Hon. Ben Rollands Igbakpa served as a member of Delta State House of Assembly. He later became a commissioner of Transportation. At the moment, he represents Ethiope Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he among other national issues speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s invitation to the National Assembly, this week, and the continued stay of service chiefs despite resolutions to sack them. What informed your motion on African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFT, signed last year by President Buhari?
The essence of such regional trade hub is to better the lot of the countries involved. For individual countries to benefit, you have to ramp up your production capacity. Looking at this trade marriage, Nigeria has the highest in terms of population. It’s the destination for everybody. Countries have started producing goods, waiting for the January 2021 implementation time to start delivering and the destination is Nigeria.
If we are not careful, we might end up being a receiver nation without producing anything with the re-opening of our borders. We still don’t have the infrastructure to produce. Our products will not have competitive edge over others because they are going to be too expensive or of lesser standards in terms of quality.
So, that is why as parliamentarians, we have to look at it. These days in Nigeria, the National Assembly is blamed for almost everything that goes wrong. If it is political, economic or security issues, it is the National Assembly that has not done well. Mr President signed last year. The Federal Executive Council ratified that agreement. The agreement is ready to run.
The question is have they given it to the National Assembly to scrutinise and approve? As of this moment, the answer is no, which makes it incomplete. You can’t bring such an agreement into the country and implement it without the input of the National Assembly. Secondly, we are now talking about going into trade partnership with people. No more custom duties. That automatically is going to shrink our economy.
Our economy is already fragile and if we are going to allow our economy to shrink in that manner, what is in it for us? Are we going to shrink other people’s economy? Are we going to earn foreign exchange? If we don’t produce, continue to give our products as raw materials to others, and we now import just like we’re doing, we are in for a very tough time. That’s why I brought the motion up so that the relevant agencies of government and committees of the House can sit together, bring the implementation road map, make it public so that people can actually see, criticise and make inputs.
What are the products we are exporting to other African countries? We must be prepared so that Nigeria would not go into an agreement just because of ego and have nothing to show for it. So, shouldn’t that be a challenge to Nigeria? If smaller countries can produce why can’t Nigeria? That is a billion dollar question that is begging for answer.
Why can’t we produce? Do we have the infrastructure? Do we have the off take for our industries? Are we giving them that leverage that will make to produce competitively because every country is going to produce? We should also use the population we have to produce for others so that we can earn foreign exchange and don’t end up making Nigeria a dumping ground for substandard products from other countries that are actually producing, using our own materials.
On rising wave of insecurity Mr President is no longer in the field. There are people in the field. We have interacted with them. We have moved motions several times for the sacking of service chiefs but Mr President didn’t listen.
It is worrisome that this evil is continuing unabated and nothing seems to be coming out as a solution. It’s a shame on the security agencies that are given the responsibility. What if we had external aggression? I just believe that the service chiefs and their people have not done well and that is why I advocate for the change of the service chiefs.
I believe that if they were changed, the new persons coming will have ideas. There are people that probably have better ideas but wouldn’t want to bring it out because they say, ‘’okay, go ahead since you chose these people and they know everything, let them do everything.”
So, I think sabotage can even come in and if the service chiefs do not leave, the security situation will continue to deteriorate. It seems that some persons within the rank of the security architecture of the country are not happy and they are not giving the necessary support to the service chiefs because they have long overstayed.
People that are supposed to climb, some have retired with anger, unfulfilled. That’s where I think Mr President should look into it and let the service chiefs go. They’ve done well. They should go so fresh air will be breathed into the security system.
On calls for restructuring and whether the country would be restructured before 2023 Nothing is impossible. I think Mr President came under the toga that he wants to change Nigeria, restructure the country. He has done the first tenure. This is his second. I believe he will write his name in gold by going ahead with the restructuring that people are asking for.
Restructuring is devolution of powers and resource control. This is the only country where federating units seem to be tied to the centre. A federation is a federation. I believe that once federating units come together, the centre should just be for coordination. The regions should control their resources.
There will be competition and I assure you that there will be economic growth across the nation. But where everybody comes to collect money from the Father Christmas in Abuja where they decide and take what they ought not to take, I think it is unacceptable. I don’t see why the Federal Government should be interested in health, housing, roads and agriculture.
They should be talking about National Security, ICT, just pick few things and leave especially now that resource control is systematically allocated to certain quarters of the country.
Resource control is one thing that will put Nigeria on the right path because governors of every state will now compete with themselves. You will see industries and so on coming up. But as it is now, everybody is being spoon fed. So, why should they bother themselves? When you say “systematically allocated” to certain quarters, are you by any means talking about Zamfara State’s control of its gold? Yes, that is what I mean.
If zZamfara can have its gold sold to CBN for reserve then Niger Delta should sell their oil to the Ministry of Petroleum and take their money. You give resource control to one part, people are being registered to mine gold and sell and in the other part, they are killing everyday due to illegal bunkering, who told you we cannot create a depot too to sell our oil? It doesn’t augur well as a nation.
I think resource control is one thing we should go into so that states can be competitive among themselves. Would you support Igbo Presidency in 2023? I have no reason not to. Where I come from, we have the common sense that you do some and let the other person do some. Life is give and take. I am not the one who does the allocation. Politics is a struggle for power and people who ever want to govern should come with their credentials, and agenda and convince the people.
The question is who can actually take Nigerians to the path that we are looking at? We want a Nigeria of our dream that we can be proud of. It doesn’t matter whether the person comes from East, North, South or West. I want a pan-Nigerian President that will take Nigeria out of insecurity, and economic doldrums and develop the country.
Recently, you sponsored a Bill to compel DISCOs to refund consumers who repair power equipment with their money. How will that play out? That is the first Bill I introduced when I first came to the House of Representatives in 2019. However, because of some issues, many bills cannot be accommodated at the same time by the Rules and Business Committee. It’s a product of personal experience.
The truth is Discos, we all agree is a private company and for Nigerians, the moment they bided for and got those companies, they went into a contract with Nigerians to power electricity consumers. The contract is in two folds. One is the responsibility to provide efficient safe and affordable electricity supply. And for the power consumers, their own is to pay for electricity consumed.
So, it is not in our place to pay for meter. You can’t give me a measurement outfit that tells you how much I consume from you and I’m paying for it again. For me, it’s a double jeopardy. Today, you will agree with me that most of the equipment that these DISCOs are collecting money for are actually not produced by the Discos.
But there’s a provision in the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission Act that says it is the responsibility of Discos to fix any apparatus. But if anybody considers to fix it, you can’t but note that equipment or apparatus belongs to the grid. For anything that’s linked to the National grid, whatever you put into it belongs to the grid and that I think is wrong.
Because of that, the DISCOs have abdicated their responsibility. If you say that equipment is bad in your area, they don’t answer you because they know that after a few days, you will go round collect money and fix it. And the moment you fix it, the next day, they bring in their Bills.
It is their responsibility to repair their equipment and that’s what the Bill is trying to cure. Before now it was the DISCOs that were winning and people were losing but this Bill stands to put things right. You do your bit, I do my own. It’s a contract and it takes two to tango.