If the 9th Assembly of the Federal House Of Representatives will be described as vocal, it would be because, members like Hon. Ben Igbakpa, representing Ethiope Federal Constituency of Delta state, were part of it.
Igbakpa has been a visible lawmaker through the times. He holds record of one of the highest media and constituents engagement. In this Chat with The Union Nigeria in Abuja, Igbakpa examined issues ranging from the Nigeria’s contemporary electioneering process, to security, corruption and sundry issues.
It is an easy read which you will enjoy. Excerpts…
Many individuals have come up to state that there are some limitations of the Electoral Act. Former President Goodluck Jonathan also spoke on the Limitations of section 84 of the new electoral law which empowers only adhoc-delegates to vote. What do you think of these limitations in the Electoral Act and how do you think a subsequent amendment of this law should look like?
We all agree that this is a very tough issue and section 84 is actually a section that seeks to cure a lot of defects in the electoral act such as Sections like 84 (12), the one we are talking about is 84 (8).
Section 84 (8) didn’t say anything expressly that it has to be ad-hoc delegates. It just says that the process for a political party that seeks to nominate candidates through indirect primaries must put in place a process of electing delegates to vote in that election in line with their constitution.
The operational word is ‘elect’ and that defect was not noticed on time. On the 12th of May, the house ensured that the bye camera legislative activities of the Nigerian parliament is fulfilled and we went ahead and amended by including ‘statutory’ but unfortunately, this bill which was transited to the President on the 13th, instead of the President to attend to it, disappeared to Dubia to pay courtesy call to their new monarch.
I don’t see where in a responsible and responsive clime of government you leave your house on fire and go about doing big brother or good Samaritan in another country. This is an election period in Nigeria, in my opinion Mr. President would have given better attention to that bill instead of insisting it must take 30 days, there is no law nor the constitution say he must wait 30days, just that within the period of 30days he should assent or withhold his assent.
Now all we have is to bank on section 58 and 59 of the constitution which is for someone to prepare and send a bill to someone to sign, but if that person refuses, the same constitution gives you the powers to override the President’s veto and to make that law operational.
But I wouldn’t blame the parliament until we resume because the 30 days must elapse before the parliament can go for overriding. So, I will wait and when we resume, this is one topic that must be dealt with because the 9th (Ninth) Assembly would be remembered for two critical bills, the PIB and the Amendment to the Electoral Act 2022.
And if any of them fall short of the expectation of Nigerians then I think we have not done anything. I’m very sure that the leadership and all of us will seat and ensure that this bill especially the electoral act is rejiggered and serves the purpose for which they are passed in the first place.
With an amendment to the electoral act waiting for approval and being that you just participated in election can you say that our electoral system is better than it used to be, considering tales of vote buying and the limited number of voters in the primary elections?
Definitely, the vote buying has always been there and there’s always provision for delegates that are coming to vote, it has been there if that is what you call vote buying. It became very pronounced this time because the delegates are few and the delegates in most cases are not politicians, neither are they executive members who have been dealing with party faithfuls in the past two years since they came into office as party administrators.
These delegates are new people, they are strangers and all they think about is how much they will take home. They became cash and carry bundle of people, they became people that even after the cash and carry still listen to the people that brought them because most of them are products of people in government or in one authority or the other; and because they are in government section 84 (12) forbids them from participating and as a result they now have to bring someone because if you have to be a delegate you have to resign that office and these are some of the things that I see that are noble and worth commending in this new act because for somebody in office and you are contesting election, you are giving the person undue advantage against someone who is not in office.
And that is why when I see someone condemning section 84 (12) and I hear ex-President Jonathan talking about removing section 84 (12), I think it is uncalled for because there is a problem, there is an injury that has been meted to those who are not in government and that injury needs to be dealt with, it needs to be cured. And in curing this, it must be that either if you want to contest for election or you want to vote for someone in the cause of selecting a candidate, then you must leave government. I think it’s a fair deal, its either I choose to be in government, yes, the constitution is talking about 30 days before the general election, but this one is talking about that main election and the process of that main election.
The law did not say anybody, rather, it said political appointees, so if you are a civil servant and you want to remain there that’s fine but 30 days to the time you must leave. But if you are an appointee you have to leave so you don’t use the tools of your office to oppress those who have no opportunity to be in government. We will continue to do what we can as a parliament to ensure that the bill meets the yearning and aspiration of Nigerians. All we are crying for is a free, fair and credible election.
Then, talk about the acceptance of electronic transmission, I think it’s a step forward from what it used to be and I urge Nigerians to corporate with us. Yes, I quite agree that there is a small hitch that was not envisaged somehow, we are human, it’s not just the parliament, that bill passed through the house, passed through all the machinery of the house, the senate went to the attorney general and returned it the first time because they were not happy with the only clause of direct primaries.
But considering the way these delegates are acting now I think direct primaries is the only way to go so that people don’t collect money randomly and wait for someone to give instructions on who to vote.
So, if you collect from A and B, they will see you there that you are voting for B. People would be wary of their attitudes because these delegates are bandits as far as I’m concerned.
You see this banditry we are talking about comes in various ways, for somebody who can just go off and collect so much from a person knowing that you wouldn’t vote for that person what kind of wickedness is that?
I think we would go into correcting it. I would implore my colleagues so we look into applying section 50 of the constitution whenever it arises, it is our responsibility to make laws, we have never questioned the executive after awarding contracts and say you can’t award this contract.
So, when we make laws if it’s not ok, the right place to go is the court for interpretation, it’s not for the President to point out. That removes the independence of the parliament and I’m not happy with that.
While pointing the errors, in ex-President Jonathan’s analogy, he was particular in his state constituency, there were just two wards, six delegates, four aspirants…
Yes, that is as a result of the error which we have corrected, but Mr. President has not just refused to assent but he left the country when it was burning.
The problem with Nigeria and our governance is the recruitment process because the leadership recruitment process if it’s not properly done which is the beginning of democracy and the dividend of democracy coming to people. The moment the recruitment process is wrong don’t expect anything good from the product or that process.
Now we are bringing people who are not discerning enough to know who has worked or not, all they want is their money after which the instruction from a person. So the wrong persons are going to be recruited and when you recruit the wrong persons, Nigerians are going to cry the same way.
So we must tend to do more at sensitizing our people to know that election is not just about nominating my people or brother but people should look at competence and capacity for leadership because this process with this ad-hoc delegates is throwing up a lot of people that are not supposed to be because they are small so you can throw them over, buy them and make them do what you want but they are delivering the future of their children and their own future in a negative manner.
We have heard of cases where the big wigs housed delegates, how true is that report?
Yes, it was done even in my constituency it was done, they hid them, people were threatened, manhandled.
It is not just money but why would you keep someone’s wife in your house, or take their phones, it happened even in my primaries but I let go.
I strongly believe that political parties are like marriages, if you are not given a fair hearing in one platform there are more than one platform to actualize your dream, all you need do is ensure that you are in touch with your people.
Would you consider decamping from the PDP given your recent defeat by Erhiatake?
Well I am doing a lot of consultations, I am praying to God, like I said, nobody is born with any political party and most times the political party can survive long years like the ANC, the Republicans in the US and if they outlive us, we will still leave the party, but if you have your dreams and if those dreams are not being actualized in a political party there is no wrong moving.
But for now for me, I am still consulting, I am still discussing and by the time I’m done with my consultations and supplication to God almighty I will come out with a statement on the next move.
Those familiar with the politics of Delta State would agree that your relationship with Chief James Ibori, the father to your co-aspirant, is very cordial, there are political pundits who believe that you contesting against his daughter was an affront to his person and some are saying that it is tantamount to disloyalty, what is your position on this?
First, would you consider an incumbent contesting with a challenger or a challenger contesting with an incumbent? I am seated on the seat and you are telling me to stand up. I did not come to your seat to ask you to stand up.
In 2019, there was an almost similar situation where one of our brothers from a different party contested against Erhiatake Ibori and we all prevailed on him that if he was on the seat, we would not allow her contest against him.
But now, the reverse is the case, because I am the one seated and they contested and I have left. For PDP, I’m not out, I can take it to the bank I am not out. When I’m done with my consultation, I will make a statement.
I may decide to let go, I may decide to try my popularity and the desirability amongst my people because they are the ones to choose.
These days a lot of people are not too blind about party loyalty, they are now looking at individuals and what they can do. It’s a family thing and I took it that way.
I’m not hurt, I fought a good fight and I believe since I’m there I should be allowed to do terms, but it went that way but I will continue to be a politician. I will not run away from politics, as a politician I have my dreams and I will ensure that I will actualize my dreams especially where it has to do with the people that I so much protect over the period.
You pointed that the PIB law is one of bills that the 9th Assembly would be remembered for. The bill has been passed but till date we hear statements form stakeholders who believe that they are being shortchanged. How viable and operational do you think this law is?
First, there’s a time frame from the assets of NNPC to be summed, bought over by the new companies about four so those preliminary activities are happening now you see the appointment of henchmen, GMD’s and MD’s.
I believe that the operators, the executive are working on this, we have done our part and it is left to Nigerians to start asking the executives how far with the law, because, it is a law that became operational when the executive signed it and there are time frames for every segment of it to be executed and I believe that its going on.
Some persons are already showing interest in building refineries in the country but it’s going to be a long term because dealing with the assets of NNPC is quite huge so there must be people that are willing but again; looking at the security situation of Nigeria, that can delay certain persons that would have been interested in investing in Nigeria.
In all sincerity the APC government, has done a lot of harm to our image out there in other countries so for anybody coming to Nigeria they must have either a strong relationship here to understand that it’s not a total disaster because if you read what you see on the internet, I’m sure no one would want to invest in Nigeria. That’s all the more reason Nigerians should think twice in going into the 2023 elections.
As a critical stakeholder in the Niger Delta region, what is your take on the constitution of a board and management of the NDDC especially since it has remained a matter of discussion for a long time under President Buhari’s administration?
The minister of the Niger Delta who is a true son of the Niger Delta who instituted the interim board and many other names he has called them. Those name where not existence till Sen. Godswill Akpabio came in, so he is the one using the place as a cash cow. He is the one that dictates what happens there.
He is the same person short changing his people. I tell people that no matter where you find yourself, consider it that one day you will go back to your people and all these injustices that is being meted on the people of Niger Delta, Akpabio will one day seat before the people.
Even if he can escape the people, he cannot escape God because I’m sure it is the memo he takes to the Presidency that is approved. The other time, he said it was forensic audit, at a date he brought Ghana-must-Go bags of documents to the Attorney General and till this very date, what is wrong in releasing the report he did for a wealthy region that are suffering.
Till this very moment, we are yet to see the result. He has reduced the place to a place where one man seats in the place where 18 persons are to seat. The Sole Administrator, Mr Effiong Akwa is a hard-working young man, but I see him as one ready to work but his hands are tied.
I don’t blame him; He is the head but I don’t think he is solely in charge. I think we should talk to him now that he has left and says he is running for president because the interim administrator does not have access to the president or the villa, it is the minister that has access.
I pray someone who has the fear of God and the Niger Delta people’s interest can come up so that the right thing can be done because there is nowhere in that act that says there is provision for all that Akpabio has done over the years. Today they just do a lot of sinister activities which ordinarily should not be so.
Some months ago, Southern Governors Came up with what is Known as the “Asaba Declaration” insisting that the Presidency must go to the South. As such the communiqué issued asked all political parties across all borders to nominate flag-bearers from that region. Barely months after, the PDP has worked against candidates and aspirants from the South and a Northerner has emerged. Meanwhile, there are parties coming out with aspirants from the south?
I will consider what the southern governors said then as politics and what is happening now, I also consider as politics.
There is a popular saying that man proposes and God disposes and when the parties looked at situations, you know the PDP didn’t just jettison the southern agitation, to avoid problems within the party, they threw it open and the delegates have spoken and that is behind us and its only democratic for there to be an election process where a candidate is thrown up.
Governor Nyesom Wike of River State performed so well and I must commend his courage and strength within this short period, how he was able to garner that massive vote. Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa-Ibom also ran and I would take all these as politics and whatever the PDP did, they did in the interest of the party because they are an opposition.
We must remember and as such look at the possibility of winning an election as such they threw it opened.
For me I have always believed that no particular zone should be looked at but instead the man who can deliver. And also, the man who can unite and bring the country on a part of progress so we have Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and it’s for us to queue behind him as party men and women to ensure victory.
What are your thoughts on Peter Obi would you consider him as a worthy candidate?
He is a great guy, has a lot to offer, has a good interpretation of his blue print but today he’s no longer in the PDP. Mayb, if I belonged to the party where he is running then I can actually speak extensively about him.
But I love him, I don’t like people who have ideas and don’t want to bring it out but he has a step-by-step plan and knows the destination of his plans. But for now, he is in another party. When we get to that bridge, we would cross it.
What solutions are you proffering as a lawmaker to the question of insecurity?
There is no institution in Nigeria not even the security agencies that has proffered solutions to insecurity more than the house of representative. We have come up with several solutions to the extent that Mr. Speaker organized a security summit and the outcome was transmitted to the President for implementation.
Be that as it may, the present APC government is overwhelmed by the present security crisis and seems to have run out of all logic and solution. So the best thing is to work towards a change, maybe new persons come to change the security situations. We have tried to change the security chiefs, they have been changed several times, and nothing is happening.
We also need to look at the welfare of security personnel. Trillions of budgets every year for security and we are not seeing the results. The parliament will need to wake up soon again to look at how the security provisions in our budget are expended.
Let’s see what they are doing with them, if actually they are spent in the right way because I believe with the trillions of Naira budgeted annually, they should have had enough equipment’s and the personnel their welfare properly taken care of; like the police now we are still struggling with their pension issue, we are trying to bring them out so that at least they can be at par with the army and other agencies.
The problem with Nigeria is that there is no hope because if you see people that have retired, 10 years there’s no gratuity, you would want to get yours today even before you retire so you prepare for your family and your future.
So, I believe government should look into their future and look how the expenses of security apparatus vis-a-vis their equipment’s and welfare are taken care of.
What do you think of the security agencies inability to combat Bandits terrorizing the country when thy have carried out similar missions in the past?
Several policemen and security personnel have been arrested for conniving with them because these people have internal intelligence they work with intelligence. Why the state actors are working with intelligence, the non-state actors are also working with intelligence and it takes an insider for this intelligence to be valid.
Our people say when someone who hid an object is looking for that object with you it becomes difficult, that’s the problem with Nigeria. They should look internally and purge the bad eggs to ensure they are not part of the system.
I don’t see why our people can be kidnapped in a confined area no matter how wide that area is and we have air-force, we have planes all over the place that can scan.
Most times they say, “we know where they are but if we go there, there will be civilian casualty,” forgetting that where there’s an emergency, they will be civilian casualty no matter how the casualty occurs; collateral damage.
To my colleague that had to walk barefooted around the FCT, it shows the pain. That means he has bottled too much and he decided to go out there; I’m happy and I support him because he has always been one man that has stood for the people in the house. Nigerians should see that members of parliament are not just there doing nothing as they look at us.
We do quite a lot but it is unfortunate we don’t have the capacity to implement. We must do our bid and pass to the executive for implementation.
Information can be misused at the point of generation, transmission or receiver, it can be tampered with or the person you share it with decides not to use it, and I believe his reason for taking it personal.
I want to salute his courage and I believe the security situation is becoming too damning and all Nigerians should be involved. They should give information to security agencies; I know some are a part of them and sometimes you tell them and the next thing you are a target for attacks but they are still good ones.
But as it is the APC has failed, I’m a politician and I have my party that should come and take over from APC and do what they are supposed to do. I don’t envy the next president coming from the PDP, I don’t envy Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, because he must start running from day one to tell Nigerians that PDP is back to do what we are supposed to.
Both the APC and the PDP have brought out candidates vying for the position of the House in Delta state, as a politician, how do you see it playing out?
Well, you just said, I’m a politician very partisan and I’m still in the PDP. PDP is Delta, Delta is PDP and with the structure in place it will take a tall assignment for another party to defeat the PDP in Delta State and nobody want to toil with the party and power.
Talking about structure the PDP has all it takes to defeat any party in Delta. It would play out how it has always played out, Delta PDP.
Final words to Your supporters?
Be steadfast, all power belongs to God even the politics we are playing was ordained by God. So, they should not be weary or down cast. I have tried to reach out to a lot of them that I’m still consulting and praying to God.
We are putting figures together and at the appropriate time we would take a decision on the next way to go.