Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), and member, Ah-hoc Committee on Revival of Seaports, Dr. Alex Egbona, has given assurance that the legislative body would give due consideration to the compelling need to restore all the major seaports in the country to full utilization.
Egbona, who represents Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency in the House, spoke with select journalists against the background of the census of developmental projects, which he hopes to attract to his constituency in the 2020 budget, which is now being compiled.
He said the members of the legislature were disturbed by the gridlock being experienced at the Apapa port, and stressed that necessary steps would be taken to revive the other ports, to end the gridlock, which has caused unquantifiable financial loss to the nation. In this interview he speaks on this and other issues.
As a member of the House Ad-hoc Committee for the Revival of seaports in the country, what is your take on the Apapa port gridlock?
That was actually why our committee was set up. The House is seriously disturbed about the gridlock at Apapa. That problem has been there. Successive governments seem to have made efforts to tackle the problem but no solution has come yet. So, part of our terms of reference was to carry out a thorough investigation into what is going on at the Apapa port, with a view to finding a permanent solution to this madness. We need to know why other ports in the country are idle, almost dormant and everybody is going to Apapa and causing serious gridlock around the environs. How come the Calabar port, for example, is not being patronised? Why are we having less activity at the Onne Port in Port Harcourt? These are some of the questions our committee will seek answers to, as we move around.
We met once before going on recess. But we have decided that after the Sallah holidays, we will sit again and then we will draw a timetable for our activities. As a committee, we are determined to get to the root of the problem and then we will engage the appropriate government agencies. The bottom line is for all our seaports to be put to good use. Once this happens, the economy of those states will receive a boost, the federal government will generate revenue. Direct and indirect jobs will be created for the locals. And then the Apapa port troubles would have been over and the entire country will be happy for it. All we will be asking for is the support and cooperation of all the stakeholders at the various ports.
Let’s talk about the recent ministerial nominees, especially as it applies to your state.
I will begin by thanking Mr President for making public, names of his ministerial nominees earlier than what it was during the first term. You will recall that Nigerians had expressed concerns when it took sometime after the swearing-in, before the list came. And by the time it came, it was clear that the president must have consulted widely before coming up with the names.
For Cross River State, he decided to nominate our own brother and party man, Godwin Jeddy-Agba. If you watched Jeddy-Agba during the screening exercise, you would have noticed that he exuded brilliance and had shown to the world that he is competent and has the capacity to be a member of the federal executive council. I can say that I am really very happy about the choice of Jeddy Agba as minister. We can only hope and pray that by the time he is sworn-in, Mr President would assign him a ministry where he will function very well, preferably, as Minister of Petroleum. You would have noticed that those of us who are major stakeholders in the Cross River politics have already sent goodwill messages to him. So, it is right to say that Mr President chose competent people as ministerial nominees.
You were appointed Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum (Downstream). What should we expect from you?
Expect the very best. It will interest you to know that I started work immediately from the day the Speaker announced our names. My team and I are researching on the areas that we believe my committee will need to take some urgent steps in the performance of our oversight functions. Details of what I have started doing as a person will form part of my contributions to the committee, which would then be deliberated upon and then actions taken. I can assure you that this is one committee that will work for the good of this country. My chairman is a very committed person. Though members of the committee have not yet been named, I believe that with the kind of leadership that we have, we will do our best.
People in various constituencies across the country have had to complain about the paucity of constituency projects. What was the outcome of your the recent visit to your constituency?
When I was campaigning and seeking the support of my people for their votes to get into the House of Representatives, I promised that I would make a difference if they stood by me. So, my people decided to stand by me and gave me victory. I have said many times that my victory did not come easy. So, I owe my people so much gratitude for standing by me, despite all the challenges. I have spoken many times about those challenges. I am the only member of the APC in my state that won in any of the elections. So, in keeping with my promises, I decided that rather than use my initiative to decide on constituency projects that I will attract to the people, it was better I interface with my people so that they can tell me exactly what projects they would desire from the federal government. I had to even hire some consultants who have a history of handling issues of constituency development and they went with me to all the places. We saw schools in very terrible state. We saw health centres that have been abandoned, so to say. I wept for the things I saw. There was a particular school they took me to at Imabana Ward 2 (Ikpalegwa). That should be the worst school in the constituency. I saw stones on the floor and the people told me that the children sit on those stones to learn. One of the two buildings there looked like a place where goats are bred.
There is also a village called Agoi-Ibami Road, in the Mkpani/Agoi ward. During our campaigns, I had gone there. But the situation of the road leading to the place was not as bad as it was during this trip. We made efforts to drive there but got stuck at some point and we managed to reverse and returned to a safer spot, from where we took a bike to get to the community and then took pictures of the bad roads. I am talking of the community known to be the food basket of the state. There is no electricity supply there. There is no water. There is no road.
I was taken to various abandoned projects that were started by previous governments. Why the projects were abandoned, I cannot say. But I have decided to locate the contractors, so that we can ascertain what really happened to those projects, for example, the Ekori township roads.
I also went to some parts of the constituency that I know that if we seriously decide to invest some time and money, we could turn those places into tourist sites. Places like the Adadama waterfront and other waterfronts such as Afafanyi, Abeugo, Asiga, Ebom, Ediba, Igonigoni, Ikpalegwa, Itigidi, Itegeve and Lehangha. These are places that can be turned to money spinning beaches. I intend to make a case at the appropriate federal and state government agencies to see how this can be made possible. Let me even use this opportunity to call on private investors to come over and invest in these locations and turn the sites to tourist attraction. They can be sure of recovering their money in no distant time. Remember that tourists will always like to go to places where there is peace and there is maximum peace there.
Also, in the two local governments that make up the constituency, I was taken to places were the people need either road, water, electricity projects, while in some other places, their needs had to do with decaying or non- existent health and educational facilities. We have taken note of the all that the people need and will give proper attention to them.
In the legislature, we do not award contracts but we can lobby the various agencies of the government to draw their attention to these projects that we have identified and then get the appropriate MDAs to handle them. I believe that with the cooperation of all the agencies and ministries, we will achieve so much for the people at the end of the day.
Is it that your state government is not doing anything or enough in some of those places you complained about?
I cannot say yes or no. You need to also consider a lot of factors. I am however, aware that the government of Prof Ben Ayade is doing its best to address some of the development needs of the people. The truth is, if the people working with him do not draw his attention to some of these things, he may not know what the people are going through. For example, if I sat down in Abuja or Calabar and did not go the villages, I might not have known what is going on in those places and what the people’s urgent needs are. There cannot be a solution to a problem you have not even identified. I am almost certain that if the government were truly aware of some of these problems, they would have dealt with them somehow. In fact, in one of the places I visited, I was so appalled by the state of the primary school there; I had to put a call through to the head of the state basic education board. I told him how bad the place was and encouraged him to send his people to the school to get first-hand information so that he can be properly guided, and the response was positive.
That is why the villagers also decided to write to the state governor to draw his attention to the deplorable state of some of the facilities there. You can imagine what the people of Agoi can do for themselves and for the state’s economy if they had access road to move their farm produce to the town. The point here is that those in government really need to leave the comfort of their offices and go to the villages and listen to the people. It is not only when we are campaigning that we should go and meet the people for their votes. If we do not go and meet them, it will be difficult to know their problems. It will be even more difficult to solve those problems. My theory of governance is that it should be people-oriented.
I keep talking about my concerns about the collapse of the local government system. Some of these issues ought to have been handled by the local government councils if they were alive. Unfortunately, that arm of the government has been killed. Thank God that there are deliberate efforts at this time to revive them.
What does it take for a local government chairman to hire a grader and grade some of those roads for the people to use? Some of them are actually less than three kilometres; some are about a kilometre. What will it cost for a chairman to handle such projects? During our time, when I was a councillor, we used to pay attention to such roads. At least, if you cannot asphalt, you can grade from time to time, so that whether it is raining, the people can still make use of the roads. You will weep if you see what the people are going through because of these bad roads. I am hopeful, though, that very soon, their tears will be wiped away.