Member representing Ethiope Federal Constituency of Delta State Hon. Ben Igbakpa has described the delegates who participated in recent presidential primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as bandits. He made this remark in a chat with Heritage Times HT while speaking on the state of insecurity in the nation, and limitations/ solutions to the recently amended Electoral Act amongst other pressing issues.
Many individuals have faulted some limitations of the Electoral Act. Former President Goodluck Jonathan also spoke on the limitations of section 84 of the Act which empowers only delegates to vote. What do you think in view of these limitations?
We all agree that this is a very torn issue and section 84 is actually a section that seeks to cure a lot of defects in the electoral act such as Sections like 84 (12), the one we are talking about is 84 (8).
Section 84 (8) didn’t say anything expressly that it has to be ad-hoc delegates. It just says that the process for a political party that seeks to nominate candidates through indirect primaries must put in place a process of electing delegates to vote in that election in line with their constitution. The operational word is ‘elect’ and that defect was not noticed on time. On the 12th of May, the House ensured that the bicameral legislative activities of the Nigerian Parliament is fulfilled and we went ahead and amended by including ‘statutory’ but unfortunately, this bill which was transited to the President on the 13th instead of the President to attend to it, he disappeared to Dubai to pay courtesy call to the new ruler. I don’t see where in a responsible and responsive clime of government where you will leave your house on fire and go doing big brother or good Samaritan in another country. This is election period in Nigeria, in my opinion Mr. President would have given better attention to that bill not looking that it must be 30 days, there is no law or constitution say he must wait 30 days, just that within the period of 30 days he should assent or withhold his assent. But I don’t blame the President, I blame the Parliament because if section 58 and 59 of the constitution is for someone to prepare and send a bill to someone to sign, but if that person refuses, the same constitution gives you the powers to override the President’s veto and make that law be operational. But I wouldn’t blame the Parliament until we resume because the 30 days must elapse before the parliament can go for overriding. So, I will wait and when we resume, this is one topic that must be dealt with because the 9th Assembly would be remembered for two critical bills, the PIB and the Amendment to the Electoral Act 2022. And if any of them fall short of the expectation of Nigerians then I think we have not done anything. I’m very sure that the leadership and all of us will seat and ensure that this bill especially the electoral act is rejiged and serve’s the purpose for which they are passed in the first place.
With an amendment to the electoral act waiting for approval and being that you just participated in election, can you say that our electoral system is better than the way it used to be, especially with vote buying and the limited number of voters in the primary elections?
Definitely, the vote buying has always been there and there’s always provision of delegates that are coming to vote, it has been there if that is what you call vote buying. It became very pronounced this time because the delegates are few and the delegates in most cases are not politicians, they are not exco members that have been dealing with this people in the past two years since they came into office as party administrators.
These delegates are new people, they are strangers and all they think about is how much will I take home, they became cash and carry bundle of people, they became people that even after the cash and carry still listen to the people that brought them because most of them are products of people in government or in one authority or the other; and because they are in government section 84 (12) forbids them from participating and as a result they now have to bring someone because if you have to be a delegate you have to resign that office and this are some of the things that I see that are noble and worth commending in this new act because for somebody in office and you are contesting election, you are giving the person undue advantage against someone who is not in office. And that is why when I see someone condemning section 84 (12) and I hear ex-President Jonathan talking about removing section 84 (12). Its uncalled for because there is a problem, there is an injury that has been meted to those who are not in government and that injury needs to be dealt with, it needs to be cured. And in curing this, it must be that either if you want to contest for election or you want to vote for someone. In the cause of selecting a candidate, then you must leave government. I think it’s a fair deal, its either I choose to be in government, yes, the constitution is talking about 30 days before the general election, but this one is talking about that main election and the process of that main election.
The law did not say anybody it said political appointees, so if you are a civil servant and you want to remain there that’s fine but 30 days to them time you must leave. But if you are an appointee you have to leave so you don’t use the tools of your office to oppress those who have no opportunity to be in government. We will continue to do what we can as a parliament to ensure that the bill meets the yearning and aspiration of Nigerians. All we are crying for is a free fair and credible election.
Then, talk about the acceptance of electronic transmission, I think it’s a step forward from what it used to be and I urge Nigerians to corporate with us, yes I quite agree that there is a small hitch that was not envisaged somehow, we are human, it’s not just the parliament, that bill passed through the house, passed through all the machinery of the house, the senate went to the attorney general and returned it the first time because they were not happy with the only clause of direct primaries and because of the way these delegates are acting now I think direct primaries is the only way to go so that people don’t collect money randomly and wait for someone to give instructions on who to vote. So, if you collect from A and B, they will see you there that you are voting for B. People would be wary of their attitudes because these delegates are bandits as far as I’m concerned.
You see this banditry we are talking about comes in various ways, for somebody who can just go off and collect so much from a person knowing that you wouldn’t vote for that person what kind of wickedness is that. I think we would go into correcting it, I would implore my colleagues so we look into applying section 50 of the constitution whenever it arises, it is our responsibility to make laws, we have never questioned the executive after awarding contracts and say you can’t award this contract. So, when we make laws if it’s not ok, the right place to go is the court for interpretation, it’s not for the President to point out. That removes the independence of the Parliament and I’m not happy with that.
We have heard cases where the big wigs housed delegates, how true is that report?
Yes, it was done even in my constituency. They hid them, people were threatened, manhandled. It’s not just money, but why would you keep someone’s wife in your house, or take their phones. It happened even in my primaries but I let go. I strongly believe that political parties are like marriages, if you are not given a fair hearing in one platform there are more than one platform to actualize your dream, all you need do is ensure that you are in touch with your people.
Would you consider decamping from the PDP given your recent defeat by Erhiatake?
Well I’m doing a lot of consultations, I’m praying to God, like I said, nobody is born with any political party and most times the political party can survive long years like the ANC, the Republicans in the US. if they outlive us, we will still leave the party but if you have your dreams and if those dreams are not being actualized in a political party there is no wrong moving but for now for me, I‘m still consulting, I’m still discussing and by the time I’m done with my consultations and supplication to God almighty I will come out with a statement on the next move.
Those familiar with the politics of Delta State would agree that your relationship with the father to your co-aspirant is very cordial. There are political pundits who believe that you contesting against his daughter was an affront to his person and some are saying that it dispels disloyalty, what is your position to this?
First would you consider an incumbent contesting with a challenger or a challenger contesting with an incumbent? I am seated on the seat and you are telling me to stand up. I did not come to your seat to tell to stand up. In 2019, there was an almost similar situation where one of our brothers from a different party contested against Erhiatake and we all prevailed on him that if he was on the seat, we would not allow her contest against him. But now, the reverse is the case because I was the one seated and they contested and I have left. For PDP, I’m not out, I can take it to the bank I am not out when I’m done with my consultation, I will make a statement. I might decide to let go, I might decide to try my popularity and the desirability amongst my people because they are the ones to choose. These days a lot of people are not too blind about party loyalty, they are now looking at individuals and what they can do. It’s a family thing and I took it that way. I’m not hurt, I fought a good fight and I believe I’m there I should be allowed to do mine but it went that way but I will continue to be a politician. I will not run away from politics, as a politician I have my dreams and I will ensure that I will actualize my dreams especially where it has to do with the people that I so much protect over the period.
You pointed that the PIB law is one of bills that the 9th Assembly would be remembered for. The bill has been passed but till date we hear statements from stakeholders who believe that they are being shortchanged. How viable and operational do you think this law is?
First there’s a time frame from the assets of NNPC to be summed, bought over by the new companies, about four or so. Those preliminary activities are happening now you see the appointment of henchmen, GMD’s and MD’s I believe that the operators, the executive are working on this, we have done our parts and its left to Nigerians to start asking the executives how far with the law because it’s a law that began operational when the executive signed it and they are time frames for every segment of it to be executed and I believe that its going on and some persons are showing interest in building refineries in the country but it’s going to be a long term because dealing with the assets of NNPC is quite huge so there must be people that are willing but again; looking at the security situation of Nigeria, that can delay certain persons that would have been interested in investing in Nigeria because the APC government, has done a lot of harm to our image out there in other countries so for anybody coming to Nigeria they must have either a strong relationship here to understand that it’s not a total disaster because if you read what you see on the internet, I’m sure no one would want to invest in Nigeria. That’s all the more reason Nigerians should think twice in going into the 2023 elections.
As a critical stakeholder, what are your views or positions on the constitution of a board and management of the NDDC, especially since it has remained a matter of discussion for a long time under President Buahri’s administration?
The former Minister of the Niger Delta who is a true son of the Niger Delta instituted the interim board. The board was not in existence till Akpabio came in, so he is the one using the place as a cash cow. He is the one that dictates what happens there. He is the same person short changing his people. I tell people that no matter where you find yourself, consider it that one day you will go back to your people and all these injustices that is being mated to the people of Niger Delta, Akpabio will one day seat before the people. Even if he can escape the people, he cannot escape God because I’m sure it’s the memo he takes to the people that is approved. The other time he said it was forensic audit, at a date he brought Ghana must Go bags of documents to the Attorney General and till this very date, what is wrong in releasing the report he did for a wealthy region that is suffering.
Till this very moment, we are yet to see the result. He has reduced the place to a place where one man seats in the place where 18 persons are to seat. Akwa is a hard-working young man, but I see him as one ready to work but his hands are tied. I don’t blame him; je is the head but I don’t think he is solely in charge. I think we should talk to him now that he has left and says he is running for President because the interim administrator does not have access to the President or the villa, it is the minister that has access. I pray someone who has the fear of God and the Niger Delta people’s interest can come up so that the right thing can be done because there is nowhere in that act that says there is provision for all that Akpabio has done over the years. Today they just do a lot of sinister activities which ordinarily should not be so.
Some months ago, Southern Governors Came up with the Asaba Declaration, insisting that the Presidency must come to the South. As such, the communique asked all political parties across all borders to nominate flagbearers from that region. Months after, the PDP has worked against candidates and aspirants from the South and a Northerner has emerged?
I will consider what the southern governors said then as politics and what is happening now, I also consider as politics. There is a popular saying that man proposes and God disposes and when the parties look at situations, you know the PDP didn’t just jettison the southern agitation, to avoid problems within the party, they threw it open and the delegates have spoken and that is behind us and its only democratic for there to be an election a process where a candidate is thrown up. Gov Wike tried so well and I must commend his courage and strength within this short period, how he was able to garner that vote. Gov Udom ran too and I would take all these as politics and whatever the PDP did, they did in the interest of the party because they are an opposition we must remember and as such look at the possibility of winning an election as such they threw it opened.
For me I have always believed that no particular zone should be looked at but instead the man who can deliver. And also, the man who can unite and bring the country on a path of progress so we have Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and it’s for us to queue behind him as party men and women to ensure victory.
What solutions can you proffer as a lawmaker on the issue of insecurity?
There is no institution in Nigeria not even the security agencies that has preferred solutions to insecurity more than the House of Representatives. We have come up with several solutions to the extent that Mr. Speaker organized a security summit and the outcome was transmitted to the President for implementation.
Be that as it may, the present APC government is overwhelmed by the present security crisis and seem to have run out of all logic and solution. So the best thing is to work towards a change, maybe new persons can come to change the security situations. We have tried to change the security chiefs, they have been changed several times, nothing is happening then, the welfare of these people.
Trillions of budgets every year for security and we are not seeing the results. The parliament we need to wake up soon again to look at how the security provision in our budget are expended. Let’s see what they are doing with them, if actually they are spent in the right way because I believe with the trillions of Naira budgeted annually, they should have had enough equipment’s and the personnel their welfare properly taken care of; like the police now we are still struggling with their pension issue, we are trying to bring them out so that at least they can be at par with the army and other agencies. Because if you are sure of tomorrow you are guaranteed. The problem with Nigeria is that there is no hope because if you see people that have retired, 10 years there’s no gratuity, you would want to get yours today even before you retire so you prepare for your family and your future. So, I believe government should look into their future and look how the expenses of security apparatus vis a vis their equipment’s and welfare are taken care of.
What do you think of the security agencies inability to combat bandits terrorizing the country?
Several policemen and security personnel have been arrested for conniving with them because these people have internal intelligence, they work with intelligence. Why the state actors are working with intelligence, the non-state actors are also working with intelligence and it takes an insider for this intelligence to be valid. Our people say when someone who hid an object is looking for that object with you it becomes difficult, that’s the problem with Nigeria. They should look internally and purge the bad eggs to ensure they are not part of the system.
I don’t see why our people can be kidnapped in a confined area, no matter how wide that area is and we have air-force, we have planes all over the place that can scan. Most times they say we know where they are but if we go there, they will be civilian casualty, but when there’s an emergency, they will be civilian casualty no matter how the casualty occurs. Collateral damage. But as it is, the APC has failed.