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Nigeria passing through wilderness experience –Blessing Nwagba

Dame Blessing Nwagba, represented Aba North Constituency twice in the Abia State House of Assembly on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

She later moved to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and was the governorship candidate of the party in the 2019 elections.

 She ran for the senate seat in 2023 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), battling it out with then state governor,  Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu (PDP), and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (APGA), the Senate former minority for the Abia South Senatorial seat, who was latter declared the winner.

She said she was the candidate to beat in that election given her popularity and acceptance by her constituency, but was rigged out.

In this chat with journalists, she speaks on sensitive national issues including assessment of President Bola Tinubu, subsidy removal, women in politics, her mission in politics among others.

Excerpt

Do you agree that most Nigerians are beginning to doubt the acclaimed leadership potential of President Bola Tinubu in view of the hardship being experienced in the country?

First, I think three months in office is not enough time to assess the potential of Mr President whose leadership prowess is never in doubt. The recent actions of the President have proven that the president would be a listening President.

 During the administration of former President Buhari, the appointment of service chiefs were lopsided to the extent that throughout his tenure no South Easterner was appointed as a service Chief.

President Tinubu’s administration in less than one month in office has brought an end to that anomaly with the appointment of a South Easterner as the Chief of Naval Staff and the appointment of a Christian from Southern Kaduna as the Chief of Defence Staff.

With the level of killings in the past in Southern Kaduna, the choice of a Christian from that part of the country as the Chief of Defence Staff will go a long way in reducing the level of insecurity in that part of the country.

The appointment of Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla as the 24th Chief of Naval Staff is timely and apt by the president.

Before his appointment, despite the level of insecurity in the Southeast region, there was nobody from the region attending the Security Council meeting in the immediate past administration.

The abolishing of multiple exchange rates in the country by President Tinubu is another timely decision that needs to be applauded.

Recall that in the last administration there were accusations of round tripping in the exchange market where some influential people used their closeness to the then President to get foreign currencies from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at the government rate and sell in the open market at the Black Market rate, thus making it difficult for banks and manufacturers to access FOREX at the CBN.

It is true that we have not started seeing the benefits of floating exchange rates but definitely it will come. Before now both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund advised the former President to end the multiple exchange rates to encourage investors to invest in the economy.

Another decision that the President took is the removal of the fuel subsidy which many Nigerians believed is long overdue.

Though the decision was a bit hasty, be that as it may, the future benefits of that decision will outweigh the current pains we are passing through at the moment in the country.

 There is this position in some quarters that the removal of oil subsidy was hasty because palliatives should have been completed and made available before the removal. Do you think there is still no cause for alarm?

I did acknowledge above that the decision of the President to end the subsidy regime was a bit hasty in the sense that there was budgetary provision for fuel subsidy till the end of June 2023 however the President chose to end it on the day of his Inauguration being the 29th of May, 2023.

Like I did mention earlier there are signs that President Tinubu will be a listening President, when the leadership of Organized Labour (NLC and TUC) threatened to embark on strike over the non provision of palliatives to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal, the President in his address to the nation on the 31st of July did acknowledge that he should have rolled out palliatives before the removal of the subsidy.

To answer the second part of the question, I think there’s no cause for alarm with the palliatives the President has rolled out to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal.

Also read: Women have capacity, competence to lead on merit –  Blessing Nwagba

I think if those measures are implemented we will be grateful that President Tinubu removed the subsidy on petrol. He has promised the Organized Labour that the Port Harcourt refinery will begin operation by December of 2023. 

The administration has also set aside hundreds of billions for infrastructure development which will also help to stabilize the economy.

In the Bible when Moses was leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land (Cannan) the journey wasn’t rosy, at a point the children of Israel queried Moses why he brought them out of Egypt to the wilderness.

Just like the children of Israel, we are in a wilderness experience with the hike in cost of fuel following the subsidy removal which has adversely affected the cost of living; but with the promise of the president that one of the refineries will begin operation by the end of the year and the belief that Dangote refinery will start production, I think the era of borrowing to service debts will be a thing of the past.

I have the belief that with the judicious reinvestment of the subsidy funds, as a Nation we are on our way to the promised land.

 Organise Labour (NLC) is preparing to go on strike. What is your advice?

The leadership of organized labour (NLC and TUC) threatened to embark on strike because of the excruciating pains that the citizens are passing through due to the subsidy removal.

Their reasons are germaine and it was expected of them to do so. The agitation of the organized labour to embark on nationwide strike forced the President to roll out some of the palliatives his administration has put in place to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal  .

Not being satisfied with the measures taken by the president as no mention was made about the three refineries the labour leaders insisted on going on the strike, like I said earlier that the President is a listening president, he met with the leadership of the Labour and it was in that meeting that the president promised to ensure the Port Harcourt refinery begins production by December of this year.

The Organized Labour in statement suspending the strike made it clear that they will embark on a strike on the 14th of this month if the Federal Government fails to withdraw the contempt suit filed against the leaders of NLC and TUC.

Because President Tinubu understands the importance of the Labour unions, on the 7th August the Federal Government withdrew its contempt suit against the leaders of NLC and TUC for organizing the nationwide anti-subsidy protest.

My advice to the leadership of Organized Labour is to stay action, they should hold Mr President in his words. Strike or industrial action would compound the woes of the citizens because by the time Banks, NUPENG , PENGASSAN, NUEE (National Union of Electricity Employees) join the strike every sector of the economy will be crippled, which will bring untold hardship to the people.

I urge them to continue with the negotiation to ensure that the palliatives are well implemented and also that Mr President does not renege on any of the promises he made in the course of the negotiation.

Once the President assigns portfolios to the Minister Designates, I would want them (NLC and TUC) to keep the Petroleum Minister, Labour Minister and Education Minister on their toes to ensure that everything they demanded are met.

Also, Labour should be on the toes of every other minister and ensure they are monitoring their performances.

The number of women federal lawmakers seem to be decreasing rather than increasing. What do you think is the cause?

The number of female federal lawmakers has decreased; not seemed to be decreasing.

For instance, in my state (Abia State) in 2011, we had 1 female Senator and 2 female members of the House of Representatives.

Fast-forward to 2023, there is no female lawmaker from Abia State at the National Assembly, even at the state House of Assembly.

The dwindling number of female parliamentarians at the National Assembly is worrisome considering the increased agitation for gender-balanced parliament.

In the 9th Senate there were eight women in the Senate. Unfortunately, none of them made it to the 10th Senate.

A total of three women were able to make it to the Senate in the 10th Senate which I think is the lowest the female folks have had since the return of democracy.

In the House of Representatives there is a slight increase in the number of women elected in the House of Representatives from 13 in the 9th House of Representatives to 16 in the 10th House of Representatives.

In the 8th House of Representatives, there were 22 women elected to the Nigeria House of Representatives.

I think the major cause is that we run a system of politics that favours the men more. If you check the number of women that were given tickets by the three major political parties in the country you will find out that it is very minute.

In the last Senatorial elections, only 92 women flew the flag of the 18 political parties in the whole country while only 286 women contested for House of Representatives seats.

Until level playing fields are provided for the women during party primaries, I don’t think the fortunes of the women in Nigeria politics will improve.

As long as we continue to see positions of National Chairman and National Secretary of political parties as the exclusive reserve of the men, I don’t see this anomaly changing.

With the paltry number of 19 out of the 469 members of the National Assembly members being women, it will be near impossible to pass any gender based Bill at the National Assembly unless such Bill is an Executive Bill.

A country like Rwanda where over 60 percent of the parliamentarians are women is now a destination choice for investors despite the fact that they came out from a civil war in 1995.

To pass more people-oriented bills in Nigeria, we need a higher number of women at the National Assembly.

If you meet president Tinubu, what will be your advise on  areas of priority attention?

If I am privileged to meet President Bola Tinubu, and I am to advise him, I will tell him to give priority attention to the nation’s Refineries, Security, Agriculture, Education and Power.

With the removal of fuel subsidy, our refineries need to be functioning. If we can get our refineries to be functioning optimally it will impact on our economy because we will be self-sufficient and will be earning in Dollars by selling petroleum products to some neighbouring African countries.

 This will reduce the pressure in the FOREX market as there will be FOREX available for manufacturers and industrialists which will help in strengthening the naira.

On security, almost every part of the country is facing one security challenge or the other.

In the Southeast the Biafra agitation and the detention of the leader of IPOB (Mazi Nnamdi Kanu) is a major factor to the heightened  insecurity in the South East geo-political region.

If I am to advise the President in that regard, I will ask him to listen to the voice of reasoning and oblige the request from leaders of thought from Southeast and release the leader of IPOB, as this will enable security agents to treat some criminals who have been perpetrating criminal activities in the region in the name of agitation as criminals that they are.

In the Northern part of the country and some parts of the Southwest where Boko Haram terrorists and bandits have been making life unbearable for the citizens, I will tell the President to charge the Service Chiefs to bring an end to the activities of these terrorists in the country with a timeline attached to it.

If any of the Boko Haram terrorists or bandits genuinely seek for amnesty, it should be granted to such  persons.

On agriculture, Nigeria is blessed with vast arable lands hence we should be self- sufficient in food production.

I will advise the president to increase the budgetary allocation to agriculture. If the country prioritizes food production and other agricultural products like cotton, the economy will be stabilized as the amount of money spend on food importation will be channeled into other sectors.

On education, I will advise the President to give priority to the education sector. I will ask him to sit down with the leadership of ASUU to ensure that his administration will not witness the incessant strikes which were prevalent in the past administrations.

 A.I.(Artificial intelligence) is almost taking over every area of human endeavour. No country can develop beyond the level of attention it gives to the education sector. 

Technology played a key role in the economy of China and India, the world’s most populous nations. If President Tinubu’s led administration can place adequate emphasis on Technology, the country will be better for it.

Uninterruptible power supply is the key to industrialization. With the level of unemployment in Nigeria, steady power supply will help the country to create jobs.

 Investors both local and foreign need steady power to increase productivity and maximize profits which will help in reducing unemployment. The reduction of unemployment will reduce and increase government earnings through taxes and levies.

I will advise President Tinubu to end the power sector conundrum that has bedeviled it. With the epileptic power supply we have at present,it will be impossible to attain meaningful development in the country.

You have always been optimistic that President Tinubu will deliver dividends of democracy. Why such conviction?

If the antecedent of a leader is anything to go by, it is on record that Tinubu is a go-getter. His achievements as the  Governor of Lagos State is there for everyone to see and his track record of having one of the best teams in the country hence the reason he is the most prominent among the former Governors of the class of 1999 even before his election as the country’s President. These are some of the reasons I am convinced that he will do well. In less than three months of his administration he has shown that he has the will power to take those hard decisions that some of the former Presidents were unable to take.

It is true that some persons are not comfortable with some of the names who the President nominated to serve as ministers. Some people are querying why there are a lot of former Governors in the list, for me I am of the opinion that we wait until they are assigned portfolios to enable us assess them properly. I have the conviction that President Tinubu will leave the country’s economy and the country in general better than he met it.

What really is your mission in politics?

My primary drive for public service was alleviation of poverty, good governance and gender inclusivity.

Starting from my entry into politics as a supervisory councilor to when I served as a state legislator and  member of federal board, I had always had an eye for the less-privileged and designed programmes, even outside the main thrust of that office, to impact them. Within the limits of offices I had occupied, I had strived to ensure transparency and good governance, showing responsibility for the mandate one was given. 

So seeing people happy, reducing poverty, impacting lives positively and ensuring transparency and good governance still drive my humanitarian services.

This is evidenced in the activities of my NGO, Total Blessing Foundation, and the legacies I left in every government position I have held.

I am one who believes in the capacity of youth and women. The energy of the youth and commitment of the women can turn any economy around if well harnessed.

I therefore use any means available to impact them. Denying women who make up 49% of Nigeria’s population opportunities is the country shooting herself in the foot.

 How can the improvement of women participation in politics as well as increase in elective positions be achieved?

Despite the court ruling on the 2006 National Gender Policy which mandated the implementation of 35 percent affirmative action on appointive positions, it is on record that no administration has ever given the women up to 35 percent appointments.

On how to improve the participation of women in politics in the same vein, increase the number of women in elective positions largely depends on the men.

The men see the women as rivals in politics rather than partners. Some of them feel uncomfortable when they see women do well in politics, while some of them are anti-female gender, the reason it takes a lot of lobbying for any female gender based Bill to be passed in the parliament.

This period I think we (women) are lucky to have Senator Oluremi Tinubu as the First Lady of the country having been in the Senate she understands first hand the challenges bedeviling women participation in politics.

To make the 35 percent affirmative action a law we need an Executive Bill in that regard, that is the only way it can be passed in a male dominated parliament. If the first lady shows interest in the challenges the women have been facing in the past, I think she can lobby her husband (President Tinubu) to make the 35 percent affirmative action a law in the country by sending an executive bill to the both chambers of the National Assembly and it will be to the President’s credit that it is during his administration that the country implemented the 35 percent affirmative action.

What is your philosophy of life?

My philosophies in life include hard-work, belief in oneself, positivity, self-respect, moderation and fairness to others.

Maintaining these philosophies, for me, creates peace and happiness, good health and eventually long life.

How do you relax?

Relaxation is important in life and I do this by relating with friends and family, entertainment on social media and televisions, reading, attending parties, engaging in sports such as golfing, jogging and yoga, traveling on holidays and more.

valoa2000@yahoo.com

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