BusinessDay

Era of people forcing decisions down the throat of others is gone – Muoghalu

George Muoghalu, managing director/chief executive of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), is a household name in Nigeria. Before his current appointment, he served as the National Auditor of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and was an aspirant for the party’s ticket in the 2021 gubernatorial election in his home state, Anambra, the outcome of which he contested in court and won. In this interview, he spoke to JOHN OSADOLOR, OBINNA NWACHUKWU and GODSGIFT ONYEDINEFU on a number of national issues, including reasons he took his party to court. Excerpts:

You were an aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last Anambra gubernatorial election. Incidentally, you lost out in the primary and you cried blue murder, what really happened; why did you fail to clinch the party’s ticket?

You can’t lose out when there was no contest; at least, the court has also confirmed that there was no primary. We found ourselves in a situation where we all bought forms, we all got really prepared, reached out, campaigned and were waiting for primaries. And the team that was supposed to conduct the primaries did not show up anywhere, in the middle of the night, results were announced in the privacy of somebody’s bedroom, or his hotel room and I said No, it’s not acceptable to me. If we as an organisation have made rules guiding a process, we must be seen to obey those rules we made ourselves. So, I said no, it’s not acceptable to me, there was no primary simple, and we demanded that there should be a primary. The party itself promised that there was going to be primary; prepared guidelines, gave out the rules, collected money for forms, and then they did not do what they were supposed to do. So what do you expect me to do in that instance? I said no, I don’t accept it. We have to do what is right, if we have set rules for ourselves, we must obey those rules we set for ourselves. I said no because this impunity must stop. We are kind of getting used to people sitting there and doing whatever they want to do and forcing it down the throat of others, but such don’t work for people like me, I had to seek redress in court.

If there was no primary, how come INEC accepted the list and even incorporated the name of an APC candidate for the election?

It is not INEC’s business to do your primary for you, so whatever name that they submitted to INEC by the chairman and secretary of the party, INEC will accept. It is our business as a party, it is the business of the participants, the aspirants just like me.

But there are cases where INEC has refused to recognise a candidate because they did not monitor the primary…

No. INEC came out and issued a report saying that no primary took place that is the much they can do. And the document INEC issued which was a report was also part of documents we tendered in court to confirm our position that no primaries took place. INEC has no powers under the law, to tell a party who to present as a candidate.

Is that why you took your party to court?

Yes, I went to court; I have no apologies for doing that. No apologies at all.

But it’s unheard of that somebody took his party to court, particularly somebody at the level of national auditor of the party?

Yes, because I was ignored, I was maltreated, I was humiliated. If I’m at that height in the party, at least, there should be modicum of respect. You see, I keep telling people, it’s not about me, it’s not about anybody, it’s about a process. It’s is about institutionalising an illegality. It is about ignoring impunity. And I said no, I will not accept it. Things must be done right. I keep saying that it’s not cast in iron that I must be a governor, there was no guarantee I would have won that primary because I’m not God. I’ve always said the power belongs to God and He gives to who he pleases at his own time. The conditions are only exclusive to God, so it may not be in the God’s calculation or calendar that I’ll be the candidate. It may also be in God’s plan that I’ll be the candidate. I am not a joiner in APC, I am a founder, I’m a founding member of APC, I’ve made sacrifices, we are among those who were blackmailed in the South-East for bringing APC and then you just come all of a sudden, release guidelines, ask me to participate; and I willingly came, bought forms, obeyed all the rules, and all of a sudden you take me for granted. I said No, I will not accept it. So, I had to take the party to court.

How did the party feel knowing that you took them to court?

The party can feel anyhow! Its individuals that make up the party, it’s like a church; No building is a church it’s the people that come into the church. So, it is we members of the party that make up the party. If those at the leadership level decide to take things for granted and humiliate everybody, I will not accept that. So, I have to go to court to seek redress and I’m happy by the grace of God that the court agreed with me.

Now that you’ve got judgment, what lesson can the party learn from this?

The party should learn a lesson, it’s not only limited to our party, every party should learn a lesson; the political class should learn a lesson. If you set rules, obey your rules, the guideline for the primary was issued by the party and we’re only expected to obey the rules as enumerated in the guidelines.

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The court said you should be paid back the N22.5 million you paid for forms, have you been paid?

No, I’m sure the lawyers have written the party, I have not gotten the money yet. But I’ll get it.

But are you sure the party will obey the court order?

It’s about the party now, if they don’t obey the court order, the court process will still continue.

You talked about impunity; a lot of people particularly those in APC continue to talk about impunity and absence of internal party democracy; is it peculiar to APC?

No it’s not, it’s about the political class, and that’s why I keep saying that it’s not about an individual, it’s not about George Moughalu, I am a victim today, it could be Nwachukwu tomorrow, it could be Mustafa next tomorrow, it could be Adeyemi the day after. So it could be anybody, what we are saying is that the process must be done right because that is how you allow for internal party democracy to grow, if you allow the people to decide who their candidates are. This is the first step, because after you finish the primaries, the main election will follow as a secondary aspect of it. So, if we can’t manage this first one, what is the guarantee that we’ll manage the next one? And at the slightest opportunity, we blame INEC.

At a point, you were warning your party not to let what happened in Zamfara happen in Anambra; what really happened in Zamfara?

What happened in Zamfara State was the issue of not doing the primary right. And the court said we didn’t do the primary right, therefore, the opposition took all the winnings we had. Don’t forget that APC won all the seats, House of Assembly, House of Reps, Senate and governor and by one single judgement, we lost all and they gave it to the person who came second, why do we have to take that risk?

Away from the political side to business, NIWA is in charge of waterways transportation. Can you talk us through what has happened in the water transportation system in the last two years?

Alright, let me begin first by thanking God Almighty, who, by His grace provided me this opportunity to serve, and thank the president, the Senate for approving and both ministers for the recommendation that I should be appointed MD of NIWA. When I came into NIWA, I made one major observation. If you look at my first press conference, I said that the biggest challenge I consider in NIWA is that it was underreported, people did not know NIWA, what it stands for and people didn’t know our responsibility, people didn’t even know their obligations to NIWA; so, I set that as an agenda. Let me also use this platform to thank the media, because we received all the support, they encouraged us.

They supported us to bring NIWA to public domain, so I’m very grateful to the media. Having said that, so far so good, despite all the challenges, we’re doing our best.if you listen to most of my interviews before now, I’ve always said that in developed economies, in developed world, road transportation is not the major means of transportation especially when it has to do with bulk cargo, rather it is either by water or by rail. It is in rare instances that you use road because the roads are not designed to carry the weight we are carrying. In trying to explain this situation I try to draw an analogy; if for example 10 million containers are going to the southeast from Lagos because Lagos holds two major ports so if 10 million containers are going to the southeast, what it translates to is that 20 million trailers will be on the road, 10 million carrying the goods down and 10 million bringing back the empties.

But the roads are not designed to carry such, that’s why our infrastructure doesn’t last. Such weights are usually carried either by water or by rail, and that is why I’m particularly excited with emphasis government is laying today on developing our infrastructure, so that we can bring back the good old days when rail was a major means of transportation in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country blessed by God; this is a country that has over 10,000 kilometres of inland waterways where you can assess up to 28 states out of 36 by water. What that means is that if we have a very vibrant, viable inland waterways transportation system, it means that you can travel to about 20 states without using road or using the rail, so these are all potentials. Unfortunately as we speak, it’s only about 3000 kilometres that are all year round navigable, government is also concerned about this fact, and will have been receiving support. Government is also committed to ensure that more of these waterways are open, so that the waterways can be put into active use.

Can you tell us in specific terms the areas and states?

There are established trade centres in this country, you and I know that a lot of trading activities take place between the South-East, Lagos and overseas. So, you find that a good percentage, over 50percent of the containers that arrive in Lagos today end up in the southeast. So it goes to say that the Lagos-Onitsha axis is a very viable route for the movement of bulk cargo, therefore, that axis is of great importance to us as an agency supervising the inland waterways. The Port Harcourt-Onitsha axis is also very critical. The Warri-Onitsha Axis, the Onitsha-Lokoja axis is also very important and critical. The Lagos-Lokoja window is also very critical. And as we speak, the River port in Baru is 100percent completed, its world class, the river port in Onitsha is 100percent completed. A Riverport is going on in Lokoja and it’s about 60 to 65percent completed.

A River port is going on in Oguta, though it was abandoned for quite some time, we have achieved about 60percent But he was abandoned for a very long time, even before we came into office, but the Federal Government graciously has approved that work resumes in that port. As we speak now, a contractor is on site trying to fence out the port, a contractor is on site doing the basic buildings/ infrastructure within the port premises, so work is on-going there. As we speak the contract for the Lokoja River port was reviewed because there was a law, and then work was suspended. So, the contract was reviewed, the federal government graciously approved that review and the contractor is back on site so work is on-going, because these inland ports were designed to make sure that goods move hinterland without necessary congesting the major trade centres like Lagos, Onitsha and the likes. So, this port, when put into full use, will create an avenue, an opportunity for goods to move hinterland using those ports.

NIWA had an arrangement with the Nigerian Shippers Council and other agencies to ease traffic along the Lagos-Onitsha Inland waterways, how far has that been achieved?

When I took over, if there’s any assignment I gave to myself, it’s making Onitsha River port functional and I got the buy-in of my colleagues in transportation management, everybody shares the same sentiment. Our colleagues in sister agencies like NPA, NIMASA, shippers Council, CFRRN, all shared the same sentiment, looking at the potentials that is lying there. So we took cognizance of this fact and we started working. As we speak, what we initially did when nobody gave us a chance to succeed was to do a trial run between Onne and Onitsha; and by the grace of God, it worked, we moved consignment between these two points. Now, more efforts are being made we are doing everything possible to move cargo between Lagos and Onitsha which is the prime route by way of opening up the channels, the survey is on-going.

You may have noticed in the past, there’s collaboration, a sealink activity that is being driven by NIWA, the Nigerian Navy and Sealink consortium to move cargo within the hinterland. What we started initially immediately was to do a survey, because you can’t think of moving cargo, moving badges on waterways without having a clear survey of what the route is like. So that where there are shallow points, you open them up and make them easily accessible. As we speak, that survey is on-going.

But, what we have done as an agency is to engage the critical stakeholders, we have engaged the importers association, we have engaged the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, because one thing you must understand when it has to do with cargo is that the owner of the cargo has to say where the cargo will go and how the cargo will go. So you cannot tell an importer that he must move his cargo by water No, but we want to get them to have a buy-in and they have shown commitment, they have shown the desire to work with us. But you must understand the human reaction everybody will always expect something like, let government do it first and let’s see how it works.

So these are the details we are working out, getting the insurance to be part of the scheme because you can’t take people’s cargo and put them on water when they are not fully insured. The badges have to be river-worthy and properly insured, so that the goods can be secured. As we speak, some badging companies have been licenced to work with us and they have also shown commitment. So it’s a matter of getting everybody’s buy in so that we can do it because I know that the moment we achieve that we are good to go.

Your party’s national convention was fixed for next month in Abuja. Meanwhile, President Buhari has said he does not have a candidate and that even if he does he wouldn’t mention, do you have a candidate you support for the position of national chairman? Do you believe in the general opinion that power should go back to South East? And do you think those that have indicated interest are doing enough to get people from other parts of the country to buy into their political agenda?

The truth of the matter is that the President answered you the right way. It will be most unfair for him at this stage to say I support Mr. A or B because we are all his children, even those aspiring to be president are his children, and we all belong to the same political party. So, he has told you in all honesty his stand as a human being, he may have his preferences, but it is not in the interest of the party and the office he is occupying for him to come out now to say where his interest is.

With regards to the issue of South east presidency, there’s nothing wrong with it, I’ve said it time and time again. And I can boldly tell you that the South East, just like order zones, have enough human capacity, and enough persons. Every street in the South-East, just like every part of the country can generate a full federal cabinet. So, in that case, the issue of Presidential materials are not lacking. But like I’ve always said, power cannot be given to you; you have to work hard to get power. So, it is expected that those who are interested in running for the presidency should step out, reach out, and consult. As at today, we have a constitution that is guiding political operations in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and that constitution is very clear as to the fact that there is no independent candidacy.

Therefore, you must be a candidate of a political party. And you and I know truth be told, only two platforms today have the capacity and the potential to present a presidential candidate that is likely to win the election. And that is APC and PDP; that is not to say that other parties can’t come together and build a third force that is also possible. So the primary responsibility for me, if I’m to advise anybody who is aspiring, is to work very hard to see to what extent you can take over the political structures of a political party that has the capacity to present a candidate for the election, not to present to run, but to present a candidate to win. So the work is left for us politicians, those who aspire to be president to reach out as much as possible.

That we’re looking for a president of Igbo extraction also means that the man from Port Hacourt, Rivers State will vote; the man from Sokoto will vote, the man from Jigawa will vote, the man from Lagos, Sagamu will vote. So it’s an extensive work it’s not something you can wish into existence. The Igbo agenda, the South East agenda is also a welcome development, it will guarantee equity, fairness and justice in a polity like us, but then we also have to work for it to be achieved

Like the president, you have skilfully avoided the area of who you will support…

I can’t talk about who I will support now, it’s quite too early.

Are you vying for presidency?

No, I don’t have the capacity.

Are you comfortable that some people from other parts of the country are trying to deny the Igbos the opportunity of producing the president?

It’s not true. But bear in mind that power is not given, power is taken. There’s no place in the constitution today that says don’t contest, that it’s been zeroed to this point, there’s no place in the Constitution. Yes, we’ll make the argument, we will win the support of the people because even if you want to be a candidate, it’s the same people that will vote for you, first of all in the party primary before you become the party candidate, and then submit yourself to the test by Nigerians of all persuasions.

Check the number of registered voters in political parties; of all the parties put together they are not up to 30percent of the voting population, so what happens to the 70percent who are not party members? Are they not Nigerians, so it’s beyond the party, but you needed to have a platform, then you make yourself available. If for example Mr. A becomes a candidate of APC, he becomes our collective responsibility whether we like the person or not. In my own area, I’ll be marketing my APC candidate as the best that’ll happen to Nigeria and give justifiable reasons why it has to be him. The man who is an APC member too from Sokoto is doing the same thing, the man from APC from Lagos is doing the same thing, the man from APC from Calabar is doing the same thing. By the time we are doing the same thing, Nigerians will now buy into that our candidate; they’ll say he may be a good person, so let’s try him.

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