By Dickson Okafor
Honourable Chike Okafor represents Okigwe South Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives for the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Chairman, Committee on Health Services has described his colleague and former Chairman, Committee on Appropriation who was suspended recently by the House, Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin as a rabble-rouser. In this interview, he speaks on various issues.
You promised on assumption as Committee Chairman on Health Services that you will establish health centres in all electoral wards before the end of next year; how do you hope to achieve this considering the economic situation of the nation?
The major functions of the National Assembly is to formulate laws and give legislative support to the executive that is saddled with the responsibility to formulate policies that will translate to what the average Nigerian calls dividend of democracy or infrastructural development. When I made that promise, I was drawing from the proposed programme of the Ministry of Health under Prof. Isaac Adewole. When I was talking about the need for functional healthcare in every electoral ward, I want to assure you that the ministry is working hard towards achieving this even though this cannot happen overnight. In the interim, what do we do to provide medical care for our people? As Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, I have concluded plans with other agencies and Federal Health institutions such as UNICEF and Federal Medical Centres in the South-East to provide medical care for my people. So far, UNICEF has sent drugs to treat a minimum of ten thousand people and we have over 33 doctors and other medical personnel on ground that will be in all the local government headquarters of my constituency from October 17, when we are going to do the formal flag-off of the medical outreach in Ehime Mbano local government area. After two weeks, the medical team will move to Ihitte Uboma and Obowo LGAs where they will spend two weeks respectively.
These are the three local government areas that make up my constituency. There is a special intervention that we are going to do in Dioka Nzerem because one of the doctors from the area, Dr. Chikwendu who is a consultant surgeon didn’t have a job until early this year when we got him employed in the federal Medical Centre, Owerri. So, immediately we are done with Obowo, the team will move to Dioka Nzerem and spend three days. This is going to be an annual event as UNICEF has promised to include it in its work plan. We hope to do the medical outreach twice next year. God willing before the end of next year, the dream of establishing Primary Health Centre (PHC) in all the electoral wards would have been actualized.
As a financial expert, do you support the call by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu that the Ministers of Fiancé and that of Budget and National Planning should resign?
I don’t think that will solve the problem. However, it is the prerogative of the President to hire and fire members of his cabinet if he feels he is not getting the deliverables; he can make changes. But I don’t think the problem we are facing today has anything to do with who is holding whatever office today. I told you earlier that the seed of bad economic plan has been sown before President Muhammadu Buhari came in. Our situation can be likened to when you take a sick patient to the hospital and the doctor failed to do what he ought to do and moved the patient to another hospital when it was already late and probably begin to hold the second doctor responsible for the worse condition or death of the patient. If the first doctor had done what he or she was supposed to do at the time, the patient was brought before him or her, the life would have been saved. In line with my knowledge of economics, I can tell you that we are on the path of recovery.
You are among members of the House that Abdulmumuni Jibrin accused of budget padding, what is your role in the scandal?
I don’t want to dignify Jibrin with responses, but because I have respect for you coming all the way from Lagos to talk to me otherwise I’m not going to dignify him with responses. Jibrin is a rabble-rouser, he is a drowning man who is clutching at available strut to save himself and didn’t care if anybody is dragged down in the process. So, he has met his waterloo and the rest is history. He has been suspended and he remains suspended. All the allegations he made against the leadership, principal officers and against some of us are unfounded and have not been proven. I’m Chairman, House Committee on Health service and in one of his statements, Jibrin referred to me as Chairman, House Committee on Health. I wonder where Jibrin kept his thinking cap when he failed to realize that health has three committees that oversight Ministry of Health and only one person cannot oversight the ministry. The ministry never complained that its money was missing.
As a close associate of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, are you not concerned that his popularity is dwindling?
Governor Owelle Rocha Okorocha popularity is not dwindling. Few weeks ago, over 6000 youths celebrated him in the International Conference Centre, Owerri. Okorocha’s popularity rating is dropping in the minds and sights of critics and the elite who are bothered with his stand that there is no more godfathers in politics, or “let’s share the money”. The elite have never been with Okorocha since 2011 he took over the mantle of leadership yet, in 2015 governorship election, he won in 24 local government areas out of 27. Who voted for him? Imo people of course. The elite are not happy that the man is engaging in urban renewal in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, the three major cities in Imo. They are worried because he wants to clean up and give these cities a world class status. They are disturbed because civil servants are no longer paid as at when due, but they fail to realize that it is not Imo State alone that is in this situation. Some days ago, civil servants in Bayelsa State complained of non payment of eight to nine months salaries. This is a state with only eight local government areas. Also, Akwa Ibom, one of the richest states could not pay salaries. So, those criticizing Okorocha are myopic. They are focusing on Imo alone rather, than the economic state of the nation which is in the state of comatose. They suddenly forgot that when Okorocha came in 2011, the previous government owed 20 months arrears of salaries and in just two months under my watch as commissioner for fiancé, Okorocha cleared it. They have forgotten that pensioners were owed 20 years arrears; we had a programme that lasted three weeks and cleared the pension arrears. They forgot that Owerri had no access road apart from the straight road from Government House along Bank road through Assumpter Avenue. That was the only road linking the old and new Owerri, but today we have first, second, third, fourth and fifth inland roads linking old and new Owerri. There is no single venue in Owerri where you could hold first class conference before the coming of the present government in Imo, but today we have the International Conference Centre that hosted the NBA conference two years ago built by Okorocha. And the state will host this year’s Africa Magic Award (AMA award) in November because there is a state of art conference centre in the state built by Okorocha. He constructed the Hero Square which is a replica of Eagle Square in Abuja. He built 305 hospitals and 305 two-floor modern primary schools in the 27 local government areas and 305 electoral wards in the state. There was no functional diagnostic centre but there is one manned by Israeli doctors. When suddenly recession set in and resource is no longer available and the governor is struggling to pay salaries, critics see that as a minus on Okorocha, but they fail to realize that same problem is being faced by virtually all the governors across the federation. The Government House we met was in a sorry state, but Okorocha remodeled it.
How do you feel now that South-East has an APC Senator in the person of Sen. Benjamin Uwajimogu?
I feel elated and I’m happy because Imo people especially, Okigwe zone have once again proven to the world that they are with Okorocha. The people of Imo North have shown that they appreciate their governor who is the only APC governor in the region because he gave us reasons to believe in him. Only Owerri people are not happy with Okorocha, but as for Orlu, Okorocha is a messiah having turned Orlu into a modern city. The governor before him was from Okigwe, Chief Ikedi Ohakim who did nothing for us. Ohakim never visited Okigwe during his reign only when he came to campaign for second term while Okorocha has visited Okigwe severally. The state government under Okorocha is building a five-star hotel and a standard stadium in Okigwe what an Okigwe son could not do when he was governor. So, when the governor asked us to give him Uwajimogu as APC senator to compliment his effort in the National Assembly, we did not hesitate but to queue behind him. In a nutshell, the reason the people of Imo North voted for Uwajimogu was because Okorocha asked us to do so. So, don’t mind those I call chronic opposition who do not appreciate anything good because they just lost an election.
You were under heavy criticism over your comment on Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), what exactly happened?
A question was put to me if I would join IPOB to agitate for Biafra and I said as an elected member of the House of Representatives in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it would not be expected of me to join agitation for breakup of the country I’m sitting in its National assembly.
That was my response, but that is not to say our brothers back home who are agitating have no viable reason to do so. That is not to say we of South-East extraction have gotten all we are supposed to get from the federation called Nigeria. But the means of agitation and the timing may not be right. That was my take. Unfortunately, your paper quoted me out of context and my people came after me. However, I believe in one indivisible Nigeria.