By Henry Umahi ([email protected])
Recently, the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Dr Acho Ihim made history in Mauritius when he emerged the president of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), African Region. Of course, he did not walk alone at the event as he enjoyed the company of the deputy senate president, Chief Ike Ekweremadu and majority leader, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, among others.
In an exclusive chat with this reporter in Owerri, the capital of Imo State, Acho threw light on how he accomplished the feat and his tenure as Imo speaker.
We want to congratulate you on your emrgence as president, CPA, African Region. How did it happen?
Imo State House of Assembly is a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) just like other Houses of Assembly in Nigeria and commonwealth countries in Africa. Last year, I was elected as the vice president and once you are elected as vice president, automatically you become the president the following year. When you are confirmed as the president, the hosting right goes to you. That is to say, Imo House of Assembly will host the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association next year. And that will be in Owerri, the capital of Imo State.
We went to Bacclavia in Mauritius where I was elected and confirmed as president of CPA. In attendance were our leaders, including Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and Hon. Desmond Elliot, among others. It was a happy moment and we thank God for that.
As president of CPA, what is your role?
The role of CPA includes engaging in humanitarian activities, peace and conflict resolution where there is such a situation within the African region. The team and I can go to any place in Africa that was ruled by Britain and resolve conflicts. We can meet presidents and senate presidents. Wherever there is a problem, we can go there and make inputs. We also offer humanitarian services. We also ensure that everywhere in commonwealth Africa, parliamentary practices remain at its best.
As Speaker of Imo House of Assembly, how has it been since you assumed office?
We thank God for His mercies. I also thank my colleagues for giving me the privilege to be their speaker as well as the encouragement and support they have given me to do the work. But for their support, it won’t be easy. We are all colleagues but they gave me the privilege to superintend over them over matters that pertain to them in the House of assembly. They allowed me to lead, so I thank them for giving me the chance. I am also grateful to Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the performing governor of Imo State, for giving me all the support I need as speaker. If he does not support me, I don’t think I will be there in the first place. I thank him and his wife immensely for being there for me at all times.
It has been a wonderful experience and by the grace of God, we have been able to show novelty. To start with, when there was the grazing bill and militancy problems, the Imo House of Assembly, which I lead, was able to organise a session of South South and South East Houses of Assembly and we made far reaching resolutions with a view to solving these problems. We came up with what we called, Alternative to Militancy, which addressed the security and economic challenges facing the area. There have been laws, rules and bills to the extent that people are getting bored.
The laws done by great leaders before us are still there unimplemented. However, we had to think out of the box to solve our problems. Today, other houses of assembly are following suit. You can see that Governor Ayo Fayose has decided to stand up against the grazing bill. It is an offshoot of what we did. And we expect the Federal Government to address the issue in some of the ways we proffered. We said that the communities can be directly reached rather than giving money to a so-called leader who will embezzle it. But if the money is given to the communities directly and they asked to be cops of sorts that will secure the pipelines, you find out that they take responsibility for facilities in their domain. But when they are not involved and somebody collects the money from the top and embezzles it, the problem continues. It becomes a vicious circle. I believe the Federal Government is looking into it.
We have done so many laws as we find it necessary for our state. As you know, the society is dynamic and it keeps changing from time to time. So, we do these things to meet the needs of our society. One can say, so far so good.
How would you describe the relationship between the executive and the legislature in Imo State?
The essence of being in government is to ensure that the best is given to society. The essence of being a lawmaker is not necessarily to fight the executive or to be at daggers drawn at all times as people erroneously think. If the governor is working, why fight him? It is only when he is not working that you can ask what he is doing with the money accruing to the state. In our own case, people are wondering where the governor is getting the kind of money with which he has turned the state to a huge construction site. There is free education at all levels in Imo State, which is the first of its kind in Africa. You can see the building of roads all over the local governments of Imo State. You can see the 305 ultra modern schools that were built in Imo State. You can see the general hospitals that were built across the state and several other projects. And he is not owing salary. The civil servants are paid as when due. So, why would you quarrel with the governor? Some people are saying that he is building China roads. If we were having China roads everywhere, someone will build Korean roads and one day we will get to London road. The governor is doing all he can to turn the state around for the better. All our people need is patience. You cannot have an omelette without breaking eggs. When he was doing a similar thing in Orlu, people were shouting and cursing him but today the Orlu people are praising him because he has built roads for them. The governor is opening up communities across the state and making Owerri, the state capital, better. The roads in Owerri cannot be widened without affecting anybody and they cannot remain like that. I know that at the end of the day, even generations unborn will be happy with the giant strides of the governor, which will remain indelible in the sands of time.
Also, in the next few weeks, you will see Imo Air, which will be a trail blazer. The Imo airline will fly all the routes of Nigeria and, thereafter, it will be travelling overseas. This man is not talking about packing the money into his pocket and going home to relax as some are doing. He is working to the amazement or bewilderment of the people and he is not stopping. He has this obsession to work, work and work. So, we are having a very robust relation. There is a synergy. But it does not stop us from having our checks and balances. We do our oversight functions; we go to ministries and see what they are doing. Most importantly, there is a synergy that allows the governor to stay focused and work.
But some people are of the view that the Imo House of Assembly is nothing but a rubber stamp to the executive. How do you react to that?
I don’t mind the House being called a rubber stamp if we are using the rubber to stamp the good things that the governor is doing in Imo State. If the legislation to the effect that the burden of paying school fees is removed from the shoulders of parents means that I am rubber stamp, I will do it all over again. If supporting Governor Okorocha to deliver wonderful dividends of democracy to Imolites means that I am a rubber stamp, I prefer to be called that. Maybe they were thinking that we should be fighting with the governor to prove that we are not rubber stamp. If you see somebody doing the right thing, why fight him?
What would you consider as the highpoint of the House under your leadership?
The highpoints of the Imo State House of Assembly under my leadership are many. We have made so many laws which give flesh and teeth to what the executive is doing. Aside that, we were able to bring the South East and South South Houses of Assembly together to deliberate on issues of common interest. Our resolution is helping the government to solve its problems, especially with regards to militancy and the grazing bill. We took a position, which has never been done before in Nigeria.
Again, the fact that Imo State House of Assembly will be hosting the CPA, African Region conference means that over 40 countries will be coming to Imo State. The entire Commonwealth countries will be coming here next year; I will be hosting. The 36 Houses of Assembly in Nigeria and the National Assembly (NASS) will be in Imo State. I think that will be a highpoint outside making laws that affect positively our people.
What is your philosophy on leadership and governance?
My philosophy on leadership and governance is simply to be selfless in service and to do the needful for the wellbeing of the electorate or the people. And history will judge accordingly.
Age not on Buhari’s side –Filani
By Tony Ogaga
Mr Kayode Filani is a seasoned legal practitioner and member, International Bar Association. The lawyer and business mogul with interests in property, in this interview at his office in Ikeja, Lagos, opens up on the state of the nation and speaks on why President Buhari should, henceforth desist from arresting judges.
What is your take on President Buhari’s anti corruption drive?
My definition of corruption is beyond fraud alone. As far as I am concerned, nepotism is another form of corruption and that is putting people where they shouldn’t be but because they are related to you or you are from the same tribe, you put them there. Everybody knows that corruption has been part of our problem right from day one and that is what brought us to this point. I wouldn’t want Mr. President to limit his anti-corruption drive to embezzlement of funds alone. He should be proactive and look for good hands to work with him unless we want to deceive ourselves; it has never been this bad in Nigeria. A lot of Nigerians send their kids abroad for education and it is not because they do not have faith in the educational system in Nigeria but because of the decadence in our system. I understand all of Buhari’s children are schooling abroad so you can’t blame anybody for putting his kids in schools abroad but the truth of the matter is, how do they fund the education of these children? Buhari is trying his best but age is not on his side. The Buhari of 1984/85 is quite different from the Buhari of today. In 1984, he had the zeal and strength. Today he is older and can’t perform above his capacity and those he says he has some elements of thrust in are as old as the man himself. So what do you expect? It is quite unfortunate.
There is the criticism that his appointments are tilted towards a particular section of the country. Do you have any reservations about this?
Earlier, I mentioned nepotism as part of corruption. In our system, we limit corruption to fraud or monetary gain. Nigeria is one of the most equipped countries in terms of human resources. If we really want to work with brains, we can get them. He should look beyond the Hausa/Fulani enclave. As far as I am concerned, the woman in finance is doing nothing. She has no experience. The only thing she did before she was appointed commissioner in Ogun State was that she worked with Wale Edun. Olawale Edun himself could have performed better. The man in charge of planning is a brilliant lawyer but what can a lawyer do in terms of economic planning? Putting good people in wrong places is our problem.
Lately, the call for national conference, referendum and restructuring has grown very loud. What is the way forward?
I believe in the unity of Nigeria. As a matter of fact, our strength lies in our unity but let us practise true federalism where the states have some autonomy in terms of controlling their resourses. What I am saying is that we should practise true federalism. States should have some powers like state police, like they have in America. If you are trying to copy somebody, you must do it the way they are doing it. Because we are used to military system of government, we don’t really know the difference between federalism and military system of government. What is happing today is more of military and less democracy.
Recently, Nnamdi Kanu from prison made a call that people from the South East should boycott work and to a large extent, it was successful. What is the implication for Mr. President and Nigeria’s unity?
The truth is that once you condone any form of militancy in any area, as you are killing one, others are springing up. Even if they crush Biafra, something else will spring up. However, any time you sense terrorism, the best bet is to crush it. If you don’t crush it, it will grow and that is what is happening in Nigeria. Look at the situation in the Niger Delta and its ripple effects because it was condoned. They appeased them and gave them some money. All they are interested in is seeing how they can be compensated. It happened in the Niger Delta; I can assure you it’s a matter of time before something similar springs up in the South West but we are trusting God. It is quite a terrible time.
Talking about the economic recession, what is your advice for President Buhari?
I have just told you, the problem started with those managing the economy. If you put good people in wrong places, they will not perform magic. Like I said earlier, Nigeria is blessed and we have a lot of economists all over but if we don’t believe in them and think we can only trust people from a certain section of the country, we will continue to experience what we are seeing today. How can an economy that was rated to be the best in Africa about two years ago nose dive all of a sudden. It is sad. A lot of people are suffering and hungry. The so called minimum wage is nothing.
Going by recent developments in APC, the impression is that Tinubu is being sidelined by the party and this has resulted in internal wrangling. Do you see APC going the way of PDP?
If you know the history of APC, you will not be surprised that this is happening because APC is an amalgamation of various parties and their main intention was to force Jonathan out of office and replace him with somebody else; so it is expected that this crisis will happen. Tinubu produced the vice president; he is a man I respect so much because he is a true leader. He should appreciate the fact that the president is the president and he is a party man. He should respect Oyegun; you cannot have your way all the time. What is important is that we should be fair even in elections, make sure that your primaries are free and fair. He has no executive power, so when you say he is being sidelined, what do you mean, how was he sidelined?
His nominees were dumped …
We don’t have that kind of information but like I said, the Nigerian president has the discretion to appoint whoever he deems fit. Unfortunately, those he has been appointing are people not close to Tinubu but Tinubu also has influenced some appointments too.
How about the controversy trailing the APC primaries in Ondo State?
If you look at the trend of that election, you will realize that nobody actually had the majority and if the four APC contenders can’t work together, be rest assured that APC will lose that state. Akeredolu alone cannot win the state for APC.
With these crises currently rocking Nigeria, do you think our democracy can survive?
Like I said earlier, let us practise true federalism. If we do, it will silence all this agitation. The states should have some level of autonomy. Let the regions that generate the wealth have some control of their recourses and the power at the centre be whittled down or else we will keep having these problems. The power at the centre should be limited to the military, currency and protection of Nigeria’s sovereignty. Let all regions control their affairs and this will reduce agitation. Of course, I believe in restructuring; I am talking about true federalism which is what I preach.
Recently, EFCC froze ex-First Lady, Patience Jonathan’s dollar accounts. What is your take?
It is quite pathetic that Patience found herself in this mess. But the truth is that has any first lady been investigated before? If you do that, you will most likely trace things like this to all past first ladies. Buhari should draw a line, if Aisha Buhari is investigated today, a lot of things will come to light.
Because of the position the husband occupies, the wife will enjoy a lot of good will. A lot of people who want favour or who just want to reach out to the president will come and say ‘madam take this and that.’ I was told she worked as a permanent secretary in Bayelsa State although that is an aberration but the truth is that the goodwill of the Nigerian first lady is one that attracts a lot of gifts.
Recently, the judiciary has been in the spotlight following the arrest of some judges. What is your take?
If not for the judiciary we, would have been in crisis. The little bit of sanity we are seeing in Nigeria is traceable to the Judiciary. Definitely, there are some bad eggs there but the sanity we have today is because of the role the judiciary is playing.
The bad eggs among them should be fished out, no doubt about that. However, the judges have a way of disciplining those that have erred and so they should be allowed to do that. If you send EFCC after them, then Nigeria is doomed. Let the judicial body saddled with disciplining judges do its job. The moment we fail to do this, we shall have a state of anomie. It does not make any sense. We must have true separation of powers. The system has a way of disciplining members of the bench and the body should be allowed to do its job. You just can’t wake up one morning and start picking up judges. Let NJC do its job.