Honourable Francis Agbo represents Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo federal constituency of Benue state in the House of Representatives speaks on the controversy over the emergence of two sets of minority leaderships and his legislative focus. JOSHUA EGBODO presents excerpts.
On emergence of the house’s leadership
We are giving our full support to the new leadership of the House. We believe in Hon Ndudi Elumelu because he has the three Cs: competence and capacity put together, courage and character. So we voted, supported Honourable Ndudi Elumelu because we believe that for you to be a good leader, you must have these three Cs. If you don’t have them, you cannot succeed.
The controversial minority principal officers
The issue of the minority leadership has been rested, so we have a brand new minority leader, and we are ready to support him. Majority of us from the minority parties came together and we elected him (Ndudi Elumelu) as our minority leader. It wasn’t meant to fight our party, the PDP. It wasn’t meant to humiliate our great party. We simply wanted the age long independence of the National Assembly. We just feel that we should vote whosoever we feel like voting for.
So, I want to seize this opportunity to call on the national chairman of our great party, Uche Secondus, and the National Working Committee to rescind their decision, suspending Hon Ndudi Elumelu, and six others. We are very hopeful that our party will heed this call. We like our party, the PDP, it is a great party, and we are ever ready to work with them, and expand the frontiers of the party, even as 2023 approaches.
Personal legislative agenda
Personally, I intend to bring to the front burner, critical issues that affect Benue and its people. One of this is the Owukpa coal. There is a large coal deposit in Owukpa. There is also a large limestone deposit in Ado. In the last 20 years or so, there have been insinuations that there was a cement industry in Ado local government. But uptil now, nothing has come out of it. We don’t know what is happening with it. I intend to oversight what is happening in that place, to really know whether a contract was actually awarded or not.
Each time you go to Igumale in Ado local government area, you’ll see a signpost about a cement factory, and a Chinese firm is behind it. I have done a lot of investigations about it, but I still don’t know the company handling that project. It’s my duty as a member representing my constituency to actually go for it. So I will keenly be on the watch.
I also intend to quickly look at what is happening between the Ohaukwu people and Ado local government. There have been incessant boundary clashes between the Agila people in Ado local government and the Ohaukwu people in Ebonyi state. I have started talking with my colleague from Ebonyi state, and we are putting our heads together for the first time to bring that matter to the front burner of the National Assembly. So many lives have been lost, and nothing seems to be happening.
I visitor to Agila or Ugbor community would be shocked to see many persons bearing arms trying to protect themselves and their boundaries. You could think we are still fighting civil war in this country. The two communities are the only ones that I know in the South-east, and North-central where you’ll see clergy men with AK 47 in the left hand and the bible in the right hand. They use the bible to preach salvation and but the AK 47 to defend themselves, in case there is any invasion.
This matter has been lingering and government has not done anything. The only time we had a concrete attempt to resolve this problem was about 35 years ago, when Jonah Jang was military governor of Benue state. Then, Ebonyi state was not yet created. Today, the matter is so bad that the socio-economic fiber of these communities have collapsed. Children no longer go to school, farmers don’t go to farms any longer. Life is simply brutish and short in these communities.
It is my responsibility as a member of the House of Representatives, to bring this to the front burner, and then the attendant recommendations.
One of the recommendations is that the federal government should put a police or military barracks in that disputed area, because the land in the boundary area is so fertile, it’s like Goshen, so that is why they are always fighting over it. We want government to put barracks in that area. It may not completely stop the crisis but when the people are aware that there is military presence around them, they will think twice before unleashing violence on their neighbours.
Also, since the place is a landlocked area, the federal government should complete the Utonkon-Igumale road, so that the place could be accessible to motorists. It is always footpaths that the perpetrators of the heinous crimes use to cause mayhem, but when there is a motorable road linking the two communities, it will somehow, ameliorate the crisis.
Donating four years salaries
For four years as a member of the House of Representatives, I have dedicated my salaries to the orphans, widows and the vulnerable. I do not intend to draw a dime from my salaries. I have already set up a committee, so we are going to be disbursing the money every six months intervals. The widows, orphans and the vulnerable will use the money to take care of themselves. It may not solve all their problems, but it will do something in their lives. Those who are in school, it will augment what they have for their school fees.
Agriculture as a respite
We have already started the distribution of high yield cassava stems and seedlings to our farmers; that’s my agenda in the area of agriculture. We are doing so that the people can take advantage of the rains to plant the stems. They are high yielding stems, so in the next harvesting season, the farmers could make some money, and we feel that it could boost the economy in the rural areas
We also intend to, from time to time, hold what I call town hall meetings. Under my leadership, my constituents must know what my salary is because democracy is for the people, and the right to know is a core ingredient of democracy. People have the right to know. So as a lawmaker and as a representative of the people, you shouldn’t be the one to deny them that access of knowing what happens because we are holding money in trust for our people.
We also intend to support youth development. We are going to embark on aggressive talent hunt. We are going to organise competitions for the youth. I will engage their minds positively.
When I told you of devoting my salaries to the servicing of the orphans and widows, it is going to be channelled around scholarships. There would be a scholarship scheme for the orphans who are going to school. We are going to select randomly because it can’t go to everybody. Every local government will have 200, that is from the three local governments, making it 600. Every six months, 600 from the three local governments will benefit from this scheme. We will be working closely with the state government and hopefully it would be a success.
We would do our best to ensure that projects that will benefits our people are put in the budget. For example, my community doesn’t have electricity, and so are many others. We intend to work very hard, lobby, because the work of the lawmaker is to lobby, make laws, and engage constructively as to why so and so should be done. I am very confident that the leadership we have at the National Assembly is very responsible and responsive.
Bills in focus
I intend to sponsor some bills. The independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not independent in any way. I intend to sponsor a bill, alongside an internal democracy bill, so that we would have less electoral cases in court. Our courts should be saddled with more serious responsibilities. The reason why we have those cases is because we have a weak electoral system.
It because we have an INEC that is dependent, so we intend to sponsor a bill that will truly make the commission independent, and then create the mechanism for internal democracy in all the political parties. People sit in the comfort of their rooms and send names to INEC, saying these are the people we have selected as candidates for elections. Every party as a matter of necessity must do primary election, in compliance with the Electoral Act.
We have an agenda to push the amendment of the electoral act, recall the president declined assent even when it was resent thrice. Of course, he now has the Speaker and the Senate President that he likes, so he would have no excuse to decline assent. He cannot tell Nigerians any longer that he has a hostile National Assembly.
When all these are done, you would be sure that after the 2023 elections, you will have very few electoral cases in court, because Nigeria is being embarrassed by the litany of cancellations, the litany of judgements of courts annulling elections. And the heart of this is the fact that our political parties have not sustained the principle and philosophy of internal democracy. Our INEC still somehow dance to the whims and caprices of the president.