Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) representing Ukwa East and West Federal Constituency of Abia State in the House of Representatives, in this interview with KEHINDE AKINTOLA, speaks on the current Nigeria’s socio-economic and political situation; devolution of power and agricultural development, among other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
Many Nigerians are agitating for restructuring, self-determination or outright secession. How would you describe the state of the nation at the moment, particularly the economic and security situation?
If you start from the economy of the state, there is no doubt that we are hard hit by the recession and I have said earlier that the lessons and blessings coming out of recession that made us to look inwardly and we are being told that Nigeria is out of recession, so we are waiting to see the effects, the impact, though they may not be in the immediate. But I think that Nigerians are yearning for more, Nigerians are demanding for more, Nigerians are expecting more, Nigerians are looking for a brighter future. Economically, we are suffering; we can no longer do the things we used to do at ease because of no faults of ours, no fault of the masses. You can see that demands are now higher than supply and if you look at the economic theory that would also bring scarcity; we are now in scarcity and in want. So it is bringing a lot of issues. Anything that would make people not to have three square meals then we will know that there is problem. So if you look at the state of Nigeria in terms of economy, our economy is not growing as it should. We used to say before that we have the largest and fastest growing economy in Africa; I don’t know whether we can as a matter of fact say so emphatically and with any proof. We are not because we are suffering from decline, because largely, before recession we based absolutely on oil supply for our earners and when oil declined and when there was crisis, a lot of factors affected oil. And we paid less attention to other things that will diversify our earners which is largely agriculture. If you check the total budget and look at what we have assigned to agriculture, power and other critical areas, then you see whether we are paying lip services to diversifying the economy.
What I tell the youths now is, go into farming, and they are reluctant but it shouldn’t be so. They can train in the act of brokerage in commodities, they can be trained in the act of warehousing of agricultural produce, and they can be trained in act of invoicing where traders can now begin to invoice produce. If I have 20tons of maize that are invoiced, I can discount that with a bank, where they can also learn what I call futuristic trading. These are all what a young person can sit down and figure out.
How would you describe the security situation of the country?
Security is ever bugging us; it is a big challenge. If you look at the security of Nigeria, the primary assignment of government is to secure lives and property. Today, we have security challenges here and there. We are just dealing with Boko Haram, the IPOB, the people of Biafra have just come up and the Niger Delta is still there, it is not resolved.
What I would want government to do is to look at what is the primary issue, what is the root cause of these agitations? Nigeria’s strength will lie in our unity but because of what I may call mismanagement and inconsistency, agitations are coming from here and there. Why must we suffer this, we just had Boko Haram that hit the country very hard, if you can count the economic lose of that, particularly in foreign investors, you will begin to understand why we should not have such.
If you look at the Niger Delta crisis, it short down our oil production; if you look at the IPOB now what they are doing, it is also affecting the eastern region now. So government should address the security issues by trying to nip in the bud the causes of these agitations. When I argued the Bill on South East, I spelt out things that are now very decimal and current. You must nip that in the bud, you must stop what is causing the agitations because a hungry man is an angry man. If you feel cheated you also ask for equity. If you say you see a short man who is 2-feet tall, is he a tall man who is 1metre tall, and you see another one and you put the same level of broom for them to stand. So you must adjust the man with 2-feet, you give him a higher pedestal to stand so that all of them would be able to see across the wall.
But are we having equity and justice the way Nigeria is constituted? The answer is no. There is crack on the wall.
Talking about imbalance- South East has five states, South-South six states, North East six states, North West seven states- are you canvassing for the creation of additional states for the South East?
Strictly speaking, I am not going to canvass for state creation knowing that the existing states are not viable. But if equity demands that you balance the states so do; since wealth sharing is dependent on the states and local governments, so balance it.
Let me give you an example; if you have many wives and you are sharing things to your wives based on the number of children they have, there will be tendency for others to want to have more children so that they can get more. But if you are sharing according to needs, there won’t be any rancour. So if you are sharing Nigerian money according to states then some regions will feel left out because they don’t have enough states or they don’t have enough local governments.
That is why the agitation for creation of states and autonomy and whatever is very rife now. If you say states we are giving you X, Y, Z amount, if you like go and have 100 local governments. But now some states will take 44 portions for local governments, some will 12 portions or 8 portions as the case may be; so we must restructure Nigeria for greater efficiency and equity.
Is Nigeria really independent? Are we seeing those fruits of Independence?
I gave a lecture some time ago, ‘The project Nigeria 50 years after, how far, is it still viable?’ If after 50years and you are trying to do a thing, it is just like Ajaokuta Steel Mill, we have been doing it for several years, so we must restructure Ajaokuta for it to be functional; is that not what we have agreed to do now? So compare project Nigeria to Ajaokuta; there is Russian technology, there is US technology, let us apply Nigeria technology it will work; so we must restructure Nigeria, it is not working.
So, I cannot say that we are independent in the real sense of it but we are independent that we are no longer under colonial administration. Some said we got independence too early, I don’t think so. Just that the amalgamation was done without involving the people, the union was done without making the people understand the union; can two walk together except they agree? Are you going to marry a wife you do not know? Along the line when you must have produced kids and you find out that you are not compatible, what happens next is divorce, except you restructure and understand yourself again.
So, the British who joined us together did not take time to breed the people and teach them that you have to work together; otherwise if you look at the politics in the time of Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and others, the kind of hate speeches was are hearing now weren’t there. Zik won in Lagos very clearly, until things went bad. At what point did we get it wrong? So we should retrace our steps and go back to history and forge ahead.
What is the role of the National Assembly in all of this because they are the ones given the powers under the constitution to actually get most of these things done?
I am surprised you are asking me the role of the National Assembly, is just as I am asking you now the role of your editor and your publisher; when you write a story they say no, we cannot publish it, are you going to float your own newspaper when they tell you that? No. The question to ask is, at the National Assembly how many bills have been rejected or not seen the light of day? Our political orientation too is affecting us at the National Assembly. That is why I am saying if we are operating from regional basis, we will look at what is our party’s interest, what our regional interest is when we are doing things rather than looking at what is the national interest.
At the floor of the House, the Bill for the South East Commission died; why?
Divergent interests; that it lacks national look. We also gave North East a Commission, so why won’t you give South East? And I asked if there is anything that has happened in the North East that had not happened in the South East? Tell me one. Is it the insurgency? It has come and now it is ending. So, if they need a commission, likewise any other region. You talk of IDP, most of the IDP persons from the North East are from other zones; are you going there to keep them, is it because they are their brother’s keeper. Do you know the number of people that have lost their goods and are homeless and they fled the North East. So tell me what had happened in the North East that has not happened elsewhere, I want to know. So the National Assembly is prepared and competent to restructure Nigeria and we will start doing that by also amending the constitution. The basis of Nigeria’s problem is that this constitution we use now came from the military. If you compare our various constitutional sojourns from 1954 till 1963, you will see that 1963 constitution needs a little bit brush up and it was wholesome; so we must review it.