Hon Iduma Igariwey represents Afikpo North/South federal constituency of Ebonyi State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he speaks on the marginalization of the South-East, insecurity in the zone and appointment of service chiefs, among other issues. UCHENNA INYA reports
What is the National Assembly doing to correct the perceived lopsidedness in appointments in the country?
Section 14 of our constitution talks about federal character which means that appointments should not be from to one section of the country. Now, the federal government is practicing federal character in employment and education because it favours them but when it comes to crucial things like the issue of service chiefs, it will not be applied. It will now be the President who decides who becomes that without due consideration of all the six geopolitical zones of the country. So, it is one of the problems in our constitution.
Now, we are about to enter into the constitution review and I am representing Ebonyi State in the committee and how to make sure that federal character is reflected in appointments into certain important positions in this country is one of the issues we will tackle
. Nobody is happy, even some people from the North are not happy that no Igbo man occupies a significant position in the security architecture of this country. It is not a good thing because you have a group of people called Igbo and where you also have some of the best brains yet you deliberately seek to discriminate against them.
Most of my colleagues don’t like it. They feel that it doesn’t help the issue of oneness as a country.
The constitution says one minister from every state, that one is stated in the constitution but we also want to include other things in the constitution or to amend certain sections to also include making sure that all the six geopolitical zones of the country are appointed to occupy the positions of service chiefs.
What measures are South-East National Assembly members taking to end insecurity in their zone?
The truth of the matter is that the issue of security is even the main purpose of having a government; it is contained in our constitution. The essence of government is to protect the lives and properties of its citizens.
Now, we are aware of the structure of our governance; we have the federal government, state governments and local governments. At the local level, the chairman is the chief security officer, at the state level, the governor is the chief security officer while at the federal level, the president is the chief security officer. What it means is that the ball stops with some of the people.
So, we the federal lawmakers, our voice is not too far from that of the masses, ours is just to draw attention to our concerns most of the time, that is the much we can do. Much more has to do with those who command the local governments and the states.
What about the issue of herdsmen?
On the issue of the herdsmen menace in our state, we all know that it is a national problem. As far as I am concerned, anybody has the right to live anywhere in the country.
Any Igbo man has the right to go to the North to do his business and a Hausa man or Fulani man has the right to also go to any part of this country to do his own business. But your right stop where another person’s right begins.
That is the most common way of looking at it. If your business now becomes the albatross, if it now becomes a nuisance, if it now becomes a threat to other people’s means of livelihood, then something has gone fundamentally wrong with that business.
If you are an Igbo man and you are in the North, you are doing business and your business offends the laws of that state or against their norms, then you are not doing good business there, it means you don’t even have respect for them. If they come from the North and they come here and they don’t obey our laws, we have simple laws of even trespass.
If I have a property and you enter my property by force, it is trespass and the law should take its cause. If I have crops like a farmer and you go and destroy it by whatever means, you have damaged my properties and there are laws on all these things.
This is why I said we have those who the ball stops on their tables, do we have chairmen of local governments or governors of South-East who implement basic laws because our democracy is a democracy of laws. It is a democracy that is based on laws. If we allow lawlessness or anarchy, then there is nothing left of the society.
It is a gross violation of people’s fundamental rights to trample on basic statutory laws without any form of address by the powers that be. In Benue State, the government has gone ahead for instance to set up certain laws, the grazing laws and it is like that in some other more progressive states.
Then, you begin to ask yourself what are you doing to address it in your own state? Strategies of communications the citizens can use and make input during budget processes are very crucial. Just last week, those who follow me on Facebook will see that there is a retreat I attended in Lagos which had to do with the budget processes and the retreat was organized by the budget office.
The system we have now which some of us don’t like is what is called the envelop system. We have the federal budget, we have a state budget and a local government budget. Citizens should always ask local governments what they are doing with the budget. Citizens should also ask state governments what they are also doing with the monthly allocation they get from the federal government.
As I said, the federal budget operates an envelope system. In that envelope system, federal ministries, federal parastatals and agencies are usually given envelope each year.
In this system, the ministries, parastatals and agencies are given guideline when the envelopes are given to them; this one is for salaries, this one for projects among others and part of the problem we have in this budget system is that only little fund is left for capital which is the main thing whereas what is usually set aside for overhead and other recurrent expenditures are usually the biggest.
So, I sponsored the bill and my argument was that it is undemocratic for the President to just take this budget estimate from ministries without input from the public. That bill scaled through the second reading and if you see my bill analysis, you will see that I took time to appeal to colleagues to support the bill because of the need to democratize the budget process.
The only window we have for now is what we call a public hearing. It is in this public hearing that people ask us questions on the budget. I am somebody that criticizes this public hearing of a thing because it is not enough for the public to make input in the budget process. H
ow many people attend this public hearing whenever it is organized? It is only a few people who are opportune like those in the media or civil society people that usually attend the public hearing which usually takes place in our room. So, this country has not developed a sufficient platform to get public input into the budget process. There is the need for greater democratization of our budget process, so that ordinary people can make input.
Governor Umahi left your party and joined the All Progressives Congress (APC). What is the fate of those who have remained in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
This doesn’t need many answers because, under our constitution, there is freedom of association and anybody has the right to belong to a political party of his or her choice. So, if there is anyone that was in PDP and joined APC, that person is within his or her right and if there are people that want to join us in PDP, we will welcome them.
There has been darkness in Afikpo ancient city which has crippled businesses and social activities. What is the cause and what are you doing to restore power to the constituency?
As I speak now, I and Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) are in court. The case has suffered a setback because the judge was on election duty in Port-Harcourt. Because at a time, I even had to sue them for N100 million for certain deprivations I have suffered from them. I want our people to know that electricity is privatized, it was privatized in 2013.
So, the issue of power in Nigeria has been privatized. The first people to hold responsible for power problems are the Distribution Companies (DISCO), which are the distribution agencies. In this case, the company we must ask questions about this power of a thing is the EEDC.
I took up their issue at the floor of Parliament through a petition that was written against them and they have been invited more than ten times, I have sponsored those trips privately for them to come and explain a whole lot of things. It is now very clear to everybody that EEDC which was given the mandate to be supplying power to Afikpo people and the entire South- East are not up to their job.
The commonest example is three days ago when a heavy windstorm occurred. In that windstorm many electricity poles fell down; you will see a lot of them when you are going to Mgbom, Uwnanna. Many poles are lying on the ground as we speak and nothing has been done by EEDC to carry them up. No responsible organization or even individual will allow its property scattered on the ground without putting them in order.
That thing is a fundamental testimonial of the capacity or lack of it of the power service providers in the South-East, they are very inefficient. We blame them and we also blame the federal government because they allow them to hold the licenses. I have never seen EEDC mounting electricity poles let alone doing wiring to give light to people.