Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives and fourth time member representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi federal constituency in Abia State, Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, in this interview with Emameh Gabriel, speaks on her chances in the 2023 poll and her strive towards nation-building and good governance
Recently, you were a recipient of a national honour. Nigerians saw it as well deserved. What does this mean to you as a politician and an individual?
Let me correct an impression. The award came to me as a surprise, but not a surprise at the same time. I can say I’m not surprised because I’m doing my best. I have dedicated myself to the service of my Constituency. They know who I am and what I stand for. It has gotten to the level that, if they request anything from me and I say I can’t do it, they will insist that I make a promise. By the time I insist to know why, they always tell me because you keep your promises.
I entered politics by accident but I think nothing happen by accident. In my political engagements, I have continued to uphold God’s principles because politics will come and go but all flesh will return to the creator to give account of it’s deeds. That’s why I don’t pretend. If I make promise, I keep it because it’s a debt and a sin not to keep your promises.
A time comes in this country when people are looking for who to trust. Some civil society groups, clerics and individuals wrote, recommending me for national honour. The Prelate Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde of the Methodist Church Nigeria and other clerics wrote in my favour. In fact, I got to know about the award from the public.
You mean you had no knowledge of the award and you didn’t attempt to influence it like others would have done?
People talked about the National Assembly list, I told them, my name wasn’t included. I’m not who I am because I’m a Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives. I can boldly beat my chest to say, if there’s anything like Community Service, that’s what earned me a National Honour, not because I’m a Deputy Chief Whip.
Look, I built like four Churches. I do medical outreach every year. This year was my 15th year. At a time I was doing it in collaboration with the Nigerian doctors, until few years ago, I started partnering with Living Hope. Together, we were bringing in about 40 medical doctors from the United States, every year. Though COVID interrupted at a point but we are on cause. Every year, we perform at least, 150 surgeries absolutely free of charge. People come from different states for medical help during the outreach. Sometimes, I walked into the arena and people will be telling I’m not from Abia but Anambra, Enugu, Imo etc. I keep assuring them that the programme is for humanity and does not discriminate where one comes from. As you offer these services without discrimination, people take note of it. You don’t know who’s going to say what.
One striking thing is that I’m not a conventional politician because the term “politician” has come to connote somebody who steals, lies, cunning, etc. So, it makes me skeptical to say I’m a politician. I prefer to be called “Servant of the people”, Servant of men because I serve my People. Before I became a Commissioner in my State, I had many people under my scholarships programme for indigent students. In fact, it was because of my philanthropic gesture that the traditional rulers in my local government nominated me for Commissioner representing my local government.
From that background, I’m not a regular politician. When I was appointed, there was protest that I was not a card-carrying member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Their grouse was that representatives from my local government had disappointed before and that they need ‘black horse’, who will help to drive votes. I didn’t understand what they meant because I knew little about politics.
While in US, my traditional ruler, Igwe Emeka Ogwuru, Araka of Ngodo Kingdom called me back that I should host the governor. That’s the background I’m coming from.
For the award, it’s not because I’m a fourth term member of Housw of Representatives. It’s not. I can say this anywhere. If it’s about that, the Speaker would have nominated me because I know where I’m coming from and what I have done. But somehow, people who are feeling the positive impact of my work stood for me.
The lesson in the whole of these is that, wherever you found yourself, even where you are unknown, put in your best, be your best. Someone may be watching you. Positively or negatively, the reward will certainly come. Like I said during the award, it calls for more prudence, diligence and dedication in your work because at some point, the result will come. This national honour conferred additional responsibility because I have become societal role model.
You were at the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly recently with other parliamentarians to represent Nigeria, what were the key issues raised during this year’s summit, and if you don’t mind, what are the take home?
The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) is a unique and permanent democratic institution which brings together an equal number of elected Members of Parliament from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states and members of the European Parliament. The Ambassadors of various countries attend our sittings also. We discuss contemporary issues that pose existential threat to humanity like Climate Change, Women Participation in politics, flooding, terrorism in Sub Saharan Africa. At the end of our deliberation, the Nigerian Delegation would lay its reports on the floor of the National Assembly for deliberations and follow-up actions. I can summarily say, ACP-EU is a platform for the betterment of our countries.
Talking about women in politics. You have been a strong advocate of women inclusion in politics. We all saw the data released by INEC recently showing that only 13 percent (3,163) of candidates that contested for different positions in the 2019 general election were women, leaving the balance of 87 percent (21,190) for men, in a total of 24,353 contestants. This shows a drastic decline compared to 2015. Are you not bothered about this and what would you say could be the reasons for this drop?
At the recent meeting, the European Union, Pacific delegations blasted Nigeria for lack of commitment to women inclusion in politics.
I sponsored a bill tagged Additional Seats Bill. I was able to get the Speaker to co-sponsor and over 100 male lawmakers as signatories that include the 12 women Parliamentarians. I have collaborated with the then First Lady, Patience Jonathan and Speaker, Hon Dimeji Bankole to see how to create/reserve special seats to increase women participation in politics.
The opposition from men is glaring. Question is who are you going to displace? Each time I raise this issue on the floor of the House, our male counterparts will raise constitutional point of order, section 42, which forbids gender discrimination. All the bills I passed, I sponsored them myself. But the Citizen Bill, 35 per cent affirmative action Bill, Additional Seats Bill were all shutdown.
The solution to the whole of these is, Nigeria needs a president who is committed to affirmative action for women. A president who will order political parties to include certain percentage of women for elections. This is not rocket science. Cameroon, Rwanda and Kenya did it. In 2021, the proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament of Rwanda stood at 61.25 percent.
In fact, in the recent election in Kenya, seven women were elected governors. What the women did was to extract commitment from one of the presidential candidates, Williams Ruto, who publicly signed an agreement to allocate specific number of Parliament seats to women. But the men fought it vehemently.
I was with the Deputy Speaker of Kenya Parliament, she told me that before this election, she asked the presidential candidate that the only way you could have their support is to promise them that you are going to give certain number of seats to women in the parliament. And that he must signed that agreement in the public. That is what they did. The man said he doesn’t have a problem with women in the parliament or having women in government.
The men started fighting the presidential candidate and the man said look, women are mothers. So why won’t I encourage them. So he signed a commitment to women that he would give them certain percentage of seats in government. So by this, he gingered women and they voted for him massively. That’s why they have seven female governors.
Look at the only one we have in Nigeria, she was not protected. I know the Azikiwes, the Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello and others won’t do that. They would have ensured that she is protected.
You earn yourself another ticket to contest again in next year’s general elections. A rare feat to achieve, especially in a society where women are rarely given the opportunity to contest. Some said you can’t go back. What are the issues and how did you beat the odds to get your party’s ticket again?
Many people are not comfortable with that. It’s a contest and you should expect that. I am used to battles. So when this issues of you can’t go back again came up, I was not moved. I was in my comfort zone, doing my humanitarian services, touching lives. Some people who come around would sometimes think I was a politician, but I was not. I was helping the downtrodden, giving scholarships to people.
And so they said after being Commissioner and Local Government chairperson, you need to go to the federal to represent us. I recalled as a local government chairperson how I was able to manage the thin resources at my disposal to carry out projects that ordinarily would have cost so much. But this I did according to what was available. We were able to address a serious erosion challenge and made meaningful impacts in road palliative. We do not have money to construct roads, but yet, we did culvert and ordinary road tilling.
I was able to do all of these even when I was being pressured by certain individuals. I left there with my conscience clean because even some of the conferences I attended and even the salaries, I didn’t collect and I don’t care. I didn’t take their money.
The transitional rulers came again that I should come and go to House of Representatives and I said no to them. I was a clearing agent in Lagos. I was enjoying my job and I was contented with what I was getting from my business. As a Commissioner and Local Government chairperson, I never had the comfort as it was meant to believe. I was under tremendous stress. The Local Government experience was the worse. Because at a time, I was praying that the local government was desolved so I could find my way back to Lagos.
So after much pressure from our traditional leaders, I came back home to contest for House of Representatives. I am one who believes in God and I have always hold on to Him in prayers and He had seen me through all these years.
Now, if the people that brought you to represent them and you are still living up to expectations, then, who will change you? No matter what they do, 2007 election was the worst I contested. That time Senator Chukwumerije was alive, a sitting Senator, they had local government chairman, they had commissioner, they had SSAs, they had the governor. But I didn’t bother because the truth is, nobody can stop whoever God doesn’t stop. That’s what it’s. Only God knows how He brought me in 2007.
When they got the mandate from the tribunal after the election, God gave me back at the Appeal Court. And from that time, I have come back to back but with serious challenges. The challenge is that sometimes, you are with people who will endorse you but turn around to the opposite that they need to stop this person. The point is that, I don’t know how to pretend. You know where I stand at all times, I don’t pretend. I can’t be someone else.
God does not neglect such commitment. My commitment is to serve these people. My commitment is that I do not want to come home and somebody is still dying because of N1000. That’s why the hospital I built is not in any government’s budget. I built it myself. They didn’t donate land to me. I went and bought land and built the hospital.
In the health centre where I was born. I renovated it, put windows, sank borehole there too. That’s what it is.
I believe that, whether the devil likes it or not, safety is of the Lord and power belongs to God and He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy. My prayer is that God will continue to show me mercy. If I say I don’t want to run, people should take it, but if I say I am running, I am running to win. And in this, I am running to win. I am still on duty for my constituency.
Yes people may not be settled with it, but I ask again, those people who are not settled, one or two of them came to my structure, I worked for them, voted for them, I have helped them in one way or the other and they will not deny it. But the truth is God knows it all. And sometimes I also believe that there are certain people God will not permit to partake in your glory because they don’t deserve it. I don’t see them as my enemies, I see them as doing God’s agenda.
In one word, how would you assess yourself from all you have said so far?
I will assess myself as God’s agenda for women. I will assess myself as God’s agenda for my people and I will assess myself as a tool used by God for the sake of humanity.
What are the chances of your party in 2023?
I think Nigerians should vote based on individual track records. In APC, we have a qualified presidential candidate, the person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his records are there to sell our party to Nigerians.
Like I have said earlier, we will win.