Presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), in the 2015 Presidential election, Martin Onovo, in this interview with Assistant Politics Editor, DANIEL KANU, speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s two years in office, describing it as disappointing. He also argues on why Ndigbo should be allowed to produce the next President in 2019, among other issues.
It appears that some of your predictions as regards the Buhari-led government in terms of non-performance are manifesting after two years in office. What is your reaction?
Well, you need not wait after you have seen the signs of the season to know that spring, or dry season is coming. It’s very clear that the government has consistently taken several wrong steps which have led the country to recession, historical division, and collapse of public morality and the total crisis that we are suffering now.
You have to realise that this government came to power in May 2015. When the government came to power, there was no recession. The government was in power as at June 2015 and there was no recession after one month in office. The government was in power for the third and fourth quarter of 2015 there was no recession. Then, by first quarter of 2016, we noticed a drop in our GDP, second quarter of 2016, we noticed another drop which now led us in the recession by having two consecutive drops in two quarters of our GDP. When your GDP drops consecutively by two quarters, that is recession. By the time Nigeria became officially in recession at the end of June 2016, this government had been one year in office. Don’t forget that in that very January of 2016, we had nicknamed that budget the budget of ruination and within six months after we branded it budget of ruination, the country was in recession and by the next two quarters, it was very clear to everybody that the government had ruined the economy of the country.
It is unfortunate. We don’t want to celebrate that what we predicted came through because we didn’t predict it for it to come through. The prediction was for the government to prevent it. So it all shows the indication of the institutional foolhardiness of the government that such a prediction was allowed to come through. The truth is that we are not happy that our prediction came through because we are Nigerians and we are suffering it together. Now, on the security side, we had warned the government to focus on fighting Boko Haram instead of focusing on propaganda but the government prefers to promote an elaborate propaganda machine, instead of defeating Boko Haram. In December 2015, the government claimed it had technically defeated Boko Haram. Now, some of us are still struggling to understand the difference between a defeat and a technical defeat. By December 2016, the government said it had taken ground zero, that it had effectively defeated Boko Haram but recently, we read a report of Boko Haram attacking a military base in Yobe state. Does that suggest that Boko Haram is defeated? The government claimed that the Boko Haram can only attack soft targets. Is military base a soft target? They not only overran the place but they burnt the base after they had overrun the place.
As a people, we have become very dishonest and because we have become very dishonest, we always try to justify our errors and our deviations and that had led us to this point. We must be very clear about what is happening and we must promote public integrity because you cannot analyze the failures of this government without relating it to a lack of integrity.
This is the unfortunate scenario that this government has led us into, where the economy is in recession, where crime is rising, where unemployment is rising and where the anti-corruption war is corrupt and selective. This is not what we want for our country. The prediction that we made was supposed to be a warning but unfortunately, we are witnessing a sad sore. You can see that the two years in office so far is quite disappointing. Go and check the pulse of an average Nigerian and you will see they are bitter.
But the government is justifying the harsh economic situation to the fall in oil price which of course is a key issue with global dimension. Do you disagree with this view?
I must tell you that there is no amount of money that is sufficient for a prodigal. The issue is very clear: was there a revenue drop? Yes. Was it anticipated? Yes. Is it so tragic? No. when Buhari was military Head of state in 1984, average crude oil price was less than 17 dollar per barrel. Total production was 1.2 million barrels per day, so compare it with today. You will find out that the government is getting more in production in terms of increased barrel. It is getting more than twice on price than we were getting in 1984 but we built the second Port Harcourt Refinery and others. So, there is no amount of money that is sufficient for a prodigal and you can see the prodigality in spending 3.6 billion in one year on the exclusive V.I.P Aso Rock clinic only to abandon it and go to London for medical treatment. That is an index of prodigality and there are many other indices of prodigality.
Edited mass media report indicate that the presidential fleet has eleven Presidential jets. Now all these jets are operated and maintained at great cost. That is waste or what do you call it? In addition to that, we are aware that in the 2016 budget about one billion was provided for feeding in the Presidency. When you divide that by 365 days that make one year, you will find out that they are spending close to 3 million a day, in food only. It is mind boggling, may be it is no longer food that they are eating. So we must continue to reinstate that no amount of money will be sufficient for this government because they will always have excuse.
You have advocated at various platforms that the Igbo should be allowed to produce the next President in 2019. What is your reason?
Democracy is government in line with the dictates of the majority, according to the rule of law. Now, the fundamental principle of democracy is representation. The need to represent the South East at the level of presidency is critical, if not, as Obasanjo said, you are planting the dangerous seed of marginalization, injustice and once you have injustice you create contention, you suspend peace and by suspending peace, you have suspended development. So it is the right thing to do and we need to respect our senior statesmen who with their knowledge and experience, confirmed that this is the right thing to do.
Obasanjo, Gowon and Babangida have agreed that it is the right thing to do. These are people that have represented the entire last fifty years of politics and governance in Nigeria and that is the experience they have collectively brought to come to this conclusion that in 2019 the President should come from the South East.
And if you look at it, by 2019, Nigeria will be 59 years old. Out of the 59 years, the North would have been in power for more than 43 years. Democracy forbids domination because democracy insists that even though minority may not have their way, their views must be respected.
So since democracy prohibits dominion, there has become a critical need to represent the South East at the level of the Presidency to create the national cohesion that is required for a critical synergy that will lead to accelerated national development.
But are you worried that even some people from the South East are kicking against the Igbo Presidency idea in 2019?
Of course, it is natural that such thing must happen depending on interest being represented. The truth is that there is no opinion that is universally acceptable to everybody, otherwise we won’t have multiplicity of religions because inside the religion we still have denominations. Look at Christianity for instance, everybody is supposed to be reading the same Bible but there are more than one million Christian denominations worldwide. There may be variations of opinion but the real issue here is democracy, what is it that the majority prefer? Of all the statesmen who originally were pushing for this Igbo Presidency, none is from the South East. So, you can’t say that they are being selfish or that they are being parochial. It is very clear that the overwhelming majority of Nigerians have come to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. And if we want to make progress, we should do that right thing that they have identified that: The President of Nigeria in 2019 should come from the South East. That will promote national unity and cohesion which no doubt, will accelerate development.