Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
As moves by the House of Representatives to revisit the controversial National Water Resources Bill continue to generate concerns, a member of the House, Hon. Aniekan Umanah has said that there is need to investigate the true intentions of the proposed legislation.
Umanah, who represents Abat/Etim Ekpo /Ika Federal constituency of Akwa Ibom State, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said that the bill is unnecessary, as it negates the principles of federalism.
The lawmaker, in this interview, also spoke on the security challenges confronting the country and other issues. Excerpt:
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was set up in 2000, to address the developmental challenges in the Niger Delta region. But 20 years after it has been a tale of woes, as resources so far deployed to the commission is not in any way commensurate with development in the area. How would you look at that?
I feel sad, I do not think the NDDC, in my opinion, has been what I would have loved it to be. I expected an organisation that is beyond the bread and butter things. Not just the NDDC, even the North East Development Commission. All of these interventionist agencies, they should be true interventionist agencies that will bolster true development. Not agencies of boreholes. Not agencies of grading of rural roads. These are things local government authorities could do. I was expecting NDDC that can construct a pan-Niger Delta railways. I was expecting NDDC that will bolster true education through pan-Niger Delta conurbation of universities. That will stimulate the knowledge and research in issues and areas that concern the development of that area and the country. I was expecting an agency that will look at medical; not in the sense of sponsoring people to go for treatments abroad. But in terms of looking at proper medical institutions that can become reference points globally. Those are the kind of things, if I were to give my opinion about what I think about interventionist agency like the NDDC. I would expect an agency that will change the face of transportation in the entirety of the Niger Delta and become a model for the country and Africa. Not an agency that sits down to bake politicians and political ideas. For me, I don’t think it has been what it ought to be. It is important that the government take a critical look at the agency; including others that we are creating, to ensure that they live up to their billings. And this also brings us to the issue of law; because even the enabling laws, we need to look at them again. To see how these interventionist agencies will be structured to serve the purpose of true development. And not what we are hearing and seeing. I am even speaking beyond the probe (of the NDDC by the National Assembly). All of this is scratching the surface. The Niger Delta is in dire need of true development. Forget about what you see on the surface. The people in the area are impoverished. They are in penury, because if you go into the creeks, the swamps and so on, you will see that there is need for a lot of financial investment, infrastructural investment, human capital development that will help develop the Niger Delta. Until this is done, I don’t think it had saved its real purpose.
There are those who say that since the NDDC has seemingly failed to address its core objective, it should be scrapped?
I don’t think so. I think it should be remodeled to be more efficient and serve the true developmental purposes. Whatever it is, the people must have a sense of hope, that there is something that is closer to them for the purposes of development. It is not just about taking out the oil or taking out something else from else where. But let us see something visible. Something strong.
There have been concerns over plans by the House to revisit the controversial National Water Resources Bill, which was rejected by the Eight Assembly. What is your take on that bill?
I am aware of the bill. I have read some of the propositions and so on. I am totally against it. It is not right. Let us allow the various areas to develop according to their potential. It is not about using water resources to appropriate areas for whatever reason. The true intendment, I do not know. But for me, I do not think it is necessary. When we are thinking of how to diversify; when we are thinking of how to strengthen local economy, and allow different areas to develop according to their capacities, why are we now consolidating, locking in and unitarising? It is not necessary. So, the intendment must be checked and found out. I am not in support of it.
The bill is going to come up at the Committee of the whole, so people will not have the opportunity to give their opinion at a public hearing. Does it not mean the bill is as good as passed already?
I am against it. And that is my position. Nobody will stop me from airing my views at any given time. There are various fora and levels you can say certain things are not right.
What is your report card like in the last one year?
I have been particular about issues that will stimulate development in my region. Looking at my state, I have a bill for an act to establish a college of technology, in Akwa Ibom. Why am I saying this? Because the Federal Government has invested in a turn key aviation infrastructure and built one of the best airports in the country. And, of course, with an airline that belongs to the state government, set up by the Emmanuel Udom administration. We need to begin to grow knowledge in that area because that is going to be the window to the gulf of Guinea. And it will be a major foreign exchange source for the country. Because we have people from various countries within the Gulf of Guinea coming in to get trained and get involved in aviation issues. It has passed the first reading, it is still in the works. I have also proposed a bill for an act to establish a Federal College of Education (Technical) in Ikoro Uko in Ika Local Government Area, one of the local government areas within my constituency. It is a border community and there is a technical college that is lying waste in the place. And I felt if we can use that to train teachers and those who can impact knowledge on the technical standpoint, it will make sense. That has also passed the first reading. I am also looking at a bill to amend the Terrorism Act to allow for the registration of people, who have been dismissed from the Armed Forces, police and so on, who have knowledge of arms and ammunition. So, that we know who are, know where they live and know what they do. Because, at a time we are tackling terrorism and banditry and so on, we must also know that people, who have knowledge of those things must not be let loose. At the level of the constituency, we are also interfacing to do what we can do. So far, I have hosted the first stakeholders consultative forum in my constituency to set a legislative agenda and sponsored several motions to address pressing national issues, among others.
Talking about tackling terrorism and other forms of security challenges, in the last one year, the House has adopted several motions with far-reaching resolutions on the security situation in the country, but yet nothing has changed?
Frankly, security is a matter of serious concern both to government and the citizens because security is paramount to everyone and business. And, of course, it is important for the confidence of investors – international investors, local investors, businesses. For those to thrive, they must be security. But the insecurity in the country has reached an alarming stage. It is beyond what one use to hear about the Boko Haram threat in the Northeast and so on. We have banditry everywhere. You have kidnapping for ransom.
You have all sorts of threat. Communal clashes in different places; more predominantly in the North. It is also cripping to other parts. It is more disturbing. And the National Assembly in its wisdom has considered several of these issues and several motions have come up on the floor of the House of Representatives, even both chambers really and with several resolutions passed. The implementation of these things is the burden of the executive. The implementation of these resolutions, which to me are strong advisory statements for government to follow and ensure that certain things are done. But here, we are still struggling. Today, it is about kidnap. Tomorrow it is about raiding. Next tomorrow it’s about sacking of a community and all of these. The government must rise up to these issues more than any other time. Because Nigerians are getting into a state of dispel with this insecurity. There is palpable fear everywhere. You can’t get on the road without thinking what do I do. How do I move. It is even so daring that those with security get challenged. Even security operatives get challenged by daring criminals, bandits, terrorists in different parts of the country.
A lot of persons have canvassed the establishment of state police to enhance security in the country, what is your take?
I completely believe that the national police, as it were, cannot tackle the internal security problems of Nigeria. The country is very large. It is a big country with over 200 million people as estimated. What number of policemen do you have in stock for this number of people? If you look at the data, how many policemen, do you have to X-number of Nigerians, the way it is calculated globally. We have total shortfall. We also have coordination issue. It is difficult to totally coordinate as it were. If you look at some of the global model, you have even municipal police, you have the state police, you have the federal paratroopers, and so on. And, of course, different intelligence and defence agencies, who work together to ensure effective security of a given country. I do not think one large federal police can manage the internal security of the country. I believe that we must decentralise and begin to create smaller policing units that will allow it to be a bottom-top approach, instead of a top-bottom approach, where there is a directorate in Abuja that passes the directive down. It should be from the basement. There should be some upward movement of internal security. So, you know what happens in every community, the locals are involved. Then the control structure is also localised. It is not a situation, where you have a state, you have a governor, he is the Chief Security Officer, but he has no control over how the commissioner of police in that state is deployed. He has no control over when an assistant commissioner is deployed, who goes where, who works where. He has no control how DPOs are deployed and yet he takes responsibility for the security. For me, there is something wrong with that structure. It will not or does not in anyway diminish the authority of the national police. Like you see in other parts of the world, it doesn’t. The Inspector General of Police or whatever name the country chooses remains there , coordinating at the national level and collaborating with the state and local police to make sure there is a more efficient policing of the country. I believe that there is need for state police. For me, it is even beyond state police. It should start from local police. If our local government structures is strong enough, it should start from the municipal level , just like we have elsewhere in the world. You find municipal police working. They know the place. They know the people. They are likely to know or find out who are criminals, who are visitors and who are the ones there. It will make for better coordination. Better internal security management.
Those against this idea have repeatedly argued that it will be subject to abuse like is the case with the states Independent Electoral Commissions under the control of the state?
Those are issues of law. Legislations will correct all of those things. Abnormalies will always be there in every system. Whether you have a national police. Are we not hearing accusations of abuses? You talked about the SIECs, of course, there are allegations of abuses. Even in the national body, there are allegations of abuses. But it does not negate the fact that we must begin to do what is right and work it up to the point of perfection, if there is anything like perfection. I think it is only God that is perfect. Outside of that, we must not be afraid of beginning a thing because we are already thinking of the abuses or problems. Problems will always be there. But they will be corrected. It is not every state governor that will be the type that abuse a system. It is not every president that abuses a system. It is not every head of department of government that abuses a system. So, we still have upright people who will want to do the correct thing. Once, we strengthen the institutions of governance all of these abuses will evaporate because the law will take its course on any form of abuse. All of these are about strengthening the institutions of governance If we have strong institutions, men will become smaller. They will become subsumed under the institutions.
How would you assess the leadership of the Ninth House in the last one year?
I think the leadership has been very focused. And the speakership of Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has shown great knowledge of the management of the legislature. That is my personal opinion. We are not from the same party, but clearly, the Speaker is a very patient and tolerant person. Contrary to what people used to say before now, he has a listening ear. He has been able to harmonize various interests here and there to see a peaceful co-existence of different interests in the House. I want to say that his joint task initiative is working.
But some persons accuse the Speaker of sidelining those who do not support his emergence in sharing of committee chairmanship and in the running of the House generally?
Political arrangements are not as straight as mathematical arrangement of one plus one giving you two. Political arithmetic sometimes may drag, may give you different outcome. So many things come into consideration. So, I cannot speak for the Speaker of the leadership in terms of the choice of headship of the various committees and so on. But in any given situation, you are bound to have winners and losers. In every political situation, in every calculation, you are bound to have that. Don’t forget we have 106 standing committees and we have 360 members. It only means you can have 106 chairmen. And maybe 106 deputy chairmen. You still have over 100 members, who may not have the privilege. I am one of those. But I am going to kill anybody because, I didn’t get. I am going to focus on the work my constituency elected me to come and do here. Along the line, certain things will happen. That is how I see it. But beyond that, I think the Speaker is doing his best to manage the House. It is a very difficult job to manage 360 very knowledgeable people, very experienced people and political exposed persons. It is a difficult task to do. So, we must commend anybody who has been able to do that.