From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Last week, the minority caucuses in the two chambers of the National Assembly read a riot act to President Muhammadu Buhari over the spate of insecurity in the country. The opposition lawmakers consisting majorly of members of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), at a joint press briefing, threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Buhari, if he fails to address the security challenges in the country, within eight weeks.
However, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member of the House, Chike Okafor, says the threat to impeach the President is dead on arrival. According to Okafor, who represents Ehime Mbano/ Ihitte Uboma/ Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State, the opposition caucus does not have the number to execute their threat. He speaks on various issues in this interview.
How would you assess the House in the last seven years?
This is the ninth assembly that started on June 11, 2019 and Femi Gbajabiamila became the speaker. Let me also say that in the history of our democracy, since 1999, we have not had someone as qualified, with the credentials Femi had when he became the speaker of the ninth assembly. So, we are not expecting anything less than we are getting. Beyond moving motions and passing bills, you could see some direct involvement of the parliament in the government generally. You could see interventions. You could see the leadership of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives in particular, mediating in crisis. Mediating in issues of concern to nationhood.
That is what you would expect from the House led by someone who had led the minority in the seventh assembly become the majority leader in the eight assembly; and now the presiding officer in the current assembly.
You will also see one glaring fact. Prior to the inauguration of the ninth assembly, we hardly had the budget passed at the end of the year. But in the last three sessions, 2020, 2021, and this current budget that we are implementing, you found that the President came before December and the budget got passed, so that at the beginning of the fiscal year, January 1st, the budget was already ready. So, these are some very good innovations, changes, permit me to use the word reforms by this current ninth assembly, with the kind of leadership that we have put in place.
You can easily distinguish the leadership of this current assembly and the previous assembly. Of course I wasn’t here in the prior assembly. But of course the performance of the previous assemblies are also in the public domain.
The opposition caucus in the Senate on Wednesday staged a walkout from the plenary over the security situation in the country and gave eight weeks ultimatum to the President to address the situation or face impeachment. On Thursday, the House minority caucus said they are on the same page with the Senate. How would you react to that?
Everybody is concerned and bothered about the spate of insecurity in the country. And we are no longer talking about back in the years, when it was only consistent in the Niger Delta. I can tell you that up to 2003, 2004, you could stay in Abuja and hear about kidnapping and banditry in the South South. In the later years, it became Boko Haram insurgency. We have gone past that stage now; to say that no part of the country is safe. From the North East to North West, North Central, South West to South South and South East, it is as if Nigeria has been engulfed. Nobody is safe . And nowhere is safe.
But this is no time for us to play politics with it. Look at the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train, nobody was sure, who the bandits were going to meet in that train. It could have been any person. Insecurity generally doesn’t know any political party. Doesn’t know any religion. It doesn’t know any tribe. So, anybody and everybody can be engulfed as a matter of fact.
Like, we are concerned, we are all bothered, we should look beyond partisanship. We should also look beyond the government because it wasn’t any better in the previous PDP led administration.
So, bring it home to what happened in the Senate; I want to repeat that everybody is bothered, whether you are a minority caucus or majority caucus. But rising up to grandstand and to use the word when people say you want to trend, you want to catch Cruise, I can tell you that is what they did. Is that how you start an impeachment proceeding against a sitting president in advanced democracies, even in our democracy?
You must sit down and put together the articles of impeachment. Put them together and then begin the process. You don’t just get up because you are on national TV. You want to catch cruise. You want to let your constituents know that you are talking; that is playing to the gallery. That is not it. That is not what will bring the solution we are looking for. The solution that we want is to sit down and engage the security forces. All hands must be on the deck. It is not issue of laying the blame at the doorsteps of the APC-led government. I repeat, we had the situation before this government. I can say that the seed that is destroying the country today was sown under the PDP led administration. Because we didn’t just wake up and find these guys in the bush. These things started from somewhere and grew to where it is.
The minority leader in the House said they will join the impeachment plot. If that happens, what will you be doing?
You and I know that they also want to be in power, like we are in power. We will not join forces with them. We will not support them. We have the numbers.
You know what they say that the minority “will have its say, but majority also will always have its way”. At the end of the day, it will come down to numbers. We, the APC members of the House are convinced that the government is honest and sincere about the decision and approach to keep Nigeria safe and make life better for us.
We are also aware that the foundation of what we are suffering was laid by the previous administration, the PDP.
We are not going to keep our eyes open and allow them. We have the numbers. We will out number them. If it is about speaking grammar, we will speak grammar. If it is about quoting law, we will quote laws.
Recently, you won the nomination of your party to re- contest for your seat in the 2023 elections. And your party is not very popular in the South East. What are your chances in the forthcoming election. Secondly, your party in 2015 promised so much and seven years after, it is believed to have delivered so little, what will the APC be telling Nigerians in 2023?
I will take it in two parts. The first one has do with the popularity of the APC in the South East where I come from. And I will tell you that the APC was a no-party in 2015 when I ran and won. APC was barely a year old having been formed in 2014. So, the first election that the APC stood for was in 2015. And I got on the ballot in that 2015 and I was voted for. That is to tell you that in the part of the country where I come from, they don’t really look at party, they look at individuals. That is the truth. But of course the party is a vehicle. Our brand of democracy doesn’t give room for independent candidacy. So you must have a party platform
Our people are that politically savvy that they look at the profile of every individual, the party not withstanding and they will come in and also vote for individuals.
For us as a people in the South East, APC has not done so bad for us. Globally looking at the economy, things are worse than they were. But let also look at infrastructure; between the two parties, PDP that was in the saddle between 1999 until Buhari came in, in 2015 and the APC that is barely less than eight years, let’s look at these parties, how long they held power and how much they have been able to do for us as a people.
When the chips are down, our people are going to sit down to look at what the two parties, when the PDP was in power and now APC is in power, what they have been able to do for us. So, it is about the deliverables, as it concerns you. That is what matters. So, to answer your question, APC will give PDP a run for its money in the South East.
On the second part of your question, Nigerians will be told that some of these things are also global. Some of the things that affected the performance of the government and the performance of our economy also have to do with the global economy that was affected over this period. Yes, we have not delivered on our promises as much as we promised but you ask yourself, were there conscious efforts? Was there deliberate attempts by government to have better results? Yes. Do you have better results? No.
Now, take your mind back to the previous government that ruled with their penchant for corruption, do you think they will be better than the APC? The answer is no. So, put the two parties side by side, APC will still be the most preferred by Nigerians.
Since 2015, the APC has been perceived to be “hostile” to the South East, especially in power sharing. What should the zone be expecting from the party in 2023?
We want to say this. We have not been fairly treated since the APC government. I agree with you . I am from the South East. I speak for a constituency in Imo State. You don’t want me to remind you 2015 what happened in the National Assembly, where in all the leadership positions in the two chambers, not one, was held by the South East. But let me explain to you what happened. In that election, APC threw up two elected members. I and Austin Chukwukere were first timers. And you know what the rule says. And the president also explained it in one interview he had. I wish the South East did things differently.
I am not going to bring emotions and sentiments into it. I will say two things. One, I wish the APC led government did things differently. That would have given us some inclusiveness. But that didn’t happen. Is that the best thing? No. Were we fairly treated? No. 2019, we had a better chance, did the South East do a lot better in terms of support to the APC? Yes. But they could have done better. Now, 2023 is around the corner and we are allowing some distractions also to make it impossible for us to do a lot more. I see APC retaining power at the center.
So, what we are telling our people now is avoid these distractions and come out clearly so that what happened in 2015 and 2019 will not happen again. Come 2023, we are confident that this APC government having shared the presidency, and the vice president, and the PDP having shared the presidency and vice presidency, none is in the South East. You see the South East is open; nothing for us. So, I believe that with the negotiations that are going on, between Senate President and speakership, one will come to the South East. I can tell you that confidently.