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Only 2016 budget can determine Buhari’s direction – Okorie

Chief Chekwas Okorie is an elder statesman, presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) in the March/April general elections, founder of the All Progressives…

Chief Chekwas Okorie is an elder statesman, presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) in the March/April general elections, founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and current UPP national chairman. In this interview, he speaks on the need for President Muhammadu Buhari to implement some of the decisions taken by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Excerpts:
Some observers have argued that the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari has no economic policy direction. What is your view?
Well, President Buhari has taken his time to form his cabinet with people of diverse backgrounds, whose ideas will be put together to have an economic policy direction. There is a budget in place which he inherited and that is the 2015 budget. I never expected that he will alter the budget substantially within the period. So, it is the 2016 budget that would project his economic direction, the way he wants to check the leakages and engage the various factors of production for the economy to grow. It is only when we see the details of the 2016 budget that we will begin to talk about whether there is any direction or not. I wasn’t expecting him to alter the current budget substantially, going by the fact that it is an appropriated budget, which means there is a law backing it. So let us wait a bit, we will soon be in 2016.

What areas do you expect the 2016 budget to address?

I expect the budget to lay emphasis on job creation, because that is one of the major challenges now. It should diversify the economy, especially moving slightly away from over concentration on oil. In any case, it is no longer as attractive as it used to be and we have agriculture that is yet to be properly exploited. Even the IC industry has not received a boost. I expect infrastructural development, especially road infrastructure to receive very serious attention from the government. And then, of course, railway transportation because there must be  efficient ways of moving goods and services in a vast country like Nigeria, Of course, power supply is key to the success of any of the areas I have mentioned. These are the areas they should emphasise on them. Insecurity is a major challenge, many have talked about state police and community policing. Incidentally, it was a major part of the UPP presidential campaign manifesto and it has become topical now. I believe that he (Buhari) would give a thought to it, since it is contained in the recommendations of the national conference that involved all the sections of this country. I wouldn’t want to see the recommendations of the conference as either a PDP thing or Jonathan thing; it is a Nigerian thing, based on the composition and quality of recommendations made. So those areas that would help, especially the area of state police, community policing and so on should be looked at. I understand the National Assembly is trying to represent the amended constitution which the 7th National Assembly couldn’t get the former president to sign into law. They intend to represent it since all the issues raised are still germane. I expect that when this is done, Buhari should be patriotic enough to look at it without a partisan eye.

You just mentioned the National Assembly. The PDP senators recently staged a walk out during the screening of former governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi. Do you see this as a threat to democracy?

No, it is one of the beauties of democracy. Democracy is predicated on majority having its way without denying the minority a say, and that is exactly what played out at the Senate. It was not the first time; it happened to PDP this time, it was the APC that did a similar thing at the screening of Obanikoro, when he was being screened to become a minister. APC at that time walked out and the PDP went ahead to screen him successfully and he became a minister of state for defense. It’s just a musical chair.

The PDP has said that Buhari is de-marketing Nigeria through his utterances and statements in the international community. What is your assessment?

Well, that is the opinion of the PDP. I don’t share same view. I am more inclined to a situation where the president of the country or the government will, at all times, tell all Nigerians and the international community the truth about the state of affairs. There is nobody coming to invest in Nigeria that will not, first of all, study whether the Nigerian environment is feasible or not. An investor is a very shrewd organisation or person and, therefore, will not rely on whatever statement that is made by a political head to be able to take a decision on whether to invest or not. Looking at it, it is a question of telling you the truth or telling you sweet lies. How do you market your country?  Is it by false propaganda or by propaganda that can be substantiated? It’s all propaganda, but one is false propaganda and the other one is propaganda where you highlight the high points of your economy. For instance, yes, we have dwindling resources that one does not require a soothsayer to know, but we have almost the largest market in Africa, which is also a strong point that will attract somebody to come and invest because we have the potentiality for growth of private businesses. But, that does not mean you go ahead and tell them that the economy is buoyant when it is not. But PDP will take advantage of any situation to play down the government. Don’t forget that they had been in power for 16 years but had boasted that they would be in power for 60 years. All of a sudden, Nigerians decided differently. It is not easy to learn the ropes. The damage the PDP did for 16 years, I believe it will be wishful thinking to believe that in another three or four years Nigerians would forget.
Do you support use of Situation Rooms by political parties in elections?
Yes, sure.

How do you want Buhari to handle his anti-corruption war to avoid allegations that he is witch hunting some people?
As a matter of fact, EFCC should be autonomous. I believe the only aspect that is holding back its autonomy is funding. What EFCC is lacking is financial independence. Otherwise, I don’t see any form of interference that should make it not to do its job well. When they have no money to prosecute, sometimes they do a shoddy job, sitting back and collecting documents, relying on petitions and using those petitions to go to court. As more information comes, they keep amending their charges and that is what the chief justice of Nigeria is against. They seem to be arresting people before investigation, whereas it should have been the other way round.

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