Former Minister of Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, takes time out to talk about his pedigree,; his former boss, President Muhammadu Buhari; and his ambition to be Edo State governor, under banner of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He spoke with journalists at the APC National Secretariat on Wednesday after submitting his form.
When I leave this world? I’ll like to be remembered for my work towards humanity. I will like to be remembered for service to human and is the main reason that I left my job, last one which was Transport and Travel Manager for Chevron Nigeria Limited to join Comrade Adams Oshiomole as a member of the rescue team for Edo state and I’m sure you all know that while Comrade held sway as governor, Edo state saw progress. I was a member of the Economic Team of that government. I was the chairman of the State Tenders Board for that government. I was the lead for our Infrastructure Cluster Team as well as our Urban Renewal Program. I became Minister of State for Budget and National Planning responsible for first and foremost, our planning I know a lot of you expect me to say budget for budgets is secondary because budget has to come from a plan. So, I facilitated Nigeria’s long term development plan, which we have christianed agenda 2015. I also facilitated the Medium Term National Development Plan, which we Christian NDP 2021 to 2025. I was charged to ensure that the Nigerians budget is predictable and that it should start from January and end in December, I had four budgets that I presented all of them were completed on time. And they all started from January 1 to December 31 of each year, consistently. And that is the first time since this democracy, 1999. I chose to take my work beyond the planning and the budget to ensure that the third part of my assignment which is very very critical, which previous Ministers had ignored that I brought to the limelight and that is the issue of monitoring and evaluation. I come from the organized private sector where we believe that you inspect what you expect. As a leader if you don’t follow through with what you are doing if you don’t from time to time check on your people and projects, then you are going to meet what you do not expect and I’m sure you remember when I visited University of Port Harcourt Teaching hospital to inspect that facility and I said we provide that 950 million for the 52 federal tertiary institutions across the country as the health institutions and I had visited about 14 and upon my visit to the University of Port Harcourt teaching hospitals where the 950 million would have been swallowed by a snake. So you see where leadership is very, very important. But we took it further to say that was just a chance visit. We only have 30 people in the national monitoring evaluation department. From year to year there are about 30,000 to 40,000 federal government projects in every budget so can 30 people effectively. Monitor 30,000 40,000 project is impossible. So we say we should use technology. So we introduced an app, which we christened the iMac. And I enjoin you journalists to Google imac.ng so that you can download it on your phones register for free. You can have Nigerian citizens and the Government of Nigeria to monitor projects that uses geospatial technology. So, you can take a picture once you’re on the app of a project
And it comes to the Ministry of Budget or Now Economic Planning with the latitude or longitude of that project. Because we want that when government earmarks citizens should be able to ‘I mark’ what government has done and ‘I mark’ means you can see it, you can touch it, or you can feel it. I was motivated to do that apart from the visit to the University of Port Harcourt teaching hospital but by what I read that a certain legislator commissioned a world class bridge. I think some where in the South South .
The pictures that I saw was that of the wooden bridge, which cannot even take a heavy vehicle going across and I say to myself, that cannot be a world class bridge.
I started by saying that for me, service to humanity is what I want to be remembered for. So, after facilitating both the long term plan and the medium term plan, I said to myself, what are the outcomes from this plan? Why do people say Nigeria has failed?What are the issues were identified in the National Development Plan. One talks about integrated rural development. It says our rural people occupy 60% of Nigeria, they represent 60% of Nigerians and this 60% of Nigerian produce 90% of the food that we all consume. 60% of what they produce does not get to the market. So to put it in context, the farmers produce 10,000 tons of food, only 4000 gets to the market. Are they not labouring in vain?
But during campaigns, as aspirants or candidates go to the nook and cranny of their states: every hut, every village, all the constituencies they go on to campaign and they get the votes. Once they are voted into power, they become Governors of the capital city and totally abandon the rural areas. And this is also particular in Edo state. If you look at Edo South for instance, almost all our villages have disappeared. Because everybody is going to Benin. I mean, I’m using Edo South as an example now not to talk about a Edo central, and Edo North and why is this? Because they’re looking for opportunities, which they feel only exist in the state capital which is being in what are those is that beneath gas congested? slums are developing a lot of vices are going on our children our take to joining secret cults. And the end result is what you’ve been seeing in the last two, three months, they begin to kill themselves. I think it was about two or three weeks ago about 32 were killed. What is government for? If not to provide security for people.
While the compere was introducing me, he started by saying that I was a commissioner. Long before that, I served in the private sector or in the organized private sector. In the private sector, what we look at is the bottom line. What is the highest rate of return? But when you come to government, the focus is not the highest rate of return. You are looking at social welfare for our people: food, shelter, security and then the issue of infrastructure that is available. So in Edo, we have a huge population of urban poor, just as we also have a very huge population of the rural poor, but these are two different types of poverty. You recalled as Minister, I did say the multi- dimensionally poverty was 133 million Nigerians are poor and some people didn’t understand it said that we had increased the poverty rate from 69. 5 million to 133 million. This 69. 5 is the urban poverty which really has to do with monetary poverty. Which means you do not have enough money in your pocket to meet with your needs. Look at minimum wage is thirty thousand and to your house rent is thousand. So you have to borrow to pay your house rent. What is left for your transportation to get to work? How do you feel? So can you imagine why we say there is corruption because people have to look for ways and means to survive. But that has to do with urban poverty. The rural poverty is totally different. It is as a result of lack of access. You spent all your life in America and decided to retire home or you go to your village you have $10 million in your account and you fall sick at night maybe 10 to 11pm, you need to go to the healthcare center and there is non that is available. With your ten million, are you rich? Maybe your children are still young and you decide to look for primary school or secondary school. There is something that looks like a building where the students go to but there are no teachers. Is that a school? Okay, that means you have to take your children else where to go to school. Are you rich or poor? They’re poor. You built a house in the village. You need potable drinking water in our villages today, do you have water to drink? The same thing too with sanitation and general standard of living. And so when you look at this deprivation or lack of access to basic needs: to basic education, to potable drinking water, to sanitation, living conditions. That’s why we said 133 million Nigerians are poor.
So for me, I’m just taking one aspect of the National Development Plan, which I do believe is a foundation for other things to happen.
Abraham Maslow talks about the hierarchy of needs. So a man cannot be talking about self actualization or self esteem. When he has not put food in his stomach. He cannot talk about self actualization or self esteem when he has no shelter, when he has no shelter. For me, what I’m I bringing to the table is what I call the TRUST initiative. Some people call it the TRUST agenda, but whatever you want to call it, we want to transform our rural urban spaces together. That’s what TRUST means to me. If you’re developing the urban areas, you should simultaneously be developing the rural areas. You should be providing access road especially around the agro corridors. So that 60% that goes to waste, which is a low hanging fruit will be recovered not mechanization, I hear people talking about tractorization. You buy more tractors, you get more improved yields, you increase the acreage and the result will be that you are increasing the percentage of harvest losses. Until we deal with the issue of access to market for these products, which has to do with ensuring that there are roads, either for the farmer to get to the market or the market to come to the farmer and ensuring that there is power. I’m not talking about the national grid. I’m talking about captive power. So once you have captive power available, you’ll find that cottage industries begin to develop around these farm settlements. What will happen is people will set up storage facilities, others will begin to set up processing facilities. The National Development Plan also talked about the micro. That’s micro small and medium enterprises currently in Nigeria they employ 70% of our people. But they are the most marginalized because there are so many binding constraints. The state government will tax, federal government would tax. We have multiplicity of taxes. So what it ends up doing is killing the small scale industries. It is also going to be a major area of target for us to deal with when I become the governor of Edo state.
I think in a nutshell one has captured it. You know, as Edo is the heartbeat of Nigeria and they do require someone with experience. Someone with the right competencies. Someone who has the knowledge of the organized private sector and also the public sector. Someone who has worked at the sub national level and also at the national level. And who has the connect today between the sub national government and the national government and the opportunities that avail themselves. Someone who understands and was dealing with multilateral agencies and doing all the negotiations for government, someone who handled all the donor aids that were coming to the country. Would that not be a right man to govern estate? Do we need someone that will come and experiment some will say that they have been in the organized private sector or their life. But like I said, in the public sector, the scenario is totally different. You’re not looking at the bottom line. So you’re gonna take 2,3,4 years to begin to learn and treat people like machines, there will be no empathy. The governor requires empathy. You have to feel your people. It’s not about projects that you do. It’s about the impact of the projects that you are doing. It’s about doing NEEDS analysis. Even if you have PhD, or you think you know it all. You really don’t know what the community’s want except you engage. And that’s what we’ll be coming with, engaging the people to know their pain points. Yes, they need road, they need water, they need light, but which one do they need the most. That’s what will be given. So thank you very much for listening to me.
Q & A Session
Why was former president Buhari’s government that you served always borrowing yet nothing to show for it?
What are you borrowing for? If you are borrowing for consumption, you are not going to be able to pay back. Because when you borrow, it implies that you are going to pay back. If you look at the borrowing from Buhari’s government, you also have to look at the source of the borrowing. The conditions for borrowing. They were not commercial loans. For commercial loans, you will pay maybe 20% or 30% interest rate. These were very long-term loans with good conditions. And the highest of it, if I remember, was about 2.5%. You have a moratorium of between 5 to 20 years to pay, depending on what it is. Some of those or most of it is that, if you didn’t tale that money to build rail or do that road project, when you want to do it, in 5 or 10 years time you will be paying more for it because of the value of money. Is it not better to take the money and pay at 2.5%? Whereas inflation rate is at 26.6%. Is that not a dash? So, borrowing is not a sin.
Why are two Senatorial Districts of Edo North and South always almost rotating governorship seats?
You know, when you are going to equity, it is always good to go with very clean hands. Edo South has produced four governors. Edo Central has produced two governors. The first governor, the university he founded AAU, I got two degrees from there. One is my Bsc in Economics. And the other one is PhD, my wife. Edo North has only produced one goveenor in the person of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. So, who is marginalised? Let me tale it a little further. Because it doesn’t just start and stop with governors. The issue of ministerial appointments. Edo South has only produced three ministers. Edo Central has produced five ministers. I was the first minister from the Edo North. And I was the Minister of state. So, who is marginalised? What is important now is that we are in opposition, and we need to rescue power. And if you have to rescue power, you have to put your best foot forward. Someone who has the experience and he is competent. But if a relationship and where one comes from is what is important, I belonged to the three Senatorial Districts. My parents are from Edo North. My wife is from Edo South. I had my tertiary education training from the Central. But that is not where my Edo Central connection starts. My elder brother, his wife, is from Yromi, which is Edo Central. So, the children have a connection with Edo Central. Am I going to abandon them? My wife immediate younger sister is also from Uromi. The children they come to me and also spend Christmas with me. Am I going to abandon Edo Central?
Do you agree with the view that former President Buhari’s government was known for semantics?
Delivering on National Development Agenda 2050? Is that semantics? That was what I was assigned. Did it deliver on the National Development Plan 2012 to 2025? During my time, did the budget start from 31st to 2st January? Was I going out monitoring projects? I just told you about the app that we put in place. And I have encouraged you to sign into. Is that semantics? I was a commissioner in the state. I did the designs of our primary and secondary drains.
And the contracts that we did was because we understand the environment. They are responsible for primary drains. Works responsibility is to construct roads and protect them. We did our urban renewal programs and expanded our roads. All these roads were federal roads. Airport road in Benin, we change I t from a single carriage way to a dua carriage way, six lanes. The primary drains on that road are 22 feet ddeep.in sapele road, another federal road. It was a single carriage way. But we expanded it again. And made it six lanes with primary and secondary drains. Akpakava, the same thing. New Lagos road, the same thing. Ugbowo road is the same thing. My name is there. I look at what you used to call ring road in Benin. There was a motor park. There was a market. They were selling garri,vegetables, and recharge cards with about five motor parks in the central business of the heartbeat of Nigeria. I sent a team out, and they told me, “oga in the past they sent us, but when we got there
What is your take on minimum wage?
I have to see the books to make a commitment. I can not just say because I want to be a governor. I stand here and tell you that the minimum wage is going to be a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand. For now, I can not have a recommendation. Until I see the books.
Are you a godson?
Am I going to deny that Adams Oshiomhole is a friend? No, I will not deny him. Am going to deny that he is my brother because we come from the same part of the state? No, I will not deny him. Will I deny that he is my boss? No, I will not. Am I his only son? No, I am not. He has sons from Edo North, South and Central. I won’t deny him..
Are you his anointed son?
If I were the anointed, do I need to go about campaigning? I will sit at home and wait for the coronation. But I know I have to sell myself to the people. And because our people could be forgetful, I had to remind them the things that I did. I know I am the best among them. And in all the parties. I am not talking about APC now. Because I see all the contenders across the parties. Why do you think I am the only one under attack? Why am I the only one that is the godson? It is because no one throws stone at a tree that has unripe fruits.