Politics; My challenge as a Christian
Hon Fred Agbedi was Chairman House Committee on Oil and Gas during the Yakubu Dogara led House of Representative. He is from Bayelsa State and one of the people who aspired to clinch the governorship ticket of the People’s Democratic Party for the state. Dayo Emmanuel spoke with him at his Abuja residence on his experience in politics. Below are excerpts:
We have about 2million barrels per day benchmark from the budget and the 13% derivation from oil goes to the oil producing states. Why is it that there is no development in these states?
People keep asking what Niger Delta governors are doing with the oil money they are getting. First of all if I genuinely earn money, I should determine what I do with it if I earn the money genuinely. So when we say Niger Delta gets a lot of money, how much percentage does that represent of the total money from oil? That is the question. Niger Delta states get a percentage of what they don’t know. Somebody somewhere determines what he wants to give. He determines what he wants to declare and hands over the 13% of what he says he has earned. So I think the first place to start is how sincere is the FG about the so called 13 percent derivative.
You mean as it is nobody knows what the country is making from oil?
Nobody knows. Not even the NNPC can tell you the quantity of oil that is sold or the gas that is sold and say out of this we are giving 13% to the oil producing states.
But we are said to be doing about 2millon barrels per day according to the budget and sometimes it drops due to the activities of militants according to reports?
It is not just activities of the militants that can drop production. Any other reason can drop the production quota. Now what happens is that you say we are producing 2million barrels per day, what is the cost of producing 2million barrels? How has the government appropriately monitored the cost of production so that is why most of the people describe the industry as an industry that is shrouded in a lot of mystery and secrecy. But as a nation, if you had allowed investors to invest and then you are levying, you can determine what you levy and you know what you get through your levies. But we have made ourselves part and parcel of the business that was why sometimes ago we couldn’t even pay our call-off capital because somebody is operating the field and your officers who should do the monitoring you don’t even have the capacity to determine the cost. Some of us who had cause to investigate got a mind-blowing report. A situation where you yourself have a cost different from the supervising agency, you are not sure of what goes on.
Are you then in support of privatisation of NNPC?
As far as I am concerned, anything that has to do with government that is a parastatal or a corporation of government does not work because as a people we have always seen such as everybody’s property. Today, NLNG is the most successful story you can tell in the country because it is run as a private organisation even as the Federal Government has 49%. But when the dividend is collected by the NNPC there is still story as to how it was distributed to other tiers of government. So NLNG is always that successful because it is run as a private company even though the Federal Government has 49% share. The operation is conceded to private sector because it is private sector driven that is why it is a huge success story.
When AtikuAbubakar was campaigning, he mentioned selling NNPC and people were skeptical while many people didn’t have problem with that. But the only question was who is going to buy it? In your own opinion who should buy?
Somebody has to buy if it’s going for sale.
Including the person selling?
The person selling is not supposed to buy. It is not his property. If it is his private property he can sell, if it is public property he cannot sell. That is where the law of corruption applies. If by any means he is buying, the laws will catch up with him.
What if he is buying by proxy?
Even by proxy there should be a point at which the law is unveiled that this purchase is by proxy and when it is unveiled the appropriate hand of the law should be invoked. That is the way to go.
You are a Christian and you have been in politics for over 40 years. But then you don’t look like somebody who has put in so many years in politics?
It is by the grace of God. Going by my political involvement, I was in the House of Representatives in 1992. Between 1992 and today is how many years? That is 27 years without talking about my other years of service.
You contested in the primaries for the PDP ticket for Bayelsa. What would you have done differently assuming you’re Governor of Bayelsa State?
I have told Bayelsans I was doing to do things differently and that is why I contested in the primaries. Bayelsa has marginal oil fields. If Nigeria sold crude oil for between $40 and $60 for over 60 years and failed then there should be a change of strategy. Bayelsa has access to crude oil. Why should we sell it raw like Nigeria that sold it and failed? Rather, the option should be to build a refinery so that you can make a lot more money; create employment and boost business environment. That is the way to go.
The present occupants of the government house know this thing you are saying. But why are they not doing it?
They are the ones to answer the question. May be they didn’t see it this way as a better option of making more money, creating more jobs, boosting business environment. The same government has issued licenses for private individuals to build private refineries. You have sources of raw materials, some of these people who applied to have license to build refineries don’t even have hope of where to get the raw materials. But as a state we already have a source of raw material so why waste your time? Bayelsa is the gas hub of Nigeria and there is a lot we can do with gas and that is why we are saying it is high time we made profit with what is going on. If you don’t do that, then you have lost it completely because if Bayelsa is a gas hub what you need to do is to partner with NLNG which is proposing to build two more NLNG plants which will make them have more revenue. If Nigeria has two other NLNG making it three plants, of course Nigeria doesn’t need to borrow a kobo to fund our national budget.
So if Bayelsa is a gas hub, why not speak to NLNG which I have done as Chairman of Gas Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. I have had discussions with them and Shell. We have talked about the process of establishing a gas NLNG. So I need to be in government to drive that process to a logical conclusion and once that comes on stream it is not only Nigeria that is going to make money. Bayelsa would have created job opportunities as well as internal revenue for our state. These are the things I would have brought on board so that we are not just relying on the feeding bottle democracy we are practicing in Nigeria where at the end of the month you go and collect whatever they drop in your palm and you come and spend. But we have been able to turn our economy locally around such that the government will be having a lot more revenue with which they can use to embark on infrastructural development for the state.
What is the spiritual backing you have gathered as a politician and what is the place of God in all these your political involvement going with your relationship with God as a Christian?
God is the Alpha and Omega. Anything I do, I first commit to the hands of God and whatever He gives to me I render thanks to Him. For me I tell people my involvement in politics is God’s project. It is God that took time to train me though the processes he has taken me through that has matured me to this level of having competence and capacity. So before I embarked on any journey I go to Him, I thanked Him for all He has done for me. I committed the entire contest to Him and I invited over 700 men of God who prayed along with me. It was a massive audience so I betrothed it to the hand of God because He never sleeps or slumbers and because whatever you give to Him is safe.
About forty years in politics what has been the critical lessons for you as a believer, a Christian?
Critical lessons for me as a believer is temptation of corruption and compromise. My mother once said to me everybody is coming home with so much and you are not coming home with anything. I said mum all what you see that I come with are not mine. I was sent on an errand. If I convert them to mine then I am a thief. Eventually when I had money and I built my house in the village, after about three years I sat her down and asked her has anybody looked for me and traced me to this village to say we are looking for this man that he is with our money? She said no. I then told her, what I have now is mine. I don’t have any other person’s property with me. I can sleep with my two eyes closed. I am at peace with myself.
People would like you to double speak and I tell them if you are a liar, if you double speak, it is not because you are a politician. It is because of who you are, a liar. Lying is part and parcel of your character. So whenever and wherever you find yourself, you’ll be a liar. You will double-speak if it is in your character. That is the truth. There is nothing in politics that says you should steal, double speak or lie. There is no such training in politics. When you behave that way it is not because you should do that. It is because it is part of your character that is what you exhibit. So that is the most challenging thing. And for you to sustain truth you must be courageous enough. It is because some of us over time have courageously sustained the truth and got the bruises of it and be able to come to this level. That is why people can build trust in us and support our aspirations. This came after so long a time of standing and sustaining the truth. It is very difficult to sustain the truth in political arena. You’ll see many people around you.
They are not as sincere as you think. They even believe that it is better elsewhere than with you. You’ll see so many people around you that somebody will just come and tell them something about you that is not realistic and they will say why are you wasting your time with this man? They would say it is happening better elsewhere and when they lure them to the other place they would find out what they said about you is not true. That is the greatest challenge in this game we are in.