Senator Mao Arukwe Ohuabunwa, is a politician, businessman and member of the 8th National Assembly representing Abia North on the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP. In this chat, Ohuabunwa, who was also in the 4th and 5th National Assembly representing Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal constituency of Abia State in the House of Representatives spoke on Nigeria’s current economic situation. He declared that the way out of the woods is for the president to listen to the people. He also recounted the tortuous hurdles he scaled to get to the Senate.
Nigeria is said to be in recession, what does it mean to the Senate?
First and foremost, we are Nigerians and we represent the people. We saw this coming, and as a Senate we invited the major stakeholders; the minister of finance who is saddled with the responsibility of managing our finance and economy so to speak. She said that it was a technical recession. We invited the minister of national planning and budget who told us all the efforts they were making. We also invited the CBN Governor and everybody gave us the impression that things would not get out of hand.
However, while we were on recess, it was declared openly that the economy was in recession. Now, we can see the level of hunger, hardship and poverty.
When we came back, we resolved that nothing would be discussed except the economy. On the first day of our resumption, the senate president’s address was on the economy. We decided to use the whole of that week to discuss the economy, following which we made some resolutions and mandated the senate president to hand deliver them to the president. Matter of urgency We decided to bypass the normal, bureaucratic process of passing resolutions, but to hand deliver it to the president to show the level of urgency
attached to this issue of recession.
What actually were contained in your resolutions?
Our resolutions include, short term, long term and medium term activities that must take place as a matter of urgency.
At least, money should be delivered into the system. Capital projects captured in the 2016 Appropriation Act should be funded. There should be immediate ways to diversify the economy. We should pump money in agriculture and other areas.
Depression is like going into a coma; and at that you have to go into and intensive care unit, where the survival rate is 50:50. We pray that we won’t get into that. For us as a Senate, it is a serious matter, and we are doing everything within our power especially from the legislative and representative point of view, to solve it. We have also decided to go into oversight. We are looking at the agencies now, whether they are working in tandem with the mandate of getting us out of recession.
But there was a proposal to sell national assets, which the Senate didn’t approve of, so how do we get out of this?
We do not believe that selling the nation’s assets is the right way to go; that is why we did not support it. We can commercialise, have Public-Private Partnerships in running national assets, but selling is not the answer. If you remember, one of our resolutions is that the President should always talk to the people. In talking to the people, issues would be resolved. People need to know what the Executive’s plans are, at all times.
The issue of IPOB has become of great concern to all Nigerians, how do Igbo senators see it?
What I have suggested is that it is time for Ohanaeze Ndigbo to stand their ground. It is their responsibility as the political organ to call all of us, both elected and non-elected, as well as some prominent sons and daughters of Igboland. Let’s come together and talk.
When we finish talking, if there are resolutions we can reach, if it requires seeing the President, we can go as a people. If it requires seeing the National Assembly, we can all go together. We all have to speak with one voice. Not that in the Senate you say something, then another leader somewhere will say a different thing. Let us decide on one thing, so we can get the political backing of our leaders and do what we decide to do together. As a prominent, illustrious son of Igboland, I think that the best thing is for Ohanaeze to get all of us together to make a resolution. If it requires legislative backing, we follow up from there or if it is policy, we come together with one voice to make a resolution.
Your election to the Senate was perhaps one of the most controversial in Abia state. How did you manage to emerge and reemerge after a re-run?
You know for a while now, Nigerians have not really got to the level of accepting election results. It is normal that after elections, people would want to go to court. And that is why the Constitution and the Electoral Act, made provisions for tribunals and appeal courts. Interestingly, the man who is challenging the winner’s victory would have his own reason, but it is left for the judiciary to look at it and give judgment.
After my election in 2015, two parties- PPA, APGA, challenged it, and the tribunal upheld the victory.
The tribunal had engagement and contact with the actors and witnesses- both for and against and the tribunal resolved the matter in my favour.
Unfortunately, the appeal court in its own wisdom declared that there should be a re-run. As I speak to you now, we have not even received that judgment, so nobody can say what reasons they adduced. No one has seen that judgment, but as law abiding citizens, we went back for a re-run. There again, God gave me victory.
I think at this point, it became very clear that Abia North people were solidly behind me. The APGA person felt that it was time to put a stop to it for the benefit of our constituency because at the time my election was annulled, it was the time for the budget appropriation.
Dilapidated roads in Abia I was away, so Abia North was completely out of the 2016 budget. All the motions I moved; a committee had come to look at our dilapidated roads in Abia….
So in that short period you had already drawn a Senate committee to the constituency over dilapidated infrastructure?
Yes, there was no time to waste if you know what took you to the Senate. Erosion had destroyed many parts of my constituency. I had moved a motion about it, after my inauguration and the Senate committee led by former Minister of Works, Senator Barnabas Gemade with a committee of about seven or eight senators that went to see the roads, made their report and it was unanimously adopted as a Senate resolution.
All that was needed was for me to be present, to push it during the 2016 budget appropriation, but because I was absent, no one could do it. That is why our roads are still bad. Check all the procurement processes going on, you won’t see Abia North. It was a loss to us. I believe that the APGA man having seen this felt there was no need of going to court. He saw that it was a clear win. But the PPA man, perhaps because he had a lot of money, still went to the tribunal. Actually, the judgment is unprecedented, articulate, well detailed.
The judgment was read for eight to nine hours. The judges did not go on break. I have never seen such an honest judgement. In fact, the judgment and the judge gave me confidence in the judiciary. Not because it favoured me, but the details and the processes taken were very painstaking.
Now how do you intend to recoup those losses your constituency has suffered?
It is like trying to regain lost time which is quite difficult. We have lost the year, we can’t get the time back. But on roads, I am trying to see what I can do within the dry season to get FERMA or my state government to support. At least let us get some palliatives on some roads like Arochukwu-Ohafia road. Material and human resources I will still keep pursuing, lobbying my colleagues who understand the situation to help us get some provision in the 2017 budget. On Abia’s development Our state has been like a jinxed state because of the foundation led by former governors. Abia State is Christened ‘God’s own state’ but you’ll find that from 1999 to 2012, we moved Abia state to idolatry, and God is a jealous God. We are left far behind our contemporaries in every form of infrastructure. We are endowed with material and human resources but the level we are now is pathetic.
Even the present Governor is also distracted due to several litigations. The speed with which he took off after the election has waned. You can’t have much concentration with a lot of court actions against you.
It’s not a good story that Abia is the only state in court. From tribunal to Federal High Court, Appeal Court and then supreme court. We are the ones distracting ourselves. We need to say ‘enough is enough’. It is not about self, but about the people. Only one person will be governor at a time. It is time as Abians, we think of our people. You cannot expect to access the governor when he is still on the hot seat. I believe that after this time around, we will also support him to move forward. If you go round Abia state, our infrastructure is dilapidated. There is not much happening. But for me as a practitioner, I understand it very well, there is a lot of distraction. It doesn’t give you the strength to go on.
We have lost two years, and time lost can never be regained. All the same, I have confidence in this governor, especially seeing the way he took off before the court issues. I know that once this is over, he would also have the spiritual strength to re-launch.