By Fred Itua, Abuja
Hon. Joe Edionwele is a ranking member of the House of Representatives. He is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and represents Esan West, Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. In this interview with Sunday Sun, the lawmaker spoke on a number of key issues. Excerpt:
Do you think that the PDP is making a mistake by throwing open the 2023 presidential race instead of zoning it to the South?
PDP is making a big mistake. The South waited for its own turn, believing that in 2023, it will be the turn of their zone. It’s unfair if the PDP isn’t boldly saying that the South will have the ticket. It is when it comes to the South that we can now start looking at the South-south, Southeast or Southwest. To say you won’t zone it to the South, that’s unfair. People waited for this for long. You can’t suddenly come out and say there is no zoning. We won’t take that.
One of the arguments being advanced is that the North has not had it’s fair share on the platform of the PDP and that it needs to keep the presidency there until the region produces a president. Does that make sense to you?
It doesn’t make any sense at all. We are talking about one North, just the same way we talk about one South in matters like this one. It doesn’t matter if it is Northeast, West or Central. Equally zone it to the South and let the three geopolitical zones in the region compete. You can’t leave it open like that. The PDP lost the 2015 election because it refused to zone. If we had zoned it to the North, we would have won.
If it is zoned to the South, there is an argument that it should be micro-zoned to a particular geopolitical zone. Do you agree with that arrangement?
Southwest is ruled out. They’ve had their time as president for eight years. Another eight years will be completed by the geopolitical zone in 2023 as vice president. So, Southwest is completely ruled out. That’s fairness. If you say South-south, they may have a case because President Goodluck Jonathan only served for a term. Even if it is going to be zoned to the South-south, it must not be Jonathan. If that happens, it means the geopolitical zone will only have one term. If I’m allowed to decide, I’ll insist that it should be zoned to the Southeast. They need to have it for the first time. In fairness, the Southeast should have it. The South-south may have a case, but certainly not the Southwest. They’re completely ruled out.
Do you think that the PDP will loose if it doesn’t zone the presidency to the South?
Yes. I insist again that it is only fair for the party to zone it to the South even the APC should do the same. If eventually the presidency goes to the North in PDP, as a member, I’ll vote against the party. There should not be an argument about this. Zone it to the South and let’s have peace. It’s that simple.
Many Nigerians believe that the opposition in the National Assembly isn’t doing enough in challenging some of the requests or decisions taken by President Muhammadu Buhari. Do you think this assumption is right?
To be fair to Buhari, he doesn’t make so many requests. If it’s about the loans, we need them to implement programmes of government. The only problem is priority and lack of implementation. Are they directing the funds to the right places? Certainly not. For instance, there is a rail line from Itakpe in Kogi State to my Senatorial district in Edo State. If they take that rail line to Abuja, many of us won’t have to drive home again. These are the kind of projects we are referring to. If you want to take a loan and activate the textile industry, we will be fine and people will be employed. If you take a loan and establish farm settlements in every geopolitical zone, that will make sense too. Instead, we are giving conditional funds of N20,000 to people. That’s the problem. Taking the loan itself isn’t bad. For instance, we had the Abacha loot. Instead of the government to direct that into a major project in any part of the country, it claimed that it was given to the poorest of the poor. Who are these poorest of the poor? It said it carried out school feeding programme. I’m not aware of anybody in my Federal Constituency who benefited from it.
Why is the National Assembly not asking the right questions?
That’s why we have oversight. But there is a problem. The National Assembly has what we call dog boldness. It can only bark, but can’t bite. We can only recommend. We can’t implement. We don’t have the powers to control any unit of government. That’s a major problem. Our duty is to make laws. The president can decide to withhold his assent. We are handicapped. Like I said, there is nothing the president has brought to the National Assembly that doesn’t have merit. For instance, we approved a budget for the temporal employment of 774,000 people. How far have we gone with the implementation?
As lawmakers, providing infrastructure for your constituents isn’t one of your duties, but it appears winning re-election now is based on projects you’ve influenced. How do we correct this misnomer?
A director in a ministry can put about 10 projects in a budget. We had to make case that we should be allowed to execute or influence some projects for our people. The irony is that, these projects are implemented by the executive. We don’t handle it. Sometimes, the executive doesn’t execute and the people blame us as representatives. If we can do about 70 per cent of our projects, we will be fine. But we get less than 30 per cent. We have a leadership problem in Nigeria. The way out of this problem is to have the courage to do the right thing. That’s called boldness in leadership.
Insecurity is still a major concern and in your state, Edo, the situation isn’t different. How do we get out? Is state police the solution?
It still boils down to leadership. In a situation where somebody is arrested now for committing a crime and released the next day, nothing will change. Bandits are arrested and released immediately and even rewarded. The victims are left in pains. This is a problem. Sometimes, we even pay these bandits. We pay ransom. We will continue like this until the right thing is done. What statement has President Buhari made beside an order that security agents should shoot anyone with AK-47? We need to fix this leadership crisis. Nothing is working. Hospitals, schools, and nothing is working. We are just moving in circles.