By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Southwest Regional Editor
Dr Alex Egbona is the lawmaker representing the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of All Progressives Congress, APC. In this interview, he gives a clue on how the country should be restructured and why the local government system must be autonomous. He also provides an insight into how members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly will carry out their legislative duties across party lines.
How does it feel being elected as a member of the House of Representatives?
It is a dream come. My people dreamt of it. They worked towards realising it and now, we have it. I am the face of the seat, but the people of Abi/Yakurr are the ultimate owners of the seat. It is all about them and I can only play my role as their representative, to make sure that everything they deserve gets to them.
You were among those, who stood behind the current Speaker before he emerged. What is the shape of things to come from the House of Representatives since you people voted based on the party’s directive?
Our party gave us the ticket with which we won our elections. We are duty-bound to obey our party. That is what is called loyalty. But I will like to assure Nigerians that the Speaker is a good party man, who is ready to work with everybody, irrespective of party affiliation because our primary objective is to move Nigeria to the next level.
Our activities and actions will be based on national interest. We will always be guided by those principles that will lead to a better life for our people. From my interactions with our Speaker, I found that he is totally committed to the cause of a better Nigeria. He is committed to defending the constitution and the people of this country.
Don’t forget that he enjoyed the massive support of even members of the opposition, including the main opposition party, the PDP. Look at the array of opposition members that even spearheaded his campaign. So, there is an unwritten rule of engagement that all of us have endorsed in principle, and that is the drive to make a difference in this Ninth Assembly.
Recently, you spoke about your commitment to resolving the communal conflict between your state and the neighbouring Ebonyi State. What are your plans?
In this circumstance, I have already started making plans for a first action on this and it will be on the floor of the green chambers. I am already talking to my colleagues to get them to appreciate the gravity of the crisis. I will not want to say much about what I am working on. But it will soon become public knowledge. The crisis has lingered for a while. For the purpose of this interview, I can say that my team is already working hard on this. I will explore the two instruments of legislation and oversight to resolve this as fast as possible.
Let me use this opportunity to seek the support of security agencies in getting this issue permanently resolved. Our people deserve to have peace. This issue is so dear to my heart.
What do you think about the issue of local government autonomy?
I am one person who supports full autonomy for local governments in the country. It is annoying that people have bastardised the local government system and they don’t see anything wrong with that. Some governors see the local governments as an offshoot of their Government House. A governor will wake up in the morning and announce the sack of a local government chairman, and sometimes dissolve the local government system and send the elected officials packing. There are local governments in this country that have been ruled by sole administrators and caretaker officials. It is even more worrisome that in some of the local governments where so-called elections have been conducted, the governor will single-handedly bring present all the chairmen and councillors. Those officials owe allegiance, not to the people or the constitution of the country, but to the governors.
That is why I am a bit concerned about the workability of the new decision to credit the accounts of the local governments directly. As much as this is a great idea, I fear that some of the governors will arm-twist the chairmen and compel them to divert the monies to accounts of their choice. Of course, you and I know that the chairmen will have no choice than to obey the man who put them in the office.
That is why I am a serious advocate of the scrapping of state electoral commissions. While I am pushing for the conduct of local government elections across all the states of the federation, I am also of the strong view that the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC should be allowed to conduct local government elections for the various local governments. I believe that if our country follows this path, there will be some semblance of decency in the local governments.
I was once a councillor and I knew what it was at the time and what the situation is right now. I can boldly tell say that the local government system has been systematically and practically messed up. At that time, councillors were able to checkmate the executive and we made sure the system worked. The local government chairman would submit his budget to the legislative assembly for consideration and we would ensure that the budget was followed religiously. Projects were executed by the chairmen and those who failed to perform were reprimanded by their councillors. The chairmen lived and operated from their domain. But today, what is happening? The chairmen only visit their offices, sometimes once a month. They prefer to live in the state capitals because the state governor and the House of Assembly have taken over their responsibilities. That cannot be allowed to continue. I usually ask, how the governors would feel if the National Assembly or even the President decides to take over their functions? How will a governor feel if the President takes over his functions, withholds their federal allocations and gives them peanuts as pocket money every month, relying on some laws enacted for a selfish interest?
There is really a very urgent need to restructure this country along that line. The local governments must be allowed to take charge of their activities. At the National Assembly, some of us will push for this to happen. If operatives in the various states are arrested, tried and jailed for tampering with local government funds, they will stop. They are so daring that some of the governors even order Local government chairmen to go and protest that they do not want to be free from bondage. Can you imagine a local government chairman saying they want to protest because the federal government is wielding the big stick by trying to stop the governors from tampering with council funds? What do you call that?
The time has come for the local government chairmen to stand up and fight for their right. The governors should be satisfied with their own allocation. They should allow the chairmen to work and develop the grassroots. That is where the masses live, enough of the brigandage.
Why are you are talking so passionately about this issue?
Everybody should be worried about what is happening to our local governments. As I said, I have worked as an elected representative of the people at the local government level and when I see what is going on today, it is nauseating. Take a visit to the local governments, especially those ones that are not close to the state capital. Go there every day for three weeks and come back to tell me if you saw the chairman or the councillors.
Mr President has my back on this move to revive the local government system and I am so passionate about this matter. I am ready to lead the campaign, with the support of my colleagues in the National Assembly, to restore sanity to our local governments. The local farmer from the remotest local government in this country does not have any business trying to get to his state capital if the local governments were working properly. The local government chairman and councillor have no business loitering in the state capital if the local government system worked. They don’t need to. They ought to remain in their base and serve the grassroots people.
We are complaining of insecurity everywhere. When last did traditional rulers get stipends from the local government system? Who cares about them? Yet, we are all crying that they are not maintaining peace in their domain. This cannot be allowed to continue like this. It is time to take our local governments out of the woods into the next level. I am in support of this and I am committed to making this work.