We Won’t Compromise On Oteh

•Victor Ogene

•Victor Ogene

Victor Afam Ogene represents Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives where he is also the deputy chairman of the House Committee on Information. In this interview with AYORINDE OLUOKUN, he speaks about some recent controversies involving the House and his interest in the coming Anambra gubernatorial election. Excerpts:

•Victor Ogene
•Victor Ogene

What has been your experience as a former journalist-turned lawmaker in the past two years that you have been in the House of Representatives?

Well, a journalist is a critique; somebody who wants things to be done right and his perception of what is right is for things to be ideal. Take the issue of security for instance. As a journalist, I wouldn’t want to know how you go about solving the problem; all I know is that there is insecurity in the land and it is the duty of government to tackle it. But coming to the other side, like the National Assembly, I have also realised that government moves slowly and when you have a civilian administration in place, you cannot but make haste slowly because if you get it wrong, an individual can even take the government to court and win if his or her rights have been infringed upon. As I said, on the side of the National Assembly, for issues of security, there are laws to tackle the menace, but on the side of the executive – that is the implementing arm of government – there are also other issues, like political considerations for instance, and that is probably why you have hundreds of Boko Haram suspects in prison today and they are not being prosecuted. So, there are certain political undertones that the man outside may not understand. So we have this difference in perception and reality.

Is the House now ready to reach a compromise with the Executive on the 2013 budget, especially as regards allocation to the Security and Exchange Commission?

I can tell you there will be no compromise if it is on the issue of SEC, because no one individual should be bigger than any establishment or the entire country. And when people talk about SEC, it is not about [Arunma] Oteh. We are talking about institutional integrity. Now, the findings are out in the public space. Nobody has faulted those findings; what people are saying are just emotions and sentiments. They are saying that it is because Oteh has disagreement with the Committee on Capital Market, but that is neither here nor there. That does not take away the fact that Oteh was wrongly appointed into that position in the first place. And we had seen situations in which recommendations were made against individuals and the President had gone ahead to swiftly obey those same recommendations. The case of Abdulrasheed Maina comes to mind, the case of Harold Demuren comes to mind. So, why is the resolution of the House of Representatives different? We cannot have any selective implementation of the recommendations of the National Assembly, and that is what we will fight against and I can assure you that there is no shifting of ground on that. That’s why a day after he brought the proposed amendment, a motion was also raised restating our position on the matter. So, if he feels that Oteh is bigger than the SEC of Nigeria and to wit, our capital market, it is left for the Nigerian people to judge.

Just recently, the Presidency said it will start monitoring the implementation of constituency projects of the legislators.  Does it mean lawmakers have been receiving funds to carry out the projects on their own?

But we are in this country together. If they have given any lawmaker one naira, they will be very happy to publish it; don’t you think so? These projects are domiciled in the MDAs. And what are these constituency projects that we are talking about, because we keep going around in circles in this country whereas we know the problems. For instance, in the 2012 budget, I, Victor Afam Ogene, put N50 million for tricycles in Ogbaru federal constituency. Now, I will not ride those tricycles. They will be ridden by youths trying to eke out a living or indigent students trying to sponsor themselves through school; by men who are supposed to be gainfully employed but are not employed because the government is not taking care of the economy. So they are just palliatives to help my constituency. But out of the N50 million provided in the budget, at the end of the day only N8.9 million is approved and this thing is domiciled in the Poverty Alleviation Agency, an organ of the executive. There is no organ of the National Assembly that implements any aspect of the budget. But they released N8.9 million for something for which N50 million was budgeted and nobody is asking, where is the balance? They have not told us that there is a shortfall in their revenue. So, if there is no shortfall in revenue, why should you not meet your expenditure?

But the lawmakers are empowered constitutionally to ask questions on such issues as part of their oversight functions…

No, it is the media, because when we ask the question, you say we are cantankerous, that we are heating up the polity. The executive is too big to be asked to render account to Nigerian people. But as long as our intention is geared toward the wellbeing and betterment of ordinary Nigerians, we would always have this friction with the executive. If we are always agreeing with the executive, there will be no friction and we will have more money in our pockets, which is actually part of the practice of old. But we have become an anvil for every hammer because we insist that things must be done right, beginning of course with the fuel subsidy issue when we stood with the Nigerian people. I can tell you there were attempts to make us back down from our position, which would have also put money into our pockets. But we said no. Another move is on and no Nigerian is asking question again, but as long as we leave it to the lawmakers, it will amount to we versus them – National Assembly versus the executive – which shouldn’t be. It should be the Nigerian people versus public officers, including the National Assembly.

To what extent would you say the investigation conducted by the House into fuel subsidy payment has helped in reducing fraud associated with the process ?

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The fraud is still going on; it is back to business as usual. And like I keep saying, when the price of petrol rose from N65 to N97, we were told that the excess would go to a nebulous organisation called SURE-P. And what has SURE-P been able to do? You are trying to replicate government within a government. How can you have a full fledged Federal Ministry of Works and we have FERMA and you still ask SURE-P to go and do roads.

But the aim of government in setting up SURE-P was to bypass bureaucracy

Which bureaucracy when SURE-P is also impeded by bureaucracy? Is it not the same SURE-P that was talking about N60 billion overhead, if I am not mistaken. What can be more bureaucratic than that? And there is still infighting right now as we speak between the Secretary and the Chairman of that same SURE-P. So, at the end of the day, SURE-P has been reduced to an agency that gives out monthly token to political hangers-on. Everybody agrees that at one point, there must be correct pricing of petroleum products, but what we are saying and what the Nigerian people are saying is that certain things must be put in place. The last time we went through this same route, within three days they imported some buses, but I ask you, where are those buses today? They told us that they will get some 2,000 or more buses and it will be in the states. I just came back from Anambra, I didn’t see a single luxury bus ferrying anybody. The buses we see in Lagos belong to Lagos State government. I have not seen the buses anywhere else and I travelled round the country, so why do we keep repeating a fallacy? And where the people should be rightly agitated, they are not.

I recently heard that you are one of those gunning to succeed Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State. Any truth in that ?

Well, I have a standard answer to that, and it is that the moment you apply for public service, if you have discharged your duties creditably, you can be asked to move on to some other responsibility. I came out to solicit my people’s support to represent the people of Ogbaru in the House of Representatives and that is my present engagement. If however the people of Ogbaru and by extension, the people of Anambra, feel that I have done well enough and I can represent them in any other capacity, I am available for service.

In essence,  we may see you contesting for the ticket of your party in the coming Anambra State gubernatorial election?

Why not? I come from the part of Anambra called Anambra North Senatorial District and since the creation of the state 22 years ago, nobody from that part has been governor.

But there is this argument that zoning should  not be taken into consideration in determining who emerges as the candidate for the gubernatorial election…

I say they are being clever by half. Charity should begin at home and not abroad, so you cannot be an Ibo man and be telling the Nigerian federation that it is our turn to have a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and then you come back home and say there is nothing like that. I have also heard people say it is not constitutional and I say, maybe they did not read all of their constitution, they read only certain sections. If you go to Section 13 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, there is a clause there that talks about the composition of government reflecting the diversity of people of a given state and even the local governments. What does that mean? And if we don’t have a federal character provision in the constitution, how come a President that is of PDP is appointing ministers from all the states, even in states that his party did not win? It is because he has to fulfil that federal character provision. So if we have federal character, we should also have a state character. And why people like us are in front of this agitation is that some of those people who have come out to speak that it must be done on merit are people that have been imposed by godfathers on the people in the past and have been taken to shrines to swear oaths of allegiance. So how can they be pontificating about merit and superiority of knowledge today?

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