LG autonomy’ll trigger rapid development –Obun, APC chieftain

By Aniekan Aniekan

Hon. Cletus Obun, is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former member of Cross River State House of Assembly. He is a former chairman of defunct ACN and former vice-chairman, APC central senatorial district in Cross River. In this interview, he said election of lawmakers at the state level has become a mere laughing stock.

Nigeria has managed to attain 25 years of democratic rule, what’s your assessment of the journey so far?

Nigerians should be commended for enduring, tolerating and navigating the rough terrain. Democracy is characterised by political movements and maneuvers and we are able to stabilise thus far. We have been able to move on in spite of international and Pan African call for our home grown democracy. But there is still much work to do for improvement. And when we talk about stabilising democracy, we talk about turnover within the legislative arm of governance because we need a turnover that can encourage institutional memory, a great and giant pillar in the development of democracy. That is not to say that redundant, unproductive and renegade legislators should be returned for the sake of returning to the parliament but that the quality legislation can be identified in the state. For example, Lagos state elected a man for four terms consecutively. Cumulatively, giving him 16 years in parliament, such a person has become a parliamentary museum and you need to encourage that across board from the councilors, state houses of assembly to the national assembly.

If you remember, when Bill Clinton was president at 46, the Senator, who did the inquisition on the Lewinsky affair, was already in the Senate for 42 years, meaning that Clinton was four years old when the man won his first election and was still in the senate when Bill Clinton became president. That tells you that no President of America can come in and misconduct himself in a manner that will jeopardize national interest or threaten the security and integrity of the American nation. We can afford to do that here. We have seen a few of the Senators and house of assembly members but they are so few and far apart that they are not creating the necessary impact that will put us in that state.

At the state level, the election of state parliamentarians has become a near laughing stock, as most parliamentarians are mere products and proteges or scions of their masters. So, getting into parliament at the state level, especially in the local government level which is almost non-existent, is something that has to be looked into. The state assemblies have become a Parliament of fowls as enunciated by Jonathan Swift in the 27th Century, the satirist, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, in the famous essay titled A parliament of Fowls. You will agree that state parliaments have become mere appendages of government houses in the states. This is a danger to democracy. And unknown to many, the quality of the state assembly is the quality of the governor you are going to have because once there is no alternate view, you will be having a one way traffic in which the governors become an Emperor that does no wrong. So, you see no evil and say no evil. When that happens, it is the people, governance and democracy that suffer because the hallmark of democracy is plurality of opinion and views. We should begin to move away from the dividends of democracy in terms of cash distribution, second hand cars, no projects, paying of school fees and maternity bills and buying wrappers for women during festivities. That is not the function of a parliamentarian. The people must also have to shift their opinion of what they know about parliamentarians. The function of a parliamentarian is not in any way to engage in distribution of palliatives.

There has been a lot of issues recently on the relevance or otherwise of the local government system in the country. What’s your take on it?

I have been an advocate of liberating local governments. I was in the Cross River State House of Assembly and I headed a local government committee. So, I know that once the local governments are liberated, the rural urban migration syndrome will vanish because the hair dresser, the cyclist union, the vulcanizers, the mechanics will have no business running to Calabar or other metropolitan capitals. We grew up with a functional local government system. I remember that under the Babangida military administration in 1987, local governments were given direct funds for road construction. Imagine that the money that comes to states are shared straight to local governments, do you know what that means? Tell me what they are doing in the states that you are not doing in the local government? Is it a borehole, is it solar lights, national grids, hospitals, health centers? All of these amenities are located in the local government. So, all you need is a coordinator or supervisory agencies, which is like a minister. That was the intention in the constitution when they were given direct allocation from the federation account.

Defection has become a major political trend and people think it should be outlawed. Do you share this belief?

Well, we are an evolving democracy that is not home grown totally. This is a variant of getting a domestication of our own kind of democracy. If we are taking a model from the United States of America, I don’t know how many times a democrat has said he is no longer a democrat because he does not like the candidate of his party. The worst case is that he will stay among the democrats and vote against them; they do that even in parliament. It does not require moving to the other party. In Nigeria, if you do that and they say suspend him, expel him, and yet you go to the constitution and it says there is freedom of association. In every association, there are rules even among robbers, there are rules.

The David Mark led National Assembly attempted to bring the issue of defection to a total stop by making provision that when you leave the party that sponsored you in an election, you should leave your seat. But see how the Nigerian ingenuity is displayed by doing everything to circumvent it. All you need as a person, who wants to defect is to generate a little crisis in your party, carry a puppet and say he is an alternate chairman because there is a caveat that you can only defect if your party has division, the division is not even defined. Now, it is presumed that there is only one party each in Nigeria with the headquarters in Abuja and branches at states. So, if there is division for example in Oyo State, it does not allow the legislator to go until the headquarters of the party in Abuja has two, three national officers that is the only time division is properly defined. So that is where we are, for me therefore, the issue of defection has been settled by law, it’s a matter of principle and I believe we are going to get there.

The 10th National Assembly is one year on June 13. How can you assess the President Godswill Akpabio-led national assembly?

It excites me to discuss the 10th National Assembly under the leadership of Godswill Akpabio. With Akpabio, as the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly at all times, you can see the level of synergy going on. When Nigerians talk about rubber stamp and laid-back national assembly, they talk out of sheer arrogance because they don’t know the workings of parliament. The parliament is not an opponent to the executive, it is a complimentary part of governance just like the judiciary and that is the reason why the three arms of government are mutually inclusive and not exclusive.

Akpabio is emblematic of that symbiotic relationship between the three arms of government. That is not surprising because he is a lawyer and belongs also to the temple of justice from the bar. He has been a governor and minister. Therefore, he has been in the executive arm of government and today he leads the Nigerian 10th senate, that prepared him. In other words, he has the pedigree to do what he is doing. From the beginning, I predicted that he was going to be an uncommon Senate President not in the derogatory manner where people tend to look at it, as if it’s a joke. How else would you have explained a man who under 12 months has gone from the most hated to the most loved even those who love him tend to hate that they love him because they do so unconsciously.

He has an infectious character which all Nigerians know. Today, if you want to talk in South-South Nigeria, he remains the symbol of how development should be; uncommon projects are still in Akwa Ibom and remain unshaken for years after he left office as governor. He is still the bench mark, the biblical snake that when you look up, there is hope and indeed governance can be functional in Nigeria. Is it the stadium named after him not by himself but by his successor? Is it the library, banquet hall with an underground runway? Is it the three senatorial districts connected by dual carriage ways and airport? There is nothing you are going to talk about development in the next hundred years in the state that he is not a symbol. Every person coming into governance today in Akwa Ibom and the South-South structure will be looking at how Akpabio did it. Transmit that 10 years after into the national assembly and you find him on one year getting the national economy in line with the quick passage of laws which no body has faulted.

You can see Akpabio’s parliamentary diplomacy globally and putting Nigeria back on the map with dignity. We are very certain the president is pleased with the kind of steps he is taking. So, for me, this one year is a pointer of the kind of National Assembly we are going to have. The initial rumpus that came as a result of the election is normal and traditional in parliaments across the world.

You can see clearly that parliaments differ. Nigeria is a signatory to so many international parliamentary unions. There is the ECOWAS parliament, African Parliamentary Union, International Parliamentary Union. Having been elected into that International Parliamentary Union, you now find that Nigeria is better reputed to do a lot of things. This is demonstrated in the volume of traffic into the National Assembly from the Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, to the English, Scottish and the French to the Americans. Their envoys are trooping to the National Assembly because they have seen in Senator Godswill Akpabio the leader of the 10th Senate, a person they have confidence in and put the international relations back on track.

How do you look at the new national anthem which was signed into law recently. Some say it’s a British Anthem?

Why are you reading a British Bible to know God? Why are you using the English dictionary, is Michael West a Nigerian? Why are you wearing shirt instead of tying wrappers? We would have used the talking drum to sound there is danger or meetings because our information dissemination was a town crier system, the drums, the gong, each of them symbolise a different form of communication. Why are we troubling ourselves with phones, it means that we are still colonized. So, let’s do away with the phones until we start producing ourselves. When a bad man brings a good thing, do you reject it because of the person that brought it? take the message and leave the messenger. What message is embedded in those two items. First of all, the motive of changing the anthem was the concessional revolt of not having anything to do with colonialism, that was the only basis for it, it was not the wordings. When you sing it now, you can see the emotion it evokes, the pan Nigerian in you, “…though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.” All of Africa is about brotherhood in a generic form which also involved sisterhood.

This anthem came at a time, where our division is at an escalating proportion, almost uncontrollable during the last election, degenerating into ethnic and religious war. The tension has been there in the last 16 years. So, this anthem takes us back to the reality that we must go back to our history.

In the reintroduced anthem, we are in one brotherhood though tribes and tongues may differ because somewhere in our past, we belong to one humanity. So, when the white man comes to introduce his own witchcraft to us and it becomes so small because the forces of nature are more here, they have de-natured the environment so much that they can no longer communicate with the cosmos. African cosmology completely differs from the European cosmology. Therefore, our context in dealing with humanity is completely different. Humanity abhors the spilling of blood, you pay blood for blood, God did not spare you on that and that is why there is a death sentence and when some governors fear signing the death sentence of people who kill, maimed and murder, you are releasing them to commit more crimes so you become a murderer by callous irresponsibility and become implicated. You are not being a nice man, as a Christian, you are disobeying God, when you cooperate with evil you are disobeying God and it’s evil. Africa is too united to be divided. The new anthem for me is a reminder that this country will remain indivisible, indissoluble, firm, united and chart a course for the black man and the black race in all eternity.

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