Lady (Hon) Nkeiruka Onyejeocha is the Chairperson, Committee on Aviation in the House of Representatives and former Chairperson, House Committee on Women. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, she expresses her concern over the depletion of women in the National Assembly and the chances of a woman becoming the president in Nigeria
Recently you won the Female Parliamentarian of the Year award bestowed on you by the New Telegraph Newspapers. What impact does this achievement have on you and your political career?
First of all, I must commend the Board and Management of New Telegraph for considering me worthy of such an award. It was a pleasant surprise when I received the nomination letter. The impact of this award is that it goes to show that whatever we do, we should know that people are watching. You might think that nobody is watching your activities but people are watching. It’s a confirmation that there is no hiding place for any one in public service and whatever you do the people are watching you. I have won similar awards before now and each time I receive them I get surprised that my humble contributions to my society is being recognized. Awards like this help one to keep focused, knowing that people are watching you.
You have a reputation of being a politician in active community service and people say you are very close to your constituents and quite generous to the less privileged among them. What is the motivation for this?
The motivation is that I am fully aware that I am representing a people. If you define the word representation, it means you are representing some people who can’t come to Abuja. So if you are representing them, you have to assist them in any little way you can to alleviate their plight. You need to interact with them regularly and see how you can help them because at the end of the day whether people rig elections or not, it is those your constituents that gave you the mandate and it is they that could help you keep the mandate.
I cherish my people; I feel their pains because I grew up in the village and I know the situation of things there. I attended a local primary school; I attended a local college for my secondary education before proceeding to the university. So I have always been around my people and for me, their welfare and well-being matter a lot. If one of them is not feeling fine, as a member of the House of Representatives, representing them, I should identify with such a constituent. So, their discomfort is also my discomfort and it makes me go back and forth to make sure that I do the little I can to soothe their pains.
As a female parliamentarian, do you see Nigeria having a female president in 2019 or any time soon?
I am an optimist but I don’t see that happening so soon. There are several impediments on the way considering the fact that women are still regarded as just helpmates in Nigerian politics. So, I am not saying it’s not going to happen someday because there is nothing impossible with God, but that is when our men begin to appreciate that a woman has the capacity to do the job. It would have been possible if the women with their numerical strength are voting for women who seek elective offices but you find out that when it comes to election the women have people who are directing them on who to vote for, to the extent that their minds and whatever they believe do not count on the voting day. Some women rely on their husbands to make the choice of who they should vote for; others rely either on the community or the godfathers to make that crucial decision.
Until that culture is erased, it may be impossible for the women to break through that glass ceiling, but like I said earlier, with God all things are possible. But I dare say again, that it is not going to work without the support of the men because even for every position, you will see the men meeting to take the decision on who among them should take it.
Usually, it is the men who do the zoning, they are the people who does the leg work and they are the same people who will share the money when the need arises to deploy financial resources. Most women lack the financial muscle to run elections. If you go to the MDAs, how many women are given contracts? How many women are business people? Politics is about money. How much do women have to vie for this position of the president? So without prejudice to anything that might happen in the future, if you look at what is on ground now, someone would say that it is nearly impossible.
As for me, everything is possible because the Bible says that whatever God says He will do, He will do. God can decide to turn the Kong’s heart in any direction that He wishes. Assuming God decides that a woman will become the President, he may begin by convincing the menfolk to consider a woman for at least the position of the National Chairman of a political party. When God starts speaking to their minds, you will see that at the convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), they can elect a woman to be the National Chairman and that is how it starts. Maybe the woman will perform exceedingly well and they will start thinking that if this woman could do so well as party chairman, she could also do well if given the bigger position of a president. So, that’s how it works. If you put the God’s angle and the political calculations of our men agreeing to the aspirations of women, then we can achieve it.
Are you satisfied with the number of women we have in the National Assembly today?
No. How would I be satisfied? I was Chairman, House Committee on Women in Parliament during the 6th Assembly and all that I was doing was advocacy on how to increase the number of women in parliament. That was how the former First Lady spoke with me and we talked about how we can reach out to the state governors and other stakeholders to increase our number. But unfortunately, after the outing our number depreciated rather than increased for some obvious reasons. Some people, who were co-opted to talk about us that were already in Parliament and to bring in more, just went there and rubbished us. They said they don’t want this person; they don’t want that person and they ended up spoiling the ones that were here and prevented fresh ones from joining us. Nobody who is sincere will be happy about the number of women that we have because for most of the issues concerning women, you need to convince a man 300 times plus for him to agree to support it. They have this erroneous notion that women issues are no issues. They believe that we may not be talking about issues that will be beneficial to them. Every time, they forget that we are the mothers and if we took the right decisions in the upbringing of children and we train them to be who they are that there is no how we can be brushed aside as people who don’t know what they are saying. Every time we talk, we are talking about something reasonable at least to the extent that it will be beneficial to everybody in the society
At that time, when I was demanding an increase in the number of women, they were fighting me and asking me who I want replaced among the men. They would ask me: ‘Whose seat do you want?’ I said ‘let us do it this way: For members who want to go to the Senate, let women from their constituencies replace them and for the senators who want to retire, let women replace them,’ but some were asking me who will take care of their children? Why would anybody be asking such a question? Now that I am here, does it mean I am not taking care of my children? Or does it mean that I don’t have children to take care of? The only thing is that as a woman who has a husband and children and who is hard working, it will take you some sleepless nights than someone who does not have, and of course you need to work three times harder than even the men for you to survive in the system. You know that women are multifaceted and our brains can do multi tasks at the same time. So the issue of a woman in politics keeping her home at the same time is not really an issue. I’m sorry to say that the real issue is that some men just feel insecure when they see a woman who is coming up there. But I am telling them that they should not feel insecure because all of us from Christian background know that our husbands are our lords in our homes unless in the case of a husband who doesn’t want to provide for his family and the Bible tells us that such husbands are worse than infidels. Even in the Muslim families, I know that they have their own guides on how to relate with their families to ensure the balance the role of women in politics without neglecting their roles at home.
In other countries around the world there are a lot of women in parliament and other political positions. What magic are they using to achieve this feat?
The only magic like it is in Rwanda is that they fought a war and almost all their men died. They will ask you, ‘do you want your men to die so that you can take over the polity?’ In other cases, it was achieved by negotiation and the men had to agree to concede certain number of seats to the women. They did it in form of legislation. If there is a legislation that prescribes that a certain number of seats in parliament must be reserved for women, it becomes a matter of law. It will no longer be a matter of whether you like me or not, you must come to my constituency and look for a woman to occupy the rest. If it is left open it is a different ball game but not when the law says the seat is reserved for a woman.
In many countries, parliaments have taken the bull by the horns to legislate that certain number of seats should be reserved for women. Even some parliaments have made laws that certain number of seats be allocated to other disadvantaged groups such as the physically challenged in the society. There are some of the things we also need to do to bring more inclusion to our parliament and our political system. The truth of the matter is that the earlier our men accept that we should fill the gaps, the better because women are more focused, more hardworking and they want to measure their successes with clear milestones. No woman wants to have excuses why success cannot be achieved under her watch. You know, most women who have been up there, if you work with them, you will see that they call them either Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady or such names of strong female icons because they always want to achieve their goals. Even when the system does not set a goal for them, they come and set one and work hard to achieve it. The reason simply is because they are women and that is how God created them.
You’ve been a member of parliament for about 12 years. How would you describe the experience?
Well, every endeavour in life comes with its own challenges. It has been very challenging. But one thing I know is that I am a politician by calling and I take it as part of life and not as a past time.
How have you been able to cope with these challenges?
You see, if you are into something and you believe that that is the way God wants it to be, it makes things easier. It means that is the way you want to live your life. It will be a different ball game if you are doing something out of compulsion. I am one of those in politics by my own volition. I was not forced into it by circumstances and I am not being forced to remain a politician. I like what I am doing, I am focused and my eyes are always on the ball because at the end of the day, I know what it means to represent a people.
The job of representation has been keyed into my brain and every time, it keeps ringing a bell in my brain. You are here not because you want to be here; you are here because some people sent you here. You are here because of your constituents whom you represent in parliament. So that consciousness makes it easier for me to face any challenge. Even in committee work, once I know that it is about people, I get focused and do it because I know that at the end of the day it is their people that will be asking questions and one should be able to provide answers. As a representative, you are accountable to the people and above all, you are accountable to your conscience and your creator.
I believe that any place you find yourself, it is not by accident because nobody comes into this world by accident. As a member of the House of Representatives, I am not here by accident. If I am not here by accident, what it simply means is that at the journey, God will ask me ‘how did you fare? What did you do when this matter came to you as member of the parliament? What decision did you take? Did you consider my own angle to it?’ As a Christian, no matter what you do, you should ask, what is God thinking about it? If you don’t, you are on your own and when the tsunami comes, you could easily be swept away.
Earlier, you talked about women and multi-tasking. How have you been able to manage your roles as a wife, mother and politician?
It has not been easy but so far so good. I have taken every of these roles as part of life and living. Even if I find myself in Wuse Market as a trader, I will still have to contend with my family responsibilities. As a mother, I didn’t have children by accident, so I just have to take care of them.
The fact that I am here today doesn’t make any difference. The only important thing is that you set a goal and work hard to achieve them. You are expected to do certain things and you should get focused and do those things. Like I said earlier, as a woman, the only thing is that you are expected to work three times harder than others who are not in your position because you don’t want to be found wanting in your responsibilities. Even if you are just a house wife, your role is also very tasking. If you want to be a good house wife, you must be ready to do things well. You must make sure that food is served on time; you must make sure that your home is kept clean; you must make sure that the children are well catered for and you must make sure that your husband is well looked after. So, whichever way you look at it, every woman’s role is tasking but they are achieving results everywhere you find them. The only difference might be that because you are a parliamentarian, they see you more than they see the other women. Some women have shops in Wuse Market, Abuja. They will have a salon on their street and could also be doing some menial jobs to fend for their families. But it’s all just the same struggle at different categories. The bottom line is that women are multitasking
As Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, what legacy would you like to leave in the aviation sector?
I will like to leave a legacy that during my tenure there was no air crash basically because we are doing the right thing and calling the spade, a spade. So far, we have made sure that the right safety measures have been put in place and there is no cutting of corners in the aviation sector. No matter what anybody does, once it’s against the laws, we apply the sanctions. Remember that in aviation there are no rooms for mistakes and excuses. Anything that is against the law will affect safety of lives and property. The number one priority of aviation is safety. Number two down to hundred priorities is safety because any small compromise will affect safety on the long run. Even when you see some airlines that owe their workers’ salaries and you look the other way because you think it doesn’t really matter, you are making a mistake. It matters because one pilot that is not paid could be a time bomb flying an aircraft conveying hundreds of people. For me, what it simply means is that you must be able to do the right thing all the time without exception.
Adaka Boro’s agitation now moneymaking venture –King Opuokun
His Royal Majesty, King Okpoitari Diongoli Opuokun the IV, the Ibedaowei of Opokuma Kingdom is a journalistturned- traditional ruler. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he touched on many issues. Excerpts…
What are the objectives of the PAN Niger Delta People’s Congress?
I was one of the key drivers of the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress. For purposes of emphasis and clarity, let me state that what the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress had always advocated was a paradigm shift in their leadership of the Niger Delta. We now have a new leadership. The leadership that was there then had served the Niger Delta and the Ijaw Nation credibly, and it was time for them to bow out when the ovation was loudest. There is a difference between the leadership of PANDEF and PANDEF as a body.
How comfortable were you with leadership of Pa Edwin Clark?
The leadership was headed by Pa E.K Clark at that time and for over 50 years, he was at the forefront of the struggle for the economic and political emancipation of the Niger Delta People. Even in the civil service or public service, if a man had worked up to 35 years, government policy is for such a person to retire. So, for me, it was a matter of principle. The Niger Delta is blessed with abundant human and material resources. We have people who are capable of leading the Niger Delta struggle.
After all, how old was Isaac Adaka Boro when he embarked on the 12-day revolution with his people. Incidentally, we are marking the 50th anniversary of his death. Look at what is trending in the world now. Today, France has a president that is just barely 40 years. The president of North Korea is about 33 years or there about. It is the global trend.
The world is moving towards a direction. And if you look at this country, right from the time of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, even our military heads of state were not old men. There were some a little less than 30. Some a little above 40.
That is the age where you can have effective leadership. So on a matter of principle, I have nothing personal with Pa EK Clark. I respect him and will continue to do so. But on principle, it was better to bow out when the ovation was loudest and that was my position and our position.
But to God be the glory, people saw reasons with our positions and today as we speak, there is a new executive in place. Even though I still hear of Pa E.K. Clark attending certain programmes and functions which I’m not too comfortable with but it is not a personal thing. If it is a collective decision that he should be there so be it. But the truth of the matter is that as Izon people Izon means truth, we need to tell ourselves some bitter truth. It is time for us to organise a befitting reception to tell the man thank you for serving the Ijaw Nation and for serving the Niger Delta. Let him retire and stay at his home in Kiagbodo.
That is his home town. Let him stay there and let the leadership of the Niger Delta, the leadership of Izon nation, the leadership of IYC and even some of the governors of the Izon-speaking states go to him at Kiagbodo to brief him.
To consult with him. If there are issues if they need to discuss with him, let them go and consult and seek his fatherly advice. That makes him a more honoured and respected elder statesman and father of Izon nation, not by him going from one place to the other.
It does appear that we are people who do not have regard or appreciate the efforts of our heroes past. For me that is my position. And I think that those of us who started the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress that has been our position. It was not a personal thing. Well it is also possible that there may be one or two persons that may have had some beef with him. But count me out. I’m not part of that.
How do you see the Adaka Boro’s struggle?
When Adaka Boro and his team of lieutenants started the struggle and engaged the Federal Government in a 12-day revolution, it was driven by ideology, principles, passion, based on fundamental human right.
The people of the Niger Delta, the oil-bearing communities were deprived, alienated from government. What Boro and his team did was to draw attention of the government to injustices meted out to the people of the Niger Delta.
That was why he talked about self-determination. And Boro didn’t start the call for self-determination. The London conference of 1957 where Sir Aaron Dappabriye presented a position paper of the Niger Delta people and in the London conference the Niger Delta delegation called for self-determination. And it was as a result of that call and one of the resolutions of that call was that the Niger Delta has been declared a special area that deserves special attention.
Unfortunately till day the area designated as Niger Delta region has not been given that desired attention. But when Boro took up arms with his team, they re- echoed that same demand. Self-determination, resource control, devolution of powers to enable the Niger Delta people and the state to develop according to their own ability and resources available.
But I must tell you that the struggle today as it is, is a far cry from the foundation that was laid by Boro and his team. Each time I meditate on the position of Boro and the present state of the struggle, I weep. I bleed in my heart. The struggle has been commercialised.
Contractors are now taking advantage of the struggle to line their pockets to make billions of naira for themselves while the majority of the people are suffering. The issues that made Boro and his team to take up arms against the federal government are still left unattended to.
This year’s edition is the 50th anniversary after the struggle. Where are we? Niger Delta and indeed the Nigeria state is still in a state of tatters and rested development. Nothing is moving and nothing is working. But I think it has become worse because those who are claiming to be fighting for the people of the Niger Delta are doing so for their pocket. Not for the collective good of our people.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Boro, my message to our people is that let us continue to be guided by the ideals of and vision that Boro and his team stood for and as a young boy when I came from Lagos to attend secondary school in Kaima, I lived in Boro’s fathers house.
Infact for the records Boroh’s father then was still alive and he was instrumental for my gaining admission to Government Secondary School, Kaima and before we moved to the hostel, I lived with him in his house. That was in 1976. This is 2018, that same building is still standing there. It is even worse.
What is the goal of Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress?
We stand for restructuring. We stand for resource control. We stand for devolution of powers from the national. The central government is just too powerful. The central government is too far from our people. And then we want our people, the Niger Delta people and the Ijaw nation to feel the impact of government.
The government is too far and then the little resources that get to our state. Look at every month, our state government go to Abuja for a handout which will barely be enough to pay salaries.
Where are the mega projects? It is only the federal government that can embark on a mega project. But if they want the state to do that, then reduce the federal allocation and increase the state allocation and that of local government. And then their responsibilities too, reduce their responsibilities at the federal level or central level and then increase the responsibilities of the states with funds so that they can do major projects.
Is restructuring an agenda for the 2019 election?
Well I’m a royal father, and as you know, and as royal fathers, we are supposed to be apolitical. Therefore I will not want to comment on 2019 but restructuring is the way to go. There is no way out. There is no option at all.
So any government that does not talk about restructuring then the government is not listening and is not sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. I can tell you this from the North to the West, from the South to the East, it is one song that everybody is singing including the North now.
They are now talking about restructuring. So any government that says you are the government of the people, by the people and for the people, then you should do what the people say and what Nigerians want, I think is restructuring because it is overwhelming.
Is it right for traditional rulers to remain apolitical when they have something to offer?
Our democracy is still evolving. It is an emerging one. Besides, the key players are also not developed. As we talk about restructuring of the polity, the economy of this country, we need to also restructure the political class.
The political class are also not matured enough. Anybody that comes from any political party supposed to be our subject. We are supposed to be neutral as fathers so that when they come, we receive them, bless them and wish them well. If royal fathers and traditional rulers begin to shift from that responsibility and want to be partisan, there will be problem.
And because our political class are also not mature enough or our democracy is not mature enough, if the person eventually wins, they would want to say this traditional ruler didn’t support me so, I will also not support him or I will want to dethrone him and all that. And by so doing, you would have exposed your stool and crown to political manipulation and ridicule.
And you are carrying the crown, the banner of an entire kingdom, therefore it is not you. For instance, in my kingdom, it is not about me Okpoitari Diongoli. It’s about the Opokuma people by extension the Kolokuma Opokuma people and by extension the Ijaw Nation. And I’m seen as father and a monarch.
If I expose my stool to political manipulations and all the rest of them, then it must have been an error in judgment. Therefore you can really excuse the monarchs because our political culture is not as developed as that you have in the western world.
You were talking about PANDEF being led by old men but we equally know that an old man is leading Nigeria.
It’s unfortunate, I think it is an irony of fate because he became Head of State in 1983 as military leader. Officially he is 76 years or there about. Now from 1983 let’s assume and this is 2018, if you do the mathematics, you will know how many years. So, how old was he? How old was Gowon?
How old was Ibrahim Babangida? How old was Sanni Abacha when they were heads of state? In other words, I think somebody is trying to run away from the truth. Even the policy of the federal government and the state when a public servant serves for 35 years whichever one that come first. If you are less than 65 after your 35 years in service, you retire. If your 35 years coincides with your 65 years, you retire. So, I think that our youths are not lazy.
We have youths that are creative, innovative, youths that are industrious and compete with their peers elsewhere. And that has been proven again and again. When our youths go outside the country whether in the academics, whether in sporting arena, whether in the movie industry, they do very well.
We export some of the best. I think it is not fair. It was not appropriate. It was a misjudgment to describe youths of Nigeria as lazy. Youths of Nigeria are very strong.
Do you not think there should be a time limit for a politicians to retire?
My personal opinion now is that if we need to have leaders who are very functional and will be effective at all levels, that leader should not be more than 60 years. But we have a problem, the constitution does not place any limit or age barrier for anybody who is qualified to contest election.
Age barrier is not one of the criteria and then the electorate that will elect or determine who becomes their leader. So, I’m just an individual monarch. My individual opinion may not really count in this circumstance.
But if you ask my personal opinion, I will tell you that if a leader is more than 60 years, he should bow out and allow fresh minds, younger people to lead the country, to lead the state, to lead at all levels. That is where I stand and even for PANDEF and Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress or indeed any other organisation.
Do you think the oil companies have treated their host communities well?
My position is known to the industry very well. Multi nationals have always stood by the people, for the people and I have always told them. Answering your question directly, I will tell you no. The multi nationals have not been fair to the impacted communities. But you see, when you engage them constructively, they have their own sides of the story.
Gunwa: Why it’s difficult to enforce compliance in Nigeria’s maritime
Chief Executive Officer, Maritime Service Limited, Mrs Juliana Gunwa, in this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, says the only way to address Nigeria’s maritime sector’s challenges is to domesticate and enforce necessary maritime conventions. She also speaks on sundry issues impeding maritime development in Nigeria. Excerpts
What is your take on maritime pollution reception facilities in the country?
Nigeria’s reception facility at the Snake Island is one of the best in Africa, but it only covers two aspects of the Maritime Pollution (MAPOL) Convention. It covers garbage, which is annex five of MAPOL and covers oil, which is annex one, so they have receptacles for two of the six annexes. We have the one that can cater for garbage annex five and annex two for oil.
The facility is highly sophisticated and is comparable to what is available in America, Europe or any of these developed countries. So, I give kudos to Nigeria for that as a country.
But we still need to put some things in place; for instance, we need training for our staff. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is doing a lot in that aspect, but we need to train more. We need to have a number of well- trained surveyors to be able to go on board. We have so many vessels coming in and I believe that the number of surveyors are not enough to board vessels on regular basis to ensure compliance.
So, we need staff that are well trained in this area; staff that are competent and confident to go on board to challenge operators that do not comply with rules. Also, Nigeria as a maritime nation must start to encourage private operators to come together and own vessels. Government should encourage them because we all know that vessels ownership is capital intensive.
So, there will be need for us, either at governmental level or operational level, to have vessel of our own so that we can effectively participate in lifting of cargos in this country. We need to have record of how many vessels have been detained for lack of compliance. These are some of the things we need to work on. The moment IMO sees us working on these; the world itself will know that Nigeria is working.
How can government address the incessant failure of Nigeria to attain category C of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council seat?
I was part of the country’s struggle and efforts to get into IMO’s council seat at different times. I even coordinated a number of programmes when we regained our seat on category C of the organisation.
The category C of IMO council is a very key seat to occupy. One thing I know is that once you are a member of the council, you are part of decision making.
For instance, when new conventions are introduced, you have the right to either support it or disagree with it, depending on the level you think you are operating in the nation. But if you are not a member of the council, you are just an observer and you have no say.
Some unknowledgeable people have been asking question as to what will the country gain from being a member of the council. We have a lot to gain as a maritime nation apart from the fact that it is prestigious to be on the council. Without being there, there is no way we can run our shipping locally, it is not possible. So, for us now, we must put our house in order to get back to IMO council.
It is very important for us to look inward and look at areas that are of concern to the International Maritime Organisation and one of such areas is ensuring that the conventions are implemented. Also, we should go a step further to ensure domestication of all these conventions because if they are not domesticated, we cannot effectively implement then.
Can you shed more light on this?
If there is a vessel that comes into our waters for instance and failed to comply with any of the provisions of the conventions and we have not domesticated those conventions, we can’t charge them to court unless we domesticate the conventions, which would give us the legal backing.
So, we must ensure that we are not just ratifying these conventions; we should go a step further to domesticate them. Effort must be put in place for effective implementation and in carrying out the implementation; NIMASA should try to have stakeholders’ meeting.
It does not end there, we need to have more interactive sessions with the operators and that is one thing my company tends to achieve. We must work with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure some of the requirements are put in place and it is only when they are put in place that we can carry out enforcement.
So, if we put necessary things in place, it is not going to be news to IMO, because the organisation will get to know that Nigeria has all of these in place.
How do you want government to tackle leadership issue in the industry? Nigeria is a unique country and most of our issues are likely political.
I still want to believe it is good, if we can get a maritime leader, somebody with maritime background, to be the one that will pilot the affairs of the maritime agencies. Having said that, the industry can still have a politician at the helm of affairs, but such a person must have experienced hands to work with.
With that, such a politician will be able to do well. I know so many professionals that are out there that their competencies could be required and utilised by these agencies, however they are not being utilised.
For instance, a lot of professionals have retired from NIMASA and there is no reason why the agency cannot go out and engage some of them as consultants
. I believe some other agencies do this and these professionals do not need to be part of the day-to-day workings, but they should be there to guide and offer advice that will be helpful to run the agencies.
I had attended a lot of IMO meetings during my 35 years of service because I started attending when I was at the Federal Ministry of Transport. One thing I realised the developed countries do differently from us is that some of the international delegates of countries such as China, United States, Norway, Canada and others had been there for between 20 and 30 years.
I knew some of the delegates who had been there consistently. I knew them, they knew me, they bring in new people, but the older ones are still there to guide them until they are fully retired. Even by the time they are fully retired, they still keep them as advisors.
What is happening in Nigeria is lack of consistency. We are not consistent in attending those meetings, especially in policy monitoring. There must be consistency because the issues discussed in the previous year won’t be same as the current year.
What is your view on leadership turnaround in NIMASA and other maritime agencies?
When you look at the turnaround of leadership in NIMASA, it has not been helpful. What happened in NIMASA is very peculiar to the agency. It has not happened that way in Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a few other maritime parastatals. I think the agency should be seen more as a professional organisation.
The way the agency is being treated, especially in term of turnaround of leadership whenever there is a new minister, has not been fair. I think you can only make change when you think a particular director general is not doing well in discharging his or mandate. From my experience, I can say I spent at least 14 to 15 years in the agency and I am sure I worked with six or seven director generals there.
Why is it difficult to have indigenous fleet in the country?
Well, I wouldn’t think it is really impossible. You know there is a precedent that NIMASA is trying to avoid. I remember several years back when NIMASA gave out some funds for acquisition of vessels, then, there was no professional machinery put in place for adequate disbursement and payback modalities. So, we found out that quite a number of people that took the fund didn’t even use it for what it was meant. Some didn’t even payback.
So, I think these are some of the things agitating the minds of the agency. Having said that, my advice is going to be that we cannot continue not to do something; everything in life is all about risk and if we are going to continue to keep safe, we are not going to make progress.
That is why I am not going to condemn but advice and that is to setup disbursement agent where finances will be managed. I know the agency is trying to setup something like that, but there should be a proposal on setting up a professional modality so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Government should put in place professional modality that will enable the agency and the Federal Ministry of Transport to adequately disburse the fund.
Is it possible for indigenous shipping companies to form a cartel in the industry? I think what we need now is encouragement, that’s what some other developed countries do. Singapore did a lot of encouragement in terms of maritime industry expansion and I believe we can do that.
If you look at the cabotage regime, you will know that there are lots of young Nigerian companies coming up to do coastal trade. I know we have some very serious-minded people who are into cabotage, though some of them may still not have the vessels because of the cost. I want to say there will be need to support professional operators that are out to promote the industry.
In my company, we have done a lot of research about what we can do on ferry service and how to go about it. But we realised it is going to be difficult because of the plenty of money required to go into this type of service without local or international partners.
How would you relay your experience in the public service and private practice?
When I was in the Department of Maritime Service in the Ministry of Transport, all I did was nothing but maritime. Thereafter, I came to the then office of Government Inspection of Shipping (GIS) that was later merged with the defunct Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA).
As I was planning to exit, I started thinking that I had benefited so much from the industry in terms of policies formulation, travelling all over the world to represent the Federal Government at different levels and acquiring additional degrees in different maritime disciplines.
At NIMASA, I was initially the head of the Maritime Safety Department, which was a unit before it later became a division. When the issue of the environment was becoming a global concern and recognised world-wide, the former director general encouraged me to set up a marine environment department and with the help of God and staff, under six months that came to pass. So, that made me to become the first director of marine environment management department unit, where I was for about over four years.
I won’t start to talk about some of my achievements but I would say that all of these have really exposed me to be in a position where authoritatively, I could talk about maritime sector in general.
I am now at a stage whereby if you wake me up and ask me any question about the maritime conventions I can roll them all out because they have become part of my life.
So, after benefiting so much from government and having also been exposed to many international forums where serious maritime issues were discussed and serous decisions were taken, I felt that one of the best ways I could continue in the industry is to set up my own outfit after my retirement.
I realised that the stakeholders would need to know more about what NIMASA, as a safety administration, requires of them and the agency would have to be in a position to pass adequate information on the relevance of some international conventions to stakeholders.
From the knowledge I gained from the agency, I felt that I would be useful in transferring knowledge to the younger generation that have come in and not yet privileged to go on any professional training from where I have benefited immensely.
Ofoke: How Ebonyi revived justice system
Ebonyi State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Cletus Ofoke in this interview with UCHENNA INYA, speaks on justice delivery system, rule of law, police, prison reforms, among others
How has it been as Chief Law Officer in Ebonyi State?
Well, God has been faithful and government is a continuum. When I met activities in the ministry, I quickly adapted to them and started discharging my duties accordingly. So, it has been God all the way.
That ministry belongs to a lawyer and as a trained lawyer, nothing is strange to me. In terms of administration, I have the experience. I have run my law firm for seven years before I got the appointment. I have also held many positions of trust that had to do with administration. So, combining administration with practice of law to me is not a strange thing.
What is your assessment of justice system in the state?
In Ebonyi state judicial system, the spirit is very high. The justice sector to me, is living up to its expectations; it is not a one way traffic. There are stakeholders in the justice system; the judiciary, the prison and others. Those bodies brought together have been collaborating to ensure that justice is done to all manner of people in the state.
But as a ministry, we have been discharging that which the Constitution says we should do; we have been vetting files, filing information, ensuring that people who are not connected with any offence are discharged accordingly because that is our mandate and ensuring that people that has one case or the other in court are prosecuted accordingly.
Immediately I came in as Commissioner, I had a series of meeting with Heads of Departments of the ministry and in those meetings, we were able to marshal out points on how to deliver effectively on the issue of justice dispensation in the state and they all agreed that those points were apt and that they were going to abide by it.
I think the HODs are doing their best. One, no file from police stays more than a day in our ministry without being vetted. Immediately it is vetted, if we find out that there is a prima facie case established against the accused person, we charge that person accordingly. I have also made sure that the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) is unburdened. In other words, I met backlog of cases files that were not given attention but immediately I came on board, I ensured that that those files were given urgent attention.
Again, the Department of Public Prosecution is a life wire of this ministry in terms of justice sector dispensation. Because of this, we injected more people into that department so that it will not lack manpower and that has really paid off because the law officers in that very particular department has to do with justice sector we are talking about and they are up and doing.
So, we brought on board people that are seasoned, people that have done the job for years and people that know what it takes to prosecute and what it takes to counsel where necessary. It has not been without challenges anyway but we have been able to surmount them.
The problems we are having is that at times we don’t get case files from police as quickly as possible the way they are supposed to be doing and that hinders the operation of justice dispensation in the ministry. By and large, the ministry is doing very well.
In what way would you say the backlog of case files you inherited affected justice delivery system?
The effect although we have cleared them, innocent people were languishing in prison. People that were not connected to the offences they were charged with were languishing, praying that God should intervene on their behalf. But with the promptness and with the zeal the people we have deployed to the ministry have shown, we have been able to clear those backlogs and that is what gave rise to filing of information.
In fact, more than 60 informations have been filed since I came on board and I can assure that authoritatively that we have discharged not less than 20 people.
This has to some extent decongested our prisons. Like I told you, justice sector is not about ministry of justice alone; we have other critical stakeholders. So, in terms of prison decongestion, that has really helped. Situations up to 50 files have been given attention by way of filing information and more are still coming. As a matter of fact, last week, the Department of Public Prosecution filed eleven information awaiting assignment by the state Chief Judge.
For the other ones, we discharged them because we looked at the files, why they were brought to prisons and we saw that they were innocent of the offences they were charged. When I came on board, we had about 70 case files that were not given attention but we have cleared them.
What role is the state government playing in prison decongestion?
The governor has done a lot in the area of prison decongestion. He is constructing an ultra-modern building for the state federal prisons which is about 90% completion.
He has also charged the state Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy to be up and doing and that committee is headed by myself the Honourable Attorney General. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy has met with the Chief Judge of the state; we have met up to three times and part of it is the release from prisons about 26 inmates sometime in February this year.
You can agree with me that a situation whereby 26 inmates were release from prisons will go a long way to decongest the prisons. So, the government is doing quite a lot. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy is currently looking at cases of inmates who deserve to be granted state pardon.
How cordial is the relationship between your ministry and the security agents in the state?
The relationship is very cordial. Of course, we are all partners in justice delivery and when I came on board, the first point of call was to meet with the state Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde and we had a robust discussion on how to be getting case files from police as when due so that we can vet them accordingly in line with the directive court. And I can assure you that that meeting has yielded positive result because the office of the officer in charge of legal gives us attention. Anytime my ministry staff goes there to get those files for vetting, he treats that as a priority.
In respect to the prison, we are very strong partners in progress; the relationship is very cordial. In fact, you cannot talk about prison decongestion without involving the prison officials. The Controller of prisons is a wonderful woman; Mrs. Oputa is a good woman. She came up with an idea of decongesting the prison and that position of her gave birth to a meeting with the Chief Judge of the state which resulted to releasing of 26 inmates like I told you. If the relationship is not there, that wouldn’t have been possible. Other security agencies; SSS,
Civil Defence are good partners and we have not had any challenge resulting from their various offices. We work hand in hand to make sure that our state remains number one in terms of prison decongestion.
Is rule of law on trial in the state?
Well, you already know the answer. In Ebonyi state, everything is done according to the rule of law and the dictates of the law.
Our governor believes in due process and let me inform you that he has not only been acknowledged in Ebonyi state, in the south east, but in Nigeria. He has won prestigious award of Ambassador of rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption.
That summarizes the state of rule of law in Ebonyi state. For somebody to have won the laurels among other states, tells you that in Ebonyi state law is supreme.
In terms of checks and balances, in terms of accountability, in terms of due process, our governor is number one. Whatever he does, he ensures that it is backed up by law. He is a man that listens to the wise counsel of not only jurists but also the ministry of justice which primary role is to advise government on law. And you can see that in the state, people can sleep with their eyes closed because of the attention he has given to security, because of the attention he has given to human empowerment.
In terms of the legislature, the Ebonyi state House of Assembly is an organ of government that does its own constitutional job the way it pleases the Honourable members. His Excellency, the governor does not interfere with the running of the House of Assembly.
They are free to legislate on any matter that has direct positive bearing on the people of the state and that is democracy and that is the rule of law we are talking about.
So, if our governor does not believe in rule of law, he would have been interfering with the functions of the legislative arm of government and that of the judiciary. Our Judges go about dispensing justice; our government does not interfere with how judgments are giving. In fact, some judgments are even given against government and government obeys them. We advise government and government to obey them. So, rule of law reigns supreme in Ebonyi state.
What role would the newly created Criminal Prosecution department play in justice system?
It is to monitor the inflow of criminal cases in all the courts in the state. I told you that we vet files and other things we do to ensure that there is justice delivery in the state.
The department is a very vital department in the ministry of justice and it has helped to a very large extent in ensuring that criminal prosecution go very well in the state.
The job of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Criminal Prosecution, who is in charge of that department, does not stop at criminal prosecution. It looks at other cases that of interest to both government and individuals.
In other words, inferring with the police, the office of the O/C legal, the Nigerian prisons, the DSS because these are the agencies responsible for apprehension of criminals. He interfaces with those security agencies in respect to criminal matters that are to be given attention by both the agencies and the ministry of justice.
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