Akwa Ibom: Zoning Reps’ seats’ll breed half-baked legislators —Hon Ekon

representativesThe member representing Abak/Etim/Ekpo/Ika Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State in the House of Representatives, Honourable Emmanuel Ekon, is the chairman, House Committee on Local Content. He speaks with MOSES ALAO on efforts to diversify the local content policy to other sectors of the economy, his ambition to return to the House and the politics of the state.

YOU have been a member of the House of Representatives since 2011 when you were first elected into the House, what have you been able to achieve in terms of representation and facilitation of projects to the constituency?

Well, I want to thank you for the opportunity given me so that I can also address these issues, because sometimes one could work and work and forget to address issues like this. I have been in the House of Representative since 2011 like you rightly said and I will say to God be the glory; the records of my achievements are there. They are very clear. Prior to my going to the House of Representative in 2011 to represent the people of Abak/Etim/Ekpo/Ika, it used to be as if there was no representation. The truth of the matter is, there was really nothing on ground for anybody to see that people actually went to the House of Representatives to represent the people of that federal constituency. But when I was given the mandate by the people in 2011, I went there with a clear vision to make a difference and those differences are remarkably there.

I started the first construction of an Information and Communication Technology centre. I will say I was one of the first pioneers in the state in terms of that kind of project. I started the construction of the ICT centre for the use of the youths of Abak/Etim/Ekpo/Ika. I made sure I built and equipped an ICT centre in each of the three LGs I represent. Those centres; we have used each of those centres to train nothing less than 2,000 people in ICT.

Prior to my coming in, we had a lot of youths who could not even use or even know how to open a computer; they did not have an email to do stuffs like online registration, online submission of resumes stuffs like that. But we got people to tutor them on the use of Microsoft office, how to even register a software, how to download software on computer, how to send emails and so on, which were challenges in the past. We got some of our youth to be compliant in those areas.

Apart from the building and equipment of ICT centres and the training of the youths in this regard, which is a huge step at a period that public examination and tertiary institution examinations, among other services that have to do with youths, are computer-based, we also made sure that some communities that didn’t have access to pipe borne and bore holes; we dug bore holes for them.

In the area of health care, I facilitated the provision of beds in a Primary Health Centre in one of the communities; while in the area of education, we made sure that students were provided with bursaries. Some of them were given scholarships. We built class room blocks; we renovated some and built some new ones. We also gave a couple of assistance in terms of supplies to primary, secondary and students in tertiary institutions. We built community halls; we did a lot of projects, including road projects.

I did a lot between 2011 and 2015; I had a total of 17 projects as a first timer in the House of Representatives. I had so many projects that I had to write to the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria that time, inviting him to come and commission my constituency projects and the president gladly sent the then Minister of Special Duties, who came and commissioned nine out of the 17 projects that we lined up for him to commission. For me and for my people, that was a record-breaking representation, because nobody in the history of that federal constituency had able to do that prior to my coming in and it’s also on record.

All the things I have said were in my first term in the House and because of the record and outstanding representation that I gave to the people between 2011 and 2015, the people also resoundingly gave me their mandate in 2015 to go and represent them for another term. It has never happened in the history of that federal constituency, but I went back to the House of Representatives by the special grace of God. And I was also given the post of the chairman, House Committee Local Content, which I have used to the best of my ability to do better the lot of not just the people of my federal constituency, but the entire country. I have assisted in training of youths, because when we came in, we had a lot of gaps within the IOC; that is International Oil Companies, where some skilled labour was still lacking. And the IOCs use this as an excuse to bring in a lot of expatriates to come in and do jobs that were supposed to be done by locals. When we came in, we felt it was necessary to also train people to fill the gaps within our oil and gas industry. So, I have in training of more than 500 people in the oil and gas sector; we have trained people in welding, scaffolding, painting, safety, project management, non-destructive testing and a whole lot of other small skilled professions. We trained these people so that they can fill these gaps that are being filled by expatriates. Apart from that, we also helped a lot of Nigerian companies that prior to now used to miss out on jobs that were outsourced and services that are provided by foreign companies, we also made sure that we stopped the multinationals from outsourcing those services that could have been done by Nigeria companies. So, a lot of Nigeria companies have also benefitted from our intervention, as we made sure that IOCs are giving Nigerian companies the right of first refusal whenever they have jobs coming out. So, a lot has been done since that I became the chairman of the House Committee on Local Content.

We are also by the special grace of God driving diversification of the local content law to other critical sectors of the economy.

 

Beyond oil and gas, there is the general perception that the legislation on local content should cover other areas, as expatriates have, in several instances, been taking over jobs that Nigerians can handle?

We are working on that, apart from the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved an executive order that has spread the law to other sectors. What we are actually working on is making sure that this executive policy becomes a law so that it will be binding on defaulters, like what we have in oil and gas. That is my pet project; that is what I’m driving right now, to make sure that the local content law is diversified into other critical sectors like power, construction, ICT, aviation and and other sectors that we feel that if that is done, Nigeria will be better off. From my own assessment as the chairman, House Committee Local Content in the last three years plus, I have come to see that the infractions in oil and gas is small compared to what we have in other sectors of the economy, especially what we have in the construction sector, where the Chinese are almost running us over. That is why we are working aggressively to make sure that this law is spread to other sectors, so that we can also checkmate things that will become big issues if nothing is done about it now.

 

The issue of zoning is raging in your constituency, with your intention to go to the House of Representative for a third term, don’t you think this will unsettle the political calculation in the constituency?

First of all, I don’t know which section of the Nigerian Constitution gives room to the zoning of legislative representation; I don’t know that section of the constitution that does that. And like I keep telling people if the constitution of Nigeria was copied from other climes, from other countries of the world that have also tested democracy, I think we should as well copy everything that makes the democracy tick. We cannot just pick the one that we feel is okay for us and leave those ones that we think are not okay. The only symbol of democracy is the legislative arm of government and if the legislative arm of government is not strengthened, then we will have half-baked legislators that won’t know their left from their right. I will never support anything call zoning when it comes to legislative business. Legislative business shouldn’t be a business of where you zone between local governments just to satisfy some interests. For me, it should be based on competence. And the thing with the legislature is that the long you stay, the better you become. So, what my people have been doing since 1999 till 2011 was a kind of encouraging weak representation. With that arrangement, there is no way any House of Representatives member from the constituency would have, one day, become either a principal officer or a presiding officer in the House. It would not have happened with that arrangement; so it is not an arrangement that anybody should even think of. I am strongly opposed to that arrangement.

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Akwa Ibom State has always been a stronghold of the PDP until recently when former Governor Godswill Akpabio, you and other chieftains defected to the APC. Are you confident that your party can win elections in the state, as it is said that PDP is a religion in Akwa Ibom?

I am more than confident that APC will take over the state. APC will come out very strong and it will, by the special grace of God, win the governorship of Akwa Ibom State. You see, the present leadership of the state has offended God and there is no way God can forgive them for what they have done against the people of the state. Yes, the PDP used to be the party of Akwa Ibom people. It is common to hear that PDP is a religion in Akwa Ibom but now, I try to correct them that PDP used to be a religion in Akwa Ibom. Some people made the PDP a religion in the state prior to 2015 and Godswill Akpabio was one of those people. But with what is happening today, I don’t think PDP can continue to be a religion in the state.

 

But the impression being created is that most of you left for personal reasons…

Anyone telling you that is not giving you the right story. Let us look at it this way; Akwa Ibom State is a peculiar state in the South-South. We have a lot of issues in the past; from the derivation to our status as an oil-producing state, such that we need to connect to the centre. Akwa Ibom cannot stay without connecting with the centre and this is what the former governor is trying to let the people of the state know. We are not doing for selfish reason; we defected to the APC for national and state interest.

More so, today, Akwa Ibom is one of the highest-earning states in terms of federal allocation; but if you look at what has accrued to the state in the last three years and what is on ground from this present government, you will conclude that the Udom Emmanuel government is not even qualified to talk about reelection not to talk about being elected to continue in office for another four years.

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