Why Tinubu Must Probe, Punish Subsidy Thieves — Ezeokenwa, APGA Natl Chairman


National Chairman of the All ProgressivesGrand Alliance, APGA, APGA, Mr. Sylvester
Ezeokenwa, a lawyer, in this interview, spoke on the state of the nation, President Bola Tinubu’s palliatives to cushion the effects of economic hardship, why the fuel regime in the last 20 years must be probed and those found wanting to be punished, and his plans to reposition and expand APGA as a progressive party.

His take on the removal of fuel subsidy

and the attendant hardshipWhen we talk about subsidy, it simply means subsidising. Essentially, it is what the government offers to people as a means of alleviating hardship that may be occasioned by something. Subsidy can come in any form. Take for instance, school fees, it can be subsidized.

The cost of any product can as well be subsidised, so it must not be fuel. Fuel evokes more emotion because it is an essential commodity that virtually every household uses.

In Nigeria, fuel is needed because steady power supply is absent. A developing economy like ours is mostly built around small and medium scale businesses that depend on power, which we don’t have. As a means of supporting these SMEs that run on generators, the government came up with subsidy. Over the years, we have seen a serious criminalisation of the subsidy regime in Nigeria. Few people, in serious collusion with officials of the government, subvert something that is beneficial to the government and the people.

Under President Goodluck Jonathan, an investigation into the subsidy regime was carried out and it was discovered that those who import the product after collection of subsidy, smuggle it out of the country. Personally, I have always said fuel subsidy is the only thing that the poor enjoy in Nigeria as there are no quality roads all over Nigeria or quality schools. We also don’t have a steady power supply. It is painful that the poor masses suffer from the ineptitude of successive governments.

Subsidy is like a hydra-headed monster. Looking at the minimum wage and the high cost of goods, the masses need it to survive. The current situation can be likened to the devil and the deep blue sea. I support the fact that the President has taken the bull by the horn by taking that painful decision.

If you look at the manifestos of the major presidential candidates, you will find out that the subsidy regime as it is the practice in Nigeria, is unsustainable. I expect this government to relaunch a massive investigation into the subsidy regime of the last 20 years as it is not just enough for them to say subsidy is unsustainable.

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Government has admitted that there were leakages and there was a serious criminal syndicate that benefited from the subsidy regime. We want to know who they are and see them punished.

It doesn’t matter who it is; be it a government official or a civil servant. I want to see President Tinubu launch a massive investigation into this. To serve as a deterrence, we must punish those who bastardised this system. Governments everywhere exist to help the people. There is also the fact that this government must know how much it is saving from fuel subsidy. Second, I want this government to innovatively look into other ways that it can cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal.

If basic things are provided, Nigerians won’t care if fuel was sold for N1000. If Nigerians have 24 hours power supply, they won’t have the need to go and buy fuel. A mass transport scheme should also be developed. A lot of money will be made from the removal of fuel subsidy, so a rail system that cuts across the entire country should be provided. President Tinubu should engage more with Labour, the main reason labour does what it is doing is to ensure that Nigerian workers survive.

Is APGA partnering with APC?
What we support is a progressive Nigeria, we are not in partnership with the All Progressives Congress, APC. In terms of alliance, we have none. APGA is a true progressive movement for all Nigerians. What we want is a Nigeria that works for everybody irrespective of class, which is why we are interested in the APC-led government of President Tinubu because we are praying for him to succeed. We are only praying that he succeeds in his mandate to Nigerians and we will not fail to call him out whenever we feel that he has deviated. His administration is just two months, and we have seen two disruptive changes that he has started. Tinubu took over the saddle of leadership of this country at a time the country’s economy is on its knees.

Against what Senator Adams Oshiomole said, Tinubu needs to be a magician because he saw the enormity of the assignment yet presented himself for the job. For that reason, we will hold him accountable and there must be no ifs or buts. Nevertheless, we are praying for him and we will support him because if he wins, Nigeria wins. I have seen his approach to the issue of securing lives and property, it is very commendable.

What is your agenda for the ministers?
I like to go from the angle of the law. The role of the minister is to help the president execute the lofty ideas that he has set in his agenda or manifesto. I really want them to be patriotic by serving the interest of Nigerians. I am interested in seeing them help cut the cost of governance because it is one of the ideologies of APGA.

As national chairman, have you been able to put an end to factionalisation in APGA?

APGA has never had any issue of leadership or factionalisation. This Njoku issue came to life after the Supreme Court had a correction of his judgment on March 21. On the APGA matter, the Supreme Court said the court in Jigawa, which is a lower court, had no jurisdiction. What the court did is called ‘correction of an accidental slip’ because once it accepts the substance of the judgment, it becomes a review.

Like we had in Bayelsa where the Supreme Court declared Diri as the governor in place of Lyon, they went for a review. In Jigawa, the person who was said to be chairman was Njoku. Meanwhile, he was not the chairman. The court entertained the matter, declaring that he was the chairman. The court said he had been removed and Jude Okeke, who is the deputy, had taken over. This informed Victor Oye’s decision to appeal, saying the man being called the Chairman wasn’t and he already had a prior Anambra State High Court judgment that pronounced him chairman.

Has APGA changed its ideology?
To answer that question, I will draw an analogy which is rooted in the fact that in Nigeria, political parties no longer have an ideology. It is something that is endemic. Political parties should represent clearly defined ideologies. For instance, the most difficult thing that you can see happen is for a Manchester United fan to become a Chelsea fan, which is impossible.

These clubs are like a political party as they represent clearly defined ideologies. In Nigeria today, political parties are mere vehicles to destinations and people drop them at will. You can see someone join different parties within a year.

We need to ask ourselves how we can put an end to the incessant defection. Some of the things that can be done to end it include making political office unattractive. The highest form of service in which you can engage should be public service. In the United States, you will see someone who has been in the Senate for a long time because no one wants to replace him. There, people venture into public office with the aim of using their wealth of experience for good governance. The current President of the United States was in the Senate for over 20 years before he became a Vice President for eight years.

We haven’t changed our ideology in APGA. Our concentration is to build a progressive movement, particularly for young Nigerians who are interested in making Nigeria work. It is one of the reasons I commend the efforts of Obidients, most of them committed their resources to the struggle.

Even if we didn’t achieve anything in this country, that movement should be studied and I will keep studying it till tomorrow because it means we can have Nigerians who are interested in nothing but a leader whom they believe can enthrone good governance. If it’s possible, let us build APGA as a political party with clearly defined ideology and solicit membership of people who have the interest of Nigerians at heart.

I call on President Tinubu to ensure that he makes public service less attractive as it is important. All the largesse that they enjoy should be reduced so that people interested in going there are those genuinely interested in public service. Oshiomole has said Tinubu isn’t a magician; but, Tinubu must perform magic because the country is dying. In fact, if there is one thing I wish for the country, it is for the oil to dry up, so that we can come back to our senses.