Thousands of people thronged the Ekureku Market Square in Abi local government area of Cross River State on Friday when their representative in the House of Representatives, Dr Alex Egbona, distributed some empowerment items. Though the community members were excited, Egbona, in this interview with HENRY TYOHEMBA says he felt unfulfilled because the COVID -19 pandemic had prevented him from achieving what he planned for his them in 2020.
How has the Yuletide period been for you?
It is always an opportunity to be around my people in a more relaxed mood. Christmas and New Year periods are such moments that you walk away from busy schedules and all the hassles of Abuja to be at home with the people. I am a grassroots person so I always look forward to every opportunity to be with my people. I missed the fellowship and everything I used to enjoy with my village people in 2019 because of the lingering election matters that I was facing at that time.
You remember that in 2019, I had a re-run to prepare for and that really occupied my attention during that year’s Christmas. But thank God, it ended well and so this year, I gave full attention to my people. I assembled the people from all the wards that make up the constituency and empowered them and they were very happy, even though I was not really happy.
Why were you not happy, what happened?
I was not really happy because COVID-19 really messed up things for me. I had great plans for the Abi/Yakurr people but the pandemic scuttled all the lofty plans. I could not visit the constituency as often as I would have loved to. What gives me joy is when I see my people rejoice, when I touch lives, when I put smiles on the faces of people. These are the things that give me satisfaction. So, on December 31, I did my first major empowerment and thousands of my constituents went home with motorcycles, tricycles, sewing machines, grinding machines, exercise books, school bags, wrappers, rice, et cetera. But like I said, I wish COVID- 19 did not distract me.
But now, there is a second wave of COVID- 19, how do you feel about that?
Yes, indeed, but it will come to pass. I am sensitising my people on the gains of obeying all the protocols as recommended by the health authorities. I agree that the second wave is reported to be very dangerous, but with the level of sensitisation currently going on even in the villages, I believe we will be safe and unhurt. I can only pray that we won’t have to experience those days of lockdown again because it really affected our people in the villages. My community is a major rice producer but COVID-19 slowed down our farmers. They could hardly go to their farms and all that. Even the yields, it was difficult to get buyers, things were just at a standstill.
You once talked about getting the federal government to assist rice farmers to be able to process their rice and sell them as Ekureku rice, how far about that project?
That too was slowed down by the pandemic because the relevant government agencies were not accessible for follow-ups on the discussions I initiated before the pandemic. I had said this in many places, that the rice that people call Abakiliki rice is actually Ekureku rice, it is grown in Ekureku and the seedlings would then be sold to millers from Abakiliki because they have the mills our people do not have. So, when they come and buy from us, they take them to Abakiliki and mill, then bag and people would say Abakiliki rice.
That is one issue that has given me some serious concern. I am escalating this concern to other federal government agencies that will listen to me and the cry of my people. It is quite a huge project but it is achievable. Ekureku can feed Nigeria, believe me. The rice we grow in Ekureku can feed this country. All we need is to have that environment for a massive processing mill for our farmers and this nation would be glad. While other parts of the Niger Delta are sustaining us through oil, Ekureku people can sustain this country through massive rice production.
What does 2021 hold for you and the people you represent?
When there is life, there is hope. That is why I said may this pandemic not remain with us and do what it did in 2020. I am going into the new year with so much hope that what I could not achieve last year would be achieved this year. I intend to have more an interface with various government agencies to be able to address some of the needs of my people, including this issue of a rice processing mill. NEMA has been very supportive and I believe they will continue to be supportive this year.
They were in my village to distribute building materials and food items to all the victims of a recent windstorm in my area and I thank them sincerely. Some parts of my constituency are very seriously prone to these natural disasters and NEMA has been helping out. I’m so sure that this new year will be a lot better for the people of Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency.