Collins Chiji is the Speaker Imo State House of Assembly. The lawmaker who was re-elected on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to represent Isiala Mbano state constituency, recently defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He speaks on why he took the decision and other issues of interest.
Many have accused you of betraying your party and your principal, why did you defect to PDP after your victory at the poll?
I left because the crisis in APGA is irreconcilable. The party has been factionalised from the national to the ward level. The Electoral Act as amended is very clear and the truth is that no lawmaker can enjoy the dividend of democracy in a party that is crisis-ridden. In my determination to deliver the dividend of democracy to my constituents I have no other option but to move to a more stable political party in Nigeria which is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I did not just wake up one morning to join PDP; it is just that all my efforts to reconcile aggrieved members of APGA were to no avail from the national, state and to Isiala Mbano Local Government Area. You and I know that there is no provision for independent candidacy in Nigeria electoral law and in order for me to move forward, I have to join a more focused political party in the country, which is the PDP.
They said you betrayed your principal, Senator Araraume by leaving APGA, how true?
It is an insinuation that cannot be substantiated and it is not right to describe anybody as my principal because I’m a head of one of the arms of government. It is an insult to me and the people of Imo to describe anybody as my principal. I consulted my constituents who are most paramount to me and they gave me the go ahead before I defected to the most viable political party in Nigeria, PDP.
What is it like, being in the saddle as the speaker?
It comes with a lot of responsibility. First among equal is that if the ship of Imo State House of Assembly is sinking today, I will be held responsible because I’m the portrait of the legislative arm of the state government. While it comes with a lot of responsibilities, it also comes with a lot of pleasure because it is not easy to be counted one among the 27 members. One advantage I have is that I’m not a learner in the saddle because I was in the parliament as a ranking member before my emergence as the speaker. My re-election is an added advantage to the leadership of the state.
What is your take on the decision of the National Assembly and the Federal Government to channel the allocation of councils directly to them?
The question is incomplete, the state legislature is also yelling for autonomy. So, I’m happy with the development because every parliament has a statutory right in terms of financial administration.
As an exponent of autonomy of state legislature and local government, many doubt if state governors will allow the policy to fly. What do you think?
It is very clear, once the law is passed the governors won’t have any option, but to comply and development will trickle down to the grassroots. In a democracy, the most paramount people are those in the grassroots and once development trickles down to the local government areas, the people will be happy. For instance, Imo State Secondary School Management Board (IMSSMB) is not performing optimally. But if there is autonomy for local government areas, what it means is that education at that level will function optimally because the local government chairmen will have the financial capacity and administrative capacity to carry out infrastructure development in the schools without resorting to the governor. What it also means is that there will be an Act by the local government legislature empowering the council chairman to carry out infrastructure development.
Local government elections are seen as a mere excise because the governors just select their cronies as chairmen, as the speaker, how do you intend to check the executive so that the third tier of government in Imo is not an appendage of the executive?
You are right because some local government areas in Nigeria are appendage of governors, but I assure you it won’t be so in Imo State. For the first time in a recent time, I have proven to my people and the entire state that I have integrity and I don’t tremble at the sight of my governor because we are like brothers. I’m academically sound just like Ihedioha and the governor as a former lawmaker knows the importance of the legislature in a democracy. Whenever I visit the governor he does not keep me waiting like other governors before him because Governor Ihedioha is an astute legislator having served this country as Deputy Speaker of the House Representatives. The governor was a vocal and articulate lawmaker for 12 years before becoming the governor. He knows my worth and he respects my office and I assure you that the council poll will be free, transparent and credible.
What should Imo people expect from the 8th Assembly under your watch?
I will ensure that through legislation the dividend of democracy is delivered to the people of Imo. So far, there is a seamless relationship between the legislature and the other arms of government, namely, the executive and the judiciary. This is vital because in a democracy these three arms of government must ensure there is a seamless relationship between them because no arm is greater than the other. If you look carefully, most policies and programme of this administration that will impact on the people have so far received quick assent.
The people of Umuoma Nzerem in Ehime Mbano council are living in fear as the area is ravaged by cultists. According to them, the matter was reported to their representative and they alleged the lawmaker invited unknown people to face a panel, are you aware of this?
When have I become the Chief Security Officer of the state? When have I become the commissioner of police? The lawmaker representing Ehime Mbano state constituency must be responsible for his actions and inactions. I cannot leave my job and begin to interfere in another person’s affair. I’m only responsible for the acts that happen in the parliament.
If truly the member set up a panel to resolve the security issue, those invited should show up. Public hearing is part of parliamentary proceeding so if they are invited they should go and say all they know.
Even when those invited are not from the community?
Is even better for the original members of the community to come and declare their true identity and disown those whose names were announced on the road or television.
Former Speaker, Ihim have just defected to the PDP and you are also in PDP, if there is need to probe the immediate past legislature in the state, will you go ahead?
I am not autocratic in the discharge of my duties; I am not the only one that constitutes the state legislature. I’m only the first among equals and it is always a voice vote that we adopt for or against any bill. So, you don’t pin it down on me, but on the assembly. So it is not for me to decide whether or not the former speaker should be probed whenever it is discovered that the former speaker erred while discharging his duty in the 7th Assembly. The present Imo State House of Assembly has no room to cover any undemocratic act
Are you saying that even if in the course of probing the last administration you are found culpable, you will go ahead to support the probe?
The only way I can be found wanting is my vehement opposition to all the illegality of the former governor, Rochas Okorocha. Maybe you are not conversant with the activities of the last administration in the state; I was suspended because of my stand against illegality. So, how can I be found culpable when I have from the beginning of that government said no to impunity? It is on record that I approached a court of competent jurisdiction and the court gave a judgment in my favour ordering Imo State Assembly to reinstate me and pay me all my allowances. The last administration had penchant for illegality, so many atrocities were committed by that government. So, I can’t be found to be involved in illegality as a member of the state legislature in the last administration. I was and still the face of democracy and this present assembly sees me as the conscience of democracy.
How would describe your relationship with the governor?
I ’am passionate about the development of Imo State, just as Governor Ihedioha is. Without wasting time, the governor with the support of the state Assembly have started rebuilding the state, therefore, the question should be, what is the relationship between the legislature and the executive? For me to be passionate about the development the state, I understand that there is need for harmonious relationship between the three arms of government to advance the cause of the state. Like I said earlier, the governor sees me as his partner in progress. This is why the governor has always insisted that I must be with him always even at functions because of the seamless relationship between us.
Over the time the relationship between the executive and legislature is always cordial at the beginning, but goes bad after some time, what is the assurance it won’t go the way of others?
Now you have a man who is intellectually sound, coupled with his legislative pedigree having presided over the Green chamber of the National Assembly as Deputy Speaker. I have learned the rope as a ranking member. I think we are a perfect march. I’m talking about men who are well exposed, both of us have travelled far and near. Therefore, we place the people’s interest above our personal gains unlike before when the entire state is in the pocket of an individual and members of his family. This is the first time in 12 years that a speaker will emerge without opposition in Imo State.