Austin Adiele Opara, former Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, is 55 today. For a man who exceptionally attained high political position too early in life, becoming Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives at 39 and intrinsically distinguishing himself as a presiding officer of the House, this new age integrally calls for a lot of deep reflections and robust appraisals on his journey so far and the roadmap that lies ahead.
To his former colleagues during his eight-year stint in the National Assembly, his political associates and friends and numerous others who have been keeping abreast with his uncommon records, at 55 Opara deserves to be celebrated in the most significant fashion. This is underscored by his great accomplishments and the rare legacies he left behind as a presiding officer of the House at such an embryonic phase of the Fourth Republic National Assembly when it faced lots of challenges, leadership instabilities, debilitating power play and needed pragmatic and consensus-building leaders like Opara to harness veritable and functional way forward.
Besides, Opara exudes remarkable attributes that endear him to many who would naturally stop at nothing to ensuring that his new age, the 55-year-milestone is well commemorated and the celebrant honoured deservedly. Opara is not only humble and delightful to be with, he is welcoming and open to those who come around him. He is typically a devout Christian and discernibly God-fearing. Little wonder that he became a Knight of Saint Christopher of the Anglican Dominion in his early 30s.
Although he was deputy to Aminu Bello Masari, Speaker of the House between 2003 and 2007, Opara held other strategic positions in the House, Including: Chairman, House Committee of the Whole; chairman, House Constitution Review Committee, member, ECOWAS Parliament and Governing Council of the International Parliamentary Union, the umbrella body that governs all parliaments in the world. It was at the 103rd session of this body held in Manila, Philippines in 2005 that Opara canvassed strongly that the parliaments of advanced democracies should exert pressure on their executive arm to grant Nigeria debt relief and cancellation. This request was interestingly acceded to months after as Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration at that time similarly intensified the campaign on the international front.
Opara’s push for debt cancellation at Manila, Philippines was a follow up to his earlier motion on the floor of the House. Opara demonstrated his patriotic zeal when in March 8, 2005 he moved a populist motion on the floor of the House seeking a unilateral moratorium on the country’s servicing and repayment of foreign debt. The House passed the motion that urged the executive arm to stop repayment and servicing of foreign debts until the creditor nations acceded to Nigeria’s request for debt forgiveness. The passage of this motion evidently emboldened the Obasanjo-headed executive arm towards taking on the concerned nations effectively to ensuring the actualisation of the Nigeria position
As Deputy Speaker, Opara exhibited immeasurable degree of candour, liberal disposition, panache, loyalty and humility and thus became a stabilising force of the House. The result was that the House under the leadership of Aminu Bello Masari and his himself was cohesive and closely-knit resulting in striking harmonious relationship. This impacted positively on the volume of committee tasks, and quality and quantity of bills passed. The result was the immeasurable latitude Masari gave to Opara to preside over the House plenary sessions. This development made Opara to set a record as one Deputy Speaker that presided over the highest number of plenary sessions since inception of the Fourth Republic National Assembly in 1999.
During his first tenure in the House, 1999 and 2003, Opara fundamentally distinguished himself profoundly. Apart from making robust contributions on the floor of the House, he sponsored and co-sponsored several major bills. Among his many bills was Gas Re-injection Bill, which sought end to gas flaring and proper utilisation of gas resources towards ensuring clean environment and the enhancement of government revenue base. He was also deeply involved in the horsetrading and intriguing politics that gave rise to the passage of Niger Delta Development Commission Bill and its establishment in 2000.
At 55, these verifiable selfless services and profound accomplishments Opara has offered to his fatherland essentially make the commemoration of this milestone hugely worthwhile. As a political tactician and titan, since he left the parliament he has been preoccupied in rebuilding his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State and at national level. He was crucially and strategically involved in forging lasting solutions to the recent crisis that almost decapitated the party.
Born in 1963 into the family of Chief Robert and Mrs. Sarah Opara in Nkpolu Oroworukwo, the heart of Port Harcourt, Opara had a humble beginning. His father was an astute disciplinarian who brought his children up in a modest, moderate, stumpy and religious mode. He consciously and unconsciously relives these attributes in his relationship with people till day.