Okafor: I Keyed Myself to the Legislative Mainstream Early

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Hon Chike Okafor represents Okigwe South federal constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives. He is also the chairman, House Committee on Health, and a close ally of the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara. It was Okafor who seconded the motion that nominated Dogara for the post of speaker during the crucial session on June 9 last year to select principal officers for the lower chamber. In this interview with Amby Uneze, Okafor, a first time member of the House, talks about his experience in the law-making process. Excerpts:

On how he feels after one year as a legislator in the green chamber?
Actually, being a first timer, one need enough time to study the environment, assess the chamber vis-a-vis the relationship with members, try to settle in terms of national politics the political zone balancing and what have you. Maybe that is why there is much emphasis on ranking. That is to say that if you are coming for the first time it is a lot difficult than if you are a second timer, when it is assumed that you are a lot more experienced than a man who is coming for the first time without any legislative experience. Well these are issues for argument, but for me, I had told myself what I was going to do irrespective of any prior legislative experience, that I wasn’t going to be deterred. I didn’t see any handicap.

For me politics is in the horizon. Politics is a part of life. In law-making, you study the rudiments: how do you start, how do you raise your hand, how do you move your bill or pass your motion, what are you supposed to say, when are you supposed to say it when the Speaker gives you the floor? These are things people also know by watching what happens in the National Assembly on TV. You need to observe that senate is live every Wednesday and the House of Representatives is live on Thursday. So even by watching TV in your house you can always catch some tips.

On the psychological pressures of being very green in the House.
I went into the chamber not allowing the obvious fact that I am a first timer to affect me in any form because failure is of the mind. If you have that positive mind-set, which is of success, you will excel. So I didn’t have problems. Remember it was on June 9, 2015 that those of us who were first timers found ourselves in the green chamber. Don’t forget that from the moment we stepped into that chamber I was the second person that raised his hand after Hon Jibrin Aminu to second the motion for Hon. Yakubu Dogara to be the Speaker of the eightieth house.

When I stepped into that chamber I was not under any illusion as to my mission. I knew exactly what I was there to do, knowing well where I come from. I come from Imo State and I had served under a pragmatic governor, a workaholic and result-oriented governor successfully, too, for four years. I know that the governor in particular and Imo people will not expect anything less from me there. So I hit the ground running from day one. What people see as challenges, I did not see them because you will agree with me that if you are going to play a role as important as raising up your hand to second the motion in support of someone who eventually became the speaker it means that I was part and parcel of the caucus that produced the speaker.

It also means that I was not just appointed at the chamber there, so before the inauguration I keyed into the caucus that championed that Dogara has to be the speaker and Yusufu Sulaiman Lasun has to be the deputy speaker. I didn’t feel any disadvantage till now that one has become a voice in that chamber.

That was what I promised the people of Okigwe South federal constituency, that I would be a strong voice in the House of Representatives. I know my background, coming from the private sector as a banker and working with a government that was always on the go as a Commissioner for Finance for four years. I leant under Governor Okorocha who didn’t lack on what to say and when and how to say it. For me, what to say and when and how to say it wasn’t my problem.

On his pedigree
I will rather say what I was able to do for my people while I served in the state as commissioner. It got to a point that I was being referred to as one who gives transformer as kola. In other words, when I discovered that electricity was a big challenge across my area, I felt the need to provide them with electricity. The last time I checked I gave out about 67 transformers to quite a lot of communities that didn’t have electricity in Obowo and Ehime Mbano. We had to embark on full scale electricity project in those areas. Now they are enjoying light and are happy. We also were able to identify some indigent widows and built houses for them. We did more than 30 of those houses. In Obowo today you will see a 500 capacity pavilion I built for the people, police post and two vehicles for community policing.

I also attracted the biggest market in the state called ‘Malaysian market’ that is sited in Obowo. These were the things we were able to do when I was serving the state and the governor was magnanimous enough to allow those of us who were interested in taking development home to do so.
Now in the National Assembly, which is more of law-making, we leverage on our relationship with the agencies that we supervise to see what we can take home. A lot of that are in the pipeline.

On his development projects
I’m planning my first constituency briefing by next month across the local government areas so that I can now unfold other packages. However, you assess a legislator by the number of bills and motions he is able to contribute that would affect his constituents positively. I am in the health sector, chairing the health committee, we have plans to do quite a lot of things, not only in Okigwe South federal constituency but in other parts of the state and to see how we can assist the government of the state to upgrade certain health centres, like the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, to a federal teaching hospital and have the current FMC relocate somewhere. We will have a federal teaching hospital as well as a federal medical centre in Imo. That will happen before the end of the 2017 budget year.

We have also succeeded in getting NAFDCAC to Imo. NAFDAC is coming to Imo; government has approved a massive land for NAFDAC to build South-east regional office, warehouse and laboratory. The main office will be located somewhere opposite ISOPADEC office. I have pleaded with the governor to allow me take the laboratory to my federal constituency, and I think I have his nod for that. If one continues to be in the health committee, I’m thinking of getting another national hospital to Imo, like the national orthopaedic centre or national trauma centre, if the current relationship existing with the relevant agencies and bodies continue. We are also attracting primary health centres across the wards in my federal constituency. However, I’m thinking of spreading the project to the larger Imo State. So we will do that before the end of 2017. Primary health centres must be in place in the 305 wards in Imo State because anything that will promote the state under the governor I will do it.

I’m planning a huge medical outreach where experts in medicine from across the medical facilities in the country will move down to my federal constituency with equipment and drugs, starting from October 5 to December 5. These will attract officials of the Federal Ministry Health, National Health Insurance Scheme, and UNICEF to Okigwe South. I want my people to feel the impact of my representation and they will get treated of all their ailments. The medical team will perform open surgeries and the FMC, Owerri and Umuahia will be available as referral centres. All these will be at no cost to the people. It is completely a free outreach and will be the biggest in the history of Imo. UNTH, Enugu, will be sending over 2,000 mosquito treated nets, Emzor will supply drugs.

On the suspended medical director of the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri
When I was appointed the chairman of house committee on health last October, I realised that FMC, Owerri, was shut down for seven months. I had a meeting with the Minister of Health (Prof. Adewole) and he graciously gave me a lowdown on the problem. The federal government under the last administration set up a panel and the panel investigated the matter and did not find anything incriminating against the MD, Dr. (Mrs.) Angela Uwakwem. She was not culpable or guilty of any of the issues the workers accused her of. This is a woman who had spent about seven years improving infrastructure there and, suddenly, you don’t want her.

After several discussions with the minister, he came to Imo with me to assess the situation by himself and, finally, the idea of interim management team came up. However, I support any option that will keep that place open as may be determined by the Minister of Health. But very soon, the minister will address the problem, as three options are being considered. It may be either the substantive MD is put back, or deployed elsewhere or something different. In solving the problem, the most important thing is the facility functioning for the optimum benefit of Imo people.