Nigeria needs collective efforts for development, says Ashafa
Senator Gbenga Ashafa represents Lagos East in the upper chamber of the National Assembly. He speaks on the state of the nation 57 years after independence and the clamour for restructuring. Niyi Bello (Head, Politics Desk) and Seye Olumide report
Nigeria at 57, how far has the country made it as an independent nation?
Nigeria has passed through a lot in 57 years. It’s first democratic government was cut down before it could take root and about nine military coups, which brought in military dictators, followed the 1966 military porch which was later followed by a bloody civil war that killed over a million people. It also witnessed many civil and militant agitations after that. It has been a terrible and traumatic experience but throughout the period, Nigeria and Nigerians remain resilient. We learnt to grow and also to develop our land as well. It has not been a total waste. In fact despite all the things that we went through, I can say we have not really dome badly as a nation but what we lack is sincere commitment to develop the country. This is where we need to eschew whatever differences, team up and join hands for the sake of the country. I say this because at a point the oil that was discovered made us lazy.
Agitation for restructuring of the federation culminating in some separatists campaigns and hate speeches took a new dimension in the last two years, what would you attribute as the causes and how can the trend be stemmed?
There is nothing really new about this. Agitations have always been part of the Nigerian history. Presently, we are seeing a resurgence of agitations for the actualisation of Biafra State and we have seen the threat issued to the Igbo residing in the northern region by Arewa youths and its withdrawal. However, I have tried not to get caught up in this mix for a while. Let me quickly state that I believe in a united Nigeria and I believe that we are stronger as a united entity in the comity of Nations as well. Now back to your question, I would like to say that one of the main reasons that the agitations for separation and restructuring have resonated more among a group of people is because there has been a lot of stress on the economy and that has affected people greatly. Nigeria is only just coming out of a recession and this means that people have experienced a lot of joblessness, lack of money, lack of food and increased insecurity. Basically all the necessary factors to get a people angry are there. Another reason is because some zones of the country, particularly the people in the South East, feel marginalised and some people have capitalised on these agitations to make a living for themselves and to make themselves larger than life. Being a student of history, I do not believe that Nnamdi Kanu has the mandate of majority of the people of the South-East, neither is he towing the right path to push his demands. If we go by the presentations and submissions of the South East caucus in the Upper Chamber and some of the deeply intellectual leaders of thought in the South East, It is clear that his agitation is not reflective of the mandate of the majority of people from that region.
Now, in providing solutions as you have requested, we must therefore address two critical issues, which are the issues of hunger and productivity on one hand and the issues of inclusion of all geo-political zones in the development and affairs of the country.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has started working hard to address these issues. As has been said, after the darkness comes the glorious dawn. What we have experienced in the past 2 years can be likened to darkness caused by years of decay, which led us into the recession, which we are now coming out from. We are not only coming out of the recession, we are coming out of it with a diversified economy, a more entrepreneurial population, lesser dependence on crude oil, a more informed people, a more solid foundation for our economy and the institutions of state. No one person can claim the monopoly of power in the current administration. We are making haste slowly; we are coming out a better country. Every good thing in life takes time and sacrifice. Nigerians would be the better for it eventually.
Secondly, on the issue of marginalisation and how to become an all-inclusive country, I believe that we must listen to the legitimate grievances of all aggrieved groups. The National Assembly is the right place to go to with these agitations and we are ready to amplify the grievances of our constituents. It is however clear that while Nigeria’s unity is sacrosanct, its however not news that the National Assembly has started a process of Constitutional Amendments. What I think the clamour should be about is ensuring that amendments are made to the Nigerian Constitution as it is today. I am certain that if we address the issue of the legislative lists first, most of the demands for restructuring would have been settled because a lot of power would have been yielded by the centre to the states and local councils. This way, the people would know that they have to take more responsibility for themselves as against looking up to the Federal Capital for monthly allocations.
Your party, the APC seems to have lost the goodwill that endeared it to Nigerians in 2015 because of the present state of the economy and hardship, do you think it can win the next presidential election?
While I do not agree with you that the APC has lost its goodwill among the people, I think I have answered this pretty much, and the recent economic reports have answered you as well. Nigeria is already coming out of the recession that made all Nigerians uncomfortable. The pace is slow, but it is steady. Sometimes leaders have to take the tougher decisions for the greater good of all and this has been the approach of President Muhamadu Buhari in the last two years. I believe that the reasons why some Nigerians might have lost their patience with the APC government is because of the economic challenges. I believe that in no time, the effects of this exit from the recession would be felt in the pockets and meal table of all Nigerians. Then I am sure that even you would commend the popularity and dexterity of this administration.
Nigeria’s road infrastructure collapsed in the absence of an effective railway system, as a Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transportation, how far has the senate gone to revive the rail sector?
Thank you for this question Seye, you are quite right that the road infrastructure in Nigeria over the years has collapsed mainly because they have had to bear most of the burden that all the modes of transportation ought to share. Since the decline of the Nigerian Railways sometime in the early 90’s up till recently, haulage of goods have been done principally by road. The roads have carried the weights of cargos that they are not built for. In more developed climes of the world, haulage of goods by road for a long distance as we see in Nigeria, is greatly discouraged. However, change has come to the sector already but like every other thing, it would take some time for every nook and cranny of this country to see the work. One of the first things we did as a committee was to focus on the legislation creating the Nigerian Railway Corporation by repealing and enacting the Nigerian Railway Authority Bill 2016, which restructures the rail sector in Nigeria. It creates a legal backing for opening the sector to private and state participation in the industry. Furthermore, we have focused on ensuring that adequate provisions are made for railway projects across the country, particularly the Lagos to Kano and Calabar to Lagos Railway modernisation projects across the country. We have also seen that by the time that these rail lines are handed over for use, we would also need the rolling stock that would run on them. Hence, we have already taken this into consideration and we are making sufficient budgetary allocations available in the budget to ensure that these contemporary rolling stocks, coaches and wagons, are delivered in good time.
Just a few weeks ago, we were in China on a ministerial delegation to go and inspect some of the coaches that are to be supplied to Nigeria before the end of the year and we were quite impressed with the quality of what we saw.
The Ministry of Transport and the Nigerian Railway Corporation have also identified some Chinese technical partners who have the necessary expertise to ensure that most of our railway projects are constructed and co-funded with the Nigerian government by the Chinese Exim bank to ensure that the projects are expedited.
Another aspect of our work towards revival and maintenance of the rail sector is the in-depth and painstaking oversights, which we conduct across rail installations across the country. This is to make sure that budgetary allocation and releases are used for what they are meant for and to ensure that Nigeria maximises the value of every naira spent. In August, myself and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt, Senator Shehu Sanni, conducted an oversight of the Lagos to Ibadan segment of the Lagos to Kano Railway Modernization Project and I can assure Nigerians that the work is going according to plan.
I must also commend President Muhamadu Buhari Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the leadership of the National Assembly for their commitment to the people of Nigeria towards ensuring that the transportation headaches of the present would soon become a thing of the past. The President has expressed his desire to ensure that every state capital in connected by rail known to all of us. Also, we must commend transportation officials and the competent Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation who are working so hard to ensure that this administration’s mandate for the rail sector become a reality.
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