By Tordue Salem
Honourable Kpam Sokpo represents Buruku Federal Constituency of Benue State on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the House of Representatives. He is a member of several committees including Basic Education.
In this Interview, the electrical Engineer, warns that without a free Education policy, the current generation will have nothing to offer the future. He also proposes an urgent amendment of the 1999 Constitution, to protect the traditional institution.
The House had a special session dedicated to out-of-school children, days ago. What do you make of it?
A little background of what we were debating on the floor of the House. Many figures were being bandied about as the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. We heard 10.5million, 13.2million and another authority put forward a figure of 16 million. First of all that raises red flags.
There is also the issue of lack of appropriate data which is very worrisome. For a country like Nigeria with a population of 200 million or thereabout, we are talking about 10 percent of school-age children not getting the required level of education. That is very worrisome.
How can the House help redress this?
Part of the discussion on the floor of the House last week was looking at the issue of Section 18 of the Constitution where it states that the government would strive and be responsible to the people, as at when practicable.
Now, we analyse that section and we said that leaves a huge lacuna because frankly speaking, at what point will it be practicable? As a people we must purposefully and deliberately set out to prioritise education, knowing full well that the young minds that we are building today are our future.
So I think the issue of a constitutional amendment of that particular section of the constitution is of primary importance and it is long overdue. I see this as much more important than any infrastructure or any building, bridge or road that you would provide for Nigerians.
There are many developed countries that do not have natural resources or do not have the natural resources that we have, but are doing fantastically well and the reason for that is because they have invested in the people.
So building the people, building the citizens of the country is much more important and noble goal for any government because it would guarantee security, and development and there are so many things that could ride on the back of that.
If we set our goals right, we can achieve it. So a constitutional amendment is in order and following on that, I think that we need to look at our laws and make education a priority.
If we are prioritizing defence for instance, as much as the security of the lives and properties of the people is of importance, there are countries as we speak that do not have an army, there are countries as we speak they are closing their prisons.
Why? The reason is simple. The people have been adequately equipped and armed with the information and knowledge to go out there and live responsibly.
I think that most times the reason people would take up arms and go against their brother is ignorance. As an educated person, I see no reason you would come and tell me to go and fight this or that person and I will take up a gun or machete and level a committee, it doesn’t make any sense.
So I think if we prioritise education, it will solve many of our problems, those that we have currently and even those that we have not seen.
We are talking about the dearth of professionals in many fields and we are talking about the shortage of medical doctors and nurses, the shortage of teachers, there are shortage of manpower in many areas, these are areas that if the government was to prioritise education, it would transform our society.
What is your response to the plethora of slush funds available to the Executive amid a worsening economy?
Now that is a million-dollar question, the reason being that, I think Nigeria as a whole there is a problem. There is a structural and fundamental problem and what we have been doing over the years is need-picking, we just take a little out of the problem and act like we are trying to provide a solution without looking at it holistically. What is our problem?
First, I am of the firm opinion that our constitution as it is now isn’t very workable and I am also of the opinion that Nigerians need to talk to themselves.
The National Assembly is there for a purpose, according to the constitution to legislate and perform oversight functions on the executive. The executive is there to implement the laws that have been made, appropriation laws, and whatever laws that have been made.
Now, because the National Assembly, the executive and the judiciary three separate arms of government, the executive has always had this big brother role to the rest; the executive doesn’t necessarily see the legislature and the judiciary as partners, as co-equal partners, we are seen as almost as a sub arm of the executive, for me that is a problem.
And it is a problem because you have over-centralization of power and because there is so much power at the centre, all the other arms of government they are the ones paying the bills, I mean as much you are the first line charge, they are still paying the bills and even the revenue mobilization and fiscal commission submits to the executive.
With regard to the executive and the slush funds and the legislature, I think it is that way because the executive as it is, is the father, is the boss or appears to be the boss. We will see how we will get there but as it is, with the amount of power that is constituted at the centre, in the executive arm of government at the centre, I don’t see how the legislature will upturn that.
The constitution gives you unequivocal powers to determine what the other arms of government spend but it appears the Executive is playing your role?
If you look at the executive, it is based on one man. The National Assembly has two chambers – Senate and House of Representatives and in the House of Reps, I represent a corner of this country. There are 360 of us who represent people and we know their deepest yearnings, we are closest to the people.
That is a very valid point you raised and that is why I said Nigerians need to speak to themselves because the system is structurally defective right from the foundation.
We have had constitutional conferences that were not acted upon, now it is either we go back to those reports or we constitute a constitutional conference where Nigerians will sit and speak to themselves, not on political grounds but speak for the unity, development and growth of Nigeria.
These issues will be pointed out in such a forum and a constitution will be drafted that will suit Nigeria because what we have right now is just patchwork.
What is your take on state policing?
I think it is very necessary and I think that is the way we should go. Now, remember I talked about the over-centralization of our current system, our current system emphasizes over-centralization.
By the time power is taken from the centre, you have stronger states or local governments, the stronger units will make for a stronger entity and a stronger whole.
Now even if the fears were there that state governors will abuse it, why can’t we put guards, measures in place when creating such legislation to prevent the state governors from abusing those mechanisms?
With the way Traditional rulers are treated in Nigeria, don’t you think the National Assembly should intervene through legislation?
We are in a complex situation, we have over 600 ethnic identities representing what is called Nigeria today. The traditional institution cannot be put away, it is a cultural identity of who we were and who we are, it is what really gives our county its beauty-the fact that we have all these people living together. You cannot do away with our cultural institution because culturally a lot of our people defer, they look to them for guidance.
Now, the issue is the politicisation of the traditional and cultural institutions. I will recommend that the cultural identities of what Nigeria is should be captured in the constitution and that is why I said Nigerians need to speak to themselves and in the capturing, this should be isolated completely from politics because what we are seeing at play not just the Kano issue, we have had such issues over the years.
These should be two parallel institutions working hand in hand towards a goal. How do you achieve that? I think that should come with a constitutional amendment where we would have to capture the traditional institution and ensure that they are properly protected.
I am a Tiv man and I love the fact that we are who we are, we will continue our history and where we hope to be.
If you were to scrap the traditional institutions within Tiv land, there are a lot of things they are working in parallel with the government, which will leave a huge gap. There are land disputes, local issues that would overburden the government if the state were to step into those issues.