Why Nigerians don’t trust politicians —Rep
Honourable Sergius Ogun, a member of the National Assembly, was the guest at the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) roundtable on national issues, held in Abuja. OSARETIN OSADEBAMWEN, who was there, brings the excerpts.
Election is coming up in Edo State. There are those who believe that Esan Central Senatorial district should go for the governorship, while others are saying it should wait until 2024. What is your view on this?
Some of the meetings that we have held, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), my party, has said we are not zoning. So, for anyone interested to run, they are free to run. In my Edo Central Senatorial District, Kenneth Imasuagbon and Gideon Ikhine are both very strong contenders and have the wherewithal to clinch the ticket. I am not so sure about the present governor coming to join the People Democratic Party (PDP). If he comes to our party, I will be glad. I am one person that will not mind if the party can grant him the offer of first refusal but I am very sure he will get the ticket in the All Progressives Congress, (APC). I also believe that whoever the PDP presents will give him a good fight. To say one or two things about the governor, I think he has done well. He has said, on more than one occasion, that he believes that the Edo Central has not been treated well; that if he finishes his second term, he will hand over to an Esan person. Although we know how politicians sometimes behave, I am not one of them; I came into politics to make a change. I do not appreciate calling myself a politician. Most times, they speak from both sides of the mouth, especially the governors. They feel they are so powerful; that is why we have had problems with choosing a successor.
President Muhammadu Buhari has reapplied for a loan rejected last year by the National Assembly and the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said whatever request the president sends must be good for Nigeria. Where do you stand in all of this?
I am neither here nor there, especially when I consider where I am coming from; I have a business background. I recalled that the immediate past Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, sometime ago said we do not have a budget problem but a revenue problem. Now, the government is looking everywhere for money. For that, they want to tax people to get that money. I do not have problem with tax. I am not talking like somebody that is in government now. I am speaking like somebody with a business mind. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt that they will collect the taxes and use them for the good of the land. Over time, people will embrace it.
Nigerians are usually very skeptical about a programme that is starting. It is same everywhere and they have the right. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt. However, one question that is critical is how they are going to use it. This is against the background of what has been seen from most state governments. Like my state, for example, when former Governor Adams Oshiomhole increased tax on schools and that of the civil servants. He increased the school fees in the higher institution; people complained and by so doing, he increased the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Edo State from less than N500 million to more than N2 billion. Even the present governor has boosted the figure and by the time he is completing his tenure, Lagos State will be behind Edo State in terms of revenue generation. You can say that is very ambitious but by implication, it is doable. I speak as someone from a business background. It is doable if there is a roadmap to achieve that.
Your thoughts on the Loan?
Again, I would say, we can give them the benefit of the doubt. People talk about the former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, not cooperating with the executive in 2016. I can speak for Dogara: he was in bed with the executive he was enjoying the APC then in 2016. I recalled that those of us who voted for him, particularly in the PDP then, we were complaining that we put you here; these people (APC) did not even want you there in the first place and you do not listen to us, at that time he was in bed with them. I’m sure they looked at the merit, they looked at the fact that we do not need that loan and that is why it was rejected. The executive has gone ahead to handpick the leadership of the National Assembly that it wants and it thinks the time is ripe to bring the bill back.
Ninety per cent of what happens in the National Assembly is determined by the leadership of the National Assembly. Some of us will kick against it, except there is a superior argument on why they should take the loan and we must get more information on the re-payment, moratorium. We need to know, on clear basis, what benefits are we getting, if it is a loan that the interest rate is one per cent why not? That is like free money. So, we need to know how clearly the loan is structured. We will scrutinise that. If that is what they are doing in this case, we know it is project specific. We know we have infrastructure deficit in the country, so if the government is taking a loan to close the gap, we need to be availed of the right information to support it.
The Social Media Bill has generated widespread rejection by the public. What is your thinking of the bill?
I do not think it is necessary. All over the world, it is the service providers that the government regulate. I will not support it if it comes to the House. There are all manner of things on the social media. That is the first place where we get information. The social media is a huge source of information. If you put out information that is not correct, what is wrong with the government saying that it is not correct? I remember when the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in his last tenure, said that a few persons had hijacked the wealth of this country. The United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry, quoted him that in Nigeria, a few individuals had stolen some billions of dollars.
The point I am making is that somebody was quoting him. Meanwhile, he could not verify the claim. This is the government spokesperson saying such a thing. So, if a man in the street says that, you would say he has committed a crime. I guess the government is just being lazy. I will not support the bill if it is to muzzle the press and eliminate social media.
How will you assess the mood of the National Assembly towards the passage of the ancillary bills on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB)?
Again, this is my industry. I was very passionate about this bill when I came to the House in 2015. I did not know how the House functions. I was a member of the committee on Petroleum Resources Upstream. When one part of it passed second and third readings, we celebrated but again they set up an ad hoc committee, by-passing the House committee entirely and I was not a member of that committee I remember the chairman of the upstream, said to me, “do not worry, we will co-opt you into the committee.” Sad today to say that when they brought the deep and inland basin, all that was in the PIGB.
People have been saying we slept on our right, why did we not collect our money when the price all that was in the PIGB. Today, we say the International Oil Companies (IOCs) frustrated the PIGB because we allowed them to do that. People are quick to explain things because we do not know where they are coming from. Maybe, they did. Now, we are doing the bill in peace meal: the energy we put in in passing that bill, if we had put it in the PIGB, it still would have passed. I am sure there are some aspects of the PIGB that the executive doesn’t want; that is why they are foot-dragging on the matter.