Dr Alex Egbona is the member representing the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency, Cross River State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he spoke on efforts to resolve the lingering and bloody boundary dispute between Cross River State and Ebonyi that has claimed many lives, and why the local government system in the country must be made transparently autonomous among others.
You are now a member of the House of Reps, how does it feel?
Interesting, I will say. I say so because it is a dream come true. My people dreamt of it. They worked towards realising it and now, we have got it. Yes, I am the face for that seat, but the people of Abi/Yakurr are the ultimate owners of the seat.
You spoke about your commitment to resolving the communal conflict between your state and the neighbouring Ebonyi State. What are your plans practically?
My duty as a legislator is basically about legislation and oversight duties. 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. That will help us to get the buy in of my colleagues.
I will not want to say much about what I am working on. But it will soon become public knowledge, how the crisis which has lingered for a while, will be resolved. 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 hand of support of security agencies in getting this issue finally and permanently put to rest. Our people deserve to have peace and they must have peace.
On 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, caretaker officials and so on. It is even more worrisome that in some of the local governments where the so called elections have been conducted, the governor will single-handedly bring up all the chairmen and councillors. And so, 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 and commendable 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 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 National 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 know what it was like, at that time and what the situation is right now. I can boldly tell you that the local government system has been systematically and practically messed up. At that time, councillors were able to check the executive and we made sure that 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 would the governors feel, if the National Assembly or even the president decide to take over the functions of the state governors? How will the governor feel if the president takes over their functions, withholds their federal allocation and gives them peanuts as pocket money every month, relying on some laws enacted for a selfish interest?