Dr (Mrs) Virginia Itam Abang, re-elected member representing Boki 1 State constituency in the Cross River House of Assembly in an exclusive interview with TNN Correspondent, Solomon Ugo, in Calabar says women also have what it takes to be in leadership positions anywhere in the world.
You just came out of election. Was it an easy ride?
No. Election is never easy because you need to go round meeting the people. No matter the amount of support you have, traversing the whole constituency especially for some of us whose constituencies are difficult to reach can't be described as being easy.
Democracy is all about people, needs and desires. What is your own concept of democracy so far as member representing Boki 1 State Constituency?
Democracy is bringing the needs of the people to government and bringing government response to them. I believe that is the concept of effective representation.
What roles have you played in providing succour to communities that have crisis in Boki 1 so far?
For constituency 1, you can't say we have always had crisis. The crisis in Danare was a border crisis. The Cameroonians tried to invade Nigeria's territory. I went first with the commissioner of police. I had also been there on three occasions with the Nigerian Army in company of the GOC, General Abubakar as he then was with the team he sent from Abuja from the Army headquarters. I have also done private visits to the community. I have always been wherever there have been crisis to get first hand information.
Are they plans to make sure some of the destructions are fixed, particularly critical infrastructure?
They have been panels working on it because it is not a day's process but something that would take time. A lot of things are being destroyed, lives are lost. It is a gradual process; that is why we still have security operatives in those areas.
You have been chairperson of different committees including health and education. What impact have you made so far as chairperson of these committees?
The impact we can see on my bill to regulate private schools which is in force with a board in place as a result of this bill. We had a lot of mushroom schools. At some point, some schools were in people's garages. Again, we made sure that for instance it was a blanket registration for all private schools as well as renewals and we have a lot of improvement. We were able to streamline fees in the rural areas and the people are very happy.
Talking about proliferation of private schools means that government may not be doing enough after all?
No, the government is doing enough you can't say the government is not doing enough. It is a gradual process. I think the problem also lies with us. We should be able to help government because government cannot be 24hours and 7 days a week in every village and community. It is not possible at all. There are monitors and people going round. They can just do so with limited resources.
The Boki scenario where communities are fragile and prone to internal crisis, what have you done to keep them in harmony so far?
We have an army post in Danare to checkmate issues of aggression. My people are very happy since then. Officers and men are stationed permanently there. So we have not had issues again. For other places in Boki 1 state constituency, it's even across the whole world, where there is land, there tend to be that dispute. Most of the time, I think it is land matters and even from the time the world came into existence, you had that. So you can't call Boki alone, it's all over because it is not even peculiar to Cross River State.
Have your colleagues reached out to you particularly as the race for principal officers gears up?
Yes they have reached out to me. Normal you consult, if you want to be speaker, you need to meet your colleagues.
Do you also hold any sentiments that it should be given to a female as bandied in some quarters?
When you say given, it looks as if you just go out and get it because of gender. No, I believe the women also have what it takes to be in leadership position anywhere in the world. It is not only limited to the Assembly alone.
You also feel the zoning structure relating to the speakership be kept intact?
Of course the zoning structure would be maintained. You don't want to cause crisis because Cross River State has been a sterling example of what is called political family. You can't say because you are stronger than the other, you must get it. A community or country is as strong as it weakest link. Now you can't say because you are stronger, you would have double portions at a time. You see how the governorship went. It started from the south with His Excellency Donald Duke, it went to the central with Senator Liyel Imoke as governor and it is now in the north. Cross River State has always maintained a zoning process that had made sure we had peace. Politically, we enjoy a lot of peace in Cross River, forget the small things people are doing. We enjoy a lot of peace politically. It is the only place you can drive yourself and nobody harasses you.
The public always believe the state assembly is under the feet of the governor? What is your reaction to this allegation?
You see each time I hear that, I get so upset. Are they not looking at what comes into the state coffers? What do you mean a rubber stamp? We should be at the governor's throat at every point in time? That's why Cross River State is the envy of all states because there is peace. Cross River House of Assembly is not a rubber stamp. Do you go force a man to bring out what he doesn't have? We know what comes into the state.
What the public seem to be saying is that budget implementation from 2017 to 2019 has been very low?
Have you looked at the federal government's budget implementation? Look at it and tell me if they have done their budget up to 50 per cent. When you answer that question, we can have this discussion.
In terms of our own budget, people feel that the budget is too unrealistic?
I have just given you an example. The federal government has all the money; do you understand? Cross River State is just about, if not the least state with federal allocations. Whereas people go home with over 17 billion naira as monthly allocation and even 24 billion naira, but Cross River goes home with just 2.7 billion naira. The records are there; it's not something the governor collects and puts in his pocket. No. The records are there. Go and find out how many states have implemented their budget up to 50 per cent, then we can have this discussion.
But most of the state's budget is based on 'intellectual money' concept where 1.3 trillion could be passed as a budget. Is that feasible enough comparing your earlier statement of how meagre our monthly allocation is?
If you use your head properly, you can get what you want. You can indeed get it if you really want. Use your head; for instance when you talk about intellectual money, I want to do this project and I don't have it. I reach out to people who have the money and I sell my programmes to them. If they are interested they invest. The money doesn't come from your pocket. Do you understand? Intellectual money is your head. You use your head to do and how you get those things done.
Ordinary Cross Riverians do not understand this explanation given about intellectual money.
They don't understand it; you must not have physical cash. If you want to buy something, you must not have physical cash. We reach out to people who can bring you what you want at a minimum cost so you can also survive, you understand.
What should Boki 1 constituents be looking forward to in your second term?
Basically, I had always been a grassroots person. I go home almost every week. So it won't change, rather it would be better.
We are looking forward to a rubber stamp lawmaking that would benefit Boki people and the state in general. I am looking at getting my people's needs taken to government which would act accordingly in bringing succour to them as part of my social contract with them.
What plans do you have for the Youths in your second term?
My politics has always been for youths. That's why you see the ICT Centre in my constituency. Unfortunately, I could not complete it in this tenure. It would sit 500 people. We intend to make that a JAMB centre, so that children don't begin to move to Abakaliki and Benue States to write JAMB themselves. You know I come from a very rural place. Constituency 1 is still very rural. There are places that have not seen a car before and some can't even differentiate between a laptop and a television. These are children who are going to be prepared going to university. Is it not computer based test they would use in writing JAMB? You need to educate them, that's why we are going to have a lot of training for them. Most of them who can't go to school would be trained in different fields.
Some rural areas according to your narrative are not accessible, how do pregnant women in these areas have safe deliveries?
Well! You know in spite of the fact that there are no roads but if you go into the hinterlands you will see a health post. I want to thank the Director General Cross River Primary Health Care Development Agency. Even in the remotest villages you will find a health facility. Recently, I saw the governor distribute tricycles as ambulances. They are equipped with facilities that can be of immense help.