From Fred Itua and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Joseph Edionwele represents Esan West, Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency of Edo state. Before his election in 2015, he served as the zonal secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-South. He also served as a local government chairman of Esan West.
The lawmaker spoke extensively on the crisis rocking the PDP, the 2017 budget, the economic recession, as well as the ongoing Edo state Governorship Election Tribunal.
Are you bothered about the gale of defection rocking PDP?
Politics is local. Those people you see defecting are doing so either because their people do not want him or because they have decided to join another party. For instance, if in my community I decide to cross over to the other side, I am on my own. There are people that will vote for me and right now, they are in the PDP. That is why I am saying that politics is local. If I defect, whatever I do here will be irrelevant. The people defecting are not doing so because of the crisis in the party. When you see a member of the House of Representatives defecting, it is because of the politics in their environment.
Where does the House PDP caucus stand? Are they with Makarfi or with Sheriff?
We are with the Makarfi-led faction of PDP. His committee came up through a decision taken at a convention. We were all present when this decision was taken. Decisions taken at conventions can validate or invalidate any position. When you see somebody who was appointed to serve for just three months and he is refusing to go, it means there is more to it. Sheriff does not need to take the steps he is taking now. There have been chairmen before him. We had Mu’azu and now Audu Ogbeh who is a Minister now. In the interest of the people, they all stepped down at some point. People are leaving the party because of Sheriff. Otherwise, people are supposed to be coming to the party.
If the Supreme Court confirms Sheriff as chairman, what happens next?
Politics is a game of interest. With Sheriff as chairman, we cannot grow. Sheriff has an image problem. The Governor of Borno state recently alleged that Sheriff created Boko Haram. With such an image, the PDP cannot grow. It will stunt the growth of the party. It is better to go to a new party and start all over again. It is an integrity thing. When you make someone with an integrity problem a chairman of a political party, you will scare people away. What counts in a party is winning elections at the end of the day. Nigerians are wiser now. They do not believe in political parties now. They believe more in the people contesting.
Some PDP members here believe that if anybody should be supported, it has to be Sheriff since he has been affirmed by an Appeal Court. Do you agree with them?
That statement was probably made by one or two members of the House. How many meetings have been called by Sheriff and how many members have attended? The attendance cannot hit a ceiling of up to ten members. That includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. Whenever Makarfi calls for a meeting, over 70 of us attend. Compare and contrast. Even when you pray a prayer of peace, not everybody will say amen. Some people will always want to identify with Sheriff. The fewer they are, the more they are recognized. The truth of the matter is that, Makarfi came on board through a convention. According to our constitution, the convention is very powerful. We must learn to follow the rule of law. Now that the court is saying Sheriff is the chairman, we have to test it at the Supreme Court. If in the end, Sheriff is pronounced chairman, we will cross the bridge. For now, it’s just ‘siddon look’ approach.
Do you think any political solution will solve the problem?
It will not work. It is even good to develop our laws. I do not see any reason it should not be tested at the Supreme Court. It is Sheriff and Makarfi today. Tomorrow, it may be another person. We must know the final say on this matter. When they make the pronouncement, we will know whether to leave or stay in the party. If there is no headway, what do we do? We cannot continue to progress in error.
There is the claim that APC is using Sheriff to destabilize the PDP. Do you think they are right?
They are right. It is evident from his attitude. When it comes to the interest of the party, you must make sacrifices. People are leaving the party because of the unnecessary crisis. You are supposed to sacrifice your personal ambition. Must you be the chairman of a party before you can contribute? If you feel you are popular, go and contest during the convention as chairman and win.
Stakeholders also believe that state governors are liabilities, rather than assets to the party. Do you agree?
The role of the governors in the party is strong. They are the leaders of the party at the state level. When you are talking about the national body, it is still the states that make up the centre. Another thing is that, the PDP governors are the financial back bones of the party. Whether you like it or not, they pay the bills. At the end of the day, the success of a party will be at the state level. They have stakes on who becomes the party chairman. Politics is a game of trust. You have to be sure that the person there will succumb to your wishes. They might be selfish, but that is the way it is. Anybody saying they are the problem of the party is wrong. If they are the problem, they will be the ones to suffer it. Take a look at Rivers state for example, we are successful there because the governor is strong there. That is what counts. If every governor is saying the same thing, it cannot be a mistake.
How will you assess the APC government?
As a member of the House of Representatives, the first way I assess a government is through the performance of the budget. A government that says that its own major target is to finance capital projects and the releases for capital projects is less than 30 percent leaves much to be desired. Outside that, go to the streets, you are feeling the heat too. You can gauge the performance of the government through what you see on the streets. Crimes are on the increase and everyone is lamenting. There is no money in the economy and they are mopping up funds in TSA. That is not a proper way of managing an economy. You are paying people N5, 000 for doing nothing, whereas, you can invest that money in setting up sectoral farms in various geopolitical zones.
You can deploy these youths there. Then pay them some money and see the returns. The government is borrowing and if the borrowings are not tied to capital projects, they are wasting their time. For now, the APC government has not done anything and this is obvious in everything. Also look at the forex regime of the Federal Government. Look at politicians too. Kidnappers now target big jeeps and fine cars where they think they can find politicians. You can use the crime rate, budget performance and poverty rate to assess the government. We have not seen this kind of suffering before. They said that the former administration was corrupt and people are now saying that they prefer that era. At least, people could eat then and pay school fees. Can N18, 000 minimum wage take any worker home? It cannot buy one normal gallon of palm oil. That is the gauge.
As a member of Appropriation Committee, how will you compare the 2016 and 2017 budgets?
There are so many things wrong with the 2017 budget. You have repetition of items that are unknown. If you buy computers last year, while will you budget for the same thing this year? I think the template used in preparing the budget is the problem. They have a very poor template. Every Ministry has just one template. Imagine somebody is talking about clearing grasses in a refugee camp when the same people are hungry. It is a wrong priority. We will try and perform some surgical operations. Most of the times, Nigerians blame us because we do not have power of the media. We are very careful. The only thing my people back home have seen is the constituency projects and people are still complaining. I have three local governments. The only thing they have seen from the Federal Government is the constituency projects. Even the constituency projects we talk about, we do not execute. If you want to spread projects across the country, use the National Assembly since every part of Nigeria is represented. Then talking about the budget, that of 2016 is better than this 2017 budget, at least until we remove all the viruses. At the end of the day, the people need to know that the real government they have is the National Assembly.
Will the National Assembly tinker with the figure, by either reducing or increasing it?
We are going to do that. The figure will likely remain the same, but the priorities will change. If you bought computers last year, this year, that should not happen. Instead, use the money to fund other areas.
The issue of regional spread of projects is a major challenge. Are we going to see an even distribution of projects this time?
Every part of the country is represented here in the National Assembly. If you want to build 10,000 health centres across Nigeria, the National Assembly should be the right channel through which that should be done. If you spread projects based on Federal Constituencies, every part of Nigeria will benefit. It is a better way to develop the country. A situation where certain individuals in the executive arm just sit down and allocate projects will not get us anywhere.
Since the National Assembly has the power of appropriation, will it correct the lopsidedness?
That will mean doing virement. It can be tampered with. If you do that, they will accuse you of padding again. If you take a project from a community now, they will start accusing you wrongly. At the moment, you see a situation where two roads leading to the same place are constructed, whereas, other people do not have at all. We have not been able to address so many issues in Nigeria. If you go to some airports in African countries, you will wonder what is wrong with us. Imagine the Federal Government closing down a small Abuja Airport. Imagine that the House of Representatives applied for only 400 vehicles since 2015, we have not received up to 100 yet. Look at our industries? They are not working and you want to start feeding school children. Is that our problem? Why will you feed people who are not hungry? Those funds should be deployed to other sectors.
Talking about Edo state governorship Election Tribunal, from what is on ground, are you confident that your party will win?
Except there is injustice, we will win. The evidence is too overwhelming. A situation where even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could defend anything shows something is wrong. If there is justice, victory is ours.