COVID-19 has showed  we can’t run away from restructuring —Chekwas Okorie

Former national chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party, ( UPP) Chekwas Okorie has said agitation for  restructuring of the federation will refuse to go away despite the aversion to it by certain power brokers in the country. Amidst criticisms of the lopsidedness trailing distribution of the palliatives to mitigate the effects of the lock down, Chief Okorie says Nigeria can not run away from power devolution to federating states.He spoke TAIWO AMODU in a telephone interview.

THERE are those who are of the opinion that there was no basis for extension of the lock down by President Muhammadu Buhari.  Others have said his   stance must have been informed by advice given by medical experts. Where do you stand in the divide?

Anybody who has been monitoring the trend all over the world will recognize that the best way of containing the spread is by social distancing. And lock down is a way of enforcing social distancing in order to save us from the danger of the widespread. It is very painful but saving life is more important than any inconvenience.

But having said that, government should intensify efforts to  reach out to the very vulnerable in the society although the President has already ordered for an expansion of the net with an additional one million family.

 

With that expansion,  we are talking about 3.6m Nigerians. But do you think that actually captured the vulnerable in the country?  

It won’t capture, in a country of over 200million. But some of these things are also determined by available resources. But what is more important is that majority of those who are targeted don’t even have access to these people because in Nigeria people who are given responsibilities to take care of the poor take advantage of such provisions to further enrich themselves in a very mindless and cruel manner. So,  it is this access that I am more worried about, the method of implementation.

But the government can improve it. But increasing by one million is a good gesture.

 

 Going forward, people have suggested decentralisation of the palliatives: take it from the Presidential Task Force  led by Secretary to the Government of the Federation,  in conjunction with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs.  That the Secretarty to State Government  should be involved at states? 

I think again this is where decentralisation comes in.  Nigeria is a very vast country and this idea of concentrating everything at the centre has been most unhelpful. We should learn that decentralisation of responsibility will lead to greater efficiency and improvement.  That is why the issue of restructuring is worth  trying.

Let us start with the decentralisation of the distribution of the palliative materials: there is so much lopsidedness and this doesn›t help to give sense of belonging to some section of the country. So there is a job to be done not only to ensure that it gets to the poor  people but also to allay fears that of the usual problem of marginalisation,  nepotism and lopsidedness in the distribution of national resources.

 

You are also aware that the Presidency, through the Minister of Finance is pushing for an intervention fund to the sum of  N500m. The NASS is yet to recovene and there is growing fear of spending without authorization under the guise of urgency of fighting a pandemic.  What is your take? 

Well,  the fund is actually to manage a situation like this. That is one approval that is targeted at relieving the ordinary people. For instance, they are increasing the capacity by about 1million. But that is still subject to availability of funding. So there is need to address  this.  My fear is that the pandemic is just picking up and if it grows beyond our control, the resources aren›t there. It will become so worrisome that even international attention will be focused on Nigeria because we have had very terrible facilities over the years.  We don›t seem to place special attention to health care even in our budget and provision of amenities. Now we are talking about water and physical hygiene.  Ofcourse, water play very critical role in physical hygiene. But where is the water.  We are saying we need water to wash our hands,  to clean the environment, have we seen the water not to talk of whether they are running?

So,  for the money that government is asking for definitely it isn›t really a loan,  it is money we already have but usually for the rainy day.  The NASS can›t tell us that they can›t convene in a situation of national emergency. The NASS can grant the Executive anticipatory approval.

 

The pandemic has also thrown up discussion on the need to review the cost of governance. In the face of the deadly virus, we are having dwindling revenue from crude oil sales,  government can’t meet up its obligation. What is the way forward?

Yes,  reducing cost of governance is very, very important but we must be mindful of throwing people into the job market.  So reduction should be to look at wasteful overseas trips, conferences that have no bearing on our present challenges,  there are so many recurrent expenditures that we can do without and of course, the issue of restructuring Nigeria has come to the fore.  It is staring us in the face.  The economy can expand, exponentially if the states are given the latitude to explore their own comparative advantage and build their own infrastructural development without having to depend entirely on the federal government, Quite often,  they appropriate  the local government, take money from the central government and come back and wait for the next month.  In the interim, there should be allowance for capital expenditure especially within the framework of the budget, while reducing the recurrent. That›s what what will put people on the job, that›s what will keep people busy and then we create jobs rather than bloating the recurrent expenditure that Nigerians can do without.

 

Finally,  your party,  the UPP was one of the parties delisted by INEC.  You didn›t challenge it but decided to join the APC.  Why the choice of APC because you have always maintained that the UPP was the party of the future for the Igbo race? 

I could have challenged the delisting of the UPP but we know the kind of judiciary we have and it will be unwise for me to resort to court to begin to challenge INEC.

I expect that INEC would allow parties to continue to grow. INEC should have been much interested in using modern technology to ensure that our elections were more transparent before it starts to query the performance of parties at elections and use that to adjudge their performance.

INEC that is known for inconclusive elections, falsification of election results and all other things that would not add value to the electoral process but is now proscribing parties and thereby undermining genuine efforts to promote democracy in Nigeria.

I said to myself and the leadership of the UPP that going to court isn’t an option for us, because it will last till the next election. I didn’t want to do that.

Now coming to the choice of APC, you remember that in 2018, we  opted not to present a presidential candidate for 2019 and we supported President Buhari and went to campaign for him. We had our bill boards all over the country promoting his candidature. We didn›t demand for any money,  we used whatever we have to reach out to those who could listen to us and at least,  from the south east, the APC improved.  From the previous 5 percent overall to winning the mandatory three states. It was only in Anambra that the situation didn›t change much.

So,  we can say we made our contributions. So when this situation arose and considering that we have been in opposition for long,  I appealed to  my people that moving from one opposition to another opposition party that wouldn›t have been our best option. So we thought that the way to move will be to strengthen our political trajectory of supporting APC presidential candidate and we moved.

It wasn’t a one man decision,  our NEC agreed that we joined APC and based on that decision we collapsed into the APC.  I can tell you that our state chapters are being received very well with fanfare. After the lock down,  we have our own programme of presenting ourselves to the APC NWC and the President. All that has to wait until the  COVID-19 global problem.

 

 

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