Hon. Sergius Ogun of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the House of Representative member representing Esan South-East and Esan North-East Federal Constituency of Edo State. In this interview he spoke on various issues such as the forthcoming Edo state elections and the ministerial list amongst others. Dyepkazah Shibayan was there for The Union.
Will the wind of change affect the chances of PDP winning the governorship election in Edo State in 2016? The wind of change is for PDP, which means PDP will win the elections because that’s the wind of change. We have had APC in the state for eight years and the people of Edo state are tired. They want a change and the change is PDP.
Why do you say so? The state is in debt. Serious debt! Before this government came in, after nine years of PDP, Edo state owed about N4 billion; but as at the last count, the debt profile of Edo state, which even the state government had acknowledged, is about N260 billion. That was accumulated in just seven years. Compare this to what PDP governors owed in nine years and eight months. Let me even give credit to the Comrade Governor for increasing the internally generated revenue (IGR), but I will also be quick to add that tax money is not pocket money for the governor or any governor in this country. It is the sweat of Edo state people. So if you collect tax from them it should be used judiciously. If the likes of Igbenedion and Osunbor did not even collect up to N1 billion monthly and the comrade governor is collecting over N3 billion monthly, which I applaud him for, we should see what that money is used for in the state. So,why the debt? Why all the borrowing? The state has been mortgaged and now there is an election next year, Edo people should come out clearly and sack the APC government.
Mr. President just released his ministerial nominees and there has been some mixed reactions trailing it. What is your own impression; are you satisfied with the quality of nominees? There are no young people there and there are not enough women. However, it’s just 21 out of 36. So let us give him the benefit of doubt. Maybe, the second list will have young people and more women. But the caliber of people that have been named shows that this is a PDP government because there almost all of them had served in PDP before? The President, before the inauguration said everything wrong with this country has been the PDP. However, I congratulated him when I read the text of his 1st October address. For once, he publicly acknowledged what President Jonathan did by not digging in; secondly he also acknowledged that we all need to come together and work for the good of the country and thirdly he said there is no need picking on past governments. He said every government has problems. Now, we have a government that should sit down and begin to look at these problems. This is actually contrary to the way he started. I had always believed that he was trying to dampen the expectation of Nigerians so that if he does not perform, you and me don’t hold him responsible. However, what most of us were saying was that you were voted in, if there were no problems Nigerians would have been content with PDP. But you were voted in to fix the problems and not to complain. So, hit the ground running and tackle the problems. So for me, if you are going to bring these old men, which are okay because of their experience, why did it take five months to do? I’m saying five months because from the day you win your election you choose your team; they have been around. If you are going to Russia to bring a rocket scientist to head somewhere or something in this country, we would say it took you this long to investigate that there is a Nigerian in Russia who is about the best individual in that field. Is it Amaechi that would take you five months to pick? Or three months to eventually send his name to the Senate? Or is it Ngige or is it Fashola? So, that would be my disappointment. These people have been around, heir experience might be good but why did it take long? This would have gone the very first week the National Assembly was inaugurated.
Your party, the PDP, has been very critical of the process of the fight against corruption. What is your own take? I do not think he has actually started anything. They say it is body language. I don’t know if it is speaking and working well. Somebody’s body language can scare Nigerians away from being corrupt but let me just add that there is corruption all over the world. That of Nigeria is being systemic and where is it coming from? It is the institutions! Every time I have the opportunity to say this I do not hesitate to say it; we should strengthen our institutions. When you strengthen that most things would be taken care of. We blame civil servants; we call them evil servants, but what is their take home? We should stop deceiving ourselves; you have a director in the ministry he is retiring in two years time, what is his annual pay? What is his monthly salary? Yet, he is a director in a ministry where he manages billions of naira every year. It is like tempting a goat with yam; if you like tell the goat that there is poison in that yam he would eat it. That is what is happening and at the end of the day you say they are corrupt. Why would they not be corrupt? Let us look at the remuneration of civil servants first. Maybe, we don’t even need the number we have right now. If you can trim it down then make them I.T compliant, Nigeria would work. I am starting from the civil service because it is the engine room of government. Now we are talking about ministers, they have come; they would still have to work with those people. But if you have a solid team you can hit the ground running. The Singapore government for example; their best students are sent to the best schools all over the world, when they graduate and come back they are sent to the civil service. So imagine your best hands are in the civil service, what kind of civil service will you have and then the ones that would rise to become permanent secretaries will eventually become ministers. We would say we want to transform from third world to first world but this is a glaring example of how they got there. Till we change that, talking about corruption is just going to be cosmetic; you pick an individual and say he did not fill his form well at the conduct bureau then you make noise about it, you wake up tomorrow and there is a governor that says you are corrupt because you served under Abacha government then you pick the individual and you detain him. If we continue like this, four years will come and go and we will not achieve anything.
This brings us to the salaries of lawmakers. There have been agitations that it should be reviewed downwards. Would you subscribe to that? Well it can be reviewed. But again the challenge falls back on the institutions. I can tell you here that I cannot show up at my constituency if I do not have over N1 million in my pocket. That is the truth. I am expected to be in my constituency every weekend. So, if I have four weeks in a month and I cannot show up at my constituency with less than a million naira. From simple arithmetic you are spending over N4 million every month. How are you going to sustain that? I am not talking about projects, I am taking about showing up in the constituency, people would have to eat, drink and people will come with problems that you have to attend to before you come back. There is no amount of money you pay to the legislature that would take care of it. So, if we have a health system that works and children below maybe from age 1 to 10 or 15 can use a hospital without paying, and then free maternal healthcare such that ante natal and up to the point of delivery is also free, that would take care of a lot. If you come to me to tell me that you need healthcare, I will say sorry and refer you to the hospital. I will not need to give you money. But if you come to tell me your wife wants to deliver and all that, even if I want to tell you that it was a nine month signal and you should have planned, I will be touched. If anything happens to that mother or child I will not forgive myself. So, I will squeeze out something and give.
Back to Edo State politics you mentioned the indebtedness of the state but some persons also argue that when PDP was in power Edo was in a mess? I am not here to make a representation on behalf of that government (Igbenedion). But, there were schools that were built and they were was a Kasavita industry that was built in Uromi; there was a fruit juice company and all those were never managed. My colleague in House here was a local government chairman then. He told me that they were not deducting anything from their allocation then. They were getting 100 per cent allocation then. So, if you say they didn’t do anything, maybe they didn’t do as much and I am not making excuses at all. The first set of governors that came suffered the hangover from the military administration. If you go and check some of the other states that seemingly worked, Cross River for example, with Tinapa and all that, go and check their debt profile. It will be difficult for the states to be out of the debt in another 20 years. Those young men came in then, they were in their late 30’s so they just came like military administrators; but even with all that they did some few things. Look at the debt profile now; if you are getting N3 billion -that is what the state has declared so far as internally generated revenue as tax from the people of Edo state- monthly, and you are borrowing from all over the world, that simply means the next government is going to suffer. It would be servicing those debts and that will run into years. So, whatever this government says it has done rightly the coming government will suffer it. When you say they have worked I don’t see it because the schools, the red roof that is so popular, are 50 percent federal government, 30 per cent State and 10 per cent local government; They show the picture of schools before and the way it is right now but they refuse to tell you that it is federal government project. It is a travesty of the truth to claim that the state did those school 100 percent. It is a lie. Even if you want to give credit to the state government it should get 30 percent credit. What else did they do? Roads? I give it to the Comrade Governor that the road to my village is tarred now. But try to understand me: compared to the money spent, we cannot tie those monies to projects on the ground. Those are the issues I have with the comrade governor. That is why I think the Edo people are wiser now and next year they will speak with their votes.
Are you worried that your state governor appears to be too critical about the past President Jonathan administration? I am not because each time he opens his mouth he embarrasses himself. Remember the issue of the 2nd Niger Bridge. He was saying one thing and PENCOM was saying another. He is a governor and I think a governor should be respected. But you lose respect if don’t get your facts right but still go on the street shouting. He is no longer a labour leader. He is a governor of a state. He has the right to take somebody’s life through judgment, that is, if a person should die or to be free. You can’t just come out and be making statements that are not supported with facts.
Water seems to be a major problem in your constituency and in fact in the whole of Edo central. What are you doing about that? The terrain is a very tough one. I have sunk four boreholes already. The last was commissioned two months ago. I actually started that borehole before the election, and then I have a borehole in my father’s house and in my mother’s house. I sank one in Uromi and spent almost N2 million but got no water. Then I went to the prisons and I sank a borehole. So I know the challenges the people are facing. Before I sank these boreholes, people in the immediate communities where going to the stream. But there is this northern project that has been on for a while. I have actually engaged the contractor and he has told me the challenges they have, which is funding, and I will take that up with Owena Rivers Basin because they also want to continue the project. As we speak today the contractor called me and sent me the number of the managing director and said that some funds have been approved. What the Owena River Basin is saying is that it is under the ministry they want to check funds disbursed by the ministry so they don’t do double payments. That project is of great concern to me because water is life. If people don’t get clean water to drink and to cook that could be the genesis of ill health and diseases in the community. It is something I want to drive and by the grace of God, this time next year, that project will be up and running.
What is your legislative agenda for your constituency? We want to improve the standard of living and that I have started by creating wealth. Now, I organised a seminar for five days, for farmers and different co-operatives. People from the National Institute of Root Crop Research at Umudike came to my constituency and trained farmers on how you can use cassava to bake bread, make chin chin and also how to extract juice from paw paw, pineapple and all that. People were excited. On the day they rounded up, the people themselves baked bread and extracted the juice. The next thing is taking it to the next level to see if we can have one bakery in each local government. The co-operatives now manage it on their own which means to power it and maintain it from their contribution. When you create wealth they can now pay school fees for their children, and can feed well. They will have no need to come to your gate to look for you. The other thing is in my constituency there is a bus load of youths going to Libya every week. They go to Kano I am told and from there go to Libya and they are perishing on the Mediterranean Sea because they want to go to Europe. The good life is not in Europe. It is here in Nigeria. Last month, we organised a talent hunt to discover talents in music. A blind 18 year old young man came tops and got the cash award of N200,000. The first runner up won N100, 000 while the second went home with N50, 000. It is not so much of the money but let them know that there is a record deal for the three of them. There were about 744 people that came for audition and they were the best. I had promised that whoever wins would go to Ireland to perform at an event. As it turned out that a blind guy won and he would need help and most people they would entertaining there are Nigerians, so winner, 1st runner up and 2nd runner up will all go to Ireland. Also, we now have a National Institute of Construction Technology at Uromi. It is a federal institution and I have enrolled 187 young men for various skills acquisition programmes from plumbing to tiling, computer appreciation to CCTV installation and diagnostic machines for car engines. It is on now; they would graduate in November/ December. They resumed last month in the constituency so what I’m trying to do is see how people can help themselves and when you take care of these we would have less problems.