health. Perhaps, we are expected to celebrate the stalling of the kick-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko and the Technical School in Okoloba, both in Delta State.

Perhaps, we are expected to celebrate the depreciation of the Naira. Perhaps, we are expected to celebrate the depletion of our foreign reserves. Perhaps, we are celebrating the fact that many of our communities are still inaccessible by road after 55 years.

Perhaps we are celebrating because our democracy does not avail us the equality of rights and opportunities to determine the shape, quality and character of lives. If we are celebrating because there is hope for a better Nigeria, just then can we celebrate.

I was asking a friend the other day if what we were celebrating is the loss of 15,000 Nigerians to the insurgency in the North or that since 1999,  many Ijaw communities have been burnt. During the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Odi was burnt to the ground when the late President Musa Yar’Adua took over, Gbaramatu  and during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, our own Ayakoromo community was burnt to the ground. That is to show that every one person that has occupied position has made it as a duty to burn Ijaw community. So there is nothing to celebrate. Even the amnesty deal that we agreed to establish, what is the result that we are getting now? Is that what we are celebrating? As a Niger Delta person, I don’t think there is anything to celebrate. But as a Nigerian, for the fact that our forefathers, at one point in time, decided to achieve freedom for us, yes, we can say we should celebrate.

What is the best way to make Nigeria a better place?

I am in the House of Representatives now. Yesterday (Wednesday, September 30), in the plenary, we all agreed that we might not have had the best enjoyment for now. But, from now, we should try to put our differences aside and come together and get the best for our people. That is what we are going to do now; we are going to be selfless in pursuit of the basic things of government. Meanwhile, a lot of sacrifices need to be made. The North should see Nigeria as its constituency; not only in the National Assembly but also in the larger society. Over time, the promises that we have made to our people have not been fulfilled. We are happy now that we have a president that says his administration will have zero tolerance for corruption, but we are waiting on how that one will play out. But  I don’t think that one is feasible; the battle against corruption will just be fought on the pages of newspapers. So, it is a collective thing that we must do and be honest to ourselves in order to move forward.

What is your assessment of the role of the legislature in the past 55 years?

Democracy has been an off and on thing because of military intervention. But I can sincerely say that since 1999, the legislature has performed creditably and has helped the country come out of many serious problems. The legislature has come to save Nigeria from collapsing on three or four occasions. You remember there was the tenure elongation thing after former President Olusegun Obasanjo had done two terms and our legislators said it was against the constitution of Nigeria and stopped it. Remember when President Yar’Adua died and the Vice President was to be sworn in, there were some power blocs that said no, and the legislature came again and invoked the doctrine of necessity and saved the situation. So, from 1999 till now, I can tell you that the legislators have really done very well. They have done well.

President Buhari had promised that those to constitute his cabinet will not be tainted.  But going by some of the names in the ministerial list, do you think he is really keeping to the promise?

I want to say that the way it works, somebody cannot really be adjudged as corrupt until he is found guilty by the court of law. But some the characters I have seen in that list are people that have corruption tags on their heads. But I cannot say now that they are corrupt because the court of law has not found them guilty of what they are being accused of.

Do you see the Buhari’s administration achieving much in the fight against corruption in this country?

I don’t think it will. Let me take on this, this is a government that campaigned across the length and breadth of Nigeria, telling the people it will do this and  that, that it is going to tackle corruption. The All Progressives Congress has been given power now, if President Muhammadu Buhari is telling us now that he is going to fight corruption, what about the people that surround him? He said somebody gave him or he borrowed money from the bank to buy nomination forms preparatory to the elections only to now declare that he has N30 million in his account.

What about the flamboyant campaigns he had ahead of the elections?  Some of his major sponsors known to Nigerians, what kind of work are they doing? Some were governors, so if somebody is using public funds to sponsor your election and  you say you are fighting corruption without looking in the direction of these persons, it shows that you are not serious. Many of those people that sponsored his election are people in his government and used  tax payers money recklessly, but he is not starting with them. I have expected that if he wants to show that he is serious about the corruption fight, he ought to start from there. But for now, if you ask me over and over again, I will tell you that he is not serious in the fight against corruption.