Senator Chukwuka Godfrey Utazi is a PDP lawmaker representing Enugu North senatorial district. He is also the Senate Committee Chairman on Anti-Corruption, a former lawmaker in the Enugu State House of Assembly and Commissioner for Transport in the State. In this interview with CELESTINE OKAFOR, Senator Utazi appraises the two year government of President Muhammadu Buhari and pointed out what he considers as mistakes by the APC regime. He however spoke on the anti-corruption war and the National Assembly’s performance in two years.
For 16 years, your party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in government and a lot of achievements were recorded within the period, just as many things were left undone. Looking at the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in the last two years, would you say that he has been able to successfully attend to some of those things in the country which your party probably had no sufficient time to do, assess the APC?
Well, it is expected, in this circumstance, that any person whose party was defeated in an election by the APC like ours, the PDP, would not be fair in his assessment of the APC government. But that is not the issue now. As elected senators of the federal republic of Nigeria, irrespective of our party affiliations, we are supposed to be speaking for everybody and making objective comments on issues as this one. The Buhari administration came on board on a Change mantra, which is essentially anchored on the fight against corruption. In 1984/85 when he first came to power as a military head of state through a coup that ousted former President Shehu Shagari on December 31th, 1983, he (Buhari) did a few things that are quite indelible in the socio-economic and political life of this country. He introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), his regime changed the nation’s naira currency, etc. When he was overthrown along with his former deputy, late General Tunde Idiagbon, many people felt that Buhari was not given that sufficient opportunity to do a lot of things which he proposed for the country. That was why he was encouraged by his supporters for the past 14 years since 2003, to contest for the presidency of this country until he finally got that chance in 2015 after his fourth attempt and backed by an opposition coalition. Now in the saddle, he is expected to do a lot of things.
Which specific areas were these expectations high but low on delivery in the past two years?
Looking at two years since Buhari assumed power, things started quite early in his government in fits and starts. He came with a belated cabinet, the 2016 budget was prepared by permanent secretaries, civil servants. Those of us in the National Assembly observed these challenges and lapses but at the same time, passed that 2016 budget so that, at least, the government can take off from somewhere. Then came the issue of economic recession which the governments at all tiers and organs have been trying to ensure that the country comes out of. But one evident problem the Buhari regime has which seems to be affecting its speed of meeting the expectations of the people, is that it has a pool of well qualified ministers but who are in wrong placement in ministries where their expertise is not allowed to flourish. For instance, the Minister of National Planning, Senator Udoma Udoma, is an experienced legal luminary and a former senator, but he seems not to have fitted well in the Planning Ministry. Yes, a lawyer can learn on the job but certainly not for such a ministry that requires technical expertise on Economic planning. We don’t need a learner on the job but an academically trained person who has worked for many years in that area of discipline. The same thing happened in the Ministry of Agriculture since we are talking about diversification in Agriculture. A man like Agric Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh is known to be a sincere character but l still know that his academic background has still not equipped him to run the ministry of Agriculture. You need to be a professional to even understand the language of the kind of professionals you are going to supervise. The same thing with the Finance ministry. The lady minister there (Mrs Kemi Adeosun) we know she is an accountant. But her highest professional experience was working in a local government in London as a Treasurer before the government of Ogun State appointed her as Commissioner for Finance. For a nation’s Finance ministry that coordinates all other important economic organs and agencies in the country, her professional antecedents so far is not enough. She has been trying her best to ensure that the nation comes out this recession, but l know that Nigeria has a consortium of more competent persons in that field who can do things better. So we felt that after two years, that this government is going to rejig its cabinet and hire more experienced hands that can achieve faster results. Having said that, l don’t expect that having not being in government for years like the PDP, the APC will perform miracles. Politicking to win an election is one thing, governing well is another thing. You therefore need to search for the right persons to do the job. That is why after much frustration, we, in the National Assembly, decided to come up with a bill that mandates the presidency to ensure that it allocates the offices or ministries in which they want each ministerial nominee to work when they are forwarding their list to the Senate for confirmation instead of sending their names and after clearing them at the National Assembly, you send them to ministries where they know nothing about. The APC government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, also made the same mistake in appointment of the Secretary to the Government, SGF. Mr Babachair Lawal is an Engineer who doesn’t know anything about running a government and has never been in government. As a country, what is holding us down is leadership and not lack of personnel for the job. Once we address this leadership issue, l think Nigeria will do better.
In what way has this alleged wrong placement of personnel affected positive performance of the economy in two years?
In so many ways which has contributed to the slow pace of affairs in the economic sector. You have to get things right first with your appointment of persons you are going to work with as a president starting out your tenure. As a matter of fact, our economy in recession is even a blessing in disguise. I say this because our economy is oil dependent and that oil is no longer selling in the international market. What we should be doing now is to use that as an opportunity to think out of the box on how to get out of that dependency on oil. This is the time for us to begin to focus on solid minerals as a revenue earning alternative. The people we have operating in that area are just illegal miners. This country is blessed with good arable land for agriculture and also weather conditions, far better than what most countries have. We have expanse of land. In my senatorial district in Enugu North, we have what we call Ada Rice farm which was established in the 1960s by the old Eastern Region government of late Dr Michael Okpara. This farm can take care of the rice needs of this country. The quality of rice produced in Ada Rice Farm is better than the ones we import from Thailand and other Asian countries. The Buhari government has not looked at that farm in the past two years and l think something should be done there in the next remaining two years of this government’s tenure. In two years, we have not maximised the energy potentials of this country to provide electricity for our economy to pick up. Today, almost all the companies are closing shop and relocating to other neighborhood countries like Ghana, Equitorial Guinea, etc, where the energy stable, cost effective and investment environment is favourable. We are going through a lot here and that is why small and medium scale businesses are having serious survival problems. Today, more people are looking for paid employment and government cannot absorb that because government is not producing. It is the private sector that should drive the economy and provide jobs while government provides the enabling environment. We are still having that serious challenge two years after. So it is a vicious circle. If we don’t do something in that regard, we will certainly have a long way to go. If there is one thing that is very important to this country in other to have a robust economy, it is having an answer to our energy problem because everything is linked to that. That is the reason we have unemployment everywhere and that is what the Buhari administration should be addressing.
Now having pointed out these errors committed by the APC regime, can you set an agenda for it in the remaining two years of its tenure?
Thank you for this question because it is not just enough to point out the problems, it is also good to proffer solutions. I am a politician who likes to proffer solutions. I want to say that this government has completed the first half of its first term in office which will qualify them for another term of four years. I expect that the first thing this government should do now is to look for experienced technocrats and people with ideas to help them navigate their quagmire. Leadership is not just about getting a president or governor to head the government, but getting the right crop of technical team that will help and drive the system. Find these people and give them the job. Therefore, President Buhari should get a better management team and give them a mandate and deadline and also give them the necessary logistics they need to deliver on your campaign promises. It is not about the minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, calling occasional town hall meetings in some parts of the country and saying nothing. Mr President must talk to his cabinet team and give them clear mandates and time frames on when to deliver and on what to do and then follow it up with adequate supervision. Secondly, l expect this government to seriously and speedily attend to the energy problem of the country because the economic recovery effort is dependent on our getting the electricity sector right and working. Thirdly, l expect the anti-corruption fight to be intensified. Those of us lawmakers who are working with the government in that regard are giving tremendous support to them. This economy must be private sector driven. The multi-national corporations are benefitting from our problems. We can’t be depending on generator importation as an alternative to providing our own local energy needs. We must create an enabling environment in other to drive our economy. Don’t use quota system where we need core competence. The APC government must tackle the unemployment situation in the next two years. It is becoming a serious problem. It is not enough to say you are employing five thousand teachers. It is the economic state that will determine whether we have need for teachers and how many of them that we need. We must look at the cause of unemployment. The APC government must pursue the issue of agriculture and provide the necessary indent to encourage the youths to go into farming. There are so many things that this government can do as it moves into the next two years.