By Levinus Nwabughiogu, Abuja
Hon. Ben Igbakpa representing Ethiope Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives, in this interview, says the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold assent to Section 84 (8) of the amended Electoral Act on statutory delegates has thrown Nigeria into the unpopular leadership recruitment process.
The primaries of political parties have come and gone. You contested in the primaries of the PDP for the constituency you represent in the House of Representatives. Can you tell us actually what transpired and how would you review the primaries generally across the federation?
For mine, it has come and gone. Political parties primaries are internal working of the parties to throw up candidates, whichever way it went, good or bad, fair or not fair, whatever, it has come and gone and winners in wherever form have emerged and losers have also emerged but losers have rights to have a rethink about what transpired and think of the way forward. For me, I am thinking of the way forward. I am no longer looking at what transpired at the primaries.
What feelers are you getting because many lawmakers feel bad? A situation where a total of 178 lawmakers in the 9th assembly are not likely to come back might seem worrisome. Again, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila talked about the system that denied so many of you tickets. So, how do you react to all of these?
Yes, most of the problems that happened at the primaries is that frenzy, the seeming error which was not really an error but what the National Assembly seems to do to clarify to avoid ambiguity and just clear it so that the common man on the street can look at the law and say this is what the intention is about.
The issue seems to be around Section 84 (8). If you look at the 2010 Electoral Act, it is exactly the same thing but in this 2022 version, somehow I don’t know where it came from.
There is this fear that statutory delegates were not particularly mentioned and the parliament said “OK if that is the issue, let us just put it there for people to know”. What we tried to do is just for clarity so that people will not misunderstand anything but it turned out to be our biggest undoing, trying to correct, not that there was anything wrong, we were just trying to make things clearer for people to understand.
So, if you look at the 2010 Electoral Act and the 2022 Electoral Act prior to the amendment we did on the 11th of May, it is exactly the same thing, it is just to clear issues and some persons who seem to know what they were looking for, who probably threw up that confusion harped on it and that led to the massive loss of members.
And people keep saying that laws were made for somebody, no, it was not made for anybody, it was actually the same. We were just trying to say let us explain it more so that people can understand what it is about. But my own quarrel still goes to the fact that the President did not assent to it when he ought to because it is a national issue. It is a serious issue, it is an election cycle and this is the time.
My quarrel really is about our leadership recruitment process and when the leadership recruitment process is faulty, you don’t expect the best from the leaders that are selected. There are good ones, there are bad ones; there are some that fall far below the threshold of the standard those certain persons have set but here they are, they have been thrown at the people.
And I keep saying it that nobody is a slave to any organization you belong to, including the political parties. The political parties as far as I am concerned are a vehicle to a destination. You wouldn’t take it as if it is their problem or it is their fault but that is what Mr President not signing has thrown the country into.
I quite agree if there are two laws that the 9th Assembly will be known for, the PIB and this Electoral Act 2022, and we can’t afford to leave it in such a way that people will not know where it is, neither here nor there as to what is happening. So, we will do everything possible. I believe and trust in the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate. They will look at it and bequeath that Nigerian law that will give us the enabling electoral process that Nigerians can actually harp on and move forward.
Talking about statutory delegates, you are currently championing a motion for the House to override the veto of the President. How about that?
I think there is something that we need to be really clear about. First, anything that you are doing that is in the constitution is nothing new. It is not grand-standing. I don’t know why people see overriding the President’s veto as a big deal. It is in the Constitution. It is the rule of law. The law of the land provided for it.
They envisaged that and that is why they put it that the President could have a position with the parliament that is not going on the same side and if the parliament believes that they have done what is right, the Constitution says they should do it.
People seem to be giving Section 58 (5) one big interpretation as if you are trying to overthrow the President, no, it is just the rule of law, it is the beauty of democracy.
We looked at it and believed that he ought to have signed but instead, he travelled outside the country, ignored and now exposed Nigerians to a recruitment process, a leadership recruitment process that has thrown up certain persons.
Now, talking about the three adhoc delegates, these ad-hoc delegates are not people that are familiar. There are some that are politicians who have been around but a lot of them are people that are not familiar with the political workings.
They don’t even understand who is who. We don’t know them and they don’t know us and they are not even bothered about the pedigree of the individuals they are voting for.
A lot of them turned out because of how much they can get from the system. It became cash and carry thing and even after the cashing, they don’t even carry because they still wait for their owners to give direction and that makes things difficult.
But for the working committee whom you have been working with, they understand the system, you have been with them for more than 2 years now, they understand who has done well as a representative, they understand who has done well as a governor, they understand who has done well as President, so when they are voting, they will be objective in their voting.
Unlike these people that just showed up 2 weeks to the primaries, all they know about is how much is this person ready to bring, who brought me here, and who did he say I should vote for?
Three political parties have churned out powerful presidential candidates. APC has Tinubu. The PDP has Atiku and the Labour Party has Obi. Let’s not also forget NNPP where Kwankwaso is coming from. Looking at the array of candidates we have got at the moment, how do you assess them and their chances of becoming the number one citizen eventually?
Well, it all depends on the assessment you want me to give. Is it assessment as a Nigerian or assessment as a politician?
I am a politician and as a politician, it is very difficult to do an assessment as a Nigerian. Yes, as a Nigerian I want a President that can take us away from where APC has taken us to. That should tell you that number one, APC is cancelled. I told you at the beginning that the party system is just a vehicle, one vehicle has taken us into the ditch and we are thinking of how to get out.
I don’t think we should join that vehicle further because it is going to take us too far into it where we might not be able to come back. Then as a politician, I am a member of PDP and God has been able to throw up a very powerful and credible candidate and a running mate who has a lot to bring to the table. So, based on the fact that the APC cannot take us to where we are going because we have given them 8 years to do that and they have not been able to do it, I believe my party can take us to where we are going. Then number three, Labour Party, former governor Peter Obi is doing well in the market.
I wouldn’t want to say more than that and a lot of people are calling on him but, most times, I don’t believe in what happens on social media because there are places where people have won presidential elections via social media but Nigeria’s situation, I don’t know if they can do that for the first time.
But in all of these, as at this moment, I am still a member of the PDP, I believe my party has the best team to take us from where are now and deliver Nigeria the way Nigerians expect the country to run, I stand with my party and I believe we are the best.