Mr. Ben Igbakpa is a member of the House of Representatives from Delta State. In this brief interview with OrderPaper Nigeria, he discusses an appraisal of legislative interventions in the fight against Covid-19 in Nigeria. EXCERPTS below:
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the level of NASS intervention on COVID-19?
ANSWER: You remember in the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Assembly through Mr. Speaker brought a bill that would have been like a kind of intervention that would demand some level of payment for people but unfortunately it was not concurred to by the Senate and I don’t know where it is right now. Secondly, we went into inaugurating an ad-hoc committee to liaise with the presidential committee on Covid-19 and they were always traveling with them and inspecting medical facilities to ensure that they are in order.
Recall that the House Committee on Public Accounts once invited the presidential committee to come and give update on how they have utilized the funds. Like how much has been received, how much the government of Nigeria has brought and how much donors have brought and how the fund has been expended. I remember I attended that sitting twice and I have my reservations about how the monies were spent especially as it has to do with logistics and how people were traveling within Nigeria. I remember one time I had to ask the Director General of NCDC if they have taken chartered flights in all of these their logistics. Those are areas I feel that some day we are going to revisit that issue but the pandemic is still supporting (the executive) to fight the pandemic and rescue the people and then we can now ask questions on what happened with some of the funding. Lest I forget, members of the National Assembly also donated two months’ salary to the executive arm of government. Also, ninety-nine percent of members went home and provided relief packages to our constituents because everywhere was locked up and people could not go out so it was a tough time for everybody and palliatives were shared irrespective of the ones shared by the federal and state government.
QUESTION: What are the areas that require more legislative interventions?
I think the best the National Assembly can do is through legislation because like I said a bill was brought, I think the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill even though they were lots of controversies which stalled that particular bill because Nigerians came out to say look we don’t want that bill so we had to stop because this is a democratic dispensation; and if the people say we don’t want then we have to stop. So the best we can do is legislation because we have to put up a lasting solution. It happened last year and it might happen again so we must be ready for the future. we have to be futuristic in our planning. We must be prepared for emergencies such as this. Nobody ever thought that one disease would come and shut the whole world down. Other countries of the world today are making plans already believing that it could come again tomorrow. Not just Covid-19, it could be something else. So ours is to make laws that will increase and energize our infrastructure and make laws that will take care of these situations in case they come up again. That’s why I think we are a parliament and I think it is the best way for us.
QUESTION: What can be done to make NASS interventions more impactful?
ANSWER: As members of parliament, our key roles are lawmaking and oversight. In this pandemic one major issue we observed was the issue of trust. The people do not trust the government so whatever they say the people see it as another form of taking money from the vault. So what we need today is to have policies and laws that will endear the people to government because we need to bridge that gap. If there’s no trust, it becomes very difficult to talk to the people. In fact, we had to go and wear masks to talk to the people. The people and government have cut ties over the years because of promises that have been made on the part of government without fulfilling them. Though, for me and my constituents and the people the people I have interacted with is to ensure that we get the confidence of the people so that when you are talking to them they will see you as a friend and not as a master. I think that is it, apart from creating the enabling environment to mitigate any form of pandemic.
QUESTION: Since you are saddled with the responsibility of overnight, what have the parliament done in checkmating the NCDC in terms of expenditure during the period of the pandemic?
ANSWER: Like I said, twice that I attended the meeting after checking the books I noticed that there are some abnormalities and very soon we will open that chapter and look at it. At that time everywhere was tense. We thought it was wise to allow them do the work. It is not going to be long, probably when we come back from our long recess we should be able to have this on our table. To see how much we have expended, to see how much was donated and even the supplementary budget this year is part of the funds to buy more vaccines. We would definitely go into to see how much was spent and if the funds were judiciously used but from what I saw in their books is that there are grey areas that we have to look into.