Ben Nwankwo represents Orumba North and South Federal Constituency in the National Assembly; he was elected three times as a lawmaker on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but recently defected to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He speaks on the reason for his defection, the need for a state of emergency in the South-east, herdsmen crises and other issues.
Will you re-contest in 2019?
My plan for 2019 will be predicated upon my performance on the present mandate given to me by our people. If I have served well, that will chart a new course for me, but if I have not served well, I will not likely be asking for any vote.
I believe that I have given my people good representation; been accountable to them at every point in time, gave them access any time they needed me and have carried out very strong advocacy on issues that concern their economic, social and political well being. So, on that premise, I don’t think my people will not give me a pass mark and if I get that pass mark from them, it will mean advancing my course further.
As a three-time member of the House of Representatives, what have you done to warrant a pass mark from the voters?
I am called the messenger of Orumba because I have been able to interpret my people’s message to the Federal Government and then bring government’s responses back to them. I have also been able to bring about so many life changing constituency projects.
Almost every community in my constituency can boast of one or two projects which has expanded economic opportunities for our youths. I have also been able to get the graduate among them employment at the federal level on permanent basis; in the next 10 years I would be very proud to have directors in the Nigerian public service that I engaged while I was a rep member. I recall that there was a time that Ekwulobia to Ibinta road was the worst federal road in the country; at some point it was completely dysfunctional and our people were being transported with tippers and Lorries. It got to the height of degradation that I had to merge forces with Orumba Forum in Lagos to compel and persuade the federal government during Obasanjo’s administration to complete that road in record time of two years (2005-2007). It was a billion naira contract and today our people are enjoying it. I am proud to say that I am happy to have been part of that history.
How have you been able to tackle the issue of erosion your state?
Erosion is on the verge of destroying almost all the communities in Orumba North and South Federal Constituency. Apart from the level of poverty in my area, being that Orumba is essentially an agrarian community and people with distinctive psychological identity, they are not aggressive in terms of their demands. They are very humble, accommodating and hospitable but erosion has become the biggest single threat to their lives and I have carried the advocacy to the highest level by leading a delegation to the Vice President to inform him about the ‘war’ going on in Orumba between the people and erosion and that erosion regrettably seems to be winning the war.
Nigeria is threatened by Boko Haram in the North-east for which an emergency has been declared but Agulu, Nanka and Oko erosion sites in the South East are deepening and widening on a daily basis. More than hundred houses have caved in, many lives have been lost, there are internally displaced people but for the hospitality of our people they would have been almost like refugees, they are squatting in homes and houses of friends, relatives and sometimes churches. I have made a call to the Vice President that we would require international interventions in deploying the right expertise in mapping the risk as well as proffering solutions that are needed for the outright reclamation of our land. This will serve as a lasting solution which is beyond the scope of the state and is also a big challenge to the ecological fund of the Federation.
International assistance will complement the efforts of the Federal Government towards solving that; otherwise what we have on our hand is a very big threat that is capable of doing a lot of economic damage. The Vice President has challenged us to come up with a substantive case to do the necessary interventions both nationally and internationally. I am also using this medium to call on President Buhari to declare that site an ecological emergency to enable him give it the necessary attention and put up the machinery to combat it.
You have been in the PDP for a long time, but less than 13 months to the 2019 general election, you chose to defect. Why now?
I had defected to APGA since October last year, and I had written the Speaker notifying him of my defection about the same time that I earlier mentioned, but the speaker just announced my defection a couple of weeks ago. I believe in sustainability and continuity and I don’t just jump out of a system when it gets bad, but a system such as PDP is suffering from self inflicted injuries and is incapable of being cured. So, I felt I could not achieve anything more than I have already achieved and I don’t have to be rotating in circles; no matter the number of hours I stay doing that I won’t be making progress. I preferred going to a party that is ideologically driven, people oriented and development focused; a party that is pragmatic and provides a platform for me to discuss the affairs of my people, this is what informed my defection. As you can see my defection is driven by the needs of my people rather than my own personal interest.
You predicted that Nigerian economy would face a major setback if Buhari wins the 2015 presidential election, what is your prediction if he wins the 2019 election?
In political science we say that any people deserve the government that they have elected; we should be able to take a stock and note whether or not we have recorded desired achievements. If we have made the right progress, then we can continue with the progress, otherwise we should make better use of our ballot papers. I think also that repositioning the country to be stronger and be refocused towards its national objectives is important. To me, Nigeria appears as a country that have lost sense of her national objectives, we seem to be having no mission and oblivious of the fact that most countries in West Africa if not Africa are dependent on us. We have refused to be remorseful of the fact that we have failed these countries that look at us as their super power.
2019 is an opportunity for us to make another choice between building a stronger Nigeria and making Nigeria weaker, but national integration is uppermost. The country has been divided along several lines and it is very important to build back confidence and consensus so that an integrated country with consolidated political will energise the people towards working ahead for a greater country.
What is your assessment of the security situation in the country and the government’s response to it?
The reasons citizens surrender arms is for government in turn to protect the citizens, hence any government that is not doing this is failing in its constitutional duties. What is happening today is that it appears that the life of Nigerians do not matter to the government. Why should your fellow countryman be your worst enemy to the extent that you use daggers to cut the person’s intestines and the gory site is all over the place? This happened to the extent that the National Assembly had to shut down its business for three days to protest and passed a vote of no confidence on all the service chiefs and even invited President Buhari to come and answer questions on his inability to protect the lives of citizens; that to me is a very respectful way of telling him that he needs to wake up and do his work better.
There seems to have been too much silence over these killings which have in turn been sending the wrong signals, President Buhari should be able to brace up and convince Nigerians that he has what it takes to guarantee the safety of lives and properties of the people in this country. We have even gotten to the stage that we are no longer asking for social amenities; everybody is now bothered about security to avoid being slaughtered by herdsmen or Boko Haram. Nigerians are tired and I hope it doesn’t get to that stage where people will begin to take laws into their hands, this is so because I have this believe that if you don’t engage the youths constructively, they will engage themselves destructively and if we get to that level I tell you we won’t be able to curtail the consequences.
When you are driving on the road you meet cows passing and you would have to wait until they swagger out rather reluctantly out of the road; you find infant herdsmen who ought to be in school commandeering cows from forest to forest; the only way of feeding cows is by open grazing and damaging farmlands. I like to remind every Nigerian that this is 21st century, because it seems we are oblivious of this fact. This is not the only country where cattle are being reared in the world, but other nations have gone into more advanced rearing such as ranching. As a matter of fact, all the years I stayed in Europe I didn’t see any life cow, yet whenever I visit the grocery stores and meat shop, cow meat was never in short supply; it doesn’t mean that they are reared up in the air, but not on the main roads or on people’s farms. You don’t confer more rights on cows than on human beings, so for me, we should have ranches all over the country which should as well not just be limited to cows but to other animals as well.
What are your final words to Nigerians as the country prepares for another round of elections?
Nigerians should be able to go through the process of national reconciliation because a lot of misgivings and hatred have been circulated around issues that have divided us over the years to the extent that there are only few persons that now have shared value about the Nigerian project. There is need to reconnect Nigerians back with the country called Nigeria and I think that national reconciliation and integration is the answer.