Legislators should not earn more than civil servants – Second Rep female MP

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House of Representatives

House of Representatives

Mrs. Justina Eze was elected into the House of Representatives on the platform of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in the Second Republic. In this interview, the former lawmaker said legislators should be placed on the same salary structure with civil servants to reduce cost of governance. She also spoke on fuel subsidy, insecurity and other national issues.

As a former lawmaker, can you share with us some of your past experiences?

My political background is more of national interest than local. We were brought up by a man who had a very large heart; a man who believed so much in the unity of Nigeria and Africa as a continent. I was elected into the House of Representatives in 1979; that was about 32 years ago. I had always stood by what I believe would keep us together as a country. That is my major interest because my leader then, the Owelle of Onitsha, told me that Nigeria is a great country and God has made it so and we (his followers) should always see ourselves as people who are contributing to keep this country stable. I suffered a lot of political victimization as a result of my trust in this country called Nigeria. We paid so much to keep this country together, but some us are not happy today with what is happening. The country is under threat. We should learn from what is happening in Egypt. We are worried over the present political tension. So many countries are engulfed in political crisis and we should be very careful. They should not sacrifice our youths on the streets for whatever reason. We should be cautious of what we are saying or doing in this country so that we don’t ignite problems.

What exactly are you driving at?

I am talking about the increasing level of insecurity, youth unemployment and of course the issue of fuel subsidy. These are the three things that are likely to blow up our country; these are potential threats. I am saying this because each of them has an inflammatory capacity. It is like an infectious disease. When somebody has an infectious disease, it moves about, so right now, the whole problems started from youth unemployment. Let me make this illustration: I come from a place (South-east) where I know that parents sell their empty lands to train their children in the university and maybe that empty land is the only thing they have as a family. It may not be the wish of the family to sell this land, but they decide to do so with the hope that after training, that boy will in turn train others in the family. But the boy after graduation from the university will remain unemployed for more then five years. There are many graduates on our streets today without jobs for ten years. This unemployment causes what we refer to today as youths restiveness. Some of them have even become threats to the country. But if a child is gainfully employed, nobody can push that child to go and carry gun and go after another person. It is because they see them as people who have no means of livelihood that they use them as guinea pigs, which is wrong. Some of them go into such businesses because the rich lure them with money.

But I am happy about this new idea of going back to agriculture, as a means of creating jobs. Building more fertilizer industries in Nigeria is also good because it would enhance agricultural activities and reduce the traditional method of farming.  Many people cannot get fertilizers and farm equipment to boost their farms. If you go to my village, the people who are farmers are 50 years and above, retired teachers, retired whatever, there is no young person in the village, everybody has left for the city. So the output in agriculture is very low. But if the environment is made comfortable, an average graduate can feel comfortable staying at home because at the end of the day, he could have room toilet and bathroom to himself with electricity. We need to have a conducive environment to push them back to the village. Some of the gate men you see in Abuja today are graduates. They prefer to stay in the one room gate house and receive the meager salaries than walking about without jobs.

You also talked about insecurity, is it only a product of unemployment?

Some of the security challenges can also be as a result of greed. We have a number of youths becoming fraudsters. A situation where you would see a small boy who was in the village doing nothing, and all of a sudden his mates saw him coming back to village one day with jeeps. Some of them would want to join him to get rich quick and by doing so, could join armed robbery. Some are pushing cocaine. Our youths today have lost the morals, good orientation and values, all of them are thinking of jeeps, thinking of being big boys. Nobody is prepared again to serve and to grow by serving. So it is number one: greed. We’ve lost our spiritual morality and religious values and this is because of the decay in the education sector. Our religious teachings have been relegated to the background in our schools.

Looking back at those days when you were in active politics and today, will you say that some progress has been made?

How can we make progress? When I was at the National Assembly in 1981, the late Ume-Ezeoke took us (members of the House Committee on Industry) to South Korea. We visited Daewo Yard. We approached the Daewo Industry to build ship, aeroplanes and others. In the process, the company offered to come to Nigeria to build refineries for Nigeria. They advised us that it is better for us to deal with third world countries if we must grow. They offered to come to Nigeria to build refineries in our land, they offered to transfer technology to our children, build us industries  from the by-product of crude and that will create jobs for our children. I am talking about 1981. We came with the entire report. Bamanga Tukur was the general manager of NPA then, they offered to build a ship for Nigeria. I personally wrote to Daewo that the general manager of Nigeria Ports Authority would like you to visit Nigeria to build us a ship. They came to Nigeria and saw Bamanga Tukur. They entered into a big agreement and they built a ship for Nigeria which they commissioned.

And if the executive and indeed all who ought to implement the report of our committee had allowed Daewo to come and build one or two refineries by then, we would have been processing our crude oil here, using the by-product to build other industries which would have created jobs. But we did not do that. And most importantly, we lost in the area of technology transfer. The greatest mistake our country is making at the moment is its association with the Chinese.

The Chinese are parasites, when they come into your country, they will take everything, they will not teach your children what they are doing and then when they are finished and gone, we go back to maintenance culture and our children will not know how to maintain anything because nobody taught them. So, as far as I am concerned, we have not done well. We, lawmakers, are always junketing around the whole world bringing back reports. Lawmakers would travel out of the country as a group; spend billions on tour of the industrialized world. The question is what about all the reports? How many have been implemented? In fact I was thinking that  we should save money, stop all these tours of the whole world, bring out our archives from the second republic, get a group of people to sit on them and let us start to implement some of these recommendations. Some of the reports are still relevant and can serve the country well.

People are crying that we are wasting money on legislature and people are complaining about the salaries of the lawmakers. What is your take on this?

Do you know how much is being expended there and for what? How much were we paid as legislators during our time? We were earning about N3000. We were paid as civil servants. That is what it should be. Nigerian legislators should be paid as civil servants so that you will know those who are willing to go and serve and not as a place where one individual will take millions for doing nothing. We built Apo village for legislators to live there but they ended up selling the whole thing. Where is the money? If they had left those houses, another person coming would take over; we cannot be paying this kind of money we pay on rent every year to them. What for? If the Apo village is left for legislators, it is still cheaper for Nigeria to go and build somewhere, not a sophisticated building, a two bedroom apartment for every legislator, and they can stay there and still have their mansions in the homes. But for God’s sake, the money they are spending there is too much. What about the governors? Why can’t the 36 state governors reduce their security votes? Let everybody show commitment.

Do you have any fears about the removal of fuel subsidy?

If they say subsidy is the only way out, okay, my own is that, let them get this money into a trust fund, a fund that will be managed by the Press, Legal professionals, organized labour and other representatives. Let every union send their own person to manage this money. If they are taking this money, everybody should be there to decide what Nigerians want. It is not a question of legislators, or taking it to a common pool and you will not know how it was spent. If they can create such a committee and even the market women can be represented; that out of the money we are going to put so and so billions in making sure that the trains will move from Lagos to Kano and from Kano to Enugu and most of these haulage will be done by rail. Let’s see them deploy this money on electricity, health and children, on good education. Let it be managed by a trust fund of all representatives because if we do not do so, where will they get money to repair the roads? Where will they get money to do all the things they say they will do. They cried out to say there is no money. They have quoted what we earn, what the subsidy takes and what the balance is. I support subsidy but it should not be managed by government alone.

In : Politics