In this interview, Dr Alex Egbona, the member of the House of Representatives from Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency of Cross River State bares his mind on developments arising from the recent approval of a federal polytechnic for Ugep. He also spoke on how the country can be restructured as well as the security challenges arising from herders clashes in Nigeria.
The federal government has just approved a new polytechnic for your constituency. What does this mean to you?
It means a lot to me. It means a lot to the people of Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency. It means a lot to the people of Cross River State. You must have heard that I sponsored a bill for the establishment of a federal polytechnic in my constituency. I took this as a project and the bill has already passed through the second reading stage. As a politician and parliamentarian, I believe in lobbying, I believe in the principle of give and take. The ultimate goal for every politician is to get results for their people.
While the legislative processes were on-going, I had some information about the federal government’s plans to establish some polytechnics. So, I had to consult major stakeholders in my state and constituency on how to ensure that we did not miss it. Everybody walked in unity for the common goal of getting the federal polytechnic to be located in the constituency. I wanted it in Ekureku, because we have so much land and the people were willing and ready to offer their land. Other people wanted the polytechnic in their land. It is politics and it is all about interest. So, we were all interested in getting the school to our various places. But you see, if we had insisted on our interests, maybe we would have missed it. So, at a point, we all agreed that it should go to Ugep, the political headquarters of the federal constituency.
Don’t forget that before now, the Obol Lopon Ugep, who is also the paramount ruler of Yakurr Local Government, His Royal Majesty, Ofem Clement Ubana, had written to Mr President, telling him about the need for the school to be sited in Ugep. So, with his backing, one of Ugep’s son in whom I am well pleased, Barrister Okoi Obono Obla joined me as we moved to all the necessary offices in Abuja to pursue the matter. Mind you, past members of the National Assembly from the area had also played one role or the other at different times, to ensure that a federal polytechnic comes to our state. Immediate past and the present ministers from the state also played tremendous roles. It was a team work and I am happy that we have got a higher institution of that magnitude to our senatorial district.
There is one thing I keep saying, Mr President must have considered and approved this polytechnic for Ugep as reward for the people’s resilience and support for the APC. Remember that Cross River is a PDP state. So, PDP wanted to take all available positions in the state. But Abi/Yakurr people stood their grounds and at the end of the day, we won a seat in the House of Reps and I was declared winner, to represent the people. That was during the general election. The election was nullified and a rerun ordered. That rerun was like war. PDP came with all their arsenals. They wanted to take the seat, but my people said it won’t happen. That was when I saw the real colour of unity and love. People like Senator John Owan Enoh, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba who are not even from that federal constituency stood by us and made sure that APC won. A lot of people from the PDP who believed in my capacity also stood by me and supported the Abi/Yakurr people. We won the rerun and I returned to the National Assembly. So, part of what Mr President was told was that look, this federal constituency stood their grounds and supported the APC. So, let this be a reward for their dedication to the party. Thank God Mr President listened and hearkened to the pleas of our people and today, we have a federal polytechnic. Interestingly, apart from approving Ugep as the location, Mr President also approved N2 billion for the take-off. So, we are full of gratitude to Mr President. I am personally grateful to all those who played different roles in making this happen. Let me say this: I have heard all kinds of comments about who did what and who did not do what. I don’t think we should fight over who takes the glory for the birth of the Ugep polytechnic. I was taught by my history teacher many years ago, that the founder of an empire and the man who came to build it are all great men. If anything, I would say that the APC people and those Cross Riverians who stood on the side of truth, justice, and fairness, insisting that the people’s votes counted, are the real heroes as far as this project is concerned. They are the people that should take the glory for the establishment of the polytechnic in Ugep. Perhaps, if the APC did not win anything, maybe, just maybe, the federal government might not have listened to us when we were fighting for this. But now, the battle is over. The polytechnic is safely in our hands. The next thing is for us to remain united in doing all what we need to do so that the school can take off in October.
How is the fresh registration for APC members going in your area?
It is going on very well. Some of us who are leaders are mobilising our followers and the people of our constituency to either register as new members or revalidate their membership as old members. It is actually an opportunity for us to evangelise, if you like, and boost our membership. In my constituency, it is even more of a necessity for us to get more of our people to join the party because we are seeing development projects from the federal government. My only concern is that we should avoid any form of crisis as a result of the on-going exercise. The registration exercise should unite and not divide us. There have been stories of clashes here and there in some parts of the country. We do not want to experience this in Cross River. I urge all my people to go about this business peacefully and in peace.
What is your take on the clamour for restructuring of the country and how will the National Assembly look at this burning issue on resumption?
You must have been aware that I am a member of the APC and our party is seriously in support of restructuring. That was why the party set up a high powered committee led by the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The committee has since submitted its report and the party, to the best of my knowledge, is considering what the El-Rufai committee did. Having said that, let me add that apart from the APC as a party, I doubt if there is anybody in this country who does not believe in the theory of restructuring. The only area of disagreement, if you ask me, is in the modalities. There are people who argue that the six regional structures of the country should be changed. There are those who argue that each state should be allowed to take care of themselves and make due returns to the centre. There are people who believe that the country is too big to allow decisions to be taken by the centre, on behalf of the states. Some people want what they call true federalism.
I have taken a look at the report of the El-Rufai committee and I am aware that some of these concerns were addressed by the committee. What is remaining now is for a definite statement to be made by the government at the centre on some of the issues.
For me, we need to restructure. And the first point of call should be our character and attitude. I read recent reports where the immediate past president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was quoted as saying that Nigerians needed to restructure their mindset first. I agree with him, somehow. But I will add that Nigerians need to restructure their character and attitude first, while we wait for other forms of restructuring to happen.
You see, Nigerians have a way of shouting about restructuring, about this and that. Again, people have started calling for the birth of state police as a way of tacking insecurity in the country. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said so recently. Even El-Rufai has also talked about. I think that was a few days ago. But what I have noticed is this, if Nigerians find the need to restructure their attitude and character, particularly in the way they deal with fellow human beings, crime rate will reduce; other forms of social vices will reduce. If a man considers that it is wrong and a crime against a fellow human being, to plot to kidnap him, or kill him, or defraud him, he will not contemplate doing those things and of course the police and other security agencies will have less work to do. What that means is that there will be no clamour for state police or no state police.
If Nigerians consider a change in their character and attitude towards others, nobody will be greedy; nobody will think of getting involved in acts of nepotism as we have seen in Nigeria today. Nigeria is so rich in diverse ways. But because some people are greedy, that is why one man will amass so much wealth; one man will steal billions of naira and stash them abroad or bury them in soak away pits. They will display their ill-gotten wealth such that kidnappers will go after them, and then we will be shouting about restructuring to allow for state police. We must first deal with our character and attitude. The moment we begin to see public funds the way it is and refuse to pilfer, our problems as a country will reduce.
Have you noticed that the man on the street who is shouting about restructuring and state police is the same person who will disobey traffic, the same man who will drive against traffic, the same man who will produce fake drugs and sell to members of the public as original; then his fellow human being will take the drugs and die, while they smile to the bank and continue shouting about restructuring. The character and attitude of a lot of Nigerians stink.
I truly support restructuring. I will support state police, only with a caveat, that governors will not use same state police to deal with all their perceived and real political opponents. You can imagine what the governors are doing with state independent electoral commissions. Tell me, which state in Nigeria have you seen a proper local government election? The governors do whatever they want and at the end of the day, the electoral commission will announce some names as winners and they will, more often than not, all be members of the ruling party in the state. Yet, these governors will also be shouting about restructuring. It does appear that we do not really know what we want as a people, or we are pretending.
However, I do know that leaders of the National Assembly have a very deep passion for the good of this country. If we have documents presented to the National Assembly in forms of motions, bills etc, as we resume, I am very sure that the leadership will do justice to it. All we want is a better Nigeria. But it begins with everybody taking responsibility and playing their part.