How local government joint account fuels rural-urban migration, by Ogbeh
‘You grow an economy by making credit available at affordable, repayable rates’
Chief Audu Ogbeh, two days before handing over as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, spoke with FEMI IBIROGBA in Abuja. Chief Ogbeh narrated his voyage into politics, explained how state governors underdeveloped the rural areas by depriving local government councils of their monthly allocations, compared and contrasted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), and suggested parties must get things right to entrench democracy. Excerpts:
You have consistently said state governors constitute a clog in the wheel of local governments and rural development. How do you really mean?
I am deeply troubled by this development. When I was the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), things were not this bad, frankly. And I kept in contact, pleading with them to allow local governments access their funds. I am afraid, only a few allow local governments to touch their funds. The majority of them do not. And the truth is that local governments’ funds are not reaching them. On the average, each local government receives may be N100 million or a little less monthly, times 774. Go round the local government areas and see if there is any sign of N10 million being spent on projects.
Their roads are not graded. We are not even talking of tarring, but grading of the roads to keep the roads level, which was done in the olden days by the Native Authorities. Roads were graded.
What is the complaint of the governors as the Federal Government tries to separate the state/LG accounts?
They claim that the joint accounts are backed by sections whatever of the constitution. The account is not the problem. The law is not the problem. The truth is that we are abusing the system. They know. In the joint account, you are told that you add 10 per cent of the state internally generated revenue. That is all. It does not say you should keep it and spend it on what you like. They are also violating a law. They know it. I am upset because here is a situation: you go home and see the level of misery in the local areas. Look at the market where women sell their wares. If it rains they are in the rain. Go to the primary schools in the local governments and see where the children are sitting. Look at the local clinics. Are there any ambulance or any medical centre in the villages? If a woman is in labour, they put her in the wheelbarrow and push. Some have died in the process.
As a seasoned politician, what is the way forward?
I know the matter would soon end up in a court of law. But what I am saying is, let us not, under any pretext, allow gross abuse to happen under the guise of a clause in our constitution. We know something is going deeply wrong. We know we are cheating and destroying the rural people. We know we are denying them their livelihood. We know it. So, every Nigerian should get involved in this debate. We all come from a local government or the other. And it is not a matter of leaving it for Buhari, because it is easier to blame Buhari for everything in Nigeria. What of state governments and local governments?
Let us be fair to God and to man. This provision was made for local governments as the most strategic government in the country, closest to the people, where the chairman is known by everybody. And the councilors are known by everybody. They know each other. They reach each other and can complain of a bad road, damaged culverts, of a dilapidated market stall, and they expect their local governments to arrive the next day and fix them. In a situation where that does not happen, and each month you read that N600 billion to be shared by states and local government, it does not get there. It does not get there. And the state governments can even reduce the size of their civil services. Since there is no money in the civil services, which work are the workers doing?
On the other hand, if things are happening in the local governments, many of the people migrating to the state capitals will remain there because there is more wealth in the villages than in the cities.
Can you explain more about the crises that led to your resignation in PDP during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time?
Well, I went in and out of hospital for one year. And again, I stayed away from politics until 2001, when they said PDP’s constitution said the chairman of the party should move from two to four years, but the incumbent was not qualified to contest. So, I got a message from Chief Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar that I should become the chairman. I became PDP chairman in November 21, 2001. And I was there till January 2005 when I had a crisis with Obasanjo over Anambra State, and I resigned as the party chairman.
It was the case of Anambra State then. I mean, we heard the information that there was an attempt to abduct Chris Ngige, and have his deputy sworn-in. This was very odd. I said he could not do that, but the long and short of this is that there was quite a degree of mischief in the whole thing. Involvement in this high level of mischief is undesirable for the government. You can’t be part of this. Too many people were dying in PDP. Bola Ige, Harry Marshall, Dikibbo, Funsho Williams, and many others. So, when I wrote a letter to Obasanjo about it, he said he could not work with me anymore, and I resigned.
You mean Obasanjo told you he could not work with you again because of the letter?
Yes. He told me. And I said he would have my letter in 30 minutes. I wrote the resignation letter. The story that a gun was pointed at my head was rubbish.We now formed the AC, ACN and we became very active in the campaign against the third term agenda. There was an attempt to abduct me from my house here. On the August 11, 2005, people came here in police uniforms and unmarked vehicles, saying they were sent by the police headquarters. My son told them I travelled. They came at 6.00pm and they came again at 11pm. My son called me, and I said, ‘from police headquarters, what for?’ I tried to reach the Inspector-General of Police, but I could not get him, and I called Atiku Abubakar, who was the vice president then. Atiku called the IG, but the IG said he sent nobody. I called the Commissioner of Police, but he said he sent nobody. That was an inside job. Probably, I would have been picked, killed and dumped in the bush. That is the story.Then we kept working with AC, ACN and we started the merger and I was a member of the merger committee. I was also the chairman of the manifesto committee of the party.
As a founding member of PDP and APC, how would you compare and contrast the ideologies and performances of the two parties?
I was deeply involved in PDP. We had our dreams, and it was a national party just like APC is. The dream was to transform Nigeria, but both parties have experienced one problem. In Ogun 2003, I complained that we were practicing ill-digested economic theories. People did not like that. My reason was simple. How does an economy grow with interest rate at 25-30 per cent? This economy has been dying. It is okay to abuse Buhari that jobs have been lost, blab, bla and bla, and that people are suffering. It was going to happen anyway, even if you brought an angel from heaven. An economy does not grow by circumstances; you grow an economy by making credit available to people at affordable and repayable rates and by giving them power supply. If none of that happens, how does an economy grow? It depends on oil and gas? That is exactly what we have done for nearly 32 years. And when you say cut down on imports to create more jobs, people do not like it because they are importing.
Are you saying that basically, there is no difference between APC and PDP?
There is a difference.
And what is the difference?
The difference is clear here. First, we had a party structure then in which the president had overbearing influence. He did. I as a chairman tried to keep the rule. But by and large, he did defer to me when I insisted. But after I left, there were people who did not go through primaries who were brought to contest elections. When I was here, people won their primaries and there were attempts to make me change some names, but I told them I would not under no circumstance. You must win your primaries and two, no imposition of candidates. I would not allow it. And I made it clear to them that even if it were my son or daughter there was no way I would do that. He or she should go and meet the people, and if they did not like him or her, too bad. I could beg them, but if they say no, and they have the right to say no, because you are not the only person in the country. That was one major thing I never allow to happened.
Two, if there is a dispute in the state, I called them to this compound. Some days, we would sit here from 10.00pm to 5.00am. The governors did not like it much. They thought I was humiliating them, but I said, ‘No, you are the governors, and the people are your people. If they had quarrels, let us settle them. And if the governor was wrong I would tell him.’
Now in APC?
Now it is becoming more and more difficult, and we are trying to restore it, because if you do not do that, what happens in Zamfara State will continue to happen. So, it teaches us to get tougher now on primaries. We should do it right. Nobody has the right to just pick a list. We lost many seats because of the laxity. Some individuals thought that if they put you there, you would win. The people are not fools. I tried to do that then. I did not stay till the end. I kept monitoring. Many members told me people never appeared at the primaries and they would just remove names and put others. It started to degenerate.
Two, completing projects was a problem towards the end. President Goodluck Jonathan was a nice man, but weak and many people took advantage of his nicety. You cannot do that now. They know very well that if they cross the line, or commit blunders, you cannot go back and lobby. You must go out. That difference is there. I was part of the formation of APC as well as PDP. There is a lot more focus on governance now. You must deliver results. Build the roads. Improve agriculture. Improve foreign exchange. Cut down on import. And produce more, and in the process, slowly create jobs. That focus is better now than before.