By Kemi Yesufu
HON. Nnanna Igbokwe, representing Ahiazu/Ezinihitte Mbaise Federal Constituency of Imo State, is the chairman of the Young Parliamentarians Forum. Recently, a bill he sponsored seeking to make it compulsory for the inclusion of youths not less than 35 years into the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) passed second reading in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he speaks on bills targeted at youths which are at various stages. He also spoke on the recent upsurge in youth restiveness as seen in the activities of the Niger-Delta Avengers (NDA), the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), saying the Federal Government should seek a political solution to Nnamdi Kanu’s case and it should negotiate with the NDA.
You are the chairman of the Young Parliamentarians Forum, how has it been working on this platform in the National Assembly, the past one year?
The Forum is an adz̄vocacy group, supported by the International Parliamentary Union, which has urged all member parliaments to initiate such a forum. We are charged with the responsibility of enhancing greater participation of young people in government and in other decision making bodies in all levels of society. We are to enhance the visibility of young people, so that their views can be captured in formulating policy and decision making, especially in government. To make these goals a reality in Nigeria, we started with our first national conference. We have also been supporting initiatives that make young people understand and protect their rights. One example is the work we have done with the Child Rights Act which is the fulcrum of rights, such as children getting an education and being given the best of healthcare. We believe that a lot can be achieved in terms of increasing youth participation, through advocacy, mentoring and legislation. In terms of legislation, I can say that we have made tremendous progress. Recently, we passed, a bill seeking to make it compulsory for the inclusion of youths not less than 35 years into the Federal Executive Council(FEC), sponsored by my humble self to increase political participation among youths. We are looking at the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution; they include Sections: 147, 151, 192, 196. So, we seek in moving for the amendment of these sections that one of those appointed into the sation of about 50 thousand NYSC members this year. I am glad to tell you that from our interaction with the management of the NYSC, the request for these NYSC members to also be mobilised this year has been made through the ministry, to the president and they have gotten approval to draw funds from the service – wide vote to make up for the shortfall. Now that the budget has been signed, we will fully be involved in holding the government accountable for the youth-related programmes. There is the N500 billion fund for youth cash transfer, the recruitment of 500 thousand teachers for which the process has just commenced and the recruitment of 10 thousand new policemen. The Young Parliamentarians Forum has set up a committee to monitor these intervention programme on a day to day basis to make sure that they touch the real targets. As the process of constitutional review has commenced, very soon, we will be hosting a youth summit here in the parliament, for young people from different parts of the country to make their input. We are of the strong opinion that it will amount to a great denial if young people who constitute 65 percent of our population are not brought into the process of reviewing the constitution.
A big issue that the National Assembly has expressed concerns over is the seemingly unclear method which the Federal Government will implement some of these youth related interventions you mentioned that you are going to monitor how they are implemented. Do you share in the concerns of the National Assembly?
Yes, the intervention fund was presented as a lump sum in the budget and what the National Assembly said was that, maybe, there should have been a proper breakdown of how the funds will be utilised. But we have been made to understand that the fund will be handled in the presidency, the office of the Vice President to be precise and by the Special Adviser on Sustainable Development Goals and Poverty Alleviation. Also, our preliminary investigations have shown that government will be working with a consortium of NGOs, the World Bank, to see that the fund is well managed. Again, they are almost ready to present exactly how much will go for women empowerment, young people and the percentage for the artisans and the real downtrodden.
What is your take on the re-surgence of restiveness in the Niger-Delta personified by the Niger-Delta Avengers. For once, they have said they are willing to negotiate with the Federal Government. Do you think the Federal Government should negotiate with them?
I want to commend the two parties for seeing the need to come to the roundtable to negotiate. This is the best approach to this issue. It is quite clear that what is happening in the Niger-Delta is something that will not do either the government, the people of the region or the entire country, any good. I also want to use this opportunity to call on leaders to mind their utterances in this period when the two parties have seen reason to sit and discuss.
How about the issue of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB)’s Nnamdi Kanu’s situation? Igbo leaders have called for his release, while some have advised that Federal Government opts for a political solution. Of course, they’re those who say he must go through the entire legal process and be sentenced if found guilty. What is your opinion on Kanu and how the Federal Government has handled issues around IPOB?
I was in the forefront of those that supported the leader of the South-East Caucus in the House, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, to move a motion, calling for a thorough investigation into the recent killings of IPOB and MASSOB members who were on a peaceful match, which the Constitution guarantees. That is, the right to freedom of expression and association, yet, they were accosted and killed. What government should understand is that in the process of killing protesting students, members of organisations like IPOB and MASSOB, the killing of Shiites, it is telling on our democratic credentials. And at the time these extra-judicial killings get to an explosive stage, we will be given a damning verdict in the committee of democratic nations.
So, I fully support the move by the House to investigate the killing of IPOB members. I also support government negotiating with IPOB and yes, I support government seeking a political solution to Nnamdi Kanu’s matter. When we had a similar situation with Asari Dokubo, what was applied was a political solution.