‘Why APGA is supporting Tinubu’s policies’
National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Sylvester Ezeokenwa, spoke in Lagos on President Bola Tinubu-led administration, the nagging issues of cost of governance, fuel subsidy removal, probe of the oil sector, and role of credible opposition in the progressive movement, among others. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.
What is your opinion on the removal of fuel subsidy and the attendant hardship?
Removal of fuel subsidy evokes more emotions among Nigerians because it is an essential commodity that virtually every household uses. In Nigeria, fuel is needed because steady power supply is absent. A developing economy like ours is mostly built around small and medium scale businesses that depend on power, which we don’t have. As a means of supporting these SMEs that run on generators, the government came up with subsidy.
However, over the years, we have seen a serious criminalisation of the subsidy regime in Nigeria. Few people, in serious collusion with government officials, subvert something that is beneficial to the people. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, there was an investigation into the subsidy regime and it was discovered that those who imported the product after collection of subsidy, smuggled it out of the country. Personally, I have always said fuel subsidy is the only thing that the poor enjoy in Nigeria, as there are no quality roads all over the country or quality schools. It is painful that the poor masses suffer from the ineptitude of successive governments.
Subsidy is like a hydra-headed monster. In Nigeria, we are stuck between the need to remove subsidy to snuff life out of a criminal enterprise going on in the country or continue with it at the expense of social amenities that are in short supply. Looking at the minimum wage and the high cost of goods, the masses need it to survive.
The current situation can be likened to the devil and the deep blue sea. I support the fact that President Bola Tinubu has taken the bull by the horn by taking that painful decision. If you look at the manifestos of all the major presidential candidates, they promised to remove it, because the subsidy regime, as it was practiced in Nigeria, is unsustainable.
I expect this government to re-launch a massive investigation into the subsidy regime in the last 20 years as it is not just enough for them to say subsidy is unsustainable. Government has admitted that there were leakages and there was a serious criminal syndicate that benefited from the subsidy regime. We want to know who they are and see them punished. It doesn’t matter who they are; either government officials or civil servants. I want to see President Tinubu launch a massive investigation into this. To serve as deterrence, we must punish those who bastardised this system.
Governments everywhere exist to help the people. There is also the fact that this government must let people know how much it is saving from fuel subsidy. Second, I want this government to innovatively look into other ways that it can cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal. If basic things are provided, Nigerians won’t care if fuel is sold for N1000. If Nigerians can have 24 hours power supply, they won’t have the need to go and buy fuel. A lot of money will be made from the removal of fuel subsidy, so a rail system that cuts across the entire country should be provided. President Tinubu should engage more with Labour, the main reason Labour Union does what it is doing is to ensure that Nigerian workers survive.
You sound as if APGA is supporting Tinubu’s government?
What we support is a progressive government in Nigeria.We are not in partnership with the APC. In terms of alliance, we have none. APGA is a true progressive movement for all Nigerians. What we want is a Nigeria that works for everybody irrespective of class, which is why we are interested in the APC-led government of President Tinubu because we are praying for him to succeed and we will not fail to call him out whenever we feel that he has deviated. His administration is just two months, and we have seen two disruptive changes that he has started. Tinubu took over the saddle of leadership of this country at a time the country’s economy was on its knees.
Against what Senator Adams Oshiomhole said, Tinubu needs to be a magician because he saw the enormity of the assignment, yet he presented himself for the job. For that reason, we will hold him accountable and there must be no ifs or buts. Nevertheless, we are praying for him and we will support him because if he wins, Nigeria wins. I have seen his approach to the issue of securing lives and properties. It is very commendable.
What is your agenda for the ministers?
I like to go from the angle of the law. The role of the minister is to help the President to execute the lofty ideas that he has set in his agenda or manifesto. I really want them to be patriotic by serving the interest of Nigerians. I am interested in seeing them help cut the cost of governance because it is one of the ideologies of APGA.
As national chairman, have you been able to put an end to factionalisation in APGA?
APGA has never had any issue of leadership or factionalisation. This Njoku issue came to life after the Supreme Court had a correction of his judgment on March 21. The Supreme Court said the high court in Jigawa had no jurisdiction. What the court did is called ‘correction of an accidental slip’ because once it accepts the substance of the judgment it becomes a review.
Like we had in Bayelsa where the Supreme Court declared DouyeDiri as the governor in place of David Lyon, they went for a review. In Jigawa, the person who was said to be chairman was Njoku. Meanwhile, he was not the chairman; the court entertained the matter and declared that he was the chairman. The court said he had been removed and Jude Okeke, who is the deputy, had taken over. This informed Victor Oye’s decision to appeal, saying the man being called the Chairman wasn’t and he already had a prior Anambra State High Court judgment that pronounced him chairman. So, there was never a leadership crisis in APGA.
Has APGA changed its ideology?
I will draw an analogy, which is rooted in the fact that in Nigeria, political parties no longer have an ideology. It is something that is endemic. Political parties should represent clearly defined ideologies. For instance, the most difficult thing that you can see happens is for a Manchester United fan to become a Chelsea fan, which is impossible. These clubs are like political parties as they represent defined ideologies. In Nigeria today, political parties are mere vehicles to destinations and people drop them at will. You can see someone join different parties within a year.
We need to ask ourselves how we can put an end to the incessant defection. Some of the things that can be done to end it include making political office unattractive. The highest form of service in which you can engage should be public service. In the United States, you will see someone who has been in the Senate for a long time because no one wants to replace him. People venture into public office with the aim of using their wealth of experience for good governance. The current President of the United States was in the Senate for over 20 years before he became a Vice President for eight years.
We haven’t changed our ideology in APGA. Our concentration is to build a progressive movement, particularly for young Nigerians who are interested in making Nigeria work APGA is not a regional party and many have forgotten that the party has won elections in many parts of the country outside Southeast.
It is one of the reasons why I commended the efforts of Obidients, most of them committed their resources to the struggle. Even if we didn’t achieve anything in this country, that movement should be studied and I will keep studying it till tomorrow because it means we can have Nigerians who are interested in nothing, but a leader whom they believe can enthrone good governance. If it’s possible, let us build APGA as a political party with clearly defined ideology and solicit membership of people who have the interest of Nigerians at heart.
I call on President Tinubu to ensure that he makes public service less attractive as it is important. All the largesse that they enjoy should be reduced so that people interested in going there are those genuinely interested in public service. Oshiomhole has said Tinubu isn’t a magician; but Tinubu must perform magic because the country is dying. In fact, if there is one thing I wish for the country, it is for the oil to dry up, so that we can come back to our senses.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.