Hon. Sergius Ogun, a lawyer is the Chairman, House Committee on Federal Capital Territory, FCT. He is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member representing Esan North East /Esan South East Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he speaks on the contentious issue of Amnesty for Treasury Looters Bill, restructuring, the Grazing Bill and other national issues. Excerpts:
By Emman Ovuakporie
SINCE the bill on amnesty for treasury looters passed second reading, it has generated a lot of heat in the polity. Do you think it is an appropriate move on the part of the House?
The bill has just been listed for first reading, it has not gone through the second reading for debate. In any case, I learnt that my colleague, Hon. Linus Okorie, is the sponsor of the bill. I didn’t indicate any interest in the bill until I got a call from South Africa, from a lady who visits Nigeria regularly. She spoke about the bill, saying it’s not just enough to present the bill to the people but that the people should be educated on it.
She added that it may be necessary for a team to visit countries like Indonesia, Malaysia or India where similar laws already exist. She spoke extensively about the benefits of the bill. This does not in any way mean that when people steal money they can now come back and say I have stolen so much, while they have kept some aside and want to give back a certain amount.
Amnesty to militants
She stressed the need to get the people on board to understand the meaning of the bill. From my understanding of the bill, some people are outside the tax net, they have stolen money and are not being investigated. Given the opportunity, they might take advantage of this law to avoid being investigated in the future. The bill envisages that more looters that are not currently being investigated or may not be investigated in the future will be captured in this net. This is not to say that if they come forward to say they have defrauded the country to the tune of xyz, you are just going to ask them for what is left and allow them to go.
If you do that, the cycle will continue. But when someone says I am repentant, I’m sorry that I did it and this is the whole story, I think such persons should be listened to and whatever can be recovered from them will be quickly recovered. If you can grant amnesty to militants who blew up pipelines and killed people and extend same to Boko Haram terrorists who killed defenseless civilians and say they don’t believe in western education, why not those that the system enabled to steal.
From what I have gathered, billions of naira can be returned to the country. Therefore, we should not see it in the light of a person who has stolen and you grant him or her amnesty because the person returned some money. In any case this is what plea bargaining is all about, which is practiced all over the world. In the case of a plea bargain, the person is already indicted but in amnesty the person comes forward voluntarily. Hence the recovered funds become extra money to the government to fund critical infrastructural needs. The spirit and intent of the bill is that, as amnesty is being granted, the institutions are strengthened to avoid the cycle of stealing and availing themselves of amnesty.
Kidnapping is still on the rise despite attempts by some state assemblies to make it punishable by death. Do you think there could be a better way out?
When I came to the House of Representatives in 2015, one of my first motions was an ‘Urgent need to curb the menace of Kidnapping in Esan South East Local government area of Edo state’. This motion had to be stepped down at the time because it was perceived to be highly sensitive. The motion identified the threat of herdsmen and recommended ranching as a solution to current grazing practices. Herdsmen were killing and robbing people along Ubiaja-Ewohimi Road on daily basis, even a serving state house of assembly member was attacked then. You can’t over run people’s farms and not see anything wrong with it.
Rearing cattle is a business and should be seen as such. If you must rear cattle, go to the community heads and acquire a place to do so. It’s a burning issue all over the country, not just Edo State. When motions on this subject matter come up, you hear things like the need for increased policing/security. But how many police officers do we have to provide the security and surveillance?
The eighth House seems to be interested in debating former President Goodluck Jonathan administration’s confab, what is your take on this possibility?
If taking it in piece meal is what we can get now, it’s ok. But the best option is for us to bring the whole report, debate it and collectively take a position which will become law. That’s the beauty of democracy. The government spent billions on the confab report and should not allow it to gather dust in the villa. There are quality recommendations in that report that if implemented today can quell the current political agitations in the country.
Can you beat your chest that your impact as a lawmaker is being felt in your constituency?
When I came into the house in 2015, my predecessor’s projects in the 2015 budget were for construction of two blocks of classrooms with furniture for one and provision of furniture for a third school. I was told there was no fund for these projects, I refused to take no for an answer but aggressively pursued it and delivered all three projects. But in the 2016 budget, due to the padding issues, what was thought would be in the budget was not. On my Constituency project, which is agriculture, I had a town hall meeting with my constituents in both local governments that I represent.
During my campaign, I told them that government alone can’t do it all, so they should learn trades, agriculture and become entrepreneurs. I gave them examples of some rich people in Esan land, when I was growing up, who were not educated but were traders and merchants. In my budget, I put agriculture there. Today we have cleared 100 hectares of land, though the plan was to clear 200 hectares. However, what the money in the budget could cover is 56 hectares, but we have cleared 100 hectares. I have tractors on site, planters are there and before the harvest time I will get harvesters. It’s 100 percent mechanized.
We have 200 youths – 100 from each LGA who will be given an acre each; the proceeds from their one acre of farm land belong to them. That’s my own way of creating employment for them because when you tell them to go and farm, they are not inspired. In their estimation, their fathers did that and are still poor. We have started training them on mechanized farming. I also think government is paying lip service to agriculture. My constituency project is agriculture but during the farming season, funds and materials for farmers were not released until after the planting period. And that’s why we are where we are now.
What do you have to say about true federalism in Nigeria?
Am in support of true federalism. If that is restructuring, then perfect. We claim we are a federation but in the true sense of it, are we practicing federalism? It’s just in name. If today, we say allow the federating states to be on their own and pay something to the centre, this country will be better for it.
I have said it severally, that if we didn’t have to leave our house, but there is food to eat and money, will there be any incentive to leave the house? But that is what is happening in Nigeria. At the end of every month, the state governor sends his commissioner to Abuja to collect a cheque. Which work did that state do, zero. That is why to see a governor sometimes in Nigeria is very difficult. Even if you are coming with business but he does not need you, he is not interested. Whether he gets the business or not, money will come from Abuja at the end of the month.
Again some of the northern states practice Sharia law, hence no sale of alcohol and no brothels but you take VAT money from Lagos where they do all these and share to the Sharia states; that should be blood money, this is not sustainable. We say Nigeria is a secular state, yet the government sponsors people on hajj to Mecca and pilgrimage to Israel. If we are practicing true federalism, the states should function as federating states and pay tax to the centre. We can cure these defects by a simple constitutional review. Stagger the exclusive and concurrent list, we will have a constitution that is not only federal in name but in content and character.
How will you assess the Buhari led administration?
It’s zero! I really sympathize with the president. The former President of USA, Barrack Obama, on his visit to Africa, asked Africans to build strong institutions and not strong men. If we can do that, it will checkmate so many things.
Template to fightcorruption
For me, the president came in without a template to fight corruption; he came in with the 1980’s mentality to just throw people in jail and get money to fund the budget, thinking everybody would be happy. But we have gone beyond that. Though I see a man wanting to fight corruption but even within his inner kitchen cabinet, people are misbehaving. That will break any man’s heart. I sympathize with him.
My prayer is that we can systematically check corruption in this country. For example, the millions of dollars (which has now been forfeited to the government) that was found in Ikoyi in Lagos State, we don’t know the owner till now, the simple thing EFCC should have done was to plant cameras on street lights of that estate, somebody would one day come for part of that money. Former police boss, Solomon Arase, during last year’s NBA confere-nce in Port Harcourt, said that in other countries you investigate crimes before you effect arrest but that is not the case in Nigeria.