My Nickname ‘GQ’ Is A Benchmark For Male Fashion- Chidi Mokeme
What is your comment on the constitutional amendment going on in the country particularly on the issue of referendum?
It is a good development, since 1999, when we started using this constitution, the feelings of Nigerians is that the constitution was written by the military and it is not the people's constitution, therefore the clamour for the people's constitution. There are two issues, when a constitution has been promulgated into law, it has a guideline on how it would be amended. What the National Assembly is doing, going around the country is the normal thing to do. Whether you call it public hearing or any name, what matters is that it involved all Nigerians. All the various groups, be it religion, ethnic, human rights, socio-cultural and a host of others have the opportunity to express their views.
When you mention sovereign national conference, people get frightened, but the president has the constitutional power to defend the sovereignty of the country. Whatever we do, we should keep in line with the constitution, and this is the opportunity which Nigerians have to communicate to the National Assembly what they want. If we reject the provision of the constitution, we would run into anarchy. On the issue of referendum, it has to do with key issues, we want to know the position of the people on a particular subject matter and what the National Assembly is doing is that they are going from state to state and from one zone to the other to know the thinking of the people in the area that are peculiar to them. Whether they do it in form of referendum or not, I believe that they will follow the law and listen to Nigerians. The National Assembly is a different arm of government and the members are competent to do the job.
What is the President's view on all the ranging issues, be it state creation, single term tenure or devolution of powers?
The president is an individual and may have his personal view, most importantly; he is the head of government. Whatever is the interest of the president, the interest of the people matter most than any personal interest. The Alfa Belgore committee was set up to look at some of the areas that need amendment in the constitution. Different groups were brought to Abuja, at the end of the day they agreed on a number of issues that are not conclusive, we feel that before we go to the amendment of the constitution again, we must revisit the areas which Nigerians disagreed and send it to the National Assembly, the Belgore thing is not that we just get a big report and dump it on the National Assembly, no.
We put those things one by one in form of bills and send it to the National Assembly in the process of amending the constitution. It will also help the National Assembly in its task. If you ask me what are the interests of the president on the issue been canvassed, I would prefer to keep quiet now and allow Nigerians to speak, because the President take the last action in the process of law making. When the National Assembly finished their work, it will still come to the president for assent.
When I was the vice president, a committee was set up by the President that I was the chairman. We met all the political parties to discus at length and after our deliberations, we came up with a conclusion that there is always tension with the second term syndrome, may be if it is a single term tenure, we would reduce a lot of conflict in the polity. A governor will be focused if he knew that he has only a term to spend, unlike from day one they started fighting. We believe in that committee, probably, a single term could have solved the problem.
Based on this, I made that statement of a single tenure just to solve that problem of heating up the polity. From the reactions so far, Nigerians believe that we should retain the two term system.
That is why we decided to sanitise the electoral process and you will agree with me that we did that area well. Nigerian elections are now accepted as free and fair, we are now a model to other countries. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is being invited all over the world. We believe that if we are able to sanitise the electoral process, though the tension is there but it is better, we will get there. We are amending the constitution probably, at the end of the day; we may continue the double tenure or whatever Nigerians wants. So let me keep my view to myself until Nigerians decides.
You are from Bayelsa, one of the states that laid the golden egg for the nation. How would you resolve the boundary dispute between Bayelsa and River states without being partial?
When I became the president of this country, I swore to an oath to treat all Nigerians equally, though I am from Bayelsa by birth, but I lived all my life in Port Harcourt. I have more friends in Rivers State than I have in Balyesa. The question whether the president would be neutral or not does not arise. I will always do justice, no matter the circumstances. Sometimes, there are misconceptions about the whole thing and the public are misinformed. People are not fair to institution of government in this country. On the issue of boundary dispute between Bayelsa and Rivers states, the area is being owned by the Kalabari in River State and the Nembe of Balyesa State.
As a deputy governor of Balyesa State, we were to demarcate the boundary, but because of certain issues, we could not conclude that matter. Even before Balyesa was created, these two people fought on the disputed area. We are going to resolve it professionally and I have directed the relevant agencies of government to work on this. There are procedures to be followed. When they finish their work, they would present their report to the vice president. At that level, if there is disagreement between the two governors, then I can come in to resolve it.
The Fiscal and Revenue Mobilisation Commission has been trying, this is the commission that took the Federal Government to court on National Independent Power Projects (NIPPs) and it dragged on for many years. If a body can take the Federal Government to court and pursue it tenaciously, and somebody wakes up and say Mr. President would influence it, people are not just fair on this. Some of these institutions in this country are doing well; I will not do anything that will favour Bayelsa State at the expense of other state.
Why do you always have a frosty relationship with the legislature putting into cognizance that the PDP is in the majority in the National Assembly?
I don't think the relationship is frosty, though there may be disagreement on some principles; it is not as bad as you people are putting it. All over the world, there are always disagreement between the executive and the legislature; it is all part of democracy. It was a democracy that we copied, it cannot all be perfect. Even in a parliamentary system, where the prime minister is a member of parliament, you cannot run away from such conflict; that is the essence of representation.
The President can decide to do away with the ministers if feels so or otherwise, he has the relative control of his cabinet, but at the parliamentary level, if you are the Speaker or Senate President, you are just one among equal. They are the representatives of the people, so there will always be that tension. The executive may see things in different way, the Parliament may see it in another way, and it does not mean that we are boxing ourselves.
What about the issue of oil benchmark, you did not agree on a common price. The House of Representatives insisted on $80, the Senate is saying $78 while the executive insists on $75?
The executive that is proposing $75 based its proposal on econometric principle. The issue of benchmark, even on other commodity is not just arithmetic that oil will sell at $100 per barrel throughout the year. The benchmark is a key instrument you use to measure the economy of a nation.
Today, let assume that the oil price, if there is a way of knowing, will go above over $110 and you put your benchmark to certain level, the world economy will downgrade you, because you give a negative outlook because it shows that you are not planning to save. We have our challenges, for instance, America is the highest buyer of our oil, there is some sort of economy stagnation in Europe, therefore America is saying that let us look inward and see how we can provide energy needs within, they can decide to reduce importation from Nigeria, though the price is still okay, but we cannot be too sure. We must also be mindful because the price could drop.
The benchmark you paid on any commodity communicates to the world whether you are managing the economy properly or not and that you are thinking about tomorrow. It is in Nigeria that people say we should spend all the money you earn. The issue of benchmark is professionally done. There is wide consultation among all the stakeholders, including the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Central Bank, the Bankers' Committee among others. It is in the best interest of the country.
Are you not worried with the development in the ruling party concerning poor performance in recent elections in Imo, Edo and Ondo states?
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is doing wonderfully well. Any country where you have the presidential system, and you are practicing true democracy, you do not expect the ruling party to win all the states. In fact, it is dangerous for this country, if the PDP for example controls all the states, then it means there is no democracy. Even the challenges which we have, concerning the PDP primaries, in some states, we look at the primaries and immediately you sail through, it is almost automatic at election, that is not good for the country.
In the states you made reference to, the PDP worked very hard and we even got second position. With exception of Imo State, others we contested against the incumbent governors, he has his roots on the ground. Just like a sitting president, who has a day-to-day running of government, your activities market you because it is a daily affair, that is the situations we find ourselves. That of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko was a PDP man, for many years he was in the PDP. It was more or less a PDP family that was divided into two. I don't see that as a major challenge to the PDP.
It is just left with the PDP in that state to go back and put their house in order. In the next election, the PDP will come together and take over Ondo State. We would win, naturally immediately we put our house in order.
If the constitutional amendment eventually allows for two terms for the president and the governors, would you be contesting in 2015?
It is too early to ask a sitting president if he would contest in 2015. It is one of the reasons why we are advocating for this one single term tenure. If a president tells you that he is contesting, it will jeopardise a lot of things. If I say I am not contesting, it also will generate a lot of issues. If I say am not contesting, some of my cabinet members will just resign and go. All of them are qualified to contest for the position. We have four years tenure which is too short, if you look at the African scenario that is the shortest. In Africa, tenure varies from four to seven years. We operate four years which is the least because we copied our system from that of America. Four years is too short a time for someone to make an impact, immediately you are talking about election, you are heating up the polity. Before you know whether Mr. President is contesting or not, give me till 2014. Give me some time to make sure that my cabinet and I are satisfying Nigerians. This is not the time to start talking about whether the president would contest or not. I don't want to distract members of my cabinet.
Another January 1 is around the corner, should we expect another subsidy removal?
Frankly speaking, l was totally misunderstood in the statement l made. The students of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) submitted their report and they did analysis, they said that in Canada, they have 16 refineries, but in Nigeria we only have four. When l was responding, l said you cannot compare Nigeria with other countries. Immediately they made that statement l sent a note to my Chief Economic Adviser to tell me the ownership structure of those refineries in Canada. He sent a note to me that the 16 refineries in Canada are privately owned, but are managed under a regulation by the public sector.
I said that if Nigeria will get to that level of Canada, we have to deregulate. We made provision for oil subsidy in the 2013 budget and if we want to deregulate as you are speculating, we would not make such a provision.
All we are saying is that if we are to get to that level of Canada, the policy that exist in Canada which is completely private sector driven, if we want to adopt that in Nigeria, then deregulation will come. That was what brought about that statement.
All over the country, the fuel queues are back and we don't know why, can you tell us? Also, many individuals have been given refinery operating licences, but the refineries are nowhere to be found, what is happening?
I am supposed to ask you that question. Petroleum business is a big business. We gave licences out to people to build refineries but they are not forthcoming. Why? I should ask you because you people are journalists, go and investigate. Many years back, licences have been given to people before my administration, yet no response. I have not given any licence for refinery. You can only attract the private sector to come and build refineries like they did in Canada. Government cannot do it.
For those who have the licences to come and build the refinery, you must review the issue of subsidy. People want to invest where they can make profits and not where to determine what the government will pay. That is why they cannot build refineries. At every point there are certain policies that affect queue in our filling stations. We are very careful because the policy can affect other areas. They are businessmen, what if they manipulate the system to get more money? I am pleading with Nigerians to bear with us. I got the advance copy report from the committee last Friday, we would look into it, the payment