BENIN-CITY – Dr Chris Ogiemwonyi is a guru in the oil industry where he spent 34 years in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, before joining politics. He was one of the governorship aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. In this interview, Ogiemwonyi breaks his silence on issues regarding the politics of Edo and Governor Godwin Obaseki.
He also speaks on some national issues, including alleged plot by some groups in the APC to remove the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, saying those calling for Odigie-Oyegun’s removal are actually angling for the head of President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
You have been out of the political scene since after the APC governorship primary in Edo which you participated in. How has it been?
Well, I had to go back to re-organize my business. The Edo primary of June 18 has come and gone and I have since moved back to my oil and gas consulting business. And if you talk about the primary, you saw that the sitting governor then wanted somebody and he worked for it. Secondly, looking at the various primaries within and outside Edo State, I can see the high level of opaqueness, that is, the more you look the less you see. There is a mind-set of who will win any of the primaries from the onset and that is why today people are clamouring for independent and I pray that our politics will evolve to that level so that people who have the capacity can come out as independent candidates and run for elections.
What do you say to Godwin Obaseki who eventually won the election?
It will be difficult to talk about the government that is barely two weeks old; the only thing one can say is to wish the governor goodluck and a good tenure. During my campaign, I discovered that youth unemployment is still very high; so Obaseki needs to work on that. And as you know we have no industries, we need to create jobs, invest in agriculture. The issue of education is very pertinent’, I have heard the opposition saying we have only five physics teachers, 10 chemistry teachers in Edo. I don’t know how true it is, but I want to say that the number of ‘Red Roofs Schools’ we have may not be enough; we must have qualified teachers so that pupils and students can do well. We believe that these are areas Obaseki will address and I have no doubt that he will do a good job, realizing his noble family background and the industry he is coming from. He is well read, he has the experience, so I believe he knows what to do.
What is your take on the seeming crisis in the APC and the call by some party members for the removal of the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun?Chris Ogiemwonyi
You will recall that when I joined the APC in Nov 20, 2014, I said two individuals made me to join the party: President Buhari and Chief John Oyegun because of their respective individual characters. Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a brilliant and principled public servant, is well read, an economist from the premier university who spent all his years in the public service. A man who at the age of 36 rose to the position of Permanent Secretary at the federal level, taking charge of key ministries. He challenged the money bag in the then Edo State and their collaborators in Abuja to become the first civilian governor. This is a man who could have clinched a key ministerial position in Gen Abacha’s government but instead opted out to become the NADECO Secretary in exile. For 16 years that PDP was in power, Oyegun was wooed and cajoled to join “the biggest party in Africa” but he refused to bulge and abandon his progressive position in partisan politics. So having Oyegun as the National Chairman of APC is a blessing.
I don’t know what Nigerians want; we have this ‘pull him down syndrome’. Who are the people calling for his removal? They are some over- ambitious APC chieftains; some of them are not well read. Oyegun is a quiet and amiable gentleman with capacity to work. The Nigeria media must not join this people in flying kites; some of them have resorted to all sorts of propaganda so that Mr President will take action against Chief Oyegun. We urge President Buhari and APC to be wary of these overzealous politicians that want to destroy the APC.
What they are doing today is not really Oyegun, rather they are throwing stones at Mr President and that is because, before they get to Mr President, they want to get Oyegun out of the way; they see him as a buffer for Mr President and ultimately for 2019. We are barely two years into the Buhari administration and they are already fighting ahead of 2019. Their desire is to discredit Oyegun so that their plot against Mr President can work; so it is not Oyegun, after all, they are fighting but President Buhari.
Pressure on Buhari to reshuffle cabinet
Nigerians are too much in a hurry, asking Mr President to remove a minister that has served less than 18 months is unfair. When I was Group Executive Director in the NNPC, I went for a meeting with some Algerians, little did I know that the Algerian minister that led the delegation had PhD in gas engineering and had been there for 12 years; he became an authority on gas but we don’t do that in Nigeria. You put a man in office and under one year people start fighting to remove him. To me, Mr President has a good team.
But my advice to him is to realign their portfolios. Today people are talking about many lawyers in his cabinet. What Mr President should do is to look for core professionals and move them to their related ministries, that is square pegs in square holes. People are speculating that immediate past Edo Governor Adams Oshiomhiole is coming in; he definitely can do well as Labour Minister considering the fact that he was a strong unionist as NLC President. People should be appointed in such a way that they can add value. Look at the two Ministers of Health being core medical personnel. So, Mr President can look inward and see how he can rejig and realign Ministers to ministries related to their fields of study.
Economic recession and way out
Truly, we are in recession caused by several factors: Poor leadership by the previous government, oil price drop, Nigeria’s over- dependence on foreign products, corruption, mono –economy (over dependency on oil and gas), the activities of militants and pipeline vandals, unstable monetary policies, unemployment. Corruption grew like an oak tree and we allowed it to grow.
Today, we import all kinds of things into the country, including tooth picks. Now, the question is, how do we come out of it? In short term, I recommend to Mr President that we should quickly resolve the Niger Delta issue. Recently, some Niger Delta leaders met with Mr President but I want to differ because I feel the governors should be the arrow heads of such meeting because they know the people. Secondly, what we need to do by way of moving our nation forward comprises the following:
Put in place strong institutions that will ensure proper implementation and interpretation of our laws, it must be mentioned that waste must be cut in government. Security vote must be reduced both at the federal and state levels; promote “made in Nigeria” goods; we should encourage new businesses by lowering our interest rates, tackle job creation through agriculture and solid mineral development. We must as a matter of urgency encourage all tiers of government to embark on road construction to ease transportation of goods and services. In the medium and long term, the railway sector should be developed.
Selling national assets
We hear people talk about selling of national assets and people are pointing at NLNG. I am completely opposed to the sale of our asset, there are alternatives. If you look at the NLNG model today is a 51% IOC and 49% Federal Government Joint Ventures. Instead of just selling my take is that government should go and borrow with good interest rates. Borrowing is not bad but it should be well utilized. This is where good leadership with clear vision comes in. And that is why we are lucky with President Buhari and his zero tolerance to corruption. With President Buhari we can borrow, and tie the funds to capital projects.
Buhari’s war on corruption
There is corruption everywhere, even the cook you send to the market, driver you send to buy fuel are all corrupt. We allowed it to grow to a cancerous stage; we just have to quickly strengthen the security agencies especially the EFCC. I have also heard that people are saying it is one-sided and only targeted at the opposition. Look at cases of the Judges, corruption has eaten into the very fabric of our nation. But the EFCC is not doing badly. If I have my ways, I will expand EFCC to be like a ministry and as such have EFCC czar in every state just like we have Commissioners of Police. We just have to expand it, the cases before the commission are too many. The judiciary again is not helping matters; I think there should be legislation where no case will exceed six months. And the EFFC boss, Mr Magu should be confirmed to immediately give him confidence.
Reforms in the NNPC
Once the leadership is properly placed, the tendency is that the company will run well. I must commend Mr President for appointing Dr Baru, as GMD. He is a fantastic Engineer, courageous and fearless, he went through the various sectors of NNPC and emerged unblemished. Many of the issue confronting the NNPC, like restructuring, the PIB, JV funding, with Baru, we can go to sleep, I see a better NNPC under him. For once, this is a round peg in round hole. I will urge government to support him and allow NNPC to run as a business outfit. The only issue we are yet to address now has to do with the refineries; government should also have the will to do a complete deregulation in the downstream; once we do that, the issue of corruption in the downstream could be eliminated. I also think that we should start having local refineries because if you see what we are doing, we take crude out and refine in some neighbouring countries and bring back refine products; we need to put in place modular refineries just as it is done in Niger Republic.