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Senator Gershom Bassey represents the Southern Senatorial district of Cross River State in the National Assembly. In this interview with MIKE ABANG, our correspondent in Calabar, Bassey spoke on the alleged failure of the Federal Government to fund its budgets and several other issues bordering on his constituency. Excerpts:

Are you satisfied with the performance of the governor of the state, Senator Ben Ayade?

Yes, very well. Ayade is a big thinker and he has big ideas. Look at this country with a budget of N8 trillion which does not scratch the surface of what we are going through in this country. We need big thinkers to power ourselves out of the situation we have found ourselves in this country. The previous PDP administration was on that path and I think even if this present administration is learning the ropes, they need to borrow a leaf from Ayade to leverage on the things we have and move this country forward. Ayade is saying that the bread and butter have to trickle down. He took me around

and showed me the dualisation of the Calabar-Odukani Road, the spaghetti fly over at Tinapa Junction and the mega power station. He is looking at things wholeheartedly. I judge people on

whether they have a plan and I know Ayade has a plan.

During your recent visit to your constituency, you were engaged in a number of activities with the members of your senatorial district. What do you intend to achieve?

You know I am the representative of the Southern Senatorial District of Cross River State in the Senate and what I have been doing is to be in touch with members of my constituency and hear from them what their challenges are and how I can address such challenges. That is the whole essence of the activities that we were engaged in. We started

with the Utom Obong which I chaired and made contributions to in many ways, including financially and after that I had interactions with the Obong of Calabar himself after the Utom Obong. And from there we moved to the Carnival Calabar and you know I have a band, the Master Blaster, where we actively participated in the carnival. From there we moved to the social programme which had to do with the distribution of primary healthcare equipment which we have delivered to four local government areas in the constituency, the last one

being in Eki in Odukpani. We have done in Akamkpa and Calabar South and Akpabuyo Local Government Areas. During the delivery of that primary healthcare equipment which the people were very happy for, we went into indentation with the various local governments beginning with the elders to the women, the youth the chiefs, down to the party officials in the seven local government areas that constitute the Southern Senatorial district. We used those interactions as an opportunity to say a merry Christmas and a happy new to them. During that interaction with them, they told me what I have been doing right, where I need to do better and where they think I have been doing wrong and need to make amends. I was able to take away a lot of issues from those interactions and a lot of the issues

they raised were personal issues which can be addressed by the state government and which the state governor has begun to address. We discussed some of those issues with His Excellency Governor Ayade and he has assured me he was on top of most of those issues they raised. He has started one of those issues which are water supply and we went to commission one of the rigs he just bought to enhance rural water supply in the state. The rig is to punch five hundred boreholes through direct labour through RUWATSA.

You have changed the level of interactions this year. Last year you brought all the local governments together where you interacted with them and gave them Christmas and New Year gifts?

What we have done this year is to also reach out to the chiefs individually. We go personally to see a traditional institution individually while we got the rest of the people in a local government to gather where ever they considered convenient.

Two years down the line what do you consider the greatest challenge of members of your constituency?

The greatest challenge of my constituency is the challenge facing every other Nigerian which is recession. We have found ourselves in the situation where the country has gone into recession even when they claim we have gone out of it which is quite marginal; the harsh conditions still persists. The concerns of my people are the things that are created when an economy is in a recession: unemployment, low wages, high prices, high exchange rate, low productivity, shrinking economy, shrinking private sector and all the issues that come with an economy in recession are affecting my people. Essentially, they are saying food on the table is not what it used to be.

May we know some of the federal presence in your constituency in the last two years?

I can reel out a whole list of projects that we have attracted in the last two years as Constituency projects or through making an input into the budgets, but the thing is that the budgets are not being funded; for instance, we have included the Calabar –Itu Road in the budget; yes the contract has been awarded but I have not seen any work going on there. I don’t know if the contractors have been given money or not or have you seen any work going on there yourself? The Calabar-Ogoja Road, the rehabilitation of that road has been awarded in sections, both the Federal Ministry of Works and FERMA, are on it but again, funding has been the problem. The Calabar-Oban-Ikpai Road is in the budget and other parts of it is on the Cross River Basin Authority project list, but if you go to Basin, they will tell you there is no money. The East-West Road is in the budget, the Lagos-Calabar rail is in the budget – we fought for it tooth and nail two years ago but nothing has been done about it. We need to get to the root of some of these issues which are dragging us back. I am calling on the Federal Government to please, release funds for the execution of projects. Funding issues are a real problem. I want to urge the Federal Government again, please fund the budgets. I don’t know what is going on with funds, but they need to put in money into the budgets. Last year we were told funding of the budget was less than 20percent. They are funding the recurrent expenditure where they pay salaries; they also need to fund the capital too. You have a situation where 70percent or 65percent of the budget is recurrent expenditure while 30percent or 35percent is for capital projects; so ab initio, the capital budget is quite low and then the allocation to capital projects is not funded which signals that we have a serious problem. You can attract all the projects on earth to your constituency, but if they are not funded it is as good as not doing anything. My appeal is please; let the Federal Government fund capital projects.

Are you not worried that some projects keep recurring in the budget?

They say it was zero budgeting which should not be the case. Every year there should be a justification why a project should recur in the budget, but that is not my concern. Those are technical issues, what I am not interested in, but my concern is that let the budget be funded so that the lives of my constituents can be touched. I am not interested in all the grammar or technicalities what I am saying, cut the grammar and fund the budget. When the President signs the Appropriation Bill, it becomes a law which has to be obeyed, so let the Federal Government obey the law. That is what we are saying. Funding the budget when it has been passed into law is no longer discretionary, it has to be done. If you don’t fund the budget you are breaking the law. It is just like saying if you carry a gun and shoots people it is optional, no, it is not, and if you shoot somebody you are breaking the law and will be incarcerated for breaking the law. The Federal Government should obey the law and fund the budget.

Your state, Cross River is neighbouring state to Benue where killings by herdsmen just took place, we have heard some series of herdsmen violence in Cross River and do you think some of these solutions to herdsmen violence like grazing colonies are workable?

I don’t understand what they mean by grazing colonies, but I do know crimes are being committed. Security of lives and property is the primary responsibility of every government. If you go into the Constitution security is listed as the number one duty of government. Safety of lives is paramount. If the government is not living up to that responsibility then there is a problem. Let the Federal Government and the security agencies come together and give us a solution to the problem while a long-term solution is sought after that, the Senate, House of Representatives, and Houses of Assembly can debate and come up with a long-lasting solution but in the immediate term, let lives and property be secure.

What is your success story so far?

I have a four-year mandate and you can’t call a ninety-minute match at halftime. We are at halftime now. I have told my constituents that I am running a four-year tenure and at the end of my four years they can tell me whether I have done well or not. But in the meantime, I can say so far, so good. My focus in the next two years is effective representation. The primary responsibility of a legislator is to make laws, that is why I have put up billboards with my phone numbers for my people to tell me what are their needs so that we can engage more. I am their voice in the Senate, and they should give me the issues that bother them so that I can project them in the Senate. I am ready to ensure that what is to come to my state comes and not to be neglected. What belongs to the state has to come and they add extra for me.

What are the chances of your party in 2019?

The PDP is going back to occupy Aso Rock. Are you as an individual satisfied with what APC government is doing? Again, for the APC government, they are at halftime and still learning the ropes, but like somebody was saying the other day, if at half time you are eight goals down, it is always difficult to come back and win the match. The APC government has not delivered on any of its promises. Be it the exchange rate of one Naira to one US dollar, all the way to the economy, there is nothing to show that they have done anything to improve it. The other day they were asking for one billion US dollars to fight the Boko Haram, which shows that the matter has not been concluded as they claim. Clearly the PDP has every chance of occupying Aso Rock if we can put our act together and we are beginning to put our act together with the successful conduct of the national convention where we have chosen an executive that was voted for by every section of the party from every part of the country. This is the building block of coming back to power. A lot of PDP bigwigs that went to APC are disillusioned by what they see in there and are coming back. Many of them are engaging the leadership of our party on how to come back and our doors are open to receive them. His Excellency, the former Vice President has come and many others are coming in droves. They see that APC has been just a special purpose vehicle that was put up to achieve a particular purpose and after that, it disintegrated and our doors are open. Prominent House of Representatives members, former state chairmen have come back. Even in our state, we see prominent politicians coming back and in the near future, more grassroots people will come back to the PDP fold which sets the stage for the party going back to power at the federal level.

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