Hon Peter Akpatason represents Akoko Edo federal constituency of Edo State in the National Assembly. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the chairman, Committee on Civil society, NGOs and developmental partners, argues that the PDP must be held responsible for the current economic recession facing the country, among other issues.
Can you tell us the challenges you encountered since you took charge of your committee?
As a new committee, we don’t act as oversight of government institutions. We are working with the civil society, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners because the committee is relatively new and civil society organisations have had situations where they see the parliament attempting to muzzle them through legislation. A lot of them are not too disposed to any legislation that will compel them to register because they believe that it will amount to government interfering in their affairs. So there is a big problem there and that is why the efforts made in times past were replete with suspicion that these guys were out to limit the powers of CSOs. But with time, we are gradually getting some of the people to understand. On the part of development partners, we don’t have a data base stating how many of them are operating in this country, who is doing what and the rest. The Ministry of Internal Affairs that is supposed to take care of that is reluctant from my experience. Even some ministries are not ready to talk about how many developmental projects are in their ministries. However, I am very optimistic that a few of them that have spoken with us, have seen that this committee is different from the previous ones. We believed that legislation is necessary, it is happening in other parts of the world, so Nigeria is not an exception. What we need is how to go about it to allay the suspicion and fears of stake holders so that it will be beneficial to everybody.
There has been an influx of NGOs over the years to the extent that people could not separate the good ones from the bad ones, is there any mechanism in place that can make people know the difference?
Right now there is none but section C of the allied matters act made provisions for mandatory registration with CAC but it does not define the manner in which CAC or any government institution can look at the activities of CSOs or look at how their activities impact on the people they are supposed to be providing services for. A lot of NGOs get funds from development partners. We have had situations here where development partners withdraw from this country because of insecurity and other factors. I am not saying all the CSOs are bad. We have very wonderful CSOs and NGOs that are doing very well. But some of them are not even registered anywhere and that is why I think, the good ones should support the need to make legislation that will guide them. This will forestall situations like what is happening in NACA and other places so that Nigeria does not earn a bad name because of activities of some few people.
The house leadership has been enmeshed in allegations of budget padding. How did you feel when this story first came out?
I don’t consider an addition or subtraction by parliament as budget padding if it passed through parliament. I will stand by this truth and defend it anytime any day. I don’t think it is right to think that a few appointed members of the president’s cabinet are in a better position to determine what is good for various constituencies in this country. So my belief is that, there must be a provision for parliament and executive to interact, prior to the presentation of budget proposal because the lawmakers represent the entire people, we know the country one on one and know the challenges. Ministers don’t because they are not representing anybody but filling their states’ slots. They are not voted by anybody, they didn’t campaign so most of them don’t understand the terrain like we do. For instance, the nine legislators from Edo plus the three senators know everywhere in the state. People come to us and talk to us, they don’t have access to these ministers. The ministers don’t go home like we do. Ministers take everything to where they come from unlike the legislator. Roads projects are lopsided in some places because the minsters took them there and there was no proper representation. So parliamentarians should be able to say that, if you are doing something in region A, do it too in region B or state C. But for somebody who is privileged to be a chairman of a committee or leader to take a chunk of funds to put it in his constituency without going through the due process, for me I am afraid, I don’t know how to defend that.
Do you think the house leadership committed a crime?
I am not in a position to determine that, until these allegations are investigated and a court of law makes a pronouncement. I don’t actually know what happened. We only looked at the figures. The details are carried out by the chairman appropriations committee. What you look at is your constituency project.
How will you rate Governor Oshiomhole’s stewardship?
I think he has done well in terms of good governance. He is human like any other person but I don’t expect that there is anybody in this country today who will govern and the people will not criticise him or her. Whether there is reason for it or not, people will create issues to label the person or blackmail the person.
What are the chances of the APC retaining that seat?
It is quite solid. The people are fully in support of APC’s continuity. A few powerful people might not support that but they are few. The masses who have the vote and are in majority will vote for the APC.
Nigeria is in recession, do you see us coming out?
I am concerned, we have never had it this bad in recent times. We are in a situation where we are caught in the web of monolithic economy. A lot has been said about diversification over the years, unfortunately, there is no level of implementation. We are now having less oil to export and at a lower rate. The idea of revenue from the mono-product that we rely on has really gone down. Now government is prosecuting three wars and it cost so much to prosecute a war. The wars include that of boko haram, the avengers and other crises. We are spending so much money and we are getting less.
Should APC continue to blame the PDP after being on the saddle for 15 months?
If you don’t know your history, you won’t know the way to your destination. There is no day that PDP will not be blamed for many years of mismanaging the economy and fraud because if they had done the right thing, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We haven’t done enough to reposition the economy.
Some are advocating for the declaration of state of emergency on the economy, do you think this will work?
I am a democrat and I believe in civil governance. To that extent, I am not an advocate of the creation of state of emergency. But if it becomes necessary, we must discuss it as a national issue to know if it is desirable. I don’t know who is suggesting it to Mr President but if it is because the institutions that are supposed to effect the change process are not working and have continued to encumber the change, the state of emergency will empower the president to take faster decisions within a shorter period of time, I think it is worth considering.
What will you advice the government on the way out of recession?
We have always been talking about diversification, for me it is like a chorus. We must be seen to be taking specific actions.
Is this government doing that?
They are taking actions but I am not satisfied with what they have done so far. I am not satisfied with the performance of the finance minister and CBN governor. They are not treating this economy well. When people appointed by the president are not doing well, the tendency is for the people to think the president is not doing well. I think these two people have come up with confusing and ineffective polices and they are capable of deepening the economic crises we are having and if you asked me, if the situation continues, the president should take drastic decisions. I also don’t understand the criteria on the composition of the economic team. I will need to see more successful economists, people with pedigree in managing economy, not neophytes, not people who don’t have experience in managing the economy. As it is now, we cannot continue to experiment. What is happening with the likes of the finance minister is experimentation. But at this critical moment, we need experienced people.
With the crises in the south/south, IPOB, boko haram war and other pockets of protest here and there, do you think Nigeria is heading towards a state of anarchy?
No, if we have any other person other than Buhari at the helm of affairs, then I would have been afraid that we will have anarchy. But we have a president who has the will to confront situations like this. He has done well in the areas of security and fight against corruption. Although corruption is fighting back, it is because we are fighting people who are powerful and who have the money and connection to fight back. They can influence institutions of government even under a powerful president like Buhari, but then they are not going to continue to go scot free with it. We have somebody with a strong will that has focus but, the economic policy must be aligned with the true situation on ground.