Wednesday, September 30

Buhari should appoint youths into his govt –Rep

Hon. Raphael Nnanna Igbokwe represents Ahiazu/Ezinihitte Mbaise constituency of Imo State in the 8th House of Representatives.
He is the African board member of Young Parliamentarians’ Forum, an organ of Inter-Parliamentary Union.
In this interview, the lawmaker tells Abuja Metro how his membership of the international body would benefit Nigeria and other African countries. He also spoke on the need for President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint young people into his government
It’s over 100 days since the 8th House of Representatives was inaugurated. What has been the high point?
It has been exciting and challenging. At the onset, we had challenges in setting up the leadership of the House. Finally, we were able to place the interest of the country far and above personal interest. We were able to resolve that. Over the period, a number of motions have been passed. We have the crude sale by the NNPC and the need to probe the budget performance, especially the capital budget. We have also tried to review government policies on foreign exchange. We have also attempted to reopen some medical centres. I moved that motion on the need to reopen the Federal Medical Centre in Owerri. As a result of that, the historical is open. A number of bills have been introduced. Most of them are in second reading. It takes an average of three months. You cannot rate the parliament until its committees are formed. The parliament works through committees. In no distant time, that will be done. Once that is done, we will be better positioned to discharge our duties.
The House appears to have lost public confidence. How can the leadership change the wrong public perception?
I will rather want to comment that whatever transpires in the House is an internal affair. It is not peculiar to Nigerian parliament. Building a house, you have to set the foundation right. What is important is the basics. There should be a direction. The parliament is a microcosm of the country. It is just a replica of what the country represents. People from all over the country are here. Nigerians are assessed through the parliament. For instance, the leadership of the House was formed and the Southeast sidelined. That for instance is a serious issue. That is why it is important to get it right. The crisis in the House is not about selfish interest. I am not a member of APC, but I support the move that a position should be given to the Southeast. I am first an Igbo man before I am a Nigerian. I would have been happy if an Igbo man was included in all the appointments made so far by President Muhammadu Buhari. We need to get things right. There should be a representation of all the regions in the country. Having said that, I know that some sections of the public are raising concerns, but I will not agree with you that everyone has lost confidence in us. We are just starting.
What about the issue of jumbo pay for lawmakers?
People go by sentiments. I do not understand what people mean by jumbo pay. Every public officer gets the same thing. Our salaries and allowances are set by the Revenue and Fiscal Commission. The body is independent. We have the right to reduce, but we cannot implement it without their approval. They are the final arbiter.
Now, we are not against pay cut. If there is going to be a pay cut,melt it be across the board. Let nobody tell you that his salary has been curl what about other allowances? Who is deceiving who? When the Permanent Secretary goes to France, let him bring out his records to show that he did not take any allowances. It is not only the legislators that earn salaries. Even the executive earn more. You need to know what a Permanent Secretary earns when he travels.
What is the thrust of the young parliamentarians’ forum you are trying to set up in Nigeria?
Nigeria and by extension, the Nigerian Parliament is a member if the world body of parliaments known as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU is the governing body of all parliaments in the world. They try to support initiatives that sustain democracy. In 2010, they started the initiative on the need to include young people in governance. In 2013, the resolution was adopted. In 2014, a formal structure was laid. That was where the Young Parliamentarians’ Forum (YPF) was now formed. An election was conducted into the governing board. Nigeria presented me as a candidate for the African slot and I emerged. That is after contesting against 35 other candidates. I represent the entire continent in that board. The firm is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that young people participate in democratic processes. As an African representative, we have e mandate to go and sell this the message by interfacing with relevant agencies of government. By doing that, it makes young people have first information on what is happening. Many of the young people you see engaged in illicit acts are those who have been kept away from the happenings in governance. Put of anger, they resort to violence. Sixty people of those involved in insurgency are young people. So, the IPU is trying to set the stage for young people to come together and be able to have a better knowledge of the workings of government. I intend to drive the movement in Nigeria and across Africa. The 133rd meeting will be holding in Geneva, Switzerland in October. I need to report the initiatives we have taken so far. We have paid a visit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We have written to all the Speakers of the 36 parliaments in Nigeria. We have written to the Senate president. Same for ECOWAS Parliament. On the 7th of October, we will formally hold inaugurate the Nigerian chapter of YPF. The IPU has set up a standard. The age limit is 45 years.
The 36 State Houses of Assembly have been told to send 5 youngest parliamentarians. Over 25 of them have responded. It is going to be a platform through which youths can advance their course. It is a collective responsibility. I am appealing to Mr. President to include young people into his cabinet. It will give young people of this country a sense of belong. It will present the president as a youth friendly person. In the past, we produced young leaders. We want to do that again.
There is a constitutional setback. The current Electoral Acts forbids youths from contesting for elective positions until they attain a certain age. Does it not conflict with your intentions?
It is going to affect it. This brings me to an issue we intend to deliberate on during the conference. If the law has said youths can vote at age 18, why won’t they allow them to vie for positions at that age? Does it mean youths are only good at giving out at a young age, but cannot receive too? We expect that actions should be equal and opposite reaction. If we can vote, why can’t we be voted for? It is unfortunate that the last National Conference could not see the light of the day. The constitution says you must attain a certain age before you can be a parliamentarian in Nigeria. I feel there should be an amendment to that section so that young people can come into leadership positions. How far this can go will depend on the support we get from older people. In Kenya, Gambia and Uganda, there is a percentage of representation given to youths. We will call for an amendment to the section of the constitution that places age limit on elective political offices.
As an African representative on the board of YPF, do you intend to take the campaign to other African countries?
I had to apply the principle of ‘charity begins at home.’ Thereafter, I I temi to make some advocacy visits to a lot of African countries, heads of government and other leaders. In few weeks times, we are going to make a presentations to the African Parliament as well as the ECOWAS Parliament. We need to start drumming the message. They should give room to young parliamentarians to hold big positions. IPU for instance has set a standard that every delegation of parklands have have one young parliamentarian as a member. We are trying to sell this to African leaders. We need inclusion of young people into African parliaments. By the time we finish the advocacy, we would have succeeded in what we have been tasked to do. In the parliamentary world, this is the only position a Nigerian a holding at the international sphere. It has the chance of boosting our image at the international level. We must do all we can to make our presence felt.