‘We will build a greater nation by replacing old, non-performing politicians’
A senatorial aspirant for Abia Central senatorial district, Chima Onyekwere, in this interview with EDU ABADE, says the era of recycling old politicians is over and Nigerians should expect a new, vibrant crop of political leaders post-2019. He argues that the failure of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is a plus for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) on which platform he hopes to realise his political ambition. He said people who have been unemployed and docile for 10 years and above have no business seeking elective offices, as they will have nothing to offer Nigerians, among other issues.
You’re stepping into the political arena at a time democratic participation is on the rise. What informed this bold step?
The decision to engage politically is largely due to the ills of the present political class. Nigeria is almost 60 years old and it is a failed state. We can no longer continue speaking from the sidelines. The present class of politicians are re-cycling themselves from one office to another, without the people that elected them having any improvements in the quality of their lives. It is time to walk the talk. My entrepreneurial background and innovative spirit is needed at this time for the good of our country.
What makes you the ideal candidate to occupy the position of Senator representing Abia Central Senatorial District at the Senate?
The ideal candidate should be a God-fearing man or woman, tested and proven in business and industry with sufficient physical proof of success, a man that resides with the people he wants to represent, with a passion for change and development. A person that hurts when poor legislation affecting his district are passed into law- a stakeholder in the true sense of the word. He should be a highly skilled technocrat with international, national and local exposure having the ability and skills to compete with an Olympic mindset, for which I immensely qualify.
How do you intend to represent Abia people at the National Assembly when you get the mandate?
I intend to canvass for legislation that would impact the country progressively while focusing on the needs of our people through entrepreneurial bills, educational bills and deepening of merit-based rewards system in the public and private sectors. And become a model of what a Nigerian legislator should be, while ensuring that my district has proper representation, especially in the attraction of projects based on needs assessment.
You’re a top player in business, particularly the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. How will you align your experience with the politics of lawmaking?
This is a very important question and the skills I have acquired will ensure that we implement quality and secure ICT solutions with a faster pace. This will improve the delivery mechanisms in the civil service and the improved delivery will enhance our revenue and development as a nation. Most applications and ICT solutions deployed today do not meet the common criteria and standard. Bills would be presented to check and adopt standards to ensure government and its agencies run applications with high common criteria standards or high Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL).
Recently, figures of senators’ salaries and allowances went viral with knocks from several quarters. What’s your take on lawmakers’ pay, democratic representation and transparency?
It is preposterous, to say the least. It is important that we change the basic criteria for one to be able to contest the Senate seat. If you are not gainfully employed in the last 10 years, you should not be seeking for this office. The poverty mentality is largely the cause with very bad checks in the system. Unless our laws are strengthened and our judiciary empowered to enforce the law, these types of abuses would continue. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) law is evidently weak and not enforceable to the letter.
At a time Nigeria needs proactive bills that reflect the yearnings of citizens; we’ve been served with needless bills on the floor of the Senate. How can Nigeria address the dearth of quality representation?
In computing we say “garbage in, garbage out.” The present senators are poorly skilled and most of them failed as governors, but found themselves in the Senate! Of course, some of them did well as governors, but majority did poorly and one would expect the same result in the Senate. Those that did not serve as governors had not been properly employed prior to engaging as National Assembly members, nor have they been engaged in any mentoring exercise to strengthen their understanding of this national assignment. Most have ascended to the Senate as a way to remain relevant and nothing more. We intend to replace them with more quality, deep and more reflective men and women who desire to contribute to building a great nation devoid of ethnical and religious bigotry.
Stakeholders have raised concerns over excessive taxation and enabling environment in the present dispensation. Do you think the eighth Senate has done enough in this regard?
I will like to look at this differently. Tax is used in paying salaries, development of infrastructure and enhancement of education and society. Therefore, the introduction of local government tax, state tax and federal tax is needful and important. This would help stimulate development, accountability and prioritisation of resources in all tiers of government. The present system is faulty and harsh. It is unrealistic, as tax collection has not justified any significant development or value.` Suspicions abound between the executive and legislature at the state and federal levels.
What should these arms of government do to effect socio-economic and political advancement?
If suspicions mean that the executive arm is on its toes to ensure they execute programmes based on legislation and the legislature are effectively doing quality oversight functions, then all is well and good. Our democracy is advancing and we have to strengthen the judiciary, train our security agencies more and stop duplicating the roles of security agencies without deepening their resources and lastly, ensure quality people represent us in the executive and legislature.
Legislators find it quite difficult to create balance in terms of law-making, oversight and representation functions. What’s your take on resolving this pertinent issue?
The first is that most of the legislators have only single term experience and have not even put in their best during their first term. Focus and prioritising of roles and responsibilities is a major challenge among them. Secondly, chairmen and members of committees have not exposed themselves sufficiently in legislative knowledge and functions and lack committee work discipline. Lastly, the need for cross-knowledge sharing with our country’s legislature and other countries legislatures would help improve the expected balance and performance.
The political terrain is getting busier as expected. How can we address hate messages, which have become the substitutes for issue-based politics as we inch closer to the 2019 general elections?
If you have a message, you would not need to focus on hate messages. Your focus would be on your message. Aspiring legislators focusing on only hate messages are not qualified to represent any district. Issue based politics has no time and space for hate speeches. It is important to have legislation to address hate speech on a wider scale and ensure that the security agencies have sufficient training to decipher what a hate speech is and how best to address them.
Prior to seeking elective office, what measures have you taken to get the buy-in and support of members of your constituents to your senatorial ambition?
I am from Abia Central and I have been resident in Amachara, Umuahia for the past six years plus. Being resident among my people is one good way. The second is engaging in community service through my being the president general of my community. This has richly blessed my local knowledge and ability to appreciate the pains and desires of my people. I have been serving in APGA as the Deputy State Chairman and major financier of its activities in the state.
How do you hope to tackle the issues of alleged marginalisation of the Igbo and agitations for Biafra by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and other groups in the Southeast?
It is no longer an alleged marginalisation, Igbo are marginalised so much in this country and yet we contribute significantly to its growth and development. The war is over and we are still being used as spoils of war! It is a shame. This is what has caused the several agitations until they are addressed. The Federal Government has used the flawed federal character to further push back on not just the Igbo but also the South-South people. When a Southern President is elected, he appoints people from the south to the disadvantage of the north. When a northern president is elected, he reverses the process and starts appointing mostly people from the north until he is out of office. The effect is that poor quality fellows occupy senior positions in government without the required knowledge and skills. The agitations are largely a resentment of this. Some Igbo leaders have argued that Nigeria’s unity was sacrosanct and that restructuring was the best way out of the country’s challenges.
How would you handle this as a senator of the Federal Republic, amidst herdsmen killings and Boko Haram terrorism in the country?
Sadly, the President has turned a blind eye to the herdsmen killings. We can see some improvement on Boko Haram fight. While the country’s unity is sacrosanct as per the Nigerian constitution, people can still feel that they are outside the system and not bother much. The poor understanding of restructuring being advocated is largely the problem, not that restructuring is bad or that it is needless. For instance, you may decide to decentralise the Nigeria Police to make it more effective and allocate significant autonomy to zonal commands. This effort, if it yields better policing, is a kind of restructuring. If restructuring would improve the quality of our democracy and its dividends, then lets engage accordingly.
Nigerians seem discontented with the Peoples Democratic Party and even the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). How do you wish to tackle the discontent in the events leading to the realisation of your senatorial ambition?
Thank you so much for this question. APC and PDP failures are a plus for APGA. APGA needs to start working towards being a more National Party rather than a regional party. The leadership is too heavy within the Southeast. We need to make some strategic changes to reflect a better spread and encourage aspiring politicians to run on the platform. We can, within the next couple of months emerge the strongest political party in the country by these changes. I am sure our National Working Committee is already working on this assignment.
Would you consider independent candidacy in your quest to get to the Senate?
No. We have built APGA into a great political institution in the state and we intend to use this structure to win the elections. Presently, we do not see a more viable option.
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