Odili: It’s Uncharitable to Blame Buhari for Nigeria’s Problems

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Paul Odili was the chief spokesman for former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State. Recently, he defected to the All Progressives Congress. He speaks with Ugo Aliogo about the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and Delta State politics

Why did you leave the PDP for APC?
PDP lost its way, we could not fit into what the party became despite doing our best to ensure the victory of the party at all levels. Suggestions were received with hostility; we saw a lot of suspicions. Frankly, it became completely an unwelcoming place. We were marginalized to a point that if we wanted to continue to contribute to the political development of our people, we needed to find an alternative platform. APC as a party was open and welcoming and willing to listen to suggestions on how to do things better. We also saw that APC has a strong desire to do well for our people and the country.

A great number of Nigerians and the opposition believe that President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of the economy led to the recession. What do you think the president did right and wrong?
I am happy that the economic crisis of the past is gradually receding and we are gradually seeing growth. It is uncharitable to blame President Buhari for the recession. How is he at fault? He came at a time oil prices were collapsing and oil production was falling at the same time. From 100 dollars to 34 dollars or so a barrel, from 2.3million barrels of crude oil production to roughly eight hundred thousand barrels of production. There were no savings of any sort. No buffer. Foreign reserves had fallen to I think 24 billion dollars, barely enough to ensure we continue to service imports. It is I say again uncharitable to blame President Buhari. Have we forgotten that shortly after assuming office many states could not pay salaries and he had to give a bailout to states to enable them to pay salaries? The federal government even before he assumed office was borrowing to pay salaries of federal civil servants. I find it difficult to fault the man. And what was the money used for? Nobody can say definitively. Was it used for infrastructure development? No, if it was the situation might have to be different. I really don’t know how the President can be blamed. Some say he should have acted quicker. In what sense, I am not certain. Here is a country that was importing virtually everything. From rice, palm oil, corn, toothpick and every other consumable and the oil prices that fund those imports were collapsing, what do you expect will happen? Let’s stop deceiving ourselves and listening to useless propaganda. Nigeria economy was not a productive one structured to cater to the needs of the people. This man came at a time we were in a hole and even digging ourselves deeper into the hole and he stopped us from further digging and to start filling the hole we were digging. For me, that is even an achievement. President Buhari is a serious-minded leader and that is why I support him.

Do you think the past administrations did enough to prepare Nigeria for the future, with over-dependence on crude oil earnings?
The answer is obvious. The money was flowing into the coffers and flowing out at the same time. No savings and no strategic national programme and projects to wean us out of crude oil dependence. The result was the oil shock that spiralled into the economic contraction that caused the recession. If refineries were working, perhaps we would not need to spend so much on importing fuel, if electricity supply was stable, industries would be operating at higher efficient level, if the railways system was in place and operating, movement of goods and service would be cheaper and affordable, and we can go on and on. Without these basic national infrastructures, the economy was primed to collapse. People say o! before money was flowing, I agree it was. But was it flowing from any serious productive activity? We know the answer. It was not. We were importing, importing and importing everything under the sun. So no there was no plan to ease us off crude oil dependence.

Comparing the government of Emmanuel Uduaghan in which you served with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s, do you think the latter is on the right track?
You cannot compare the two. Obviously, the two administrations have different agendas. The previous administration said its focus was to build an economy less reliant on oil and to invest in sectors that will ensure this happens. The current administration has a different agenda and from all appearances, the programs of the two administrations have not quite complemented each other and the result is that the state is not moving in a definable path. Mark, you each administration is free to prioritise its objectives and so Okowa’s administration can be explained that way. However, compared to the approach by President Buhari who has taken over is going ahead with many projects and programmes he inherited from the previous administration, fine-tuning them as he deems fit, I am not so sure that the current Delta administration is doing same. I see more of a total break. And so we see massive outcry by the people. The outcry by the people in Delta state is deafening.
How will you assess the leadership of Delta State over the years from Ibori to Okowa? Do You think the resources of the state have been put to utmost use? If no, what do you think could have been done differently?
I hate to get involved in the issue of what happened in the past and begin attributing blames here and there. However, if one is to be objective every administration since Ibori has its strong points and weaknesses, including the Uduaghan government that I served in and definitely the current one. For the sake of the interest and wellbeing of the people of Delta state, one might say far more should have been done. That, however, does not rule out that there are not some things to be picked out as good though. But we just need to get Delta state firing on full throttle. As of today, it is not.

If they have failed in your opinion, why do Deltans continue to vote for them and their candidates?
Look, when a ruling group has been in power for nearly 20 years as in the case of Delta state, you might say well the people are supportive of them and that can be a valid argument but from what we can see today, I feel such a setup is unnatural. Democracy is such a dynamic process that sometimes even for the sake of boredom the people can kick out an administration that was doing well just to try other options. Do you remember what happened to the Second World War British war-time leader, Winston Churchill? He led the British people through the world war and it was clear that the outcome of the second world war would have been different had he not been the premiere of Britain. But do you know that as the war was ending in 1945, he was thrown out office? He was defeated! How can it be but it happened? He came back a few years later but the people exercised their sovereign right and that is what is important.  And I think in Delta we need to see change, the people need to vote in a different party and then be in a position to evaluate the two.

What magic formula must APC adopt to wrest power from the PDP in Delta State?
APC as a party must very quickly come together and make a decision as to which part of the state should produce the candidate for the governorship. That is one. Secondly, the party must undertake serious grassroots mobilization. It must sell its programmes to the people. Then the party must ensure it is fair to all and create level playing field. If the party can do that, its chances are bright. To wrest power from PDP is a tough one, make no mistake about it. To dismantle a party that has been in power continuously for 20 years demands cohesion, hard work, the unity of purpose, sacrifice and determination. If APC can muster these, then its chances are very good. Fortunately, the electoral process has significantly improved. There is a measure of credibility in the process and we are trusting INEC to continue to improve all aspects of its process, to rebuild public confidence and ensure a free and fair contest.