By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Honourable Prestige Ossy represents Aba North/South Federal Constituency of Abia State on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance. He is the Chairman, House Committee on Nigeria – Meico Relations as well as the Technical Committee on Customs and Excise. In this interview, he says South East governors are lily-livered, following what he describes as their poor response to the killings linked to herdsmen in the zone. He also says restructuring Nigeria is the way out of the current economic recession.
Fulani herdsmen have been terrorising some communities in the country, especially in the South East. What is your advice to governors and lawmakers in the zone?
It takes one with guts to be a leader. Most of them are lily-livered. There is nothing that will stop you as a leader, as a governor or a member of the House from saying something that will protect your people. If you cannot take the bull by the horn by enacting laws that will protect the citizens of your state, then I don’t know what else you are talking about.
Most of them don’t have that confidence. If you have confidence in yourself, I don’t see any reason why you should not come up with such legislation because you are not doing it against anybody. Nobody will be happy to come to his farm the next morning to see that his farm is ravaged by herdsmen. It is never done but because of the fear of the unknown, ‘who knows if I say this now, what will happen?’ some of them are even thinking of second tenure. ‘If I say this now, these people might make it difficult for me to go for second tenure’. That is actually the problem.
I don’t see any reason why most of them in the South-East are keeping quiet when these things happen.
I am challenging them, if they know that they actually have the mandate of the people, let them speak for the people and do things right for the people. I don’t see the reason why they should shy away from the truth of the matter by enacting laws to protect our farmers and our citizens from the rampaging herdsmen.
Have you made any effort to talk with the Abia State governor or Speaker on the herdsmen’s attacks?
Let me say this, I have a lot of programmes here at the National Assembly but they (governors) are there in the South-East, they know what the problems are, and that is why we elected them. They also elected me to come to Abuja and look at those laws that will benefit our people and bring in Federal Government presence that our state should get from the center.
I feel sad that most of them are just there, these things are going on and none of them is speaking but that does not mean that I wouldn’t make out time.
The country is witnessing economic recession. What do you think the Federal Government can do to get us out of this quagmire?
I have been an advocate of diversification. I want to say that government has been paying lip service to diversification. I have not seen the seriousness on the part of government to diversify this economy.
They are talking of diversification into agriculture, but tell me one policy of government that has encouraged real mechanized farming. I have not seen that government, state, local or even federal, buying one tractor to support farmers. All we hear is that we are to do mechanize farming. How can you do mechanized farming without tractors to work with? How can you go into mechanized farming without fertilizer, without improved seedling, without facilities where you can store if you harvest, without processor that will process those things and they come finished products.
All we do is pay lip service. Tell me one area, at least I come from the South East, I have not heard from any governor, I have not seen one tractor imported, the Federal Government has not also not imported one. What we hear is that we are diversifying into agriculture.
Go to the Bank of Agriculture and talk of loan and see whether you will get it. The incentives are not there to diversify. If the Federal Government is really serious about this policy about diversification, agriculture alone can take us out of recession.
I went to Malaysia some three and a half years ago and I was surprised that, after five days in the country,we learnt of what they can produce out of palm kernel.
They have about 14 of such things. And if you can recall, it was in the 70s that Malaysians came to Nigeria and took palm kernel, and, today, they do not just export palm oil, ground nut oil but also a lot of things that come out of palm kernel and they are the number one palm kernel, in the world. It was just palm oil that developed Malaysia to become one of the Asian Tigers we have today.
We are talking of agriculture, let government come out with practical policies, not classroom policies, we need those practical policies in agriculture.
We also talk about mining. I was in China some years ago and I found that mining alone has taken China to where nobody ever expected. Go to Nassarawa, Plateau, Bauchi and Taraba, and you find kaoline and other mineral resources that are untapped. Everywhere you go, even within this Abuja, under it are raw materials, nobody is tapping them. I have not seen the Federal Government policy that will harness these things. They will just go about making noise on the diversification of the economy into mining and agriculture and, at the end of the day, there is nothing to show.
I also know that with the way SMEs are being treated; I come from Aba where we have over 15,000 shoe makers and they produce about 80,000 shoes in a week manually. What they want is the machine that can help them to produce instead of 80,000 shows a week about 400,000 in a week. As we speak, even the manual ones they produce, people come from all over Africa to buy from them. They cannot even meet up with the demands.
We are talking of foreign exchange, so how do you get it? I moved a motion to ask the Federal Government to compel the military and paramilitary forces to be procuring their uniforms, shoes, belts, vests, T-shirts from Nigeria. The budget for this year alone is about N14 billion for this and we can produce this thing in Nigeria. If you take just N6 billion to the shoe manufacturing companies in Aba, take N6 billion into the tailoring companies in Aba, the N12 billion can turn around to conserve over $14 million in a year and in turn bring in over $20 million as foreign exchange.
Before this motion, what they were doing, you give them this money, they go to China to procure their uniform, buy their shoes, buy their beret, all imported. We can stop this. The moment we stop this, we have conserved that foreign exchange and the money will be here. And if you empower those shoe makers, from the 15,000 they are today, you will see them, in the next one year, they will employ another 15,000, you have given jobs to another 15,000, you have also increased their production capacity, and you have also expanded your market. Other countries in Africa can even ask you to produce for them the uniform of their military personnel.
This is one area and there are so many areas I think we can diversify, save forex and also make more money at the international market.
What do you think we can do differently to get a different Nigeria in the next 10 years?
If we continue the way we are, we are not going anywhere. This country needs total restructuring. We need fiscal federalism. That’s the only way out; anything outside this, we will continue to rigmarole, we are not telling ourselves the truth.
I was in Delta creeks recently for a ceremony. I travelled on water for one hour ten minutes, and between Warri and the village I went to, I saw about eight oil rigs, I saw two float stations where they load crude oil. In the village I went to, I saw that there was no electricity but a few meters from the village was Chevron oil company. Chevron has 24 hours light, everything you can get from there but the villagers have nothing, no light. They use the water from the sea, they go to the toilet there, that is where they get water to drink.
Before they build their houses, they will take sand in bags from Warri to that village. There is no bridge, from Warri to that place; they said that if there was a bridge, it will take about 15 minutes driving a car to come in there but there is no bridge. It is only two boats and, before my eyes, there was an accident, two boats collided, two people died on the spot. Before my eyes on Sunday morning, military people were patrolling, six of them along that bank, the wave that came out of their patrol boat sank one boat that was carrying about thirty something people. It was the quick intervention of the people around that save those people, otherwise they would have been drowned.
What I am saying is that this country cannot be sustainable if we continue this way. The people must be allowed to develop at their own pace. Each state must be allowed to make use of its resources and pay a certain percentage to the center. The center is overloaded, they have so much to do. Each of the component states should be allowed to harness its resources, and pay a certain percentage to the center, you develop at your own pace.
If you are able to get N1 million in a month and it is 30 percent that you pay to the center, you will go and pay your N300,000; if you get N1 billion, you will pay your N300 million to the center. So if you like, sleep without producing anything, that is your business. If you want to be paying salary of N1,000, it is your business because you know what you have. If you want to be paying N100 in your state as salary, it is your state because that is the much that you have. If your people are happy with what you are doing, they will elect you again; if they are not happy, they will not elect you.
That is the only way out. If states are not allowed to control their resources, if this structured unitary government of states going to Abuja every month to take hand outs back to their states continues, it will not work. Things will continue to go round and round. Often times, I even say I am ashamed to have come from a country that is structured this way. I was in Ghana two weeks ago for a retreat, when I saw Ghana, I was last in Ghana in 2011, I now saw a better Ghana. I saw that they have everything, they have security, they have light, they have water, people were moving freely.
Here is a country with abundant mineral and material resources, we can’t even feed ourselves. We are busy importing everything. This is a country that exports 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day; for how many years have we had oil boom? What happened to the money? See us today, we are talking of recession. I think with the way this country is going, we are not going to go anywhere until we structure, where fiscal federalism and resource control will be the order of the day.