Ntufam Hillard Eta is the National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks with MUYIWA OYINLOLA on a number of issues affecting the party including its forthcoming national convention
The president has declared for another term amidst rising insecurity, increasing rate of poverty and a catalogue of unfulfilled promises. Don’t you think these may pose a challenge to his re-election?
Yes, the president has declared his intention to run again but I do not agree that poverty and misery are the issues that will define whether he should run or not. The need to confront these issues is the reason he wants to run. No election has ever been easy, and more so, re-elections are even more difficult. So, we of the APC are not unaware of those difficulties and challenges that will attend the re-election of Mr. President. But we are very optimistic that given the successes that he has achieved, that his re-election will become a reality.
I also disagree with you about what you called ‘unfulfilled promises’. If you put the coming of this president in the contest of his campaigns, three issues will be prominent.
One, the issue of corruption; the issue of security and the issue of economy. And these three, if we’re to speak on them and interrogate them properly, you will come to the conclusion that Mr. President has done a great job in an attempt to deal with these issues.
For instance, if you take the issue of security, you will remember that there was a time in this country that the Commander of the Armed Forces was sharing territory with a terrorist organization in the North-East. You’re aware that Boko Haram overran about 14 out of the 774 local governments in the country. At that time, one could not say that Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria was in control of the entire territory of Nigeria. That is not the case today. There is no local government area in Nigeria today that has the flag of any organisation other that of Nigeria.
But that is not to say that the issue of insecurity has been completely overcome. We have now the issue of the herdsmen and farmers. It is taking a new dimension and I’m very suspicious of the dimension that it is taking. Mr. President, with information available to him, has told us that one of the variables responsible for the heightened irregularity is the intrusion of people who fought the civil war in Libya and other Sahalian socities. And again, I personally won’t rule out the politicisation of those clashes. Having said so, I know that security or lack of it is work in progress.
If you take the issue of the economy, towards the end of the last administration, we had to resort to borrowing from our reserve to be able is to pay salaries. We had to conjure figures, and borrow to import.
And this was a government that was earning between $80 and $120 per barrel of oil, and we were producing at our maximum of 2.2 million to 2.5 million barrels per day, for six years. And this was a government that inherited about $68 billion in its reserve and about $38 billion in the Excess Crude Account.
Given all these favourable variables that came together under that government, it was heart rending that that the government left only about $23 bn in the reserve and about $500m in Excess Crude Account. So, it was a great task for Mr. President. Here was an economy that was running into recession. Here was an economy that was predicated only on oil. And the price of oil had crashed. Here was an economy that did not have any reserve, because $23bn to 180m people can be said to be no reserve at all. This was an economy that had to borrow from its reserve to pay salaries.
So, Mr. President’s work was cut out for him. And he started by diversifying the economy. And today, the effort at diversification is becoming visible to the eyes. Today, agriculture is beginning to take the place that it used to take in Nigeria before the advent of oil. By the grace of God, we’re almost exiting the importation of rice and other staples. In fact, for the first time, Nigeria is now exporting yam. There is a focused and deliberate attempt to develop the agricultural sector of the economy and it is yielding fruits.
The same thing goes for the solid minerals sector. I think the government has done very well in those areas. The economy is responding. As you can see, the reserve that was at $23 billion, even at the time of boom; as today, in the time of recession, because of the prudent management of the economy and the conscious of effort to look out for tomorrow, the president has built the reserve from $23 to $47 billion. And he is not borrowing from the reserve to pay salaries. And you also note that infrastructural works are going on everywhere.
However, that is not to say that things are rosy for the average Nigerian. But I’m saying that the president has put the economy on the right direction and that in no distant time, every family in Nigeria will be affected by the positive result that will come from this effort. That is for the economy.
In the area of corruption, there has never been a time that the government of Nigeria recovered from looters the humongous amount of money this government has been able to do. Again, never has any government in this country tackled the justice system where corrupt people hide not just their loots, they also hide their guilts.
Mr. President has been able to shake up the judicial system, and today you can see that the judicial system is beginning to sit up to give the kind of justice system that Nigeria needs to be able to tackle corruption.
So, on the whole, I don’t think it is yet uhuru. But I also don’t think we’re progressing in error. I think that Mr. President has taken solid steps on these three issues. So, I do not believe in the position that we have unfulfilled promises.
Less than a year to the next general elections, why is it that your zone, the South-South zone is still under the grip of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? I ask this against the backdrop of the fact that election is about numbers.
First of all, let me say that position is not very true. Let me say that, yes, the PDP is in control of five of the six states in my zone. I believe that after the 2019 general elections, the narrative will be different.
The position that there hasn’t been a movement from PDP to the APC in the South-south is very erroneous and untrue. In all of the states in the South-south, whether in Edo, that we’re in control of; whether it is in Delta, whether it in Cross River, in Akwa Ibom, in Rivers, in Bayelsa, there hasn’t been any state in the South-south that you don’t have the top shots of the political elite migrate from the PDP to the APC.
In fact, I consider the South-south zone of the APC the fastest growing and nothing tells this narrative more than the fact that we started out in 2015 with only one Senator of the APC from this zone. Today, by the special grace of God and the democratic will of the people, we can comfortably say that we have six senators of the APC from the South-south.
So, if you put this on a scale, it gives you a very optimistic picture for the APC in the South-south. In fact, with the coming of the National Convention, and a possible change of guard at the very top, one can assure you that there will be a noticeable paradigm shift and that at the end of the day, the APC in the South-south will be in control of some other states outside of Edo in the South-South.
As a party chieftain, how much has the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu-led Reconciliatory Committee achieved in bringing aggrieved party members together?
That question has to be put to Asiwaju because he may be doing what you and I may not know. So, I think he is the right person to answer that question.
Away from that, why is your party convention coming this late?
Again, this is an elective convention and every elective election comes in four years. Our convention is not coming late, because this convention is supposed to replace the old leadership with a new one. It is never late. The tenure of the officers of the party is yet to expire. You cannot say the convention is coming late.
The last NEC meeting approved waiver for any of the serving officials of the party that may want to contest, do you expect a paradigm shift or do you feel the officials will be re-elected?
It’s going to be elective. It depends on the members of the party. If the people feel they have not been well served by a particular officer, they have the right to vote for another person.
Your body language seems to be in support of former Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, for the position of the National chairman of the party. If this is correct, why are you supporting him?
First of all, let me say that beyond being a National Chairman of the party, I’m also a member of the party and everybody has the right to support whoever meets his expectation. I have always being in support of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and the reason is that I think at this juncture, at this point in the life of the party, we need vibrancy, we need a return to internal democracy, we need a man who will respect the rule of the law, we need a man who will provide strong leadership for the party.
These and even more are the fantastic qualities that he has exhibited as the National President of the NLC, as the governor of Edo State for eight years, that have attracted me to him. And he has my vote any day, anytime.
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