Thursday, 31 August 2017

Politicians who cross over to the FG Govt Party are spared by anti-graft agencies - Rt. Hon. Chief Nduese Essien 

Being a member of the Opposition Party in the Country, how does it feel observing the developments in the country? 
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not an opposition party in Akwa Ibom State. It is the governing party. It is only at the national level that we lost to the All Progressives Congress (APC) which is opposition in the state, and we are watching to see how they will improve on the performance of the PDP. So far, we have not seen the change. We are looking forward to changing the change come 2019.

Do you think anything surprising can come up to get back power in 2019?
You can see the trend now. With the Supreme Court ruling, PDP has veered back into strength, making other parties to run helter-skelter and calling meetings which they didn’t use to call. As soon as PDP met to celebrate its Supreme Court victory, other parties started calling meetings. PDP has also called for the national convention, and other parties that were staying dormant are now working because they know that threat has come and it is real.

Let’s look at the issue of transparency in governance. Do we see any level of transparency in the act of governance both at the federal, state and local governments?
That is a serious problem in Nigeria. People in government are not accountable to those that put them in office. That is because since 1999, there were some elements of democratic rule. The parties were strong and were controlling the government, but from 2003, the presidency and the governors at the state levels became so powerful that they were no longer accountable to anybody. The national and state assemblies were weakened through a process of selection of members of the Assembly.
So the assemblies are no longer independent of thoughts and cannot even question the governments’ activities. They appear more like a rubber stamp. That is the debacle that we are facing, and it will only be better if the people are allowed to elect their representatives through proper election, not through imposition of people on the constituencies.

How do you see federal government’s anti-corruption drive? Some people say it is one-sided...?
The ant-corruption drive of the federal government was well-intentioned, but on coming into office, President Muhammadu Buhari has found the anti-corruption situation enormous. But he could not tackle all at the same time. He just had to start from somewhere. And in the process of starting from somewhere, he appeared as if some people who are known to be corrupt are not being touched; but to some extents, they have avoided tackling those who belong to the same party with them. That is when people began to feel that it is selective. Particularly, as people who were in government before and have now crossed over to the opposition, are not being pursued by the anti-corruption drive. Because of that, a number of other people run to the government party now as a means of getting protection to themselves. So that is where the anti-corruption drive is being looked at as being selective.

What about the anti-graft agencies? Do you think they are performing very well?
The anti-graft agencies have tried, but are handicapped. Firstly is the fact that corruption is usually stronger than the agencies, and so when the agencies try to control them, corruption fights back because it has larger resources. And this takes to the point that the anti-corruption agencies are not well-funded. I was a Chairman of the Anti-corruption Committee of the House of Representatives, and we saw that some very good cases that could have been handled successfully by the agencies were stalled because the people being prosecuted were on a stronger pedestal than the organization. They were able to hire more proficient lawyers which the organizations could not, and so to the process they would lose in court. So there is still need to fund the anti-corruption agencies to make them stronger. My proposal as at that time was that we should spend up to 3% of the budget on fighting corruption but this was not taken seriously. That was 2003 to 2007 when I was in the House of Representatives.

Since 2003, your proposal has not been heard. That means we have a long way to go...?
In fact, I would say that the attempt to reduce corruption really had more impact between 2002 and 2007 when Nuhu Ribadu was the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the other people were in the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). Thereafter, there was a drop in the attack on corruption.

Looking at the two most pronounced anti-craft agencies – ICPC and the EFCC, don’t you think they should be merged since there is duplication of duties?
That was actually proposed for the two agencies to be merged because there is a duplication of duties. Apart from that, you know the police also handle this aspect. All these unnecessary duplications do not help the course of the anti-corruption.

The federal government recently reimbursed the Paris Club Fund to the states. How do you think the money will be applied?
People are clamouring that it should be applied in the payment of salaries, pension, gratuities, etc, but this is only a very small fraction of the population that is affected. I wonder if all the money that comes into government is being used to pay salaries, gratuities, pension and recurrent expenses of the government, what happens to those who are not in government? How many people are in government? I think less than 20 per cent of Nigerians are engaged working for government. So we should also be considering the fact that there many other Nigerians who are self employed, there are those who are not even employed and others working for companies. So we should be able to apportion revenue of government to also reach the people who are not working for government.

What if they use it for road construction? Is that a bad idea?
Road construction is alright. There are other projects that are being done.

What about building of hotels?
Hotels are not government properties. They are private concerns. Though government can build and then give it out for management by a private sector.

How do we apply these funds apart from salary arrears, extending to the private sectors?
They can be applied for the development and restoration of the infrastructure which is what everybody would benefit from. When the infrastructure is developed, there is a possibility that businesses would run better. Instead of companies having to provide their electricity, water, road to their factories, etc, this is a big relief to the private sector and they can be more effective in managing their businesses.

Let me get a bit personal. In your last outing, you spotted at the thanksgiving programme of Sir Nsima Ekere even though you are a PDP chieftain. What informed this?
Well, Nsima Ekere’s thanksgiving service was not a political gathering. The family decided to thank God for the benefits that they have gotten, and so they invited many of us as friends of the family. I am a very longer standing friend of the family so I had to attend on that grounds. And I would want to caution that we in Akwa Ibom State should not regard everything as political. We should not attach politics to everything event, comments or action by any individual. It is not helping matters. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which Nsima Ekere presides over, is a commission that is catering not only for APC or PDP people but for the nine states of the Niger Delta region. It is not for any particular party for us to think that when a chieftain of one party is there, then all other people should stay away. 

We should allow the MD of the commission to do the best he can for the development of the Niger Delta and Akwa Ibom in particular because we have been very unlucky in the NDDC since its establishment. The people that we have been sending there have always been running from one problem or the other so that as a result, Akwa Ibom State could not benefit maximally from the commission. That is why I want to use this opportunity to call on Akwa Ibom people to allow the two leaders both at the NDDC and at the state levels, to govern to the best of their ability. Leave politics aside for now. This is time for governance. When time for politics comes, then we can engage them politically.

Do you think the NDDC has sufficiently justified its mandate?
It has not, because several constraints have made the NDDC not to perform as it was expected. Firstly, the funding has not been adequate. Federal government has not been giving its own share of the funding to the commission. Secondly, the federal government also has the tendency of sending contractors/requests to the NDDC and making the commission to be more responsible to some chieftains in the federal government. So the earlier we allow the commission to concentrate, the better. There is also this element of corruption that has eaten deep into the commission that has to be purged. And that is what I think the present management of the NDDC has been trying to do.

There is this saying in some quarters that people at the helm of affairs at the NDDC had taken advantage of that position to vie for political posts after office...?
It is unfortunate that some of the people appointed to head the NDDC are usually politically minded persons who may have shown interest in running an office before or have an interest in running. Quite often, we end up having such people to be in the commission.

Do we have so much money in the NDDC?
There is money because the oil companies are contributing, the federal government contributes, and ecological funds are also going. So there is a fluidity of funds in the place.

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