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APGA’s landmark, legacy projects will earn her victory – Onukwue

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Chief Alex Onukwue is the National President, Anambra State Association of Town Unions [ASATU]. He is a qualified Mechanical Engineer from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, and hails from Eziagulu-Otu, Aguleri, Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State. In this interview with POLYCARP ONWUBIKO, hetalks about the accomplishments of the governor of Anambra State, Dr. Willie Mmaduaburochukwu Obiano and assuured ndi Anambra that from the landmark, legacy and signature policies, projects, programmes of the governor to transform the landscape of Anambra State the next APGA governor will continue with the tempo of socio-economic growth and development of Anambra State. Excerpts:

SOME people have not come to grips with the broader objectives of ASATU. What were the aims and objectives of the founding fathers and how far have they been achieved? Have you revised or modified the objectives?

  ASATU was founded in 1996 by Chief Chimezie Ikeazo, SAN, of blessed memory  with some other persons like Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene. The founding objective was to have a platform where all the communities in Anambra State or the town unions will come together to discuss issues affecting the town unions, affecting the communities to have a way of engaging the government to ensure that development is taken to the people at the grassroots; to assist the government to securing the communities. So the founding objectives were to see how to bring development closer to the people by engaging the government. ASATU was actually supposed to be a bridge or the link between government and the people; and that was actually what it has been till today.

  Is there an edict backing ASATU since it aligns closely with government as the state government had single-handedly built an office complex for the organisation; to this end therefore, how independent is the body in terms of elections and controversial policies, programmes and projects of government?

  ASATU is a non-governmental organisation which is independent of the government. That ASATU building or secretariat is inside the government house is out of the benevolence of the government because at a stage, ASATU office was outside the government house. But the point must be made clear; that ASATU has their office inside the government house does not make it an arm of government. To that extent, ASATU is completely independent of government.

 The only thing that is happening is that we support government. ASATU does not fight any government in power, except the government is not doing well. What they do is to pin-point the areas they are not doing well and advise the straying government; But we have this kind of understanding that we need to support a government that is doing well so that development can go to the people, so that security of lives and property can get to the people, that is the relationship we have with the government.

  We also believe that any government that is in power that has been elected by the people of Anambra State is government for everyone; and as we are the representatives of the various communities who have elected that government; so we would not have reasons not to support government that has been elected by the people. So that is why we try to support the government but where the government is not doing well, we also tell the government that you are not doing well. This has been the kind of relationship we have been having with the governments of Anambra State.

  When elections come, we evaluate the process we might say we want to support a candidate because of what we believe that candidate will do or is capable of doing if the candidate is elected. We have had to do that in the past and we did not have any regrets; we have endorsed some candidates because of their antecedents, because of what we think Anambra State needs and what we find in the candidates that are contesting; and whether they are capable of doing those things we think Anambra State needs. If we answer yes to this kind of question, we support candidates. 

When we believe that the candidate is coming to bring about the things we need in Anambra State, we support the candidate.

  In conflicts between traditional rulers and persons with the president general, where could petitions be directed to: ASATU or Special Adviser to Governor on Town Unions and Chieftaincy Matters? Don’t you think that there could be overlap of responsibilities and conflict of roles as ASATU would want to assert itself as the umbrella and mouth-piece of presidents-general of communities?

  When there is a conflict between a traditional ruler and president general, what ASATU does is to set up a committee that goes in to find out what happened or what the problem is. So when the committee reports back, indicating that the PG is at fault, we call the PG to order. When the committee reports that the traditional ruler is at fault, we appeal to the traditional ruler for a change of heart. So we don’t say that because this is a PG, therefore whether he is wrong or right we support him.

 We try to protect our members no doubt because they are our members. We try to protect them from being unjustly treated, but that is not to say that we condone what is not correct. What ASATU does in conflict between traditional ruler and PG is to engage both for peace. We have conflict mechanism here to use in solving such problems when they arise.

What we do is that if a PG complains to us, we intervene. We receive petitions from PGs and traditional rulers, even any person, any stakeholder in the communities. It does not matter if the petition has been written to the special adviser to the governor on town unions and chieftaincy matter. Where occasion demands, we can interface with the government to resolve the matter amicably.

  In terms of community development projects, how does ASATU influence siting or allocation of projects to communities?

The way ASATU influences citing of projects in communities is that communities are represented by the PGs. So a PG can write to the government that for instance, certain basic amenities like water are needed in his community, that health-care needs to be revamped in his community, that some roads leading to his community have become impassable, that electricity is not in his community, etc. So the PGs have the freedom to write the government to come to their help to raise the living standard of the communities. In the siting of an industry, if the PG believes his community has enough land, he writes the government but the government might ask ASATU to help it find vast expanse of land for a particular industry and ASATU can ask the PGs if they have such expanse of land.

  With the heightened positioning of major political parties in the state, namely PDP and APC with respect to the upcoming governorship election, do you think that the legacy and signature projects of Dr. Willie Obiano can sustain the tempo of confidence of the people with regard to the intimidating and grandiose promises of the PDP and APC governorship aspirants?

The next governor of Anambra State will be elected by the people of Anambra State not by ASATU. I think that the way Anambra is today, personally I feel that Governor Willie Obiano has done well, creditably well. And that is the yardstick for electing the next governor. I think the people of Anambra State will not have problem electing an APGA governor. The business of electing the next governor of Anambra State is the business of Anambra State people. The candidates are not yet known but APGA will bring their own candidate. The PDP, APC and other political parties will bring their own candidates for the election and the people of Anambra State will decide. Having said that, here in ASATU, what we are looking at is that the next governor of Anambra State will come from Anambra South, because we strongly believe that zoning is going to help a lot. The election we had in 2013 that ushered Governor Willie Obiano was less rancorous because there was this understanding that let the governor come from Anambra North, so the entire contest was in the Anambra North even though some persons outside the north did not agree but we saw that the election was good, and if we continue with that, elections will cost less, be less rancorous.

 Then of course, it will give a sense of belonging to every person because somebody from the north will know that one day, it will be their turn; somebody from the centre will say okay let me be patient, one day it will be our turn, somebody from the south will say the same thing. But if it is to throw it to the high heavens, let the winner take all, it will always be rancorous. Somebody will always complain, somebody will always cry of marginalisation and deprivation. 

And now, Anambra north is just finishing, it will go to the south. So many people have advanced the argument that the sections have benefited, let it be thrown open. That argument does not seem to make sense to me because we must start somewhere. Now that we have started in central and got through and handed over to the north and the north is getting through and will hand over to the south, then it will come back to the central again and go back to the north and I don’t think we will lose anything if we follow it like that.

  In view of Governor Willie Obiano’s futuristic development visions with respect to the inaugurated 50 years development plans for the state, how would you evaluate its viability?

  The 50 years development plan initiated by Governor Obiano is viable. One of the problems we have in this country is that we don’t plan. If you are not planning to succeed, you are planning to fail. The 50 years development plan is such that from now to the next 50 years, we have a template about what we will do and then, we will be doing those things and the one you do, you mark it. You just don’t wake up and say we want to build this and that. No, that’s what Obiano is trying to avoid. It is like let us have a template; let us put things on the paper about how we will make this state greater, then we begin to work according to the template. So I think it is very viable.

One of the greatest challenges we have in this county is that we don’t plan well, so this 50-year development plan as enunciated by Governor Obiano is what we really need and I think that governments and Nigerians at large will one day want to copy from it.

Even if peradventure another political party wins the governorship election, my advice is that they do not discard this beautiful plan.

  APC-led federal government beats its chest for diversifying the economy through the agricultural and solid minerals sectors, What do you understand by diversification of the economy with reference to federal system of government the world over? Has the federal government lived up to the billings of economic diversification in real terms since Nigeria operates a federal system of government?

I think that diversification is a different thing since the federal system of government being operated in Nigeria is a different thing because the economy can be diversified even in a unitary system of government. To me, diversifying the economy has nothing to do with whether we are operating a federal system or quasi federal system or even a unitary type.

  In this country, we are almost running a mono-product economy. The oil and gas is everything we have. It is however necessary that the economy is diversified. Agriculture should be the mainstay of the economy of the country, but we have a lot of iron deposits in the country, but we are importing steel. We have a lot of palm produce in the country with vast land to grow palm trees to make oil and other derivates. So we have a lot of things we can do to diversify the economy. We have coal in Enugu, which was being mined before the civil war. Most lands are fertile for serious commercial agricultural produce and agro-allied industries and investments. So diversifying the economy of this country is a great thing to do, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the style of federal arrangement in place now.

In the power sector which is comatose, there comes the need for devolution of powers; that is substantially reducing the legislative items in the exclusive list and transferring them to the concurrent and residual lists. The issue of power should not be the exclusive privilege of the federal government. State governments can actually generate their own electricity for their own needs. So what we are advocating is that the federating units should be at liberty to generate their own power which is very fundamental in economic growth, employment generation and wealth creation.

Concentrating everything in the national grid has done more harm than good to the national economy. It’s not working so the whole thing should be done right by devolution of powers. In terms of roads and railways and imperative of review of

statutory revenue allocation, it is okay to allow states to be taking care of the roads in their area. I would like to see a situation where the federating units explore and exploit the natural and mineral resource deposits within their domain so as to take off the basic infrastructural facilities and amenities which are woefully lacking due to insufficient revenues accruing to the states and local governments. That is the kind of restructuring we are talking about. Restructuring is not about breaking of the country as some northerners believe.

Review of statutory allocation will not do much, rather what is needed is restructuring of the lopsided federation put in place by the military regimes with the federal-unitary type of 1999 Constitution. Restructuring the federation will enable people work harder and be creative in the development of all the parts of the country.

  It will encourage creativity, take government closer to the people and make Nigeria attain its rightful place in the international community development-wise. The competitive federalism in the First Republic will be reinvented. No one would want to go to other states or federal government to be begging funds for developing their states.

There is a correlation between diversification and employment and wealth creation and diversification will lead to massive generation of employment. For instance, if the Ajaokuta steel industry is reactivated, a lot of jobs will be created. 

  What is community policing within the context of federal system of government the world over; how do you situate the federal government style of community policing where the constabularies will not bear arms and not pensionable as they will be paid allowances. Do you foresee a situation where the community police will behave like the Nigeria Police pretending to be helpless as the Fulani herdsmen continue to be lawless and carrying guns without license?

Community Police is a very good road to go if we want to solve the problem of insecurity in the country. Community policing is a good way to tackling the problem. The federal government approach is not wrong. The fundamental thing is that the operatives will come from the community. The fear that the constabularies may conduct themselves like the Nigeria police in looking away while the herdsmen are causing havoc is not ruled out even as they will not carry arms but they will be watched with a view to reforming the operational strategy.

  One of the greatest problems we have in policing in this country is that we think that Police job is done only with arms or weapons. Policing may be more effective if we have people who gather information. So one of the joys of the constabulary is to assist in information gathering to pre-empt so many bad things. Let us begin the process because in the cause of time, there may be need for them to bear arms as the federal government may find out.

  As time progresses and exigencies arise, solutions are meant to be found. But the most important thing is that policing is coming down to the communities and we have to welcome it. It may not be a perfect arrangement from the beginning but as time goes on, we begin to fine-tune where we thought it wasn’t good arrangement.

  The 9th National Assembly is preparing for another phase of amendment of the obviously flawed 1999 constitution, described as “federal-unitary contraption”, don’t you think it is a waste of time and resources instead of dusting up the Report of the 2014 National Conference where all Nigerians brainstormed to find pragmatic solutions to the nation’s problems, preparatory to restructuring the lopsided federation?

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