Chief Peter Ameh, presidential candidate of the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) and National Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) fields questions from Udora Orizu on the security crises currently bedeviling the country. He insists that the existing security system can be empowered to effectively carry out its constitutional functions
As your party’s presidential candidate, how do hope to handle the security crises that’s currently bedeviling the country?
I think it’s a very simple issue. One of the things we have failed to do is to empower the Nigerian police to carry out its constitutional functions properly. The Nigerian police has the capacity to carry out these functions without the interference of the Nigerian military. The military is trained to handle external aggression against the country. They don’t know much about civil engagement. We are prepared to do what we call community policing. It’s going to assist because the police is of the community. They are going to be residents of that community.
There will still be federal police that handles certain across-the-border-crime. The state police is going to help in curbing this current level of violence that we experience. We are also going to give the royal fathers a very statutory right, through passing a legislation that will assist them and give them that opportunity to be able to say what they see. As it is now, the traditional institutions are so weak that if they say anything that doesn’t go in line with the wishes and interest of the state governor, they could be removed. One of those key things is to strengthen traditional institutions and then create state police that will enhance the capacity of crime management at local level.
What are the chances of your party in the 2019 election, having in mind your party’s resources and spread?
Resources is a huge thing in election. What we are trying to do is sell ourselves to the populace. When Buhari, Obasanjo and co were governing this country in 1983 and so on, I know how little I was, but now I’m here. I have done a lot of things and yet we are still in the same space with this same group of people. As a young man, I think that our education, experience and our youthfulness should recommend us to Nigerians; so we can break the barrier of continuous recycling of leaders.
Insecurity and violence has been on the rise for some time, what is responsible and how can it be checked?
Poverty is a major part it, uneven distribution of resources, lack of proper management of our resources. Naturally, the resources are scarce and with people jostling to have a share of these resources, it brings friction and this friction brings about conflict from one place to the other. When we are in conflict, what we should do is to make sure that the resources that are meant for taking care of the people are provided and are used judiciously for the benefit of our societies and populace. Infrastructure should be put in place, they should build an economy where the interest and job creation should be at the forefront, because an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
A lot of our people are not working, we must start to bring energy back to the system so that our people can create jobs, so that no one will be idle. Apart from that, Nigeria has done so well in maintaining peace within the African sub-region, apart from the civil war we had between 1967 and 1970, we have peace with ourselves. I think that the best option is for us to come together, look at the security and economic architecture and redefine it in such a way that it will accommodate the interest of those coming out from universities, secondary schools, polytechnics so that they can get jobs. Crime may still be there, but the current level of decay in our system will be reduced to the barest minimum.
What is your take on the assertion that Nigeria’s problem is more of ethnicity and religion than corruption?
Ethnicity, religion and nepotism are our major problem. People don’t look at whether the person is competent to be in charge. Does this person have the prerequisite knowledge to be in charge of this parastatal or ministry? It causes a lot of problems. When you go to a ministry, you discover that almost everybody working there are his people. How do we move up? How do we get them to do the work? How do we take away the bureaucratic bottlenecks that are in the ministries? These are the fundamentals that we should look at and also look at the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Oby Ezekwesili brought the issue of due process in our contracting system, it assisted a lot. We must look at ease of doing business, procedure for running contracts, execution and monitoring and then look at how nepotism in the system can be removed. There are countries in the world that don’t even practice religion and they are moving forward.
Do you think the Judiciary has been supportive in the war against corruption?
The judiciary has worked according to the law. Nigerians make mistakes saying the judiciary is not supportive enough. There are three equal arms of government, the judiciary, legislature and the executive. The only thing that makes the executive more powerful is because they have the military under its control. I know the judiciary is working in accordance with the law and they are doing a lot of work to improve the society.
Some people have expressed discontent on the 2019 budget proposal, they believe the N8.6 trillion budgeted is too small given the size of our population, what’s your take?
I think what they are worried about is the size of our GDP. We could even do 17 trillion naira, that’s why I talk about putting structure in place, to curtail waste. My problem has never been about the volume of the budget, my problem has always been about cash backing for the budget. Because if the budget itself is N15 trillion and the performance is 30 per cent, what’s the essence of a budget that cannot come to reality? If there is no cash backing, it becomes useless. We have N8.6 trillion, by the end of next year, if you will you find that the budget performance ratio is about 35 to 40 percent. When we even get 70 percent performance and there is enough cash backing, we will do better. I know Nigeria can do better than the current N8.6 trillion. However, with what we are doing and intend to do, let there be enough performance so that it can impact directly on the live of the masses who are meant to benefit from government.
The Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed recently said the Federal Government may not be able to fund the 2019 budget unless some national assets are sold, how do you react to this?
They should not sell. The oil price is considerably very good. The Nigeria Customs is generating revenue. We should look inward, rather than continue to sell the national assets. I have always believed in government, public partnership. If you are going to sell anything, it should also be for capital expenditure. We can’t continue to sell without knowing what to do with the money. There’s a way around this thing. Let’s look at other sources of revenue. Look at the tax system. How many people are within our tax net? That’s why I’m suggesting the amnesty programme for tax should be expanded and given more time so they can bring everybody into the tax net. By next year, if you have 50 million people paying tax, there will be enough money. Most countries that don’t have oil like the United Kingdom are 90 percent dependent on tax and they are surviving so we must look at how they are doing it and also try to plant it in our system so that it can work.
On the consensus candidate for the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), how willing are you to back whoever emerges as the consensus candidate?
I’m willing because they are going to back me if I emerge. There’s no need for all of us to line up for the contest and at the end of the day, we all lose. What we are going to do is to make sure that we have commitment and support one of our own. I have put myself forward as the CUPP consensus candidate. There are a lot of other parties contesting for it, Geff Ojinika of C4C, Atiku Abubakar and so on. We will see how it goes.
What do you have to say about the rumours that IPAC is currently divided?
We are not divided, we just hold different opinions. There’s no way 91 political parties can have the same opinion about how things can be done. With differences in opinion, there must be different drives for interest. As a leader, I’m doing all the best I can. It’s a one-year tenure and not for a lifetime. In the next 10 months, we will conduct election for a new executive. People must put their personal interest behind and make sure that the group interest is superior to all interest.
On the minimum wage, the governors have offered N22,500 but organised labour is insisting on N30,000. What do you think should be done?
The workers are the engine room of this country and I think N30,000 is not too much. We need to cut down cost. We can do things like Peter Obi did in Anambra. There’s a way government can cut down cost and also help the workers to have a living wage and not just minimum wage. A bag of rice is even more than the minimum wage of N18,000 right now. Add to that, school fees, transportation and feeding. We don’t have social intervention schemes like free medical care, free school fees, N30,000 Naira is something I encourage the government to look into; so workers can have a living wage rather than depending on minimum wage.
What is your vision of a good society and what measures would you take to make our country closely aligned to that vision?
The good society is an egalitarian society. A society where there is equality and equity in distribution of wealth. And rights of citizens are well protected. A society where a civil servant can take a housing loan, pay for 30 years without feeling it. A society where people who don’t have money can walk into the hospital and get treated because they are booked in the system for them to pay gradually like an insurance scheme. That’s the kind of society that we envisage. We have enough specialised skills to develop this country. All we need is a leader that must unite everyone in less than four years.
IN THE MIRROR:
*Two-term Secretary General, Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC) tasked with coordinating the interparty activities of 25 political parties and the running the day-to-day affair of the council
*National Chairman, Progressives People’s Alliance from 2013 till date, presiding over administration and financial accounting of all 36 state chapters of the party, including FCT.
*Member, seven-man steering committee on political party-civil society forum and member National Peace Committee
*Member, Governing Council Federal Polytechnic of Oil Gas, Bonny Island, Rivers State
*National Secretary, Progressives People’s Alliance (2011-2013), presiding over administration and financial accounting of all 36 state chapters of the Party
*National Organising Secretary, Progressives People’s Alliance (2010-2011), revived the party structure, galvanising old members and recruiting new members
*State Chairman, Progressives People’s Alliance, FCT Chapter (2009-2011)
*State Secretary, Progressives People’s Alliance, FCT Chapter (2007-2008)
*Lead Consultant for a women based NGO located in Area 11, Abuja whose sole aim is women empowerment
*Journalist and Businessman
*B.sc Economics University of Abuja
*Specialist, Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution (EADR)