By Olalekan Bilesanmi
A two-term member of the House of Representatives representing Ihiala Federal constituency, Chuma Nzeribe is eyeing the Senate to represent Anambra South. In this interview, Nzeribetalks about his plans for his senatorial district and the nation if elected.
What is fuelling your aspiration for the Senate?
There are two interests if you nurse a Senate ambition. First is the interest of the Nigerian state while the second is the interest of your own people (district). At the national level, there is urgent need for people with experience in the legislative chambers to guide the process of transition. Without the legislature, there is no democracy; because it is usually the first casualty any time there is change of government.
So we need experienced hands to initiate constructive engagement with the executive arm of government. We need people with the requisite experience to address the Igbo question. What are the specific interests of the Igbo man? The average Igbo man does not really care who the president is.
He cares about that person who will create an enabling environment for him to carry on with his trade, his politics and his social activities. This is because we are upwardly mobile nation. Then there is the problem of lack of development in the South-East. So, we need legislators who will engage deeply with the leadership of the National Assembly and the leadership of the executive; to be able to do key life-enhancing projects in the zone. We talk about power stations, major railway trunks, major highways and, above all, river transportation.
Take where I come from, Ihiala-the Ose-Akwa in Ihiala, and Ose-Moto in Odekpe in Ogbaru are the deepest natural harbors in Nigeria and lie only 28 nautical miles to the Atlantic Ocean. Yet it is not dredged. So, you need to have a vision to open up the Urashi basin and link it up to the Atlantic Ocean; and open a new vista of trade and development in the area
Is not surprising that neither the local/state government nor any of the several persons who had been representing these areas had drawn any attention to these gaping realities?
Well, it depends on the strategic vision. It depends on those who seek to represent us. Because if you are committed to service, if you have the need and drive to serve your people, you will look for those areas where your people have comparative advantage. And be able to present it in the various fora to the executive and the National Assembly for them to see the need to invest in these sectors. It is really nobody’s fault if your legislator do not project and highlight those areas of your need.
And beyond that, you must have a vision on how to solve these problems. That includes -how do I attract the federal government’s attention and the need to invest huge money to build up our rice fields, irrigation projects and the dredging of the Niger.
Dredging of the Niger has remained topical for years; every federal administration has spoken about it. Ironically nothing serious appears to have been done to open up the river to trades, transportation and other maritime activities.
I will certainly make it a priority area when I get elected into the next Senate.
In other climes, active lawmakers are encouraged to stay on in the Senate or the House of Representative because it encourages being ranked. How and when do we begin to see it like that?
I was in the government of Anambra and also a two-time member of the House of Representatives. So I see myself as experienced enough to go to the Senate. More so, if you look at the politics of the South-East, it’s not actually dominated by career politicians as such. But you see a lot of people with vast experience in industry and commerce coming to make huge impact in the nomination of their friends and cronies as candidates.
That seems to impact negatively on the quality of those who aspire to the National Assembly because these rich big men stay four years, and even insist that their wives, friends, cousins and other relatives be nominated for elective offices. This is unlike the North where you see career civil servants being encouraged to move up to represent their people.
And you hardly see businessmen aspiring for political offices. Look at the likes of Dangotes, you don’t hear of them fielding their brothers, wives, cousins or in-laws as members of any of the legislative houses or even governor. But it is virtually the norm in the South-East. But I believe that with time, we would overcome the norm.
Nigeria has been under the APC for three years; can you say it’s been so far so good, compared to PDP’s first three years?
Given the circumstances, I believe Mr President has given his best to the office. But in our peculiar circumstances, his best is not good enough because the core issues of governance like the economy and security need careful attention. From the circumstances of the rising insurgency, militancy agitations and the likes of Boko Haram/herdsmen menace, Nigerians are not happy that they have not been given adequate attention.
Bill Gates the other day told us we need more investment in human capital. You need to develop your educational sector, as much as the infrastructure. So, it is for the government to really sit down and look at our frameworks for drawing up the budget to see whether they are addressing the needs of the nation. And in this area, I am going to make very visible contribution in the Senate.
Fight against corruption is one of the key promises on which the APC rode to power in 2015. Are you happy so far with the achievement of that fight?
Corruption is like cancer. It has eaten real deep into the fabric of this nation. It tends to diminish the quality of life, as well as the improvements we made in our national economy over the years. It sucks away a lot of economic energy from the system by transferring substantial public resources to private hands. You cannot build capital; you cannot talk of going to bank for loan if the rate of savings and investments in your economy is very low because stolen funds have been taken out of the country.
So the government has experienced a lot of challenges in this regard which I believe the next administration would have to put in sharper focus. Let us deal with corruption and poverty and see the nexus between the two instead of always shouting ‘anti-corruption’, ‘anti-corruption’. Because the word anti-corruption in this regard is a misnomer, hence the need to make a clear distinction between that. The attention the present government is giving to these issues is not adequate. It’s probably not that they are unable to fight corruption. But that we need greater attention. Somebody has to constantly supervise and strengthen the institutions that have the responsibility to fight corruption
Some days ago, the PDP dared the government to name the alleged looters of the national treasury after the party apologized for its missteps when it was in power. Consequently the names of some PDP leaders and even non-members were released. This has ignited another round of controversy.
The list drawn up by the APC-led Federal Government and read out by the Minister of Information is misguided. None of those on that list has been convicted for corruption. And if government continues to label mere suspects or people who were called in for one interrogation or the other as being corrupt, that will jeopardize the judicial process. Government is making unnecessary intervention in matters that are clearly in court.
Boko Haram and herdsmen problems appear recurring and intractable. True?
No. I do not believe so. We have had challenges of insurgency before and it was curtailed. We have had occasions where herdsmen quarrelled with villagers, and such were curtailed. But then, these things are on the rise because nobody is paying due attention to them.
My advice is that the Federal Government should appoint a responsible and responsive Deputy National Security Adviser to deal with these internal crises rather than leaving it to the multi-agency platforms currently being used to tackle them. I intend to be part of the search for solutions for optimal security attention to some of these issues when I get to the Senate.
The IPOB, MASSOB and other pro-Biafra groups and the issue of Biafra question, what is your view?
The agitations in Igboland take their roots from the issue of marginalization. What you see here is a deliberate attempt to deny access to the South-East of benefits of governance, of development and of representation in some sensitive and strategic areas and positions of national discourse. This is structurally embedded in the constitution. While some zones have seven states, like the North-West, others have six. Only the South-East has five.
The deficiency of two states is a huge revenue loss. Just check how much that accrues to each state every month. My estimation is that we are being denied of about 80 local governments that should accrue from two states that ought to be created from the South-East.
Look at the revenue streams to the states and local governments and the monthly Federation Allocation Account Committee and you will then see the quantum of losses being suffered by the South-East.
Then you go to the issues of national politics. While zones with seven states have times three senators making up twenty- one senators, like the North-West; the South-East has only fifteen. Also, the Constitution says that each state should have a Minister.
Therefore in the South-East we have five Ministers, while the North-West has seven Ministers. Likewise we have forty-three members of House of Representatives while the North-West has ninety-three. We must look for a legislative solution to the issue.
Since the National Constituent Assembly (Confab) recommended for the creation of at least one more state in the South-East, the leadership of the South-East caucus should sponsor a bill on the floor of the National Assembly seeking for the creation of additional state in the zone. You must not continue to wait for the executive or constitutional amendment periods to do that. You have to sponsor a Bill; let’s move it up and see how far we can go to realize the real friends and the real enemies of the people.
That way you start addressing the Igbo question. The Igbo question is not the issue of Igbo presidency. Igbo question is lack of representation, inferiority of states, inferiority of local governments, denials of revenues accruing to the South-East. That is what I call the marginalization of the South-East. It should therefore be addressed in the larger context of the Igbo question.