That HURIWA’s Odyssey in mischief
Written By Anthony Iwuoma
Posted By Town Crier News Nigeria
Published By Fitness Network Communications
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, a civil rights advocacy group, last week charged Nigerian lawmakers to give an account of the mandate their constituents gave to them. It went further to laud the Chief Whip of the Senate, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, for an effective legislative representation by not only sponsoring several bills and motions but also promoting democracy for the good of the people, especially in his constituency in Abia North Senatorial District.
In the statement, HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, cited several bills and motions sponsored by Kalu as well as many beneficial projects he attracted to his constituency.
Truly, Kalu could not have done any less, being Kalu. He has always been dependable and a loud voice for the people’s cause, even before berthing at the senate. As governor of Abia, he left indelible footprints, which the opposition has tried hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to erase, even after bringing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, into the fray.
However, this piece is not about the Trojan, Kalu. It is about the derailment of an otherwise beautiful assessment by HURIWA. Instead of stopping at Kalu or doing a holistic job, it went downhill by doing a seeming hatchet job when it rated Senators Frank Chukwuma Ibezim, representing Imo North, and Rochas Okorocha, representing Imo West, as the worst performing senators in the Ninth National Assembly. Why it chose just these two out of all the senators in the Senate, or South-east senators in particular, leaves much to be desired. What is HURIWA after?
In that statement, HURIWA challenged Okorocha and Ibezim to tell Nigerians why they had virtually ‘achieved nothing since their time in the Red Chamber’. How uncharitable!
This is nothing but a laughable odyssey in mischief. To start with, what criteria did HURIWA use in its assessment before arriving at its wonky conclusion? Moreover, it is evident that this suffered from a knowledge deficit because it is not based on facts, especially as regards Senator Ibezim, and that is why the challenge is very welcome so that the Imo North senator could present a little bit of information on his activities in the senate.
Ibezim took his seat in the Red Chamber of the Ninth National Assembly, about a year and eight months ago, precisely on April 27, 2021, to complete the tenure of the late Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu. It is, perhaps, because of his sterling performance within such a short time that HURIWA is measuring him against Kalu, who has been in the Senate since 2019. Even his worst critics would acknowledge that this comparison is unfair, malicious, and ill-driven.
In its quest to hurriedly run down a hard-working lawmaker in its invidious scheme, HURIWA deliberately failed to factor in the fact that Kalu is a ranking and principal officer of the senate, who wields great influence and enjoys huge privileges. To expect Ibezim, a first timer in the senate and non ranking member and having spent less than half of Kalu’s years in the Senate is definitely unjustifiable.
Besides that, Ibezim came to the senate with scars of a long-drawn legal battle. He had to wade through twenty-eight court cases, including tribunal, up to the Court of Appeal before he eventually triumphed. Two of those cases ended up at the apex court in his favour.
Added to this is the fact that Ibezim came to the Senate more than a year after Uwajumogu’s unfortunate demise on December 18, 2019, during which time the zone was not represented and could not even make any input into the national budgets. Consequently, Imo North was at ground zero when Ibezim took over the mantle of representation.
That, however, did not deter him, as he plowed into work to recover Imo North from the locusts that had eaten up much of its potential. It was unexpected because being a newcomer to the senate, nobody gave him a chance to do much, considering also the many disparaging lies spread abroad about him during the electioneering campaign.
Ibezim attracted and completed the 60 kW Solar power in Umuchiaku, Ihitte Uboma LGA – the first of its kind in the South-east; the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, in Nsu -the largest in the geopolitical zone; 5km erosion control road; 4km erosion control road at Ishinweke-Lowa; 3km Umualumaku road; maintenance of old Okigwe-Umuahia road, etc. He has also ensured the Federal Government’s involvement through the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, in the construction and maintenance of certain roads through the intervention of the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola. Not to be left out are the several kilometers of the road network at the campus of the NOUN.
Ibezim sponsored bills and moved motions. For instance, among others, he sponsored the bill on African Union Convention For The Protection And Assistance Of Internally Displaced Persons In Africa (Domestication And Enforcement) Bill, 2021, and led the debate on the general principles of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Domestication And Enforcement) Bill, 2021.
He was also behind the Bill For An Act To Establish The National Research And Innovation Council, The National Research And Innovation Foundation, And For Related Matters.
Leading the debate, Ibezim explained that the bill is neither intended to promote duplication of research efforts nor establish any new unwieldy bureaucracy on the subject matter of research and innovation but to provide the necessary legal backing to the existing National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) inaugurated by the Federal Government in 2014, as the apex policy body on research and innovation in Nigeria.
Ibezim’s motion for the urgent need to construct the Power Transmission Substation in Okigwe LGA for rapid industrial growth, is, perhaps his greatest achievement thus far.
He argued that constant and regular electricity supply is key to the industrial development of any country and noted that Okigwe, the headquarter of Imo North Senatorial District had suffered neglect over the years and as such had never enjoyed regular electricity supply due to absence of a power transmission substation despite that the zone was marked for the construction of a power transmission substation in 2003 alongside Port Harcourt, Aba, Umuahia and Enugu, respectively by the Federal Ministry of Power.
Ibezim reminded the senate that whereas the Federal Ministry of Power supervised and delivered the approved transmission line from Port Harcourt to Enugu with construction of a substation, it failed to do the same for Okigwe, resulting in the people suffering irregular power supply, with its attendant socio-economic consequences.
He had made three demands, viz: The Federal Ministry of Power to urgently effect the construction of the already approved but abandoned Okigwe 132/33KVA transmission substation; the Federal Government to declare a State of Emergency on Power Supply in Okigwe and other communities across the country; and the Federal Ministry of Power to upgrade the Okigwe power facility to a district station.
In fact, that hit the bull’s eye, as all requests were approved. The quest was successful and, consequently, three projects were approved for the area and are at an advanced stage of construction.
Apart from that, the distinguished senator facilitated the visit of the inspection teams of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, to the Okigwe Power Transmission Substation site, down to Ohiya, Umuahia Power Station. This visit propelled the NDDC to commence the drawing of a direct line from Ohiya, Umuahia Station to Ihitte Uboma to the Open University at Ezeoke Nsu in Ehime Mbano, thereby decongesting Obowo for service to its surroundings.
Similarly, Ibezim got the TCN to commit to expeditiously install a full capacity mobile Power Transmission Station at the Okigwe Power Transmission Substation site, along the Okigwe – Umuahia area of the Enugu- Port Harcourt Expressway. This is to serve Okigwe, Onuimo, Isiala Mbano, Arondizuogu and part of Orlu and shall free the Egbu Station to effectively serve the Owerri axis.
Besides these, Ibezim, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Industries and also a member of the Senate Committee on Basic and Secondary Education, is a champion of foundation education, especially when children are involved.
He moved a motion urging the Federal Government to promote the development of classroom/modern libraries and robust reading culture in Nigeria, noting with concern the decline in reading culture amongst most Nigerians. This, he observed, is even more visible in schools beginning from the formative and basic years of primary school through secondary school and tertiary institutions. He noted that this has reached an alarming rate and needs to be addressed urgently before it worsens.
This love for foundation education was made manifest in his Classroom Libraries Project he pioneered in primary schools in the country, using at least 18 primary schools in Imo North as pilots. The lawmaker also motivated teachers through cash awards to elicit their commitment and passion for this project. He also sponsored a debate among secondary schools in the zone and winners were handsomely rewarded accordingly.
He was also active in different oversight functions and called for the upgrade of the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport in Owerri; he secured several major Federal Government interventions, such as the N30, 000 Survival Funds from the Bank of Industry from which not less than 400 persons of Imo North benefitted; N60,000 Special Public Works Programme, with not less than 300 beneficiaries; N500,000 Covid-19 Relief Loan, with over 200 beneficiaries; N60,000 Job Security Stipends and N100,000 National Directorate of Employment Loan, targeting not less than 600 persons.
In all, over 1000 Imo North constituents benefitted from these intervention programmes, which have alleviated their pain and boosted the economy of many households, families and communities in the zone. There have also been digital training sessions for youths, who were given work tools and take-off capital after their training.
Ibezim, a sports enthusiast and former Imo commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, also launched the Senator Frank Ibezim Football Academy for Support to Talented Football Enthusiasts of Imo North as well as promoted youths in the zone and their football team to participate in a competition in Enugu.
Also, five youths from each local government, culminating in a total of 30 beneficiaries, also emerged as participants in the senator’s cinematography academy programme. The programme was targeted at training individuals to become experts in videography, documentary photography, video, and picture editing and ultimately empowering a total of 300 youths from the zone (50 from each LGA).
The Distinguished Senator was not found wanting when there was a flooding disaster in some parts of Imo North, especially Amauzari in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area. He did not only rush to the scene to sympathise with the people but also mobilised help towards tackling environmental degradation in his constituency. He promptly wrote to the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and followed up with a visit to the NEMA Director-General of Ahmed Mustapha Habib, to solicit relief for the victims of the flooding that caused havoc to most businesses in Imo North.
Habib mobilised immediate assessment of the damages for remedial action and reliefs extended to the victims and promised a permanent measure to forestall future flooding, in next year’s budget year since this year’s capital budget is almost exhausted. In his personal capacity, Ibezim also gave different levels of financial support to the victims of the flood disaster.
In the same vein, Ibezim saw to it that the yearly flooding challenge around Isinweke-Lowa, Ihitte Uboma LGA of the zone was tackled permanently.
Additionally, Ibezim showed concern for the health needs of his constituents and organised a six-day medical outreach across the constituency during which all manner of sicknesses were diagnosed and treated.
These and much more are the contributions of Senator Ibezim within such a short time and the constituents are happy.
Ibezim’s only handicap is his near aversion to publicity. That, perhaps, is what misled HURIWA. However, the group’s faux pas is inexcusable. It is, therefore, shocking that a supposed rights group like HURIWA should descend this low. This hoax it tried to foist on the people has put a question mark on its touted credentials as a reputable body.
Anthony Iwuoma is a journalist and public commentator.