By NBF News

Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta, is a two term  Senator representing Niger East Senatorial   District. In this interview with Vanguard, the Comrade Senator as he likes to be known expresses concern that the collapse of the education sector and unemployment is directly linked to the increasing insecurity in the country. He also blamed the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill on too many versions of the bill in circulation and expressed fears that the amnesty programme may fail if the problem of power is not addressed by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Excerpts:

By Inalegwu Shaibu
What is your legislative agenda for the people of Niger East Senatorial district?

We are grateful to God that we are still here representing Niger East senatorial district and in the last session, I was able to successfully lobby my colleagues in both chambers to get the law setting up the Hydro Electric Power Producing Development Commission passed and signed by the President.

By the grace of God, that bill for an act to establish the Commission, which was a popular bill was sponsored by me and almost everybody in the Senate  accepted it and before the end of last session, it was unequivocally passed leading to the president of this country assenting to the bill in August last year. By the grace of God, the Commission will be taking off any time from now with the headquarters in Minna.

So flowing from that, I am encouraged to continue from where we stopped. I have a bill ready for this session, it is an amendment bill really; on the Energy Commission of Nigeria. The amendment is to try to find alternative means of power supply for this country. The bill had gone through second reading and it was at the committee stage before the end of the last Senate. The bill is a provision for the amendment to the law establishing the Energy Commission of Nigeria and the amendments therein are such that by the grace of God, it will give more funds and more power to the commission.

This bill will help the Commission to serve as a catalyst in encouraging resource centres in our universities to go further in their research for alternative means of power supply using either wind, kinetic or solar energy and other means that are readily available. With this, there will be less pressure on the national grid.

I am determined to ensure that the amendment is done and passed into law, so that people in the rural areas will have more access to power supply. What is happening generally is that not up to 40 percent of Nigerians have access to electricity and that is not good for the country and for the economic growth of the country. I have one or two other bills before the Senate and very soon, I hope to lobby my colleagues so that these bills will go through the mandatory processes of passage because they will positively touch the lives of Nigerians.

The Commission is very important, seeing that there are three hydro dams located in Niger State with capacity to produce about 1, 950 megawatts of electricity. Unfortunately, because of lack of maintenance and so many things, they cannot all together put up 800 megawatts of electricity but with this Commission in place and funds provided, lots of things will happen.

Addressing unemployment
Unemployment is rife in the country despite interventions from people like you and government. Besides setting up of skill acquisition centres, what else can be done to address this problem?

As I told you earlier, when you acquire skills at my Skills Acquisition Centre, we give you the material to practice what you have acquired.

If you want to go into computer business for instance, you have one set of computer to yourself once you graduate so that you can be on your own. Anybody who wants to be a tailor, for instance, after you have graduated, you have a sewing machine to yourself and a small working capital. Anybody who wants to go into electrical installation will have small package for them to take off.

Like some of our women, who have gone into knitting, I give them knitting machines and many of them are now on their own. So, for you to be able to benefit from what you have acquired from my centre, I have to give you my own encouragement by giving you the materials. I know that it requires a lot of monitoring because many people after getting the materials sell them at the market at a give-away prices. So, we tell them why they need to benefit from this training, which is by using the materials they were given from the centre in such a way that they can become self-reliant.

So, this is what we are doing. But apart from that, I know that there are problems of unemployment across the country but what we try to do is to get people educated, encourage people to go to school. We try to assist students who have completed secondary schools but do not have means to support themselves in tertiary institutions. I normally take care of that because I know that by the time they graduate, they will become productive to themselves and the society.

But how can you talk about going to school when the infrastructure is not just there?

If we begin to compare the type of education I got with what is available now, it is actually unfortunate. The problem we are battling with now is population explosion. During my school days, the number of students in the university was such that they could be managed. But we can no longer manage even with the fact that we have many universities springing up. That is why we feel that we also need to look at all these things. Individuals like some of us who have been able to make it in life should look at the system the way it is now and see whether we can come in. Government cannot do all these alone.

The primary schools have collapsed. What I do in my area in my small way is to provide furniture for those people who are sitting on the floor to learn. Various levels of government are doing their best, but it may not be good enough because of the explosion in student enrollment. It is very important that we also come in and give the little assistance we can afford and the more we do that, it would have solved one problem out of so many that are confronting education today.

In fact, it is a very big challenge as far as education is concerned. The environment is not encouraging at all. But the problem is how do we go about it? People still have to learn and the economy is not growing the way it should. So it is a very big challenge, but we are going to do the little we can to assist in one way or the other.

The last Senate, of which you were a member, made a lot of promises on the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill(PIB) and at the end of the Sixth Session, the bill is still there in the National Assembly. Can you give us an insight into what really happened?

I want to say that we were all committed to the passage of the bill, unfortunately, there were some conflicts here and there. I do not want to place the blame on the doorstep of anybody. Maybe as a result of the Nigerian factor, we began to see different versions of the PIB, and as such, people got more confused. So what the relevant committee did was to ensure that the bill before the Senate was the right bill coming straight from the executive.

That has not been sorted out. We know that it is important because anything about petroleum is shrouded in secrecy. That is what we want to avoid now. We want to ensure accountability, transparency and we want to look at other areas. The bill has also touched on so many things including local content, the gas master plan and the gas-flaring problem which was not attended to for a very long time. We felt these things are very important.

Unemployment and exactly how the OICs are short-changing the authorities. We want to ensure that there is enough transparency and commitment and that Nigerians must have a say, must be part of the management at the various levels of oil production in this country. So, we have not actually shied away from the bill. One of the reasons why it has taken some time is because we need to be more thorough with the bill. By the grace of God, as we come into this session, the bill will be considered.

Passing the PIB bill
Don't you think that the delay at the Senate led to emergence of different versions of the PIB?

No it was not. The issue was that there were some interest groups that were trying to rush us into considering this bill. If we had taken that decision, it would have been disastrous for this country. The bill is a very voluminous document that requires the attention of different sections of the economy and the petroleum sector. It is not a bill that can be considered within two to three months.

We want to get it right this time around, as we are bringing so many other laws together into one document under the PIB. So many laws that have to do with the petroleum industry had become so haphazard that we feel there should be a complete and comprehensive document as law for the petroleum industry. So that is why we felt that we have to be thorough in passing the bill.

In the wake of Boko Haram, your state Niger has witnessed heavy incidences of insecurity if you look at the various bomb blast that have gone up in the state in recent times, how can the problem of insecurity be tackled in Nigeria?

First of all, Boko Haram has not claimed responsibilities for all the bomb attacks in Niger state. You are aware that the problems are so many once it comes to security problems in this country. We do not know where to start from. The problem of insecurity has to be tackled right from the root. You know that 70 percent of Nigerians are not gainfully employed.

This problem of unemployment is one that has brought insecurity to us as a nation. Even the agric sector that is supposed to assure us of food security has collapsed because not much attention is given to that sector. If we have a lot of encouragement in the agric sector, we could employ about 70 percent of Nigerians, but there is no encouragement from anywhere for us to go back to the land. We do not have enough industries for people to work in because of lack of power. The textile industry in Kaduna has packed up.

All the textile industries in Bompai, Kano, have packed up because there is no light. So people now become unemployed, what they do next is to look for other means of livelihood whether legally or illegally. If you go to the north-east, you will realise that the type of problem we had is daylight robbery on a daily basis. What has brought about that is the same problem of climatic change due to desert encroachment. People in that area who are farmers are thrown out of jobs.

So that is what has happened and that is why you see armed robbery all over the place in that area. I am not saying that that is what gave birth to Boko Haram. No, that's not it. If you look at Lake Chad, the volume of water there now is one-third of the original volume and many farmers rely on that Lake for dry-season farming.

The volume of water there is no longer enough for them to use for irrigation purposes. So the next thing is for them to leave that place and go to urban areas, and even look for squatter settlements; looking for even dirty jobs to do. They wait for anybody who is ready to employ them into dirty things and they take up arms.

Even the Boko Haram, one of the things they are talking about is that we have sent our children to school; they have come back from school with so many degrees but without any job to do.

They will begin to ask you: what is the essence of this western education if you do not have anything to do when you finish school? As far as they are concerned, it is Haram for you to go for western education. So if you look at it, the people employed for Boko Haram are just between 18 to 20 years of age and because they have not been able to get anything out of this western education, many of them have learnt the Koran by heart.

What they now do is to start learning how to assembly bombs. That is exactly what has happened now. And because the security people do not have the wherewithal, the right training to handle this matter, they have done it in such a way that they have further infuriated the Boko Haram people. So now we are at a point now that we do not know exactly where to go next.

Dialoguing with Boko Haram
Let's dialogue with them to know exactly what their problems are. We know their problems but they will feel a sense of belonging if you tell them to tell you exactly what their problems are. It is not like the IG who will go and say that your days are numbered when actually he did not have anything to deal with them. He did not have enough power to challenge the Boko Haram people.

Our borders are so porous in such a way that they even employ people from the neighbouring countries to be part of what is called Boko Haram today. Even from Somalia, people are infiltrating into the camp of Boko Haram. The whole problem is multifaceted in such a way that when you start touching one section without going to the other, there will be problem.

The father of the footballer, Mikel, that was kidnapped, one of the four of the suspects, was not a Nigerian. You can now see that actually the problem of porosity of our borders, unemployment and so many others are so interwoven that you hardly know exactly where you will start. Even the Niger Delta ex-militants, there is a very good programme for them.

They are now in South Africa, for skill acquisition programmes. But the problem you have now is that the population of South Africa is not more than 50 million, but they are generating about 47000 megawatts of electricity. So by the time they finish their training and they come back and do not have the kind of power that is available there, whatever skill they have acquired will be useless.

And look at us; we are still targeting 5000 megawatts by December 2011! We do not even have up to 3000 megawatts of electricity. The moment power is addressed; all these artisans will get something to do. Once they cannot get anything to do, they know how to use their knowledge in a devilish way to enter your house. So this is exactly what is happening. The problems are so many that you can hardly solve the problem of insecurity.

Look at our policemen, after you have shown them what to do, how much have they learnt? What up-to-date equipment do they have to be able to tackle this Boko Haram people?

When I passed through the police headquarters I laughed, you see the police standing with their guns; that is not what they are supposed to do. Bombs are not supposed to be active in that area. They do not even have the equipment to detect who is having a bomb or not.

So the issue here is that the problems are so many, particularly when you look at the main thing I have said, power. As long as we have power in place, it will take care of other things and jobs will come naturally. There are so many things that should be done to encourage employment so that these people with bad minds cannot think of devilish things and the moment we can do that, security will improve.

Tackling insecurity in Nigeria
With all these problems you have listed about security and unemployment; it seems we are in a hopeless situation?

We are not in a very hopeless situation. I am praying and I am beginning to see that it is a challenge and once we take it as a challenge, if there is patriotism and commitment that is the beginning of solving these problems. It is not difficult for us to take off from here.

We have a whole minister in charge of investment and the moment we are able to encourage small and medium-scale industry, that will be the springboard of us going into real economic development. If you go to Malaysia and India, they started from small industries and look at where they are today.

The moment we start from small industries and have power in place, there is hope. And the type of education we get has not been the type of education that people can be self reliant after graduating. Look at these OICs, they will tell you that you are a graduate, but you have not acquired the type of education they require in their industry. So they have been rejecting our children.

If they take you, they will still give you further training because you have not acquired the kind of training they need. So the whole thing is so much. We have to look at our curriculum too in the universities. Why are we not measuring up? We look at the environment in the university, you see people sitting by the window to receive lectures.

Where we have only about 30 people before, you have now more than 200 people. Sometimes if you are lucky, the lecturer will use a microphone, or he will just use his natural voice and people will not even get the lesson.

And of course the decay in our society, once you have enough money, you can always buy your degree. And at the end, what do you turnout? You get a graduate who cannot construct a simple sentence in English. They are all over the place now. So I am not saying that the situation is bad, we will get somewhere, but we must all remain committed.

Is that not the reason why people like you are in the Senate to help us correct the same problems you have highlighted?

I am in the Senate to help right the wrong and also to improve, but we also have our problems. Of course, section 88 of the Constitution has given us the right to do the oversight. Unfortunately for us, there are very little we can do, first of all we not in a position to allocate as much fund as we want to the education sector because they all come in an envelope from the president and you cannot exceed this envelope. Where we are lucky to exceed it, it will be very negligible. If you exceed this envelope and at the end the whole budget goes up, the President will not sign it into law. This is where the problem is. The National Assembly can do little. Apart from that, how much is allocated to education in the budget despite the fact we know that we are not doing well? How much is released at the end of the financial year?

And in the end what happened, very scandalous, you will hear ministries, department and agencies returning money to the treasury at the end of the year as unspent funds when there are projects that have not been attended to, why are there unspent money? It may be because this money does not even come to them until towards the end of the financial year and for them to hurry up to go through the process of procurement, the time may have elapsed. So we are doing our best, but the issue is how much percentage of money is released from the allocation for the implementation of projects in education. So this is where the problem is.

What is the essence of the budget then?
This is not a question for me to answer, it is for the President. But as I said, it will be a shame maybe on me or the government that up till now I have not seen a clean copy of 2011 budget.