Hon (Chief) Ferguson Ajiroghene Onwo is a former Special Assistant on Youth as well as Special Assistant on NDDC matters to the Delta State governor. Onwo recently defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC) where he is seeking the mandate of his people to represent Isoko South Constituency II in Delta State House of Assembly (DTSHA). He spoke with JOE OGBODU. Excerpts.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE USE OF CARD READERS ON ELECTION DAY?
It must be used because I know INEC spent so much money to acquire those card readers for every unit and extra ones as back up. So if they are not using it, why did the government go ahead to produce them. Anybody saying they should not be used, if the person is a government person in the National Assembly, I am ashamed of the person. Because they saw the INEC budget, what they should have done at that time was to say please Nigerians are hungry, this money they want to use to bring card readers should be used to construct roads; let them go and vote manually, let accreditation be done manually. But they approved the whole money and they have brought the card readers, so why should they say it should not be used. In fact those people should be held accountable for the problems of this country because you did budgetary provision and the money was used and you came back to say the items should not be used. So to me, it is not a good thing at all.
DO YOU SUPPORT USE OF MILITARY FOR PEACEFUL ELECTIONS?
It is now elections in this country are better. In those days in the first republic, the wild- Wild West, elections were even worse off then in terms of violence. That is why I earlier supported the use of military for elections because anybody going out on Election Day has three things to do. One, to vote, one to fight and one to disrupt elections or through any other means. But if the military is there on that day, of course they will be able to curtail any violence. The level of violence might not be so much the way I see Nigerians now, it will decrease with time until we have a violent free elections. Pockets of violence will always be there because of the problems of attitude. I always tell people that in this country, infrastructure will always develop faster than attitude. The problem we have in this country is attitude, someone going to vote will carry bottle in his pocket. If he does not win, he will fight. Until we really have a good mental
attitude during elections, when you win you win for everybody when you lose you congratulate the winner. Until we have that attitude, you will always see people fighting at polling stations. So what we should do as Nigerians is to grow an attitude of compliance. Most people in this country are deviants; they will see the right thing but will go and do the wrong thing. So as long as attitude is concerned we have not gotten anything right, you will see some of these problems there. But by God’s grace with a good political culture in the future, we will get the things right.
WHY ARE YOU IN THE RACE AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THE PERSON THERE HAS NOT DONE WELL?
If you are elected into an office, if you have the mandate of the people to represent them, you have a lot of expectation by the people, other than what is commonly known as “stomach infrastructure”. People expect to see the dividend of democracy on ground. At least indices of government when you pass through a community you will see it and people will know there is government presence in the place. Those things have been totally absent in our constituency. The people who have served there in the past 12 years have failed to attract development to the area the way it is expected and that necessitated the call for change. Personally I always have the passion to serve; in 1991 when the local government was created I was a councilor in Olomoro ward 6 and also the leader / speaker of the local government. So my early entrance into politics started with the legislative arm. My knowledge in legislative arm, other than the passion to serve, the absence of
effective representation; lack of dividends of democracy are amongst the principal reason that spurred me to say there must be a change. And on my own I have conveniently designed a programme in which development will be attracted to the place because I know that the work of a legislator is to make laws, because I know that if laws are made and followed up, development can come through laws especially the bill. The bill is a law, the bill tells the whole thing about development at least for a year for a state. So your input and oversight functions if carefully managed, development must come to the area. I think that my experience at various offices, as a councilor, a speaker, a former local government Chairman, S.A on youth. S.A on party, S.A on NDDC has given me the necessary exposure to do what it takes in government to do. Fortunately for me the only thing I have done in terms of employment in terms of position has always been in government. Since I
left University, I have always been in government. So I think that having done close to thirty years of government business, I am well equipped to represent the people.
YOU TALKED OF DIVIDENDS OF DEMOCRAGY, CAN YOU BE SPECIFIC?
If there is a public tap, road, hospital, schools, those are the things that comes from government. When we say dividends of democracy, because in the military there was nothing happening, they will read a budget that will not be implemented. So that word dividends of democracy came when we started real representation of the people.
THERE IS THIS NOTION IN GOVERNMENT ABOUT THE POWER OF INCUMBENCY BY THE RULING PARTY; DON’T YOU THINK THIS WILL BE A STUMBLING BLOCK TO YOUR ASPIRATION?
You see, things about the ruling party always come from the executive arm. You know the government at the top, at the state, the president, the incumbent governor, that is when you really talk of incumbency. But in the legislature worldwide, even when there are independent candidates, the legislature is always formed by various parties. There is nowhere in government where you have total incumbency, that this legislature is totally PDP or totally APC; we don’t have it in this world. So the incumbency factor does not work in the legislature, you must have variance of other parties representing the people; because you are going there to represent the people and not to enforce or execute programmes of government. However we all started in PDP, you know in this country, the parties are not ideologically based; it is where you think you can win election that you go to contest and win. That is why you have a member of the National Assembly as Speaker saying
I am APC, whereas it was through PDP that he entered into the government. Also we have sitting governors saying we are no longer in PDP but in APC, vice versa.
WHY DID YOU LEAVE PDP?
It was being run in my constituency and in my local government like a family affair. Opportunity was not given to people to compete. There wasn’t any community tendencies, it was a party of exclusion; they obviously and consciously excluded people from governance. Promises were always broken when PDP people gather to say it is your turn to assume a position but when they wake up the next morning, they do another thing. I felt enough was enough; I needed to go to a party where you can compete, have a mandate and you can go and sleep. You saw that when elections were postponed some weeks ago PDP was still running to INEC to change names of candidates. It is not a party you have your ticket and go home to sleep.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF APC IN ISOKO?
In my constituency it is very bright; I don’t want to talk in terms of percentage but in terms of awareness it is very bright because a decision was taken at the constituency leadership level to say because we have said it is the turn of this man to go, so anywhere he goes that is where we will go. So you will find majority of PDP people in the constituency saying in this election we are going to vote for this man because we don’t want the other man again. So it is really a popular campaign that we have taken to the streets. Why it is like is that in those days you go to a community and consult three people. But in this my campaign, in every community I have consulted more than 40 persons in each community. I have taken the battle to okada riders, farmers, fishermen and anybody who I know have votes. I have even taken this battle to the USA and to the UK. There is no where I have not gone to campaign that there must be change in Isoko and the
FOR ALL THE TIME YOU HAVE BEEN IN OFFICE WHAT DID YOU DO FOR YOUR PEOPLE IN TERMS OF SERVICES AND EMPOWERMENT TO DESERVE THEIR VOTES?
Except for those who don’t have eyes or those who possibly have eye glasses and they are not working. If not, any office I have held, there must be something to show that I have done. When I was a Councillor, I did so many things which you can still see in my community. When I was L.G.A Chairman, I did 46 projects. If you go to the council you can still see them. When I was S.A on youths, of course, the youths were empowered, we did a lot of youths training both home and abroad. The only television programme that has been done by a youth S.A to the governor “Youth with a difference” is my birth programme that I did. Since I left office as S.A on youth to Governor Ibori, I am not sure anybody has heard of any S.A on youths again. It seems the office did not exist again. So I think that every office I have held, I have done a lot of things. Of course in NDDC you see NDDC billboards everywhere, those were things we did. I wasn’t the Commissioner but
I ensured that I attracted projects to the area at least one project for every community in the local government.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT IS PARAMOUNT TO YOU THAT YOU WANT TO GIVE TO THE PEOPLE OF YOUR CONSTITUENCY IF ELECTED?
Well three things, one by God’s grace I want to see that the level of living of our people goes up a little. Our people back home don’t really do well compared to their counterparts like Ijaws, Itsekiris and Urhobos. It is as if Isoko people are second class citizens where others are. I will try to see that the government uses people to do some empowerment to lift the standard of living of the common people in Isoko. Secondly infrastructures, like I said we need to attract basic infrastructures to our people in terms of roads, schools, hospitals because those are the things that we really have in common. When you say this is a government school or hospital, it then means everybody can go there. So I will ensure that all those things come to the area. And also attract interest from the oil sector because Isoko is an area that is blessed with oil, but the revenue that comes from that oil, what we get is the lowest. It is a government of laws so I will
ensure that appropriate, what is commensurate to what we produce comes to the area. Of course when we go there, we will look at what is on ground and say this is what we can do.