Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga is the member representing Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives. The third term member of the House is also Chairman, House Committee on Commerce. Ogbaga maintains that the role of legislators should be defined in relation to their primary assignment, not just by physical infrastructures. EDWARD NNACHI caught up with him in his Abakaliki home.
Let me take you back to your ambition to come back to the House of Representative for the fourth time, because I know you are contesting, Why is that?
My going back to the House of Representatives does not depend on me; it depends on my people, because it has always been their decision.
In the last dispensation, I was entirely in a different camp and my people said “No, this is not good for you” that I must go back to the House.
All things being equal, I should be aspiring higher and if it’s still the decision of my people for me to still go back to the House, I have no opposition; I will accept because it’s the stakeholders that decide who goes where.
And if their decision favours my going back to the House, I will not object to it because they say, “To whom much is given, much is expected”.
It is a challenge on me and my person and if they say I have done enough and allow another person to go, of course, I will support the person.
I am not a ‘do or die’ politician because I know there is a space God wants me to move. That’s how I see it. My quest must be my people’s desire.
I cannot force myself on any position and cannot blame it on myself; I will always allow them to make their choice of position for me.
What is the strength of the PDP in the forthcoming 2019 elections in Ebonyi State?
Ebonyi State as it concerns PDP is like the traditional home of the party in Nigeria. History has it that the three sets of governors in the state since 1999, beginning with Dr. Sam Egwu, Chief Martin Elechi, and the current one under Engr. Dave Umahi, came on board via the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Politics is something that is domestic, because it’s something that happens within a place you are placing it; and that means what obtains politically here in Ebonyi State, may not obtain in any Northern or Middle Belt state.
And to the best of my knowledge, no other political party is surviving in Ebonyi State. There may be press or social media issues flying here and there, but truth of the matter is that Ebonyi state is the home of PDP, no matter how anybody looks at it.
And so it’s my belief that PDP is still very strong in Ebonyi and will always deliver especially as we approach 2019 general elections, because no other party strives to survive here.
Look at it again from another angle: the distribution of political appointments, dividends of democracy, infrastructural and human resources development and other expectations in the state are spread across board and there is no zone of the state that complains of marginalisation.
So, these are among the points people hold strong when they talk about any political party. Therefore, there is no fear for anybody who, at the end is given nomination to contest for any position in the forthcoming elections in 2019 under the PDP, no matter what is happening at the centre. This is where we belong in this part of the world.
Recently, we learnt that some stakeholders from Izzi endorsed Engr. Umahi for 2nd tenure and another group from that same clan, endorsed Edward Nkwegu, a former Labour Party gubernatorial candidate in the state to contest the election. So, how do you look at this kind of relationship owing to the fact that it’s coming from your clan?
It depends on what you call stakeholders or your definition of stakeholders. Stakeholders you see, are in different levels.
For instance, if you enter into any university, the students union government is a very strong stakeholder; the vice chancellor, the bursar, the registrar and others add up to be stakeholders.
And in an environment like Ebonyi, if the VC does not contribute to bringing who becomes the governor of the state, the state loses nothing, because it’s not a political position.
For you to know when a stakeholder is speaking, there are criteria with which you define who stakeholder(s) are: then you should be talking of serving and non-serving senators and national assembly members, former governors, local government chairmen and all others that contribute to the quality of a constituency, quality of a senatorial district and, quality of a state.
These are elected people in the state and what make them stakeholders is that they have key roles to play in elections in that state.
And so if you don’t have any role to play in the state and you are calling yourself a stakeholder, that’s a purported stakeholder.
If you listened to the people that signed the announcement endorsing another person, outside what the stakeholders of Izzi land did, that’s endorsing the present governor, they are not the who-is-who in Izzi.
The people who endorsed the governor were senators and the who-is-who across the Izzi clan on a live coverage on the television.
And the ones that said they did not believe in what those who endorsed the governor did could not say where they did their own endorsement.
People watched the people who did that of endorsement of the governor. But the other one was just a documentation made and signed by some persons under one person’s roof, who claimed to be stakeholders. They are not known names; but the people who endorsed the governor are known names.
Honourable considering the fact that this event happened at Nnodo Cultural Center, which is known as the traditional deity of Izzi land, what do you think of it?
Izzi Nnodo is the traditional set-up of Izzi clan, not the political home of Izzi land. If I go there today and tell them that I want their blessing, that’s not an endorsement.
If you as a non-indigene decide to live in Abakaliki, say for instance the traditional home of Izzi, and you ask for the blessings of the people here, because you want to live peacefully and grow here, the people will give you their blessings.
So, it’s not a political setting. It’s the traditional home of Izzi land and they have no root, either in nomination. However, they may vote in general elections, but before the elections you must be voted for in primaries.
And these are people who cannot contribute in the primaries of any political party. For me, it’s assumed that nothing happened. Well of course, it’s not any individual’s property to go for any political position.
I have the right. Others have the right, and Edon equally has the right. And Dave Umahi has the right, too. But what speaks at the end is the vote of the people. However, it has a process.
Now, tell us about your achievements so far as the member representing Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives for the third time?
The most difficult situation we find ourselves, in this part of the globe, is interpreting the job of the legislator. In our setting, people do not define the roles of the legislator to their primary assignment.
Nobody has been able to ask me how many bills I have moved and passed in the House; how many motions and petitions that affect the life of the people that I have been able to present.
To them, this is just whatever you people are talking there. They believe in infrastructure; they believe in employment, and what you are able to achieve for your people physically.
So you have to start from the primary assignment. What do we go to Abuja to do? Is it all about building roads, building bridges or making laws that would lead to good governance? And a legislator especially for some of us who have been there for three times, the expectations of a developed mind should be how many bills you have been able to move.
On the 11th of December, 2017, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, in whose office we have the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria mandate, appreciated me even though am not from the ruling party by giving me an Impact Award on bills that led to upliftment of the country on issue of ease of doing business in Nigeria.
That’s a plus for me and my people. So if this is the situation, one would recount how many bills initiated by me that have gone through the crucial stages of readings and became laws in the country.
At least at the moment I have about 13 bills that have passed through first to the third readings and some that have been signed into law. I don’t believe in moving motions that don’t have values.
Within these two years in the current administration, I have moved six motions that have also affected the lives of our people. Recently, we had crisis within the boundaries between Cross River and Ebonyi States; and, I have a motion that has been able to quell the situation, and brought relief materials to the place.
These are the roles people should expect primarily from us. In recent time, we have always been short-changed at the zonal level when it comes to recruitment in the military, and to the best of my knowledge I have 56 persons I have supported to be recruited into the military.
They are all living witnesses. I have my Calendar, which I will show you people. We have also attracted not less than 15 federal jobs to our people and the records are there. When we talk about constituency projects, people raise eyebrows.
The application is not what we pretend. The role we play on constituency projects is to think of a possible site of a project that will benefit the people to the limited resources provided for each member.
Sometimes it could be school block, and today I have about 7 school blocks in different communities. And I have about 68 boreholes scattered in the constituency and the places where they are sited are there and they are all functional.
Within the first quarter of 2017, I had to provide fund and mandate my staff to go round these boreholes to ascertain their current state and to ensure that those of them not working become functional.
And to the best of my ability, I have moved round and I saw that they are all working. I have a critical area that would be of interest to anybody who cares to listen or read what we are talking about.
Government is no longer capable of catering for the needs of everybody in Nigeria. The crisis we are having from one corner of the country to another is as a result of unemployment, where you have graduates sitting idly around from morning till night.
And so, I decided to come up with what we can call an empowerment scheme for our people and on this, I have tried to collaborate with the Small and Micro Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and I have several arrangements where so many of our young men and women are trained in different skills and are empowered.
For me I don’t say it and it ends there; I have physical pictures and records. These young people have been trained in the area of welding, trading, agriculture and even in events management.
And in each of the arrangement, anybody trained, has been given take-off grants to start with. The worry we have is after training these youth, some of them do not want to test their hands on the skills trained in; they will only collect the stipend attached to the training and then disappear into thin air.
But the few that end up practising the learned trade, attest to the fact that they are better off than many people in the civil service.
And we can beat our chest and say we have been able to establish people that would not wait for government for anything. They can provide for themselves and can equally employ others.
These are areas we think are necessary for the youth to be engaged meaningfully. We equally have about 18 people or students that are on scholarship, whom I pay their school fees not from government coffers, but from my personal purse.
Recently, something historic happened in Anambra, a situation where the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano won by landslide victory in all the 24 local government areas of the state in the gubernatorial election conducted on November 18, 2017. Just lately, Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State commended INEC for a job well done. Do you see the same thing happening in Ebonyi in 2019?
My earlier explanation that politics is an internal issue for a particular people gives boost to this your question, Nnachi.
With the wave and swiftness of the ruling party moving their camps and ranks to Anambra State for the election, yet they did not win but lost, tells anybody that it can happen in any other place.
In fact, I am so confident it can happen in Ebonyi much better than what happened in Anambra State. This is because I know the Ebonyians. I know their belief.
I know their understanding of politics and I also know their feelings about the current government in Ebonyi. What the state government is doing is completely different from what other states are doing.
Salaries of workers are paid, there are physical infrastructures on ground, and there is relatively a sense of peace in all the nooks and crannies of the state.
Let me say it again, what will happen in Ebonyi in 2019 will surpass what happened in Anambra in 2017 in the reelection of Dave Umahi for 2nd term, because we have stories to tell about the government.
We want to look at the issue of communal crisis arising from land disputes, most especially in your own constituency of Izzi, talking about the recent Cross River/Ebonyi state clash. This issue has since raged and it appears you have not done enough for your people in this regard. What do you think, sir?
It is not enough for one to quickly assess that situation as the fault of the legislator. Between us and Cross River, we have the National Boundaries Commission (NBC) whose mandate is to control, demarcate and manage boundaries within the country.
And since 1999, when the democratically elected leaders took governance in Nigeria there has not been any boundary in this country demarcated by the commission.
And this dispensation could rightly be said to be longest democratic setting in the history of Nigeria.
The bill that established the commission is one of the constitutional matters being amended by the National Assembly currently, because there are some weak ends of the law, a situation where the commission would map out boundaries but would equally take its reports to the office of the vice president for approval.
This is a bottleneck. The enabling law did not give them the right to do the demarcation by themselves without seeking approval from either the president or the vice president.
So, every effort we make when this crisis situation cropped up is to quell it, ask the commission to come with the true demarcation of those boundaries, and to ask for relief materials for the affected places.
The lawmaker cannot do it; the law we make should provide opportunity for good governance. And doing this assignment is also part of good governance and, the Federal Government itself has not able been to deal with such issues.
There are clashes between Benue and Nasarawa states; there are clashes between Kogi and Enugu states; between Kogi and Anambra states, and other parts of the country.
It’s everywhere and it’s not just peculiar to Ebonyi State. And in each of these crises, lives are lost; so, if it’s something the legislator can do, then it’s a different thing and one can say oh this is a boundary between us and these people and it can be sorted out easily.
But there is a body whose responsibility it is to handle this kind of problem. The worst at the moment is that the Federal Government after two years, does not have boards for certain agencies in the country and the hands of heads of such agencies are tied, because there are certain things that must have to be approved by heads of the board before it can see the light of day.
So, my worry about this is that it is not the fault of the people of Cross River and Ebonyi states, because government has the power to put any situation on ground for people to live peacefully.
Nobody enjoys war and for us here in Ebonyi, it cuts across about four local government areas: Ikwo, Abakaliki, Izzi and Ohaukwu, and if it is not happening here, it is happening in another place within the state.
The legislator is not enjoying it, though am the person representing; but lives are lost and people that even helped you to win elections would not be there to tell the story of what you are doing for them.
And it’s painful because all of a sudden you begin to have refugees in your own homes, you begin to have people who cannot even go about their normal agricultural businesses, but would camp in one place and begin to beg for arms like people who could not fend for themselves.
For instance, the Igbeagu/Ukele area of the state has been like that since 2006. So, this has been the true situation of the issue. It’s not as if there are no genuine efforts being made to reconcile the people affected in the land dispute.
The Fulani herdsmen issue is a major worry for Nigerians. How best do you think the House can tackle this matter?
Nigeria has a constitution that guarantees free movement of people, but it does not guarantee freedom for destruction of either properties or lives.
The key issue is that the government in power has not been able to solve that problem and that does not show good governance. In the last few months, IPOB was declared a terrorist group and Nigerians have not seen where IPOB invaded any community to kill people; but, herdsmen have invaded many communities in this country, it has happened in Benue, Kogi, Abia, Enugu, Adamawa, and Ekiti states just to name a few.
Unfortunately, nobody has proscribed them and tagged them a terrorist group. And I went back to look at what definition of terrorism portends, and I found it’s characterised by the activities of the herdsmen.
These people kill without reasons; they destroy homes without reasons; and they destroy properties without reasons. And the question becomes who are the people funding the herdsmen? And why is the Federal Government not asking questions and addressing the issue?
This is so because there is no any practical place or way anybody has addressed the issues of herdsmen in this country. None has been arrested and this is in a situation where you see herdsmen carrying arms and ammunition.
But here in our homes if they find you with a Dane gun used by our fore-fathers, they would get you arrested for unlawful possession of arms. But a herdsman would carry a defined arm and nothing happens. So it’s a bad government.
On daily basis we hear the reports of defeating Boko Haram in the media; but have we really defeated Boko Haram? The answer is no, because there is still the daily or weekly basis reports of bomb blasts from one state to another in the North East.
And you remember the promise of this government when they were campaigning, give us two months and we will defeat Boko Haram. Today, none of those promises have been kept.
If we make N1 to $1, the issue will still be there. They said there would be no fuel scarcity in Nigeria, but last Christmas people bought a litter for N350.
And in the media you hear people say the issue had been solved. It boils down to bad governance, deceit in all ramifications. For me, it’s a government without vision, which had no plan even before coming on board.
What the state government is doing is completely different from what other states are doing. Salaries of workers are paid, there are physical infrastructures on ground, and there is relatively a sense of peace in all the nooks and crannies of the state. Let me say it again, what will happen in Ebonyi in 2019 will surpass what happened in Anambra in 2017 in the reelection of Dave Umahi for 2nd term, because we have stories to tell about the government.
At least at the moment I have about 13 bills that have passed through first to the third readings and some that have been signed into law. I don’t believe in moving motions that don’t have values. Within these two years in the current administration, I have moved six motions that have also affected the lives of our people. Recently, we had crisis within the boundaries between Cross River and Ebonyi States; and, I have a motion that has been able to quell the situation, and brought relief materials to the place.