By Austin Uganwa
Former deputy speaker, House of Representatives, Austin Adiele Opara turns 57, Saturday, August 29. For his political associates, former colleagues in the National Assembly, business partners and teeming enthusiasts this milestone is essentially enthralling, cheering and worthy of celebration. Unlike many politicians of our time, Opara’s humility, approachability and pleasant mien endear him to many. And this is inexorably linked to his humble beginnings and piousness resulting from his inimitable parental tutelage.
Opara’s bewitching attitudinal patterns became far more manifest when he was a presiding officer of the House of Representatives at the wake of the new millennium between 2003 and 2007. He freed his office from undue protocol and officialdom. His office thus turned out to be a hub of activities. His constituents and friends flowed freely to see him. His colleagues were overawed by his meekness and unrivaled listening ears classifying him as the rallying point of the House. These realities account for the large army of supporters, friends and admirers still milling around years after leaving the political office.
At 57, Opara is known for his panache, consistency, assiduousness and reliability in politics. Since 1998 he played a formidable role in the formation of the People’s Democratic Party in Rivers state, he has remained bonded and wedded to the party. Contrary to the glibness of some politicians who brazenly jump from one party to another, Opara has never abdicated PDP for any other party.
Over the years, he has been working closely with Governor Nyesom Wike and Prince Uche Secondus to build and consolidate PDP at state and national levels. He has as well been supporting Governor Wike towards the accomplishment of his vision for the state. As chairman of the 2019 Rivers State Governorship Inauguration Planning and Handover Committee he put in place an effective continuity roadmap for the re-elected governor anchored on Wike’s infrastructural revolution initiative. Wike’s conscientiousness and dedication to the roadmap have been yielding positive results.
Earlier in the year, Opara was sent to Edo state by the PDP at the national level to supervise the party’s congress held in the 18 local councils in the state in February 2020. He latched on this critical assignment to inject treasured and genuine inputs into PDP Edo desirable for its revitalization and consolidation. It was on this score that he predicted PDP’s victory in the nearing governorship election slated for September 18, 2020. He told journalists after the PDP congress in Edo state: “I can tell you from what we have done in the state; PDP can only come out stronger during the governorship election and emerge victorious”. This prediction was made before Governor Godwin Obaseki joined the party last month. Consistent with Opara’s insight the chances of PDP winning the governorship election are now on the rise and much more convincing
Opara’s frontline role in the 2020 Edo PDP congress clearly underscored his selection as a member of the PDP National Campaign Council on Edo governorship election. The council which is headed by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike is mandated to support and collaborate with the State Council towards ensuring the victory of PDP during the oncoming governorship polls. When the Council met in the River State Government House, Port Harcourt, July 14, 2020 Opara was one of the notable members who attended to draw up a roadmap and hands-on strategies on how PDP would enlist victory at the governorship polls. The deeply troubled nature of the planned poll accentuated by the manifested overzealousness and bias disposition of the security operatives deployed to the state by the ruling APC federal government enhances the challenges faced by Wike-headed PDP campaign council.
It is however imperative to recollect that as a presiding officer of the House of Representatives at a young age of 39 Opara played a leading role in defining the nascent National Assembly in the new millennium. At 57 he deserves to be celebrated significantly over consensus- building and stabilizing role he played at such an embryonic phase of the Fourth Republic National Assembly when it faced lots of challenges, leadership instabilities and edgy relationship with the executive arm.
Apart from serving as deputy speaker of the House, at 57 Opara has held other strategic political positions, 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 coupled with the intensification of the debt pardon campaign on the international front by the then Olusegun Obasanjo headed government yielded positive results as $18b out of $30b Nigeria owed at time was histrionically cancelled.
As a presiding officer, Opara evoked sterling leadership qualities and immeasurable degree of devotion to duties. The result was the inestimable latitude Masari who was speaker at that time gave to Opara to preside over the House plenary sessions. Opara thus set a result as one deputy speaker that chaired the highest number of plenary sessions since the inception of the Fourth Republic National Assembly in 1999. The House consequently witnessed significant transformation and an upsurge on the volume of committee tasks, quality and quantity of bills passed.
––Dr. Uganwa wrote from Abuja