By Dickson Okafor
Member of the National Assembly, Raphael Igbokwe, represents Ahiazu/Ezinitte Mbaise in the House of Representatives. A member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he is also the Chairman, Imo caucus in the Lower chamber of the National Assembly. The lawmaker who is also Chairman, Young Parliamentarian Forum (YPF) believes the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not responsible for the crisis in the opposition party, but blamed it on some governors in PDP who wanted to use and dump Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff. He speaks on various issues.
PDP is fast sliding into political oblivion having lost Ondo State to the ruling APC in the just concluded guber election, don’t you think the leadership tussle between Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi has done enough damage to the opposition?
I hope leaders of PDP have learned their lessons from what happened in Ondo. PDP must learn from this costly mistake. As far as I’m concerned, it is all about ego. Look at what ego has cost the party. Sheriff was invited by some PDP governors to take the mantle of leadership of the party. At any point they feel like kicking him out from the job, courtesy demands that there should be reasonable approach in making him step aside. That you are a governor does not make you a lord over anybody or that you are a governorship aspirant does not give you the power as if the party belongs to you. By dialogue and engagement, we can get issues solved rather, than making draconian laws from the seat of the governor and expect it to be swallowed hook, line and sinker by everybody. Why would some people want to push Sheriff out of the party disgracefully when you can resolve the matter amicably? To me, the approach so far is wrong. In the eyes of the law as at that time, Sheriff was and is still the PDP National Chairman. We know that the mosquito cannot suck the elephant dry, but sometimes, its bite can be uncomfortable. Their aim was to use and dump Sheriff and that is what we are seeing in this case. It is unfortunate that the crisis was mismanaged and will continue to deepen if nothing urgent is done. For example, in my state Imo, I belong to the Sheriff faction and I have no apology. Politics is local because it affects my local area; I belong to where Sheriff is. Those on the other side do not have open door policy and do not want to see the existence of any other politician apart from those in their camp. They want to be the head, middle and tail of everything. They want to dictate the pace which is invariably autocracy and this is what we have been trying to reengineer and redefine so there can be internal democracy in our party. And not where the party is controlled by one person or few individuals. Instead of us to try and reconcile and get more people in our fold, we are busy fighting ourselves. A party leader in Imo State called a meeting of his own zone or clan and gave order to suspend and sack people who share the view or opinion of Sheriff. When you chase everybody out of PDP, how can you win elections? Until we purge ourselves of this old approach to party management and administration, PDP will continue to have problems.
In spite of all you have said, many still believe that Sheriff was drafted by the ruling party to destabilize PDP, what is your view?
It is not true. Was it the ruling party that brought in Sheriff? It was the PDP Governors Forum that went for scouting and got him. I remember about four of them contested for the position, they include Gulak, former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, former EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu and Sheriff. In fact, Sheriff was not in the picture because he came to support one of the contestants. All of a sudden, the governors brought him in as their former member. What role did the ruling party play? To me, I don’t believe that APC is fueling PDP crisis.
How can PDP come together again and provide formidable opposition?
Until the governors involved all come down from their high horses and see themselves as party men, things will not improve in PDP. Even though they are holding leadership positions, they must give everybody a sense of belonging, the issue will linger on. Because they control state resources, they believe they can control the party machinery. I want to urge them to take a reflection during their private time on what happened in Edo and Ondo states where a governor put forth government machinery yet, he could not produce a successor. So, those whose tenure are not complete should not celebrate for too long because very soon, it will be their turn in those states for governorship elections will be conducted and the carpet may slip off their feet the same way it happened in Ondo and that is the truth of the matter. So, by the time these kingdoms are destroyed, what will be left of PDP? Then, they will realize like Governor Olusegun Mimiko that there is no champion forever.
To save the situation, they must reconcile all the factions, withdraw all court cases and chat the way forward.
But several attempts made to reconcile aggrieved members have all failed?
No, there was no commitment. Let everybody set aside personal interest and ambition and work towards the survival of PDP. Not a situation where few people come out with a programme that tends to scheme out the other group or have over riding power over other persons. Let the process be transparent and build confidence in the other camp so that there won’t be suspicion of any mischief. Why is it at this point they are blaming everybody over PDP problem when they had the opportunity to treat and settle the dispute as an in-house matter? It all started in Port Harcourt, Rivers State when we all agreed to extend Sheriff’s tenure to three months, but on arrival, few people changed the agenda. So, in spite of how many attempts that had been made to reconcile all the factions and aggrieved persons, all factions must withdraw their cases from the court so that together we can restore peace in PDP.
President Muhammadu Buhari has presented the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly when Nigerians are yet to feel positive impact of the last budget, what is your take?
I commend the President for coming on time to present the 2017 budget. Certain things must be put on the table for analysis and comparison which include, what budget financial year are we operating? The last budget was passed in May and it was contained therein that the budget life would start from the day it was passed to run for one year. If we go by that, it means the budget of 2016 started to run in May and will terminate in 2017 May. So, I give the executive kudos for embracing this formula and for coming six months before the next financial year to present the Appropriation Bill. But if the executive still rely on the January to December as time for budget year only to come in the first week of December to present next year’s budget, that will not be seen as acting in good time. According to the Physical Responsibility Act, not more than 90 days to the end of the financial year when the President should present the next budget before the parliament. Until we know the budget year we are operating, it is then we will know the amount of attention the parliament will give the bill. This is critical issues that need to be resolved.
On why the last budget did not impact lives of the people, government has been crying out loud over reduction in revenue accruing to it due to low trade, pipe line vandalism which led to drop in the production of oil and reduction in foreign exchange. Recently, the government put up request for alternative funding through external borrowing which the parliament turned down because it is demanding for a better clarification as to the intent, purpose and sources of fund and repayment plans. As a legislator and nationalist, my concern is how to assist the government irrespective of party affiliation to perform its functions and deliver dividends of democracy to the Nigerian people which include my constituents. I’m a proponent of legislative and executive pre-budget engagement for a harmonious working and passage of the budget. Like in the business management parlance, we say MBO (Management by objective). That is bring in those that will be affected by that decision to make their input before the strategy is finally laid out and by the time it is out, everybody involved has already bought into the idea. It makes implementation faster and more productive.
As a member of the last Assembly, how do you rate the 8th Assembly?
I rate the 8th Assembly above average due to wonderful leadership especially in the House of Representatives which gives every member a sense of belonging irrespective of party affiliation and support in making the leadership. With the prevailing spirit of sportsmanship among members now that elections are over, the 8th Assembly even though more criticized will be remembered for its collective effort in delivering dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
We have seen improvement in the quality of debate and number of bills passed. We leave the chamber by 3 or 4pm every day unlike before, hence a lot of innovation is now in place such as reporting, knowledge and information management system which has produced dedicated journals and more resolutions of the House. It has never been so as the best you can get was in the vote and processing or in the handout. There are prompt responses to letters from members and issues are treated with dispatch which enhances efficiency and administration of the House. The leadership of both chambers has been taking part in regional and sub regional legislature which has taken the Nigerian parliament to a greater height. On Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) level and as a member of Young Parliamentarian Forum (YPF), we are receiving wonderful supports of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakabu Dogara and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. We now have a seat representing Nigeria in the board of Women parliamentarians at the IPU.