Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume, an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain and board member, Nigerian Communications Commission, says Igbo people can still achieve their dreams without a state of Biafra being spearheaded by some of the natives.
In this interview, Ararume believes there is no justification for any group in Nigeria to seek to break away as the Buhari administration is working hard to meet the aspirations of all Nigerians. Excerpts:
Don’t you think that the perceived marginalisation of the Igbo of the South-East geo-political zone by the Federal Government may have fuelled the renewed agitation by some of the people for Biafra?
Well, what I know is that Nigeria is a sovereign nation and every governor and his deputy in the South-East took oath of office and oath of allegiance to the Constitution and sovereignty of our nation. Nigeria is one nation; the state governors took oath of office to defend this nation; the president also took oath of office to defend and protect this nation.
And as citizens, we are Nigerians. We have the right to protest on issues but we cannot call for the dissolution of Nigeria. If there are issues, we must resolve them amicably. For this country to remain one, our past and present leaders made huge sacrifices; lives and property worth trillions of Naira were lost.
Therefore, anybody thinking of breaking up Nigeria is not being fair to this nation. We are one and we will remain one. I can say that in spite of the present challenges, we will overcome and remain one. If you go to Gabon today, there are many Nigerians who were shipped to that country during the civil war and they cannot return home decades after that war.
My point is that no matter our grievances, we can resolve them through dialogue and without resorting to another civil war. If any zone, be it South-South, South-East, South-West and North-West, feels it is not getting what it deserves, there are better ways to resolve the matter.
It is over two years since the APC-led Federal Government came to power. What is your assessment of the government?
Two years down the line, I would say the government has done well, looking at where we are coming from and the challenges the present government inherited. I will categorise our success in different areas. If you look at the area of security, the government has done well—if you consider that at the point we came in, it was almost impossible to live in Abuja. It was risky to even go to churches and mosques to worship in the FCT and many parts of the North.
We lost parts of our territories in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa to Boko Haram. For example, to access Sambisa forest was almost impossible. And when the Buhari government came to power, he launched a frontal attack against Boko Haram. Army chiefs relocated to the North-East for effective coordination of the war against Boko Haram. Today, we can see the result of the efforts: the terrorists have almost been decimated in those areas and Boko Haram has been chased out of Sambisa.
Of course, those who had doubted whether Chibok girls were kidnapped or not, have no reason to doubt again as over 120 of them have been set free as a result of government’s efforts and they are currently being rehabilitated. It is a huge success and this has re-established hope and confidence in the international community which had almost doubted whether it would be possible to flush the criminal elements out of the North-East.
The issue of kidnapping in some parts of the South-South and the South-East is also being addressed. Yes, there are still some incidents here and there but not in the worrisome manner they were when APC came on board. Generally, government has done well in dealing with insecurity.
Would you say the government has also done well in the fight against corruption?
Before Buhari came on board, it was not just that there was huge corruption but the impunity aspect of it was inconceivable. Government officials were doing things as if nobody was in-charge. Contracts were reserved for people in the Presidency.
But you don’t hear those things any more. If you are qualified technically and your bid is successful, you get the job. Nobody tells you any more that some jobs are reserved for powerful people in government; there is no special interest any more in the award of contracts. What this means is that those who engage in legitimate business can now secure government jobs.
And those who are fraudulent, those who think they can just come with their briefcases, get into offices and get contracts, have no place in this government. Take a look also at the ease of doing business in Nigeria today. Before now, getting documents for business took months but now the process has been simplified. For example, if you pay your tax, you can get tax clearance within a week.
The reason it was difficult to do business before was corruption. There is now transparency in the release of funds to state and local governments; nothing is withheld. If there is withholding of local government’s fund, we should hold the state governments responsible.
Also, before now, many projects were not properly financed but today, the president is financing projects across the country. No zone or state is left out as projects are being properly funded.
The APC government has also done well in the area of education and in other areas where promises were made. The government is also dealing with the huge challenges it inherited. Don’t forget that when this government came, we had fluctuations in oil prices at the international market.
We also had serious challenges in the Niger Delta: the issue of stealing of crude oil, the issue of vandalisation of oil pipelines, among others, which crashed our oil production and affected our earnings. But now, government is approaching the issues diligently; all the stakeholders are being engaged. We now have relative peace in the Niger Delta.
There was a time our oil production went down to less than 1million barrels per day. The oil price also crashed and that was double jeopardy. Today, the price of oil is hovering between $45 and $50 per barrel, but due to government’s approach in resolving the issue—dialogue, provision for the Presidential Amnesty in engaging militants – production of oil has gone up to about 2 million barrels per day.
And by the time the oil price goes up, we will have enough fund to tackle some of the present challenges. The issue of multiple accounts by government agencies has been rested with the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). There is now discipline in the management of government funds. As a result of introduction of BVN in our banking transactions, financial crime rate has dropped drastically. Success in government does not mean the building of roads alone; there must be sanity in our system and that is what we are enjoying under the Buhari government.
But it would appear that in spite of these achievements you mentioned, the South-East geo-political zone, where you come from, insists it has not got a fair share of Buhari’s patronage—in terms of appointments and projects. What is your take?
There are agitations even in a family; people who eat from the same pot still agitate. There are legitimate ways we can put our views across to government. First and foremost, you have your representatives in the Senate, House of Representatives and the state assemblies. You can also channel your grievances to government through your representatives.
We can equally channel our agitations to the National Council of State that is chaired by the president and comprises former Heads of State, former presidents, Senate President, Speaker, governor, among others.
Violence has never achieved anything. There are better ways to engage government. We should avoid destroying ourselves or our property and national infrastructure. Look at some parts of the Niger Delta where oil facilities were destroyed, which resulted in severe oil spillage; it is going to cost huge funds and many years to clean.
There is no question that there are some imbalances, which, in any case, were not created by the Buhari government. They are simply cumulative negligence of many years.
But the truth of the matter is that we have also had people from the South-East who have occupied sensitive positions in the past: We have had Secretary to the Federal Government, we have had Senate President for years; we have had Coordinating Minister; Deputy Senate President and different ministers from this zone. What I am saying is that the situation we are complaining about has been there over the years.
I am from the South-East; we have a government that listens and we should channel our agitations properly. The present government is building East West Road; the government is building the coastal rail line from the South-South to Lagos and it will also get to the South-East. No matter how justified you are in your agitations, there are better ways to resolve the issues.
The present government is listening to the agitations of our people and we should exercise patience and do more of dialogue. I believe we shall get result. We must do our best to keep our youths safe.
Are you saying there is no deliberate attempt by the Buhari government to short-change the people of the South-East in the distribution of national resources?
There is absolutely no such attempt and Buhari, as a man of justice and fair-play, cannot do that. I can say categorically that there is no deliberate attempt by this government to deny the South-East of what rightfully belongs to the zone.
In any case, each state in our zone has its own government that generates internal revenue, gets allocation from the Federation Account every month; gets fund for the local government councils. And for those states that are oil producing like Imo, Delta, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, they receive 13 percent derivation fund. We should also hold our state governments accountable on how they spend these funds. If you put side by side the debts, the allocations and value of projects in these states, the result you will get will be unacceptable to their people. What that means is that some have not really met the people’s expectations.
The nation is gradually heading into another election year. I read some reports that you have been under serious pressure from different groups in Imo State to contest the governorship election. Are you considering the request?
The story of Imo State is something we cannot finish in a hurry —if we start telling the story. The good thing is that we are alive. We have even seen the administration of the state moving from one hand to another.
The citizens of the state have watched or watching everybody. No doubt, different people: traditional rulers, pressure groups, academics, students, women groups and other professionals have visited and still visiting me—saying that they have been watching my lifestyle—the way I have been conducting myself, family and businesses, and that they would want me to contest the next governorship election in the state.
But one thing is that we have a government in place right now and I played a major role in bringing the government to power and we are supporting and advising the government— and it is left for the government to take the advice or not.
Ahead of 2019, my concern is to help rebuild the party to make it a very strong vehicle for any qualified member to contest in the general elections. Everybody, including the governor, should make his contribution to building the party so that in 2019 we can win all the elections: state assembly, governorship, National Assembly and the presidency.
I am currently doing my best. Once we have been able to build a strong vehicle to ride on, we may consider some of these requests—when the time comes. I am primarily concerned about building the party at the state, South-East zone and the federal level.
We are working very hard to win the coming Anambra State governorship election. The party is very strong in the state.
But some people have argued that the government that you helped to win in the state has not lived up to the expectations of the people. What is your own assessment?
It depends on who is making the allegation that the Imo Government is not living up to their expectations. Who is doing the assessment if I may ask?
If your enemies are assessing you, you can be sure that they will not say good things about you. In this case, you don’t expect PDP members to say the APC government in Imo has done well. However, no matter how well you have performed, there is always room for improvement. I am sure the government will listen to the people’s complaints and see how it can improve on its performance.
I am sure the government is working in ensuring that the requests or demands or agitations of the people are looked into. I also believe that like every other states, Imo State government has its own challenges too.Vanguard