By SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
Hon. Johnson Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma is the Chairman of the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee on US/Nigeria Relations. In this interview, Agbonayinma sheds light on the alleged secret exportation of estimated 391 million barrels of Nigeria’s crude oil to the United States which his committee looked into. He also speaks on why he dumped the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the floor of the House, a development that irked PDP lawmakers who consequently staged a walk out of plenary. The member representing Ikpoba Okhai/ Egor Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House shares his perspective on the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 elections and why former Vice President Atiku Abubakar may not successfully challenge the President’s re-election. Excerpts:
Your recent defection from the PDP to the APC caused a stir in the House of Reps as PDP lawmakers kicked and asked you to resign from parliament. What is your take on the issue?
Life is about impacting on the people in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy. Politics is about serving the people. My position is very clear. The name, PDP, is not the problem; the problem is the people in the party. It is like having a house full of people who do not have the interest of the people at heart. I have many friends in the PDP who mean well but, unfortunately, we have several bad ones who try to mislead the good ones. I did everything humanly possible to join hands with stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria succeeds, especially in my Ikpoba Okhai/Egor Federal Constituency. I am a progressive and only interested in how to develop our environment, empower the youths but, in PDP while some are working so hard to get it right, there are others who think permanently about their selfish interest. I don’t play politics like that. Therefore, I had no option, after working so hard, than to leave the party. Impunity still reigns in the PDP and I cannot continue to live in a house that is no longer sustainable, a house that is giving me problems, a house that is built on deceit, selfish interest, a house that is not putting Nigeria first. I left the PDP because of impunity. Senator Alli Modu Sheriff (former party Chairman) tried to revive the PDP but some persons, because he was not a rubber stamp, started fighting him. They did this because they wanted to continue to wallow in impunity. Even after the Supreme Court judgement (that ousted Sheriff), the impunity did not stop. They were busy saying they were going to grant us (Sheriff’s supporters) amnesty and I said ‘amnesty for what?’ At a point, some PDP leaders in Edo even ganged up to remove Chief Orbih as the Chairman of the party in the state and, funny enough, the same people who ganged up against him are the people parading themselves as leaders of the party today in Edo. Secondly, Edo South, which has 58 per cent of votes in any election in the state, is not recognized in Edo PDP. Whenever the party is holding its meeting, you will not find one Edo South person there; all the leaders of the party are from Edo Central. Those in the minority are the people now taking decisions on behalf of the majority; my people were relegated to the background. And rather than criticize constructively, you see some of them concentrating on the health of President Buhari, wishing the man dead. I cannot even wish my enemy dead; to me, that is rubbish; it is no longer politics.
After the election of Governor Obaseki, when I was asked to react to his victory, don’t forget that I said his election was a true reflection of the wish of the majority of Edo people. They voted for the best candidate and that is why those who were shedding crocodile tears went to contest the victory in court and were disgraced. They tried to upturn the decision of God but God dismissed their case. You can see today that the governor of Edo is working just like President Muhammadu Buhari but, unfortunately we have a cabal that wants to sabotage the work of the President. It is about praying for the government of the day to succeed not to pray that the President or the governor should fail. The wish of the PDP is that the President should fail and that is bad politics. And in the case of Obaseki, how can anybody see what he is doing and say he is not working because he is in PDP? Don’t forget that I worked with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Obaseki was the Chairman of the Economic Team. We knew he had what it takes to be governor and he has demonstrated it for everybody to see. Edo, today, like when Oshiomhole was there, is work in progress. Yet you will open your mouth to castigate such a man who is committed to bringing development to the state. I don’t regret leaving PDP. I am back to the APC to join hands with Obaseki and President Buhari to succeed. I have been in the PDP and I can tell you that the conspiracy and impunity is more in the PDP than in the APC. There is no party that does not have a problem but the one in the PDP is worse because it does not bother about the well-being of the ordinary Nigerian. Those calling for my resignation may not be in tune with the politics of this nation.
But it was rumoured that some of you collected money to cause trouble in the PDP.
It is not about money; if I wanted to collect money, when I was with Modu Sheriff, some people offered me huge sums of money to cross to the other side but I rejected it. I stood for the truth and that is what I believe. I am not a money-bag; I am a contented person; so let them stop their blackmail.
Your committee investigated the alleged unrecorded crude oil worth billions of dollars taken out of the country. How far is that investigation?
That is why I said some of the people working with Mr President do not mean well for this nation. They have hidden agenda and I pray that, in 2018, God should give the President the wisdom to send the cabal out of the system. We have capable hands that can give the President what he wants. The oil sector is the mainstay of the nation and we cannot take it for granted. How can barrels of crude oil worth billions leave this country for Europe and Asia without documentation? 391million barrels of our crude oil got to the United States but it was not declared by the NNPC. NNPC should come out clean. Let me use this opportunity to thank the Attorney General of the Federation and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, for the support they gave to my committee during the investigation. I moved a motion over the undeclared crude oil that left the shores of the nation. 17 billion dollars’ worth of crude entered the US but it was not declared by the NNPC. I moved a motion about the non-payment of 14billion dollars of gas flared by oil companies. For the first time, we made sure that all the IOCs’ MDs and CEOs appeared before the House. During our investigation, we invited the DPR and they came out clean; their submission was that all we had been saying was true. The DPR indicted the NNPC for withholding billions of dollars belonging to the Federal Government. The NPDC is also withholding billions of dollars. So if the NNPC and the NPDC are doing that to a government they are serving, what do you expect the IOCs to do? We found that the IOCs are indebted the Federal Government while our indigenous companies are being treated like second class citizens. The NNPC treats our indigenous companies like second class citizens but treat the IOCs as gods, it is unfair. The local content law, which is supposed to protect indigenous contractors, must be implemented to the letter. There is one painful situation we found out. A Nigerian contractor paid over 9million dollars since 2015 to obtain a licence, up till now he has not got the licence and the money was not refunded to him. This is unfair. Nigeria’s money in foreign land should be brought back. We thank God for the United States Congress, because, as the House Committee Chairman on US/Nigerian Relations and Inter Parliamentary Matters, we have received good support from the US Congress. The Congress has been helping us to ensure that the money taken out of the country is returned despite the efforts by some Nigerians to sabotage the move. Every patriotic Nigerians must join hands with President Buhari to ensure that the money is returned. As we speak, 100billion dollars belonging to Nigeria is stashed away abroad.
The problem is that some of these foreign countries who are ready to receive this money are equally guilty. And let me also say that the United Nations must help us in the fight against corruption because sometimes some international elements collaborate with these criminals to fly our money out. We are tired of their financial aid.
From your investigation, has there been any arrest made so far?
You see, when the President said ‘corruption is fighting back’, it is true, because, since I moved this motion, and I travelled far and wide to get the facts and figures on the crude oil taken out of Nigeria, I have been threatened every day. I have received calls, made with hidden numbers, from people castigating me, insulting me and demanding that I should leave this matter alone, but I know that God is with me. The threats will not stop me from pressing on because this country belongs to all of us. I lived in America for over thirty years and I want what I saw in America to be replicated in my country. It is due to the activities of these criminals that in Nigeria we do not have steady power supply. I think we should declare a state of emergency in the power sector. Let’s ban generators, let everybody live in darkness if we are not ready to set the power sector right.
This is one of the issues we discussed extensively with some persons in government. The fuel scarcity we experienced during Christmas is a pure case of sabotage and designed to tell the world that President Buhari is not working. Everyone felt the pains of the scarcity and it happened because a cabal wants to derail the progress of the President. Since the inception of the Buhari administration, we didn’t experience this kind of scarcity; so the cabal decided to strike during the festive period to get Nigerians to hate Buhari but it is wrong, it is wicked and those involved should be dealt with. When we (House of Reps) reconvene, I am going to move a motion that a panel be set up to look into the issue of petrol scarcity to unravel the people behind this sabotage. When I saw the police arresting young Nigerians selling fuel in kegs, I laughed because those are not the people to be arrested. The people to be arrested are those frustrating President Buhari’s change agenda.
One billion dollars insurgency fund
I read some people criticizing President Buhari over the 1billion dollars approved by governors to be taken from the ECA by Mr President to fight insurgency. Those criticizing him are playing with fire. The security budget of the New York police is bigger than the budget of the Federal Government of Nigeria. And, in this matter, we are talking about the security of our nation, of the North-East and people are complaining about the amount. Some governors are collecting over N500million, N1billion monthly as security vote; you should ask them what they are doing with it. And in this case of the President, we are talking of money meant to curb insecurity in the entire nation and they are shouting. I expected people to insist that the money be used for the purpose it is meant for, not complaining about the amount. As a matter of fact, you don’t even discuss security funds in the public. Have you ever heard about how much is earmarked for the FBI or the CIA? We destroy ourselves by playing too much politics.
What is your take on the 2019 elections, particularly with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar joining the PDP from APC?
Several months ago, President Buhari was not healthy, but thank God he recovered. Though he has not disclosed whether he will contest, if he decides to run, he will defeat Atiku. First of all, Buhari has ended the terrorism of Boko Haram and he is fighting corruption doggedly; people are afraid of stealing now, there is no more impunity. He has been able to revive the economy and brought us out of the recession which the PDP administration plunged us into. In terms of infrastructure, he is working day and night. He means well for Nigerians and we must appreciate him. All he needs now is to rejig his administration and bring in fresh blood that will do the job. If he decides to contest today, I can assure you that Nigerians will queue behind him. But the truth is that if you want to be President of Nigeria, you must travel to the US like former President Obasanjo said. If Atiku is unable to travel to the US, then it is an issue. Nigerians don’t want a President that will not be able to travel to the US because America is the giant of democracy.