From Jude Idu, Abuja
Mr Obidike Okolo, a lawyer, is the standard bearer of the National Rescue Movement (NRM) for the Federal House of Representatives, Uzo-Uwani/Igbo-Etiti Federal constituency. In this interview with Sunday Sun, he said that he would ensure that Enugu State and Uzo-Uwani in particular is recorgnised as an oil producing state thereby closing up the 20 years of political marginalisation.
What actually is the hope of your challenging the candidates from the mega parties to go to the National Assembly?
Yes ,I have always had this passion being involved in good governance for the greater number of people and over time, I have observed how politics is played in Nigeria, in Enugu State and Uzo-Uwani/ Igbo-Etiti, which is my own constituency in particular. I think that the style or democratic practice need much to be desired. There are so much that can be done to enshrine true democracy in the constituency and give the people what they need, which is the dividend of democracy. We deserve quality governance and we have more than enough quality and competent hands who can represent us, but unfortunately not much of them have shown this interest in politics and maybe because of the way elections are conducted to pick representatives and to a large extent that it has also affected the quality of governance. It is obvious that my people have been denied this dividends of democracy. I am highly motivated and as result-oriented professional, an alumnus of the great University of Lagos, a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, I think it will be a disservice to watch things go wrongly in Enugu State, with PDP incharge. Like I told you, it is time for the youths to seek how to change the narratives. I’m eminently qualified. I am a member of the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators, also a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators. As an astute professional in politics, and good governance advocate, I have at various times been National Secretary, National Legal Adviser, National Treasurer and now the Acting National Secretary, National Rescue Movement (NRM), one of Nigeria’s leading political parties. When I take a look at what happens at the parliament under the present administration, it seems short of what an average lawmaker can offer to his/ her people.
You are coming from a political party viewed not to be among the mega ones. How do you intend to battle the candidates endorsed by the incumbent governor in your state?
The fact here is that the people across party levels, ethnic background, are disappointed of the 20 years of PDP and APC put together. And with this , it is presently about individuals who can rescue the people by giving them proper representation. And come to talk of it, the Peter Obi movement, is a practical example of what is going to be witnessed come 2023 general election. Peter Obi, was in APGA as the governor of Anambra State. He was in PDP as a vice presidential candidate and now he is in Labour Party contesting for the office of the president of this country and initially people said that the party is structureless, but we have also seen that it is no longer a party affair, but of individuals who are in the party. In my view, Peter Obi, as an individual gave the party the popularity it needs. So, I think that these are some of the philosophies we have adopted. Please do not forget that price of items in the market does not know party or ethnic differences. We all buy from the same market and economy. So, the people themselves can switch allegiance to a party that gives them good representation and good governance. So, the days of bandwagon is gone.
Can you itemize these things you think the people of Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Etiti Federal constituency has lacked owing to poor quality representation in the last 20 years?
With specific reference to Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Etiti constituency, which I am contesting in this coming election, it is obvious that since the return of democratic rule, that is in the past 20 years, Igbo-Etiti local government which shares the constituency with Uzo-Uwani has dominated representation with higher representation of 16 to four years of being in the parliament, which means an uneven number of Igbo-Etiti, 16 years and Uzo-Uwani with only four years of just one tenure. You see the law of equity demands that it is a position that both local government jointly owned and on the ground of equity, should be shared equally, but it has not been so since the return of democracy and with this, I can say that my people have been greatly marginalized. If you take a closer look at this, Hon. Stella Ngwu from Igbo-Etiti, had a tenure of eight years after which Hon. Paul Okwudili Ezeh, from Uzo-Uwani had just a tenure of four years and the rotation went back to Igbo-Etiti with Hon. Martins Oke spending another eight years and has now been given another chance by the governor for a return to the same office after spending eight years. So, if you take a closer look at it, you will see that Igbo-Etiti has had advantage, the upper hands over Uzo-Uwani and this has affected the benefits as it were because my people have not just been marginalized by physical representation, but also in constituency projects which we have not been able to get as it ought to be. And also the second aspect of it, which I have covered earlier, is that my own local government, Uzo-Uwani is predominantly an agrerian people who thrive in farming. We have a very fertile land, which does not need the support of fertilizer to increase yeilds. And statistics even if not emperical for now have shown that with proper harness of the agricultural developmental project, the local government has the potential to feed the entire Southeast and beyond and unfortunately the local government has been neglected. It is also pertinent to note that Uzo-Uwani has a huge oil deposit in Iga community bordering Anambra and Kogi states. These states who share border have been recorgnized by the Federal Government, but has not been recorgnized by the Federal Government for her 13 per cent derivation as an oil producing state because of lack of political will from executive members of the state government to push for Federal Government recorgnition, exploration and exportation. And, of course, Uzo-Uwani is on record the least developed communities in terms of poor amenities.It is so underdeveloped to the extent that poor state of the local government show no sign of tertiary health institutions, commercial banks, rural electrification, good roads and potable clean water. In the early 90s, we used to have one of the campuses of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, but it was shortlived, when it was removed due to political reasons. Ideally, an agrerian local government should have at least a University of Agriculture to both it’s agriculture potential. And worthy of note, is that Uzo-Uwani local government is a second generation local government with no federal presence in the 21st century apart from the Adada River dam, which started sometime in 2016 and till date still at foundation level. If the dam is completed, it will serve the entire Enugu North and solve the problem of seasonal irrigation farming, water shortage problems.
You made mention of the governor giving the ticket back to a PDP candidate from Igbo-Etiti, was there any attempt by your local government officials to make the governor see reasons for a balanced representation?
In fact, we used different avenues and different platforms, associations, Non-governmental organizations, press releases, open letters to inform him in pre-party primaries. We asked our governor, whom we know believes and serves God fervently, and who knows that there is a God of justice, to throw his considerable political weight behind Uzo-Uwani to produce the House of Reps member for Uzo-Uwani/Igbo Etiti Federal Constituency. We made him to understand that Enugu State as it is today was created out of Anambra State in 1991. The old Anambra State had five zones delineated according to their population and considerations of constituency delimitation. The five zones were Onitsha, Awka, Nsukka, Enugu and Abakaliki. It was upon this five-zone configuration that the general elections of 1979 and 1983 were conducted in the then Anambra State. So, when in 1991, Enugu State was created out of Anambra State, Onitsha and Awka zones became the new Anambra State, while Nsukka, Enugu and Abakaliki zones became the new Enugu State. In 1996, Abakaliki zone of Enugu State was carved out to fuse with Afikpo zone of Abia State to become Ebonyi State. This left, in Enugu State, Nsukka zone and Enugu zone. It is to be noted that Nsukka zone in this configuration, had about 53 per cent of the population and over 60 per cent of the land mass. In what appeared an attempt at justifying the people’s call for Ugwuanyi’s intervention, a professional body of Uzo-Uwani professionals, UZPA, in its open letter to the governor argued that “a campus of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, in compliance with the original plan of a multi-campus structure of the university at design, that was sited in Adada – Nkpologu, in Uzo-Uwani Local Government was forcefully yanked away and relocated to Agbani, in Nkanu West of Enugu zone. Apart from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, which Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe mercifully sited in Nsukka, no other federal presence of note is in Nsukka. And even at that, all the prime faculties and departments of the university, Medicine, Medical Lab, Law, Business, Accounting, Estate Management, Architecture are all in Enugu, leaving Nsukka campus with only Arts and Education. UZPA demanded a shot at the Uzo-Uwani/Igbo-Etiti federal constituency sea, saying it is a justifiable one since 1999, when democracy returned, to 2023 when the term of the current occupant will expire, these are 24 years. Out of these 24 years, Igbo-Etiti has taken the position of member, House of Representatives for Uzo-Uwani/Igbo-Etiti Federal Constituency for 20 years. Uzo-Uwani has gone for a miserable four years. In percentage terms, Igbo-Etiti has done 83 per cent of the time and Uzo-Uwani, a mere 17 per cent, for a position the two local governments are supposed to share 50 per cent apiece, despite a signed agreement to rotate the position between the two sisterly local governments.
Some may question your political credibility and experience in parliamentary duties, more especially coming from the background of a non-popular party, NRM?
I believe I have very bright chance of becoming a parliamentarian and my reasons are simple. I can tell you that recent happenings have shown that Nigerians are tired of the usual stories from the usual suspects, that the APC and PDP that have been leading the country since the return to democracy and people have seen that there is no difference between the two. Today, people are looking at individuals beyond party affiliations or religious affiliations. A topical example, is the movement you see with Peter Obi who was originally a member of APGA during his time as Anambra State governor and member of PDP when he contested for the office of vice president before moving to Labour Party which people initially wrote off as a structureless party, but today the party has become a force even before the election. So, what I am trying to say is that it is not all about party. In Peter Obi’s case, it is not about Labour Party, it is about Peter Obi. So, people are now looking beyond party toga and cloak This is because people are disappointed about the name of parties and are now looking for people who can rescue the nation. So, with this I can say that I have what it takes to rescue my people, but that is not to say that challenges of not coming through popular parties are not there.
Do you see your party going into alliance with mega parties for the 2023 polls?
Well, my take on this question, is that we need a progressive individual and a capable hand to turn the tide. So, it is all about who is going to take us to where we are aiming at. So, to that regard, I am open to any form of alliance, any form of collective ideas to save our people and like I said, it is beyond party thing. In Uzo-Uwani, we are not talking of which party should go, what we are talking of is that what belongs to all of us is missing.
To attract this desired alliance from other parties, you must have at least 25 per cent followership in both Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Etiti?
Like I said, it is work in progress. And I will not claim that popularity even when work is still in progress and as we know, Rome was not built in a day. We will continue to sensitize the people on the need to take power from PDP and his twin sister, APC and in a more serious note, a larger number of people from Igbo-Etiti are not happy with their own indegenes who have been at the House of Representatives for 16 years without anything to show for it. So, there are also this noticable developmental disparity within the Igbo-Etiti itself. So, the agitation and bitterness is what have opened doors of opportunity for people who have the capacity to come over and vie for this position. Like I said, it is not easy, but like I said it is work in progress.
You have outlined what your people are lacking, and if elected, how long will it take you to change the narratives?
I am going to answer this question as honest as possible. And the first thing that I am going to do is to return this office to the people as quickly as possible. And I think that has been the case. A situation where some oportuned ones went there and started representing themselves and their families forgetting that they are holding public office. The office belongs to every indegene of Igbo Etiti and Uzo-Uwani. I think that is the first thing that I am going to make myself accessible to the people and, of course, the job of a legislature is listening to his people and with those collective concerns raise motions during parliament that address those issues through which laws are made. Then beyond making laws and performing constituency duties, I also intend to introduce inclusive policies that would bring the people under one umbrella where everyone is made to contribute in parliament sort off. For example, by organizing town hall meeting and also finding other avenues that give opportunities to indegenes to have collaboration of the international communities for economic growth, such as exposing my people’s agricultural potential to the entire world, ensuring that Uzo-Uwani and indeed Enugu State becomes oil producing state through FG recorgnition and any other projects that can improve the economic and wellbeing of the people. So, all these I have lined up, are things I have seen lacking and I am confident that if given the opportunity that I shall deliver to the people.
Looking at the demography of the entire local governments that made up the constituency, it is still struggling with just one representative at the National Assembly?
Yes, this is a question of delineation of states and there is a process, which has already begun with Uzo-Uwani having two representatives at the Enugu State Assembly before now. I know that the present Senator representing Enugu North, Senator Chuka Utazi, has done much and has gone far in the quest for the creation of Adada State. I know that there has been a lot of push and if Iam oportuned to be there, I will continue to push to ensure that such comes a reality. Recall that before now that Uzo-Uwani has been having two state house of assembly members that is Uzo-Uwani West and East, but unfortunately INEC in pre-2023 election, illegally removed one of our seats. So, some of us had gone to court so that INEC should be asked to return to status quo. It should be restored because INEC has no powers to wrongly cancel what was legally created by the National Assembly. So the matter is pending in the court and we hope that justice will be.served.
As a youth, what are your legislative ideology for youths employment?
In fact, my campaign manifestos are issue based and more especially when it has to do with youth and women empowerment in the society. But specifically with the youths because the high rate of crime and criminality among youths is alarming and basically because these young men are doing nothing. The economy is so bad even among those who could manage, it is never enough. So, they resort to crime as easy way out. So, in my programme, youths employment is a very important part of my strategy and we should also engage possibly partners for the initiatives on youths empowerment, more especially in formal education and skill acquization. And, of course, it is right to say that if we should do more of production than just a consuming people then we can increase our economic base. But the fact also remains that no one can engage in production without the skills first. So, these are my plans. We intend to establish one skill acquization centre in each of the local governments for the youths.
In a scale of one to 10, what will you score the Buhari-led APC administration?
I score them one out of 10 because my professor had told me never to score anyone zero since the person is still eating food. I hope that Nigerian youths sustain the pressure of taking the country back from the hands of PDP and its sister, APC. It is good that we have tasted both self-acclaimed most populous political part in Africa.