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By Dickson Okafor
House of Representatives Chairman on Environment and Habitat, Obinna Chidoka is not happy with the state of infrastructure in the South East geo-political zone. He speaks on various issues.
What are you doing to address environmental issues across the country, notably, gully erosion in the South-East zone, coastal erosion in the Southwest/South south and desertification in the North?
Thank you for this sensitive question. Issues of the environment are very close to my heart and my committee is and will continue to work tirelessly to address this multifaceted issues. We have been working closely with the Ministry of Environment and other relevant agencies to bring environmental matters to the front burner. Recently, we were in the South-East zone on oversight visit to communities with severe gully erosion issues and in February, we shall be visiting Ogoni land and other geo-political zones to assess the state of environmental degradation in those areas. We are not relenting even though the task might be daunting, but we will keep highlighting these issues and drawing attention to these matters. Yes, as Chairman I am saddled with the responsibility of environment and habitat. For us, it is a holistic view of environmental issues we have all over the country. Some of them can be attributed to climate change where we have heavy or lack of rain fall which can lead to gully erosion or desertification and rising sea level.
It is interesting to note that as a committee, there are very serious issues to us and the Federal Government. All necessary legislations have been put in place to address these challenges, hence we are looking up North to have what we call, The “Great Green War Agency” (GGWA) which is saddled with addressing desertification in the 11 states in the North. Because it is established by the Act of parliament, the great green war will be funded by one per cent accruing from the Federation Account. In the Chad Basin, the lake has receded tremendously. Also down the South-East, there is gully erosion. So, the committee engaged in a tour of some states in the zone to have first-hand information of erosion and the issues of the Ecological Funds office which is established to address ecological issues and other issues as discretion of the president.
There are worse cases of erosion that needs urgent attention such as Nnanka, Oko/Ekwulobia in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State. Of course, the Ecological Fund office had approved fund for the first phase to take care of the menace in 2012. So, we are going to request for approval for the second phase because we are going to lose more lands and families will also lose homes if nothing is done before the next rainy season. To me, most areas in the South-East should be declared emergency disaster zones to address environmental issues there. Also, the rising sea level and land degradation in the South-south is another serious challenge.
Another challenge the people of South-East are facing is deplorable state of roads in the zone and the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in a recent statement described the state of road network in the area as worrisome; is there legislation in place to address road problem?
The deplorable condition of roads in the South-East has become a source of worry to every well-meaning citizen of the zone. Heavy downpour and flooding have cut off most of the roads. For example, the Onitsha/Enugu Expressway, Enugu/Port Harcourt and the Ideato/Orlu roads are not passable. The truth is, most of the roads are death traps and this is hampering business activities. I call on the government to declare a state of emergency also on these roads. Government should implement an emergency plan to fix all federal roads in the South-East. On the statement credited to the Vice President, the state of roads in the South-East is indeed, worrisome. No doubt this could be caused by climate change due to heavy downpour that might have washed away the roads. This could also be attributed to faulty road designs and sub-standard work, but whatever is responsible for this, the major roads in the zone are in a very bad shape and requires immediate and urgent attention. Like I said earlier, government should do something urgent about the Onitsha/Enugu road because people are losing their lives on daily bases.
The Federal Government has attributed its inability to fix these roads to lack of fiancé, what is your thought on how to stimulate the Nigerian economy currently in recession?
Government should embark on massive infrastructure development to re-inflate the economy. Indeed, it could be argued that the deplorable state of infrastructure across the country, notable in the South-East has hampered economic development of the country. We have crops rotting away in the farms because the farmers are unable to transport their harvest to the markets. Secondly, government needs to incentivize the industries, especially the manufacturing sector to improve their capacity. There should also be a refocus on the agricultural sector to encourage productivity. Most importantly, government should create an enabling environment for private capital to invest in the agric value chain, especially fertilizer production to boost productivity, cold storage, silos for preservation of grains to curb waste and feeder roads network for easy transportation of farm produce to the markets. For some of us, we notice a slowdown in the economy as far back as 2014; what we need the present government to do is to move fast and turn around the nation’s economy. Of course, you can attribute the cause to the downturn in the global output of energy and decline in crude oil production, the supply glut we have all over the world, hence this affected our oil revenue. Rapid fall of the Naira and the value of our currency is also worsened by the high exchange rate. Insurgency in the Northeast did not help matters at all. We have been looking at poor policies in the country starting from the import policies which have negative effect in the international trade and non availability of power supply. I think government needs to sit back and look for a way to stimulate the economy by involving the Federal Government that will provide certain legislation that will help revamp the economy. In the United States not too long ago (2008-2009), America went into serious recession and the legislature helped US out of recession through emergency stabilization Act and the Congress fast tracked it and approved the releases about $700million which helped America’s economy to stabilize. This are some of the suitable ways the executive and legislature can re-stimulate the economy.
You touched on the deplorable state of infrastructure in your answer to my question on the economy, but the government has argued that it needs to borrow about N30 billion to fix it and it would appear that the National
Assembly has not been cooperating?
It is not true that the National Assembly has not been cooperating with the government. The National Assembly has only asked for details on the borrowing plans and of course, the repayable plans which is usual.
Your bank for instance, will not lend you a kobo without details of how you intend to repay the loan. Most importantly, we need to exhaust all possible investment options. For instance, the government could consider the Public Private Partnership (PPP) option for development of infrastructure across the country. All they have to do is create the enabling environment to attract private capital to develop these infrastructure and the private capital gets its returns from tolling in the aspect of roads. As you are aware, most of the infrastructure development in the Asian Tiger countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam are being financed by private capital. The government does not have to fiancé all infrastructural works from its kitting. Nigeria just got out of debt burden and no Nigerian will want to see the country go back into debt again. The details must be clear to all parties for what the money is meant for and the government has to account for other receivables they have before we start to talk about borrowing such huge sum. What I don’t want the government to do is to take their inefficiency and pass on the burden unto Nigerians.
Nigerians want to know how government policies can translate into putting food on their table and cushion the effect of recession?
That is among the suggestions we have given so that government can act fast by injecting more funds into the system by regenerating the production capacity of Nigerians and have clear policies. No policy summersault so that the money can go into the pocket of Nigerians. By so doing, we will have home-grown spending and put more money into capacity production. Like I have always said concerning budget proposal on the input and output proposal, when you input, sanity goes into the budget and oversight, which is to ensure that when budget comes to the National Assembly, we see the input and output outcome. The outcome is for us, the legislature and the executive to ensure every kobo is spent accordingly. Lack of budget monitoring is the reason you see abandoned projects all over the place because the money was not well spent. If money is well spent and be where it ought to be, many Nigerians will have productivity capacity. Government needs to mobilize contractors to go back to site and workers laid off will be recalled, people will go into agriculture and many will be trained and retrained. We need to encourage people to go into social services, into the entertainment industry and tourism.
What do you think the legislature has not done to check the executive?
I think all over the world, the legislature is at the receiving end. If you do opinion sampling here even in the United States, you will discover that all the blame goes to the legislature whenever things go bad. But I believe a lot of Nigerians know that the executive is the arm of government that implements the budget and certain decision we arrive at. We are doing the best we can by formulating legislations that will help the executive perform its roles.
Therefore, there is a synergy between the two arms of government. Unfortunately, sometimes you may have an executive that may not take the legislature into confidence and that becomes an issue.
Anambra State governorship election is the next to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); considering that elections by the present umpire had been characterized by violence and regularities, do you have confidence in the present INEC?
That is a very critical question. From what we have seen so far, I can tell you that I’m not satisfied with the complicity of INEC in the elections it had so far conducted within the past six months.
It is not a cheering one that everybody will be proud of hence, I want to believe that the INEC chairman has good intentions, but from what we have seen, it does not translate to free, fair and credible elections. As somebody rightly said, Anambra is next. I want to assure you that such game and manipulation that took place in other states won’t happen in Anambra. We are on our toes with wide eyes and we will watch out. I want to use this medium to urge Mr. President who promised us a corrupt-free country and free fair credible election to deliver on his promise.
How do you hope to achieve victory when PDP is factionalized?
It is no longer news that my party, the PDP has internal issues with regards to the leadership tussle. As the saying goes, a house divided against itself will not stand. So, the division in PDP runs down to the state and local government. However, in a recent court judgment, it became clear that Ahmed Makarfi is the authentic National Chairman of PDP as ruled by the court. It is beginning to reflect on the states and local governments. So with time, we will overcome this challenge. I know some people are talking of forming a new party, but I can tell you that it is human when things did not go your way, you agitate. Once we reconcile, I can assure you nobody or group will stop PDP from winning Anambra State next year.