Senator Theodore Orji is the immediate-past governor of Abia State. He currently represents Abia Central in the Nigerian Senate, where he is the Vice Chairman, Committee on Agriculture. In this interview with BEN DURU, he spoke on the devolution of powers bill and the wrangling in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over party offices, among other issues. Excerpts:
Sir, before the Senate went on recess, you said the bill on the devolution of powers would be revisited. What is the position now since your resumption, what is the feeling of the Senate on the issue?
Well, the issue is still as I told you before we went on recess. The bill on devolution of powers, restructuring and additional state was not removed sine die. So, it can be revisited and will be revisited. You must know that as statesmen, members of the Senate are very conscious of their position and the onerous responsibilities on their shoulders, which is why we are always very careful in the way we speak and the things we say. We know that whatever we say is always taken very seriously because those who elected us are aware of the powers put on our shoulders. So, we have no intention of letting the people down or doing anything that would run contrary to the constitution, because, we are the soul of that constitution, which is why whenever there is a coup, the constitution is set aside and the National Assembly dismissed.
With this always at the back of our minds, we say things and do those things that will further promote our democracy and entrench patriotism in the people. This is why we maintain that if the people of Nigeria want devolution of power, restructuring, creation of states and other needs that require the amending of the constitution, we will not be the ones that will tamper with those sacred demands of the people, because whatever we do is expected to be for the good of the people. So, I am assuring Nigerians that those bills are still very much with us and we will soon begin to look at them again.
Some of the agitations that we have witnessed in this country in recent times are issues that can be better treated through the instrumentality of legislation and some of them fall under the purview of these bills, which is why we are not treating it with kid gloves. If we can get the legislations right, then I call assure you that some of the agitations will become a thing of the past. But, these are some of the issues in life that you cannot treat in a hurry. It will be a step-by-step process where the views of all the stakeholders are brought together and then given the power of law. So, I believe that we are on top of the matter, and soon, it will be a thing of the past.
So, how soon can Nigerians begin to expect the bill to resurface at the Senate?
I cannot give you a specific time frame when this will be re-tabled. But, all I want to assure you is that every senator is conscious of the desire of Nigerians as well as their constituents. You know that agitations can never be halted as far as humans are involved. There can never be a time when you say you have completed sorted out all the issues that are bedeviling mankind. We may take some of these issues in the life of the present Senate and some sections of the people will feel settled. But, after a while, you find that the same people have gone past that primary issue and are now demanding for new ones. So, those present at the time will also treat them.
What I can assure Nigerians is that the present Senate is not sleeping over those things that are agitating their minds. It is our duty to look into them holistically and find a solution to them and that is what we have engaged to do. The Senate Committee saddled with this responsibility has not yet been dissolved, to tell you the how important it is to all of us there. We have the confidence that pretty soon, the issues will be revisited and Nigerians will have what they have desired.
I am an immediate-past governor of a state and I know what my state wants and what my constituents are demanding. I cannot go to sleep because if I do, anytime I return home, my constituents will come to ask me about what they asked me to do for them. And you know that I hold constituency briefings regularly. So, I understand there can be a backlash. So, I will do everything to ensure that what my people that I’m serving are asking for, is done, if not completely, at least, let it be seen that something is been done.
Recently, the Federal Government said Nigeria was out of recession. Do you share this view?
Well, what I will say is that the government of Nigeria is doing everything possible to ensure that the suffering of the people becomes a thing of the past. The government is not only the Executive. It encompasses the Legislative arm and the Judiciary. If the Executive fails, in part, we have all failed, which is why the other two arms must see the lawmakers are partners in progress. The three owe it a duty to the citizens of this great country to make life better. So, I share in the joy that finally Nigeria is getting somewhere and soon, the masses of our nation will begin to heave sighs of joy. But, having said that, I want to say that it is not yet time to begin to beat the drums and dance in the market square. It is not yet time to rest on our oars. All hands must be on the deck until a total pull out of the recession comes to pass. Nigerians have endured a lot during this period and I am praying to God that we never witness such a time as this again. I am a Nigerian and I live in Nigeria. I am a home brought up. So, I know what the people are passing through and I appreciate them for their understanding. I believe the President of Nigeria is doing his best. We at the National Assembly are doing our best and the Judiciary is also doing their best.
Are you satisfied with the security situation in the country, especially against the background of killings here and there?
No one can be satisfied with a situation where people are being killed every now and then. But, the truth is that the security agencies are doing their best. The last time I heard that the Inspector General of Police said the Police Force is understaffed and would require an additional 10,000 policemen yearly in order to properly police Nigeria. Nigeria is a vast country with huge population, but with fewer personnel to checkmate crime. Even if you combine the Army, Navy, Air Force and other agencies, I don’t think they can muster enough people to tackle insecurity in Nigeria. This is an area that the executive must look into and grant the necessary powers to act.
Government must allow the police to recruit more personnel and train them in line with international best practices and send out. Let me add also that the recruitment must be in line with the Federal Character principle and not lopsided where all the segments of this country are properly represented, you will see less acrimony and sabotage. Again, the issue of state police should be fast-tracked so that community policing will come on stream. With this, we can reduce unemployment of our graduates. We must make policing very attractive so as to attract the very best. In so doing, we can be rest assured that our nation will be safe.
Government, at federal and state level is at present doing its best, fighting on different fronts like you have the Boko Haram in the North and other crimes like kidnappings in other areas. You know that I am an expert in security issues because security was one of the greatest challenges that I faced as the governor of Abia State. But, glory to God that we were able to overcome them. So, when I speak on security, I speak with authority. Once government gets it right with the number of personnel and the right attitude, then it will now be the duty of the people to contribute their own quota.
Note that earlier, I said Federal Character must be employed in engaging the police personnel. The reason is that where the people feel that they have been sidelined, they will seldom be interested in exchanging information that could lead to nipping a crime in the bud. But, where their confidence level is high, you will see a different thing. When we were faced with the venom of kidnapping, we made sure that the people repose confidence in our ability to handle the situation properly without endangering them.
Having done that, we moved into action and within a short time, the kidnappers had to relocate and some of them were brought to the justice. We can be on top of the security situation where the confidence level of the people on the government is high. So, I believe that we are on the right path and if we can muster a little more courage, we can reduce its occurrence, because, as I said earlier, crime and agitations are two of a kind. They can never be eradicated, but can be reduced to a barest minimum level.
Your party, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems not to come out of the woods yet, against the backdrop of the simmering brouhaha on where the National Chairman will emerge. Secondly it seems the party is losing grip on things in the South East?
I disagree with you on the assertion that the party is still in the woods. The PDP has never been in the woods. If anything, it is the other political parties that do not know where they are standing with things right now. The PDP remains focused on democratically taking over power in 2019. Whatever you are seeing now is the beauty of democracy. You cannot stop people from aspiring, but once the people have spoken, it becomes sacrosanct. You will agree that throughout when PDP was in power, things had been moving towards the best and that is where we believe Nigeria belongs to and we are determined to do that. We are also mindful of the fact that we don’t want to get Nigeria there by hook and crook, but via all legitimate channels, totally aligning with the wishes of the people. So, you will discover that at the end of the day, once the convention holds and the owners of the party speaks, there will be no going back and everyone will rally round the party. I believe whatever is on now will soon be resolved because we won’t allow any unresolved issue to remain.
Back to your assertion concerning the South East, I fail to see where your analogy is coming from. The South East remains a very big stronghold of the PDP and we’re prepared to make it remain so. Our scorecard in the South East is tremendous and anybody who wants to dislodge us must first of all show what he or she has done for the people and then compare it with what we have achieved. So, we’re not losing sleep in the South. In fact, we’re moving to ensure that the states we lost are regained in 2019 because of our achievements. Don’t forget that it was internal wrangling that gave the states to other parties and those wrangling has become a thing of the party.