Sen. Donald Tayo Alasoadura is representing Ondo Central in the Nigerian Senate. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, Alasoadura, who is also the chairman, Senate committee on petroleum, upstream speaks on the perennial fuel scarcity crisis, the debate over sequencing of elections, security concerns and other national issues
What is happening to the remaining PIB in the National Assembly?
The Petroleum Industrial Governance Bill (PIGB) has not been sent to Mr. President for accent. But the two chambers have passed the Bill. Senate has set up the conference committee that will sit and harmonise the Bill. Where there are no differences, then you don’t need conference. I believe that we will do that soon. For the other three PIBs, we have been assured by our consultant that the draft will be submitted to us so that we can start work on it. I am anxious but the Senate President is even more anxious than I am because, we are already in an election year when people devote half of their time to electioneering and half at the Senate. Those of us who will lead this Bill will need the impute of our colleagues and as such, we are so much in a hurry.
We recently experienced one of the longest fuel scarcities in Nigeria, what really were the issues?
We are the enemies of ourselves. Some stakeholders in the oil industry are wicked. They want to increase the fuel price and the government is saying no. The government has done it once and it will not want to do it again. So the oil industry people decided to band together and sabotage the effort of the government. All the fuel being used in Nigeria today is being imported by NNPC alone. The fact that they have been able to bring the scarcity down to this level should be commended. Nigerians are so wicked that they take fuel meant for this country to other smaller African countries because of the higher price. The price of fuel in Nigeria is about 50 percent lower than in neighbouring countries. It is easy for smugglers to take it to other countries than bring it here. That is causing us problems because they bribe their way and at the end, they still make more money than they make here. Even the fuel that is being imported by NNPC now, half of it is not being used here.
What is the way out?
It has been brought to a minimum level now.
But states are still battling with scarcity?
We must start from somewhere. It started from Abuja. The problem is that, how many NNPC staff can monitor all the filling stations in this country? They can’t. Nigerians are wicked.
Some have advised the federal government to either lease out or outrightly sell the refineries. Will you support this move?
I believe in privatisation. We need the people that built the refineries to come and run them. we might still retain shares but we should not be in charge. We spend millions of dollars to retain the refineries every year and we get nothing from it.
What is happening to Modular Refineries?
Only one person has been able to start a modular refinery in Bayelsa State and I know that, close to 30 licenses were given in the last one year.
Some have called on Mr. President to resign as minister of petroleum because of the enormous problems in the industry, what do you think?
I have said it before and I will say it again that, he should resign as minister of Petroleum. He doesn’t have to be the minister because he is the minister of all the ministries. He needs time for other things. I believe the reason there were issues between the GMD of NNPC and minister of state was because the GMD believes he is answerable to the president and not to the minister of state.
Some Nigerians believe that there is a cabal in Buhari’s government that negatively impacts on the affairs of this nation?
The president came when the price of fuel was $27pb, Boko Haram had taken over some states, there was also the avengers’ and so many other difficulties. He came and started seeing how he will solve these problems. I don’t know about cabal but as far as I am concerned, Mr. President is trying his best.
Will you support him when he comes out to contest again?
Of course I will support him because of his love for Nigeria as well as his candor and integrity. He may have people who are rubbishing his administration, those you call the cabal who will be doing things that this man will not do, but nobody is free of fault. Politics is a thankless job.
There have been mixed reactions since the Electoral Amendment Bill which tempered with the elections sequences was passed, what is your take on this?
I don’t support the action too because there is a law that says INEC will fix election dates and sequence of elections. Yet we came and say we are making corrections. I am not a part of it but as democrat, when the majority agree on something, I am bound by it. But as a person, I do not support it and if I have my way, I will make sure that, that law does not pass. Again a lot of time, the minority might be right. There was a law that Mr.President refused to accent to recently, the one that will be doing the work of police, civil defense and the rest. I was the lone voice on the day it was being passed who said it amounts to a duplication. I also said that a lot of people working for government today are not being paid salaries, so to create another agency that will be doing the same work is not necessary because it is just another avenue for government to spend unnecessary. But because I was in the minority, my voice was drowned and when Mr. President declined to sign the Bill, I was happy. He gave the two reasons I adduced.
Mr Ibrahim Magu is still acting as EFCC chairman in spite of court judgment that supports Senate’s decision not to confirm him, do you think this is right?
It is illegal and it’s something that a democratic government must not do. It is the duty of the Senate to confirm Mr. President’s appointees and where such confirmations are withheld, it is the duty of the President to replace such people so that there will be no vacuum. We have rejected Magu but Mr. President is still using him. There will be a time in the history of this country where it will be written and then blames will be allotted.
What will make the execution of the 2018 budget different from the previous one?
It is left for the executive to do the needful. The executive won’t submit the budget on time and yet they expect us to pass it by end of December. That is not possible, unless they don’t want us to do our work but just to stamp it as it is presented to us. If we have to work on it, then it must be brought early enough.
Are you worried with the way the federal government is handling the security issues in Nigeria?
I am worried about the killings, taking peoples lives is wrong no matter the offence or grievance. The justice system in developed countries has eradicated taking of lives, instead of that they sentence them to life imprisonment so that they will not be able to harm the society anymore. For some people to decide to wake up and kill others is a sin. It’s uncalled for. You will see people killing innocent children who have done nothing, I think it’s complete insanity. People think it is because of land issue and so on. But the use of drugs is very important in analyzing the reason why they are doing this, especially in the Northern part of Nigeria, it is an unbearable factor….
So you don’t see religion as a factor?
Which religion? Look at the girls that were kidnapped in Dapchi recently, are they not mostly Muslims? The Boko Haram who adopted them, are they not also Muslims? So this is not religion at all. How many Christians have lost their lives since the insurgency started? It is mostly Muslims because the damage is worse there. These are people who are insane and are hooked on drugs, people who live in a hallucinative world. It is not good for anybody to take anybody’s life. It is the duty of the law enforcement agencies to separate the chaff from the weed. The security agencies are overwhelmed with all the challenges. There is Boko Haram, herdsmen crises, the Niger Delta militancy, and the avengers. These are the challenges the President has been facing since he came into office. One thing I believe is that if Buhari was not president at this time, there would have been a full scale war in Nigeria because of the way the Boko Haram people were spreading before he came. If they had been allowed to continue, by now we would have been in real war. Religious war do not end. That the president has been able to decimate the Boko Haram to the way it is today is worth applauding. The reason for the herdsmen attack is the desertification crisis in the North. The desert has taken the livelihood of vast majority of Nigerians who live on rearing animals. That is what has pushed the herdsmen down South and it is the repercussion that we are experiencing. Those they have come to meet are farmers and by pushing their animal through the farms, there is conflict. So the conflict is about survival. The herdsmen have been in Nigeria for long, it is the drying up of Lake Chad that is causing this. We need to restore the North to green land. It has been done in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and the rest. Dubai was a desert 30 years ago. But it was grassed. Let us look for money and re-grass the North…
But is it government’s responsibility to put money into private businesses?
Who made Dubai to be great? Who made Egypt to be great? It is government’s responsibility to do that. So the permanent solution I can foresee is going back to the North and doing what civilised countries have done to deserts, reclaiming the land so that it can be useful to the people. If this is done, nobody will leave the North and go South to graze.
Are you in support of the establishment of state police?
I am in support of it to some extent. Most developed countries compared to our population, has more than the number of police men we have. But as we are trying to duplicate the police, through the state, we must properly train the national police we have.