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BUHARI’S CHANGE MUST COME WITH PAIN – ETIEBET

Politician, businessman and statesman, Chief Don Etiebet, was an early enthusiast for democracy who memorably established the National Centre Party of Nigeria, NCPN, in those difficult days of General Sanni Abacha, when the democratic space was saturated with the foul odour of regimented politics. He had left his position as Minister of Petroleum in the Abacha regime to give life to an alternative voice to the cacophony of political wanderers championing Abacha’s transmutation into a civilian President. His independence was, however, brought under check after a spell in detention at the end of which the former Minister abandoned his NCPN and his famed Presidential aspiration to join the United Nigeria Centre Party, UNCP, one of the supposedly leprous five parties advocating Abacha’s continued rule.
At the advent of the Fourth Republic, he was a leading member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but subsequently relocated to the United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP, following disagreements in the PDP. Etiebet in 2002 led members of the UNPP to a merger with the then All Peoples Party, APP, a process that gave birth to the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. Etiebet became the National Chairman of the ANPP at the convention while the then political neophyte, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari became the party’s Presidential flag bearer.
However, mutterings now and then in his native Akwa Ibom State during the Godswill Akpabio administration repeatedly tested the resolve of the former Minister. It was as such no surprise that towards the end of the Akpabio administration that Etiebet, though still a member of the PDP, joined with other leaders of the state to oppose the former Governor’s succession agenda. In this interview, Etiebet expresses his mind on various national issues ranging from the fight against corruption, President Buhari’s international travels and tours and on recent developments on the pricing regime in the petroleum sector.Excerpts:

Are you with those Nigerians who claim nothing has changed since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board about a year ago?
I totally disagree that nothing has changed. To me and a lot others with good mind a lot has changed. We have been internationally respected with a good face. The atmosphere to be disciplined, to be responsible, to be accountable, to be result oriented, to be innovative and creative has been created.

Beginning of wisdom
That’s the atmosphere you need for development and good governance. Today, the fear of PMB is the beginning of wisdom. Of course, you don’t expect people to like that or accept that overnight having been used to ‘carry go syndrome’ with impunity. Mind you, change means dislocation, means departure, means uncertainty and as human beings it takes time to adapt and adjust and so you may hear of stimulus induced complaints. Naturally there must be a period of transition filled with pain. But with a sincerity of purpose as exhibited by President Muhammed Buhari, this transition period of seeming agony will soon turn into a lasting period of ecstasy and fulfillment.
Some Nigerians have also criticized the president’s travels and tours as jamborees. Do you agree?
I am sorry to say that those saying that are talking bunkum, not knowing what they are saying and may be inspired by selfish intentions. In the first place, I can tell you emphatically based on experience because I travel out of Nigeria a lot, that Nigeria has never received the level of international acceptability, friendliness and respect in the past than it has now. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, President Muhammadu Buhari is a ‘good brand’ for Nigeria and our image abroad has changed dramatically overnight. Nigerians in the Diaspora would testify to this that their faces are more lovable than before. Apart from that diplomatic angle, the economic and bilateral achievements from his trips are tremendous both in the short and long term, particularly in this era of dwindling oil revenue and economic doldrums.
Maybe those who stashed our looted funds abroad are not happy that the President has travelled to receive commitments personally from his counterparts to help repatriate those funds.
It is being said that this administration is concentrating more energy on anti-Corruption war and has neglected other sectors of the economy. What is your view on that assertion? Oh my God, who is saying that?

Do you know what would have happened to our country if President Muhammadu Buhari had not come on board as the President of this country at the time he did? As Father Mbaka said, President Buhari is “a Nigerian Prayer answered”. We would have woken up one morning and seen that Nigeria is broke, is bankrupt and her total foreign exchange gone if the rate of the financial profligacy had gone on the way it was. Starting from curbing certain imports and stopping FX round tripping, to the implementation of the Single Treasury Account and the prudent management of the scarce foreign exchange to save the Naira, Nigeria would have been plunged into economic disaster if otherwise had been done. Can anybody tell Nigerians how all the three trillion Naira mobbed up into the STA was helping the economy before?
Economic hardship
I think it is the Anti-Corruption War, when Nigerians wake up every day to hear of all these revelations of billions here, billions there that they carted away and were sharing around like cards on a casino table, being recovered every day, that are keeping them quiet in the face of economic hardship as they trust President Buhari will recover all of them to use in making their lives better.
The revelations are mind boggling as they didn’t seem to know the difference between public money in their custody and personal money in their pockets. What more do they want him to achieve within this period of one year, knowing that this, President Buhari’s Government is confronting an entrenched platform of endemic corruption that had pervaded all fabrics of Nigerian life and governance whether public or private over the years and any attempt not to be systematic, methodical and thorough in fighting it, according to the rule of law in a democracy, can backfire disastrously.
War against corruption

We should all pray that God who brought President Buhari to head this country at this time should continue to abide with him with all the strength and resources to win this war against corruption for us so that Nigeria can now be on the path of development.
Can you imagine what the alleged loot of over $250 billion starched away abroad can do for Nigeria if the President recovers them all?
Being a former Minister of Petroleum, what do you think is responsible for the incessant lack of petrol in the country and what do you think can bring a lasting solution to the menace?
This is a perennial question on a perennial problem. It’s a matter of management and the will to manage it. I believe President Muhammadu Buhari as the Petroleum Minister has the knowledge, the will and the determination to solve it.
You see, this problem of petroleum products scarcity in Nigeria is not a new thing. It started way back in the eighties when the cost of the products was unexplainably and delinquently the lowest in the West African region thereby promoting and encouraging products diversions and smuggling to neighbouring countries.
I remember when then General Muhammadu Buhari became Head of State in 1984, one of his first pronouncements to clean up the system was that he would order the Navy to sink all illegal bunkering vessels found in Nigerian waters. When I became Secretary of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in 1993, the raising of petrol price from 70 Kobo to N3 was touted as one of the reasons why the Interim Government of Chief Enest Shonekan was overthrown.
When General Sani Abacha came and the price of crude oil dropped below $12 per barrel and there was need to raise money from somewhere to run the government, it was a tug of war with the NLC, the TUC and the CSOs to raise the pump price of Petrol to N12 per litre.
Curtailing smuggling

This was also in an effort to curtail smuggling and diversion of petroleum products, especially petrol(PMS) by trucks to neighbouring countries where it was selling at more than ten times the Nigerian price. My attempt to publish the list of trucks found crossing the borders was so vigorously resisted that it took General Abacha himself to save my neck when I published it and hell was let loose.

An attempt to transport petrol by rail was often sabotaged. The negotiations by me with all the unions including NUPENG to allow the increase to N12 per litre brought about the Petroleum Trust Fund. Secondly, there were the challenges from the Petroleum products importers with all the alleged round tripping without delivering products and the sabotage of the refineries. And from the beginning of 2000 the Niger Delta militancy phenomenon reared its head when they openly sabotaged the refineries and the pipelines carrying crude to the refineries or refined products to the depots spread around the country.

And the preference by the stakeholders to the distribution of petroleum products by trucks so that Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) to keep prices uniform all over the country would be paid with all its attendant abuses contributed to the problems of petrol availability throughout the country, so much so that distribution and selling of petrol from Surface Tanks and Jerry Cans almost became legal and normal. You see, all those scenarios are still there today and no government in the past had the will to solve them.

Then Chief Obasanjo’s government sold the government owned filling stations only to private entrepreneurs and left the Refineries unrepaired and nonoperational, leaving the entrepreneurs to depend on imports only; which they did with glee. Today NNPC is starting to build filling stations again. And Foreign Exchange is not all that available for the importers again to import due to the dwindling price of crude oil while their unpaid LC bills are mounting and stock get depleted.

President Buhari knows all this and since he was prematurely prevented from solving it from 1984 he has taken the bull by the horn to be the Petroleum Minister to solve it during his presidency. Let’s give him some time and pray for him because the interest is oily and enormous and as the President he can step on very big toes which he is already doing.

With Federal might, APC still seems to be unpopular and finding it difficult to find its feet in the South-South. What do you think is responsible for that?
No, APC is not finding it difficult to enter the South-South. In fact APC had within that very short time taken over South-South because of the corrupt and maladministration that pervaded some of the states in the Region. The truth is that we were violently and murderously rigged out and the recent berserk pronouncements by the Supreme Court on the election petitions which have been severely condemned by all and sundry came to worsen matters. From the current revelations of alleged bribery of Electoral Officers, Security personnel and electoral Monitors in the South-South region you would agree with me that we were rigged out.
Declaration of results

I pray for one thing at this time because it is the beginning of all bad governance in Nigeria that President Buhari brings about an election process that will guarantee one man/woman one vote and the proper and correct declaration of results emanating from all the due processes of election and not what everybody observed happened in the South-South during the last elections.

What is your view on the recent deregulation and increase in price of Petroleum?
No, I do not call it increase but appropriate pricing. The government in her effort to put things right in this country is addressing those factors that had allowed our refineries to work. And I should beg the unions and CSOs to see that the decision is in fact in the interest of the masses who had been suffering the pangs of this scarcity for too long and paying even higher to support this appropriate price based on the vicissitudes of the situation of which the government has no control of and so cannot be blamed. We should see that the budget is implemented accordingly to cushion the effects of this pricing on the people.(Culled from VanguardEtiebett)

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