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Patrick Eholor, Edo-based social critic and human rights activist, is the founder of One Love Foundation. The foundation is into empowerment of the less-privileged and protection of the rights of the masses. In this interview with IDRIS UMAR MOMOH, he sets agenda for President Muhammadu Buhari in the next four years and other topical national issues.
What is your agenda for President Muhammadu Buhari as he has assumed office for another four years?
If you followed the activities of President Muhammadu Buhari when he was a military head of state with his second-in-command, the late Tunde Idiagbon, you would know that he meant well for the country. But today, if you cannot trust a messenger, can you trust his message? If the President is surrounded by people alleged to have been corrupt, just to borrow the word of the National Chairman of his party, Adams Oshiomhole, that once you defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) all your sins have been forgiven, how do we now believe in the transparency and integrity of his government? As a result of being an APC member, the anti-graft agencies like EFCC, ICPC do not file charges against politicians that defected to the party; they also fail to continue with the trial of those that defected to the party. If for example, a man like Adams Oshiomhole who staged-managed the commissioning of the non-functioning of the so-called ‘five-star hospital’ by the President four years after his first tenure as president allowed to walk freely without being questioned and tried by the anti- graft agencies, to me, it is a shame and it makes mockery of the widely publicised fight against corruption by the APC-led Federal Government. It is disheartening and height of pretence if the president does not know that he is surrounded by corrupt people. If he means well for the country, in the next four years, he must do the will of God and the people that give him the mandate and power to preside over them. He must also first realise that he is over 70 years of age and has contested for the position of president for four times before God finally answered his prayers; because of that he must first of all build more prisons to accommodate the corrupt Nigerians including those in the APC and not only those from the opposition parties, if he really wants to govern the country well.
He must also fulfil his promise to publish those that looted the country. He should have the political will to do so no matter whose ox is gored. He should remember that, he is not a Methuselah, and cannot live forever but we pray that God gives him good health to be able to achieve his mandate for the people of this country. He must stand firmly; have the courage to do all that he promised the people. He should know that the citizens are hungry, suffering, unemployment and poverty rates have astronomically increased in the midst of plenty. As he settled down to constitute his next cabinet, I appeal to him not to reappoint any of the immediate past ministers into his cabinet.
They all failed the country and the various states they represented especially those from the Niger Delta region. He should and must ensure that the next minister of Education must have an undertaken with Nigerians not to send any of his/her children to a private school or outside the country except public schools. He should ensure that henceforth, no minster, political or public office holder, should send their children to any other school except the public schools. That will make the government to be more committed to the adequate funding of public schools across the country. If their children are in the public schools they will not only provide adequate funding but they will also ensure that all the dilapidated public schools across the country are adequately fixed.
I also want to appeal to the president that if he really believes in the country and incorruptible as he claimed, he should stop going abroad for medical checkups and treatment. He should ensure that the next minister of Health should be one that is medically sound that can provide the needed medical treatment to the president. He should show a good example by attending the same public and private hospitals in the country instead of going abroad for medical treatment. His constant going abroad for medical treatment is a total lack of confidence in the country’s health sector.
The president’s continued medical treatment abroad means the so-called reforms in the health sector to address medical tourism is just a political gimmick. The president, in the next four years, should remember that we used to have the Nigerian Airways, which was our national air carrier but today that’s history. I will want the president to do everything possible to bring that back to the country. Today, one of the busiest airways in the world is Ethiopia Airway. Ethiopia is not as rich as Nigeria but I made bold to say that its major foreign earning comes from the airline business. We thank God that prominent Nigerians escaped death in the recent Ethiopia Airway near-mishap in Lagos.
The president should have that political will to bring back the Nigerian Airways. He must also endeavour to probe all the past managing directors of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDCC). The commission was meant to augment, complement our needs as the people of the region but those charged with the responsibilities of running the affairs of the commission have all enriched themselves with it. So, from the inception of the commission, I appeal to the president to probe all of its past managements from the inception to date. He should also try to strengthen the judiciary against some judges who allegedly sell justice to the highest bidders especially when it comes to election petition cases. Without strong and effective judiciary, the executive will also be weakened. But if the judiciary is strengthened there will be effective checks and balance in the government.
I want to draw the President’s attention to a rumour currently making the rounds that the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki was recently invited by EFCC on a petition boarding on fraud. It was alleged that the sum of N2billion came to the state from the Federal Government when he complained of security challenges in the state and he (the governor) only released N500million to the state coffers and pocketed the remaining N1.5 billion. I wonder what security problems he has? In that same month, he was alleged to have received about N600 million as part of his monthly security vote from the state government.
The entire money now amounted to N2 billion. What is he doing with N2 billion? Mr. President, if your government is going to succeed and genuinely and to stand tall among the famous world leaders, you must initiate an Executive Bill to eradicate security votes. The money collected by state governors, local government chairmen, among others should be used to develop the health and education sectors. If he does that, Nigerians will forever be grateful to him while in office and after office.
Now that the President has been sworn-in for the second term in office, the inauguration of the National Assembly and that of the State Houses of Assembly will take place Tuesday; what will be your message to the ninth National Assembly as well as the incoming members of the Edo State House of Assembly?
My message is very clear, those we voted for to represent us, their take home package monthly is too much, more than what the world leaders get. If a country cannot pay N18,000 or N30,000 minimum wage, why will a senator be receiving about N20 million for constituency projects. So, I want the President to look into it very well with a view to making legislation a part-time business so that they can really and truly represent us. On Edo State House of Assembly, the outgoing lawmakers are rubber stamp members. But we are happy, now that there seems to be a tusslebetween the predecessor and the successor. The tussle is a very genuine one and in the long run, the people are going to be the beneficiaries. I want to assure that the business of lawmaking after the fight is not going to be business as usual. The people are getting wiser and asking questions about governance in the state. Recently, by virtue of Freedom of Information Bill (FOI), I called on the state governor, Godwin Obasski to explain to me and the good people of Edo State why he has borrowed the sum of N100billion in three years whereas his successor left only about N45 billion debt for him to inherit. I also want to know if the borrowing was genuine or not.
What message do you have for Nigerians as President Buhari begins his second term in office?
Now the nation’s population is estimated to be about 200 million. I told you earlier that though President Muhammadu Buhari is claimed not to be corrupt, he surrounded himself by corrupt people. If you cannot trust a messenger you cannot trust his message too because the President is our messenger. We sent him to Aso Rock by our votes. To answer your question, I want to say that Nigerians are very versatile, brilliant and very hardworking. We have been celebrated by the United Nations for the brilliant wars we fought in Liberia, Congo and all the peace keeping missions across the globe. Nigerians need regular power supply to run their businesses, good schools and employment so that the gap between the rich and the poor will be narrowed. So that the son of a shoemaker can aspire to be governor of a state, member of House of Assembly, House of Representatives, senator, local government chairman, commissioner, among others while the daughter of a woman that sells ‘akara’ can also aspire to be a Supreme Court judge, chief judge of a state or a magistrate. He should try to narrow this gap because if he fails to narrow the gap and continues to rely on the status of the elite, then we still have a long way to go. The problem Nigeria has is elite status.