In this exclusive media chat with Abia Facts Newspaper, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe explained in detail what transpired during the process which led to the bailing of IPOB leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, he likewise elaborated reasons why he should be reelected for the 4th term to the national assembly despite the opposition voices. This interview is elaborate and a must read for Ndi Abia and Nigerians.
The political season is coming up and there are some dissenting voices concerning your aspiration for the 4th term saying that you have had a taste of it and other privileges. Why do you think the people of Abia South should vote for you again?
I think this is the kind of question that should not be addressed to me. People are to make their decision which will be based on whether I have represented them well or not. The question of having to justify this will amount to blowing my trumpet but on the compendium of all the things we have done for our Senatorial District, we have reports covering all the basic areas of life such as health, housing, electricity, human development and education. This covers almost everything and we have 188 booklets which we are now publishing so that all my constituents will have the benefits, even if not directly impacted, they will have a sense of belonging knowing their neighbour was. Beyond that, I am at the moment a very strong voice in the Senate. I do not think that my constituents will want somebody who will start learning the rope all over again. To have someone like me in the Senate with years of experience is very benefitting to the constituency. I feel that so long as I have done what they sent me to do in the Senate, I do not think they have any resentment or displeasure about the quality of my representation.
But usually, once it’s a political season like now, you will see aspirants casting themselves in a positive light saying what they will do that the other person did not do. What I hear now about me is that I have stayed too long there, they are not saying I am incompetent, or that I am not attracting development, but they are only saying that I have stayed too long there and should go and rest. That is not in the interest of the constituency. The larger constituency benefits far more from the House because of the long-term experience of the person representing them.
Sir, you are a ranking senator in the National Assembly, so how has this experience enhanced your capacity in handling legislative affairs generally?
Usually when one gets into the Senate for the first time, you are given a period for you to learn the ropes. The minimum time for you to learn the ropes is one term and that is why in our rule book, you cannot be a principal officer if you have not spent up to a term in the House. You cannot be the Senate President or hold other sensitive positions because you certainly would not be able to discharge such duties effectively. There is a benefit that comes with being in the Senate beyond one term because you become a repository of knowledge of legislative rules, regulations and matters for budgeting for your constituency. The constituency that do very rapid turnover of their legislators really miss out in the rest of Nigeria. I don’t think anybody have taken the time to check constituencies and the projects and things attached to them and marry into the length of stay of whoever is their choice. This is a contest of ideas and contest between 109 Senatorial zones in Nigeria, each one trying to get something for their constituency. You know the higher ranked you are, the more the privilege. So, it has been a very interesting experience.
Sir, you have been in power and have enjoyed being the spokesman of the Senate. How are you coping now that your party is not the ruling party?
I still enjoy all the respect and privileges due to me as a Senator within the Senate Chamber. The question of partisanship only happens when we step outside the Senate but on the floor of the Senate, we take decisions in the best interest of the country and I can assure you that nobody has hindered us or said because you are not from the ruling party, you should not talk or you should be restricted to certain things. Anything we do is always in the best interest of the country so when in the caucus of the Senate, we can take sides but when it concerns Nigeria, we always take decisions in her best interests. That is why most times when decisions are being taken we vote unanimously.
Sir, there is an ongoing fuss in Nigeria about restructuring. What is your opinion on it?
Incidentally, I am the Chairman of the Ohanaeze Committee on Restructuring and we have held consultations in three major areas in Nigeria. We did in Abuja to cover the Northern area, we did in Lagos to cover the Western area and we did in Enugu to cover the South East areas. We have also come up with a basic position which I will not like to disclose here but the consensus of opinions is that this country is not sustainable in its current structure. The divisive tendencies in the country are too many and it is because we are basically not running a Federation. What we are running is a unitary system in which everybody heads into Abuja and Abuja tries to control everybody’s lives and is unable to do so because it does not have the capacity to do so. We want something that is a Federation in practice not a Federation in words. I think that basically we support that the country must be restructured and we support also that powers must be exercised in the manner under a real Federal Government, where the federating units constitutionally enjoy their rights. Our report will also elaborate on that.
We are happy that South West have done a restructuring summit, the South-South have also done a restructuring summit, we are having conversations with the middle belt and we are asking them also to do their own restructuring summit. The South East will also do that, so that all the different strands of opinion in Nigeria will get together and we can now decide to build a country that works for us all.
Sir, during the time Nnamdi Kanu was in prison, a whole lot of people could have gone for his bail but most of them withdrew from it. What actually motivated you to take up that task?
The judge had specific conditions for bail and one of the conditions was that somebody of the rank of a Senator in order of protocol in Nigeria, is either a Senator, a Vice President or a President of Nigeria. Somebody of the rank of a Senator and it happened that there was no one willing to take the risk to be the Senator. So it became a challenge to our people. We realised that it was designed for Igbo Senators or for him not to get bail because people were afraid to stand as surety for him. We felt that we needed to challenge that notion that we, the representatives of our people were afraid to ensure that our constituents are always treated with dignity. Now, when we see what has happened, subsequent to that, after the bail: the attack on him, proscription and the fact that an unarmed pacifist group that are only waving flags are proscribed and given very severe treatment, we ask: why should we be treated that way? Herdsmen are going around murdering people and nobody is saying anything till today, neither have they been proscribed. That is to tell you that we were correct in our assumption that this was a discriminatory act against people from a particular part of the country and we needed to challenge that. And part of coming to sign for the bail for Kanu was to let the whole world know that these people actually mean well for Nigeria because their basic stance is that the country is not working. It is just like where you have two countries for those who are privileged and those who are not.
People are treated differently, people commit crimes and are left to go free and yet, those who did not commit any crime or cause any crime to be committed, who were just going around expressing their basic human rights, a large hammer came down on their heads. The only reason for proscribing IPOB was on the basis that they were going to cause menace to Nigeria but now we are seeing the real people causing menace in Nigeria. All the way from Jos, Benue, Taraba to Nasarawa, Niger State and so forth, we see a murderous band of thieves, the Fulani herdsmen engaging to dismember this country, fighting an economic war against the country by ensuring that we no longer have food security. When you drag someone away from his farm, he will not farm and he will not have what to eat then it becomes a shortage to the country.
When you combine all that, you will see that those are the real enemies of Nigeria. What we saw was statements from government trying to exonerate these people from their murderous ways. All that it does is to justify the stance of IPOB members because you cannot treat citizens with disparity in the same country.
Sir, in the South East we have 15 senators, down in Abia we have three senators. What motivated you…
It was a collective decision because I am their leader in the Senatorial Caucus. Leadership comes with responsibility and also you have to lead the way and there will be challenges. When it becomes a challenge in South East Caucus, a leader must step forward and accept the challenge.
What motivated you to go into agricultural programmes?
Sometime in 2013, after I had been in the senate since 2007, and having been part of several programmes and projects, we did the review of everything we had done and we found out that a generating set given to somebody may not last long or have the capacity to help him deliver his task. We have tried one programme which unfortunately did not bear fruit but it was like an eye opener to what we are doing today and that is what we call an Easy Business Programme. That programme was to give POS machines with generators to 130 constituents, empowering them to sell recharge cards, do bank transfers and sports betting. Eventually the person we partnered to do that assisted with how to get the license from the lottery and that sort of made things easier.
That gave us an insight that we needed to build people rather than give them generating sets, transformers, etc. We could still give generating sets but from our experience, we now know that what we are doing is a more sustainable way of helping them to become self sufficient, especially the women. It would help the women in our rural areas who often bear the burden for family upkeep. Out of the pittance they make, they take care of their children’s school fees and so many other things.
Since that time, we concentrated on women and we have had a sustained programme every year to make sure that first, they have a chance to access entrepreneurship training and can manage their funds, get credits and start a trade. We are motivated in this, to be able to make them self sufficient, to make them centers of the development of their families and their communities. We empower them in such a way that once they are independent and able to fend for themselves, nobody can push them around anymore; their spouses will respect them more and they would be able to make some decision for themselves. In several different ways, this enhances the efforts we are making to deepen democracy in Nigeria. When people are empowered in such a way they would do their bits in sustaining democracy in Nigeria.
Having seen some electrical projects on the way, I need to ask, is there access to electricity across the six Local Governments?
Yes, all the Local Governments are benefiting from the project even beyond Abia South Senatorial zone. We have also extended to other places. I am the Committee Chairman on power, so all over Abia where there are challenges, we try as much as we can to make sure that they have access to electricity. What you saw is a little bit of what is going on now. They are just installing. In Ukwa East LGA they have a long sustained unit to bring power to the entire Local Government using the axis from Ovom rather than the previous axis where they used that was not sustainable. We have all these on-going projects through the rehabilitation agency which oversees the six Local Governments and other Local Governments in Abia State.
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