Sen. George Thompson Sekibo is representing Rivers East Senatorial district. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, Sekibo who is also chairman, senate committee on Navy explained why Nigeria Navy cannot be world class and also spoke on some other issues.
What is the main challenge of the Nigerian Navy?
Funding. Nigerian Navy is well trained but they lack equipment.
But does it have enough personnel?
The ones we have can take care of any problem because they are well trained but we don’t have good enough equipment and vessels. They have been tasked with managing our oil installations yet, they are not given modern equipment. In Saudi Arabia, they have a situation room that is connected to the entire oil production of that country. If there is fire outbreak anywhere, they will see it in that room and raise alarm because they are connected to the satellite but here, you will tell four people to man an oil pipeline for a kilometer and at the end of the month, you pay them N25,000.
They will help you drill the pipeline and take the oil to complement their salaries. So the Navy are well trained in terms of experience and other things but they are poorly funded. Don’t compare the Navy personnel to other people because they protect oil facilities. We have acquired more space in the continental shelve, we have gotten something close to eight or twelve times the size of Lagos State which is not a part of their regular registered programme but now they are part of it. This is high sea and so they can’t go with ferry, they need modern ships.
How much will it cost the nation to have a world standard Navy?
It’s not possible, the whole Nigeria’s budget cannot do it. The military budget for Egypt is $11 billion and the one for Turkey is about $17 billion, for just their Armed Forces. The budget for American military runs into trillions of dollars. So we cannot meet up world standard at this rate. But it can be done annually, not at once.
Were you surprised with the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on the 2019 presidential elections?
No, I knew from the beginning that, they were going to rule in favour of APC. I knew it since the day they removed Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria. I knew that something was in the offing. They were not thinking of governorship or senatorial elections. They were focused on the presidential election. Besides the president is on the seat and he is in charge of the army and all agencies, do you then think a Nigerian judge will declare against him? I don’t think we have reached that level.
There were mixed reactions when Mr. President signed the amended off-shore and inland basic production sharing Contract in London. What is your take on this?
I wasn’t happy because bills are supposed to be signed in Mr. President’s Office. The president was not on admission and then you take the bill to London where you will spend tax payers’ money to fly there. It doesn’t make sense.
What’s your view on the border closure?
I will not blame the president for closing the border because when he tried to implement the policy of growing crops in the country, other countries were busy pushing their goods into Nigeria and this weakened that policy. Smuggling is not a good thing and so if government feels it is affecting our revenue generation, and it then means it has to close the border, I don’t have problem with the border closure.
The Senate recently confirmed the appointment of the NDDC management. But some Nigerians are of the opinion that the commission has not lived up to expectation?
I believe the NDDC was misguided from the beginning. If they were properly monitored from the beginning, I am sure, they won’t go to the extent they went to, that is to owe contractors up to N3 trillion. NDDC cannot make that money in 10years. So why did they award contracts outside the budget they were given? If for instance your budget is N50 billion in a year, why didn’t you award contract worth may be N30-35 billion so that you can use the balance for running cost? Why award contract above your budget? Today, if you open the gates of NDDC to people, they award more contracts running into millions? Some of these contracts we have seen that they are managed internally. That is why some will execute contract and they won’t be paid but another that is sharing with them will be paid. We have also seen that some of these jobs are not properly done. We need to evaluate their performance because if you say, you will investigate people, it will mean sending many people to jail. For instance, you hear people will hire a consultant that they will pay one billion naira in a year, why? The law says, the oil company will pay you some funds, why did you have to go and bring a consultant again that will be paid in billions?
What has happened to the Ogoni clean-up?
When they came in 2016 to launch the programme, it was a “political launching” because, there was going to be a by election that time. They did it to get votes but unfortunately not much has been done since then. The whole Niger-Delta is polluted. In Rivers State alone, most places are polluted. So, if you want to clean up Ogoni and its taking you up to five years, how long will it take you to clean up the whole Niger-Delta? 50years, I guess.
I will advise Mr. President to appoint a person that will take a closer look at what they are doing or get a report of what they are doing well. In some of the places we have been told that pollution has gotten deep to the ground, some say it is between 50 and 100 meters. It means you have to remove the whole thing and replace it. In some places in Bayelsa and Delta states, people drink water from where they passed feaces. In other places, they drink water that has oil particles. The oil companies also are not doing things according to international standard. In my area, Okrika, you can’t stay there when there is rain. Experts say babies are born blue and many end up with cancer because of pollution.
What’s the condition of the
east- west road? Has it been completed?
East/ west road has been abandoned by this government because for four years, nothing has been added to what was done in the past. In 2008 when the ministry of Niger-Delta was created, that was the major assignment they were given. I don’t think they were properly funded before this government came in and I don’t think this current government has done anything about it.
Has the amnesty programme stopped?
I don’t think it has been abandoned because I have not heard any complaint from anybody. I am also aware that, there is a special assistant in an office managing the amnesty programme. Before you would hear noise about it, but now I haven’t heard anything for a long time. Now it is kind of secretive.
Still on Rivers, there were mixed reactions when Gov. Wike declared the state as a Christian state. What informed that decision?
Yes, Rivers is a Christian state, but it doesn’t mean that, there won’t be Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, there are still pockets of Christians…
But how true are reports that Muslims are being marginalised in Rivers
It’s not true…
How about the issue of mosques demolitions?
It is not true. No mosque was demolished. Rivers State is one of the best cosmopolitan states where every tribe resides. Igbos and Hausas have the best houses in Port Harcourt. They are doing their best businesses, they sell cars, farm produce and other things that we eat there. Have you ever heard that there is crises between Christians and Muslims in Rivers State? The governor does not hate them. But if there is a particular land that belongs to the state or may be a state project will pass through the road, the government has the power and right to claim that land. But we have not gotten to that level. We have heard of a governor destroying places of worship somewhere and nothing happened. Besides, nothing of such happened in Rivers State.
There have been cases of cult related killings in some parts of the state. What’s really the problem?
The killings are everywhere. It is not particular to Rivers State. It is not religious. I am also worried because the whole country is not safe. We used to think it was only in Rivers that they kidnap people but now, even in Abuja, people are being kidnapped. Kaduna/ Abuja road has been abandoned and that is not Rivers State. It’s a political thing and the PDP is ruling, so some persons will just kill one person and carry the head on the stick and call press. I am not saying that killings don’t take place in Rivers, but it is not as bad as it is being painted. The governor is fighting the people disturbing the peace of the state.
Besides, these groups have been there for long, they were not formed today but because then the state was united under former Governor Peter Odili, there was no political difference because we were all children of Odilli, so the noise was not much then. But because it is Wike now and there are others eyeing the seat, they are the ones shouting loudly. Is there any governor that will want to rule a violent state? People are also being killed in Lagos, Kaduna, kogi and other paces. Nigeria is no longer safe.
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