Senate Minority Leader and a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio reviewed the two years of the All Progressives Congress-led federal government and concluded his party, the Peoples Democratic Party would have done a better job. He also discussed the crisis rocking his party. Iyobosa Uwugiaren presents the excerpts:
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC federal government in the last two years?
There is a lot of emotions being expressed here and there; a lot of expectations that have not been met. So, these are the various reasons why those who wear the shoes should know where it pinches. But I will say that part of the reason could be this economic recession that hits Nigeria and many part of the world that I would say started in Greece. Now, I think it is in Venezuela—where people are on the streets breaking things. I wonder, you only have recession and you are breaking things down; how would you rebuild those things. Some have gone scattering things and looting of shops. But, Nigerians have been patient. But for the economics recession, it could have been very easy for one to pass judgment. However, if I were to assess the two years, I would say there is still a lot to be done because l know ‘if it is not panadol. it canâ€™t be the same as panadol’. I believe that if it were PDP, between 2015 and 2017, we would have made more significant progress. A lot of plans have been outlined but not much had actually been seen in terms of progress and delivering of campaign promises. Most of the campaign promises have actually not been met. There is no one to be blamed for the recession currently ravaging many countries. But from a politician point of views, I am just imagining that probably, we could have handled the recession better, if it were PDP and that is how I looked at it.
So, what went wrong?
I have spoken to some of APC leaders and they keep on blaming what they called the mess created by the PDP, the mess the party left behind; that they underestimated the problem left behind by the PDP, and that is why they have not been able to perform. No! They canâ€™t say that. You know before you go into government. You must do a critical analysis of what you intend to do. You canâ€™t go and promise free education when you are not sure you are ready. Before you make promises to the people, you must have done not just the details analysis of the economic situation of the government, but, you must have also done a review of the economic policies of the government. So, if they say they underestimated the mess left behind by the PDP that means they on their own part were not prepared for government. I take a good example of Barack Obama, they refused to give him credit but he met America in almost comatose. General Motors, for instance, was retrenching and was about to fold up and a lot of industries in America were in the same precarious situation and government brought out economic stimulus and went even to inject money into private sectors. That was not governmentâ€™s concerns but the government was out to save the jobs of the average Americans; to make sure that those companies survived, and by the third year, General Motors started making profits. I donâ€™t think Obama spent almost two years talking about the previous administration. We should stop passing the bucks. We should stop blaming the previous administration. Itâ€™s almost like saying the PDP came into office in 1999 and keeps blaming the entire years of the military rule, and keeps saying because of the military we cannot do anything. Letâ€™s forget what happened, letâ€™s take the country the way we met it and try to turn things around and stop blaming the past administrations. There is no need for blame games. We must accept that we have not been able to get the policies right. It is one thing to have the policies and itâ€™s another to implement them well.
The summary is that many things have not stopped, a lot of waivers are still being given by the federal government; importation of so many things are still going on. We cannot be producing rice in Sapele and importing rice from Thailand and expect the rice factory in Sapele to continue to work. We canâ€™t compete with the foreign rice. Imported rice will come in cheaper than the local rice because of labour and of course because of the cost of processing; and the main fact that not only it will be more costly it will not even meet the quality of the imported rice. So, there are still a lot of things that we need to do. We on our parts, the PDP, we are more interested in the country than the political party. And so, what we have done at the National Assembly as a whole, not just in the red chamber, is that we have attempted to support almost all economic trust of this administration to see how we can get our country out of recession because, even if we were to say that we are an alternative government or an alternative political party waiting to take over the country, we would like to take over a country that is whole. We decided that we must support the government. They said they wanted Eurobond, we said okay. We supported Eurobond. They said they wanted so – so billion dollars from China, we supported it. We will continue to support the government and bring more ideas. I think they need to do more consultations and above all, they have to look beyond APC for the solutions to Nigeriaâ€™s problem. There is nothing like, experience.
APC said recession happened because of the mess created and left behind by PDP government, and that your party failed to save for the raining day. What is your take on that?
No! It is not true. You know what happened? Nigeria constitution says that every money that goes into the federation account, by Section 162 or there about, will be shared to the different tiers of the government: the federal government, the states and local government. The federal government takes the bigger chunks of 52 percent, the states takes 23 percent or there about, then, the local government. They have the ecological funds, the intervention funds and all that. So, these things are well spelt out and they are there in the constitution. It is even under our leadership – when I was a governor that we said okay, we need to think outside the box and go outside of what the constitution says, and attempted to set up the Sovereign Wealth Funds. We said whether it was constitutional or not, let begin to save money and invest in certain structures, to leave something for the future generations. But, I think we started late. If we had started it in the 70s – at the time when the leadership of General Yakubu Gowon had so much funds – when they said the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it, I think if we had saved at that time we would not be speaking the way we are speaking now. When we came to government and there was no road to your villages; no road to the farms to bring out farm produces to sell, and the railway lines have stopped working, it was PDP that revived all these. When we came to power telecommunication was impossible; you have 090 numbers that were available. Saving is good but what are you saving if the entire health sector is comatose and Nigerians are dying of kwashiorkor? Take for instance, when Ebola entered Nigeria, supposing you said that you cannot spend millions of dollars in combating Ebola and you want to save for the raining day. So, we must look at these things in line with reality. In the developed countries, most of what they do is the maintenance of infrastructure. But when we came in we have to start afresh because, most of these things are virgin: virgin lands and virgin forest. As we speak now, people like ourselves left governments as governors without even roads to our communities, without being able to curb the issues of drainage. As we speak now, so many communities in Nigeria still do not have portable drinking water. So many communities are ravaged by ocean and you tell them to save? What are they saving? Sometimes you have to juxtapose the word saving with the reality on ground. In Nigeria, we have not seen development, and we are talking about saving. What are you saving? I am not saying that saving is bad. A child is dying of kwashiorkor, dying of diarrhoea and you cannot buy drugs for the child because we are saving money. A labourer in Nigeria does not even have living wages. Can â‚¦18,000 minimum wage buy a bag of rice? Rice was going at the time for â‚¦23,000. So, a worker who earns N18, 000 a month has no business to even buy a bag of rice; and it is on that 18, 000 that he will maintain his house, pay for the clothing of his wife, rent an apartment and provide food. So, for that kind of man who cannot afford even food, or who cannot even afford to get to work with what they called the â€˜take home pay,â€™ saving will sound ridiculous. For a community that uses canoe, and that has never seen a car, because they cannot afford a bridge across river, you talk about savings? When we start comparing ourselves with Saudi Arabia and Libya; we forget the populations. A place likes Libya they has a population of about 4m and they were producing almost 4.7m barrel oil per day. That means, every citizen of Libya was sure of one barrel of crude oil per day. But, Nigeria has never produced 4m barrels per day. We talked about 2m barrel. When we are doing very well, we talked about 2.2m. The highest we have produced is 2.4m and then we have a population of about 170m. And we say we are giant of Africa. Can you be giant without money? Unless we are saying we are giant in poverty. Because the reality is that what we are producing is not enough to even feed about 50 million people let alone 100 million or 150 million. Yet, we find it easy to compare ourselves with Saudi Arabia that they are saving money. So, the problem of Nigeria is not the function of saving money, it is the problem of even producing enough to feed the population and ensure that everybody has a meal a day. That will reduce crime and also ensure production of the private sector. This is where savings can emerge. So, I am not against savings. But, I am saying what was there to save when you cannot meet up even salaries?
What is it that the APC-led government is not doing right to get out of the current economic recession?
I think one of the things they have not done right is the fact that they wasted human resources in the last two years. We have so many reservoirs of experienced people; we have diplomats who have been ambassadors, who could have assisted the government. When a government comes in place like in the United Stated of America, the government (president) goes beyond party lines. He picks some Republicans, and yet, he is a Democratic president. The Republican president picks some Democrats and fixes them. What they think first is the country. But in Nigeria, itâ€™s not the same thing. People say, oh! Itâ€™s the winner takes all in the sense that what they want to do is to spend their energy on how to kill the opposition. You want to kill the opposition to perpetuate your reign. Anybody who presses somebody down must stay down. His hands must stay down. But if you lift others up, you will also be lifted up. So, one of the things, I think, they have not done right is that they have not done wide consultations. They have not been able to run an inclusive government and they have not been able to follow strictly, the issue of federal character to ensure that they tap the brains of all sections of the country.
The PDP has not been able to play the role of a responsive opposition – calling the ruling party to order when it is not doing things right. What is happening to PDP?
What is happening to PDP is what is also happening to APC. APC doesnâ€™t seem to have been prepared for governance. PDP doesnâ€™t seem to be prepared for opposition. That is my answer.
Is PDP dead?
PDP is not dead. But I am saying that PDP has been used to governance. So, it doesnâ€™t understand what opposition is. And APC has been used to so much opposition and it doesnâ€™t seem to understand what governance is. So, if you look at it very well, you will see that the people who are trying to press the government to work are members of the PDP; while the people opposing the government are the APC, because they are used to opposition. I smile when I look at the situation. The APC is still crying about the PDP government that lost power to them two years after. And then, you look at the PDP that ought to be providing total opposition struggling for national chairmanship position and not knowing how to put itself together. We have not recovered from the shock of losing the federal government after sixteen years. Both sides were not prepared for where they found themselves. The merger of three, four or five political parties – APC, did not have enough time to bond together to be a real political party that can provide leadership.
How long will it take PDP to get out of the current crisis and realise that it is an opposition?
I think we will get out of the crisis when we realise that we are in opposition. I think for some of us, the reality is hitting us hard – that people are actually controlling us. Some of us in the PDP are still allowing the presidency – the villa to control our actions; to dictate to them in the party. So, they still think the villa is still available. Some party leaders are still going to certain elements in government to get direction on how to run PDP. They donâ€™t realise that they are no more in charge of the Villa. That is why sometimes, I make a joke that the PDP villa now is the National Assembly. We are the last bastion. I think the day we are able to put our house in order is when we are able to remove those elements still waiting to take instructions from the villa before they know what to do because that is what they have been used to for past sixteen years.
The day APC will realises that it is now in government is when it will start doing well. PDP is not its problem. They should leave the shadow of the PDP, get out and take actions that will rejuvenate the economy and the total transformation of Nigeria.
As one of the leaders of the PDP, can this sinking ship be rescued?
I believe that PDP will definitely come back. But because of the issues in court it is now difficult to make a pronouncement on it. We await the courtâ€™s decision because we are law abiding citizens. When the court makes decision we will try and abide by the decision. I can assure you that PDP will surely come back. It is in the interest of APC for PDP to come back and it is also in the interest of Nigerians for the PDP to come back because a one-party state is an indicator of dictatorship. It is important for us to have a viable alternative. Like the kinds of things you see in Canada, American and other developed democracies in the world. We need to deepen our democracy so that it will be easy for us to do checks and balances.
Do you see the hands of APC in the current crisis enveloping PDP?
That is what I told you that some elements in PDP are still going to the villa to get instructions on what to do. They donâ€™t realise that we are no longer there. So, definitely, the hands of APC are totally in the crisis in PDP. And because some elements have allowed it, they are still not aware that we are no longer in government.
Will APC be able to get it right?
They will. But they are in the learning process. They suddenly became a party in government when they were not ready. It is just a merger of people who were actually out to remove the then president Dr Goodluck Jonathan. It is was an association of people who said, â€˜â€™President Jonathan must go.â€™â€™ And they also had sympathisers in the PDP.
PDP has been used to governance. So, it doesnâ€™t understand what opposition is. APC has been used to so much opposition and it doesnâ€™t seem to understand what governance is.