Dr Pogu Bitrus is the President of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF. In this interview with SKYBLAST TV, the Middle Belt leader spoke on a variety of issues, including the rising cost of cooking gas, the recent poor performance of Nigerian foreign trained doctors in the exams conducted by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu certificate issues, among others. Excerpts!
What is your take on the FG’s plan to pay 25,000 to vulnerable pensioners every month?
The cost of living is very high. So, improving the take home of pensioners is a good development. However, why are we in this situation? We are in this situation because the Federal Government, without proper consultation or with wrong advice, decided to completely remove subsidy on petrol and that is what created all the problems.
Even without removing the subsidy, there was the need to increase the take home pay of pensioners and other salary earners. Now, with the removal of subsidy, the addition of N25,000 is just a drop in the ocean because the price of everything has skyrocketed, and just a few items would wipe out that N25,000.
It is necessary for the Federal Government to fix our refineries and revisit the issue of fuel subsidy. I think the decision to remove fuel subsidies in the first place was ill advised. Nobody is saying that the fuel subsidy should not be removed, but there should have been a staggered process, while other means of livelihood are being improved, including for example, saying before you remove X percentage of subsidy you would have converted so many vehicles to the usage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, LPG.
Then, there would be some removal again and some other measures would have been taken and it wouldn’t have affected the economy the way it has. So, to me, assisting our pensioners is good, but it is something that is coming late in the day. The damage has already been done.
The price of cooking gas recently hit the rooftop with many complaining that average Nigerians can no longer afford it; what are your thoughts on that?
That is another unfortunate development where the Liquefied Petroleum Gas, LPG, or cooking gas, which should have eased the burden on the cost of fuel or energy generally, instead of being maintained, has also skyrocketed; it is unfortunate. I think the economic team of Mr. President needs to have a rethink on the ways of addressing these issues. Too much of taxation kills the economy and it is affecting the poor and middle class earners more than anybody else.
And you see, when we talk of pensioners, and civil servants, they all constitute only about one percent of the population of Nigeria. So, what happens to other Nigerians who are not earning anything, or who have not worked before and have to be living on their farms and other menial jobs to survive?
Cooking gas should have been very low. In fact, if there is to be a subsidy, it should be on cooking gas so that it will solve the problem of deforestation. Just move around the country and look at the volume of firewood that is being sold. The same thing goes for charcoal. It is unnecessary. We are killing and destroying our forest because the cost of cooking gas is too high.
So, Nigeria should actually subsidise the cooking gas; let its price be as low as possible so that people will stop hacking our trees, creating deforestation and generating desertification, killing lots of things, including the fauna – not just the plants (flora) but even the animals (fauna).
The fallout of this development if the government fails to arrest it is that people will stop using it and resort to the use of firewood. That will also mean that we will be losing our forest more and more- deforestation. This will invariably affect the whole ecosystem. The wild animals will find no place to rest, desertification will increase and so many other backlashes. And of course, when the hardship becomes so unbearable for the people having been pushed to the wall, the people will fight back.
So, it is in the government’s interest to make the price of cooking gas so cheap that people would not want to resort to buying firewood or buying wood for charcoal.
Recently there was a report that about 72.6 percent of Nigerian foreign trained doctors failed the exams set by the MDCN, what does that mean to you?
If foreign doctors are failing the MDCN exams, it only means that the standard in Nigeria is very high, and that is very good for us. It simply means that it is better to be trained in Nigeria than to be trained outside. If you get trained outside and you don’t meet the standard in Nigeria, it just means that the Nigerian-trained doctors are better than the ones trained outside there.
So, to me, that is good for us, but the problem is that there is going to be brain drain. Foreign countries will now be attracted to doctors trained in Nigeria because they will now say that getting doctors from Nigeria means getting highly qualified people to add value to their medical care. So, doctors will be leaving this country since they pay more money outside for our doctors.
For our education, it is good because it means we have a high standard of education, but on the other hand, it will lead to brain drain for us and the flight of our doctors to foreign countries because they pay more and better since they know that Nigerian trained doctors are very good. So, on one hand, it is good, but on the other hand, we are going to pay dearly for it.
Many Nigerians are reported to be languishing in Ethiopian prisons. Following the report, the Senate, last week, set up a committee to look into it. What is your take on that?
That is a problem with our foreign affairs ministry. If Nigerians are going out to other countries to look for survival, it means the condition in Nigeria is not good enough. If the condition in Nigeria is good, I will not go out there and you will not go out there. But, Nigerians feel that the condition here is not good, so they go to Ethiopia and other countries and those who commit crimes against the system would certainly be punished. It is now up to our foreign ministry to go into diplomatic arrangement and negotiation with Ethiopia to take back the prisoners to Nigeria for whatever purpose.
Our country should be responsible for Nigerians wherever they are. Even when they commit crime, there are means of repatriating them to serve their sentence in Nigeria. But, the important thing is, let us develop and improve our economy, so that no one will go out of the country apart from going out to do business and coming back.
The issue of women selling their eggs (ovary) has been trending for some time now. The House of Reps recently mandated its committee on health service to launch an investigation into the activities of fertility clinics in Nigeria. What is your comment on that?
These are ethical issues. A lady produces an egg or two in some cases, where twins might result, in a month; just one egg in a month. Whether it is ethical for the woman to do so is up to her. It is up to the government to look at the issue; are they selling the eggs for research? Are they selling the eggs to people who want to produce children by fertilising them outside the womb? What are they doing with the eggs? As I said, it is an ethical issue and I don’t want to delve into that.
Let the medical society of Nigeria and the legislative body look into it and see whether it is desirable or not. Yes, medical research requires so many things and embryos are often taken for medical research, but it is not for me to say whether it is ethical or not. Mine is to say that the government needs to look into the matter, and first of all, look at the clinics that are involved in the practice. If something doesn’t have a market, there will be no buyer. So, first of all, the government needs to find out why the clinics that are buying the eggs are doing it. And why are the women involved doing it?
Last week, precisely on Thursday, Atiku addressed a world press conference, where he informed Nigerians and the world that his findings from the CSU had clearly shown that President Tinubu allegedly submitted a forged certificate to the INEC for the 2023 presidential election. Do you think this new revelation will have any impact on Atiku’s appeal pending at the Supreme Court against Tinubu’s presidential victory?
The court depends on the law to operate and the most superior law is the constitution. If the constitution says that somebody who submitted a forged certificate should not be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, then the law will decide and ask Mr. President to leave the office. We have seen cases in this country where the judges will say some issues are pre-election or post election issues. We have also seen where the constitution, like the case of Federal Capital Territory, where the previous judgement said that ‘and’ is conjunctive, but today we are told that the FCT doesn’t have any special consideration as far as 25 percent is concerned.
So, with such legal issues, it is not for me or anybody outside the legal team or legal world to pass judgement on what the Supreme Court will do. It is not for me to make a comment about that. All we know is that there have been discrepancies in judgments, and statements, so let’s wait and see how our jurisprudence and our laws evolve in this country for the good of everybody.
Unfortunately, however, whether there is judgement or not, the integrity of our nation has been brought into question. If Mr President came in with a result that is presumed to have been forged, it is an unfortunate development but as to what would happen, let us leave the law to take its course.