Ntufam Hilliard Eta is the national vice chairman, South-south, of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks with MUYIWA OYINLOLA on a wide range of political and governance issues in the country.
The result of the recently held Osun State Senatorial by-election where the PDP candidate defeated your party’s candidate appears to have confirmed opposition’s stand that your party risks defeat in the 2019 general elections. How do you react to this?
Osun Senatorial by-election has come and gone. The PDP candidate has been declared senator-elect. Mistakes may have been made by my party but on the whole, the result of the election cannot be said to be a referendum on the APC because the APC has contested a lot of by-elections since 2015 and on the balance, the APC has had an upper hand. But let me also say that as a democrat, I do not believe that the APC is desirous of a one-party state. So, if other parties win elections in certain constituencies, it does not by any chance mean the erosion of the party’s popularity and its acceptance. That is the context at which I situate the recently held Osun Senatorial by-election.
Many believe that this government has failed in terms of making life better for them. And just during the week, the minister of Finance dampened their hope when she said Nigeria can no longer borrow. What hope for Nigeria under the APC-led government?
I watched and listened to the minister of Finance make that statement. But she also made other statements, so, taking just a part of the statement and ignoring the others does not in itself do justice to what she said. Her position is that too few Nigerians are found in the tax net and it is important that the tax base of Nigerians is expanded in such a way that it is not only oil exportation that should be the only source of revenue. She also alluded to the fact that budget of the nation was rather too small for a country as large as Nigeria. So, we must take all of that into context.
To that extent, she’s only proposing to Nigerians a way of expanding our tax base and increasing the budget of Nigeria to meet the social needs of the people. For me, that was the context in which she presented her case. I frown when people just take a part of a statement without taking into cognizance other parts. I think that Nigeria is not that broke as to be able to assess finance internationally.
Let me also say that there is a quiet revolution in the Nigerian economy and those who can perceive it can understand and see it coming. There is a quiet revolution in the agricultural sector. If you look at the contentious rice where we had been spending billion of dollars in its importation and the fact that we’re almost getting into self reliance in the production of rice, it is a revolution and if this is replicated in other products such as palm, cocoa and others, that apart from producing for local consumption we’re able to add value to these products, I think the economy of Nigeria will begin to become productive.I’m also aware that there is an ignition of industrial investments by Nigerians, not by foreign investors; a lot of Nigerians are going into manufacturing and production. What has made the Nigerian economy weak and subservient to other economies? It’s because this economy has not being for a long time a productive economy. The major policy thrust of this government is to turn around the economy of this country from an import oriented economy to a productive economy where we produce the things that we need and we also produce things that people from outside the shore of Nigeria need.
I also want to say here that for change to happen there must be gestation period, I know that times are difficult, but I want to say that for you to harvest every seed that you plant there must be a gestation period. My position is to only encourage Nigerians to believe in this government and encourage it. We intend to make this economy a productive one at the end of the day.
After two years in power, the South-south which is under your purview is still largely under the control of the PDP. How do you react to this?
When you say the party is not strong in the South-south, that to me is your opinion. For those who do the business of politics, the APC is strong in the South- south. I’ll give you certain indices to buttress this position that I’ve taken. When we started in 2015, we had only one senator representing the entire South-south zone. Today, we have five. We have one in Cross River State, we have one in Akwa Ibom State, we have one in Delta State, we have one in Rivers State and we have one in Edo State. Today, we are on the verge of having another one from Rivers State. If electoral victory or the occupation of political space is tantamount to the strength of a party, then I cannot understand why anybody will say that haven moved from one senator to five, with the sixth is in the offing, that APC is weak in South-south.
Again, situating the South-south zone vis-a-vis the elections of 2015 where an individual from the South-south zone was the presidential candidate of the other party, one is indeed grateful to God and inspired by the support that our people are giving to the APC today.
If you want to contest governorship election in the South-south zone today, I am very sure that APC would dust PDP in that context. The reason is not far-fetched, the South-south zone has become an integral part of developmental processes of this government, especially in the provision of infrastructural development. The South-south people are aware of the Calabar-Lagos rail system. Our roads that had become death traps in the South-south are receiving the attention of the federal government, and other developmental strides that the government is projecting in the South-south have endeared this government and our party as well to our people the more to the party.
I happen to come from Cross River State, the nearest state to Cross River State in the South-south zone is Akwa Ibom, which is about 47kms away from Cross River State. Before the advent of this government, if you were to ask anybody to travel from Calabar to Uyo, the person would first consider that journey as a prayer point so that he would arrive safely, because he may not actually be able to determine when he would get to Uyo. And this lasted throughout the duration of the PDP-led government in power. And within two years of this present administration, if you’re to go from Uyo to Calabar today, you can actually come in the morning, go back in the afternoon and again return in the evening. This has been made possible because this government has paid attention to the suffering of our people. And if you take Calabar-Ogoja Road which should take you about three hours if the road was good; during the PDP time, we would have to go through Ebonyi to get to Ogoja, and this would take you almost a day. Today, this government is fixing that road. In the next few weeks we would be able to go to Ogoja without having to go through Ebonyi, and it will reduce the hours we spend on that road, to perhaps less than four hours.
Haven done all of this, the people of Cross River State, and indeed the entire South-south zone have no reason but to endear themselves to this political party and its government. To say that the profile of the party is not rising in the South-south is to say the least, untrue.
What is delaying your party from constituting its BoT and also from holding National convention after being in government for over two years?
Let me start by saying that there are certain questions that I may not be able to give you satisfactory answers on or that I am not in a position to proffer answers to. I think it is the National Chairman that can answer that question.
People are of the opinion that there is no clear distinction between your party and PDP because problems of electricity, unemployment, and others that made them vote out PDP are still germane under your government?
It is unfortunate that we came into government at a time the only product that the Nigerian economy is predicated on had the challenge that it had. The price of oil plummeted from over $120 to $38. But that is on one hand. On the other hand, the government that we took over from did not think it wise to safe for the raining day. Remember that in 2008/2009 when the world experienced recession, it did not affect Nigeria so much. The reason was because the Obasanjo-led government had saved for that time. Now we have recession and unfortunately for our government, there was no savings for this kind of happenstance.
Nigerians are not going to feed on excuses. Nigerians are not going to feed on realities as we see them. I think this government has only been in power for two years and most of those who criticise this government are hasty in criticising it. I think as things are stabilising, a lot of people will see a difference in the way the business of government is being addressed by this government as against the way the business of government was conducted by the previous government.
For instance, this government is frugal. This government is prudent in spending. This government has not allowed the economy to bottom out with an attitude that gave prominence to corruption and graft. This government is fighting corruption with all it can, but it also needs some time for its programme to bear fruits.
I cannot remember when in the last eight years of PDP, that that government made deliberate effort to make the lives of ordinary Nigerians better apart from throwing around government’s money and those who keyed into such culture became overnight millionaires. I have told you about the issue of roads in Cross River State and I’ve told you what the APC government has done in two years and the same thing is ongoing across the country, but for it to bear proper fruits, it will take some time. So, I urge Nigerians to realise that we have been around for two years and the reality is that we came and saw very serious challenges on ground. As we stabilise Nigeria, things will surely improve.
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