Mr. Joseph Edionwele, representing Esan Central/West/Igueben federal constituency of Edo State, is a staunch member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with Majeed Bakare, he boasts that the coalition of parties led by his party is potent enough to ‘rescue’ Nigeria from the APC administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. He also spoke on his legislative and constituency activities. Excerpts:
As a former Secretary of the PDP (South-south), what is your take on the recent coalition (CUPP), seeking to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2019 polls?
It is wrong to say the coalition is to challenge the President; the coalition is trying to rescue the nation from this draconian government. If you look at what is happening, the people are suffering, you need to go to any market, you need to take any bus, and you will see the cry. it is the duty of any person to ensure that this country is rescued. We are not in a military dictatorship, and this was why Abacha was fought; now we are in democracy, and we are still introducing military style rule. if you go to any place, you have roadblocks as if we are in military era. And if you look at the 28 parties in the coalition, you will know it is about NIGERIA first; that this country is drifting, the people are hungry and suffering, you can even see that the people are committing suicide, it is not the best, so there is a need to change this change.
What would be the fate of party loyalist that stayed during the trying times of the PDP, in the face of fears that new comers may hijack existing structures?
This is the time to make sacrifice, because like I said, ‘Nigeria first’; this is not the time to be selfish, to think about yourself, you have to think about Nigeria, your children are here, your great grandchildren are here, you will be remembered for the sacrifice you make, it is not about at the end of the day if you are struggling, what would I gain? If there is a better person than me from my own constituency, so be it, what is important is that the situation we have found ourselves now is not the time when you can talk about yourself, you must talk about the overall interest of this country.
What about the fear of internal implosion in the coalition?
Before we came together, there were discussions; people seem to think that it is a merger, but no it is not, it is about a common goal, a common goal that this government is not in the best interest of this country; we are painted black everywhere, even in the international arena, we are no longer recognized and all that, so we need to make sacrifice, its more like NADECO, the way they fought, that is exactly the way you can look at this very coalition. We are all coming together to say, let us rescue Nigeria from this draconian government.
Let us talk about the budget; you are a member of the Appropriations Committee, in 2017 you complained about the performance of the budget, how will you rate the 2018 budget in terms of ability to implement it?
Personally, I was very surprised that the President even complained about the budget; if the budget was actually passed the way it came, it would have been the worst budget ever. If you see the surgical operation that was done on the budget, it is not enough to say if a rail line is coming to your constituency for instance, it does not make it enough that the rail is not passing through through mine, because we are talking about Nigeria’s money, we are not talking of an individual’s money. So while talking about the second Niger-bridge for example, that is their priority as far as those people in those constituency is considered, what about my people in my constituency that are not talking about the second Niger bride? That is the issue, that is why in the overall interest of every constituency, that you found that there was adjustment, at the end of the day, it is for the benefit of Nigerians, where ever you reside, because the money is not for individual communities and all that, because the appropriation is for the interest of the 360 constituencies, that’s what we did. By making sure that virtually every community benefit, every constituency benefit from this budget. And if it is implemented, because the problem is not about the budget, it is about implementation, by now we expect that about 50% of the money should have been released, why complain about the budget, when the 2017 budget has not been implemented. I heard the implementation is just about 70%, it was worse in 2016, we expect that, why not think of implementing the budget to about at least 80%, but if there is any need, that why we have supplementary budget, we have an opening for supplementary budget, so that complain is irrelevant; it is the implementation that is Nigeria’s problem not what is in the budget, but whatever you have in that budget is for the benefit of the masses.
Does this mean that the proposal submitted by Mr. President before the ‘surgical work’ was done on it was lopsided towards a particular region?
Yes, yes that is exactly what I am saying.
Which specific example are we looking at?
I gave you one; if you put the whole money into the second Niger bridge, you are talking of Lagos Ibadan express way, how does that one benefit Edo State for example? you must have to look that, this very place may need maybe a health centre, it may not need rail, there are places you just need a borehole, because they do not have water, so it is not always about the big projects, the small projects equally count, what you need is probably not what I need, I may need just a school, for my village while you need a university.
Let us move to constituency projects, the SA media to President Buhari, Femi Adesina, alleged that the National Assembly made additional N170b to the usual N100billion for the projects, can you dispute or confirm this?
It is not true; you see when people talk about constituency project, they tend to look at motorcycle and sewing machine. I can boast of my own constituency, you will find out that apart from those motorcycle they talk about, we are building real schools, building good schools prototype, I told you earlier, you are going to visit my constituency, we are doing roads, we are building town halls for communities, big town halls, and our people are happy, so it’s not about me, it’s not money you put in your pocket, or do little things, like this motorcycle and all that. When you see all this constituency projects, many of them are abandoned, because of lack of implementation, the people in charge of budget should concern themselves with implementation; in a minimum, do 80-90% implementation of our budget, and you will not hear this cry, because at the end of the day, when money is not released and the agencies are unable to complete these projects, you blame the members, whereas it is not the fault of the lawmaker, we do not execute, we only influence to see that agencies do the project, but when the agencies have no money, there is nothing you can do about that it, because it is a one off thing, except you take the project as ongoing to next year budget, it is just left there. Because provision in the budget were made, and no releases, the project become incomplete, so the abandonment is not the fault of the lawmaker.
In an interview recently, you talked about your lobbying prowess, and how you have been able to influence several projects to your constituency, that was two years ago, how has it been?
I am encouraged because we have good listeners in the House, when you approach some agencies, some directors, they listen to you, we write them and they assist, though frustrating but it has yielded some results, and because you have to remove ego, go cap in hand, begging, if your constituency even know what you passed through, to be able to influence the projects to your own constituency, they will give you kudos.
2019 is coming, your party (PDP) is in opposition in the state, your former governor is the new APC chairman, and you once said politics is local, how would Oshiomole’s emergence influence the 2019 elections in Edo state?
Politics have gone beyond party affiliation these days; it is about the person, in my own constituency for example, a lot of people in APC voted for me, using my past antecedents to assess me, so in our own place, is more of who is contesting rather than what party. I am from Edo central senatorial district, and in my place you are assessed objectively, what are your pedigree, what are your antecedents, what have you done before, that you are now offering yourself to serve, when they assess you and they found you worthy, they vote for you irrespective of your party. It is actually not about party, but holistically when you talk of the state, there are places where my own party, is predominant, like Edo central for example while in Edo south is is 50/50 chance and of course what we have been able to do, make us standout, we are doing well, because we are sure, that with God’s help, the people will return us.
On a lighter note, you were once a local government chairman, which is an executive position, now you have transited to a legislative position, how has the transition been in terms of physical projects promised during campaign?
It is very challenging, when you talk about the executive position, you make pronouncements, and it comes to pass, if you say I am going to build a road, I am going to build a school, it’s going to come to pass, but in the legislative arm, you do not have such power, yours is to make law, any project you are able to influence, you have to go begging, to see that it is executed, it is very challenging, and frustrating, but if I have my way, I will prefer the executive where you can make pronouncements, and you are able to carry it out.
What is that particular moment in this 8th Assembly , that you can refer to as your proudest moment?
There are so many motions, but for one, I raised a motion on this issue of extortion of unemployed people when applying for jobs, I was very happy when the House passed it that no one should be extorted and all that, I was excited, and today it is being implemented. Another one is the Fire Services, when the National fire services was restricted to the federal capital. I raised the motion that this one should be across the states, because when you saying national, It’s not about capital, it’s about the whole country and today they have started implementing it. At least we now have fire services offices across all the 36 states. And I know that within a short while, it will be across all the 774 local governments.
What is the target for the final lap of this Assembly for you
To see that the budget is implemented at least between 90%-100%, because it’s not enough to make budget and it is not implemented. ￼