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Senator Lee Maeba represented Rivers South East in the Sixth National Assembly. In this interview with TEMDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on the report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which says the country is out of recession. He also spoke on the federal government’s anti-corruption war and other issues of national interests. Excerpts:
The Federal Government is celebrating the report that Nigeria is out of recession but many Nigerians are saying the reality on ground is not support of that claim. What is your perspective on that?
You know when you play politics with the economy or you play politics with peoples’ lives, this is what you get. What are the indices off recession? Part of the indication of an economy in recession is a collapsed currency; when the currency lost its value. Not only that, you also have the issue of retrenchment and unemployment and several other factors. Look at the country today, do Nigerians have jobs now? Those who were retrenched during the period of recession, have they been employed? What is the strength of the Dollar when compared to the Naira? The Naira today is still hovering between N370 and N400. So many factories were closed down during the period of recession, have they been opened? Are new industries springing up? It’s funny to play politics with people’s lives and the strength of the nation.
The economic situation of the nation is at its lowest ebb. The value of the Naira keeps plummeting on a daily basis. So, why should you say you are out of recession? You just announced recession, Greece has been in economic recession for almost five years and that is a developed economy. Recession is not a door you just open and close. Nigeria is not even in a recession. The Nigerian economy is in deepdepression. Nigeria is depressed financially, depressed socially and depressed morally. Let me tell you, social depression is the worst form of recession and the worst form of recession is depression. So, this economy is in a depression. I quite agree with those who say we are out of recession, but we are plunging into depression now. We are not out of recession because we are in a buoyant economy. We have transited from recession to depression.
Over two years of APC in power as Nigeria’s ruling party, what is your assessment of their performance so far?
I agreed that the APC has delivered change to Nigerians, but it is a very devastating and negative change that has plunged Nigeria into poverty. Their change has made Nigerians poorer. So, we have changed from hopefulness to hopelessness. They have changed Nigeria from the most buoyant economy in Africa to the weakest economy in Africa. The economy of Nigeria now is even rated behind countries like Rwanda. In fact, we are even behind Somalia. So, APC has brought change from the best to the worse, change from positive to negative, change from buoyancy to recession. Through APC’s change, many who have jobs before the election in 2015 are now jobless. So many people who established companies in Nigeria before 2015 have now folded up the companies. We are in a dangerous change, a change that may soon take our lives away.
What is your perspective of the anti-corruption war of the federal government?
There is no anti-corruption war going on. The best you can do in Nigeria is plea-bargaining. When I was in the Senate, I proposed a bill for plea- bargaining with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Nuhu Ribadu. The best you can do is plea-bargaining, you say ‘if you have money, invest it here and we will not touch you’. If you say if you have properties in Nigeria, take plea-bargaining and let the owner write. The owner can continue to own the properties but the proceeds; the tax on the property goes to the federal government. So, the government recovers its money across time. You don’t go and put a gun on somebody and say you stole money, bring it out. Judiciary still has protection for people who have their properties. The ICPC, EFCC and even the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Nigerian Police were established by the PDP government.
The PDP has laid a solid foundation for transparency in the system. That to me is the best way of fighting corruption than to be haunting people on political basis. Every former APC governor is saint; they did not steal any money. All those who were arrested for stealing money are PDP members. Many of these APC people today were former PDP members. Once you leave PDP and join APC, you automatically become a saint and nobody will arrest you for stealing. So, today in Nigeria, we have St. APC and Rogues PDP.
Looking at the 8th Senate, are they still as vibrant as when you were a member?
The reality is that the government of the day is waging war against the senate and fighting their integrity. They are trying to destroy the institutions of the senate. Every indices shows that the government does not want the senate to do its job. Imagine the EFCC Act was signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who agreed that the chairman of the commission must be confirmed and cleared by the Senate. Then APC government said they don’t agree with that. So, to me, they are destroying the institution of the senate. They have finished the senate. There is nothing called Senate anymore. The Senate today is an arm of APC. APC sees the senate as one of its institutions that must go and carry plate to the president begging.