TUE, JUNE 13 2017-CHIKE JOHN OKAFOR: Chike John Okafor is an elected member of the federal House of Representative. He Represents Obowo, Ihitte-Uboma and Ehime-Mbano LGAs and he is currently serving as the House Chairman on Health. He spoke exclusively to theG&BJournal on an array of issues including his passion for developing human capital in the country and his constituency in particular. The interview will be published in five parts starting today, MON, JUNE 12 2017. This is the second part of the interview.
What is your dream for state?
I align myself in that dream that Imo must be better. We could have done better and a lot more but let me put it this way let’s go back to where Mbakwe was. Let me ask you, all the subsequent government before us how do you rate them? Do you think they were able to measure up with Chief Sam Mbakwe’s legacies? Mbakwe built the design for Imo airport got the land, so subsequent government took it over completed it. I stand to be challenged that no subsequent government have been able to match Mbakwe’s legacies until Rochas came. I stand to be challenged.
Imo state university dream was a multi campus, he built it. Mbakwe could have killed or taken it to Avutu. Nobody would have stopped him –Mbakwe did not do that because he wasn’t looking at himself.
Under Mbakwe’s government, Mbakwe needed a federal government college and they told him they don’t have money to build structures, he went and divided government college Owerri that was already existing to get a federal college. He said take part of it and give me federal government college. Then, they were going to build federal government college where Imo university was and they said give me FUTO Federal university and they started building a permanent site where it is today at Ihiaba. So Enwerem over the years has done some good job. He said give me part of the permanent site of FUTO and he built some blocks and we started there, as the Imo State University.
The only visible thing you will see after Mbakwe’s exit are the ones the present governor is doing now. Today, Imo can host any international event because we have an international conference centre of 3000 capacity. Today, we have a replica of the Eagle Square in Abuja as we have Hero Square here in Owerri. We have other projects; the government house Owerri is no longer what it used to be. So, my dream for Imo like I said; is in alignment with the current governor’s dream, IMO MUST BE BETTER.
Between the Igbo Presidency and Biafra, which is your take?
I don’t align myself with those who are fighting for Biafra, I rather align myself with people who are saying that we are not accommodated. I also don’t use the word marginalized, because if you say we have been marginalized, I will tell you that the government and people look at presidency when you are the president or the vice president.
Not too long ago an Igbo man was the vice president in the person of Elex Ekwueme. Then some time down the line we still had Ebitu Ukiwe as the second in command, and there has been very conscious attempts by the government at the centre to make us feel accommodated by seeding some key positions both in the military and otherwise in the country to the south east. At post civil war no Igbo man was close to being a major general, which the government did by promoting our son in the armed force (Ebitu Ukiwe), that was a conscious deliberate attempt but shortly after then he retired but there was such an attempt by the government, by the powers that be to take us in. Ihejirika was the chief of Army staff in this democratic dispensation, He is an Igbo man and was retired, he was not fired. He became the chief of army staff and retired as chief of army staff.
Mike Okiro became the next Inspector General of Police, an Igbo man from Imo state, so there have been that conscious effort and then in this democratic dispensation the Igbos have held positions like the Minister for Finance, Trade and Industry, Aviation – Stella Odua, Aviation at some point – Chidoka.
So the agitation and the argument is that in this current government we have not been well accommodated and I agree with that and the president himself has explained it. We played bad politics in the election leading up to the man’s emergence; we played bad politics as a people.
Not too long ago, we had senate president and we still had deputy senate president, but we played bad politics in 2015. We all went with the PDP, then the man got voted from some other regions. Some other geopolitical zones and became president and you wouldn’t know the commitment he made before he was able to extract that level of support and you won’t expect him to turn around easily because, you don’t know some commitments that he had made.
Why would Tinubu wakeup and ask the whole of south west to go and support someone from as far as the north west? So, let us give him a little space. That doesn’t mean that we are not feeling hurt or aggrieved that an announcement will be made releasing positions and you will only see one or two Igbos, I don’t think it is right. But for the privilege of information sources, I understand that in the subsequent or next appointments that will come, in positions you see us being a lot more accommodated. But that I think may be a wakeup call also for us going into 2019 event, to play some good politics.
And I will say to you again, how I wish the Igbos listened to Owelle Okorocha. He was the only voice shouting, let us go and play politics with the north but nobody listened to him. So let us hope that in 2019, we will get it right, play good politics so that we can properly position for good positions in the government. Possibly an Igbo man can be vice president. I do not see the possibility of the president.
What’s your take on restructuring?
They are playing politics with such. It is not possible, the world has grown so big. The world has become so aware that in my lecture in UK, I told them about the African recession and I told them that we haven’t lost that position, we haven’t lost the market. The market is here. We have a massive population that the world can’t joke with and I tell you that Nigeria will continue to play that dominant role even in military within this sub-region and within African.
If we run to Gambia and prevail on the president who lost election to handover as a people, as a government as a country, we go and prevail, we didn’t wait for America or France to do that. It took Nigeria to lead the rest of African countries to go and persuade the president who lost election to save the situation in Gambia, persuading the president who lost election to hand over to the man who rightfully won the election and then provided safe environment and airplane for him to escape, going to asylum. That tells you that if we played that role that means that any attempts of any kind of restructuring depending on what they say or how they want it, will not go down well.
If you talk about restructuring in terms of resource sharing that can happen. It was the agitation by us; people from the South East, South South that led to what we can call 13 percent. You talk about Nigeria as an oil producing state, we have just nine states. What we had since 2005 was a situation where all the resources are put in one basket and shared. That agitation and fighting led to establishing that 13% derivation. Which means that if we bring our resources and say that this much came from crude oil that means 13% percent of it should be given to the nine states according to their contribution.
That is why you will always see Rivers and Delta taking the largest chunk of the derivation money. I am talking from the vantage position where I was the commissioner for finance. I was the secretary of the 13% sub- committee. So this is what has come. Akwa ibom too, in that order, Rivers, Delta, Akwa ibom, Imo comes before Cross River, Abia and Bayelsa comes fourth, there are nine states.
That is what we call the NDDC states, the NDDC was also created as an intervention agency to also consciously assuage, bring development to these nine states. So, I think that if we cry a lot more, we could get some relief. So I also don’t want us to wake up and kill the agitation forever.
So I am telling you that I may not join as an elected member of the national assembly of Nigeria. It will be irresponsible of me to join the agitation but I also do not think that agitation is completely wrong and I say, it could also get us somewhere.
Today, they are discussing; a couple of things have been discussed. A couple of years ago, some 6 years ago, agitation led to the setting up of some institution. That was what gave the Rivers, Bayelsa and gave us additional of federal University in Egbema. Maybe somehow softly we should somehow continue to fan the agitation but they should be non violent.
How do you see the Nigerian economy?
If we become less dependent on oil. What does that mean? When we are dependent on one revenue head as a source of our earnings, so much so that when the price of oil in the market coughs, we catch cold. And then again, there are factors when we speak economics, we say all other factor remaining constant. You are assuming that it can vary but you want to hold them constant and they begin to now postulate. Now, we do not control the oil market variables, OPEC is a regulator of the quantity and the price, so we are just a member among other 42 countries. You can’t come and fix the price and quantity we are to push to the market.
When we are crafting our budget we assume, let’s say they are selling at $32p/b and we had budgeted at $40p/b, so you see because of one source, we would be in deficit. If we have been able to diversify our economy and then have other foreign exchange earning sources or windows, we won’t be where we are today, and that is what this current government is doing now. We may have to suffer in a short while but in the long run, we will see the benefits. We are trying to open up the real sector.
The government is also consciously regulating importation because in the last couple of years what we have always done is to fund our appetite. Everything we eat including toothpicks comes from outside the country. Don’t tell me that individuals are the ones importing but they are placing demand on the foreign reserve, which will further place pressure on the value of naira.
So, assuming that we can look inward and have some of these thing that we are hitherto bringing from outside to produce locally, we will conserve the foreign exchange that would have been used to bring in these goods. That is what the government has started doing now, though that may not be easy now but in the long run we will have an economy that is not only robust but encouraging to the outside world.
So I think that what the president has done and those who are managing the economy is in the right direction, although they can do better, as a lot more needs to be done. We will do better. That’s where we are.
A country like America has oil. You know I was shocked when I read that America has oil reserve that will last for 50 years, assuming that they stop buying now. The whole of Texas and California have untapped oil. I am talking about reserve, the one they have bought and stored for the future. If they say that they will not buy from any country for 50 years, they will not have any issues on oil. If it is in Nigeria, the man that comes in as the president will say after all I have five years or eight years let me open it up for so and so.