Olafemi...the legislature must desist from blackmail

Chief Clarence Olafemi, a former acting governor in Kogi State and erstwhile Speaker of the state House of Assembly, spoke with Yekini Jimoh on national and local issues. Excerpts:

Is the APC not battling the kind of internal crisis that undid the PDP?
When the Board of Trustees structure was on, there’s no time major party issues are being discussed that we will not be consulted, but they have scraped the board of trustees system out of APC. That notwithstanding, we believe some of us still have a commitment to the party to make our views known. We still have the party elders’ forum, which I believe they still retain. They have the national working committee structure, which is still in place.
We have the body that consists of all the state chairmen, senator and the central working committee. So, there is still enough forum to discuss the problem of APC. However, I want to sound a very strong note of warning. Yes, it is good that the governors of APC are meeting, and trying to be a focal point for finding peace within APC because it is a body whose voice can easily be heard.

The note of warning I want to serve is for the party to be careful so that we don’t have a repeat of what happened in PDP. Part of what killed PDP was that at the national level, the governors were so much overbearing in the running of the affairs of the party, and they coopted themselves into a cabal; that whatever they said, it’s either the party swallowed it as a whole or, they dismantle the party, to the extent that the governors were made the leaders of the party in the state; to the extent that the governors in any congress, at the national, go in bulk with the vote coming from their states, and once they are united, that is the end.

Where we have genuine issues, I think for example, the autonomy of the local governments, the moment the governors ganged up and said no, no speaker is allowed to go and vote against it, otherwise, when he comes home they will remove him. So, rather than allow democracy to improve, they were actually the stumbling stone to the development of democracy in Nigeria.

Do you fear that the APC governors’ meeting might boomerang?
Yes, I’m warning and saying categorically that we welcome their move but we can see that there is already a problem and I will tell you the problem. This forum recognises the executive, the forum and the legislature (National Assembly), but the problem of APC is even greater outside the designation of these three. We have the presidency, the party leadership within the National Assembly and the national central working committee.
But the aggrieved party men that came together to form APC, who never belong to any of these three are greater in population than these three we are talking about, and they are the one that are having problems now, with the entire APC system, persons like me and others, who for example were members of BoT before.

We are talking in all states of frontline politicians who never belong to any of these groups, but are opinion moulders and the strength of the party. All these governors, some of them are not actually helping to build the party in their various states, they are doing so much damage to the party in their states, and they are now supposed to midwife peace, when they have not even started to make peace in their own state. And, the people they are concentrating on, I can tell you that come 2018, if you send some of them back to their various constituencies, they will lose election, because they have not performed. I’m talking of the legislative arm too.

Today in Nigeria, and the type of system that we are running, other than for the party to arrange for election, and win, they are relegated to the background after the victory. They have no say. A situation where you have a state and twenty-six members of the state working committee, about nineteen or twenty or thereabout, are not with the governor of their state, something is wrong. And, nobody can call the governor to order, and say, please, this is not acceptable to us. So, I believe the peace effort should be made through a broader base consultation.
I know when we were preparing for election, and suddenly, INEC, on the advice of the military or the security agencies kept postponing the election, the APC held more than five meetings to seek opinion, to convey to them what is going on, to carry them along, to make us understand the position of the party, and what the position of the party was, because we were all briefed; we flowed with it.

None of us was against it. When I was reading, ‘APC governors wade into executive/legislative party face-off’, I say, yes, if they can reconcile these three, maybe they will only be solving forty-five per cent of the party’s problem, fifty-five per cent still remain unsolved. When we are complaining about the president’s appointment, what about the states? Are their appointments not worse than what they are accusing the President of?
They should allow the President to make his independent consultation and take his independent decision, whether it favours the governors or not. Because, he is the overall father, even some loopholes being created by the actions and the inactions of the governors can be bridged by the president, in his own initiative.

What’s your take on the rejection of the president’s request for external loan by the Senate?
Honestly speaking, they (lawmakers) are giving the president too much problem, and they are selfish about it and I am not happy. We have a country that is in recession, and we all agree that this recession was not caused by the President. How can somebody who is in government less than one and a half years be the one responsible for an economy that was on life support when he took over?
And so, the only thing he can do, as a lay man in economy, in banking and finance, in industry, that I have spent the last forty years of my time, even on the domestic front, if you have three plots of land and you cannot pay the school fees of three of your children and they are going to be at home; you cannot give them two-square meal and is going to lead to malnutrition, you cannot even take them to hospital when they are sick to pay for their hospital bill, is it not better to take one of the plots of land and sell it, and get these things sorted out?
When we wanted to sell our assets, I think what Nigerians should have concentrated upon, was to ask questions, which assets do we want to sell? At what value? Where do we want to deploy the proceeds? I think it is not out of place to ask that question. For example, the NLGC I’m aware that what the government was concentrating upon was to sell a percentage – five per cent out of forty-five per cent they are holding, and with a caveat, that when the economy of this country improves, we can buy back that five per cent. It will be there.

But they would have raised money which they needed, to sort out one or two things that are requiring urgent attention. For example, if we sell, we raise money in foreign currency, and that will boost our foreign reserve and it will now have a direct effect on our foreign exchange rate that is killing the economy. You said no. The same man now went, and said, ‘let me downplay it and go and look for money to borrow, you said no. So, what magic do you want the man to do?
At this present time, they held meeting on the Niger Delta/militant peace initiative, and the second or third day, they went and blew up an oil pipeline, a major supply pipeline, and we are told the amount of money Nigeria is losing daily as a result of militants’ activities in a key sector of our economy that we rely upon is 90 per cent, if not more.

At a point where up till now we have not been able to cross the boundary of $50 a barrel of oil, from $120 per barrel, in some administrations. So, the combined devastating problems that are confronting the economy is making it extremely difficult to find a window to boost this economy, and the only options that are practically on the ground today, are to sell part of our assets or to borrow money.

If you say No, then tell us where you want this government to get the money to transform the economy, to recover the economy, to get us out of recession? Why are people not honest? Meanwhile, the overhead cost of you people in the National Assembly up till today you have not reduced it. The man is still battling corruption. I can assure you that most Nigerians in power today are still involved in corruption. The projects in some states are still very unreasonable, and their lifestyle is not still in tune with the recession and the suffering of the people, and they are not ready to soft pedal.

What is the way forward?
What will happen is that one, we as Nigerians have to plead with the National Assembly to cooperate with the president. Let’s put politics apart, we cannot play politics with the lives of Nigerians. If you are saying no to a move, tell us what is the option? Don’t just say no because you have power to say no. And, Nigerians will have to be sincere with themselves because the average Nigerian that is opposed to the asset sales are very comfortable.
The average Nigerian that is opposed to taking loan is very comfortable. So, propose to the president, the options that are before him, and that are more acceptable to the ones that you are rejecting. You cannot just be saying no, no, no, and you expect that man to perform miracle? The economy of Nigeria is in bad shape. A tyre of my car that I was buying for sixteen thousand today it is thirty-four thousand. A bag of rice that I was buying for eight thousand naira about two years ago, today, is twenty-four thousand.

Even things that are completely local, with no foreign input, have skyrocketed. One egg is now fifty naira. There is nothing that has not gone up by hundred per cent, I don’t know of any, and the only way these can subside is to get the dollar rate down drastically; bring it down to about N200 to the dollar, and how can that be done? It is by increasing our own foreign reserve.

Even in our local area here in Lokoja, property business is at its lowest ebb, stock market business is at its lowest ebb. Everything is going down. It will get to a point where, and God forbid, we Nigerians should also forbid, we will almost be singing the song of Ghana in the early 80s. Let us not watch situation deteriorate to that level.

Quote
Honestly speaking, they (lawmakers) are giving the president too much problem, and they are selfish about it and I am not happy. We have a country that is in recession, and we all agree that this recession was not caused by the President. How can somebody who is in government less than one and a half years be the one responsible for an economy that was on life support when he took over?