• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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‘Nigerians must give Tinubu’s policies time to mature before assessing them’

‘Nigerians must give Tinubu’s policies time to mature before assessing them’

Kenneth Emeka Eze is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and represents Ebonyi Central Senatorial District. He is the chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation. In this interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke on the activities of his committee, the state of the economy, the contention over constituency projects, among other issues.

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The Senate Committee on Information is one of the critical committees with enormous responsibilities, what are the major challenges facing the committee?

We don’t have any challenge in the Committee. The committee has been there in the National Assembly, it is not a new committee. There are laid down rules and patterns upon which the committee functions. Part of our work is an oversight function, and that is part of the work we are doing. As you can see, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) came for their budget defence. After the defence, we do a follow-up. So, there is no basic challenge confronting the committee.

Your oversight is mainly on the media industry, how would you describe the state of the industry and what is your vision for it?

Yes, the media industry is under our oversight jurisdiction as a committee, especially the broadcast media. Definitely, they cannot be different from whatever is happening to other establishments or industries within the environment they operate. This is Nigeria and everybody knows that the current economic downturn is not healthy or friendly to the country and it’s affecting all the components of the system, including the media industry. So, the same way it affects every other person is the same way it affects the media industry.

There is nothing particular about them; having said that however, they are still surviving and thriving. That’s the reason the NBC, despite these challenges, is well determined to migrate from analogue to digital. Presently, the media industry operates on analogue, especially those major media outfits. But with this digital switch-over, which is the trend and directive from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), every media practitioner should be digitalized and I think they are eager to make sure they comply with that directive.

Nigerians are worried that the nation’s economy is progressively nosediving. What is the way out of the ugly trend?

Yes, it’s a continuous thing; it didn’t just start today and it didn’t start with this administration. I see it as a fundamental problem that requires the cooperation of all Nigerians to determine and say that they want to change the status quo, which is the way things are being done. You can’t take it personal with this administration. At no point has the economy experienced any growth in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and in all indices you can use to access the growth of a nation. It has been a downward trend in progression.

The rate of decline may not matter much; what matters is; have we ever gotten it right? And it is the accumulation of the problem of the past that is being manifested. But I can assure you that the present administration is doing its best with the Renewed Hope Agenda to address all those nagging issues. I believe that given the time and with patience from Nigerians for the take-off of all the policies to be implemented, we might get it right.

The government has been telling Nigerians to be patient, but the much-talked-about cutting cost of governance has been a mirage. How do you reconcile this?

It depends on what you mean by cutting the cost of governance. There are things that are basic and statutory that you cannot jettison. So, I may not agree with you on that aspect of your view, unless you come with facts and evidence that there is high cost of governance. For me, these are basic necessities for the government to function, and fulfil its constitutional mandate. There are things that are basic and must be provided. So, you can’t avoid the cost because the government must run and do its duties.

Diversification of the nation’s sources of revenue has been difficult over the years; don’t you think that this government should do something radical to change this narrative?

Yes, the government is aware of that challenge, and the policies are tailored towards addressing it. But it doesn’t just happen like that; it has a gestation period, it takes time. We just passed the 2024 budget. The 2024 budget is tailored towards addressing those challenges, and we have not even started implementing it. So, we have to give the government time for the policy to run before we can assess it.

Assessing a government that is not up to a year in office is inappropriate. We have to give the government time to see how they can get it implemented; to see how their policies are addressing those issues before we can properly assess them.

Is it not strange to you that Nigeria is blessed with abundant oil deposits but ironically, we are importing the finished product?

The importation has been there; it didn’t start with this government. However, this government is on it to make a difference. That is why the first thing President Bola Tinubu did was to remove fuel subsidy. The removal of fuel subsidy was to discourage importation and encourage local production. NNPCL has made a proclamation that by April, Port Harcourt-refinery will start production.

That is part of the policy and I am aware that there is still hope with Dangote Refinery; they will also commence local production soon. When some of these refineries come on stream, it will discourage importation. It’s part of the policies I told you. So, there is hope that things will get better with this administration, and all Nigerians need to do is to be patient with them.

The cooperation of all Nigerians is needed. We should be patriotic; we need to support the government, we don’t need to sabotage it, because what some of you in the press do is to run down the government. Yes, you can criticise, but it should be done objectively so as to encourage the government and not to condemn them. For instance, if you look at the present economy, I can tell you that before the assumption of office of President, the government was in dire need of money to function.

The government was virtually borrowing money to pay salaries and take care of other recurrent expenditures. You could see that capitals were almost completely not available because there was no money. It is as a result of the policy that I understand that the government does not have enough money to run the three tiers of government. You can make inquiry and compare what was obtainable even in the local government in the last administration and where the government is in the current administration.

Compare the amount of money that was available to the three tiers of government and what is available now. The government can’t function because you make policies and there is no money to implement it. But now, I believe that with the policies of the government they can boast of money.

You can see that the projects that have been abandoned for years are taking off. So, there is life now in some of these major projects that were abandoned. For example, if you look at the FCT here, you can see projects going on day and night and the same thing is happening across the country. States now have money to go do both capital and recurrent projects. Most of the federal roads are now receiving attention and contractors are being mobilised to return to site and they have resumed their work.

Nnamdi Kanu, in a recent press interview, said that his release would return peace to the South East. As one of the opinion moulders from the region, what’s your take on this?

The case of Nnamdi Kanu is a judicial matter; it’s a legal issue and it’s already in court. So, I don’t think I want to comment on that now. It is also a security issue. So, it is left for the court to look at the merits and demerits of his submission. It’s not about refusing him bail.

There are laws there and I am comfortable that the matter is being handled legally. So, the laws are being considered and tested. The lawyers are also there. It therefore, behoves on them to follow the matter judiciously and if he deserves to be granted bail, the laws are there.

There is this belief that the Republican stance of the Igbos is the major reason they are not united, thereby resulting in their marginalisation and that they hardly respect their leaders, do you agree with this view about Ndigbo?

I may not understand what you mean by republican stance of the Igbos. We had leaders in the past, but it depends on the quality of leadership. And I do not believe in that assertion that we don’t have leaders; we have.

It’s what you make from the leader even as a journalist or can I say a citizen; it is what you give to your leader that you will get back. It’s like garbage in garbage out. If you do not accept the fact that you have a leader, and you do not accord him the respect that is required, how will he lead you? So, it’s a question of the leader and the led.

Don’t you think that what you are just saying is where the republican mentality comes in?

No, it’s not about republican mentality. It depends on education, the sensitisation and the awareness that we have. It starts from the households; the leadership that the father provides to the children is what they take outside. So, it is not an Igbo thing; it’s about the entire country.

It is about the psyche of Nigerians, it’s about patriotism. It’s about paying much attention to what divides us than what unites us and vice versa. We shout “one Nigeria,” but are we truly one? Until we begin to address that concept, that philosophy holistically, then it will trickle down to all aspects of the country. So, it is a general thing; I do not believe it is an Igbo thing.

Can you tell Nigerians what your committee has achieved in the last few months you have functioned as its chairman?

Yes, there are so many achievements recorded so far because we are up to our responsibilities as a committee. The committee has specific mandates, and we have been able to discharge those mandates to the letter.

We have given the necessary oversight to all the agencies under our committee. We have also sponsored bills for laws that will help them do their work better in fulfilment of their constitutional mandate. For instance, the National Broadcasting Commission Bill is on-going; it has passed the first reading.

The committee looked at the act and discovered that there are some loopholes that needed to be amended in order to empower them carry out their constitutional mandate effectively. The Press Council Repeal and Reenactment Bill is also on-going, it’s being sponsored by the committee. Also, we are working on National Orientation Agency Bill; it’s almost being presented for the first reading.

We are also engaging all the agencies as part of our oversight responsibility and ensuring that they are up and doing. So, we are partnering with them to ensure that they deliver on their mandate.

Some Nigerians are demanding that what the parliamentarians call constituency projects should be scrapped because it is now a conduit pipe for syphoning the nation’s meagre resources, do you agree with them?

Why should it be scrapped? I think it’s a creation of the law and an initiative of the leaders to ensure that projects get to every constituency in the country. It’s a way of helping to get these projects to the grassroots. Of course, the executive arm of government is responsible for executing the projects, but as a representative, you should be able to say that through your representation, you were able to bring this project to your people.

You are not even the one doing it; it is left for them to point out some projects they need that will still be implemented by agencies and parastatals. Members of the National Assembly are not contractors; they don’t execute projects. It is just for them to state the projects that will be sited in the budget as part of what they are attracting to their constituencies.

So, whoever that is saying that constituency projects should be abolished does not know its aims and objectives because these projects are taken to the people. It’s a way of bringing the government closer to the people. So, scrapping it is not directly affecting members of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

The projects are for the people. They are not personal projects, but the representatives ensure that such projects get to their people.

The executive arm of government might not be able to have a wider reach to all the constituencies, but you as a representative should be able to say this is what my constituents need; this is what is lacking, this is the area that my people need the attention of the Federal Government in terms of budget, and they will now suggest such projects as the people indicate according to their needs.