Uche Okafor was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly in June 2019, making him one of the youngest occupants of the seat not only in Anambra State but in Nigeria. As a student in the UK years ago, he was actively involved in championing minority rights and was also an active member of the Labour Party. In this interview with Henry Akubuiro, the Speaker emphasised why APGA stands a chance to win the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria if every Igbo man should rally round it.
You are a two-time member of the Anambra House of Assembly, and was unanimously elected as the new Speaker of the House in June this year. Was it a dream come true for you or something of a surprise?
I would say it was a surprise, because I didn’t contest for it. I was hoping I was going to be the Speaker. Inasmuch as I have been in the House twice, as you rightly said –I was a ranking member, which qualified me to aspire for the Speaker or even be elected Speaker, sincerely speaking –I didn’t for, any day, think about it. But I thank God it eventually came my way, because my colleagues found me worthy of being the Speaker, perhaps due to the experiences I have had over the years. I thank God for making it possible and my colleagues for their support. The work wouldn’t have been that easy if not for their support. I thank them so much.
Still in your forties, you are one of the youngest speakers of state house of assemblies in the country, do you feel intimidate or challenged, especially at a time we have been clamouring for paradigm shifts in Nigerian politics with little success stories nationwide?
I don’t feel intimidated. It is a clarion call I feel so happy am leading at this age. The best thing that happened to Anambra State is that we have a governor who believes in the youths, who, for once said, “Let’s give the youth opportunity to serve in government.” If you look at the composition of Anambra State Executive, we have so many youths in there, like the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce, Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Commissioner for Land, Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, Commissioner for Transport, to mention a few. These are young people. If you come into the current 7th Assembly of the state, majority of us are young guys, less than forty years old, and I believe we are doing well. Anambra State is still ranked as one of the best states in this country in terms of policy implementation.
Over the years, your state has become notorious for godfatherism in politics. What are young politicians like you doing to change the narrative?
The issue of godfatherism in politics stopped years ago before we came, and we have tried our best to make sure we maintain the tempo, because godfatherism has done more harm than good to Anambra State politics. We remember, at the inception of democracy in 1999 to about 2003 or thereabout, Anambra State was like a state with no state because of godfatherism. Nothing was moving well in the state, like infrastructural development; workers were owed salaries; schools were always on strike; insecurity was a big problem, among others. All these things were one of the disadvantages of godfatherism, because whoever is the godfather would always want to be settled one way or the other, thereby sulking from the state purse. But that is no more the issue in Anambra State at the moment. Today, everybody comes out for election in the state and stands for that election. Even the environment will not give you the opportunity to serve the godfathers.
Unlike other states in the South East, APGA has maintained a stranglehold on Anambra politics. What’s the secret?
APGA, I must be sincere with you, it is a fast developing political party in this country. It has done so well in Anambra State, that’s is why it has stayed in the state till now. From the time of Governor Peter Obi till now, APGA has done so many good works as a party, and our governor has continued with the manifesto of the party to provide food, peace, security, infrastructure development, to Ndi Anambra. I’ll tell you what, there is no political party that will win election in Anambra State outside APGA. The party, the way is being structured, is supposed to take over the entire Southeast in the next coming elections…
But it lost Imo when many thought it would win in the last elections…
What actually happened in Imo was just like an accident –let me put it that way. We believe that, come 2023, APGA will take over Imo State. It was just a mere sabotage from people you may call your brothers. APGA was structured in such a way that it would be seen as an Igbo party just like the AC or APC Now is being seen as Yoruba party or an Hausa party. But our brothers in other neighbouring states sabotaged the dreams and aspirations of APGA leaders. But we are not giving up.
So, why do you think the South East should buy into the APGA mantra?
They should buy into that, because we should have a dream as a tribe in this country, and what is that dream? We are talking about 2023. No person in this country is talking about an Igbo presidency. All people are talking about now is Tinubu. Obasanjo handed over to Buhari. Now, the same Buhari is going back to Yoruba again. Where are the Igbo men? Where are our political leaders? And it is the same Igbo leaders who are promoting the Tinubu candidacy and other people. So, why can’t we buy into APGA? Even if the Igbo cannot present a presidential candidate, at least, we have a political party that can give us a bargaining power, a power structure. We don’t have any now. The only thing we are getting from the Southeast is the remnant of what the Hausa and the Yoruba have left, which is very bad. But, if we have a political party of our own, we can move forward.
The Yoruba came into limelight because the Afenifere came together and formed a political party called Action Congress, and with AC, they were able to sit down as a tribe and insisted that it was their party. By then, virtually all the Yoruba states were AC. They had a leader everybody listened to. With that, they came to the centre, and formed a great alliance with the north. But the Igbo are not coordinated; we are not united. So, we can’t our leaders embrace APGA as a party?
So what is the justification for Igbo presidency in 2023?
The justification is that we are being marginalised. We have six geo-political zones in the country, which Southeast is one of them. But the Southeast gets far less than what other geopolitical zones get in the country in terms of infrastructural development, appointments, employments (based on Federal Character), and so many things. It is alarming. Look at the federal roads we have in the Southeast, can you count one that is functional? None! From Enugu-Port Harcourt Road; Enugu-Onitsha Road, Owerri-Port Harcourt Road are nothing to write home about. The road that leads to my place, from Onitsha to Adani-Nsukka is a federal Road and is bad; and the Federal Government has given a proclamation that any state that does a Federal Road is on its own.
Meanwhile, go to the Northern states: they are building roads everywhere; they are building rail tracks everywhere. What happened to the rail tracks in Enugu? Nobody is keen to rehabilitate it. But there are so many dilapidated rail tracks in the North being replaced by new ones, connecting the south West. And you ask yourself: are we part of this entity called Nigeria? We are not. The mere fact that you mention your name, and it is Igbo, is a big disadvantage for you, and the earlier our political leaders starts seeing these things and start coming together for us to have an ideology of our own and identity of our own, the better for us. What is going to be that identity? It is embracing APGA as our own political party, then use it as a platform to go for the fight.
2019 is coming to an end. What have you been doing as a Speaker and the 7th Assembly, too?
At the State Assembly, we have been doing what we call “surgery” at our various constituency offices. “Surgery” is a moment or period when a legislator goes to his constituency office and have time with his constituents to discuss what their yearnings and aspirations might be. I have charged my colleagues to make sure everybody goes to their constituency at least once every week. And these period we are having town hall meetings. We have just been barley six months in office. The town hall meetings avail the legislators the opportunity to interact with their constituents to tell them what they have done on the past six months and what they intends to do in the coming months. Most of the bills we have moved in the House, this is the period we sensitise the people about them.
This period is a time of so many festivities: masquerades are on display, and stuffs like that. We encourage people to understand that a masquerade parade is all about promoting culture, not as a means of extorting money from people. We find out, within this period, young guys go out with masquerades and mount road block roads, collecting money from people; and when you fell to give to them, they start beating you thereby leading to other things.
Another thing that is very important, which we are senstising people this Christmas period, is farmers are done with their harvest, and after harvest comes clearing the farmland to get it ready for the next farming season. And when you clear the farmland, the next thing is to burn it. We sensitise them a lot, because the harmattan is a very dangerous period. If you are not sensitive enough to manage the fire, it will become an inferno, which will get your house burnt.
Another one is drink driving (binging) in the name of celebrating Christmas, leading to lots of fatalities. I thank His Excellency, Willie Obiano, in making sure that there is adequate security in Anambra State. Ndi Anambra do not have any fear in terms of criminality or robbery during this festive season. The Road Safety will be on guard to checkmate speed limits. But we still talk to people, because self-awareness is better than any other. So these are what the honourable members are going about sensiting the constituents, because it is going to help us to reduce the rate of fatalities during this season.
I keep on telling people, it is not all about Christmas celebrations, what happens after Christmas? Your children will be going back to school; you will have your house bill to pay; you have so many bills to pay. If you spend all you have for Xmas and you get all those things, when Christmas is done and you don’t have money to pay school fees or feed your family, does that make you a good parent? The answer is no. For me, the idea of Christmas is a time to show love, stay with your family, give presents to the needy; encourage them. It is not a period to be on street, making noise and breaking bottles. No!