Embarking on a new constitution will be revolutionary -Rep Onuigbo

RT. Hon. Sam Onuigbo, Member representing Ikwuano Umuahia North and South Federal Constituency of Abia State, delivering his keynote address at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, ( UNIZIK)..
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Embarking on a new constitution will be revolutionary -Rep Onuigbo

Hon. Samuel Onuigbo represents Ikwuano/ Umuahia North/ Umuahia South Federal Constituency of Abia State. He is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abia State Chapter. He is the sponsor of Climate Change Bill, which gave birth to the Act that is being implemented today by the Federal Government.

In this interaction with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA , Rep Onuigbo speaks on the clamour for State Police, creation of new Constitution, diversification of economy, erosion menace and control in the South-East and implementation of the Climate Change Act, 2021, among others.

Northern leaders recently joined the call for establishment of State Police. Would you want the National Assembly to amend the Constitution or the State Governors to sponsor fresh bills to achieve this?

It is a constitutional process. All other Federal Jurisdictions, decentralize the issue of policing; whether it is in the United State, Canada or other places try to decentralize, and that is the essence of having a federal system of government, so as to allow people within their areas to be able to organize themselves, manage their affairs, and at the same time fit into the federal government agenda. That significant level of autonomy that you enjoy either as your policing approach or the way you raise internally generated revenue either by way of taxes, charges on services rendered, all those things you do to help you take care of some of the revenue you are generating and pay your taxes to the federation. As we started the federal system of government and allowed the regions to operate by themselves, the Eastern Nigerian Government was able as far back as 1955, to pass a law to say we want to build a university. And where was the success coming? If it were today, if you want to build a university, you will come and tell the Federal Government. These changes happened because it accommodated the federal arrangements that allowed the regions to operate. But over time, due to the appearance of decree 34, of 1966 that removed the federal structure and introduced the unitary system of government, since that time this nation has not recovered.

If you are talking about state Police, if there is some kind of agreement by the state, by the regions, it is because the insecurity is threatening everyone. And why then do you have a state? The principal function of a State or government is stated in the Constitution, Section 14 (2), which is the primary purpose for government, is protection and security and welfare of citizens. So, I think everyone is coming to realization that is becoming a challenge for the federal government, the state government and the local government.

Looking at the level that insecurity has reached in Nigeria, do you think that if set up, the state police can still address the situation now and in future.

I am hopeful that it will be able to address it because if you are a state police, you will be equipped; you have all the firepower you will require; you are going to decentralize activities, to the level that you may even end up as to have local government police, such that individuals know those who live in their areas. Today, you can even do citizen arrest. So, I am hopeful that police will bring positive change, otherwise, why do you think that everyone is working towards that direction? It is because we have seen that the other one, that is the federal policing system which we are running now, is not as effective and efficient in crime fighting as it is expected that it should be. Already, we all know that the police is overstretched. So, if there is unanimity of opinion in that direction, making a law will not be a problem. And I believe that state police will definitely make a great difference in tackling insecurity in the country.

Some Nigerians are clamouring for entirely new Constitution to be drafted for the country. Do you think that this is feasible?

Constitution alteration is not a one way thing. Like it happened in South Africa, where they have to start from the grassroots to elect people to represent and go through the processes, then get it back for the people for approval before you can now adopt it for operation, it is not easy. We are already operating a Constitution and we are effecting changes on our Constitution and we have seen some changes occur in the amendments we have done on the Constitution. But what Nigerians are saying is that this alteration is not strong enough to revert to 1963 Constitution. You can imagine a situation where you have about 68 items right now in the exclusive list under the Federal Constitution, even in matters that were previously in the concurrent list but now lifted into the exclusive list. So, Nigerians are saying that the Constitution should be amended and some of theses items returned to the concurrent list so as to give space to the federating units for them to operate. That is what they are saying. And if we can do that even with this gradual approach, we have adopted in the few amendments we have done, at least Nigerians will be happy. It’s only in a situation where it doesn’t seem that we are making progress, that’s where we have issue.

Does it mean that a new Constitution is not feasible?

It is feasible but it is better for us to work with what we have. You know that going for a new constitution is going to be revolutionary in nature because there are states that are saying that they do not have enough local governments. There are also states that we know that have local governments more than other states but they are not sustainable if you are to allow them operate based on the resources they are to generate to fend for themselves. So, it is some of such states that are totally dependent on what comes from the Federal Allocations Committee. And they will likely kick against a new Constitution or even an amendment that will guarantee local government autonomy. Some how, they are having some kind of advantage arising from the multiplicity of local governments. For instance, Kano, Jigawa and Kano have more local governments than the entire South-east. So, for these people, any proposal for balancing will be resisted. So, we have to find a middle point to keep the nation strong, stable and prosperous while finding some kind of solution, within the system. Otherwise, you will be thinking of something that has the potential to lead to serious resistance or outright conflict.

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“You are from the South-East and the region has been having challenge of erosion. What roles are the Federal and State governments playing in tackling the menace?

“To buttress what you are saying, I can tell you that I have six active erosion sites in my village alone. On What the State governors are doing about the erosion sites, the governors collect money from the ecological fund; they are given money monthly from the Ecological Fund, from the Federation Accounts Allocations Committee. What they do with that, until when we go out, either on oversight, it is difficult for me to know because I am not in all the states of the federation.

“On what the Federal Government has done on issues of fighting erosion in the South-East, I can tell you that, this government has demonstrated that it is committed towards fighting erosion in these areas. In my federal constituency, Ifeko and Umuaiha, I think we have over 43 or 44 massive erosion sites today as we speak but I know that I have on my own paid for several engineering works, because I know it is a major problem even within my clan alone which is Ibera in Ikwuano. But I must also commend this government because in 2015 and 2019, when I was first elected, this government executed two massive erosion control works in my federal constituency. One was at a place called Amankwo Ezelike Amachala, in Umuaiha South. And that cost federal government hundreds of millions of naira to cover because the erosion was so strong, that it started chasing people within that area out of their ancestral homes, that they have to go to other areas to build their houses.

“The second one was the road between Okwe and Ikwuano Obiofia in Ikwuano Local Government. This one, you couldn’t look down because it was over 42 meters deep and very wide. It cost hundreds of millions of naira for the federal government to complete it. These projects were so successful. I facilitated them, and Mr president sent a Minister on each occasion to represent him during the commissioning. On what the governors are doing, it is difficult for me to say but I know that they get money from Ecological Fund whenever they are doing FACC meeting.
Fortunately, I belong to the House Committee on Ecological Fund. May be when we go on oversight we find out.

“There has been so much talk about diversifying the nation’s economy but it appears that successive government have not been walking the talk. What’s your take on this?

“Well, that is your view but I can tell you that some State governments have really walked the talk because some State governments have successfully raised their internally generated revenue from what it was a few years back to what it is now that they are reference point.

“For instance, in Anambra State, under Governor Peter Obi, they did a fantastic job of carrying out enumeration and they used that as a basis for collecting taxes and that is why Anambra is still able to pay salaries before the end of the month, even when they are not an oil producing State. How about the current Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he also did a similar thing in Lagos State successfully. He also raised the internal revenue base of the State, despite when it’s allocations were withheld because of litigations on creation of local government authorities.

“How about Kaduna State? Governor El-Rufai has also did similar thing. So, it is for us to come to terms and for the governors to know that you can not continue to go to federal government for allocations and that is why we need to look at how the federating units are operating, rejig them and release some roles from the exclusive list to the concurrent list so that they find ways of handling these things, generate resources and be motivated the more.

“If we set our mind, this nation has enormous potential to move from where we are to becoming a first country. We have diversified in Agriculture, and we should commend this government and the preceding government which started it and this government deepened it. If we can sustain the feeding of the population via production, if we compare other areas and see how we can invest and develop them, we can make meaningful progress in diversification, and our economy can be more productive and naira strengthened. Employments will be created for the teeming youth and criminality reduced.

“The Climate Change Act was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. What is the level of implementation of the law?

“In his speech at the United Nations General Meeting, President Buhari devoted about three to four paragraphs in addressing the challenges and threats posed by Climate Change. He also talked on the efforts of Nigerian Government in tackling climate change. Mr President in his inauguration in 2015, said he will fight climate change. I want to commend him for keeping faith with his promise. He has been consistent on issues of climate change, and his actions have also been consistent. He was in Paris for the COP 21, on Paris Agreement on climate change. He also went to so many other countries.

“He was in Beijing, China. He spoke about climate change. He was also in New Delhi, where he also talked about climate change. And at the UN General Assembly in 2016, where he signed the Paris Agreement on climate change and in Morocco, Maracas, for COP 22. So, he has been consistent because he appreciates the danger climate change posses to the nation and to the world and that is why he has made this laudable and lofty declarations at this international fora.

“Also, the little that we could do from the legislative arm of government, was to enact an Act on climate, and I am humbled that by the special grace of God, I was the one that sponsored the Nigeria’s climate change Act.

“You can see the problem that climate change is creating around the world, and you can also see that, as a nation, we are facing challenge of getting ready for where the world is moving towards; a transition towards net zero, the gradual fading away of fossil fuel as a source of energy, the resolve by the international community to ensure that we have a sustainable economy that is run on clean energy, and the President has remained consistent in tackling this challenge, the challenge is monumental. For us, as a fossil fuel dependent economy, we have every reason to work hard to use our massive gas deposits as a transition fuel in moving away from dirty fuel as source of energy so that we can join the rest of the world and not to be left behind with massive stranded assets. So, that is why it is important to begin to take steps.

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“On implementation of the Climate Change Act, yes, Mr President has taken a step forward through the appointment of a Director-General. He has also a fortnight ago, inaugurated the National Council on Climate Change. The President said that it marked the commencement of the implementation of the Climate Change Act 2021 and a new chapter in the renewed response to climate change in the country.

“It is committed towards fighting erosion in these areas. In my federal constituency, Ifeko and Umuaiha, I think we have over 43 or 44 massive erosion sites today as we speak but I know that I have on my own paid for several engineering works, because I know it is a major problem even within my clan alone which is Ibera in Ikwuano. But I must also commend this government because in 2015 and 2019, when I was first elected, this government executed two massive erosion control works in my federal constituency. One was at a place called Amankwo Ezelike Amachala, in Umuaiha South. And that cost federal government hundreds of millions of naira to cover because the erosion was so strong, that it started chasing people within that area out of their ancestral homes, that they have to go to other areas to build their houses.

“The second one was the road between Okwe and Ikwuano Obiofia in Ikwuano Local Government. This one, you couldn’t look down because it was over 42 meters deep and very wide. It cost hundreds of millions of naira for the federal government to complete it. These projects were so successful. I facilitated them, and Mr president sent a Minister on each occasion to represent him during the commissioning. On what the governors are doing, it is difficult for me to say but I know that they get money from Ecological Fund whenever they are doing FACC meeting.
Fortunately, I belong to the House Committee on Ecological Fund. May be when we go on oversight we find out.

There has been so much talk about diversifying the nation’s economy but it appears that successive government have not been walking the talk. What’s your take on this?

“Well, that is your view but I can tell you that some State governments have really walked the talk because some State governments have successfully raised their internally generated revenue from what it was a few years back to what it is now that they are reference point. For instance, in Anambra State, under Governor Peter Obi, they did a fantastic job of carrying out enumeration and they used that as a basis for collecting taxes and that is why Anambra is still able to pay salaries before the end of the month, even when they are not an oil producing State.

“How about the current Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he also did a similar thing in Lagos State successfully. He also raised the internal revenue base of the State, despite when it’s allocations were withheld because of litigations on creation of local government authorities.

“How about Kaduna State? Governor El-Rufai has also did similar thing. So, it is for us to come to terms and for the governors to know that you can not continue to go to federal government for allocations and that is why we need to look at how the federating units are operating, rejig them and release some roles from the exclusive list to the concurrent list so that they find ways of handling these things, generate resources and be motivated the more.

“If we set our mind, this nation has enarmous potential to move from where we are to becoming a first country. We have diversified in Agriculture, and we should commend this government and the preceding government which started it and this government deepened it. If we can sustain the feeding of the population via production, if we compare other areas and see how we can invest and develop them, we can make meaningful progress in diversification, and our economy can be more productive and naira strengthened. Employments will be created for the teeming youth and criminality reduced.

The Climate Change Act was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. What is the level of implementation of the law?

In his speech at the Uited Nations General Meeting, President Buhari devoted about three to four paragraphs in addressing the challenges and threats posed by Climate Change. He also talked on the efforts of Nigerian Government in tackling climate change.

“Mr President in his inauguration in 2015, said he will fight climate change. I want to commend him for keeping faith with his promise. He has been consistent on issues of climate change, and his actions have also been consistent. He was in Paris for the COP 21, on Paris Agreement on climate change. He also went to so many other countries.

“He was in Beijing, China. He spoke about climate change. He was also in New Delhi, where he also talked about climate change. And at the UN General Assembly in 2016, where he signed the Paris Agreement on climate change and in Morocco, Maracas, for COP 22. So, he has been consistent because he appreciates the danger climate change posses to the nation and to the world and that is why he has made this laudable and lofty declarations at this international fora.

“Also, the little that we could do from the legislative arm of government, was to enact an Act on climate, and I am humbled that by the special grace of God, I was the one that sponsored the Nigeria’s climate change Act.

“You can see the problem that climate change is creating around the world, and you can also see that, as a nation, we are facing challenge of getting ready for where the world is moving towards; a transition towards net zero, the gradual fading away of fossil by fuel as a source of energy, the resolve by the international community to ensure that we have a sustainable economy that is run on clean energy, and the President has remained consistent in tackling this challenge, the challenge is monumental.

“For us, as a fossil fuel dependent economy, we have every reason to work hard to use our massive gas deposits as a transition fuel in moving away from dirty fuel as source of energy so that we can join the rest of the world and not to be left behind with massive stranded assets. So, that is why it is important to begin to take steps.

By Famous Reporters

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