Benjamin Kalu is a deputy speakership aspirant for the 10th National Assembly. He provides some insight into his choice and that of Tajudeen Abbas as speaker by the All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as the reasons the Southeast was considered ahead Northcentral. TOPE SUNDAY reports as monitored on Channels Television. Excerpts
From being a spokesperson of the House to potentially being a deputy speaker. How does that feel for you?
For me, it feels good. Though I wanted to be the Speaker of the 10th Assembly, being a party man, having served the party well by making sure that my image-making responsibility on the 9th Assembly was carried out efficiently well as I was told, making sure that rancour-free National Assembly was achieved between horizontal relationship among members and vertically between other arms of government and that of the executive, understanding the workings of all the committees of the House; knowing how to resolve their problem before he gets to the press; and presenting an image that has increased the confidence of the people; and the activities of the National Assembly. I felt I was well rounded to be the Speaker of the House, especially when you consider the fact that for 40 years, that is four decades, when you consider the last time the southeasterners held the gavel in the House of Representatives, the time of Rt Hon. Ume Ezeoke.
I felt it was time for us to step into that. But the party is supreme. The party, in their wisdom, decided what is due for the South East at the moment and who will occupy the deputy speakership position.
You know, in every democratic clime, be it, the United States under the Republican or the Democrat, the Democratic Party will always point in a direction they want to go with regards to forming the architecture of government because of the national objectives they have set for themselves to achieve. These national objectives must be achieved with an arm of government that buys into that same national objectives that always guide them to make sure that what they have in their manifesto will be given and become a reality in the lives of Nigerians.
So, it’s a careful responsibility that must be carried by the leadership of the party and major stakeholders. And I’m sure that is what the party has done at this time pointing out the direction that they want for their party members to go, not the entire National Assembly.
You know, some people get it wrong and said that the party had zoned or micro-zoned and all of that.
The party owes the members of the party the responsibility to point out the direction and that is what they have done.
For me being asked to run for the deputy speakership of the House, I am happy that my party considered my effort, loyalty, dedication, and steadfastness in the Southeast being the only returning member of the House of Representatives under APC in Abia state. It was a tough one, but we stood our ground. Our campaign office was shot at with over 100 bullets. We were intimidated, we were threatened, assassins sent. But where the party will be, is where we’ll stand and we did that.
Despite Tinubu’s low votes in the Southeast, why zoning deputy speakership position to the region?
The difference between Tinubu’s administration and maybe other administrations we have had is that this is a man who has fought under NADECO. He is a true democrat, and he does not look at only the number of votes. Yes, as a human being, it will affect him. You will be sentimental about it. But generally speaking, this is a democrat who understands the importance of constitutional democracy and the constitution says in Section 14 that Federal Character should be an element because…
…At the expense of the North Central with large chunk of votes for Tinubu ?
You can’t say that…
Let me mention this. The difference between the administration of the president-elect, and others is that he knows the importance of planning early. The journey to the 2027 elections starts with what we do now, the foundation will lay now and if you’re talking about interests in commanding cohesion in the country, national coalition, and national loyalty, you must start now.
Is that not injustice?
It can’t be cannot be called injustice. That analysis is a weak argument because we’re talking about what is beyond the election. We’re talking about nation-building. When you talk about nation-building, you should forget about sentiments and emotions. You look at the strongest argument and the strongest argument you have is how do we make diversity-sensitive leadership, and nation-building efforts that will incorporate the beautiful coloration of all the diverse parts of the country coming together to work for what we preach, we say the unity, peace, and progress.
And for that to be achieved, every part of this nation must be carried along. You may recall that in the last four years, the Southeast was not holding any presiding officer’s position, and it has impacted this election, among other things. And I can assure you if you neglect Southeast again wholesomely in holding such a sensitive position, then you will battle again in 2027, and this is a big risk for any great planner to take.
Because if you start now to plan and adopt this spirit of inclusion, Southeast is going to yield a better harvest than what was yielded before. So, I know he(Tinubu) is a great planner. I know that the party is filled with strategists that sat down to consider so many factors and said for my region, Southeast, we need to get back into the fold, we need to be harvested from there. And if we’re going to achieve that, a sense of belonging must be given to them.
Don’t you think this is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul?
You have forgotten vital issues in considering forming a government that will work for the country. There are certain things you consider beyond the parliament. And even within the parliament, you should be conscious of the unique nature.
Nigeria is a secular state you all know that we have a president-elect as a Muslim, and the vice president-elect as a Muslim at the moment. And you know that if we have in the House a Muslim speaker, and a Northcentral as a deputy speaker, who definitely might be a Muslim, it is not going to show the beautiful picture of a secular state. So, while you consider all the factors, other higher factors must be factored into the decision-making mechanisms.
What gave rise to your nomination?
I have mentioned to you that my zone has not been there for donkey years, and we want to be included. Now the party’s considering that, the party also wants to reward loyalty. And the labour that we have shown in fighting for the party, is shopping for competence, capacity, and credibility from parties looking for those…
…So, you are the most credible post in your region?
It is for the party to decide. I can’t blow my trumpet.
You are a friend of the institutions within and around Bola Tinubu, that is why you are being favoured?
I don’t think it would be fair to judge Tinubu’s decision-making or the party’s decision- making mechanism or strategy or prowess on the grounds of maybe being close. I am close to the party, and as a member of the party, you must be close to the party. I didn’t betray the party.
You are being handpicked, and the labeling of the 9th Assembly is rubber-stamped?
What a romantic description that Nigerians and some journalists have accepted to use as a label for the National Assembly that has delivered more than all assemblies. I think we should be fair in attaching labels. You know very well that our track record shows that we have outperformed. I don’t think that the description is fit for the job that we have done. We have looked at the constitutional review, and we sent in 35, and we got 16 back out of the sections of the Constitution that were sent to Mr. President.
Also, you know the list of achievements that we have made and I’m not sure the short time will allow us to go through all of them. The Electoral Act we are talking about today was obsolete, and CAMA was also obsolete, these have been renewed through the legislative interventions you know.
And you ignored all those to begin to describe us as a rubber stamp because we don’t wear boxing gloves, as if wearing boxing gloves is an exhibition of an efficient legislature. It is not.
The size of our boxing gloves should not be what determines how effective we have been. The acrimony, the rancour is not the true definition of an effective and efficient legislature.
How much support are you getting yourself and Hon. Tajudeen Abbas?
This is democracy and all the people who have shown interest to contest are all well qualified to run for this position. All we can do is when the party has pointed to the direction it has pointed, many will be aggrieved. What you do is not to ignore them, you don’t take it for granted that the party has anointed you and it is an easy sell. No! What we are doing is deliberately taking steps toward making the members buy into the party’s position, also to look at what has been presented, and what are the agitations by the people.
We have over 260 (members) across the various political parties. The Great Majority Group has been weakened because after the pronouncements, many of the members of the Greater majorities have seen reasons to align with the ruling party’s position and I can assure you in these coming days, you begin to see the trickle effects of negotiations that we are doing.
Also, aspirants who are agitating that they are shortchanged are beginning to feel the impact that we’re reaching out to more people and we’re bringing more people to our fold. We have only about five that are remaining. We are reaching more people, and it is not by force. As regards your question about the North Central, I think my party has a plan to accommodate the region.
If you lose, what will you do?
I will continue to be a parliamentarian because I am already here. But I will not lose because people are with us.