Chief Martin Onovo, an engineer, is the 2015 presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP). He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on the recent protest against the government, President Muhammadu Buhari’s current vacation in the United Kingdom (UK) and other critical national issues.
How would you react to the recent nationwide protest against President Muhammadu administration? What would you say are the political implications of the protest?
Nigerians have a constitutional right to protest peacefully against bad governance if they wish. Many ethical intellectuals and political leaders have earlier concluded that this is the worst government since independence. His Excellency, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the former Executive Governor of old Kaduna State, called for protests against the Federal Government since September 2016. We in the National Conscience Party (NCP) have been protesting and protested in October 2016, against the false propaganda, mass deceit and very bad policies of this government.
The unpatriotic policies, actions and inactions of the government have resulted to serious insecurity with Boko Haram overrunning a military base in Sasawa Town in Yobe State and destroying the town this February. Herdsmen have continued with their terrorism and violent crimes have increased. Also, 1.56 million Nigerians lost their jobs in just one quarter (second quarter 2016) which translates to about six million jobs lost in one year at that rate. Power supply has declined from 4,500 MW in 2015 to about 2,300 MW this February. National unity forged over the last 56 years has been subverted by the nepotism, marginalisation and political exclusion agenda of the government.
The Constitution has been thrown to the dogs and court orders are routinely violated in the prevailing lawlessness. The Naira currently exchanges at N500/$ in the parallel market and inflation has hit 18.55% while the government remains very wasteful. With over N3 billion budgeted for the exclusive Aso Rock Clinic in the 2016 budget, 11 presidential jets, N1 billion for feeding for one year in the Presidency, N3.1 billion for the senseless ‘Change begins with me’ campaign and the C6 million (N3.6 billion) treatment of an ear infection, we can see the unpatriotic profligacy of this prodigal presidency.
The political implications are that Nigerians have realised the deceitful propaganda of the government and have rejected the government, its unpatriotic policies, wastefulness and deceit. That is why Nigerians protested and are still planning more protests.
The President has been on extended leave in the United Kingdom (UK), during which he would consult with his doctors abroad. What is your take on this development, bearing in mind the President’s pledge to curtail medical tourism?
We must pray for General Buhari. As is typical of this government, almost everything they propose is improper. To go on vacation to England is unpatriotic. To conceal his health issue is suspicious. To seek medical care in England is wasteful and very hypocritical when we consider the pledge to curtail medical tourism. Leadership is by example and not by hypocritical precepts. It was reported in a national newspaper that the treatment of the simple ear infection in England cost Nigeria six million pounds sterling (C6M). That amount can build a world class ‘Ear, Nose and Throat’ (ENT) specialist hospital in Nigeria. But, it was wasted for the treatment of a simple ear infection. This is after over N3 billion was budgeted for the existing Aso Rock Clinic in the 2016 budget!
How successful would you say the government has been in its plan to develop infrastructure, which it said would bring about massive growth of the nation’s economy?
There is no significant achievement of the government in infrastructural development. Project progress on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway road is very sluggish. Project progress on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway is very slow and progress on the second Niger Bridge is listless. No refinery has completed ‘Turn Around Maintenance’ (TAM). No new power generation project has been conceived and the existing key power generation stations have not had any major upgrades. Massive growth in the nation’s economy cannot be achieved with deceitful propaganda. To achieve massive growth, we must plan and implement strategic initiatives to boost domestic productivity.
President Buhari presented the 2017 budget proposal by middle of December. Do you see the lawmakers passing the budget by March ending so that its implication can start at the second quarter of the year?
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has blamed the current Nigerian economic recession on the inefficiency of the Federal Government. The presentation of the budget proposal in December, four months late from August when it should have been presented is another confirmation of the irredeemable inefficiency of this ‘Baba-go-slow’ government. Currently, the National Assembly is reviewing the budget and has proposed to complete its review and pass it in March.
The federal government plans to release N2 trillion promissory notes to clear debts owed local contractors. What is your take on this?
Local contractors need to be paid. Since the wastefulness and incompetence of the government has dissipated national resources, the government continued with its reckless and unpatriotic borrowing to run the country to a debt crisis and enslave our people to creditors. We must prudently manage what we have. No amount of resources is adequate for a prodigal government.
The IMF and the World Bank predicted a growth rate of between 0.8 % and 1 % for Nigeria in 2017. What is your take on this?
We must first review the basis and the details of their predictions before we can agree with them. But, we must not emphasise technical economic growth. Instead, we must emphasise security, employment generation, economic deflation and improvements in our human development index (HDI).
What is your view on the ban on importation of certain essential commodities, and the clamp down on importation through the land borders?
Essential commodities should not be banned because they are essential. The alternative to the stone-age economic response of the government may be a strategic and comprehensive protectionist policy.
Some published estimates show that over 50% of Forex demand in Nigeria is for the importation of petroleum products. Simply restoring the domestic refining capacity of our existing refineries will save that amount of Forex and reduce the pressure on the Naira. With additional strategic and comprehensive economic initiatives, the Naira can be returned to closer to N100/$ within two years.
How do you see the recent announcement that the government has started to pay the N5,000 monthly stipends to the poorest of the poor?
We see it as senseless, corrupt and deceitful. We do not know anyone that has been paid. The federal government owes its workers and pensioners in many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). It also owes very many contractors. The budgeted sum for this senseless programme can be applied to paying salary arrears, paying contractors or boosting one critical sector of the economy.
With the recent defection of ex-Gov Orji Uzor Kalu, Ex-Senate President Ken Nnamani, Chief Ifeanyi Uba, and many others to the All Progressives Congress (APC), would say you say the South East politics come 2019 will not be an APC affair?
All Nigerians, excluding the unreasonable, the complacent, the compromised and ‘Any government in power’ politicians have rejected the APC which is a sinking ship. The APC has been unable to crush Boko Haram after 20 months. It has been unable to check the terrorism of herdsmen. It has ruined the Nigerian economy and it has promoted corruption by APC supporters. We remember how the fine against a telecoms company was corruptly reduced. We hear that the Presidential Committee on the North-East cannot account for N2 billion. There are also very credible allegations that APC chieftains are round-tripping Forex.
How do you see the recent call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for an Igbo President in 2019?
Former President Obasanjo is the most experienced politician and leader of all politicians in Nigeria. As a former military Head of State and a two-time civilian president, he is clearly very knowledgeable in national matters. It is clear that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians at every level believe in rotation of power as a principle to promote cohesion. Former President Obasanjo used the same rotation principle to justify the call for a Yelwa Governor in Ogun State. This principle of rotation is applied appropriately even in my local government area. Democracy promotes representation and forbids domination. It is very important that the South-East, like all other zones, is represented at the Presidency to stop the marginalisation of the South-East.
To further confirm the exceptional political insight of former President Obasanjo, it is very obvious that most Nigerians agree with his position. Such Nigerians include former Heads of State, General Yakubu Gowon and General Ibrahim Babangida who have expressed very similar opinions for the South-East to produce the President in 2019 to promote national unity. We also agree.
But, what is your plan towards the 2019 election? Will you like to take another shot at the plum position? Will you accept if your party decides to invite you to go for it?
How can you be asking me about 2019 in 2017? Am I God? Only God knows what will happen tomorrow. Do you know who will be alive by 2019? All our members are qualified. For the 2015 election, I contested the primaries and won. It is not a question of being asked or being invited. I contested before. We are committed to serving Nigeria in any capacity.
I am a member of the National Conscience Party (NCP), the oldest party in Nigeria today. We have the 10-CARE Programme as the manifesto of our party. We published the ‘Accelerated Development Agenda’ for Nigeria during the 2015 general election campaigns. We have a vision for a great Nigeria. ‘Man proposes, but God disposes.’ I am a slave of God.
One of the challenges facing the NCP is lack of financial muscle to carry out more successful electioneering campaigns. How is the party grappling with this challenge?
NCP is funded by members and supporters according to Nigerian laws. We do not have and do not use slush funds. The real challenge is not the lack of funds for NCP, but the lawless application of slush funds by the parties in power. If all Nigerian parties can be made to comply with Nigerian criminal laws and the Electoral Act too, the political contest will be more democratic. The Electoral Act provided for election finance limits.
N1 billion is the maximum allowed by law for presidential elections. But, the ruling parties criminally loot public funds and apply them lawlessly to the elections with impunity while INEC corruptly ‘sees no evil’. The same rulers in governments that are unable to pay salaries have hundreds of billions of Naira for elections.
A cross section of Nigerians believes that the NCP is a South West affair, and that the party is far from being a national party. How would you react to this assertion?
This is outrageous. The NCP is the oldest party in Nigeria today – founded since 1994. The NCP is a national party with very viable chapters in all the 36 states of Nigeria and Abuja. These state chapters are overseen by zonal executive committees in all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. As at the 2015 general elections, we had a National Chairman from the North West, a presidential candidate from the South East and Vice Presidential candidate from the North West. The founding members of NCP in 1994, led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAM, SAN, were from all parts of Nigeria. The National Conscience Party (NCP) is a truly national party.
Would you say your party is doing enough to make impact during the Lagos Council election which the state’s electoral agency said may hold in the second quarter of this year?
We got a court judgment against the Lagos State government on the local government elections. It is important that all true patriots insist on the Rule of Law against the stone-age lawlessness of the APC. For the NCP to make any impact, the elections must be free and fair. As long as elections are lawless and fraudulent, only criminals will win.
@Independent, Sunday February 12, 2017