Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is a member of the House of Representatives representing Akoko North-East/North-West of Ondo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. He is also the Chairman of the House Committee on Niger Delta. In this interview with PETER DADA, he speaks about some national issues, the forthcoming general election among others
It had been reported many times that there are many abandoned projects of the NDDC in Ondo State. What is your committee doing about this?
If we talk about abandoned projects, I will tell you, it’s not limited to Ondo State. It’s all over the Niger Delta states but we are working round the clock to make sure that we solve all these problems, it is an inherited problem. We have over N1tn worth of abandoned projects, but we are placing priorities on them. It is not about starting something you will not finish it and you will start another one, to whose benefit are you doing it? I can assure you that I’m pretty hopeful that the matter will be resolved by the grace of God.
The NDDC was established in the year 2000 (23 years ago), and it has been awarding projects. There’s something called budget overrun and it has been happening. I want to tell you this, as the chairman ( of the House Committee), in the last three and a half years, it is not just that I folded my arms. Today, to the glory of God, the completion of the headquarters of the NDDC was awarded when I became chairman. They were paying rent every year for office space in Port Harcourt and they brought the budget to me and I said no, “you cannot be a multi-billion naira agency and be living in a rented apartment. It doesn’t make sense, it’s like you being a millionaire and you are still living in a rented apartment.” I made it compulsory and I said, tell this house, that was during the budget defence, how much do you need to complete this building which they said was not in their proposed budget and at the end of the day, we appropriated, we supervised and less than a year after that, they completed their headquarter building.
This was the building they started in, I think 1993 and for more than 30 years, they could not complete the building but I can say it, I was able to put my feet on the ground and today, we have a multi-billion edifice in Port Harcourt.
What about the NDDC Housing Estate and the power project in Ondo South?
The NDDC Housing Estate itself was our effort. Secondly, when you look at the Police Housing Estate in Port Harcourt, it was abandoned and I said you can’t build anything new for police accommodation when you have not finished the one you started. We saw it, it’s been completed. Also, the hostel at the University of Uyo presently accommodates over a thousand students was abandoned but I have always been on the opinion of ways projects will be given priority over new projects, it’s important especially when you do your need assessment and you know these things are important. Today, that building has been completed. Also, in Ondo State, the power situation in Ondo South, I don’t like to talk about it because it’s a bit very emotional for me. I know when I became chairman, I’m aware of the financial liability of that project, and the unpaid jobs done by the NDDC that led to the stoppage of that project. As I speak, I’m aware of what we have to do here, what we have to put under my watch. I know how much has been paid towards the completion of that project and the last time I had an interaction with the contractor, he further gave me assurances but I know about two or three payments have been made, this is part of the efforts that we have been putting in place to eradicate abandoned projects. There are so many of our projects across the region that are not moribund, some were given to contractors without capacity, and there are so many issues, it’s a bit more complex but I tell you, we have a list of all those projects now and there’s a lot of efforts that are being put in place to prioritize completion of essential ongoing projects, not all but some are not essential, some are not viable, those projects that are viable, those projects that are very essential, you can be sure that we will put it all the necessary efforts to make sure that it Is done.
A few days before the general election, the people of the country are currently facing tough times as a result of naira redesign and fuel scarcity, don’t you think this is a minus for your party, the APC and its presidential candidate as well as other candidates?
There is no problem. We will win by the grace of God, I’m very optimistic that Asiwaju BolaTinubu will emerge as the next president of Nigeria, I’m committed as a person, as a party man and as somebody who believes in his, and we know he will win. But I understand that there are issues, with the currency redesigned, people cannot collect their own money. You have money in your account, yet, you cannot buy food. I’m not supporting Asiwaju because he’s in the APC. I’m supporting him because of his legacies and that is what I think it’s important. I don’t think it’s right to judge a party or to judge a candidate. After all, former President Obasanjo privatised a refinery, but President Yar’Adua came and reversed it, both of them were in the same party. That means their approaches differed. Asiwaju has disassociated himself from some of these things and for you to know, if this happened a year, two years, three years ago, we would have said this is an APC policy. I’m not a public commentator. I don’t talk about issues, but I believe in what Tinubu stands for and in this election, people should focus on what the problems of Nigeria are. We need somebody who can revive our community. If you revive the economy and there are jobs, it will reduce unemployment, the price of rice will come down, and the purchasing power of the people will increase. How can you revive this economy? Who is that person that can do it? Because, in Nigeria to me, we are at the point where we cannot afford to make any mistake. If we get it wrong now, it’s a problem. I want to advise or solicit or appeal that Nigeria should focus on the credentials of the candidate. If you are a short man and you enter Lamborghini, when you come out, you are still a short man. If you are a tall man and you enter Lamborghini or Ferrari, when you come out, you are still a tall man. So, it’s not the vehicle we are talking about. All of us are not happy, there’s nothing wrong with the redesigned naira notes, let’s get that straight. The UK did it last year but we have to give people that time, it has to be a seamless transition. How many of our people are financially okay? In many of our communities, there are no banks, the network is bad. Will you go to meet a man that is selling garri in the village and you want to buy garri worth N100 or N200hundred o or you want to buy pure water to drink, will you be asking for their account number to transfer money to them? We are in a developing economy.
Are you too condemning the CBN policy?
I have my own reservations but at least, it’s a good one. I’m worried about the timing. The initiative is good, I come from a rural area. I know what my people are going through. People are not begging you to send money to them. They have their money, but they cannot even transport their resources. People go to ATMs. They collect N1,000 or N2,000 after queuing for hours. There are a lot of issues that I think would have been better managed. But I want to believe that the government will definitely listen to the yearnings of Nigerians and I believe that government is for the people. The government will do the needful. But I know the policy is not tailored to harm Nigerians or to leave a bad legacy. There’s no President that wants to leave a bad legacy.
Are you not worried that all these things happening currently in the country may affect your chance of winning as an APC candidate?
No, I’m not worried, my election is a referendum. Maybe we want to continue our journey to the Promised Land. Before I became a Rep member, we had democracy unbroken for 20 years (1999-2019), let’s put the scorecard on the table. We stopped market women from going to microfinance (banks) for loans.
We started giving grants, not loans. We’ve done our best and we know that the Akoko people traditionally, we’re always very appreciative and I know they will do us well, like what one of our royal fathers has said “whoever does what no one has ever done, he will face what no one has ever faced”, we have done well with the help of God and we’re expecting that we will see good that no one has seen. I promised my people effective representation and we’ve lived up to it.
As a representative of your federal constituency in the National Assembly, what are you doing on the issue of insecurity, particularly, kidnapping in the Akoko area?
Yes, we’ve done a lot, irrespective of the kidnappings in the last one year or more. Kidnappings are not as they used to be and people don’t appreciate where we are in Akoko, we border volatile states, and we border Kogi. People can kidnap in Ondo and run to Kogi, we also border Edo, Ekiti, and Kwara. When you look at the North-East, those border states, you will see that they are mostly affected by Boko Haram. I can say that Ondo State Government has done well in helping us in what we are doing. I was born in Oyin -Akoko .I know the problem of my people. I’m a homeboy, the major issue in “Akoko” is security because our people are farmers and when we came, that was the first project that we did and we proved that. When we started having improvements in security, we collaborated with all the Obas, all youth groups, vigilantes, civil defence and police. We built a civil-military relationship between the people and the government. After we did that, we gave vehicles to all divisional police stations in our constituency, then we provided motorcycles to some other areas and we also met with the community vigilantes and told the others to go to the bushes. There was a time, every road that enters my constituency, even the one from “Ikakun” to “Auga” road, they were kidnapping people, even my own cousin in “Oyin” was kidnapped but today we thank God things have changed. But security is not just government business, it’s everybody’s business because you know who is who. We are doing a lot behind the scene and that is why today, apart from one road where we occasionally have issues, in every other area in Akoko North-East and North-West ( Local Governments), we don’t have any kidnapping. We are also working tirelessly to ensure all roads are safe in Akoko land. I always say, when you are looking for re-election, your slogan should not be “I will”, your slogan should be “I have”, this is what we have done in security.