Two-time Federal Minister and flag bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 18th March Governorship election in Enugu State, Frank Nweke Jr. was a guest at a town hall meeting for candidates in the election recently where he talked about his reasons for contesting to lead the state. Nweke who headed several Federal Ministries including Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Duties and Youth Development, Information and Communications, was also a Director General at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group Formation. He spoke extensively and answered questions from participants. Nweke Jr. who speaks the three major Nigerian languages said he would use his wealth of experience to provide competent leadership for the south eastern state. He is more concerned about the state of water and sanitation, environment, internally generated revenue, security, economy, women and youth development in the state. DAYO EMMANUEL monitored the debate via Radio Now 95.3FM in Lagos and here reports. Excerpts:
Why do you want to be the next governor of Enugu State?
As citizens we can take back our state as citizens we can take back our constituencies, as citizens we can take back our country. I am the beneficiary of the best nurture a child could have. I’m also a beneficiary of the best education a child could get and I also have the privilege of participating in a government. I have gained significant experience and knowledge over 20 years. When you are a minister or an appointee, it is different from being the chief executive of a state, I like to say that in spite of the nurture, education and exposure that I have had, I am embarrassed, I am ashamed that Nigeria is what it is today in spite of the presence of the people like I. I am embarrassed that Enugu State is in the state it is today, these are the factors that has made me to step forward that you are indebted to the people of Enugu, to the people of Nigeria. It is my inability to continue to stomach the deterioration in governance that is the reason I stepped forward.
What do the people stand to gain if you are to run the affairs of the state for the next four years?
I am bringing significant knowledge, significant experience, I am bringing the culture of integrity, a culture of accountability to governance, the culture of openness and transparency to the state. If you look at what is happening in our state today, people don’t understand what is going on. If you look at our budget, it is so opaque, when you look at the condition our people live in today; the water crisis, the state of our infrastructure, the level of insecurity, the condition of our pensioners, the fact that you have retirees who have not been paid their gratuities, it is unacceptable. The state of our young people, all of these things are unacceptable and the level of preparedness I have had over the last 20 years in public service and the education, exposure I have got, I am more than prepared to transform our state at this time, I am going to lead from the front and under no condition will anything make me to go on a dancing spree around the country, this is the mandate I have to lift the people.
What are your priorities?
I am very big on leadership because everything rises and falls on leadership. No matter what plan you have for the youth sector or water sector or the security sector, if you don’t have leadership capacity and discipline, you can be sure nothing is going to work. So leadership is key for me. Providing strong, discipline leadership is key for me. Second thing is the issue of security of lives and property. In a situation where our people are massacred literally, this is not what Enugu is known for. The situation where our people cannot sleep with two eyes closed; there is no responsible government which will give attention to security of lives and properties. During the raining season, where I live in town, I have to pay to get water. I have to pay about N25,000 per tanker of water. In the dry season it is going to about N30,000 to N35,000, because of the cost of diesel. I need about two tankers of water in a month, think about the ordinary people who have to buy in gallons and jerry cans, think about the health and economic impact. So water is a priority for me, the fourth thing that is of importance is the economy. Today, Enugu State is about the 20th most indebted state in Nigeria, Enugu State is indebted to the tune of about N70bn in domestic debt, and to about the tune of between $100m and $125m in foreign debt. Let me tell you something else, these domestic debts jumped 82 percent over the last five years and when you look at the next ten years. I am not saying anything is wrong with debt but what you do with the money. Look at the state of our infrastructure, water and health sector and security, housing sector and tell me if indeed these borrowings have been justified. So I will look into the matter of economic transformation, technology, the use of environmental sustainability.
What is environmental sustainability?
It is water and sanitation. Look at the sanitation in Enugu State.You seem to understand the problems so what are your strategies?My primary strategy is to unbundle the water sector. What do I mean by this? Currently we have the water corporation and I want to state categorically that it is the pit of corruption; you certainly have incompetent human beings that were created by God in that sector today. For your information if you take the entire water infrastructure of Enugu, it is not more than 12 percent; the output is not more than 12 percent and there was an audit that was conducted by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in 2020, your water is not flowing. As I’m talking to you, go to Oji Water Works, you will find out that 50,000 cubic litres of water is wasting everyday because of the cannibalisation of the water infrastructure. The water being harvested, given to us by God is wasting. When I say I’m going to unbundle it, I will break the water value chain into three. We will have to harness water from the ground, wherever you are going to get the electricity to bring the water out of the ground, the contract we are going to have with you is just bring the water out of the ground. The second thing we are going to do is to transport the water using the main trunk lines. There are water trunk lines bringing the water from Oji to what you call reservoirs. The water in the trunk is moved into the reservoir. That will be the job of an independent company to be independent of the first one. The third but not the least is another company to take the water from the reservoir to distribute to various parts of Enugu and it is your responsibility to make it enter the various homes, to make sure water is supplied. Once this is done, as a leader what you are doing is to ensure that these independent companies are fulfilling their obligations to the people and the government of Enugu. Once you do this, corruption will leave.
What is the plan for ensuring employment for the youths in Enugu?
Please after your education don’t leave Enugu. Man by nature will tow the path of the least resistance. It is a natural disposition, everybody wants to have progress. If there is no water, no security, no jobs, people would leave Enugu. Why is it that there are no jobs in Enugu? In the last seven years there have been not fresh investments. It is because there is no security, it is because there are no improved infrastructure, because of the poor policies of the environment. Money will only go to where there is safe investment, where it is going to get return. That is why people will not bring money to Enugu, no such things will ever happen. Once the businesses are assured that their investments are secured, they will come to Enugu once they are assured that that there will be no multiple taxation, they will come, once they know there is consistency in government policies they will come. It is those businesses that will keep the youths in Enugu, this is my assurance for the people of Enugu.
What is your plan for the environment and waste management?
It is unfortunate the situation in which we have found ourselves. From a state which was probably next to Calabar in terms of cleanliness, in terms of sanitation, look at where we have found ourselves today as probably one of the filthiest in Nigeria today. A state that was said to be one of the most resilient in the world just seven short years ago. That characterisation has been lost because all the circumstances that enabled the state to be so nominated have disappeared, so for the environment, I’m going to start with appointing credible, knowledgeable competent leader for the state waste management agency. In this state we had mechanised street sweepers, we had a very well-articulated waste management system, waste transfer system, the government was even contemplating a sorting system where there will be a recycling system. All of these have been lost, so my agenda for development is very clear in restoring all these and having them in place. That is number one. Secondly is the number of environmental sustainability. I don’t know how many people have taken note of how hot Enugu is becoming over the last couple of years, not many people are paying attention. When you talk about climate change, it is very easy to say leave those white people, they are the ones doing it. It may be true they are doing what they are doing, we are also doing what we are doing. When you are driving through various Local Government Areas in Enugu State, you will see piles of wood being felled and sold as firewood, there is the significant deforestation taking place in Enugu state, all of these are affecting the environment. These things are going to affect the quality of life and we must check the people who are doing these things, because they do not know any better. So under my government, the issue of environmental sustainability is going to be taken very seriously.
What is your plan of improving the IGR of Enugu State?
You want to ask yourself what are the components of revenue generation. I am also interested in the use of revenue collected in the state today. What are these? You have the monthly allocation from Abuja. I can tell you the total FAC allocation in the life of this administration has gone to about N60bn or thereabout and in terms of the IGR in the last six years up till 2021, it has gone up to about N320bn. Now the question is what have we done with this money? I believe that if it is possible to be accountable and tell people what has been done with his revenue, it will create opportunities for you to expand. If you look at the waste generation and if you see that services are not being rendered, this undermines your ability to ask people to pay for the refuse management. You also look at our tax base, our tax base is so narrow. The fact that market and parks are allocated to individuals the bulk of the money paid by our people are diverted to private pockets and when the monies have come to the central collection point, the management of the revenue is also compromised significantly. What I like to say to the people of Enugu is that I will bring the greatest discipline to the management of every resource, tax collection will be digitized, we will need to try and eliminate the opportunity of people to collect money by hand by anybody at any time that is how to deal with the issue of revenue management. The issue of cost efficiency is critical, contracts are inflated, we know these things, when you look at some project and you look at the quality of the projects you find that this is a complete scam, we are going to eliminate some of these waste. We will eliminate the corruption.In 2022 budget I have identified certain critical sub heads and I like to share with you. The sum of N10.3bn was budgeted for the water sector, education got N14.47bn, youth and sport got N4.2bn, science and tech got approximately N600m that was allocated but hold on, for the governor’s office N17.7bn was allocated. So is it of any surprise why our state is where it is? Is it of any surprise why we don’t have water? Is it of any surprise why the technology sector is undeveloped?In my waking moment, I spend my time looking at these figures. These are data that are available out there, any person who aspires to be your governor who is not at home with these figures, who is not at home with the fiscal condition of our state, our nation and the world is not fit to be your governor. This is because it is going to be a very challenging time. The ruling party is not concerned about the people. That is why my government will be about the people, the youth, our mothers and our women, rural community and citizens of the state.