AS the country grapples with adverse socio-economic challenges, insecurity in the Northeast, resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta and uprising in parts of Eastern Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to tighten his belt to make himself a hero.
In a chat with The Guardian in Benin City, former president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) Peter Esele, said there was need for the country to check its foreign exchange (FOREX) policies, as the country is more into importation, particularly petroleum products and overseas education.
Esele said; “When you fail to plan, you have already planned to fail. How do you explain a country that right has been importing petroleum product and for your information, 45 per cent of our FOREX is used for importation of petroleum products, so you can imagine the big hole that that is creating and another 15 per cent is used for payment of school fees overseas, now ask yourself, why is it that people don’t want their children to go to school here and prefer overseas? It is not something you will do overnight that is why I said government is not ad hoc thing.
“For instance. I am from Edo State and I will ask, why will government not build Ambrose Alli University to make it a reference point for anybody to want to come to AAU. There was a time in this country where anybody who wanted to study law wanted to come to Ekpoma because the faculty of law was highly rated. If you make your university a world class standard, people will want to come there and you will make more money. We can make our universities to that level to attract people. If I know that if I send my child to the university for a four year course and I know that he will not come out in seven years and every other person knows that is the case in Nigeria, they will not send their children here and how will they respect our graduates; so we need to work on that and say in the next ten years, this is what we want our education system to be.”
Esele said government should think of what to do to make the producers come in and; “we will save part of that 45 per cent forex. Naira is sliding because the country’s reserve is down, we don’t have enough dollars to withstand the importation. I don’t envy the President because for him, this is not the best of time to be president, but it is the best time for him to be a hero. If the President is able to find solution to these mirage of problems that we are facing, he will be a hero, so what we need to do is to encourage people to export. Even if you make people buy made in Nigeria goods, that will not still grow our forex, what we need to do is to make sure that our companies also export and work to make them better. It is not something that can happen overnight.”
The former labour leader cautioned against militancy in the Niger Delta and restoring peace in Northeast. He advised Buhari to ensure the laws of the country are maintained. “I don’t wish that we have these problems because it will crack the country but first things first, I have always said what is in the Niger Delta now is what I call economic militancy. First we started from agitation for resource control and all those agitating, they all started feeding fat and suddenly, the game changed and everybody is complaining and they are now trying to go back to the creeks. My advice to the militants is, if you burst a pipeline and you think you are sabotaging Nigeria, yes you are sabotaging Nigeria in general, but you are sabotaging your community in particular because each time you burst that pipeline, you damage the environment, you make it difficult for your people who live in an area that could become uninhabitable.
The UN reports says to recover the Niger Delta fully will take about 100 years and then you are damaging it further and with this global climate change, it may be difficult for people to live in those areas in another 50 to 100 years, we must be thinking fast. They should please put down their guns, if they have demands, they should make their demands and meet at the table but I also think government should also not succumb to blackmail. The laws of the land must be respected because if the laws are not respected, we will have anarchy and gradually build up to what I call “somalilisation”; where we will start having warlords in various parts of the country.”
In rehabilitating the Northeast, Esele urged government to mobilise international support and also check corruption “There should be international support but when I hear people talking about several billions of dollars, I also ask myself how. But I also know that you must put shelter over people’s heads, but I also know that there are several ways of construction. Our focus is always on these bricks and blocks, we need to also look at cheaper means of construction, not the system where most times government prices are always higher.
I always ask why because it is only in government where a car an individual could buy for N4 million is bought by government for N20 million, even while buying larger quantities like 100 units. You will discover this scenario will still play out when building the Northeast. PENGASSAN built some housing units in Abuja but in building that place, we discovered that cost of building one house eventually became lesser because of the number of units.
We need to ask questions. It is just like the budget they are saying has been padded. It has been like that since 1999, but what has happened now is that Nigerians have shown more interest in the budgeting system. We are complaining about the federal government, has anybody asked how local government budgets are run? Or the various state governments. Many of them just copy and paste budget proposals every year.”
On the current anti-corruption war, he urged Buhari to evolve a system that would check corruption beyond prosecuting culprits. “It is a systemic failure, I commend the President in his anti-corruption war, but he should do it so that we can learn from what happened in 1984. What we are seeing is a failure of the system, but what he now needs to do is to correct the failures in the system. If you prosecute everybody that is behind the stealing, I support that very well, but we need to check why we have this kind of failure in the system and how do we correct the systemic failure.
But if we just prosecute them, we would have only treated the symptoms and the ailment will still be there. But no matter how much you criticize the Federal Government, that is the only area we have a semblance of democracy, you cannot say which state is actually practicing democracy. The Federal Government is the only tier where you see National Assembly disagreeing with the Executive and all that. Anywhere the legislature and executive work together and never disagree for all of four years, know that there is fraud. So when people say Federal Government is this and that, I say we should be happy because it is an opportunity for us to correct the mistakes and that is what the president is doing.”
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