Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim is representing Yobe East senatorial district in the National Assembly. The former governor of the state in this interview says that PDP will not return to power for a long time. He also speaks on some other national issues. RUTH CHOJI met him.
Recently, the senate scrapped the excess crude account, what informed that decision?
I was not in the senate when it happened but my understanding is that, it has served its usefulness. If there is any money going to the three tiers of government, then let them use it the way they deem fit. You pretty well know that during Obasanjo’s time, there was a time he used very substantial amount of that money without getting the approval of the governors or LG chairmen, even though it was in the common account. So, it is easily abused. Also, it is not constitutional.
What was earmarked last year as benchmark was exceeded by oil prices, we seem to be having a similar case this year because the oil price is rising. Don’t you think Nigeria will need the excess crude account now more than ever?
When the benchmark was made in that sense, the production was down, we were producing about 1..2bp as opposed to 2.3mbp. Now OPEC has to decide how to peg Nigeria crude oil. If we are allowed to produce freely, then the account makes sense. But if it is pegged down to 1.8 or thereabout, then it doesn’t make sense to go by a higher figure.
Does the poor implementation of the 2017 budget bother you?
Yes it does, 2017 is almost out. Budgeting has really been faulty in Nigeria. We always have a budget of high figure and at the end of the day, you don’t get the money. We are sourcing for loan and before we will go through the whole process of getting the loan, the year has run out. So, we still haven’t got the process right. We need to balance it to make a reasonable budget. I believe that we will exceed 50% implementation between now and April. Budget is supposed to run for 12 months.it has always been very unsatisfactory implementation level. But now that the price of oil has gone up, it is good for us. If we can produce more, it will make it better. We can consolidate.
But some lawmakers have criticized the 2018 budget that was presented by Mr. President to the national assembly, what is your assessment of the budget?
Since we are not able to implement the 2017 budget, what is the point of having a big budget that we might never be able to implement? That doesn’t give us any serious hope, which is why they are against it. But the price of oil is going up and if it keeps going up, we can meet up with the estimation.
With this poor performance from the executive, do you still have confidence in this government?
Of course. Which other government do I have? We must make it work. Mr. President had some health challenges but he is okay now. People are even urging him to contest for another term.
Are you one of those urging Mr. President to contest?
Yes, I have confidence in Mr. President now that he is okay health wise. I believe he is going to do a lot of things for Nigeria.
Former Vice President Abubakar Atiku has abandoned the APC, there are fears that many more key officers are likely to abandon the party. Do you harbor such fears?
That is politics, some leave, others come in. Our party has come to stay, it will grow stronger and stronger whether they go or stay. What I know is that PDP will not form government for a long time in this country. We have had enough of them, which was why we went for APC. We haven’t tried APC long enough to start complaining. When PDP was in power, oil was selling for over a $100pb but nothing extraordinary happened. Our party is not divided. I don’t think that Atiku is relevant enough to divide our party. After all he was in PDP before he came to our party, now he has gone back to his home.
Coming back to Mr. President, he has indicated plans to release more funds to governors and Nigerians are worried that the previous releases were not judiciously used by some of them, what is your take on this?
I don’t have evidence to show that they are not making judicious use of the funds. Unless you have all the fact, it is not fair to say they have not been using the money judiciously. There are so many things that need attention in Nigeria. The economy and the fight against corruption. Let’s wait and give them the four years before we judge them.
Are you in support of the agitation for restructuring?
I don’t understand what restructuring is all about. If they are talking about the 36 states, I think it is more than enough. Maybe there may be need for the creation of additional local governments in some areas where it is necessary. But I don’t understand what restructuring is all about. We are a federating unit and you can see that it is working.
But some are advocating for devolution of power, do you support such calls?
If by devolution of power, they mean giving more powers to state and local governments, then I have nothing against it. It all depends on what powers they want and how they will use it, then I will support it.
Going back to the North-east, the spate of suicide bombing seems to be on the increase in Borno, are you worried?
I am worried, we cannot be complacent, we have to tighten our belt and fight them. At a certain stage, the terrorists were in complete control of so many local governments in those axis. You cannot kill insurgency overnight and have total peace, there will definitely be some pockets of attacks. It will take some time to flush them out. We have to keep fighting them.
What will it take to rebuild the zone?
It will take lots of money, time and dedication. Mind you, the North-east was the most backward geo political even before the insurgency. Now the insurgency has taken us back to about 20-30years backwards. We will continue to struggle for a long time.
The plight of IDPs has been in the front burner for some time, does this bother you?
It should bother every reasonable Nigerian. We have no alternative but to keep on fighting and struggling until we succeed. (Leadership)