Araraume: It’s Unfair to Propose Secession

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Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume, a former governorship candidate in Imo State is currently a commissioner/member of the Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission. In this interview with Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the All Progressives Congress member spoke on topical national issues. Excerpts:

It’s over two years since the All Progressives Congress-led federal government came to power, what is your assessment of the government?
Two years down the line, I would say the government has done well, looking at where we are coming from and the challenges the present government inherited from the previous administration. I will categorise our success in different areas. If you look at the area of security, the government has done well. If you consider that at the point we came in, it was almost impossible to live in Abuja, to even go to Churches and Mosques to worship in Abuja, many parts of the north and some other parts of this country – the South-east, South-west, South-south and North Central.

We lost parts of our territories in states like Yobe, Borno and Adamawa to Boko Haram. For example, to access Sambisa forest was almost impossible. And when President Muhammadu Buhari-led government came to power, he launched a frontal attack against members of Boko Haram; the Army Chiefs relocated to the North East for effective coordination of the war against Boko Haram. Today, we can see the results of the plans, synergy and efforts.

The terrorists have almost been decimated in those areas; members of Boko Haram have been chased out of the Sambisa forest. Of course, those who have doubt about whether Chibok girls were kidnapped or not, have reason to doubt again. Over one hundred and twenty of them have been set free as a result of the Buhari-led government’s efforts and they are currently being rehabilitated into the society.
It is a huge success, and it has re-established hope and confidence in the international community, who thought that it was impossible to do business with our country again as a result of the insecurity in our country. The issue of kidnapping in some parts of the South-south and the South-east is also being frontally attacked. Yes, there are still some incidences here and there but not in the huge manner they were when APC came on board. Generally, the Buhari-led government has done well in dealing with the issues of insecurity.

Let’s talk about the war against corruption by this administration, what is your take?
Before Buhari came on board, it was not just that there was huge corruption; the impunity aspect of it was inconceivable. Government officials were doing things as if nobody was in-charge. Contracts were being reserved for people in the presidency. But you don’t hear those things anymore. If you are pre-qualified technically and your financial biding is successful, you get the job. Nobody tells you anymore that some jobs are reserved for powerful people in the presidency or in government. There is no special interest anymore in the award of federal government contracts. If you have your necessary documentations ready and the necessary papers, you are good to go.
What this means is that those who are engaged in legitimate business can now engage in government businesses. And those who are fraudulent – those who think they can just come with their briefcases, get into offices and get contracts, have no place in this government anymore. Take a look also at the ease of doing business in Nigeria today. Before now, getting documents for businesses was taking some months but now it has been simplified.

For example, if you pay your tax, you can get your tax clearance within a week or less than that. The reason it was difficult to do businesses easily before was because of corruption. It is different now under President Buhari’s administration. There is now transparency in the release of funds to state and local governments. Nothing is withheld. If there is withholding of local government’s fund, we should hold the states government responsible. Also, before now, many projects were not properly financed but at present, the president is financing projects across the country.
No zone or state is left out. Projects that are spread across the country are being properly funded. Before now, they were not adequately funded; enough budgetary provisions and releases were not made for projects and as a result, there were many abandoned projects across the country. Take for example, in the rehabilitation of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway, Abuja, the federal government said it would be done in six weeks and they delivered the project few days before the six weeks.
It has never happened in the history of this country, where government will tell you a project will be delivered in so, so time and it will be delivered. The APC-led government has also done well in the area of education and in other areas, where promises were made. At present, the government is also dealing with the huge challenges it inherited from the previous government. Don’t forget that when this government came, we had fluctuation and instability in oil prices at the international market.

We also had serious challenges in the Niger Delta region – the issue of stealing of crude oil, the issue of vandalism of oil pipelines and others, which crashed our oil production and affected our earnings. But now, the federal government is approaching the issues diligently. All the stakeholders are being engaged by top government official being led by the President and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. We now have relative peace in the Niger Delta. There was a time our oil production went down to less than one million barrel per day. The oil price also crashed and that was a double jeopardy.

Today, the price of oil is hovering between $45 and $50 per barrel, but due to the federal government’s approach in resolving the issue – dialogue – provision for the Presidential Amnesty in engaging the militants, the production of oil has gone up to about 2 million barrel per day. And by the time the oil price goes up, we will have enough fund to tackle some of the present challenges. The issue of multiple accounts by federal government agencies has been rested by the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA).
There is now discipline in the management of government funds. Before now, government agencies were rushing to spend its budget allocations before the end of the financial year; but you dare not do that now. The system is now working. As a result of the introduction of BVN in our banking transactions, financial crime rate has dropped drastically. Success in government does not mean the building of roads alone, there must be sanity in our system and that is what we are enjoying under the Buhari-led government.

In spite of these achievements of the APC-led government, the South-east, where you come from still says it has not got its fair share of Buhari’s political patronage in terms of appointments and others things. Do you agree?
There are agitations even in a family. People who eat from the same pot still agitate. There are legitimate ways we can put our views across to the government. First and foremost, you have your representatives at the Senate, House of Representatives and the state assemblies. You can also channel your grievances to the government or appropriate authorities through your representatives. We can also channel our agitations to the National Council of States that is usually chaired by the President, which comprises former Heads of State, former presidents, Senate President, Speaker, governors and others.

Violence has never achieved anything. There are better ways to engage the government. We should avoid destroying ourselves or our properties or our infrastructure. Don’t protest by destroying yourself or infrastructure. Look at some parts of Niger Delta today, where oil facilities were destroyed, which resulted to oil spillage, it is going to cost huge fund and years to clean it up. No question: that there are some imbalances; they were not created by this present government; they are cumulative of imbalances and negligence of over the years.

But the truth of the matter is that we have also had people from the South-east region, who have occupied sensitive positions in the past. We have had Secretary to the federal government. We had Senate President – the number three citizen of this country, for years; we had coordinating minister; deputy senate president and different ministers from this zone. What I am saying is that the situation we are complaining about at present has been there over the years, and we should have that in our mind.

I am from the South-east. We have a government that listens and we should channel our agitations properly. The present government is building the East West road; the government is building coastal rail lines linking the South-south to Lagos and it will also get to the South-east. No matter how justified you are in your agitations, there are better ways to resolve the issues. The present government is listening to the agitations of our people. We should exercise patience and dialogue. I believe we shall get result. We must do our best to keep our youth safe.

Are you saying there is no deliberate attempt by the Buhari-led government to short-change the people of South-east in the distribution of national resources of this country?
Absolutely no! There is no deliberate attempt by this government to deny the South-east of what rightfully belongs to the zone. In any case, each state in our zone has its own government; it generates internal revenue; it gets allocation from the federal government every month; it gets fund for local government councils. And for those that are part of the oil producing states like Imo, Delta, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and others, they receive special intervention fund.

We should also hold our state governments accountable in the way they spend these funds. If you put side by side the debts, the allocations and value of projects in these states, the result you will get will be unacceptable to their people. What that means is that some have not really met the people’s expectations.

The perceived marginalisation may have ignited the call for the Republic of Biafra. Is this agitation justifiable?
No, Nigeria is a sovereign nation. Every governor and his deputy in the South-east took oath of office and oath of allegiance to the constitution and sovereignty of our nation. Nigeria is one nation. The state governors took oath of office to defend this nation. The president also took oath of office to defend and protect this nation. And for us as citizens, we are Nigerians. We have right to protest on issues but we cannot call for the dissolution of Nigeria. If there are issues, we must resolve them amicably.
For this country to remain one, our past and present leaders made huge sacrifices. Lots of lives were lost. Properties worth trillions of naira were lost. Therefore, anybody thinking of breaking up this country is not fair to this nation. We are one and we will remain one in spite of the present challenges we are capable of resolving. If you go to Gabon today, there are many Nigerians who were shipped to that country during the civil war. Today, they cannot return home.
My point is that no matter our grievances, we can resolve them amicably through dialogue without resorting to another civil war. If any zone, whether South-south, South-east, South-west and North West feel it is not getting what it deserves, there are better ways to resolve the matter.

Another election year is gradually inching close, are you considering another shot at Imo governorship?
The story of Imo State is something we cannot finish if we start telling the story. The good thing is that we are alive. We have even seen the administration of the state moving from one hand to another.

The citizens of the state have watched or still watching everybody. No doubt, different people: traditional rulers, pressure groups, academics, students, women groups and other professionals have visited and still visiting me, saying that they have been watching my lifestyle – the way I have been conducting myself, family and businesses, and that they would want me to contest the next governorship election in the state. But one thing is that we have a government in place right now.

I played a huge role in bringing the government to power. We are supporting and advising the government, telling it what we think is right and it is left for the government to take the advice or not. In preparation for 2019, my concern now is to help rebuild the party; to make my own contribution in making the party a very strong vehicle for any qualified member to contest election in the 2019 general election. That is my primary concern now. Everybody, including the governor should make his/her contribution to building the party so that in 2019, we can win all the elections: state assembly, governorship, National Assembly and the presidency.

I am currently doing my best. Once we have been able to build a strong vehicle to ride on, we may consider some of these requests, when the time comes. I am primarily concerned about building the party at the state, South-east zone and at the federal level. We are working very hard to win the coming Anambra State governorship election. The party is very strong in the state.

You claimed to have been instrumental to the installation of the present Imo State government, but do you share the view that the governor is not living up to his electoral promises?
We have a government in Imo State. People are saying the government has not lived up to their expectations, but it depends on who is accessing the government. If your enemies are accessing you, you can be sure that they will not say good things about you. You don’t expect PDP members to say APC-led government in Imo State has done well. However, no matter how well you have performed, there is always room for improvement. I am sure the government will listen to the people’s complaints and see how it can improve on its performance. I am sure the government is working in ensuring that the requests or demands or agitations of the people are looked into. I also believe that like every other states, Imo State government has its own challenges too.

As a board member in the Nigeria Communications Commission, you are aware there are challenges in the sector, which have led to retrenchment in the sector. The current debt crisis rocking the Etisalat is a bad example. How is NCC addressing some of these issues?
NCC is doing its best to ensure stability in the sector. We are ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is put in place to enhance efficiency in the sector. But like it is done in many of the developed countries, you don’t overstress yourself, if you are a player in the sector. A situation where one service provider will build masts in all over the country, provide generators to all the sites, buying diesel every day to power the generators, you overstress yourself. You don’t overtrade in any business and do well. That is why NCC is making effort to improve on the infrastructure for the sector.

What we have done is to get some companies to provide these services for the telecommunication companies, so that the service providers share facilities, where Glo, MTN, Etisalat and others can have their discs in the same facilities. By doing that, it becomes cheaper for them to manage. By doing that, you pay a little, it becomes easier for the players to manage infrastructure in every part of the country. We are also looking at the ICT centres, including those in higher institutions in order to make them more effective; to make sure that client or subscribers are not over-charged.

We are ensuring that we have customers’ centres across the country, where people can lay their complaints and instantly you are attended to. As for Etisalat that you talked about, we had some meetings that are coming up very soon, where the issues will be addressed. One thing we don’t want to see happen is for the company to collapse. That is why an institution like AMCON was floated by the federal government. That is why you have Arik Airline still flying today, in spite of the huge financial challenges.

It is not in our interest as a commission or as a nation to allow Etisalat to go down. We will look into it and find ways to solve the problem. If the foreign investors are no longer interested in the company, we will position it in such a way that it will attract other investors. I am sure other people will be interested. I don’t think workers will lose their jobs, because we are going to look into the case of Etisalat. I have just received a notice of emergency meeting of the board and strongly believe that the matter will be discussed. Finally, I want to use this medium to ask all well-meaning citizens of this country to continue to pray for the quick recovery of our President Muhammadu Buhari.