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INTERVIEW: Why it’s not going to be business as usual in 10th Assembly– Ireti Kingibe, FCT senator-elect

Ireti Kingibe1
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The senator-elect for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ireti Kingibe, shares her journey to the Red Chamber, her plans for her constituency and her thoughts on the dwindling women representation in the legislature

You defeated the senator who has been representing the FCT for 12 years, were you confident of victory from the outset or you thought to try, knowing it could be tough to defeat an incumbent?

Nobody can predict the future, but I did think that the Federal Capital Territory, like everywhere else, needed a change. People always need hope, and whenever you are in any bad situation, you will always hope that if you do this or if you change something, things will get better. I was hoping that in the search for that hope, they would come to look for Ireti, and Ireti in Yoruba means hope. So, I did see that we could win but I did not expect that we would be so resoundingly voted for. It showed that the country needed something different and they were trying to get it. The victory is not personal to me; it is more about the wishes of the people, more than mine.

Many people have said that those who won elections on the platform of the Labour Party, especially in areas where the All Progressives Congress or the Peoples Democratic Party used to control should thank the LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, for their victory. Do you subscribe to that opinion?

His presence helped, because people also wanted a change. APC and PDP have been around for a long time, and with no prejudices to their leaders, the people needed a change. We have been recycling the old parties, so the Labour Party was an opportunity for a difference. By the same token, all politics are local and people will obviously vote for the candidates they like irrespective of who they voted for in the presidential election.

Some days ago, indigenes of the FCT went to court to demand that the FCT should be treated as a state; would you advocate for that when you get to the chamber or that is not part of your mandate?

I’m a realist and I am a law abiding citizen. The FCT was created by the constitution, so it will also take a constitutional change to make FCT a state. Asking anybody to make us a state by fiat will not change anything. The court can say yes, the FCT should be a state, but it is not going to change anything unless we amend the constitution. I believe in working within the framework of what I have and I believe I can achieve my aim for the overall improvement of life in the FCT. If I spend all my efforts on that, leaving behind the issues of water, light and bad roads and I focus on getting FCT to be a state, we may end up facing the same issues in years to come. The court pronouncement won’t put those things in place, it doesn’t matter how many courts say so. I believe that aspiration can only be achieved by constitutional amendment.

But there was a bill about giving the FCT a special status, are you interested in that?

We can achieve that. The first person to propose that bill was Senator Khairat Gwadabe. She was the senator who represented the FCT from 1999 to 2003. So, it is doable. I will also work on it and continue where Senator (Philip) Aduda stops.

There seems to be a drop in female representation in both chambers of the National Assembly, do you agree with those who describe it as a deliberate attempt to reduce the voice and influence of women in the lawmaking process?

No, it is not deliberate; it is a careless attitude that has got us here. In Nigeria, we must realise that we cannot ignore 50 per cent of our population and expect maximum and optimum development; it is not going to happen. So, if we want to develop optimally, we have to take that 50 per cent along and I just think that, just like everything else that is wrong with Nigeria, nobody is deliberately doing anything to make Nigeria bad, we are just not paying attention to the things that will make it better.

How do you think this can be addressed since legislation has failed as witnessed in the last round of constitution amendment?

That it failed the last time does not mean it will not succeed this time round. I think the only way to address it is legislation. If you can have legislation for the 35 per cent of women in government in Indonesia, Rwanda and many other places, we can do it. Among 186 countries, Nigeria ranks 180 for women in governance and we rank as the least in Africa. That is not the kind of position we want. So I know now that we are getting to the point where the numbers are embarrassing to the whole nation, not just to the women. Something will be done about it.

During the collation of results, some of your supporters alleged that there were efforts to shortchange you, were you still confident of victory because we attended your briefing where you raised the alarm?

The alarm I raised was that the results of the FCT should be announced. There was no doubt about it and everybody in the FCT knew what happened. However, there is no point going into that now. The Independent National Electoral Commission announced the results and I emerged the winner. In spite of whatever was done to shortchange me, I emerged the winner and I was so declared. I believe most of the people in the commission (INEC) did their jobs the way they should, but you also come across one or two people who would act in contravention of the ideal and that could make everybody in the commission look bad. They acted responsibly to announce the result when they did. INEC’s headquarters is in FCT, and four days after elections, the announcement was delayed but they did announce and I did win.

The natives of the FCT have said several times that they have been marginalised. What do you plan to do differently since all the FCT has is representation?

They have not always had representatives and a senator. Previous senators were not indigenous, so this is totally different. Philip Aduda is the first Gbagi senator that has been elected. There will be others and there will be other non-indigenes as we go along. It is a democracy. To your question, all over the country, lots of groups feel they have been marginalised. You go to some places, Hausa people will tell you they are marginalised; you go to another place, Igbo people will tell you they are marginalised. Yoruba people will also say they are marginalised, that is the story of Nigeria.

At the moment, many Nigerians seem to have lost respect for the National Assembly for not prioritising some matters of national interest, coupled with the money the legislature gulps; do you have any proposal or bill in mind on how that important institution can redeem itself?

It is not something I can do by myself, but I think my colleagues coming in, there are about 72 new senators and I think we are all aware and coming in with the knowledge of what our people feel. So, we are hopefully going to make a difference. We know it is not going to be business as usual. There are some things that are bad and as representatives of the people, we are aware of those things and I am sure people will see a difference.

Ireti Kingibe

You seem ready to hit the ground running, what do you consider as the most important legislation the FCT needs at the moment which you will want to champion?

FCT has many important legislation that I should champion. Talk about health; there are several health bills we need to work on. We also have issues of education, water, power and security. So, there are many things the FCT needs and I will champion those things. Another thing the FCT needs to have is telecommunications network in the rural areas. That would help our development in the FCT. People should be free to live in any part of the FCT and they would not have to bother if there will be network or not. So, there are many things the FCT needs.

You almost left Nigeria a few years ago, but you changed your mind; what made you stay back and what motivated you to try again having contested several times in the past?

That was about two years ago. There were many reasons why I wanted to leave and then I decided to stay. In life, as we go along, we re-evaluate everything we have been doing and make certain decisions. I have been in politics to make a difference, I wanted FCT to progress. Not that it has not, I felt we could have gone far and done more in the last 20 years that I have been in politics. What made me change my mind were fate and the hand of God. A lot of the things that would have made it possible for me to move did not happen, instead political parties came offering me tickets. The Labour Party came and in the party were people that I had worked with when I contested in 2003. So, there was also providence, I would say, and the hand of God. That is why I am here. Politics has never been just about me, so if people convinced me this was the time for me to run, I had to concede to their opinion.

There were reports that you plan to donate your salary to an emergency fund to support your proposals that are focused on redistributing wealth in the FCT and the suburbs, could you shed more light on it?

I don’t know what the basic salary of a senator is and I am not sure of their allowances as well. I plan on donating my basic salary to a fund for the FCT as an emergency fund for certain things, such that if something comes up and we need to have money immediately, it will be available.

If there are so many challenges facing the FCT, the seat of government, who do you blame for that, their representatives over the years or the FCT administration?

Perhaps both.

To what extent?

In the FCT, you can’t hold the senator completely responsible. There is a minister for the FCT and many things are under his purview. So, if he had done those things, they wouldn’t be part of the problem anymore. By the same token, the senator is also supposed to have oversight of the minister for a lot of things the FCT needs. Meanwhile, the Senate also runs the FCT through the minister, so it is a combination of factors. I cannot tell you whose fault it is unless I examine it more closely. It will be fair to say if someone gave three of us a job to do and it doesn’t get done, if nobody is there with us, they will blame us all for not getting the job done, until the matter is further examined to know who didn’t do what.

Do you imply that your constituency can go and rest for the next four years?

I want to improve education in the FCT. The Federal Capital Territory deserves global standard education, women and youth empowerment, where people can actually see that the welfare and prosperity of youth and women have increased. We will also look into agro processing and many other things. I will work very hard to see to the passage of the Mayoral Bill. FCT doesn’t have transportation, yet we are the capital of Nigeria. We need to have a robust transportation system. It may be developed in phases but we need a master plan and we need to start from somewhere, maybe with public buses.

Housing deficit is a problem nationwide, how best do you think that can be addressed?

We need to look at mass housing. FCT has a lot of land but everybody is struggling for somewhere to live and we are paying exorbitant rent while shanty towns are coming up everywhere. We need to look into that and water provision for the FCT. Those are some of the things people can expect me to look into in the next four years.

You have been contesting since 2003, what inspired you to keep trying?

Two things; my first attempt was in a general election and people voted for me massively. Most of them time, even candidates that were funded by the government never won me with a landslide; maybe two votes or sometimes six votes. So, it showed that ab initio I did have the foundation of FCT politics correctly and I got a lot of support from the grassroots. That made me not to feel bad. The second point is that my idea of being in politics or any particular position is about service. That encouraged me to stay on it and keep trying.

Despite the stress of campaign and age, you still look very pretty, what is the secret?

Genetics maybe. I wouldn’t know but it is an opinion, it is not necessarily the reality.

Interview culled from punch.com

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