Hon. Ben Nwankwo is a three-time member of House of Representatives. Nwankwo, who represents Orumba North and South Federal Constituency in Anambra State in this interview with Anayo Okolie, spoke of his growing up, his most fulfilling moments in life and how his style of politics has contributed to his success
How was your growing?
My growing was an uptight process. I grew up as a last child in a family of 10 and had a very disciplined father that brought me very close to him, inspired me and brought me up as if he saw my tomorrow as a father, inculcated in me certain attitudes and core values that have not departed from me up till now and were in tandem with the type of training I received in primary and secondary school, schools are catholic constitutions. I imbibed those doctrines that equipped me especially in terms of morality and growing up and to that extent I found myself being goal driven. As a child I didn’t know I was leading. I formed the first village youth forum at the of 12 and I felt I was too young to lead it and I gave the leadership to someone else and retained the secretaryship of the association and that took me to my secondary school, I left for secondary school from Primary 5 and I went to a very core Catholic school St. Michael’s College Nimo, a school with high record of academic excellence and discipline. If you really want to discipline your child then, you have to wait for the opportunity to come so that you register him in that school. It was very competitive and that made me from the day one to be result-oriented and goal focused, there was no time for playing around and my father then, before even the end of the term he was already aware of the day he was to come and pick you up and from there without even my knowledge, a father turned his son to his Personal Assistant and personal secretary. I grew up seeing people every day in our house, my father was involved in community leadership and was a politician as well. I was involved in every meeting because I had to take account of every meeting, my heart would beat because I had to take minutes of every meeting. So, I developed that skill right from childhood. All in all, I have to say that I am proud of my childhood, I am proud of my father and I also give God the glory for the grace He put upon me right from childhood. I had always been easily spotted out from among the crowd. I led so many of my classes and associations. I found myself in various leadership positions in my childhood and those prepared me for all I am encountering in my adulthood. Very interesting and challenging childhood you may say but what I love most was getting involved in organising people at a very young and tender age and making sure that people are happy. I was always so much afraid of losing my friends or team members, so I always check on them. When I was in school, during evening classes I provide chewing gum and candies that would make people not to sleep in class during evening classes, I always place them on my table and that way I got very popular in every school that I passed or in every club, society or movement that I belonged to, people always want to have me at leadership position. This made me venture into politics at a very young age, to the extent that at the age of 25, I was already Personal Assistant to the first Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife. I was his only Personal Assistant, he never had two. If I wasn’t prepared for these challenges I wouldn’t have come on board as early as 25. At 25, I was already good to go and that was the beginning of my political career in the Nigerian Project. From there, I became Special Adviser to former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju and later appointed Commissioner. I was Commissioner for Special Duties handling priority matters of the government and that of the governor as well, from there to Ministry of Works and Transport, from Ministry of Works and Transport to Ministry of Finance and Budget as a commissioner as well, from there involved on to Housing and Urban Development, I was never dropped in any of the cabinet shake ups, rather I was the recurring decimal and as well the standard deviation. Of course, you know there will be many changes but I will always be retained until I resigned to contest for the seat of Orumba North and South Federal Constituency in 2003, an election that I won and it was given to someone who never contested the election. I went to court and challenged that and by 2005, I got it back and saw myself in the House of Representatives and between that time and now, I have been in and out of the Green Chambers. I was there in the 5th Assembly, I was there in 7th Assembly and also a member of the present 8th Assembly. That is my personal resume per se.
What are your most fulfilling activities or moments in life?
The successes in the battles with the godfathers in Anambra State, there have been very many fulfilling moments in my life. I do not want to reopen old wounds. In three occasions, I have had come across serious battles with the godfathers who would want to dictate for my people the leadership that they should have, who would want to short-change, who would want to re-colonise my people and I had always resisted them. Three times I had a head-on collision with them and three times I won them usually through the court process. Those moments were fulfilling not withstanding the bad side, they toughened me, made me whom I am today that I can stand on my own make a proclamation of being accountable only to my people and to my God and that stands, that’s very fulfilling to me; and since then I am standing on it and have been able to fulfill what I have promised them, never to short-change them at any point in my life and God bearing me witness I have never and will never short-change them rather I will leave politics. I am in politics because of them not because of myself. God knows also that I have always been poorer each time I am in a public position than I am in private sector because I give all I have to my people because they deserve those things. I do it because they have always trusted me with their collective interest. Who are mine after all? I came from one of the smallest communities in the constituency, I have stood in Anambra State election four times and four times I have won the general elections. I do not know of any legislator who has stood election four times and won all. What else can be more fulfilling than this?
What do you consider as your greatest accomplishment in life?
My greatest accomplishment is having played people-centred politics; people being at the centre of whatever I do. Apart from the obligation I owe to my God, the next is to my people. Breaking it down to derivatives, having empowered many people including people that I don’t know; paying school fees, medical fees, giving leg up supports to people that I hadn’t come in contact with, having to uplift them socially and economically. Having to open up the social and economic spaces for my people and able to attract visible, verifiable, concrete social and economic amenities within the communities that I have represented over the years, these have given me the greatest happiness. In this case, I acknowledge the fact that they reaffirmed that I am a messenger unto my people.
What role has your family played in your success as a politician?
Apart from the love of God, my family has given me the greatest love. The love I derive from my family is legendary, they have always been there even in those times when for one reason or the other I did not devote enough time to pray. They were there to cover the gap! They have been supportive of my people-centred politics and they understand that the sacrifices that I have to make is unavoidable; that is putting my people ahead of my family, their understanding of this is quite fantastic and I consider it the highest sacrifice they have made. In very many cases, my type of politics would result into crisis but it didn’t. I think they have come to the understanding that they don’t come first, but that the people I represent do and God knows that is how it is.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
From the discussion you should be able to know my strength. My weaknesses are those arising from human error, errors of the head not errors of the heart. Also, not having enough time to reach out to the people that I was supposed to reach and I am seizing this opportunity to apologise to those people; I know that in some cases they needed me, but I did not have all the time in the world to be there for them.
My weakness also has been in nationalistic and cosmopolitan thinking, to the extent that I have not given in to pre-modial considerations, even when people are supposed to be canvassing for ethnic issues, I canvassed for nationalism so that we would all have a country to canvass for our personal issues; I consider that a weakness, because some people are very tribalistic in nature.
Finally, I look at my shortcomings in the area of having not gotten the best result that I desire in the issue of erosion, which matters most to my people; having not achieved the objective of getting a university within the Orumba community, which I consider a natural academic centre/community because of the serenity of the environment. It is not that I don’t appreciate the fact that the two local governments that I represent have a Federal Polytechnic and Federal College of Education respectively, but it has always been my desire to see to the conversion of any of the two into a university.
Even so, I have tried to tell my people to bring out university territories among those communities with big land mass, so that we may have one or two or even three public or private universities. I know what my people need the best, a lot of our young men are endowed academically so apart from being NCE, OND and HND holders, I need a degree awarding institution in Orumba and if I don’t achieve this before bowing out from the green chambers, I will consider it a very serious weakness.
With the recent drama that took place at the National Assembly, specifically, the attack on the Senate and Mace was made away with; and other atrocities all over the country, are you still hopeful that things can get better?
Well, those are indications that democracy is not thriving well and it is not being properly driven in Nigeria. We are still practising what I consider to be weak democracy, with very weak public institutions and institutions of democracy. Those are all indications that we are still in experimental stage, we have not been able to institutionalise democracy in our national DNA and it is rather unfortunate because after very many years of nationalism, we shouldn’t be talking about monkeying about with democracy here and there, people not being properly and sufficiently educated about the principles of separation of power, checks and balances, democratic norms and principles, issues that border on national interest etc. What I see is that we play too much of politics and little of nation-building, and that is getting the country weaker and weaker by the day; we need to understand that the essence of politics is for nation-building. The vehicle for nation building is democracy, not necessarily politics, but here democracy means politics, simplicite!
Democracy should be streamed into our national DNA; it should be in our blood line and practiced in such a way that every person who is serving in politics understands that no matter how powerful you are, you are subordinated to the supreme power enshrined in the sovereignty of Nigeria. Things that you hear about like invasion of the Senate by thugs, is a national tragedy as far as I am concerned, it should not be heard of in a country like Nigeria and in the 21st century. If we look at our time and knowing that in transiting economy, overtaking is allowed, then we shouldn’t be doing certain things that make mockery of us, giving the international community the impression that we are making fools of ourselves and that we are incapable of handling our matters; that we are also incapable of driving national growth and imbibing the culture of democracy. That will also affect the level of responsibilities that will be entrusted on us internationally. Nigeria for instance has been canvassing for the membership of the Security Council in the United Nations, hence this act of thugs invading and stealing the mace from the Senate brings to question the integrity of our claims as being the most qualified African country to be in the Security Council of the UN.
Also, we shouldn’t lose site of the fact that few years ago a woman, about the most respected in Africa (Okonjo Iweala) contested for the Presidency of the World Bank. I can tell you without fear of being contradicted, that she lost that election (70 per cent) because she is a Nigerian. Throughout the duration of this interview you would realise that I have consistently stated that we should be mindful of the impression that we convey to the outside from the inside, and that people are watching us; most importantly and dangerously too, our children are watching us. The other day my child asked me why is it that our seats in the green chambers are fixed? Is it that they are preventing us from throwing the chairs at each other? I felt so embarrassed by that question. So, apart from the international communities and our fellow African countries, our children are watching us, so we should be very careful with what we do.