Electoral Laws, Solution To Corruption -Obi Onowu

Chief Obi-Onowu
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Chief Obi-Onowu

Chief Obi-Onowu

As Nigeria inches towards 2019, its make or break year, many gifted, educated, experienced and tried and tested young professionals and technocrats, alike, hitherto unknown to the Nigerian public, are beginning to emerge on the platforms of various political parties, throwing their hats into the proverbial ring, with the intent of contesting for elective office.

Having watched from the sidelines for years, like many of their exasperated compatriots, their visions obfuscated by the mists created over the years by Nigeria’s culture of political ‘god-fatherism’, their frustrations had given vent to much anger, which has now precipitated into action. They are no longer content, watching from the ringside, as it were. Something must be done to rescue the country from the edge of the precipice.

Among this crop of new visionaries, is Ukpor, Nnewi-South Local Government Area of Anambra State-born Obi-Onowu Akins Ezeezue, a lawyer of nearly 20 years in practice. Urbane and a man of impeccable manners, who took the ‘Ozo’ title of the Order of Ezeana –Ezeana Ugoagu – Chief Obi-Onowu carries himself with the gait of a man who’s on an errand that demands imperative urgency.

When he speaks, too, his voice carries with the cadence of the same haste of his entire mission and vision. He articulates his vision with the conviction of a man who does not rely on mere divination but absolute knowledge, arrived at through painstaking years of observation, research and accumulated knowledge. Asked to make a cursory assessment of the country’s present political morass, the 47 year-old lawyer pointed to one critical area where he believes the solution to Nigeria’s myriads of problems, lies. He asserted:

“If you must fight corruption, you definitely have to deal with the electoral processes, by strengthening electoral laws to ensure credible system, electoral practice and procedures which would guarantee the emergence of good leaders and thus, good governance. Virtually every problem in Nigeria, today, hinges around the electoral policies and processes but people don’t seem to understand that…”

He spoke with The People’s Eye, over the weekend. Excerpts:

ON HIS MOTIVATION

I have had occasion to correct some impressions about the so-called “murky waters of Nigerian politics”, It is undoubtedly true, of the notion that politics in Nigeria is an expensive enterprise, with the political culture characterised as rough, dirty, unprincipled and its practitioners as selfish and unreliable. I often smile at this notion, just as I am smiling now, whenever this question is thrown at me. Yes, politics in Nigeria could be murky – as indeed it is in other climes – which could dissuade certain individuals from joining in. But we cannot avoid doing what we have to do for such reason because what it boils down to is that you are refusing to help solve problems that would definitely affect the fortunes of your own children. Our ancestors summarised it very nicely in this saying, “agaghi eji mgbagbu ghara ogu”, which literally means that one must not back out of a necessary battle to save his community, because there are going to be casualties.

It was Howard Crosby that once said, “To let politics become a cesspool and then avoid it because it is cesspool is a double crime. But even if we should try to avoid it, the complexity of today’s social structures would make an escape nearly impossible.”

George Orwell was right when he said that, “In our age there is no such thing as keeping out of politics, all issues are political issues” And Plato sums up this view when he said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Having said that, politics is, in fact, about managing men and resources; it is about service to the people and organising and motivating them and the society, to achieve set goals, for the betterment of the lives of everyone.

HOW TO ACHIEVE HIS GOAL

At the risk of sounding immodest, I want to pride myself as someone who is very focused. Even as a young person, growing up, I never had an occasion I was defocused from my goals. I never had occasion to question who I am, or what I am driving at, or where I am going. Quite often, people have lost sight of their initial vision and goals, but I know that, as a focused person, my primary aim is to give service to the people. If indeed you are such a person who loves to give service, you may not find it that easy, but that your initial vision about serving people remains what keeps you on track come what may. So, you must develop and have a genuine vision, ab initio and it is this vision that would guide and drive the rest of your mission.

Another key motivator is the people, themselves. If you are in touch with your own people and you see them, everyday, there is no way you won’t be familiar with their needs, problems and aspirations. That, in itself, is a natural check and balance and a great motivator towards the fulfillment of the dreams of any worthy representative of his people.

Chief Obi-Onowu

ON HIS PRIORITIES IF ELECTED INTO OFFICE

Most times, people gunning for elective offices in Nigeria, particularly those aspiring to go into the legislative arm of government (like I am) run into problems by engaging in wild promises, as they canvas for votes. We know that their primary duty is to make laws and direct good policies in governance. But in view of the country’s deplorable and steadily deteriorating situation, people expect more from the legislators, the lawmakers.

I am going into politics because I know a lot of things that need to be done. For instance, when you talk about electoral policies, or electoral reforms, these are basic areas that cut across the length and breadth of the entire nation.“If you must fight corruption, you definitely have to deal with the electoral processes, by strengthening electoral laws to ensure credible system, electoral practice and procedures which would guarantee the emergence of good leaders and thus, good governance. Virtually every problem in Nigeria, today, hinges around the electoral policies and processes but people don’t seem to understand that.

There is no amount of fight against corruption anybody could undertake without first dealing with abuse of electoral processes. These are the things that make people go out of their way to amass wealth, because of pending elections, ahead.

Electoral reform precipitates sound and credible electoral process which is sine-qua-non to corrupt free society or, at least, enhance good governance and ensure drastic reduction of corrupt practices and related electoral offences.

Today, democracy in Nigeria is a huge burden on the nation and the people. Running the bureaucratic institutions and other paraphernalia and apparatchik of government is a direct consequence of budget deficit. Politicians want to remain in power at all cost. And that can only be possible through the instrumentality of state wealth, or amassing of the commonwealth and building political capital. And whatever they expend in the process of ascension to power, they practically re-coup a hundredfold. The incidence of vote buying, bribery and enrichment of officers of the electoral umpire and the security agencies, are common features in Nigeria’s electoral process. Both the ruling party and the opposition parties make adequate monetary provisions and sundry inducement mechanisms to rig elections. These are direct offshoots of poor, inadequate electoral laws. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to get the electoral system right, for democracy dividends to flow naturally; for institutions to work and checks and balances to be effective in the nation’s body politic.

It is incredulous and hypocritical for a nation, a government that claims to be fighting corruption, to encourage popular participation of the people in the affairs  of the state, to entertain exorbitant party nomination forms, way out of the reach of virtually every segment of the society – the rich, the middle-class and the ordinary people. It is an undisputable truth that politicians who expend huge sums of money to get into office, would naturally seek to re-coup these monies once they lay their hands on the plough of the state treasury, the commonwealth of the people!

What Nigeria is battling to accomplish in this 21st century, in the areas of electoral reforms has already been institutionalised in 20th century Britain. This is what is obtainable in other climes, in Britain, for example, where vote buying and ancillary inducement has been criminalised. With the level of electoral reforms required to turn around Nigeria’s democratic fortunes, more stringent legislations are required. Despite the stringent Election Operative Acts put in place by Great Britain, as early as 1872, particularly the Ballot Act, 1872, which went a long way to checking malpractice in elections, further amendment was made to it to fortify the electoral process against the evils of malpractices. This was done in the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act, 1883, which increased the penalties for corrupt and illegal practices, so that they include hard labour and fines up to £200.

Today, in Nigeria, it is common for campaign trains to sew uniforms, produce and in-print all kinds of campaign materials on fabrics – T-shirts, face caps, etc – and make huge budgets for entertainment in form of food and drinks and distribute souvenirs of all kinds and descriptions and dish out monetary inducements in local and foreign currencies to everyone, including, but not limited to fellow politicians, religious leaders, monarchs and revered holders of traditional stools. All these are aimed at wooing the electorate. In Nigeria, monies are brought to the polling stations by ambulances and bullion vans, escorted by Mobile Police officers and political party officials and their agents take positions just a few metres to the polling booths, for the singular purpose of buying off voter’s cards from the electorate.

This practice was strictly dealt with and seems as ‘direct opposite’ of the offshoot of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act, 1883, which provides as “an offence for any person to treat voters, i.e, to provide any meat, drinks or entertainment.” Undue influence was closely defined. A candidate found guilty of treating or exerting undue influence on voters, or any corrupt practice, was excluded from parliament for seven years.

Despite the seemingly strident measures enshrined in this Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act, 1883, efforts were made to modify and further enlarge the scope of corrupt and illegal practices. The Representation of People Act, 1949, which, with the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949 and the Election Commissioners Act, 1949, consolidate the law relating to parliamentary elections.  This Act amongst other interesting legislations, provides for the personal expenses of a candidate to be limited to £100 and all other expenses but authorised by the agent are prohibited. The Agent after the election exercise is mandated to render an account of all expenditures within thirty-five (35) days of the declaration of the result of the election. Most interestingly, the Act provides that, “a person shall be guilty of a corrupt practice,

if he is guilty bribery,

If he is guilty of treating, and

If he is guilty of undue influence.

Please, I must add that these offences were further defined to cover far-reaching circumstances, which were not even contemplated in our own Electoral Act, 2014 as amended, although, further amendment is being contemplated as a way to strengthen our electoral process.

I must say also, that it is only very focused men and women who have in-depth understanding, that should be allowed to represent the people at the Legislative Houses of Assembly. When you are a focused person and you know what you are doing, the basic thing is to get these things right: one, electoral promises, two, directing policies of government, three, ensuring that the said policies of government translate to social welfare for the people; provision of critical infrastructure and ultimately, good governance.

Most times, you find out that the policies of government do not make impact on the people they are representing. And if the elected legislators are on their toes, (be it at the federal or state levels) they should be able to know the kinds of policy initiatives the governments should drive and ensure aggressive implementation of those policies. And if, as a legislator, you do not make enabling laws and ensure that policies are well driven to ensure the wellbeing of the people, political stability and economic growth, you are definitely not doing your bit. After all, what is law? Whatever you are doing in terms of making laws has to do with the welfare of the people and these are intrinsically through the instrumentality of good and enduring policies. When those in the legislative arm of government begin to steer their policy initiatives in the right direction, thereby making government accountable to every policy initiative, you will discover that things would become better and easier on the people, be it economic, political, or social issues – life, generally.

Right now, I am aware that there are a lot of things we need to put in place. For instance and to begin with, the infrastructural deficit is so appalling. The terrain in Ukpor and environs that cover our entire local government area is so bad. I remember back in the days when I was growing up, when people made jest of Ukpor by the then popular maxim that a vehicle might get to Ukpor, but it would learn a lesson. Of course, things have changed quite a bit and still evolving, but you must also know that they are not changing at the pace and in the direction they really should. We need people that can drive these processes faster; we need people that can get to our people at the grassroots, with the urgency the matter requires. There is a lot of infrastructural deficit in our rural areas and the people don’t have forever to wait, to enjoy the basic social amenities like healthcare, qualitative and affordable education and sundry, critical infrastructural facilities.

I am one of the people that believe that the Igbo, generally and, in particular, the people of Nnewi-South and environs, should return home, to invest in building our place. But you also know that there is no way you can make Akwaihedi, Amichi, Azigbo, Ebenator, Ekwulumili, Ezinifite, Osumenyi, Ukpor, Unubi, Utuh and environs better, without good policies, good legislation and making our people, who are essentially entrepreneurs and business moguls, realise that there is an urgent need to think home. I am an advocate of ‘Think-Home Philosophy’.

We are presently putting together a working paper – an ‘Action Plan of Five-Ten Year De-Investment Strategy’, to be submitted to Ohaneze Ndigbo and the World Igbo Congress. It simply advocates the urgent imperative for Igbos all over the world, particularly in Nigeria, to commence that strategic but practical step of de-investing 55 per cent of their businesses, estates and sundry interests outside the shores of Igbo land and re-investing same n’ala Igbo. This could only be possible by virtue of a strategic synergy of all the governments of the five Igbo states, passing appropriate laws and uniquely adaptable policies that ensures enabling business environment for the repatriated businesses and investments to thrive.

Those laws that guarantee enabling environment, such as free trade zones, industrial clusters and the enhancement of our deep sea ports, for good economic policies to be enshrined and actualised; laws that would create the necessary incentives, tax holidays, rebates, to attract both domestic and foreign business owners to bring back their resources to invest at home, must be encouraged. Our legislative arm must, as a fact of urgent importance, encourage the ease of doing business in Igbo land.

ON THE ROLE OF HIGHER INSTITUTIONS IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT

As a matter of fact, Ukpor and by extension, Nnewi-South, has no single higher institution of learning. One of my dreams is, indeed, to attract one such institution of higher learning, or one of its campuses, at least, to Ukpor or any part of Nnewi-South, taking into account, environmental and sundry ancillary factors. One cannot even begin to quantify the value of the presence of an institution of higher learning in any area of our local government, vis-à-vis, the development value chain and sundry economic growth indices. Are you talking of appreciation of the value of property, or is it further opening up of access to contact with the outside world, with all of its collateral gains and further attracting of businesses; or is it easier access to education for our children, etc?   The need to attract Institutions of higher learning and the incidences of economic spillovers, manpower development and skill acquisition, cannot be overemphasised. And it is only an experienced technocrat, well learned in the art of legal draftsmanship, policy initiative and implementation, with the passion for the ‘service-orientation and enterprise’ that can drive the process of attracting affordable and quality education for our people.

Actually, there is a place, with commensurate structures and facilities within Ukpor, at Agbaokpor precisely, where National Development of Employment and Skill Acquisition Centre was to be established. This Centre was attracted to the area by Hon. C.I.D Maduabum but unfortunately, virtually all the structures are now shadows of themselves, with one of the buildings having been gutted by fire. I am aware that tremendous efforts have been made by men like Dr. Ezenwoye, Chief Peter Adigbara, Prince Emma Obi and one Alhaji Jubril, in the relevant Ministry, for necessary monetary vote from government, to kick-start that Development and Skill Acquisition Centre, which by the way, is the only one presently allocated in Anambra State.

Considerable efforts and energy have also been expended to bring the Honourable Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, to the near dilapidated structures as a way of attracting the attention of government but with little or no success. Ours is to get the government to set up a vocational institute but, you know, due to the nature of political activity and the incidence of “overriding interests” in Anambra State, government has not been able to start up something there. But I know that there are other facilities that can house major institutions with minimum collaboration with the Government of Anambra State, for instance, the facility of Bet Comprehensive Academy,-the brainchild of HRH Igwe Joseph Odike Obi. Despite the devastating effect of fire that gutted the facility, which sits on a large expanse of land, there are still, appreciable infrastructure on ground that could house a school, particularly, an institution of higher learning.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to take up that place and make it what it ought to be. But I intend to attract something of that nature, by making sure that the State, or Federal Government, or even people from the private sector, invest in education and the only way to invest in education is by putting up structures, providing equipment and attracting the right, skilled manpower, to run the system. Once there are enough structures on ground, you will find that those of our people who have their children in Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere, would begin to think of bringing their children closer home. But because there are no infrastructure – no schools, no major institutions of higher learning – they prefer to take their children and wards elsewhere, to study.

I intend to make education one of my priorities. I intend to liaise with the state government; I also intend to liaise with the private sector, as well. I have contacts both here, at home and overseas and I know that there are people who are willing to bring such projects that would benefit our people, down here. All it requires is someone that has the passion for education, someone that has what it takes to attract such things.

ON HEALTH, PIPEBORNE WATER AND ALLIED MATTERS

You see, in terms of medical facilities, I know that when Dr.Chuma Chike was Commissioner for Health in Anambra State, he did try to set up what we have today – the only General Hospital in Ukpor – which, of course, hasn’t been up to standard. I know that there are two basic needs – apart from food and water – that man cannot do without and these are healthcare and shelter. At the same time, I pair health, with agriculture because food and drugs go together.

The health sector in the various towns within Nnewi-South LGA, particularly in Ukpor is in a pathetic state because there is simply none. Again, I know that the private sector can contribute, in this regard, as well as the state government so what I intend to do is to reach out to these parties. All it takes is good policy, good law and then pursue these, to be able to attract these projects because these are facilities that every community in Anambra State should have. It is their inalienable right, it is their entitlement. It is not to the glory of government and to that of those of us who are aspiring to be in government that these basic needs of the people are missing. I can assure you that my going to the House of Assembly would definitely make an impact on the education and health sectors.

ON NATURAL RESOURCES

Every town within the Nnewi South LGA, particularly Amichi, Ebenator and Ukpor, are  definitely rich in natural resources such as kaolin, natural springs, flora and fauna. Deep, in our forests are several pristine plants which may not be found elsewhere, which are medicinal and which, of course, our ancestors used, in their pharmacology. On the national scale and indeed, globally, revenue sources, notably from oil, are fast depleting, so people are now looking back, once more, to agriculture and other natural resources. I know that there are a lot of countries that earn their GDP from these sectors. We seem to be taking things from areas that appear easier for us, leaving out the basic things that we ought to do and the areas that really matter.

I am very particular about natural resources and that’s an area I have been trying to get my friends who are into mining and those that are conservationists, to look at. Luckily for us, Ukpor has a very important personality in this area – soil management and sundry mineral components – in the person of Professor Frank Akamigbo, who is a soil expert. These are things that we can do and all it takes is to make the right laws and follow them through. And of course, upon those laws, create the right policies as to how those of us from Nnewi-South, in particular and Anambra as a whole, can tap from our natural resources. Anambra has a lot of natural resources. Ukpor has a lot of natural resources. So, when you make the right laws and get the right policies on ground, definitely, these are relatively new areas that our people would be inclined towards venturing into. As of today, the Federal Government, itself, is investing a lot of money in the mining sector.

Finally, I am persuaded to offer myself, by answering the various calls on me by my people, to provide quality leadership and credible representation in the House. I find, most interesting, the wise counsel of Socrates: “The wise who refuses to rule should be prepared to suffer the rules of idiots.”

And It was still George Orwell, at a different forum, who once opined that, “a person who elects a corrupt politician, impostors, thieves and traitors, is not a victim but an accomplices.” It is therefore with due humility that I call on the good people of Nnewi-South LGA, Anambra State and Nigeria, in general, to choose who represents them, wisely.

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