…Says 1999 Constitution skewed to favour North
…’Let Uzodinma convey security summit’
By Nnamdi Ojiego
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Health Institutions, Dr. Paschal Obi, in this interview, urges the Federal Government to create avenue for dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, as a step to solving the security challenges in the South-East. Obi, a member of All Progressives Congress, APC, representing Ideato North/ Ideato South Federal Constituency of Imo State at the National Assembly, opines that the 1999 Constitution was skewed to favour the northern part of the country, calling for a return to the 1963 Republican Constitution. Excerpts:
What do you think is the cause of worsening insecurity in the South-East especially, in Imo state?
By my current position as a member of the House of Representatives, I now reside in Abuja. So, to some extent, I may not know vividly, what caused the very terrible security situation in the region especially, in my state, Imo. Most times, we rely on the information we gather from people who are in the state which most times, you may not be very sure of the veracity of such information. But the truth of the matter to the best of my knowledge is that the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, are clamouring for a referendum and other things. When you go down to the South-East, you will discover that about 80 to 90 per cent of the people mostly, the artisans, mechanics, vulcanizers and the traders, have bought into the IPOB project.
However, I don’t know what made them so convinced that through that process, their dreams will be actualised. But one fact you must not rule out is that the IPOB members that are clamouring for the referendum have their reasons. All we need in Igboland, in the South-East, is to be given equal treatment, justice and fair play. I don’t think that there’s anybody against our belonging to Nigeria but if we must remain in Nigeria, let us remain in Nigeria with equality, a Nigeria that is guided by justice and fair play where we will participate equally with other federating units. And not a Nigeria where out of six political zones of the country, only the South-East has five states, while others have six states each, except for the north-west, which has seven states. Why should we have five while other zones are having a minimum of six? Why should our own be different? Those are part of the things that are causing the problems.
Again, when it comes to appointment, the South-East always takes the last position when it is the zone that parades the greatest number of intellectuals and technocrats, but it doesn’t reflect in the sharing at the centre. So, I believe that if the federal government grants opportunity to this group, and dialogue with them, the issues will be x-rayed and if adequate attention is given to them by way of addressing them, there won’t be trouble in the South-East. I believe that it is in the interest of us all that such an opportunity is created so that we can have peace in the region. So, the earlier the government of the day gives attention to that the better for everybody.
Are you asking the Federal Government to dialogue with IPOB?
I think there is a need for dialogue and even though the Federal Government had since proscribed IPOB, let that opportunity for dialogue be created so that issues will be pointed out on the table of dialogue. Of course, when you see injustice staring at your face very glaringly, you cannot deny that there is no injustice. Let us come together and address those cases of injustice, give equal opportunity to all the federating units or geopolitical zones so that there will be equal participation.
Do you support clamour for the president of Nigeria to come from the South-East in 2023?
Yes. I’m in firm support of that because the South-East is the only political zone that has not been given the opportunity of producing the president of this country. The zone must be given the opportunity this time around and if Nigerians agree that it is the turn of the South-East, then all the political parties must field their presidential candidate from the region. So, I believe it is the turn of the South-East to produce the next president of this country in the spirit of equality and fair play.
Can restructuring help in solving myriads of problems plaguing the country?
Restructuring will help to some extent but not to a very large extent. That thing we called the 1999 Constitution is about the worse constitution ever created in this entity called Nigeria. That constitution is completely skewed to favour northern Nigeria. We have nothing to call ours as south easterners in that constitution. That is the constitution that reduced the number of Federal House members from the South-East from where it was down to 43. Kano state alone has 24 members of the House of Representatives and Jigawa has 16. So when you put Kano and Jigawa together, they will almost be the same as what we have in the entire South-East. And when we talk about 360 members of the House of Reps, you have 191 from the north and 169 from the south. So where lies that equality? Also in the Senate, even though there is equality of states such that each state produces three senators, we still have a greater number of states in the north than in the south. When you add one senator from Abuja, you now have about 7 or 8 senators in favour of the north and against the south. And those are creations of the 1999 Constitution.
So if we are talking about restructuring, to what extent can we restructure? How do we have all these statistics, these imbalances equalised? We have a greater number of states, local government areas in the north than in the south. We also have a greater number of state houses of assembly in the north than we have in the south. So, where are we going to start from? I think, the best is for us to return to the 1963 Republican Constitution, with some relevant amendments so that states will now translate into federating units and the interest of minority will also be addressed. So returning to that constitution with necessary amendments will be the best bet for this country. With that, all the regions will be allowed to develop at their own pace. And that is the only thing I think that can save Nigeria.
Concerning the worsening security situation in Imo state, what do you suggest the governor should do?
My suggestions to the governor who is chief executive and chief security officer of the state were contained in a press release I issued a few days ago. In that release, I sued for peace, asking all the parties to sheath their swords and embrace peace. I also urged the state governor to convey a security summit, that will be all-embracing, in which all stakeholders will be invited so that we can come to a table and resolve all the issues for the sake of peace in our dear state. There is no other state we can call our own. So if Imo is burning, nobody will be happy. So, we are all interested because we are all affected by the debilitating security situation in the state right now and we are willing to do everything to support the state government restore normalcy in the state.
As chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health Institutions, what is your committee doing to ensure federal health facilities are well equipped to serve the people?
The promise I made to Nigerians when I took over as chairman of this standing committee was to bequeath health institutions that are much better than what we inherited in 2019. To make that possible, I embarked on an oversights function with my members where we took a tour of all the federal health institutions in the country. This is to enable us to ascertain the status of each of the institution to know the kind of intervention they needed.
After the tour, we made a presentation to the government through the Federal Ministry of Health and alerted them on the very deplorable conditions of our health institutions and the need to improve funding both capital and otherwise. From my observations so far, Nigeria’s health institutions especially at the tertiary level, have very qualified manpower. However, the greatest problem we have is the lack of equipment, facilities and environment under which doctors and other healthcare professionals operate.
We also discovered that the kind of budgeting system we have is part of the reasons our hospitals are in a deplorable state. The budgeting system we have is a situation where budgetary provisions for hospitals and others were made without visiting the affected establishments to ascertain their peculiarities. However, it is gladdening to note that we have started tackling that problem and what we achieved this year in the 2021 budget is about a 200 per cent increase than what was budgeted in 2020. That means the government put into considerations, the recommendations of my committee. I commend the government for that and plead with them to do more.
Having spent two years as a lawmaker, can you say you have given your people purposeful representation?
Well, it is not my duty to rate or assess my performance. I think it is for my constituents, who are the beneficiaries of my representation to do so. I think my duty is to concentrate on doing everything that is within my power to do, using my ingenuity and my knowledge as a technocrat, and somebody who has been a permanent secretary at the state level, to attract dividends of democracy to my federal constituency. During my electioneering, I promised my people that I would change the narrative and I have been very busy doing that. In the last two year, I have sponsored 23 crucial Bills and moved 16 timely Motions that gained massive support on the floor of the House. Indeed, having thirty-nine Bills and Motions within the period under review is a major milestone.
In terms of constituency projects, I have attracted several 13 boreholes water projects in different communities to ameliorate the problem of drinkable water. I also attracted two road projects, one is completed already while the other is ongoing, and have done a massive erosion control project in my community. As a medical doctor, I have built and upgraded 19 health centres upgraded for rural dwellers to access quality health care. I want to use those health centres to show an example of what a primary health centre should look like. In addition, I have secured employment for more than 90 qualified graduates of Ideato nation into different federal establishments. Their appointments are permanent and pensionable. And that I must continue to do because I have the password to reach those federal agencies and institutions.
I placed high premium in human capital development. In my zeal to ensure that my constituents were equiped with requisite skills, I have sponsored 10 different capacity building trainings, workshops and seminars for the youths, women and students, and assisted them with financial support at the end of each programme. I also held a historic empowerment where vehicles, motorcycles, grinding machines, family mattresses and iPads were given to the deserving constituents. Furthermore, 500 women (petty traders) received financial assistance to boost their merchandise. Today in my constituency, distribution of food items to the vulnerable in our clime is now a tradition.
When I took over in 2019, there was only one linear accelerator, the equipment used in carrying out radiotherapy in cancer patients. There was only one functional machine in Sokoto. There is none in the south. It was my intervention by way of a motion that compelled the federal government to do the needful by providing linear accelerators in each of the six geo-political zones.
Again, we have three national orthopaedic hospitals in Nigeria. One each in Enugu, Kaduna and Lagos. If you visit the orthopaedic hospital in Enugu now and take photographs of structures and equipment there, and then juxtapose it with that of Kano and Lagos, you will pity people that use the facility. It is an eyesore. I have also made a serious move to correct that and provision for it was made in the 2020 budget for the National Orthopedic Hospital, Enugu, to now look like its counterparts in the north and west. I’m still willing and ready to do more.