Hon San Ifeanyi Onuigbo represents Ikwunano/Umuahia north/south Federal constituency of Abia State. In this interview with Ruth Choji, the chairman, house committee on climate change states that, Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the danger of climate change. He said addressing economic challenges is a collective responsibility.
How worried are you with the state of the Nigerian Economy?
I am worried because as a citizen of Nigeria, my prayer is for our country to continue to grow economically, militarily and politically, so as to be able to take the rightful pride of place amongst other nations because when it comes to the comity of nations, Nigeria has one of the highest populations. As a matter of fact, Nigeria has almost always excelled in many endeavors as shown by our children who go abroad to excel and the military who excel in foreign mission. When there are things that have the potentials to destabilize our system.
Did it ever occur to you that we could ever get to the state of recession as a country?
I do not know of any nation that did not experience such challenges. Challenges are associated with growth. Neccesacity is the mother of invention. We refer to America as a standard that every country wants to emulate but they also had the great depression out of which they had a raw deal but they moved on. Nobody prayed for this but it is not impossible because we are part of the global economy. We depended on oil for so many decades without diversifying. We didn’t take concrete steps to do something. When the former president, Obasanjo withheld the allocation of Lagos state under Tinubu, Lagos looked inward and realized that with its population and enormous assets, they could survive. They did a proper enumeration and used that as a basis for the enhancement of their revenue. Today, Lagos is not totally dependent on the federal government for allocation. So the nation has the potential to get out of this recession.
As a PDP member, do you agree with the notion that your party should be blamed for the state of the economy?
I will not want to color what is happening with politics. After almost 15 months in power, it will not be fair to continue to blame the PDP. For a nation that is evolving, we need to look for ways to grow this nation. The president has been saying that there are no roads and the rest, but the PDP constructed some roads. PDP built the rail lines that has just been commissioned by this government. But at a time like this, let’s find solutions to our challenges instead of looking for who to blame. Let’s focus on how to turn things around.
How will you advice government on how to revive the economy?
It is important that government look for solutions to our current challenges. I feel that the resources in the states are tied down in that, the states are not adequately funded because the revenue formula is not in their favor; it favors the federal government. I know that before now when we had regions, they were significantly and economically stable than what is obtainable now because the revenue formula then was not as skewed as it is now in favor of the FG. The regions were able to generate lots of revenue. Like the eastern region, long before we started exporting oil, the then Eastern Nigerian government was able to pass a law to establish the University of Nsukka. By then, there was no crude oil. They were also able to make provision of 5000 pounds per annum for the successful development of the university. Because there was healthy competition among the regions, the northern region also established their university and the same with west. These regions had already gone ahead before the FG established the University of Lagos. If you look at some of the infrastructure we have today, most were done during the era of regional governments.
So are you advocating for the return to regionalism or how do you want the country to be restructured?
In a situation where 28 states cannot pay salaries, it is bad. I was a commissioner for finance and I know that we will always come to Abuja to wait for handouts when indeed these states have enough mineral and other natural resources which can sustain the states. When university of Lagos was created, the population of Lagos was not much but as soon as the revenue formula became skewed to favor the FG, all these regions dried up and everybody came to Lagos to pursue things like import license and the rest. These changes have remained with us. So when people talk of restructuring, it is because of what they are seeing. States are generating resources that they cannot use, I am not excusing the fact that some states misuse their opportunity but in places like plateau, where there is Tin mining, Zamfara with its gold and others, these states should be able to feel the impact of their revenue. Restructuring will unleash the potential that these states have. The way we are going will not help. Running a country is delicate business. Money alone is not the same thing. Former military President Ibrahim Babangida once said when the Okigbo panel said, the gulf wind fall was not properly utilized, he said” what do you use money for” you use money for development. You don’t keep money to be looking at it’. If the bailout given to the governors is used to pay salaries and run the states, then it is in order. But in a situation where the state appear to be independent but they still come to Abuja to take instruction, then it is no longer a federal government. It is more of a unity government.
How will you assess the APC government so far?
Well, they have done well insecurity, but you cannot focus on one thing and forget the other. The economy was left to all sort of crises and it is not good. So whether it is APC or PDP, we want the economy to grow.
The South/east has complained of being marginalized, do you share such views?
Go and do a statistic on the number of appointment Mr. President has made and see how many he has given to the South/east and how many he has given to the other zones. Then you will be in a position to know the true situation.
As the chairman of committee on climate change, what has been done to check global warming?
My committee is relatively young but has done a lot since we were appointed in creating the needed awareness for people to know that, climate change issues are developmental and require the attention of everybody for it to work. It requires all hands to be on deck because if you look at it as an isolation matter, like some will say, just go to ministry of environment, then nobody will do something about it, but health is involved. Recently there was a report on the rise in global warming…
What will be the impact on Nigeria?
It could be traced to factories like cement and the rest. It will also affect agriculture and you can see the challenge we are having now like desertification in the north, the gully erosion in the south/east and then how the herdsmen have nowhere to graze their cattle and are gradually pushing down south and are confronting farmers. This gives you an idea of how climate change effects our lives. We have been trying to create this awareness by making members of the relevant sectors understand especially the MDAs to know what we are faced with immediately we came back from Paris where we attended the summit on climate change and agreed upon. We called the relevant sectors effected to find out what they did in 2015 on climate change and based on their responses, we were now able to assess what they are going to do in 2016. We press some of them on the need to take action, not to just talk about these things. Interestingly, we called so many ministers, some honored but some did not. Some sent low level officers that could not give us any information or that can take any decision. We were concerned that when they were doing the 2016 budget, the state did not make adequate provision on how to fight these challenges and that to me is a real concern. It means they are yet to come to terms with the fact that this is a life threatening problem. So most Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the danger of climate change.