Chairman House Committee On Public Petitions Hon. Uzor Azubuike represents Aba North/Aba South Federal Constituency of Abia State. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI he shares insights into his committee’s work, new revenue formular agitation, Ikemba Nnewi’s successor and more.
Are you worried about the spate of insurgency in Nigeria?
Everybody should be. But it is not a matter of putting blames on anybody because terrorism is a global phenomenon; our problem is that we politicized what is not politics. In Abia State when there was high level of kidnapping, it was politics that complicated the matter when the matter was not political at all, but a wave of crime.
The moment we accepted it as wave of crime, it was tackled as such and the thing went down drastically. If you look at the trend, I don’t want to see it as a religious thing because the man is willing to die himself, in some cases, the man dies and the target escapes.
For me as a Christian I believe we should pray for God’s intervention; I believe that people should see security as a critical infrastructure which we all need because without security, any investment you make is a waste. When there is bomb explosion, the bomb does not discriminate.
But most victims targeted during crises are from the South/east…
The bomb does not discriminate.When THISDAY, UN building and police headquarters Abuja were attacked, there was no discrimination. I know that it is challenging the patience of our people but we continue to plead with our people to be patient.
But you know that there is an extent it will get that our people will become disloyal to us because all the northerners in the south are well protected; they walk freely in the east. We have also seen that all the northern people we have here are free, except if they are supporting these terrorists secretly.
We the Igbo leaders have been calling on the northern leadership to call their people to order instead of making excuses as some are trying to do. There is no apology for criminality. If a person is a thief, he is a thief, don’t say it is because of hunger.
If there is anybody that has suffered injustice more in this country, it is the Igbo nation. I read a score card by a national paper and you see that what one state in the south/south gets is more than what the five states in the south/eat get. A state like Abia will get fifty two billion while another smaller state will get two hundred and fifty billion at the same time and look at the proposed formula for sharing the subsidy money which I think is imaginary.
Bayelsa State which was two local governments expanded to be eight will get thirty-three billion, the same figure that the five state in the south /east will get. Rivers will get forty-four, Delta or Edo will get forty-two and cross River will get forty.
If the south/east is not happy with the formula, why are they not agitating for a revenue revision like the northern states government?
Many of us have been apostles for the revision of the sharing formula. You don’t need the governor to say it because the governors bear the brunt and they receive the worst insults from people who are either ignorant or mischievous.
Some people will tell you to go to AkwaIbom and see what they are doing, go to Lagos and see what they are doing.But look at the aircraft that crashed; there was no access road to get there and that is Lagos state that inherited all the infrastructure of the federal government that has rubbed off positively on their internally generated revenue.
But people will just sit down and say, go to Lagos or Rivers and see what their governors are doing. But when you go to the creek, the man there will tell you that, nothing is happening. So I don’t have to wait for a governor to tell me that there is need to review the revenue so that states can pay salaries and have enough to do capital projects.
It is just like I have been saying about local government; when people criticize the use of transition committees, for me in Abia, the use of transition committee is our saving grace because I was a onetime secretary of the local government.
There are times that one local government will receive two hundred thousand naira and the other will receive millions naira.By the time we had the council elections, Aba north was owing thirteen month salaries, but some local government had enough to pay and yet, the staff of the local government were recruited by the local government commission.
What we do in Abia state through a state legislation was that, at the end of month, personnel cost of each local government will be given to it, and whatever remains will be apply to capital development.
So you are not in support of the agitation for the scrapping go joint account between state and local recognition government
That is the only guarantee we have that every local government will receive his salary and it also allow the states to utilize the funds given to states for capital projects. Local government system is nursed by state legislature not executives.
These transition committees are statutory arrangement pursuant to Section 7 of the constitution. If you have any infraction on the constitution, it is done by the legislators and can only be solely declared by the courts.
Since you became the chairman of the committee on public petitions, how many petitions has the committee received?
We received on the average eight petitions each day because sometimes the House receives up to 17 petitions. There is no plenary day that petitions are not represented on the floor. So we have over five hundred petitions before us and also more than that number has been to the House but not to the committee.
I say so because many people don’t know that you cannot write to the committee straight; some just made their petitions and bring it to my office.The committee has only jurisdiction on all read petitions read on the floor of the House and referred to us by the whole House.
Some also write to Mr. Speaker and when it happens the speaker will minute it to me.If I look at the petition and see that it is important to the interest of Nigerians, I now source for a member that will present it on the floor before it is referred to us.
Does it mean that Nigerians cannot write directly to the committee, it must go through the House?
In the order paper of the House, we have public petition as a regular item.That means that any day we sit, petitions are read on the floor and then it is referred to us. As the clerk of the National Assembly presents the request to the House, it is accompanied by the order of the day and it is presented on the floor. When people write and present it to Mr. Speaker, two things happen.
The Speaker bundles the petitions to my office which gives me additional responsibility of now getting members to present it on the floor otherwise the proper procedure is for people who have petitions to pass them through the member representing them.
But as a federal legislator, I represent the whole Nigeria; I will now look for any member at all to represent it on behalf of the petitioner.
What would you say is that most outstanding petition your committee has received since you became chairman?
There is no particular petition you will say is most outstanding because a petition is all about grievances by Nigerians. We consider all petitions because that is our mandate.But in the process of considering, you will discover that, some of them may not have substance, some of them may not have merit; some of them may be mischievous, frivolous, we may not have jurisdiction over some.
For instance, if a matter is in court and the party knows that it is in court, none of those parties should now turn around and petition the National Assembly. This is because the court has a jurisdiction under Section 61 of the Constitution to entertain the matter.
They have to wait until the court has exhausted the matter. Some will now write to the House and also go to court, even as plaintiff. Some will write to us when the case is in court because they feel that the court is wasting too much time.
So when you look at all that and you find that, the matter is sub judice, we now advise the House that we cannot entertain the matter because it is subjudice. Coming to the substance of petition, one of the matters that took us to Okirika was the complaint by the Okrika community against the NNPC Port Harcourt refinery for emitting waste and environment degradation of their aquatic lives to an extent that when we visited here, the people don’t have water to drink again.
When they dig wells, it will yield oil.It was a very sad situation. We went there and talked to the refinery and everybody agreed that it was a sad situation. We also observed that, the people have been abandoned by their state governor because it won’t cost the state governor anything to take pipe borne water to that community.
The people use water from water tanker to supply them water, maybe two times in a week. So it gives us so much worry.But luckily, all parties were honest and presently they are working on a memorandum which is on the way.
We have to set up another sub-committee that will go and monitor the MOU and they have sought for time to enable them come up with a good MOU. We had this other matter from the Itshekiri community by the militants; they said that over two thousand of them surrendered their arms to the amnesty and they showed us video record where they did it within the period of validity. You need to see their armory; I don’t think the Nigerian police have that kind of quantum and quantity of arms they surrendered.
Is there any petition that was more challenging than the rest?
No one is more challengingthan the other on the face of it because they are all matters affecting Nigerians from different angles. So many things go wrong in this country and so many people have no avenue of redress; some cannot afford the cost of litigation.
Many matters cannot span the length of time for litigation and suddenly they discover that there is a window where their matter can be addressed; or present their petition, even in court.Some people feel so big that they cannot appear.
But they now realized that there is a forum where the clerk in the office can sit side by side with the minister to present his own case and each will present its own case. It is ironic that the people you expect not to pose problems do not and submit themselves to civil authority.
But sometime you will invite a minister and before he will come, you will have to read the riot act on the powers of the committee.We had to read it out to his permanent secretary before they will now appear.
Each time you call them, they will tell you, they are travelling with the president and the president has requested that if possible, we should not be inviting ministers on Wednesdays because that is the day they do the FEC (federal executive council) meeting.
That is why now, we sit on Wednesday and Thursday, so that if we have cause to invite any minister, it will be on Thursday; those ones are in extreme minority. Where we have problems so far is petitions that involve foreign embassy which are sovereignties.It is difficult to compel them to come.
You cannot even sue them to a Nigerian court. But we have been able to redress a number of them.