By Levinus Nwabughiogu
In an interview in Abuja on the side lines of a conference, the Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Chikwendu Kalu, said the activities of the now proscribed Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, put the lives of Igbo people living outside the South – East at risk.
You were a participant in the two-day conference on malfunction organized by the House of Representatives in conjunction with UNICEF and some NGOs. What is your take away from the conference?
The topic ‘maternal child nutrition’ is crucial because of the focus on the child. A situation where a mother will be able to nurse a child and make sure that the child is properly breast – fed is something that should interest anybody. So, it attracted a lot of people from labour unions and NGOs. One of the most important issues was the issue of maternal leave since people are advocating that the child should be breast – fed for 24 months.
So, I would recommend that that aspect of the law should be addressed and this is one of the reasons legislators were invited to the conference so that they can amend the law in their various states to accommodate the fact that maternal leave should be up to about two years.
Do you think that is realistic?
It depends on what we want. But if we know how important child nutrition is, then I think it is realistic; it is doable.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, UNICEF Country Representative and the Minister of Health gave alarming figures on the number of children that die yearly as a result of malnutrition. How do you feel about that?
I don’t have the statistics of the number of children that die annually from malnutrition. They are the people that came up with the figures and they must have done their homework to arrive at the figures. I think I believe them.
Your election as the Speaker of the Abia House of Assembly was dramatic. Barely 24 hours after someone else was elected, you emerged. What really happened?
I don’t want to use the word dramatic. It was divine. I was just there as a member of the House of 24 members where every member is eligible to assume that particular seat, but when the first election came and one of the members emerged, there was the allegation that the election was not properly done. Eventually I was nominated and elected.
So, how has it been?
I was elected precisely on December 30, 2016, some10 months ago and it has been a worthwhile experience.
How is the House now? Do you have understanding among members?
We have a peaceful House; very focused, going in the direction Abian dream that Abia would be. It has been a very organized House and I give God the glory.
Abia State government appears to have taken the campaign for made-in-Abia products a notch higher. Is the House keying into that as well?
The governor has done so well trying to open up Abia for business. He has been able to campaign vigorously in respect of made-in- Aba goods so much so that reports say Abia has been able to attract up to 1.6billion Naira based on made-in-Aba goods. The military now by their boots from Abia.
Abia and indeed Aba has the potentials to get Nigeria out of recession as far as I am concerned. If we continue to provide the infrastructure like power and good roads and some other things they need to function, Abia would be a haven for everybody to come and do business.
We still have unemployment rate across the country going up. In Abia, so many youths are jobless, are you concerned?
I think unemployment is a very serious problem everywhere and the most important thing is that we are on the right track. If government provides the enabling environment for youths, then they can generate employment themselves without having to look up to government to provide jobs. Entrepreneurship encourages you to be a master of your own destiny. You will learn one or two things and get into that and do it well.
Despite the achievements the state government has recorded in recent times, the salary of civil servants and other workers in Abia state has remained unpaid. This has earned the government heavy criticisms.
That claim is not true. Civil servants have been paid up to August.
Abia State Polytechnic lecturers and other members of staff have not been paid and I know there was an issue about it.
Abia State Polytechnic is a problematic institution and government has done a lot to reposition the establishment. So, if you are singling out the polytechnic, maybe I would not be able to say much. But in terms of civil servants being paid, I can authoritatively tell you that they have been paid up to August 2017.
I don’t want to bring local governments in because that is the only people we have not been able to pay, I think, for the past 3 months.
Were you troubled over the recent IPOB/army clash in Abia that kept the state in the news for weeks?
Yes I was worried but I thank God for what He was able to use the governor to achieve during that period. What saved the situation was the curfew he imposed when the military came and that calmed the situation.
But let me point out that the agitation on the part of Nnamdi Kanu was not done within the ambit of the law. If you have any grievance, it is incumbent on you to explore all legal avenues to redress it. It is not something you begin to militarize the environment to achieve. That is exactly what happened. Immediately after the curfew was imposed, what the House did was to condemn Kanu and adopted the position of the South-East governors by proscribing IPOB. Let me quickly point out, the young man possibly didn’t know that as at the time he was doing those things, 11.6million Igbos live outside Abia. They live in all states of the north and if anything had happened to the few northerners that were in Abia, those 11.6million Igbos may have come to harm.
I am sure you would have condemned the quit notice given by some northern youths to Igbos too?
In fact, I did not take the quit notice seriously. I read that those people were not speaking the minds of the elders of the North.