Chief Larry Esin served as the head of foreign desk of All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign in 2015. He was the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) governorship candidate for Akwa Ibom State in the 2011 general election. In this interview, the former National Chairman of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) spoke on some tetchy issues in the polity especially the current recession and agitations for the restructuring of the country. He kicked against clamour by some people that national assets should be sold to raise fund that would help the country come out of recession.
What is your take on the current situation of Nigeria?
My take on that is that Nigeria as at 2015, has been put on the path that was to lead us in the right direction with the emergence of General Buhari as the President of Nigeria. Most importantly, the greatest achievement as at 2015 is that our democracy has finally found its fitting, such that the Nigerian people had come to the point in their political lives, where they saw the power of their vote. They were able to realise the power they have through the ballot box to decide who rules them and how this country is governed. So, as at 2015, we had put Nigeria on that path.
The concern of the great people of this country in 2015 was to wait and know whether or not the current administration would propel this country along that path of where they are supposed to go in terms of the socio- political development of this country.
A year and a half after that election, we have to be honest with ourselves to assess what is happening in our country. There is a lot of doubt; the economy is in recession right now.
The Nigerian people are beginning to question whether it was right to put Nigeria on this path, or whether the people that are given the responsibility of moving Nigeria forward fully understood the magnitude of that responsibility and the direction that the people expected them to take the country to.
Having said that, a lot of challenges that Nigeria is facing today was not born on May 29, 2015. It is something that has been in existence since1999. All the mistakes and all the errors that we have made, I will say as a young democracy, were made by previous administrations. Those administrations also did their best. There is a limit to what we can do to stop the manifestation of those mistakes of the past. They have finally come to the fore now and that is the reason the country is in recession. It is official that our young people are coming out of the Universities without a job.
It is obvious that the price of our most valuable asset, the price of oil has dwindled. And that there is a gap in our budget today.
Are you satisfied with the way government is handling the recession so far?
I have to say that I am expecting that the government should handle the situation better than they are doing now. I said that because there are ways things are going now. I am saying that because of the discussion that is going on now and certain decisions that were taken from the onset by the government. I mean certain fiscal decisions that were taken by the government which had to be reversed. Decisions concerning the devaluation of the Nigerian currency, decisions taken that had a negative impact on business and commerce. And these are the largest employers of labour in Nigeria. Decisions that were taken that seem not to have factored in the Socio- political reality of this country. And this is that we are still a consumer nation; we import some materials we use in this country. To expect us to graduate from that level to where this administration wants us to be will take some time. Economic policies take time to manifest.
President Buhari recently said that what needs to be done is to think outside the box. Would you say the government, by its body language, is thinking outside the box in its approach to the recession?
I am happy that you mentioned the word think outside the box. I think and hope that it is not just a catch phrase. Government used to come up with these catch phrases. Obasanjo talked about poverty alleviation, that was their catch phrase.
Thinking outside the box is important, we need to think outside the box. Nigerians thought outside the box and stood by the election in 2015. The administration must think outside the box and I commend the President for saying so. My thinking is very simple. The problem facing this country is very simple. Simple in the sense that it is not difficult to understand. So, all these academic postulation is just a waste of time. The Nigerian people need simple things. They want to be able to put food on the table for their families. They want a roof over their heads, clean roads and the security of their lives and property. What I think that should be done is to address the current economic recession in the country. We must begin with a good understanding of the economic profile of the country. In my opinion, the profile of the Nigerian economy tells us certain facts. The greatest achievement of this country is the oil and gas sector. However, oil and gas sector makes up less than 20 percent of the workforce of Nigerian economy. If you look at the total workforce in Nigeria, less than 20 percent of the Nigerian work force is involved in oil and gas.
Nigerians have the highest capacity for discipline. It is the leadership that has, over the decades, been failing the people. If they are confident that the direction the leadership is going will benefit them for a long term, Nigerians will support.
Is it safe to believe that the growing criticisms the President is getting is a sign people do not have confidence in the path he is taking?
That’s because we have not been able to articulate a solution that people will accept. Selling off viable assets is not the solution. At a time like this, the President has to be speaking to the people on a weekly basis. You need to have your spokesman over there in every part of the country. At a time that the president is out there speaking, there should be spokesperson out there encouraging investors.
Are you suggesting that the government is not communicating with Nigerians as it should?
Unfortunately, we are not doing enough. It is not just a one way communication. They should interact with key players in the economic sector and hear their own ideas of what should be done. You don’t have the solution; create town hall meetings, move around and ask what do we do. If you remember when Babangida was faced with this kind IMF loan, he interacted with the Nigerian people; should we or should we not take the IMF loan? Government needs to interact because people, especially those in the local governments, in the villages, have no clue about what’s happening.
You headed APC presidential campaign foreign desk in 2015; you are also known to have been a die-hard supporter of the President for several years, but you appear to have been overlooked by this administration, what do you make of this perception?
I don’t think I was overlooked. I think the decision as regards who to appoint to a position is that of the President. Buhari would decide who he would want in his cabinet. I have been a supporter of President Buhari from 2010, right from the time I was the CPC gubernatorial candidate in Akwa Ibom. I also played my part in the last election in 2015. Whatever commitment I had was given to chart the course for a new Nigeria which the President represents.
In the final analysis, the decision of who to work with in his cabinet is that of the President. Let me also say here that if I were to be in his cabinet, I think by now I would have been sacked. This is because I am not this kind of person that will be sworn in as minister and he would go back to the ministry and wait, expecting the president to come and tell me what to do. However, going back to the issue at hand, the Nigerian people need to understand what is going on, they need the government to communicate to them what is going on.
We don’t have the right spokespeople out there explaining government’s policies.
Don’t you think the division in the ranks of the APC may have contributed in making it difficult for the government to do what you are talking about?
Definitely, it has. You should understand that it has forced APC as it is today to spend more time on political survival. And that is very dangerous for us.
I hope that the present economic advisory team would put politics aside and focuss on reviving this economy, because if we are not able to do that, I think 2019 will be very difficult for APC.
What do you really make of the recent claim by the CBN that Nigeria will soon be out of recession?
Financial people always say things like that but you have to back it up with facts. Just recently, it was announced on CNN that Nigeria is officially in recession and Standard and Plus has now rated Nigeria’s debt as junk. With such pronouncement by well respected agency, how can we raise this money? How can the CBN governor be telling people that when N420 is exchanging to a dollar. You are saying that we are coming out of recession when the majority of our people are unemployed, how can you say such a thing? Nigerians don’t want you to come and say that everything is okay, they want to admit you to tell them the truth, to tell them that things are hard.
Carrying people along in a truthful manner is what Nigerians are asking for and it is what will get us out of recession. Don’t play on the intelligence of the Nigerian people. Be honest to the people, speak the truth to the Nigerian people and they will support you.
For the CBN governor to say that Nigeria is coming out of recession, what is the proof, what facts does he have? How many people have got into the employment line in the last one month and how many have fallen out in the last one month? Go to the local government and see the suffering; times are hard.
For some, Nigeria is where she is today because of the kind of structure that is in place. Do you agree with those who hold this position?
I certainly do. When I say structure, I am not saying what we intend to achieve in the constitutional conference. The issue of federalism, the different tiers of government and everything guaranteed them under the constitution, are they truly independent? The president is now trying to ensure that local governments are not primarily dependent on state governments and state governments are not dependent on the federal government. That needs to be done because without this structure, everything we do at the top would not trickle down. How can we have state governors that have stayed more than a year and a half and they have not held local government elections? They have handed local governments to caretaker committees. Caretaker committees are subject to the whims and caprices of the governor. They do anything the governor tells them to do.
In the last dispensation, the National Assembly approved financial autonomy for councils during the Constitution amendment but it was scuttled by governors. Don’t you see that still happening?
We cannot give up. We must keep pushing for the amendment. We know that with time both our governors and some lawmaker who are against changing the current system will give up.
The last effort was frustrated because most governors were of the PDP. The table has changed. Luckily for us, we are now at the time where the governors in most of the states do not belong to the PDP.
Another thing we need now is electoral reform. INEC at the state should not be controlled by governors. It should be totally independent of state governors. If that process doesn’t have integrity, you are not there yet. It is like a budget process for example, if you compromise the budget process, there is no way you can implement your budget. The electoral issues at the local government are also a problem. So, we need electoral reforms at that level.
You have been quiet in the Niger Delta crisis, why? Would you say states in the region is getting enough from the federation?
This issue of getting more, the ones that they have gotten, what have they done with it? I am from the Niger Delta and we have three major sources of revenue flowing into the account of the Niger Delta. Most of the states in the Niger Delta receive more than what other states in the country are receiving. We have the ministry of Niger Delta which President Yar’Adua set up. We have the Niger Delta Development Commission, we have the amnesty programme. All these money were driven into the states of the Niger Delta. Go to the Niger Delta today, measure the level of poverty, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, it is appalling.
You have tried to be governor of Akwa Ibom for many years but the efforts have not paid off. Some feel your failure in this direction has to do with your political alignment. Are you considering shifting grounds on your political belief and association?
I think the problem that I have as a politician in this country is that I am not willing to comprise my integrity. I am not willing to join a political party because I am looking for an office. Yes, it is true that in 2011 I ran under the CPC platform and Akwa Ibom was the only state apart from Port Harcourt that the President came to campaign.
There was drama that preceded it. It was a very ugly experience. The sitting governor at a time refused to approve security for a presidential candidate, a former head of state. I had to go to Cross Rivers state to get security from the then AIG of police, who later became IG , MD Abubakar.
What do you make of the ongoing alleged financial indiscretion involving the former First Lady?
This goes to buttress what every other Nigerian holds about the modus operandi of the PDP. the impunity of 16 years of PDP. Let’s wait and see the investigation. If she could prove that the money was legitimately got by her, she will keep her money
Do you agree with some who believe that going after the woman might further set the Buhari government against the Niger Delta?
No, I don’t believe that. Some people believe that the Niger Delta people are such foolish that they could blindly follow their kinsmen. Is it the Niger
Delta who could not feed their children under the PDP or who died in motor accidents because of bad roads in the Niger Delta that would support her? Are you talking about those whose children were dying because of malaria; they could not provide treatment to simple things as malaria.
They didn’t have clean water, they didn’t have a roof above their heads. Such people will hear what is happening and support the first lady? Of course not.