Member representing Okigwe South Federal Constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Chairman Health Services Committee, Chike Okafor, has declared his interest to contest for the Speaker of the 9th Assembly.
He speaks on his aspiration and other issues of interest.
You have declared interest to contest the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, what would say inspired you?
The inspiration to aspire for the position of the Speaker is in line with the rule of the House which says that anyone aspiring for the speakership must be a ranking member. So, I consider myself qualified to aspire for the position of the Speaker. The other inspiration is that for over four years I have worked closely with the leadership of the House and I have also worked closely with men and women you may consider as experts in legislative oasis. I have learnt the rope from them and I have allowed myself to get used to their legislative expertise. I’m a fast learner and I also have confidence in my ability and qualifications which I garnered over the years while working in the private sector and other sensitive environments rising to the position of management staff in one of the best and biggest banking outfit in the country, Zenith Bank. I move from there to the public sector to serve my state as Commissioner for Finance and a member of Imo State Executive Council for three and half years. That exposed me to a larger spectrum to the extent I became a member of the Finance Committee of the Federal Government and a key member of the Commissioners of Finance Forum. And that gave me opportunity to interact with commissioners of Finance from the 35 states of the federation. My membership of the Finance Forum exposed me to the Accountant General and his office and it enabled me to interact with various key agencies. So, it broadens my knowledge and understanding of the workings of the polity. You will agree with me that you must be vast in economic oasis to be able to preside over the House of Representatives and it must be a prerequisite for the contest. It will help you understand bills and motion that will impact positively on the larger society. So, I have confidence in my abilities and in my legislative training.
According to report, the leadership of APC and the NWC has endorsed the Majority leader, Femi Gbajabiamila for the position; don’t you see your decision to contest against him as disobedience to your party?
My declaration came ahead of the decision of the party. I had written to my party chairman on my intention to present myself for the position and you can consider it as a normal declaration and that was ahead of the National Chairman’s pronouncement on the stand of the party with regard to position of the speakership. The position of the leadership of party does not put me in any disadvantaged position. It may interest you to know that another member from Benue State has also declared interest for the position and we all sat together at the dinner where our National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole made the pronouncement. So, the decision of the party is democratic and did not foreclose the possibility and chances of any other person who wish to throw his hat into the ring. Let me also say that what the our National Chairman has done in all fairness, is just to show the preference of the APC leadership. When he spoke at that dinner they were using one of the legislative mechanism called lobby to earn support for their preferred candidate, but that does foreclose the chances of others from contesting. When the 9th Assembly is inaugurated in June, it will be only 360 of us behind the shut doors to determine who becomes the Speaker, that does not take away the fact that Gbajabiamila is not experienced if not the most experienced in the 8th Assembly, but other factors must be put into consideration by the leadership of the party in the allocation of positions.
For progressive party such as APC, it’s unfair to consider only years of experience. They should look into national interest as well. A progressive party like APC must also look at social justice and political stability; they must weigh in what I call equitable inclusion of the federating units in line with provisions of the constitution on equitable distribution of offices. The federal character as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended should be geared towards equitable distribution of positions to the six geo- political zones. You will agree with me that the geo -political zone where their preferred candidate comes from already has the vice president and you will agree with me that it is no longer equitable for the zone to lobby for the position of the Speaker. To answer to your question if my decision to run does not amount to disobedience to my party, this is April and I believe that there some factors the party leadership has not considered before they made the pronouncement which I believe they will look into before June when we will be inaugurated. By then they must have considered these factors and the need to be a lot more inclusive.
Many may see your action as effort in futility considering the fact the South-East has less members-elect, are you not concern that your colleagues from other zones may not vote for you?
I told you earlier and I want to repeat, experience should not be the only consideration. I mentioned national interest and social justice. I also did mention that the party should consider stability and harmony in the polity in order to avoid what happened in the 8th Assembly. The South-East geo political zone remains an integral part of the country. I want to say this with every sense of dignity and I stand to be corrected that you cannot find any Nigerian that is more Nigerian than Igbo with or without the votes for APC. Don’t make any mistake about it, the zone was PDP dominated and you don’t expect those of us championing APC in the region to just wake up within four years and overrun the whole place. I have given you statistics to show a mark of improvement, it is a function of deliberate attempt to continue to push and sell the party to our people in the South-East. Without reservations, the average South-East person will invest and thrive in every other zone. Our intrigues have spread to the six geo -political zones of the country and no other tribe can boast of this feat. This is why most politicians believe that our voting population lies in those residing in the South-East. This not true because the South-East votes cut across the six geo political zones and that is why their votes are very significant. That is why every politician will always find a way to reach out the Igbo in their states and local government areas and if you neglect the votes of the South-East, you are doing so at your own peril. It is also important for APC to note that we assured our people in 2015 to vote for APC so that they could reap the dividends of the mainstream politics, but in last four years we have little or nothing to show. I want to advise APC to use the opportunity we have now in allocation of positions in the National Assembly to extend some gestures of goodwill to the zone considering the improvement the party recorded in the just concluded election irrespective of whatever is our shortcomings and encourage the supporters of the party in the zone because another election is coming in 2023.
Chike Okafor cannot be separated from Governor Rochas Okorocha; won’t the face-off between Okorocha and Oshiomhole affect your ambition of becoming the next Speaker?
Okorocha is not attached to me rather; I’m attached to Governor Okorocha. He gave me my first start in politics and that appointment as commissioner for Finance kept me in office throughout his first tenure. I make bold and proud to say that there is no position I will aspire to even in the National Assembly that will make me not to tell anybody who cares to listen that Rochas Okorocha gave me my start in politics and that will not affect me negatively in any quest and I don’t expect anybody to judge me on the basis of my relationship with Okorocha. Show me any politician who did not have tutelage or who didn’t pass through one political figure especially if you have had to go through appointment and somebody will say because you passed through somebody, you won’t be qualified to aspire to any position of your interest. I cannot and I will never deny Okorocha as one who gave me my start in politics and the role he played in shaping my life have enabled me to carve a niche for myself. I have made a name for myself and Okorocha is not written on my face, but that will not take away the fact I’m coming from him.
How have you been able to rally the support of your colleagues?
I may not give you the details because we are in contest and you keep your joker to yourself. Meanwhile, in the last four years I have been chairman of a committee on Health Services and chairman of an ad-hoc committee. If you put these two committees together, you know that I’m positioned for the contest. Some of my colleagues are second and third term members and if you see them come into the chamber, you hear them screaming, ‘chair, chair.’ You will be neglecting me in this race at your own peril.
What difference are you going to bring to the table if elected Speaker?
I took time to study the progression of the various leadership of the National Assembly up to the 7th Assembly and now that I’m in the Assembly, I can say I’m one of the key players in the 8th Assembly. I dare to say that if we have the opportunity to lead the 9th Assembly, we cannot but improve on what has been done. Two areas that I think we should take critical look at is the relationship between the legislature and the executive. It could have been better even though it is not only the 8th Assembly that we witnessed cat and rat relationship. Don’t forget the days of Aminu Tambuwal of the 7th Assembly, the relationship was not better either and in the 8th Assembly it didn’t get any better. So, if elected Speaker, we have to ensure a better relationship between the three arms government especially the legislature and the executive arms and ensure that they are independent of each other. I assure Nigerians that there will be harmonious relationship between the legislature and the executive under my watch. We will also help the party and government deliver on its promises to the people. Another area is the passage of the budget, we will form synergy with the executive to ensure the passage of the budget is not delayed because it is not entirely the responsibility of the legislature alone, but the executive also shares in that responsibility. One of the things I will do as Speaker is to discuss with the president to give directive during budget preparation that it should be all inclusive whereby the legislature will make input to some extent and at the end of the day when the document come to the National Assembly, we won’t have much to do, but to pass it into law.