Biafra, militancy symptoms of Nigeria’s problem –Okechukwu
Toby Okechukwu is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Works. He said the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra in the South-East and the militancy in the Niger Delta region are symptoms of the challenges facing Nigeria. He also shared his thoughts on the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the place of opposition in the survival of democracy.
Two years down the line as the Chairman of Works in the House of Reps, how do you rate this administration with regards to road construction and other infrastructure?
Infrastructure generally in Nigeria has suffered a lot of setback; from the absence of sufficient funding, to absence of very structured and planned approach to infrastructural development. For example in Zambia, the minimum they spend on road development and maintenance is one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000), N306 billion, that is if you use the official exchange rate. If you use the parallel market rate, it is N400 billion.
In the 2016 budget, what was available for road construction in Nigeria was about N240 billion, so, a country that is less in population, land mass, is having much more; so you can see the link and the gap. In addition, there is no proper framework for the revenue accrued to the works sector, meaning what has always been donated to us by way of our annual appropriation and most of the time; you find out that these appropriations are not completely funded, is not enough. When you do not budget enough and you are funded less, it means you are continuously on deficit. So I would say it has been a general malaise in the industry and we need to do more as a government, both at the federal and state government levels and we need to pay enough attention to the roads in particular.
You have gone round the country and you know how things are. Which of the geo-political zones would you say is the worst hit in terms of poor roads?
Generally throughout the country, the road network is far much undeveloped and even the ones that are developed are very much in a poor state. They are not maintained. I was speaking with a practitioner in the sector and he said they constructed the Benin- Asaba road and he said that after 10 years of use, he could detect some cracks and some negative challenges on the road. He said if given N2 million, he would patch now, he will patch all of them but when that is delayed for another five years, same repairs will cost billions.
There are also some areas that you have clear absence of government, clear neglect. If for instance you take the eastern axis of this country, running from Maiduguri to Bauchi, Gombe, down to Kastina-Ala and then to Calabar, you will find out that the road infrastructure is poorly developed and poorly maintained and if you see the quantum of vehicles that criss-cross the axis, you will know that we need to do more.
You look at it generally and then you ask yourself why is it also that the rail sector in the eastern flank of this country is underdeveloped? If you are doing standard gauge, why is it not developed? Even when you are doing narrow gauge or trying to rehabilitate narrow gauge, why is it going to be under concession? Whereas the other axis is funded by the government, why did it not start at the same time with the others? Why are you borrowing $5.8 billion and no part of this eastern axis is in that borrowing plan? This is supposed to be a loan that is to be paid by the entire country.
When you see the seaports of this country, why is the one in Calabar and Port Harcourt undeveloped and underutilized? So, when you talk about Biafra, militancy in the South-South, there are symptoms of a problem or challenges the people have.
Away from road matter, your former governor just came out recently to say PDP was dead, how do you feel, especially that the PDP have no chance again?
Well you know, history is cheap, unfortunately our people do not make effort to purchase, make it available in spite of the fact that it could be gotten cheaply. I believe that if a party has survived for 16 years and run government for 16 years and has been given opportunity for 16years, the minimum you can give to it is to leave it in peace if you want to leave at all. But a situation where our people generally, am not just talking to our former governors, where our people just begin to run down what has brought them to limelight, is not proper. If you look at the Republican Party in the US, a lot of people are offended by the attitude of the President, Mr. Trump but they are not running away from the party; they just know that it is going to be four years or maximum eight years and life goes on and their core belief is in the system. So, I believe it is a responsibility that is thrown on beneficiaries to make sure the party survives but if we continue to undermine it, to dig its own grave even when it has not died or to cremate it then those who are the inheritors of those elements will better watch their back because very soon that same new living organism or new party will soon be dead.
If Nigerians want to put an existential threat to APC, we will say that all the parties should be collapsing and enter into APC; it will be combustible. But when you have other avenues to vent your anger, to have your say even when you do not have your way, you will find out that the polity thrives and the government in power will do better. But when we muscle out other opposition, it does not say much about us as leaders and as people who are good. More importantly, what was the reason for the formation of PDP? We had the G18 that graduated to G34, it was meant to form a party that would be strong enough to resist military intervention in politics and to the extent that PDP ran the government for 16 years, it was mission accomplished.
For 16 years you never talked about military warning anybody not to stage a coup or mix with politicians and all that. So if we are going back to Egypt whereas PDP brought us out of there, then there should be questions and I believe strongly that PDP has a history and I believe that leaders or beneficiaries of that history will do a great deal for the country if it is upheld.
What do you think is the end result of the mass defection of key PDP members moving to APC?
Some people give excuses that APC is helping to spoil or infiltrate the PDP in order to scatter it. The issue is that what are we doing, can we not put ourselves together and offer leadership? These people who are defecting are just some that are frustrated and feel that there is no resolution of issues as regards what is happening It is the responsibility of the leaders to make sure that there is a resolution to this movement but presently, at least you know they are in court; very soon, one way or the other, there must be a resolution, there is an end to every litigation.
I believe that some people moved in order to contest elections, some others moved in order to have opportunities, some of them moved because that is where the cake is now. But what you must understand is that some people have been waiting for almost 16 years to have that cake and when you get there, you queue up; they might give you a promissory note but when you get to the bank, it will be blank. I have seen the evidences in so many places where there was a promissory note given, at a point when you want to call up the promissory note, the guarantor will disappear and then you have an empty promise. There would not be much effect because our people want alternative, they want a reasonable option; very soon, by the time this issue is resolved, you will find out that even people who are in APC will start jumping ship to PDP.