The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, is one of the organizations that are championing the restructuring of the country. In this interview with EUNICE NNACHI, the chairman of PANDEF in Bayelsa State, Chief Thompson Okorotie shed light on why they insist there is no going back on restructuring. He also spoke on Governor Diri’s first 100 days in office, describing him as a meticulous planner. Excerpts:
Recently PANDEF raised issues over lopsided appointments in NNPC. What happens if the FG refuses to address the imbalance?
You make me laugh because it is not recently that we have raised that issue. We talk about PANDEF, one of the many positions I hold that I don’t tell you, I’m the State chairman of PANDEF, and that is part of our sixteen point of agenda that we presented to President Muhammadu Buhari some three years back. And in his first tenure and the only thing that he has managed to achieve for us is the Okrankoko, the Nigerian maritime university which is running now, but there was a plan for them to abandon it, and we refused.
But this imbalance when I said we would be talking about it is not recent. You cannot go to NNPC, a cooperate body, Federal Government owned but one that superintends over the oil that God freely gave to us, and you will appoint board of directors and there is no single ijaw man.
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the sources of wealth creation should be spread in such a way that all geo-political zones should benefit, this is a direct violation of that constitutional provision. And so as far as I’m concerned we have a national government, is not just Buhari’s own alone, have always been going against the will of God.
It is not an accident that oil and gas are deposited in our areas. The ijaw people wherever you find them is as if oil was born along with them. You go to Edo where they occupy that’s where the oil is, Delta same thing. We are located in six states in the country. In Ondo where is the oil? So it cannot be an accident and therefore we are hoping that someday, and I hope sooner than later, that the federal government will pay attention to the equity, justice and fair play. So that people, in the different part of the country and not ourselves alone, there are others that are also highly marginalized, should be addressed in such a way that they would be given a sense of belonging to a nation.
Many do not know that, that is one of the problems of disunity in Nigeria. Why should I carry a flag and hang it on my head if that flag means nothing to me. It doesn’t bring food to my table and therefore we are asking that we should give every citizen reason to be proud that, he or she is a Nigerian. That is what it ought to be. That is why restructuring is now a major issue in public discourse. Let us restructure this country so that we can own our resources, pay a percentage of it to the federal government as it is done in the developed countries like the USA where we copied the presidential system from.
The Federal government should concern itself with defense matters, foreign affairs, security and issues of immigration, those are the things federal government should be concerned with. Trade is suppose not to because the States governments are the ones that should be looking after areas of that, so that at the end of the day the total revenue, instead of the federal government giving us money we should be giving them percentage, we call it tax. Then there will be progress. So, that thing they have done is very bad and we have been complaining and they say if they don’t, what can we do, God will be looking at them.
2023 is almost here. What are South South leaders doing to ensure the zone plays key role in the new leadership that will emerge at the national level?
Well that is a very thoughtful question but it is premature for me to answer it, even when I know the answers, I will not give them out now.
Everybody is planning, we are doing our strategic plans, you know now the presidency is in the North. In 2023 we expect it to come to the South because of the zoning policy; the primary one is North/South before you come down to the subsidiary zone. So we would be discussing where should it come from. Is it South South or South West or South East? Somebody will come and tell me that the South South just had it, but the South East too has a strong case. And I’m sure that at the appropriate time, if that’s the decision of the South South, we would like to support South East because their marginalization level is just like our own in South South either by way of appointment, development projects and all. And so, I cannot tell you anything in finality. We have some little time to plan, and planning is going on. At the appropriate time the appropriate Spokespersons of the South South will spill it out.
Every zone that occupies the presidency enjoys two tenures but the South South had only one tenure. Is the zone going to demand for another term to complete the two tenures enjoyed by other zones?
That’s part of the planning I’m telling you that, it can’t be expose, and I’m not saying I will make that demand but you know when you are planning, you bring everything to the table and what comes out at the end of the day you can’t tell. But the most important thing is to look at the facts for what they are. If people are saying the South West should have it, how many times has South West not produced President, all those histories are there. But I think to the best of my knowledge is, what is good to the people that we should look at.
Our man was the president and at the end of the era, he was rigged out. But at least we are happy that he saved this country war by calling Buhari and telling him, I concede victory and congratulate him, for which the outside world been giving him so much respect. And the tense situation that was on prevailing at that time when he took that move that no ambition is worth a single soul. And it saved a lot at Abuja around that time, some people from some parts of this country in jubilation they were carrying arms, guns, machetes. So, if somebody had said I’m going to tribunal that is where the war would have started because some people are so fanatical. Politics that is supposed to be a one that should represent sportsmanship, but we in Nigeria we make a do or die affair, but what would be the outcome of our deliberation you will get to know at the right time.
Bayelsa governor recently completed 100 days in office. How would you assess him so far?
Well, I’m aware that he has done well. To begin with, he came at a time that, COVID-19 ravaged the entire world which did not allow governments, particularly the new one like our own, to do anything. Because if you now award a contract here, there are a group of people that would go and work, so movement was tight. He also had to lock down the place that is why the whole country is now talking about, how do we rebound? Because the economy have collapsed, we will soon get into a second recession, and so when we loosing up then things can happen.
But though even at that, in this period he brought sanity into the chaotic situation of market, occupying the center of the road to do their business. He went to Swali Market, after giving them sufficient notice he removed stores. He came to Kpansia, there are now doing a fence to make sure the market is inside and not to come to the middle of the road. He went to Tombia roundabout but Dickson was to do a flyover there, when funds were no longer available he abandoned it. Our first flyover there built by Julius Berger that is running into Oxbow-lake. So this government wants to build the second flyover but first of all he has to do a roundabout in Tombia area. So, there too some work is going on and he’s very careful. They have not appointed commissioner and he is trying to make sure that government is orderly. I have frequent interactions with government house and I know the plans that are taking. There is no law that you must celebrate 100 days in office.
But its good thing to try and access, you can know the beginning steps of any government in 100 days and I think that so far he is doing quite well. He has pointers. When he presented his budget, he came out clearly in two areas, he gave priority to agriculture and entrepreneurship.
That shows to you, he knows where his doing, because oil is gone, let me say so, and so if you don’t embrace agriculture and we have a lot of available land here. We are in the cassava belts of the country and several other things are there, even the industrial raw materials we have a lot of it. Sharp sand is for glass industries and many more other raw material.
So entrepreneurship he is looking at gives us a lot of pleasures because small and medium enterprises in this States have not been given proper attention. Anywhere in the world 75% of the economy is driven by the small and medium term enterprises. All these small small companies, that are employing 5,10 people, the bulk of employment are inside those companies. But if you look after them they will grow. Dangote was once a small company before it became a world leader, Otedola the same thing, Glo the same thing. So, he is starting well.
I see him as a good planner and I believe that very soon it will manifest and I pray that Covid-19 should take its trouble and go away. We pray on daily basis that the Covid-19 will flatten so that we can live our normal lives again. But I’m happy that there are some easing up that the government are building including our own, if we sit down at home, you lost your business, you also be affected by what they call hunger virus.
So, in short, there is no time to talk about a lot of things because he has not been given the environment to perform full blast because of the prevailing situation of Covid-19 in the country but he is heading to the right direction.
Civil servants are getting salary on the 26th of every month now and every month he is depositing money to every pensioner. You know that is a big problem to nationwide but he is making sure that every month they get paid. That is going on and I think it is an area that makes us happy because civil service are the engine room of any administration that needs to be happy and that he has started again.
There was N60million deposited in the first month and I do not know what was the figure of the other month but his doing quite a lot in that area.
What is your take on federal government feeding program, is it for the North or South?
I said something to a group of people that trader money, this money, that money, the social investment program of the federal government is not felt in the South South. They cannot take it to other places alone. It must go round the country but that is not happening. And the Vice President’s office, till he travels to his home town and the whole of the west, he will enter the market. What about our market, why can’t he come here because it is a PDP state? What about other states that are APC? So this country that has been the problem, we don’t like to be just to all of the people. When you have a program round the country will be happy but they will tell you figures now that is gone round the country but what is the volume?
If I’m asking for justice, I mean that the government should do good equally to all and not to some people and leave others, when I talk about equity I mean they should treat people equally all round not just one side. We have talked about appointments how lopsided they are. Somebody the other day was analyzing how many positions there are all from the North West, so those things are there and all we are asking for is a good government. When we want to criticise, we do it constructively. Constructive criticism contributes to development to allow leaders to look at themselves and take out corrective actions because if you are dancing you don’t see yourself. It’s like a masquerade; its onlookers that see how well they do. So we pray that some day we will have set of national leaders and state leaders that will provide justice, equity, and fair play to all.
Let us restructure this country so that we can own our resources, pay a percentage of it to the federal government as it is done in the developed countries like the USA where we copied the presidential system from.