Dr. Chris Ngige
The senator representing Anambra Central in the National Assembly, Dr. Chris Ngige recently spoke with reporters including THISDAY’S Charles Onyekamuo in Awka on President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to Anambra State, the fate of the South-east geopolitical zone with regard to constitutional review, probe of the power sector and 2014 governorship election in the state. Excerpts
Just last week, President Goodluck Jonathan paid an official visit to Anambra State and commissioned some projects. What do you consider the gains for the state in all these?
Yes, we have a lot to gain from Mr. President’s visit to our state. We are also happy about the success story of Orient Petroleum Resources. That project was discovered earlier by the former governor, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife who started the push for the exploitation of the oil and gas reserve in Anambra. By that time, I was the president of a pan Igbo organization, known as Akaikenga in Lagos. We as a body liaised with Ezeife and the then minister, Professor Chu Okongwu on the prospects of having a refinery in Anambra. But the regime of Ezeife was short lived. Then, former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju came into office and continued. He was able to secure licence for the project and set up board of directors. He also gave Orient Petroleum an office complex as its operational base.
When I came into office as governor, we organized an investor’s forum for Orient Petroleum and worked with the Board of Directors that was put up then. Like you know, government is a continuity and my administration acquired the land where orient petroleum is currently operating and also gave them the certificate of occupancy. We also made provision for the constitution of road to Umueje but I am not particularly happy about the hopeless state of the road to Orient Petroleum. We at the National Assembly shall push it further for Anambra State to have its share as an oil producing state.
So the dream of Orient Petroleum on that day materialized and I must not fail to commend the incumbent Governor, Mr. Peter Obi for his own contributions as a government to the success of Orient Petroleum. Also while Dame Virgy Etiaba was governor, when Peter was out of office as a result of impeachment, she also paid N550 million or so to the project and Obi also paid N500 million or there about.
Anambra State is sitting on a large deposit of hydro carbon. We used to have a gas leakage in Ugwuagba and parts of Idemili. So, we are going to move a step forward through the gas committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Anambra gas must be tapped fully.
At the National Assembly, we frowned at the location of gas plant in places were there is no gas. This is because when you do that, you will have to spend huge sums of money doing the piping from Akwa Ibom or Bayelsa or Delta states. You will also pay for the transport of gas from those areas to the gas plants and also pay people to guard the pipes.
During the stakeholders’ town hall meeting in Onitsha, issues were raised about the second Niger Bridge with the President. What do you think about this?
We, the South East senators have made representations to the federal government about the second Niger Bridge. We have also told the secretary to the Government of the Federation that if this bridge doesn’t come on line in the next two years, our people will not forgive them. Already, we have approved the 2020 plan which they brought to us in that regard. But my worry is that they are constructing the bridge on Public Private Partnership (PPP) which means that there will be toll gates and our people would be compelled to pay. So, if you are going to Asaba you pay toll.
The President also commissioned the Onitsha River Port. How happy are you with that?
Given the availability of road infrastructure, can it cope when the goods are discharged there. The answer is no! The answer is a big no! Except for the fact that the Onitsha-Owerri road is almost completed. But you know that the road has taken almost eight years to complete.
What is your take on the National Assembly probe panels especially that of power?
The probe panels are okay. They are good. We are not members of the executive. They make people sit up. And it is like an X-ray. And if you remember it is not only probe that we do. We also carry out what is called public hearing on any matter that is not clear, or a matter that we want to legislate on. We ask every body to come - private people, players in that industry, and the members of the executive team, handling whatever it is. That gives us the opportunity to clear the air. So, it is the same thing in a probe panel. There was a probe panel on power led by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and another by Senator Ugbani. That was the sixth senate and we looked at that report and a lot of things in that report are factual and good. Is it a lie that some projects were commissioned when there was nothing to be commissioned? Former President Obasanjo commissioned power plant at Ogbomosho. He commissioned Olorunshogo power plant. He commissioned other things but they were not completed. That is the truth of the matter. How can you commission projects that were not completed? So we are not making noise in our committee, but we brought the power ministry and the electric companies and told them what we have seen in the report. We have also gone into field to look at those power plants and this is what we have seen. What do you do about it? They sat down with us and gave us their plans for achieving the capacity generations on those plants and that is what we need. We do not need people to go to jail because there is no electricity. We need to sit people up and squeeze them and give Nigerians electricity.
So, we in the power committee are not for noise making. But we produce results and that is what we want. When customs seized containers of contractors and said they have sold them on auction. We said “go and bring them back. Go to those who sold them, they are Nigerians.’ The containers were twenty one. After forty eight hours they reported to us that the containers were back. We got some of them in Kaduna, PortHarcourt and other places where they had been sold to unidentified people.
What is your reaction to the resignation of Professor Bart Nnaji?
It is a very good question that you have now asked. Before the town hall meeting with Mr. President in Onitsha, I told Mr. President that this question will be raised. And by the way Mr. President is my personal friend because when I was governor we always sit close at Council of State Meetings. After Anambra you have Bayelsa and then Bauchi. At that time, his principal, Alamieyeseigha does not like to attend Obasanjo’s meetings. He knows that I can’t deceive him; any briefing that I gave him, he takes it seriously. So, I told him that the crux of the Igbos are here and they would talk about Nnaji their brother, because already they have started feeling that the man was victimized. And you heard what he said. He said that Bart Nnaji did not commit any offence. That is the cardinal thing. He committed no offence.
The Senate has embarked on constitution review. How far has it gone?
So far it has been full of progress. We are in the review to define the political structure. We have six geopolitical zones in Nigeria but it is not enshrined in our constitution. It is not there. So, there is the need to define it or we say let us have regions instead of geopolitical zones. Even in the area of state creation, apart from Rivers, Akwa –Ibom, Delta, Kano and Lagos State some people say that the rest of the states are not viable. While others say we need more whether they are viable or not. Even those that are viable are being assisted by the oil companies. If you remove money from the federation accounts how many states can stand on their own? How many of them can do business.
Also at the review, some said let us have regions due to the non viability of the component states. But my take on this is that every state in Nigeria is viable only that they are lazy. Anambra and Enugu have coal. Ebonyi State has lead, zinc and salt and rice. We have Abakaliki rice and Omor rice in Anambra. Still on the area of state creation we in the South-east zone said, no matter what is being said, there is a zone that has been badly treated and that is the Southeast. So, for equity, a state must come from Southeast. If other zones say there should be parity in the number of states of each geopolitical zone then our zone should have two more states comparatively. We shall go to the presidency for an executive bill for the creation of an additional state if the National Assembly fails to resolve it.
Anambra North is calling for the next governor to come from their zone, how do you look at it?
I have heard it and I have read in the papers that the incumbent Governor Peter Obi is also canvassing the same view and in response the Obi of Onitsha told the governor that he would allow the governor to have a hand in his successor. This is undemocratic. We are not discussing Kingship or a hereditary stool. When you say it is your person, if he does not win there will be trouble. If he wins they say he rigged and he was anointed by his god father or god fathers. I am a politician and I know what that means. Anambra people should be free to choose who ever they want. The second part of my fears is that this particular pronouncement has caused trouble in APGA. They now have big crack in Anambra and by extension other states in the South-east. I am a progressive and I am also radical. I like radicalism, I am not a member of APGA but we know how APGA was formed. I was as at then an executive member of the PDP in the South-east and we know our contributions to the formation of APGA. The party was formed as an alternative due to what President Obasanjo was doing. We used to attend the conclave at Chris Okoye’s house in Enugu. The records are there you can ask Victor Umeh. APGA had today been cracked due to the position of the governor. But I have three questions for the North. I had asked this question during the 2010 governorship election in Omabala forum. Has there been any election till now that Anambra North said o’kay we give you the chance to contest, we will not contest so that after you, it becomes our turn.
In 1999 it was Oramulu from Anambra North. ABC Nwosu from south but Mbadinuju snatched it, if not he would have won. All the zones made gargantuan and titanic efforts at the primaries and even at the election proper. Same was the case in 2007. Senator Emma Anosike from the North contested in the primaries and later became running mate to Professor Charles Soludo.
Politics should be devoid of deceit and as soon as we stop it the better. Number two question is: Have politicians in Anambra State ever sat to rotate it? And the answer was defining silence, a big no.
But Ndigbo are facing the fate with Anambra North in the presidency
Yes and that is why we are carrying out constitutional review so that we agree on the rotation and enshrine it in our constitution. That is what should be done in Anambra State.
But we expect you politicians and stakeholders to do that in Anambra State.
Yes we are ready to do that but who would call for that conference? Who should call for that meeting? It is still the governor that should call for that meeting instead of making such pronouncement like he did recently. That is why we want to sit down and agree on rotation and it becomes sacrosanct in the state. The governor is not doing this with good intentions. Peter Obi should call a conference.
He should also be told that if you put poison in a chalice you do not know who will drink it. There is a poisoned chalice that is being bandied about and it sends dangerous signals in the polity and political tarmac of Anambra State.