Honourable Nkole Uko is the House of Representatives member for Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency in the National Assembly. He spoke to Aro News on the side lines of the Nzuko Aro Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting held in Enugu on March 25, 2017.
Below are the excerpts:
Aro News: As a member of the National Assembly, please tell us what you are pursuing on behalf of the people of your Federal constituency.
Uko: Generally, you know I am a legislator, and our legislative schedule is basically to move motions, propose bills and perform oversight functions. But going forward, there is this infrastructural gap from the grassroots to the top approach, which is where the zonal intervention projects come in, what you may call constituency projects. For these projects, funds are allocated to the legislator. They are projects that a legislator is allowed within a certain threshold that is available to you, to input in the national budget for execution by the MDAs.
Sadly, a lot of people misconstrue it as funds given to the legislator, but that is not the truth. Over the years, I know the money may not be much that is available, but the judicious use of the funds such that it makes impact on the lives of the people of a particular constituency. The funds are for grassroots projects.
In 2016, for instance, I had a threshold of N150million worth of projects to nominate, for possible execution in my Federal constituency.
I have eight major clans that make up the Federal constituency. They are Abam, Arochukwu, Isu, Ihechiowa, Ututu, Mkporo, Ohafia and Abiriba. And based on my campaign assessments and promises, vis-à-vis the peculiarities, needs and challenges, I came up with a quick-win strategy, which will immediately improve the standard of living of the people of my constituency. Among them; like in Abam, I’m doing a surface water scheme. The contract has been awarded and it is being executed by the Anambra-Imo River Basin Authority, an agency of government. I have rehabilitated two health centres at Ozu Abam and the other at Idima. These facilities are helping the people access primary healthcare services. I have done a water borehole at Ndi Okereke Abam. At Atani Abam, an agrarian community bordering Akwa Ibom State, where the link bridge had collapsed three to four years earlier, I was able to capture that project in the 2016 budget. Today, that bridge has been fixed and trucks are plying that road and helping the farmers to evacuate their farm produce. Ditto at Idima Abam, where a bridge that links them to their cocoa plantation had been bad. But as we speak, that bridge has been repaired and the road open to traffic.
In Arochukwu, there is this water scheme done by the NDDC but it was overflowing and causing problem. My attention was drawn to it, and I did the reticulation through Anambra-Imo River Basin Authority. But after sometime, I got a complaint that the tap was not yielding water; so I’ve sent engineers to the site for trouble-shooting. I have assured the people that the problem will be rectified. At Ututu, I am building a five-classroom block in Obiene Secondary Technical School. Work has advanced to 80% on that project.
For Ihechiowa, I have done a borehole at Umuzomgbo to serve the environs. I have equally donated two drums of 75kva cable each to enable them extend electricity to newly developed areas – one in Umuzomgbo and the other at Ndi Okpo.
At Ohafia, I am doing a power enhancement programme. Ohafia, as you may well know, is made up of artisans and light industrial clusters. I discovered that the transformers they have hardly meet their electricity needs. So in the 2016 budget, I attracted transformers that will facilitate upgrade of power supply to match their needs. One is at the timber shed in Ebem Ohafia, the other is along the Hospital Road in Elu Ohafia. Another in Akanu Ohafia, another at Isiama Layout and another in Abam.
I built two one bedroom flats for widows. One is at Ndi Ememe Abam, the other in Ohafia. I did water borehole in Ihenta, Ebem Ohafia. At Ekeluogu, I upgraded the capacity of the water scheme and reticulated it to two neighbouring villages – Eziukwu and Mgbagha. I also have water project at the police barrack in Ohafia, and it’s serving the police and the host community very well. At Amankwu Ohafia, I am doing a block of five classrooms for pupils of that primary school. Also, in partnership with an NGO, I have done a school project which will soon be handed over to the people concerned. At Okagwue Ohafia, solar powered lightings; regional water scheme…
Aro News: Your score card sounds quite impressive. If you have done this much, it begs the question what your counterpart in the Senate has done in this part of the state, which also falls within his senatorial zone. Do you at all work in synergy with the senator representing your senatorial zone? By the way, both of you are from the same party.
Uko: Yes, both of us are of the same party and local government area. But I get worried sometimes when this question is posed to me. For example, Arochukwu-Ohafia Federal road, which starts and ends in my constituency. The contractor for that road mobilized to site, and after the 2015 general elections he disappeared. In fact, the contractor left the road in a worse condition than he met it. During that period, because it was part of our campaign promise, I don’t see any reason why two of us as lawmakers cannot do something on that road. That road is a constituency project, not a mandate project. Therefore, it is our responsibility to fund that project. So I quite recognize that as an issue because the government at the centre is not a PDP government. It was the PDP government that attracted the road rehabilitation as a constituency project.
I am conscious of the fact that the Federal government will not be keen on funding that road because we are flowing against the tide. I pushed for the road to be captured in the budget by latching on some other measures to make sure that the contractor returned to site. I did a memo to the President; I did a memo to the Minister (of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola); and as God would have it, by that push, because the government was giving consideration for some critical roads that are economically viable. Luckily Arochukwu-Ohafia Federal road has a historical background, a reminder of the slave trade route. So it is an important road, and that is why the government included it as one of the 11 critical roads that the Federal government undertook to rehabilitate. In fact, that road leads to seven other states. It is a gateway to the south-south states, and even to Ebonyi. That is why in November last year, it was approved for reconstruction, and the contractor to immediately go back to site.
The senator said he went to flag off the road. But you know any project has two points – flag off and commissioning. Flag-off of that road was done in 2013. Well, what is important to me is not about flag-off, but let the road be completed and put to use.
When the contractors came back to site, I provided accommodation in my house for the workers. I gave them all the support – logistics and all that – to ease their task. I even contracted the services of a caterer to provide food for them, because of the importance of that road to my constituents. That road is the major spine that connects all the villages and clans in the Federal constituency.
January passed, February, I was surprised that the senator you asked about, during a town hall meeting, said it publicly that the road was not in the budget. In fact, people started calling me to ask what was really happening. I asked them: is the contractor not on site? Is he not working? You can now see the level of cooperation we are getting. In all of this, however, what is important to me is that the work is progressing.
I equally notified the minister on the need to promptly mobilize the contractor, because the first mobilization is for 15 kilometers of the 32 kilometers stretch. I wrote to the Honourable Minister to pay a visit to that road, to be able to appreciate the pains and the losses that people of the Federal constituency have been bearing. Behold when Fashola visited early this year, he graciously approved the mobilization for the remaining 17 kilometers, so that it will be a seamless construction.
So I was let down when I got that news, which shows no sign of synergy at all. Having said that, for me, we are legislators, we do the same thing. What they do in the Red Chamber is what we do in the Green Chamber. Having had the privilege of working in the civil service for13 years, my experience in bureaucratic process is working for me.
Generally speaking, the road is on-going and I am pleased about it. Yes, the pace may be slow, but the quality of the job is high.
Aro News: In other words, are you saying that you are convinced that Arochukwu-Ohafia road will be completed for use?
Uko: It is no longer in the realm of speculation, it’s a reality. As we speak, they are asphalting the road, so we have no reason to doubt that it will be done. They are on the first five kilometers now, after which they will take another phase, which is the second segment of 10 kilometers. In fact, they are working every day. After the 10 kilometers, they will take the remaining 17 kilometers. Like I said, the minister was there early in the year, and he approved further mobilization of the contractor. So except the Federal government stops the project – and all hands should be on deck to make sure that it doesn’t happen because the project is our right – that road will be delivered.
Aro News: Legislatively speaking, do let us into your performance as a federal lawmaker. What are your experiences and challenges? Could it have been better?
Uko: I am doing well in my oversight functions. In motions as well, what concerns my Federal constituency, I’m doing well. For example, this Arochukwu-Ohafia road, I did a motion on that, and followed it up to make sure it produced a result. Mark you motions are advisories, meant to advice the Executive arm of the government. It can be taken, it can be rejected. So it’s better you raise those issues that make sense, follow it up and make sure it produces results, otherwise you’ll just be there making noise.
I am currently working on a bill to grant immunity to a certain category of judicial officers, to avoid victimization, arising from our past experiences where some judges were being hounded. I am also working on South-east development bill; I’m a co- sponsor of that bill. I also made sure that the satellite town development agency bill scaled second reading, because that is my area of specialization. Also, the motion on kerosene subsidy was moved by me on the floor, which precipitated diverse reactions. Generally speaking, I’m working on other important and sensitive matters that will make direct impact on both the people and the polity.
Aro News: What is really happening in the PDP? Literally speaking, there is fire in the house of the PDP. When will this fire be put out? As a committed party member, are you not worried that it might affect your electoral fortune in the coming election?
Uko: The opposition that the PDP has is the government, not the PDP itself, and that’s why I’m not worried. The government and the police chose which court orders to obey. For example, one court will favour Makarfi, the other will favour Sheriff. And the government is always eager to enforce the one that favours Sheriff. And most of these courts are courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Not only is it unfortunate, it is not palatable when government takes sides in party matters. If you ask me, I will say it is not healthy for our democracy. I am particularly bothered about our democracy, not even the PDP. Truth is, our democracy is under threat.
Imagine a situation where a judge had to annul an aspect of the PDP constitution to give his judgement. Then you see that there is the hand of Esau somewhere. There is nothing wrong with the PDP and there’s nothing wrong with the APC. The government of the day should remember that this is a democracy, and all hands must be on deck to preserve it. Today it is the PDP; tomorrow who knows?
If Goodluck Jonathan had handled the opposition party this way, there is no way the APC would have been in power today. What goes around comes around. The matter is in court, so let’s leave the court to handle it. I am not disturbed because I know that justice will definitely be done.
Aro News: Sometimes we sympathise with people like you – politicians. Everywhere you go, especially in this period of economic recession, how do you cope with the pressure from people who seek one favour or the other? Is there anything you lawmakers can do to get the country out of this quagmire?
Uko: In the National Assembly, there are 360 Rep members and 109 senators. Most of them are professionals in their respective fields. They carry out their duties through motions and bills. But unfortunately, most of these motions are not implemented by the Executive. That is where the problem lies. We churn out motions every day. This economic recovery plan we are talking about, we have deliberated severally on it. Sometimes the Executive thinks that the Legislative arm wants to take over its own responsibility. And the moment they see it that way, there is a problem. Until we see ourselves as partners in progress, we will continue to mark time.
You are absolutely right. Any day this my phone rings and I fail to pick it, the next thing is that the caller will just send me a text message concerning one problem or the other. The reason is that we are the closest to the grassroots. But the funding is not there to shoulder all these responsibilities. We understand the plight of the masses, and we continue to do our best to help. Those issues we can handle – school fees, medical bills et cetera – we will continue to support our constituents. But the larger issues we cannot immediately handle, we structure in such a manner that we will still come around to solve.
Getting out of economic recession is largely the responsibility of the Executive arm of the government. We can only advice through motions, which we have been doing on a daily basis.
Look at the issue of the exchange rate. You don’t fix exchange rate, no! Allow the forces of demand and supply to operate. See how, in one fell swoop, all the foreign financial institutions took their monies and left Nigeria because of one single wrong policy of the government. You cannot just brand everybody corrupt; it is wrong. There are people that are still clean and doing legitimate businesses in Nigeria.
Yes, you can be fighting corruption, but make sure that your industries and everything is working. It is wrong to fix exchange rate. Those are the anomalies we complained and shouted about, but the government didn’t listen. We shall not stop talking and drawing the attention of the government to wrong policies. That is our responsibility. I hope the Executive will learn to listen to the Legislature. Yes, this is a very difficult time in the life of our country Nigeria, but I believe that God will see us through. Though times do not last, only though people do.
Aro News: There is this perception the people have about the Legislature. You the Federal lawmakers are believed, rightly or wrongly, to be the problem of Nigeria. They say you pay yourselves humongous emoluments, which are not in tandem with the job you do; that your salaries and allowances are shrouded in secrecy, etc. What is your reaction to this?
Uko: I am happy you said it is a perception. Perceptions, most times are not real, like in this case. Those who think in this way are not fair to the Legislature. There is nothing secrete about what we earn, and I disagree with the people who think that way. Our wages are fixed by the salaries and wages commission.
Look at the hullaballoo over the constituency project. About N100billion is earmarked for all the Federal constituencies in the budget. At the end of the day, what will get to each village will not be up to N100, 000. Meanwhile, what is the feeding budget of the Villa? That is just one line item. The Legislature is there to check the excesses on the part of the executive. That is the beauty of democracy. So, people should desist from giving the Legislature a bad name.
Aro News: Is it also true that in the National Assembly, you are administered an oath of secrecy never to reveal your earnings?
Uko: I have disclosed to you here that I have N150million constituency fund to inject into the budget, so what secrecy are we talking about? Whatever every legislator does is in the budget, there is no way you can hide it. Go and do your investigation, you will be convinced about what I am telling you now. By the way the Freedom of Information Act allows you to find out.
Where is the oath you are talking about? Who administers the so-called oath? What I know is the Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance that is administered on every public officer before you assume office? Those things are not true. However, I encourage our people to hold their leaders accountable; it is very key. Periodically, call your Senator, call you Rep member and ask questions, make suggestions. So there is no secret in the National Assembly.
Whatever wrong perceptions people might have, I challenge you journalists to disabuse their minds. The Legislature should be encouraged, and not discouraged, because the Legislature is the bastion of democracy. Without the Legislature, what you’ll have is dictatorship, and that is what the Executive wants.
Aro News: Having done this much for the people of your Federal constituency, what more should they be expecting, going forward?
Uko: I am going to do more in the area of water because we are not there yet. I have about 153 communities in my Federal constituency. My target is to have presence in at least 80 of those communities. Right now I have strong presence in about 26 villages. This year, by God’s grace, I want to do more in providing portable water to the people, while still keeping an eye on the Arochukwu-Ohafia Federal road as well as Bende road.