Mrs. Joan Onyemaechi Mrakpor is the representative of Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives. She served two terms as lawmaker at the Delta State House of Assembly before she was voted to represent her people in the National Assembly.
She said her second term in the Green chamber would among other things, focus on tackling the issue of food shortage being experienced in her constituency as a result of herdsmen’s attacks and to get the youths off the streets. She also spoke on other topical issues.
Why do you want a second term?
There are a lot that I have in mind to do. Water is still a very big challenge in Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency. It cuts across the four local governments; even those in the water zone like Oko community in Oshimili are still facing big problems. I pray that God will give me the solution to provide water for my people. The issue of electricity is another major problem. You cannot rent a shop and do barbing, tailoring, and welding, for instance, with lanterns. You have to provide power by buying generators, where there is no electricity. Federal Government is asking people to return to agriculture but you can no longer access the farm. So, when I am re-elected, by the grace of God, we will continue to raise our voices as individuals and as a House for government to find solution to this issue of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes. Herdsmen are also being killed in reprisal attacks. Both ways, it is a loss to the country.
Do you in any way get intimidated since politics appear to be male dominated?
Oftentimes when I am asked this question, I laugh. I do not know whether women will like me for my answer or if they will prefer me to tell them the truth.
When you say women must be given a chance, who is supposed to give women a chance? That is the basic question. We grew up together with the boys, shared the same class with them in primary and secondary school. The same teachers taught us, did the same subjects, answered same questions and I did not think any boy gave any girl a chance to pass any examination. We moved on to the university, still together as boys and girls, same department. I remember our General Studies class at the University of Jos. You know the GS classes are like Dugbe or any other big market because all the departments are lumped together. You found out that when you arrive GS class, the first four or five rows of chairs were taken up by the girls because they always arrive early and they wanted to be at the front to hear the lecturer clearly, whereas the boys would stroll in leisurely and sit or stand at the back. The lecturers did not mark our papers based on gender. We read law, medicine, political science, theatre arts and so on. Nobody asked for a chance. There was no different marking scheme for the females or for the males. Then after we left the university, we went for the Youth Service; still there was no preferential treatment. All of a sudden, as the girls turn to women, boys to men; you begin to hear things like ‘handle the women with care’, ‘gender equality’ and so on. I am yet to fathom where the disconnect came from. I do not know what happened between childhood through adolescent, to adult age, all of a sudden, women would now have to beg a man to represent a people. Some might want to run inside the house because some men would not like to see their faces on posters. Let us look at other areas, because when we limit it to politics, it is also discouraging. We have male and female doctors. I do not think a female is employed and she is told, because you are a female doctor, do only three hours per day and let the male doctor do seven hours. No! They work as doctors. When you meet them in the ward, they are all doctors, irrespective of gender. They work together. I think the challenge in politics is that somebody is mischievously trying to make the Nigerian woman believe that there is problem for her going into politics.
What is your take on the proposed Asaba University?
My Bill to the House of Representatives to turn the Federal College of Education (Technical), Asaba, into a full-fledged university is based on the glaring fact that Delta State does not have a federal university. You might say what do I mean? You might say Delta has Petroleum University, the Maritime University and the Admiralty University. All of them are restrictive or specialised. I cannot go to the Petroleum University to study law or medicine neither can one go to the Maritime university to study architecture. So, I came up with that Bill because for a place like Delta State, with specialised universities, we cannot
be doing catchment as the state is about the second or third in ranking, educationally speaking in Nigeria. So, that was what necessitated the Bill and by the grace of God, when I brought it to the House, they welcomed it. It has passed through the first reading and is now at the second reading stage. It has been committed to the House Committee on Education. By the grace of God, once it sails through, it will go to the senate for concurrence.
What have you done to deserve a second term?
My representation has brought a lot to my people. I have been in the legislature for 11 years now. I did two terms at the Delta State House of Assembly and I have been in the House of Representatives in the past three years. I have attracted a general hospital, schools, and federal government presence to my constituency. I have done empowerment programmes. What I do usually is not to pick projects for communities but, rather, I discuss with them. Usually, immediately after I am elected, I do a thank you tour to my constituency and with that approach; I am able to listen to the communities to know exactly what their needs are. At times, I hear their executive make some funny statements and it shows how much they understand the Nigerian system. For instance, a health centre might just be the need of that community. The general hospital may be one or two hours away from the community and all they need is a health centre. If I site health care in a place, please find out if that is the need of the people. What the needs of my people are, constitute what I submit during budgeting and appropriation.
Are you satisfied with the governance of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa?
I would say yes and no. No, because I know that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is not satisfied with himself because coming in as governor of Delta State, there were a lot of things that he had planned out. He had this passion for youths, wishing that he would be able to get them off the streets. He had this passion to make sure that women no longer died while giving birth. He had this passion to make sure that elderly ones while sick would be able to get medical attention, regardless of whether their children could afford it or not. He had this passion that Delta villages or communities should be connected to one another through good network of roads. However, because of the economy, he has not been able to achieve it to the level he had thought and told Deltans during campaigns before he was sworn in as governor.
But again, based on the meagre resources available to him, Okowa has done his best. If he had enough, he would have turned the whole Delta into a model state of his dreams, because apart from the state capital, where road construction and drainage works are going on, and other cities, he would want rural communities to be adequately taken care of as well.
Tell us what you know about the Asaba Airport contract?
I will answer to the extent of the facts that I had before I left the Delta State House of Assembly, because that contract issue did not start today, just like the Asaba Stadium issue. I was a member of the House Appropriation Committee then and we severally visited Asaba Stadium then and were not happy with the contractor. As a House, we made it clear.
We had running issues with the way the Asaba Airport was being handled. And when Senator Okowa came in, you know people are different, he is a man who can absorb shocks. People had expected him
to quickly terminate the contract as soon as he became governor, but he did not do that. He went further and had meetings with the contractors and they named their price again, which they said was delaying the job. He went ahead and paid, though there were allegations in the social media that he paid so as to get some cuts, which was not true. He paid because he wanted the airport job to be completed. He became uncomfortable when months turned to years. The project remained unfinished. Of course, as a wife, when there are issues, you cannot disconnect yourself. My husband is from Delta Central, an Urhobo man, and I am an Igbo from Delta North. Some persons connected with that contract are from my area. So, of course, I would get one or two bashings, people are asking, why is your husband doing this? But one question he asked is, do you want me to be the friend of your people or you want Deltans to be happy with the government? I told him that was a tough question. I want you to be a friend of the people and I want Deltans to be happy. In some issues you cannot have the two.
And he went on to say that each time Deltans are coming into Asaba and have to go through Owerri, Benin, Enugu or Warri airports, a lot of issues come up and end with the governor that he is not doing well, he is not doing this or that. He now asked again, do you know the risk involved having to do almost two hours on the road either from Enugu, Owerri or Benin to come to Asaba?