Usani Uguru Usani, the minister of Niger Delta ministry, has said that the current economic crunch, notwithstanding, Nigerians would have been crawling to eat from the waste bins, if the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had continued in office.
With Vice President Osinbajo’s recent visit to the Niger Delta region, will it be appropriate to say government is now offering an olive branch to the region to end the hostilities there?
I don’t know if I can properly construe what you mean by olive branch, but from the beginning, everybody in government, including the President have always appealed for calm because the people of the Niger Delta are Nigerians and they have a right to be listened to. But there has to be a discussion for them to be a listened to, so it is not to say finally government is doing something because that will suggest that initially there was no willingness.
But that has been the allegations, that government is not willing to tackle the issues of the Niger Delta?
Thank God you said allegations, but we know that all of us have been making efforts at different levels in different directions. You saw that just after Mr. Vice President’s visit, there was another attack. So if the Vice President’s visit suggested that government was now giving adequate attention, what then is your basis for that sudden attack once again? So, his visit is seen as a continuous proportion of government willingness to meaningfully engage and listen to the people. So let the people appreciate this and also convey their feelings appropriately instead of through destruction.
What were the key projects your ministry undertook in 2016?
For us, every project is key. For those that are ongoing, even if you put the whole money appropriated to them in this budget, you will not succeed in completing the projects because of the way they were handled earlier. But even at that, there are some projects that are considered worthy of answering to the needs and immediate demands of the rural populace. For instance, school infrastructure, health infrastructure and others are in our current procurement which definitely would be concluded before the end of the budget year within the limits of our budgetary releases.
So what is the focus of the ministry in 2017 and what is the state of the controversial east-west road?
The east-west road is not controversial. In my view the attention given to the east-west road is an outcome of the ineptitude associated with it as a project. If the project had been completed within the time of construction allocated to it, it wouldn’t appear controversial. But to find one project taking more than one decade to complete is actually worrisome and that makes it appear controversial. Well, we are committed to the completion of the east- west road. Our commitment is very crucial and that is why it is listed among the five projects for China African Infrastructure Facility which is almost getting through in terms of negotiations and release.
I want to assure you that some sections have gone quite far in the project execution, other sections have not quite gone far, but because they are all handled by different contractors we apply resources to them as the budget provides for us. Now, the handicap about the east-west road is that, even if you give them the total amount budgeted for it, it would barely pay for the outstanding certificate, it will not complete the project. That is why we are grateful that government is trying to look for other sources of funding to be able to get it through.
Let’s talk about the amnesty programme and the concerns in some quarters that those trained have not been employed. Is that not another disaster waiting to happen?
When you talk about institution’s inability to engage or absorb the ex-militants that have been trained, obviously you know that is beyond the capacity of government because you cannot compel the private investor to engage labour beyond its requirement. This is why this government lays emphasis on critical infrastructure which is to ensure that spaces of private investments are expanded to be able to absorb the various skills that are gained from our various training programmes.
But tying it particularly to the amnesty programme, the first mode of the amnesty Programme is to pay to persuade the beneficiaries against violence that has been the primary thing. And the training comes as a sustainable Programme towards final engagement. Talking about the amnesty Programme vis-a-vis youth restiveness, I felt that having gotten the amnesty Programme paying thousands of people from what we hear, about 30,000 people, if 30,000 people who are in the creeks creating tension are being paid, one would have thought that no youth would be found engaging in that unsavory vocation any more. So the amnesty Programme catering for the violent youths, so to say, unfortunately, is quite distant from the mandate of the ministry, which is intended to coordinate policies of development and has a functional segment in peace maintenance and security. That segment only expects us to advice government in this regard and this is why we have an internal security committee headed by a Commodore in the Navy. For those we train, we engage them, we give them money to engage in whatever they are trained to do, be it ICT and different vocations in the agricultural sector, like poultry, snail farming, fishery, and like GSM coupling and repairs. So we gave them various sums of money and some of them are giving us feedback. So there is a difference between what the amnesty Programme is set to do and the ministry’s mandate. While coordinating development, of course there has to be peace for development to take place and that is the only bearing we have on the issue of security. Otherwise, the various institutions of maintenance of peace and security are taking care of their roles while we are doing what we are supposed to do as ministry.
What programmes that affects the Niger Delta is your ministry collaborating with other ministries to execute?
Well, at present we are at a discussion with a group called St. George’s which will be training youths outside the country and we are doing that in collaboration with the Ministry of Youths and Sport and Budget and Planning. This programme is such that agencies outside have offered to train our youths, and as they set up their business concerns here in the country, those trained are engaged to work in those industries. So currently, they are working out modalities and visitations have been made to some of those countries. And the Minister of Youths and Sports informed me that the German Ambassador to Nigeria had confirmed to him the genuineness of that programme because Germany is involved as well, so is France and several other countries.
The other one is not necessarily with ministries but agencies, we are collaborating with the Governors on the Programme of the European Union Support Group on Water and Sanitation. We are partnering managers so to say, between the state governors and the EU. Only recently, three of the five states involved have paid their counterpart funding to the tune of N350 million and only recently I extracted commitment from the Akwa Ibom state government to pay up their own counterpart funding and he has given approval to pay up, because that is enabling them to provide water in different communities in these five states. Bayelsa paid up two weeks ago and Baylsa particularly showed interest because they are looking at expanding the Programme and are appealing to the team to expand and they are willing to pay more to enable them provide water for their indigenes.
Some Nigerians are saying the APC administration promised change but it’s giving them hardship, how do react to that?
You can be sure that I belong to a political party that promised change which has installed the government and that party has a responsibility to talk about the nature of change demanded. I can tell you that as a member of the party and a functionary in government, whoever says they are not being given the change promised has made a mistake. Sometimes you never know what you have until you lose it. If we had not taken the reins of government, by now Nigerians would have been seen crawling to feed from waste bins, you may not understand, but that is the reality.
The change we promised is that we will no longer depend on oil again, and presently, diversification is taking place. You have seen Lake Rice flooding the market in December that means tending towards food security and agriculture also as a foreign income earner. The change we promised is to see a government functionary being probed and probably prosecuted which hitherto was not the case. The change we promised is, as Nigerians are experiencing hardship, people are also refunding to government what was derived from corrupt practices and you have heard the government say that the budget will be funded in part by these funds that are being refunded.
Also, when the President was campaigning as a candidate then, he said the economy, anti-corruption and security were going to be his focus. If it doesn’t mean change, to experience that today you can hold league matches in Maiduguri and people will enter the stadium and watch, then, what else can change be? That, 14 local governments were taken as a territory of a sect and now recovered as a sovereign part of a country, is not change? Even if it is only one of the Chibok girls that was rescued, it means an attempt has been made and is yielding results. But you hear many people tell you ‘stop complaining, give us this or that.’ There are consolations to that kind of demand, nobody enjoys hardship, but I tell you that, ‘the change begins with us’ is functioning in government. As ministers, find out how we fare. A lot of us do not have official cars; a lot of us are managing to pay our rents. A lot of us make official trips from our meager private earnings and so what else can change be when we are being exemplary in what we have preached? Nigeria I repeat is being exhumed from its economic grave and it can be nothing better in our present circumstance.
Nigerians should just be patient, wait and see, I can assure you that before 2019, things will begin to improve. In the petroleum sector, in the past, you have heard percentage increases in fuel and after a while scarcity will necessitate another increase because deregulation was being done in selective manner, but today, proper deregulation has taken place. In December, did you hear about any fuel scarcity? No. This is genuineness in policy and the outcome is price stability.
Are you confident that by 2019, corruption would have been eliminated?
I’m confident that we will fight it seriously and progressively too. But I’m not confident that it will be eliminated because it is in the blood of some people and until they die they will not stop. But we will keep fighting it.