New Telegraph

February 23, 2024

Defending Fuel Subsidy Was A Mistake –Minority Leader

Since May 29, when President Bola Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy on petrol, Nigerians have suffered untold hardship due to the impact of that decision on the economy. However, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives , Hon Kingsley Chinda tells ONWUKA NZESHI that the decision was in order and opposing it now would be a mistake

There are insinuations in certain quarters that the Minority Caucus in the 10th House of Representatives is dormant. What is your opinion?

Well, it clearly depends on the angle you’re looking at it from. You know that the populace, the people want to hear when you chide any leader or leadership on it’s agenda, it will make news about the 10th assembly minority leadership. We sat down and looked at it critically and decided that the minority position should be one that’ll act not just as a watchdog, but also provide credible alternatives. Then it should be a group of people that are deep thinkers. Whatever we do, our interest should be the interest of Nigeria first and foremost, not a personal interest, not for purposes of popularity, not protecting personal interest.

So, we have also come up with what we called Minority Caucus Agenda, which is a guide to us on what kind of opposition we should present before the House. Ever since this government came on board, you understand that we have been grappling with economic issues, mainly survival for Nigerians with the removal of the fuel subsidy and the fiscal policy that came on board. If you also observed, on the floor of the parliament, we have not opposed most of the programmes that they offered. This is because most of these programmes are programmes that have to do with palliatives meant to cushion the effect of removal of fuel subsidy on Nigerians. We cannot be seen to be opposing those programmes.

But our focus has been on the implementation of those programmes. How well are they implemented?

What is the impact on Nigerians? Are we actually feeling the impact of the palliatives? Like I said on the floor of the House, these palliatives should actually palliate to a reasonable extent cushion the feelings of Nigerians. But for the removal of the fuel subsidy, we support it fully and wholly. If in the past we made that mistake of defending the beneficiaries of this fuel subsidy. it is because we felt that the people were actually getting benefits out of it. We are better taught now, we have learnt better, what the secrets, the deep rudiments of this fuel subsidy and we feel that it is not in the overall interest of Nigerians and we think that it should be removed.

But then whilst that is done, there must be something in place to cushion the effect and we pray that the long term programmes and plans that the government has told us that they are going to run, that they will be able to keep to it. It will not be business as usual. To answer your question clearly, we are providing credible opposition but it might be a little different from what you used to know, see or hear; it will not be noise without action, it will be opposition that will be effective and an opposition that will provide an alternative. At the end of the day, as politicians, what do we hope to achieve? Sincerely, we hope to build a better society, that is our ultimate goal.

The senate leadership recently, honoured the invitation of the House to work together. How will you rate the sectoral engagement ?

So far, the sectoral engagement has taken another turn. I was in the last assembly when we started sectoral engagements and sincerely we felt that the ministers were given 15. minutes of time on the floor of the parliament. So we started this, telling the leadership that that should not be the intention, that should not be the purpose, we should go deep in engaging whoever appears before parliament and then we must have some take home for Nigerians.

The engagement with the Service Chiefs, you saw how deep the questions were, how free people were allowed to clearly express themselves and because we know that is the security sector, it is a very delicate heart of our government and our society and that is why we had to go into an executive session for them to tell us truly what is happening because every week we have not less than two, three motions on security on the floor of the parliament. Every week, we observe one minute of silence for those who have been killed, who ordinarily would have been alive today. So, we are worried about it and that is why we had to take them on very deep issues which we cannot throw open to the public.

But I will tell you that it was very successful, some of the answers were satisfactory, the areas that we disagreed, we also made them understand that for this we don’t agree. Again as opposition, we also threw alter- natives at them and timelines were given for this to be achieved and I believe that if we continue with this kind of engagements, there will be a difference. The Service Chiefs will actually understand that Nigerians are interested in what is happening and the next time they will come to the House for further engagement, we expect them to tell us the report, as at the last time this was where we were and today that we are coming back, these are the improvements we have made.

So I will say that it was a very, very big success. It was completely different from what sectoral debate used to be.

One of the Service Chiefs recently did mention that they need about two million US dollars ( $2million) to buy one armored carrier. Don’t you think it is necessary for us to actually go into this local content which will be lesser?

That is why we went into an executive session with them. On that issue we discussed it in details and arrived at a decision that is in the interest of the country, I can assure you that. You may recall that we have a local military ware manufacturing company owned by the Nigeria Army and so I think that company will be empowered to do more. So these are some of the issues that led us into an executive session but a decision was arrived at and I believe that once that decision is implemented, to a very reasonable extent, even our cost outside, the quantum of money we export outside, some will be saved.

The Local Content Bill you sponsored appears to apply to virtually every sector of the economy. How would you want it to manifest in the Ajaokuta Steel project?

Let me start with the Ajaokuta Steel Company. Truly, it will be difficult for us to develop without developing the steel sector because every infrastructure depends heavily on steel. So as long as we continue to import steel it will be difficult to develop our local industries. Car manufacturing industries, several aspects of construction, will require steel and so attention should be given to that sector as much as attention will be given to power. Now back to the bill, I pray that that bill sees the light of day and quickly. This is because good things are always difficult to birth because there will be so much opposition and so much argument. I know that at a time, issues of tribe, religion and all that will come into play particularly if those that will be affected are big players in our economy.

If you look at the oil sector today, some of the oil companies are beginning to backtrack while the local content is bringing in our locals into that field. Nigerians are beginning to participate, they are beginning to be big players in the oil sector because of the Local Content Act. Now what we are saying in that bill is that the gains we have made in the oil sector, there is a need for us to start early to make the same gains in other sectors, ICT, Agriculture, construction and every facet of our economy. We need to encourage Nigerians to be big players in these sectors, not just to import both manpower, technology and even the hardware and software. If we say a percentage of this must be localized or ABC must be given to locals, it means that we will begin to develop our local capacity from day one.

Take the mining that is going on in some parts of Northern Nigeria today, if we develop the mining sector in this country, I am sure that very soon we will forget that we have oil because you have precious stones that are more valuable than oil. Some Nigerians don’t know that solid minerals could fetch the country more money than oil but they are all lying there. They are not organised and today they are being stolen. You have people coming from outside the country to illegally mine them, the cost is of no value to the country. So what are we trying to say? It is not just myself and 38 other members. I can tell you that more members are even interested in seeing that bill passed into law.

My prayer is that once it is passed and implementation starts, we will see massive development in the country. We will also see the issue of employment generation. The crisis we have today, the security is- sues and all that, are partly due to the fact that many people are unemployed, people are hungry, it is poverty that leads to some of these crises. But if you provide a proper avenue for you to have the opportunity of making money legitimately and so that is one of the things this bill will do for this country. However it will be open to public hearing where Nigerians will make their contributions, dissect it, cross the t’s and dot the i’s where necessary, I just pray that we fast tract it.

Recently, former President Goodluck Jonathan called for the scrapping of off cycle elections. ; what would be your take on that call?

There is already a bill that we are processing to unify the entire system, so I agree with former President Jonathan a hundred per cent . Even before he made that pronouncement, we were already drafting a bill. The off-cycle elections have not been helpful to us. If you look at it critically, it is just for the benefit of the individuals involved, not for the larger society. You have a situation where you begin to plan for election almost all year round and if we continue that way, Nigeria will continue to be in election in the four years because we expect we will have more off-cycle elections as elections are being nullified by the judiciary and fresh elections conducted.

In some other climes, they have elections being conducted the same day, same time Yesterday some people were sworn in, so if we go by that trend what it means is that their own election will come after ours that came in first. So I think that the proper thing for us to do is that both the legislature and the executive, at any point in time that you are sworn in, at the end of the tenure, everybody goes and an election is conducted. So I agree with President Jonathan that there is a need for us to look inwards, let’s look at the country first. I have said it from the beginning, let it be about the interest of the country, the interest of the Nigerian public.

Let us completely scrap off cycle elections, it is a four year term and at the end of the four years you go back for a fresh election whether you have stayed in office for one day, just as you have in the legislature. So, we are working on that bill.

Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that democracy is not working in Africa. Do you think Obasanjo is saying the right thing at this time?

I believe and I still say so until I have a stronger reason to change my opinion that the worst democracy is better than the best military government. All we need to do is to continue on what we are doing because if you look at our democracy many years back and what we had at the last election, you will see some improvements. Yes, the last election was not perfect but no doubt it is better than what we used to have. If we are sincere to ourselves, we will continue to improve on what we have now and we will get there. Firstly Nigerians must be properly educated about democracy. There are so many factors that work against our democracy. The level of illiteracy is still high, hunger is still high, take care of these two problems and see whether there won’t be an improvement.

Let people be more educated, more enlightened, more informed and reduce hunger to a bearable minimum where people will understand that your vote cannot be the equivalent of N5,000 or N10,000. We need to get to a point where people will also understand that when you are given a position of responsibility as an electoral officer, that you cannot compromise it because you are compromising the future of your children and of this country. Election should not be seen as a do or die thing. It must not be that I must win, if you don’t win today you can try again if actually you have something to offer to the people. So if we get to that stage I am sure that you will begin to understand that democracy is the best.

But I also would say that, democracy must not be western democracy, we can Nigerianize democracy, apply what is best for us in the circumstance but the people should decide who should lead, who should speak for them, who should serve them. Even in your home, you decide who you want to employ to go on errands for you at home, it is the same thing, the people should decide who should be their errand boy; so however you look democracy is still best for us for now.

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