Former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Austin Opara speaks on a wide range of issues. While condemning the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region, the former deputy speaker, however, blames the issue on the skewed appointments made by this government, which he says are “provocative.” Excerpts.
Over one year into office, how would you compare the All Progressive Congress government and the sixteen years of the Peoples Democratic Party?
It is very clear to everybody. The situation is worse than it has ever been in the country in all sectors. We are using the recession as a blanket phrase to describe the situation. Going to the grassroots, the situation is precarious and pitiable.
There is no foodstuff, workers salaries are not being paid, the price of fuel is beyond reach, electricity supply is terrible, the exchange rate has skyrocketed.
There is crisis in virtually all sectors of the economy. We need expert intervention as well as divine intervention to save this nation from total collapse.
But it has been argued that the poor foundation laid by your party is responsible for what we are going through now.
That does not make sense to me, except for a government that is unserious and is keen on making excuses. When President Barack Obama took over in the United States of America, the American economy was in crisis as left by President George Bush.
War against corruption
Obama never spent time blaming President Bush but took on the challenge. We have elected a government because they told Nigerians that the PDP government was not performing.
To turn around to blame their failings on the PDP government is no longer excusable. For a president who had contested election four times, the least Nigerians expect from him is to have a plan on how he is going to do things differently. For him to turn around to blame others for his failing is very unfortunate.
But it is agreed that the president has made much progress in the fight against corruption.
It has come out clearly that even the war against corruption is skewed against a few people and I will give you examples. In Rivers State, so much has been presented against the past government but nobody has said anything but this government goes after people whom they don’t even have evidence against. It is a clear indication that this government only goes after its opponents in the so-called war against corruption.
The precarious state of the economy has made the government consider selling some national assets. Do you support this?
For me, something must give in at this point. I disagree with the sale of the Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas because, in the past several months, it has paid dividends of over $4 billion which was shared amongst the three tiers of government. To that extent, the NLNG is a productive and viable entity. But divesting government interests in some of the assets is necessary, especially those that have continued to constitute liabilities to the country. One good example is the JVC with the oil companies where Nigeria holds about 54% shares. There is nothing wrong with divesting say 4%. But the important thing is to ensure that in doing this, the government must ensure that the beneficiaries of such policies are Nigerians.
To get us out of recession now, there must be some short term measures, including borrowing. But there must be a cocktail of opportunities that government must bring to bear. It must inject money into the system in the short term.
What is your reaction to the chain of events in the House of Representatives that culminated in the suspension of a member for one year?
It is unfortunate that a member of the House, former chairman of a prominent committee will speak in the manner that he did, denigrating the parliament because he lost out. I don’t understand what he is talking about padding or no padding.
As a parliament, you have the right to adjust the budget in a manner that would be for the total good of the nation. Section 4 of the Constitution says the Parliament should make laws for the good governance so if an adjustment is done to ensure good governance, what is wrong with that? It is only when such adjustment is done out of selfish reasons that you can say there is a problem.
My take on the crisis is that the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee was wrong in his approach. The speaker or any member of the parliament can introduce projects to the budget, but the problem again is the approach. Some of the projects they may introduce may not be federal government project.
Yes, while it may not be outrageous to amend the budget or introduce new projects, this must be done in liaison with the relevant agency that may execute such projects. But for a member of the House to speak in the way the former chairman of appropriations committee spoke, it shows that he is just bent on pulling down the system.
The institution is bigger than any individual. The fact that you have fallen out of favour does not mean that the institution should be destroyed.
What is your reaction to the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region?
We have condemned this. A lot of us have spoken out against this because ultimately, we from the region would be the loser. The degradation of the environment, the loss of revenue to our state and local government and other issues. We keep talking to those who say they are aggrieved or unhappy because we believe there are better ways of going about the problems. Let the destruction of pipelines stop in the interest of our people and the nation.
But it is also necessary to put it on record that this government, in all that it has done, including appointments that have been skewed in favour of a section of this country, has been provocative.
The government should look inward and address the style of governance. This is not the first government we have had in this country.
It is important that the government should look inward and readdress a lot of issues, especially that of appointments. The appointments so far made are skewed, and it is very provocative.
What are the lessons to be learned from the recent governorship election in Edo State?
The fact that has come out of the Edo election is that 2019 will not be business as usual. It will not be like the previous elections. Both the government and the governed should know that 2019 will be different. I congratulate PDP members in Edo state for their performance. We have been told that the unit by unit results that the party agents indicated that PDP won the election.
We will leave that for the tribunals to decide but the fact is that for a state that it does not have a government yet they performed so creditably, they deserve commendation and it is an indication of what will happen in 2019.