BY RUTH CHOJI
Senator Robert Boroffice represents Ondo North in the National Assembly. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the chairman Senate committee on Science and Technology, speaks on some national issues.
What are some of the challenges the Science and Technology sector face in the country?
The sector faces a challenge of inadequate funding. It is like we have not gotten it right. Without science and technological innovations, we cannot move anywhere. Whatever problem we are talking about today are related to science and technology. South Korea, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore were all facing the problems we have but when they started funding their science and technology, they move forward. If we continue on the path we are going, we will continue to be a consumer of imported science equipment from other countries, which is why we still import everything we use in this country. We are in the process of getting a bill on science and technology innovations which if implemented, will provide good funding for the sector. if that happens, it will help us because all emerging economies did it and they are reaping the fruits today. In another 10years, Brazil will be the fourth largest economy in the world.
There are reports that the Federal Government is planning to either lease out Ajaokuta Steel company or sell it, do you agree with such moves?
There is no country that can develop without technology. Industrialization needs iron and steel. We need to develop our steel industry for our benefit. No industrialisation can succeed without steel. So whether government leases or sells it, as long as it will become productive and Nigeria can benefit, then we will support the action.
Nigeria just celebrated another democracy day and some seem to think that the APC has not done much since coming to power. What is your take on this?
I don’t, because if you imagine what could have happened to Nigeria if we had continued under Jonathan, then you will know that we are lucky to have this government in place. Things have to get worse before they get better. What Jonathan’s administration was doing was covering up our problems and pretending that all was well. So Buhari came and told us this is the correct situation and we have to face it. There has been a lot of looting of the treasury which this government has been trying to recover and cover all leakages. Another thing is that crude was not selling as high as it used to be during the Jonathan era. Then it was about $110 per barrel, now it is hovering between $50 per barrel or less. The former president left and avengers came in. they were depriving Nigeria of over 75,000 barrel per day out of the about two million we were producing. So, in terms of quantity and cost, Buhari came to power to save this country. If we had not come at that time and the situation was like this, this nation would have gone bankrupt. Electricity has improved, problem of infrastructure is being addressed but there is a time of gestation for this things to manifest. I think we just have to be patient…
But the administration seems to be losing the war against corruption as it has not secured any major convictions yet?
Corruption is a dangerous thing that is not easy to fight because it is a spirit. It dwells with human beings. So definitely they will fight back, that is what we are seeing now. I think exposing corruption the way we did is a milestone. It takes courage for a government to expose corruption. Now people are careful about stealing government money. In a way, this government has scored very high in terms of corruption but more needs to be done. We can eradicate it 90% but we must have a change of attitude. As a people, we must decide that, we don’t have to steal to live well. Institutions like judiciary, police, intelligence and the rest that are fighting corruption have to be sanitized…
Will you advocate for capital punishment for treasury looters?
There must be a well-defined description of who is a looter because if you are not careful, people might use it to fight their political enemies. I believe that whatever punishment that needs to be given should be given to the looter. When you plunder the treasury, you are endangering the lives of millions of Nigerians, so it is something that has to be taken seriously and addressed as such. I don’t mind capital punishment.
What will it take to revive the Nigerian Economy?
The government is trying. But one of the major problems is that we do not have adequate infrastructure to support economic activities particularly electricity. But the organized and non-organized private sectors all depend on electricity. We have to put that in place. We have to expand our based. We operate a monolithic economy which depends on crude oil. Government must do more to improve agriculture, but the problem we will have is the issue of farmers/herdsmen clashes. I want to go into farming in my local government but I am having a second thought because of herdsmen. Government have to take serious steps to address the menace of herdsmen else it will discourage many people from going into agriculture. The service section should be expanded, we need to ensure that ICT extends to the lowest level. We need to participate in the global economy of service provision.
Should the Federal Government continue to pump forex into the system?
I think you have to pity those operating the system. If they don’t do it to reduce the hardship, they will say government is not doing anything about it. Now the Federal Government is doing something to reduce the hardship but people are not contented. I think what the government is doing by pumping forex into the economy is helping those who import goods. It is part of expanding the economic based. We need to get to the point where businesses themselves can start generating foreign exchange for the country. If we harness our mineral resources and agricultural sector, they can easily generate foreign exchange for us. I think our planners need to settle down and focus on things that are very important and critical to the economy.
When you mention ‘our planners’ do we have an economic team in place?
The economic team should be in the executive. I don’t know whether there is an economic team but in Jonathan’s administration, we knew there was an economic team managed by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I heard the economic council is headed by the vice president. But they might not be as loud as it was during the Jonathan administration.
The senate and executives seem to be having a running battle over one issue or the other, what will it take to change this situation?
We have always had military regime for years and this kept legislature out. Nigerians don’t appreciate legislature because it wasn’t there. But to have an enduring democracy, you need the legislature. Nigeria is a growing democracy. What is happening now is that, each part of government is trying to define its role as stated in the constitution. The area of conflict has always been in allocation of resources. The constitution says, the National Assembly has the responsibility of appropriation, which means we can decide where to assign the budget to and where it needs to be reduced. The executive is also saying they have a right to decide how to spend it because they know what comes in. The legislature also has over sight functions. Some of the programs and projects being implemented by government are checked and sometimes, we discover that they have missed their priorities and if this country has to move forward, we must work together by defining our priority. We returned from China recently and there, we discover that one of our projects that has to do with energy has not taken off. Nigeria signed this agreement in 2013 yet it has not taken off. Ethiopia signed their agreement and within 18months, they have completed their project. Mali has also completed their project and yet Nigeria has not even started and we are supposed to be more economic viable than these countries. For example, the Federal Government didn’t include a second runway for the international airport in the 2017 budget, we had to put it because we know that if we don’t do it now and the current one develops a problem, we will have the problem we had few months ago where the airport was shut down for repairs.
Are you in support of calls for restructuring Nigeria?
Well, there is always a need to have a near perfect situation. Some section of the country feel they have been marginalised or short changed, therefore they need to be restructured, so there can be semblance of balance. If there is a balance, people will feel like they are part of the project Nigeria. We are not operating a true federalism. In a true federalism, each state will have some sort of independence. Even if the Federal Government will get involved in things like agriculture, it shouldn’t be at this level they do now, the farms are in the states not federal. The very sensitive aspect of it is the issue of minimum wage. To rent a house in Abuja or Lagos and other places is not the same, and yet you want everybody to have the same minimum wage, it is not possible. There are certain things that are in the concurrent list now that should be given to the states. Let there be division of power so that, the states can have some control over their security. Even to some extent education, why should the Federal Government be involved in secondary school education?
Where do you see Nigeria in the next 10 years?
I am not a pessimist and at the same time, I am not an optimist, but we have too many baggages. One is religion and two, is ethnicity. Unless we down play these two, we will continue to have problems.