Mr. Obidike Okolo, a lawyer, is running under the ticket of National Rescue Movement (NRM) for the 2023 Federal House of Representatives election to represent Uzo-Uwani/Igbo-Etiti Federal constituency. In this interview with IDU JUDE, the contestant said ensuring that Enugu State and Uzo-Uwani, in particular, was recognised as an oil producing state and closing up 20 years of political marginalisation, partly informed his quest to change the narratives.
Looking at where you are coming from, is there any hope for a contestant like you from NRM against candidates from mega parties in your quest to avenge unequal representation in the parliament?
It is obvious that my people have been denied the dividends of democracy. I am highly motivated, and as a 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 wrong in Enugu State with PDP in charge. As I told you, it is time for the youths to seek how to change the narratives. I am eminently qualified. I am a member of the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators, and a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators.
What are the things the people of Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Etiti Federal Constituency have lacked due to poor quality representation in the last 20 years?
It is obvious that, since the return of democratic rule, 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 governments jointly own 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 marginalised. My people are not just being marginalised by physical representation but also in constituency projects, which we have not been able to get as it ought to be. It is also pertinent to note that Uzo-Uwani has a huge oil deposit in the Iga community bordering Anambra and Kogi states. These states, which share borders, have been recognised by the Federal Government, but have not been recognised 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 recognition, exploration and exportation. Of course, Uzo-Uwani is on record as the least developed community in terms of poor amenities. It is so underdeveloped to the extent that the poor state of the local government shows no sign of tertiary health institutions, commercial banks, rural electrification, good roads and potable clean water. We used to have one of the campuses of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), but it was shut down. Uzo-Uwani 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, it’s still at the 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 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, NGOs, press releases and open letters to inform him of 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. A body of Uzo-Uwani professionals (UZPA), in its open letter to the governor, listed the ills meted out to the community over the years. Ordinarily, there should be no question as to which local government area, between Uzo-Uwani and Igbo-Etiti, that should be nominated to represent the constituency in the House in 2023. It is so obvious that what Igbo-Etiti is doing to Uzo-Uwani is political overkill. But we hear that many of our Igbo-Etiti brothers and sisters, including the incumbent, who is from Igbo-Etiti and who has done two terms, are aspiring to return and for Igbo-Etiti to continue. Is that fair?
Some may question your political credibility and experience In parliamentary duties, more especially coming from the background of a less popular party like NRM?
I believe I have a very bright chance of becoming a parliamentarian, and my reasons are simple. I can tell you that recent happenings has 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 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’m trying to say is that it is not all about the party. In Peter Obi’s case, it is not about the Labour Party; it is about Peter Obi himself. 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. Let me also tell you that those challenges are there, for example, when you go down to the hinterlands, voter education is low, 95 per cent of voters only are aware of the existence of the old parties. During votes, they may not know beyond those old party logos but they have just given us more challenges of increasing sensitisation and voter education in those place. We have to move the campaign down to them, educate them about the existence of the new parties and pass the message to the local language they understand. We need to sensitise them, make them know about the new parties, the new logos, which will lead us to changing the narrative.
Do you consider the Ada-Rice project a priority, with other states of the nation claiming to be rice producing states?
I think I highlighted all this in my earlier submission when I said that I would seek the suggestion from every component to ensure that capacity is built in the area. It’s obvious that, among all claiming rice producing states, none of them has arable farm lands like Uzo-Uwani, land that does not need fertilizer.
Looking at the demography of the entire local governments that make up the constituency, it still struggles 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 I am opportune to be there, I will continue to push to ensure that such becomes a reality. Recall that, before now, Uzo Uwani had been having two state Houses of Assembly members, that is, Uzo-Uwani West and East; but, unfortunately, INEC, pre-2023 election, illegally removed one of our seats. Some of us have gone to court so that INEC should be asked to return to status quo. It should be restored before 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.