His first bill before the House of Representatives seeks to attract a federal polytechnic to his Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency. And Dr Alex Egbona believes with proper lobbying, the bill will be passed and that it will get the assent of the president, Muhammadu Buhari.
In this interview, Egbona who is also the deputy chairman, committee on petroleum downstream also spoke on his pending election case at the court of appeal.
Nigeria is 59. For you, what does it mean?
It means that as a people, we are making progress. We may not be where we had wished to be as a people, but we are certainly not where we were in 1960. Nigeria has evolved and the people have also evolved. I have heard people say that nothing is working in Nigeria and so we should not celebrate our independence. People have said all kinds of things about our nationhood and how were are still sleeping giants at 59. But my quick response to that is that the geographical expression called Nigeria is just what it is-an expression. It is the people that really make up the country called Nigeria. So, it behoves on all of us to make it work. Watch it, the same people that say Nigeria is not working may be the same people that are not obeying simple traffic laws, or would not respect simple friendly agreements and so on. When you hear that Nigeria is bad or Nigeria is not working, what it means is that the individuals are bad. It is the individuals that are not making things to work. I believe in the slogan, ‘it begins with you’. If Nigeria will attain the greatness that we all desire, it begins with all of us. When you refuse to drop wastes on the road, knowing that it would make the environment dirty, when you refuse to drive against traffic, no matter who you are, when you decide to do your work as a civil servant without asking for gratification, then you know that you have contributed to making Nigeria work. We all have a collective duty to make this country great.
Have you noticed that the same Nigerians who disobey traffic in this country, the same Nigerians who cannot keep to time in their country, by the time they land in another man’s country, they will obey the laws and dare not go against the law? When they are outside Nigeria, they will speak of how things are working there. Is it not the people that make things work in those places?
We just have to stop the blame game and do the right things to make our own country work. It is not too late to start.
What is the latest on your election case?
As you may know, we are now at the court of appeal. We filed our notice of appeal some weeks ago. We are doing the needful based on the provisions of the law. We decided to challenge the outcome of the tribunal judgment which annulled my victory at the election. There was a clear case of miscarriage of justice and we trust that the court of appeal will do justice to it. I will not want to go too far on this, since we are back in court. But suffice it to say that what the tribunal judges did cannot stand in the eyes of the law. I mean, how on earth to you close your eyes to very clear provisions of the law in arriving at your conclusions and think a judgment of that nature will stand? It cannot. For example, if you say I was not qualified to contest the election, the law is very clear on what is to be done. You are not supposed to declare the first runner up as winner. That is the law. But they did something else.
The law is very clear on the issue of the use of card reader. Even the recent judgement in the case involving President Muhammadu Buhari and the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar is still very fresh in our memory. The appeal court was very clear on that issue. But the tribunal, for whatever reason, made their own laws and used same to arrive at their judgement. Come on, how do you as a lower court, set aside a court of appeal judgment and render it useless by your own judgement?
Anyway, like I said, this whole thing will be dealt with at the appeal court. I have so much confidence that the wrongs that were done to us at the tribunal will be corrected at the appeal court.
That is why I am not bothered. I refuse to be distracted. The people of Abi/Yakurr who freely gave me their mandate to represent them deserve the best and they will get it. I assure you. You are aware that I am the only APC person in Cross River State that won an election in 2019. What does that tell you? My people appreciate what I have been doing for them since I joined politics after my NYSC and became a councillor. So, I am on course.
You are sponsoring a bill for the establishment of a polytechnic in your state. Why, at this time, especially knowing that there are many tertiary institutions in the state?
It is true that there are many tertiary institutions in Cross River State but it is very, very wrong to think that we have got enough tertiary institutions. To start with, how many of those institutions do we have? We have UNICAL, we have CRUTECH, we have the college of education in Akamkpa and so on. These are all government owned universities. But check out the population of Cross River State, check out the number of prospective students from the state, especially from the central senatorial district and indeed from my federal constituency. How many universities do you have? In fact, there is no polytechnic at all, apart from the state institute of technology and management. That is the only one we can say we have got. But we truly need a federal polytechnic in our state.
I am not aware that Cross River has been taken off the list of educationally disadvantaged states in Nigeria. We are still considered to be critically in need of tertiary institutions so that our children can have choices.
It may even interest you to know that unlike what obtains in our neighbouring states, we do not have even a privately owned polytechnic in Cross River. I was told recently that there has been an attempt to have one somewhere around the Calabar Municipality. I have not heard much about it. So, there is really a need for a polytechnic here and I am pushing for one to be located in my constituency. We really need this polytechnic to provide a technology based education for our people.
Are you aware that there were attempts by some senators in your state to attract a federal polytechnic to Cross River without success?
I am aware but I won’t say it was without success in its entirety. I appreciate the efforts put in by my brothers and leaders, to achieve this. I am aware that Senators Victor Ndoma Egba and John Owan Enoh made efforts to get the federal government to establish a federal polytechnic in the state. What I am told is that the bill was passed at various times but were awaiting presidential assent. It is unfortunate and painful that after all the effort they put in, the president did not assent to either of the bills. Now, what this underscores is that those of us who have been elected by our people to represent them at the National Assembly do see the need for this problem to be addressed. Those who do not understand the way government works are quick to dismiss this latest effort. I have read some stuff on social media, where some persons have given the impression that private member bills rarely succeed. This cannot be correct. Some people just feel like criticising for the sake of it, especially if they are of the opposition political bloc.
Be that as it may, a fresh journey has started and I do know that lobbying is a very essential ingredient in parliamentary activities. You lobby to get your bill listed. You lobby your colleagues to support the bill to move through the various stages of legislation. You lobby to get it signed into law. In this case, you have to lobby to make sure there are provisions for the project in the budget. I am aware of this aspect of parliamentary business and I can assure that by the grace of God, we will get there. The bill has already been read the first time. Soon, it will go through the second reading and then committed to the appropriate committee and the normal processes will be followed. We will take it one step at a time until we get there.
But why Abi? Why not Ikom, where you have the population?
Let me also throw the question back to you. Why not Abi? Ikom is in Cross River. Abi is in Cross River. Human beings live in Ikom. Human beings also live in Abi. The economy of Ikom needs to receive a boost. The economy of Abi also needs to receive a boost. I’m sure you have heard that charity begins at home. So, charity will begin at home and continue to other places. That is on a lighter note though.
Now seriously. Abi is a border local government, sharing boundary with Ebonyi and has a massive population of young boys and girls in dire need of tertiary education, just like neighbouring local governments and those from other states. The truth is that no matter the number of schools that offer higher education, they cannot just be enough. Go to Ekiti State and see the number of tertiary institutions there. If you have ever been there, you will notice that on one stretch road, there are up to four different higher institutions on both sides of the road.
Even in our neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, check out the number of higher institutions you have there. The more of these schools that we can attract to our domain, the better for our children.
By the time the polytechnic is established, our children will be on an advantage position to be admitted. The economy of the locality will be buoyed up. There will be employment opportunities for the locals. People will come and build hostels for the students. Banks will come around the area. Our people will feel the presence of the federal government. See, I am seriously intoxicated with the strong desire to take my people to the next level in the area of development. Others may be driven by the urge to make money, some are driven by the desire for power. Mine is to make sure that by the time I leave the stage, people will always say ‘there was a legislator in the House of Representatives from Ekureku clan in Abi Local Government.’
Let’s talk about the state of unrest in your constituency. The latest is the fight in Mkpani. What is going on?
I was informed of the crisis in Mkpani last weekend. I am still in pains over this matter. You can imagine the number of lives that have gone. People’s property have been destroyed, all because of a chieftaincy stool. I am happy that peace is gradually returning to the area, following the deployment of security operatives to the place. People do not seem to appreciate it when the Bible said that all in life is vanity upon vanity. Why would people take other people’s lives, all because of some temporary gains? Nothing in this life is worth the blood of a human being.
The state government, in partnership with security operatives in the state have stepped in and I am told that normalcy is returning gradually. Let me use this opportunity to again plead with those behind the carnage in Mkpani to give peace a chance. They should know that life is too precious than a chieftaincy seat.