Udora Orizu holds a discussion with a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ethiope Federal Constituency, Delta State, Hon. Ben Rollands Igbakpa, who states his views on the security challenges bedevilling the country, amongst other issues
What informed your recent motion on African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFT signed last year by President Muhammadu Buhari?
First, you will agree with me that the essence of such regional trade hub is to better the lots of the countries involved. And for individual countries to benefit, you have to rap up your production capacity. Looking at Nigeria in this trade marriage, Nigeria has the highest in terms of population. It’s the destination for everybody. It will surprise you to know that countries have started producing goods in their warehouses, waiting for January implementation time so that they can start delivering and the destination is Nigeria. If we are not careful, automatically with the reopening of our borders, it means that we might end up being a receiver nation, without producing anything. Looking at it, we still don’t have the infrastructure to produce. Our products will not have that competitive edge over others because they are going to be too expensive or they are going to be of lesser standards in terms of quality. So, that’s why we as parliamentarians have to look at it. These days in Nigeria, almost everything that happens is the National Assembly. If it is political or economic, security issues, it’s the National Assembly that has not done well. Mr President has signed last year. The Federal Executive Council ratified that agreement. The agreement is ready to run. The question is have they given it to the National Assembly to scrutinize and do their own approval? I think as at this moment the answer is no, which makes it incomplete. You can’t bring such an agreement into the country and deal with it, implement it, get it running and ratified without the input of the National Assembly. Secondly, we are now talking about going into trade partnership with people. No more custom duties. That automatically is going to shrink our economy. Our economy is already fragile and if we’re going to allow our economy to shrink in that manner, what is the need for us? Are we going to shrink other people’s economy? Are we going to earn foreign exchange because if we don’t produce; if we are going to continue to give our products as raw materials for others and we now import, just like we’re doing for fuel, then we are in for a very tough time. That’s why I brought the motion up so that the relevant agencies of government and committees of the House can sit together, bring the implementation road map, make it public so that people can actually see, criticize them and make inputs. What are the products we seem to be exporting to other African countries? We must be prepared so that Nigerians would not go into an agreement just because of ego and nothing to show for it.
So, shouldn’t that be a challenge to Nigeria. If smaller countries can produce, why can’t Nigeria?
That’s a billion dollar question that’s begging for answer. Why can’t we produce? Do we have the infrastructure? Do we have the off take for our industries? Are we giving them that leverage that will make even if they are able to produce to be competitive because every country is going to produce? We should also use the population we have to produce for others so that we can earn foreign exchange so that we don’t end up making Nigeria a dumbing ground for substandard products from other countries that are actually producing, using our own materials.
Recently, you also sponsored a Bill to compel DISCOs to refund consumers who repair power equipment with their own money. How will that play out given the lack of seriousness to implementation of policies and laws?
Well, that is the first Bill I introduced when I first came to the House of Representatives 2019 but because of the some issues, many Bills cannot be accommodated at the same time by rules and business Commitee. It’s a product of personal experience. The truth is Discos, we all agree is a private company and for Nigerians, the moment they bidded for those companies and they got the companies, they went into a contract with Nigerians to power electricity consumers. The contract is in two folds. One is the responsibility to provide efficient safe and affordable electricity supply. And for the power consumers, their own is to pay for electricity consumed. So, it is not in our place to pay for meter. You can’t give me a measurement outfit that tells you how much I consume from you and I’m paying for it again. For me, it’s a double jeopardy. Today, you will agree with me that most of the equipment that these DISCOs are collecting money for are actually not produced by these DISCOs. But there’s a provision in the Nigerian electricity regulation commission act that says it is the responsibility of this Discos to fix any apparatus. But if anybody considers to fix it, you can but note that equipment or apparatus belongs to the grid. For anything that’s linked to the National grid, whatever you put into belong to the grid and that I think is wrong. Because of that, the DISCOs have abdicated their responsibility. If you say that equipment is bad in your area, they don’t answer you because they know that after a few days, you will go round collect money and fix it. And the moment you fix it, the next day, they bring in their Bills. It is their responsibility to repair their equipment and that’s what the Bill is trying to cure. Before now it was the DISCOs that were winning and people were loosing but this Bill stands to put things alright. You do your bit, I do my own. It’s a contract and it takes two to tango.
It does appear that insecurity has overwhelmed the country. Just last week, over 43 rice farmers were killed in Borno State, prompting the House to call the President to come and give some explanations. In the whole of this, where are we headed? Will President Buhari’s coming to the House bring succour to the people?
Well, the truth is, I don’t think Mr President’s coming will change anything. But the good thing here is that he will have the opportunity to tell us his own side of the story. He’s no longer in the field. There are people in the field. I remember we have interacted with them. We have moved motions several times for the sacking of service chiefs but Mr President didn’t listen. He has his own reasons why he hasn’t done that. At least, this visit will let him tell his own side of the story. Because the way it is now, it’s as if he’s not doing anything. By the time he comes over on the chosen date, we should be able to know if what he actually said is true or not. And if he’s doing something or not. But I believe he’s doing a lot gradually. People might not be seeing it. If not, I don’t see why he’s coming. He must have something to tell Nigerians. Be that as it may, I think, it’s worrisome that this evil will continue unabated and nothing seems to be coming out as a solution. It’s a shame on the security agencies that are given the responsibility. Now, what if we have external aggression, God forbids? Does it mean that any country can come and over run Nigeria? I just believe that the service chiefs and their people have not done well and that’s why I advocate for the change of service chiefs. I believe that by the time you change the present ones, the new persons coming should have idea. I tell you, human beings can be very wicked. There are people that probably have better ideas but wouldn’t want to bring it out because, it’s like they have locked the pipe for them to go to the top and they say, ok, go ahead since you chose these people and they know everything, let them do everything. So, I think sabotage can even come in and if the service chiefs do not leave, the security situation will continue to deteriorate. It seems that some persons within the rank of the security architecture of the country are not happy and they are not giving the necessary support to the Service Chiefs because they have long overstayed. People that are supposed to climb, some have retired and they will go angry because they will go unfulfilled. That’s where I think Mr President should look into it and let the service chiefs go. They’ve done well. They should go so fresh air will breath into the security system.
Calls have reached a crescendo for restructuring. Do you see the country restructuring before 2023? Is it going to be reality eventually?
Well, nothing is impossible. I think Mr President came under the toga that he wants to change Nigeria, restructure the country. He has done the first tenure. This is his second. I believe he will write his name in gold by going ahead with the restructuring that people are asking for. Restructuring is devolution of powers and resource control. This is the only country where federating units seem to be tied to the center. A federation is a federation. I believe that once federating units come together, the center should just be the center for coordination. The regions should control their resources. There will be competition and I assure you that there will be economic growth across the nation. But where every body comes to collect money from the Father Christmas in Abuja where they decide and take what they ought not to take, I think it’s unacceptable. I don’t see why the federal government should be interested in health, housing, roads and agriculture. They should be talking about National Security, ICT, just pick few things and leave especially now that resource control is systematically allocated to certain quarters of the country. Resource control is one thing that will put Nigeria on the right part because governors of every state will now compete with themselves. You will see industries and so on coming up. But as it is now, everybody is being spoon fed. So, why should they bother themselves?
When you say “systematically allocated” to certain quarters, are you by any means talking about Zamfara State?
Yes, that’s what I mean. If zamfara can have their gold sold to CBN for reserve then Niger Delta should sell their oil to the ministry of oil and take their money. If we have to give resource control to one part and the other part, they are killing everyday due illegal bunkering and people are being registered to mine gold and sell, who told you we cannot create a depot too to sell our oil? It doesn’t augur well as a nation. I think the resource control is one thing we should go into so that states can be competitive among themselves.
With Umahi’s defection, and the speculations that more PDP Governors will defect to APC, will you say that your party, the PDP is now afraid as we move towards 2023?
Umahi is a governor. He has right to association as the constitution permits. The man has decided to leave and he has left. I really don’t like going issue where you have no control. But I tell you that has not affected the strength of PDP. In Ebonyi state where he’s governor, you see the caliber of people who are PDP members. I listened to Kogi state Governor when he said more PDP people are coming and I laughed. It’s the euphoria of the moment. He’s happy that a governor from PDP is joining them but that’s politics for you. People will keep on going back and forth. But PDP is one party that is waxing stronger. I have no doubt in my mind that by the special grace of God, at the appropriate time, Nigerians will make the right decision.
Where is the NDDC House probe report? Nigerians are asking questions. I know you’re from Niger Delta, what has happened to that?
After a probe of that manner, the Chairman of the Committee usually presents the report for consideration and then it goes to the Business and Rules committee of the House. The committee actually has a lot to do. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, sitting is no longer regular like it use to be but I assure that it’s going to be scheduled. I believe that it’s because there are other reports that have been received before that one. Definitely, it’s not a probe that anybody will sweep under the carpet.
The contract is in two folds. One is the responsibility to provide efficient safe and affordable electricity supply. And for the power consumers, their own is to pay for electricity consumed. So, it is not in our place to pay for meter. You can’t give me a measurement outfit that tells you how much I consume from you and I’m paying for it again. For me, it’s a double jeopardy. Today, you will agree with me that most of the equipment that these DISCOs are collecting money for are actually not produced by this Discos. But there’s a provision in the Nigerian electricity regulation commission act that says it is the responsibility of these DISCOs to fix any apparatus. But if anybody considers to fix it, you can but note that equipment or apparatus belongs to the grid. For anything that’s linked to the National grid, whatever you put into belong to the grid and that I think is wrong