The newly-elected member of the Enugu State House of Assembly representing Awgu South, State Constituency, Hon. Johnson Chukwuobasi Okwudili, speaks to Leadership SCORECARD about his rise through the ranks of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his dreams and aspirations for his constituents.

As one of the mobilisers for the PDP at the grassroots’ level, you have come through the ranks to be a beacon of hope for many who are still trying to find their way through. How has the journey through the waters of politics been for you?

Well, you know politics is a work in progress for any politician. As a politician, I started as a member of the party in 1999 when it all began. My brother was the first elected executive chairman of Awgu LGA on the platform of the party. I started following the PDP as an undergraduate and was one of those responsible for bringing the movement of young people in the party in the locale. As someone whose brother was the first local government chairman of the council, it gave me the opportunity to see how the party is run and how it fares at various times. As a matter of fact, we were in the PDP and stayed there, even when people were discouraged from joining, because the party was deemed a party of ‘ritualists’. But I wanted to be with my brother. I disregarded all the news and, in 1999, I was sent to a locale, Anikenanu, as the party agent. I returned and we delivered. Since then, I have been in the PDP and, as a matter of fact, I have grown from strength to strength. Just recently, the mantle fell on me and I decided to run, thanks to the support and belief of the good people of Awgu South Constituency. I am still very grateful to them.

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During your campaigns you made a good number of promises and you will soon be inaugurated as a member of the Enugu State House of Assembly. Which of these promises will you focus on?

You know, government is done in parts. There is the Legislature, Judiciary and there is the Executive. Of all these arms of government, I belong to the Legislature and I am responsible for maintaining a cordial relationship with my colleagues and the Executive. It is only when you have a cordial relationship with these people that you can attract government presence to your people. Your duty is to make law but the Executive also has a right to turn your proposal down if it is not positively disposed to the idea. As a legislator I can only make laws, I cannot build roads or employ people. It is the duty of the Executive to do that. My duty as a legislator is to focus on the cordial relationship with the executive and my people, so that if I sponsor any bill, they will see the intelligence in me and find it worthy to support such bills. In such way, you can help your people. You cannot do it alone. As a matter of fact, I will do whatever is within my power to attract employment opportunity to my people but I would not begin a squabble with the Executive or other arms of government to get this done.

So, in essence, what should your people expect from you in the next four years?

The people of Awgu South State Constituency should expect pragmatic legislation, effective representation, peoples-oriented bills’ promotion, amongst other things. They did not vote for me to go sleep there or complete the numbers. I am already in the know as to what the problem of my people are (unemployment, decaying infrastructure etc) and I am ready to table them before the House. I consider this an emergency, so I would need to move a motion to that effect as quick as possible and hope that government will listen. Some may require negotiations and trade-offs for government to listen. But, then, as a matter of fact/importance and as regards your question, the key things are infrastructural development, empowerment (for youth and women) and any other bill that will bring positive change to the lives of the people.

During campaigns politicians exploit the youths, women groups and other vulnerable groups. How will you bring these people closer to government?

While I was doing Elementary Economics, I was told that specialisation of labour encourages productivity and increases efficiency. My old mother in the village cannot do what a youth of 25 can do. What a young man of 25 can do is not the same with what the one of 15 can. There are things meant for young people and another set of things meant for women. What does the rural woman require of the government? All she needs is for access roads to be constructed, so that she can get her goods to the market in good time for people to buy. What do the youths require of government? Well, they want employment and opportunities for same. Sadly, the reality is that the government cannot employ everyone the same day, because it does not have the capacity to do that. These people who cannot get the opportunity to be employed need other options: this is where skills’ acquisition/empowerment comes in. The same applies to the girl-child; once they are done with school, they should also gain employment or have some skills to sustain themselves, to ensure that they make a responsible living.

Like I said, you don’t even need to read Abraham Lincoln’s book to understand the problems of our people; employment to make a living, infrastructure to get their goods to the market, government-subsidized fertilizer for farmers, if there is any grant from the government you form them into groups so that they can get it, the youths can be encouraged to come up with their own initiative if other ventures fail etc.

Government does not give legislators money to give away to the people. There are avenues through which you can help them, by bringing the people’s plight to the notice of the government of the day, so that policies can be put in place to focus on that situation. That way, government understands that this is what it has to do. Other times, the government can roll out scholarships for young people to take advantage of. In most cases, philanthropists and NGOs can sponsor the education of bright young people, focus on poverty reduction, girl-child education, youth empowerment etc. Your duty is to ensure that these opportunities come to their notice, they are properly harnessed and yield fruit in the future.

So many issues threatened to overshadow the conduct of the 2019 general elections. From your perspective, has our politics moved from people to issues?

In my opinion, when you talk about issues-based politics, you are talking about a situation in which every party assesses the polity and economy and concludes that, ‘this is where the party manifesto is going, and so, we will concentrate on social security programmes’ for example. Another party may decide that it is going to focus on infrastructural development and building the economy, depending on how the party designed its manifesto. It is not as if these parties do not have their varying manifestoes as they affect Nigeria; the thing is that there is no clear difference between the two, major political parties. While the PDP is interested in social mobilisation and the development of our people, the APC is tilting towards being conservative. This is all because our politics has not begun to centre on issues.

Assuming you are elected to the National Assembly as a Senator of the Federal Republic, if you raise any issue, because you are from this side of the world, it will take another person from the North to begin to dissect what you are saying, how it affects his people (not minding that what you are saying is in the interest of the majority of the people). However, because you are from this side of the nation, it would be easier to get your bill thrown out based on that alone than it would be for someone who is from the same political zone as him. You can’t say we have issues-based politics. Take the Electoral Amendment Act that was brought to the president as an instance. He looked at it and decided that it was not in his favour and decided not to sign it. If we were into issue-based politics and interested in strengthening our politics and the institutions that we have created, he would have no option but to sign it. If this is done and INEC is doing well, we will churn our better politicians who know their onions and know what they are supposed to do. Sadly, he looked at it and thought ‘if I sign this into law, it will not be in my favour as an aspirant’. So, he jettisoned it. See where we are today.

How would you rate the performance of Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) in the just concluded elections?

How would I begin to rate the INEC? If you want to measure anybody, you have to compare the past with the present and know if that body has done well or not. If we look at the 2015 and 2019 general elections, you’d recall that, in 2015, we had a new innovation, the card-reader. It was used for the first time to authenticate the voter. We thought that was a pilot scheme and that, by 2019, it would be perfected or improved. From what you saw, was there any improvement from what we had in 2015? If you can rate what we have in 2019 as an improvement of what we had in 2015, then your guess is as good as mine. If the card-reader is supposed to be a roll-call of the number of people who have been accredited, the number of voters is not supposed to exceed that. That innovation should have been improved on. The card-reader should be able to authenticate the voter and be the basis of our data but it is not so. In all honesty, if I have to rate the INEC on a scale 1 to 10; I will score them a measly 4.0.

How would you key into the programs of this present administration to further entrench the developmental strides of Gov Ugwuanyi? 

Well, you can see that Enugu State is the PDP and the PDP is Enugu State. The state PDP is a project for all of us and we all must key into that project, with our project manager, the governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

If you look at what happened immediately after the election, the governor did not act as if he won an election; he just swung into action to make good his promises. He visited Awgu South State Constituency, the Games’ Village and the Catholic Diocese where the construction of the road leading to the bishop’s court is ongoing. The Games’ Village has been cleared of grass to upgrade it to an event centre and a mall that would attract businesses and infrastructure to our area. I have no option than to key into the state project. If you see a man doing well, encourage him to go ahead. Looking at Governor Ugwuanyi, I can’t point out one person that he has fallen out with and it can’t start with me. If he is going to fall out with anybody, I don’t think it will be me because having stayed for four years without any dissenting voice means that he has been leading us very well. If you look at Enugu Metropolis, the Car Street, Ogidi Street and all those new projects he has conceived and is carrying on presently (even before he is sworn in for a second term) are all laudable.

There is no need to start a fight with a man who has done nothing wrong to you. So, if he is moving on the way he is, he will make the state the envy of many soon. Also, I do not think that neither his people in Enugu North Senatorial zone nor mine (Enugu West) are complaining. All we needed is to give him the required support. We will support him with those bills that will make him perform better and point out things to him to help him administer better. I think if we do that, we will get a better result. We don’t begin to create crisis where there is none. I pledge my support to Governor Ugwuanyi for the next four years and to do all in my power to ensure that the party continues to wax strong.

The election petition tribunal in Enugu state is like they are dormant, why is there no litigation against governor Ugwuanyi’s victory?

It’s obvious the governor campaigned during campaign and during electioneering. He toured all markets in the state, visited every street and community. Beyond that, the people see him as their friend. You can’t go to the street and begin to talk bad about gov. Ugwuanyi, before you finish talking, one person or two will counter it immediately, talk more of one who want to go into government with him. The man, Ugwuanyi, knows the method and methodology and its working for him. I told you, he has done a lot of project in my area. He promised to build the first degree awarding University of  Education in Nigeria at Awgu LG, where I come from and he has done ground breaking recently. He is also magnanimous with the visit to the sick, the downtrodden, market women, and the high and mighty. There is no need to say how he did it. Before you begin to have any meaning in your petition, there must be a meeting point. He won the election with landslide victory. I am from Awgu South State constituency, the total vote capacity of my area is about 25,000, and the total vote caste was around 15,000. Do you know out of the 15,000 votes that was caste for us to get into state house of Assembly, I still managed to score higher than the first runner up in the governorship of Enugu state who scored around 10,400 but I scored around 10,700. So you see that the gap is golf of difference.

So, you don’t begin to make notice claiming that you won election where there is no need for you to do that. You can only do that where there is a little fact. In that case what do you tell the tribunal, that you won the election or that the election was marred? You remember that other observers have confirmed Enugu state was  the most peaceful state during the just concluded 2019 elections and that the election was far better than other state across the country. So, from where do you begin? The tribunal is there for justice sake, so that people who have grievances should come. In every society, some are bound to have diverse opinion. Anyone who feels aggrieved will write petition but whether your petition holds water or weight to attract press to begin to make noise that you won is the question.

So, left for me, Governor Ugwuanyi has nothing to worry and other House of Assembly members duly elected in Enugu state don’t have anything to worry.