Chief U.S.A Igwesi was a former member of the House of Representatives. He spoke on the re-election of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State among others in this interview.
As a former colleague to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi at the House of Representatives, what does his second term victory mean to the people of Enugu State and you in particular?
It represents reward for humility, character, simplicity, courage, candour and hard work. I am not surprised he could win without any scratch from the opposition because of what he was able to put on the ground in the area of peace, unity and notable infrastructure development. These feats and numerous others were responsible for retaining Enugu State as a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state, because everybody was carried along and nobody was excluded. Enugu State speaks the language of PDP without exception.
What do you think should be his priority in this second term?
He should not drop any of the virtues and attributes that gave him re-sounding victory this second term. He should uphold them, treasure them, and try to improve on them for better result; that will stand as platform for his future political carrier, which has just begun. I was with him in the House of Representatives, but little did I know that he was full of inspiration and a better manager of men and resources. He is slow to anger and quick to convince any critic against his government. I want him to as usual extend hand of fellowship to his major contenders, Senator Ayogu Eze and others, and immediately work out programmes for assimilation and reconciliation. He is a specialist in this and will do what he knows best. He should involve everybody who is ready to be on board. I equally expect him to search on grey areas and tap on them.
Do you subscribe to the calls from several quarters that constituency project be scrapped?
Constituency project is conceived and earmarked by a legislator or committee or group within the constituency acting in collaboration with a legislator to execute. Constituency project even though is a global context was first initiated in Nigeria in 1999 during the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Then the system was to promote legislators at different levels to identify project site and nominate a project that will be captured in the budget and the execution will be done by the executives through the MDAs. The legislator in question was not involved in the nomination of the contractor, but the MDAs. That was indeed the practice when we were in National Assembly but right now, there is a shift in the practice, which has made it a conduit for corrupt enrichments. I am therefore of the view that instead of scrapping it, the involvement of legislators in project execution should be restricted and legislators involved should only be allowed to nominate projects and their sites, while the executive should nominate contractors to ensure checks and balances. But unfortunately, the MDAs are not also saints, since they usually collaborate with the members of the parliament to by-pass the execution of the projects at the detriment of both the constituency and the legislators as well. I am happy that ICPC is evolving a tracking method which will prevent and eradicate the diversion of public funds by any public officer in the name of constituency project.
What is your assessment of the just concluded 2019 elections?
There is little improvement from what it used to be. We have not got there yet, but there are indications that if certain things are put in place, we can sight our Eldorado. What I discovered during the 2019 elections was the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make maximum use of the smart card readers as provided for by the electoral law. In some places, the card readers were collapsed intentionally and made to be malfunction in order to pave way for manual and manipulated voting. So, I suggest that our electoral system should be reformed and electronic voting system be introduced to reduce incidences of electoral offences and falsification of results. The issue of inconclusive elections should be averted and the electoral body should insist on getting it right at the first ballot. The higher we go, the cooler it becomes so with continued electoral reforms, we will definitely, with time, square up with some older democracies in the area of electoral stability and standard.
What do you make of the recent financial directives by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) banning governors from tampering with Local Government Allocations?
This is a decisive step towards ensuring financial autonomy for the troubled 774 local governments in the country. This order took effect from June 1, 2019. The international financial watchdogs have threatened to sanction the country as a result of abuse of local government funds. The joint account can only be for the receipt of the allocation and not for disbursement. The state joint local government account should be a collection account and is expected to remit same to the local governments direct and un-tempered with and the essence is for the local governments to participate in the economic planning and development for their areas, through the economic planning board established by the state Houses of Assembly. But unfortunately, no state observes this constitutional provision. This can explain why hooligans and unfit persons have taken over our local governments. I am equally happy that the National Assembly is also insisting that local governments do not only have financial autonomy but also political and legislative autonomy.
What advice do you have for the 9th National Assembly, especially on how to recruit their leaders?
National Assembly has come of age, and as such should not compromise their independence no matter the pressure for better legislative input and output. The 9th National Assembly should resist bluntly any plan by outsiders to choose their leaders for them. The independence of the legislature was guaranteed by the doctrine of separation of powers, so it will be wrong and unfortunate if the executive now dictate who becomes what in the National Assembly. This will amount to playing the role of a junior partner in our democratic journey and some of us who are products of that constituency will not allow such calamity to befall the National Assembly. Once you have been elected as a member of the legislature, you have grown beyond party platform but now an elected legislator to serve the entire country not only your party after being administered oath of office and allegiance. The elected members should be able to choose their leaders independent of any external forces but that does not mean that the party in majority or minority cannot guide their members on how to go about leadership recruitment.