By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Austen Ogwuda
BEFORE his emergence as Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Engr. Victor Ochei, was among the
most vibrant and probing members of the House. He has now found himself in a position where as a presiding officer, he is bound to watch the vibrancy and listen to the grandiloquence of others without automatically imposing his own views.
Ochei’s work as Speaker is not going to be easy given the unprecedented representation of the opposition in the legislature. Ochei in this interview with Vanguard explains how the unusual cordiality in the Delta House paved way for his election as Speaker, rolls out plans on how he would ensure the stability of the legislature and gives a peep into his political future. Excerpts:
How did you emerge as Speaker?
Let me not say I was taken by surprise, but I was overwhelmed by the total support that came from everybody. I had in my own little way expected that we were going to go into a contest, but you know the Delta State House of Assembly, we really don’t contest with each other, we look at it and say let the person we think is good enough go for this or that, it is as simple as that and I must tell you, my party moved the motion and the DPP seconded the motion for my election. It was like this man was wanted by everybody and I don’t have any reason to play funny game with my colleagues, but uphold their trust in me. I owe them a whole lot of gratitude for this.
What would be your mission?
My focus is basically to bring back the glory of the legislature as the first arm of government as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. The legislature in Delta state today has done a lot, but there is lot of room for improvement, and that is what I want to put on a fast track by way of legislation with all the members cooperating to ensure that we succeed.
For me as a person, I want to run an inclusive participatory parliament, where everybody is seen by the constituency they represent, not by the party they represent, where every member is given his due regards and we are not divided along ethnic lines and you will not even notice the difference that we are a multi-party House.
In Delta, I am going to ensure that the legislature does the job it is supposed to do, we are going to serve as the eyes of the public, we are going to expose corruption, ensure the budget is done properly, in fact, everything the constitution empowers the legislature to do, we will do.
Relationship between PDP, DPP lawmakers
The deduction people hold from outside (is that) oh, because they are DPP, they have come to fight, No, DPP or PDP or whatever party you belong, you have come into the House to serve Deltans, to serve your constituency, so when you come in, your party’s interest is locked behind the door as you enter the hallowed chambers to legislate because when you come there, the constitution tells you that you are here to make laws for peace, order and good governance of Delta state, not for peace, order and good governance of the party that you represent. At that time, the party that brought you to the legislature is only a vehicle that will take you to the venue and go to the parking lot to wait for you until you are done and come back. So, I can tell you, PDP, DPP, ACN, whatever party you have in the House today, as members, they have come with different vehicles but the moment they step into the chambers of the Delta State House of Assembly, they will do justice to peace, order and good governance of Delta state.
It is no longer their partisan interests, the interest that come first is the interest of Delta state and the people. And I want to tell you that contrary to what a lot of people are thinking, that is not the situation. The members of the House, irrespective of their parties, are highly committed Deltans who are ready to serve the state and move the state forward. It doesn’t matter who is the governor today, they have to ensure that there is cordiality, and that at the end of the day, there is peace, order and good governance in the state.
Since the DPP governorship candidate, Chief Great Ogboru is fighting Uduaghan, lawmakers in his party cannot but also fight Uduaghan. Why do you paint a different picture of DPP lawmakers?
None of the members of the DPP in the House brought any such mandate of fighting Uduaghan to the House and I have not seen it in their behavior that they came to fight anybody. They are here to legislate and represent their constituencies; I don’t think anybody will come with the mindset to fight. May be Ogboru wants that, but until he becomes a member of the House, he cannot do that. Well, the PDP is a very accommodating party and that is why even at the national level, the party can run a government of national unity and inviting other parties to come together. It is probably only in Delta State that you have Commissioner for Intra-party relations, but we don’t believe that because we are in a majority party, we should not think about others. No, it is live and let’s live.
In fact, if you become the governor of the state or legislator, the number of your registered party members is so infinitesimal to the number of people you are representing and you owe allegiance to the majority that didn’t even vote for you than those that voted for you. You have to decide, if those policies you want are for your party members only, be sure that your people may recall you.
You executed major contracts for the state government as a lawmaker; tongues are wagging over what will happen to the resources of the state now that you are Speaker?
I am an engineer by training and I did my electrical projects with the state government on grounds of competence, not on patronage. I have never been found wanting by my constituents who voted me overwhelmingly and I have not been found wanting in my private duty as an engineer. Sometimes, when people go all out, I know that there is an ulterior motive, but I can tell you today that the work of the Speaker of the House of Assembly is so overwhelming that I had resigned my interests completely in every company that I ever owned before now on moral grounds. With effect from June, this year, I ceased to be director in all my companies.
What is your take on jumbo pay for lawmakers?
Who is saying jumbo pay for lawmakers? I have only been reading it on the pages of newspapers, I think the National Revenue, Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, is an agency of government where public officers’ remuneration are clearly stated and that is what we use as yardstick, my salary is known to the world, I earn less than N300,000.
Take the executive for instance, as a minister or commissioner, you have imprest you use for this and that, and nobody is asking them questions, but when it comes to the issue of lawmakers, they shout oh, they have allowances to take care of their office and a lot of questions.
How do you intend to avoid the banana peel that has always been the nemesis of most Speakers?
Well, experience is the best teacher, you see, one learns from other people’s mistakes because life is too short to make all of them yourself. So I have learnt from other people’s mistakes, it may not be perfect, it may not be 100 per cent, but I can tell you that I have taken their mistakes as proper lessons and I will not fall into the same net, otherwise, Basically in the legislature, the major issue is how you are able to carry your members along, I am a team player, don’t forget that I came from the minority and today, I am a big player in the majority, that simply tells you that I know how to marry both. Without equivocation, I will run a transparent and all -inclusive and participatory parliament and that way, I don’t see any way that a person who is participating with you and you are transparent in your management, will want to fight against you.
You are from Delta North Senatorial District which is expected to produce the next governor of the state. How true is it that you have been penciled down for it?
First and foremost, I am glad you said “learnt” I don’t know who you learnt from, but I can also tell you that the clamour for the Delta North to produce the next governor of the state is not in contention. However, this is 2011, we have just been elected, I have not even done one month as the time you are speaking to me and you are already talking 2015, that is the problem I have with our distinguished members of the fourth estate of the realm, they put you on the spot and expect you to make committal statements and then, they hold you to it. But I can tell you as a politician that 24 hours in politics is a long time, we are 47 months away from that time and it is too early in the day to be discussing things of that nature.
Let us first and foremost do the work for which our constituents voted us into office because Deltans are expectant. There is a lot out there and people are expecting, the elections are enough to show you the much people are expecting from those they voted into office. Expectations do not necessarily mean handouts to the people that elected you into office, expectations are that they want to see performance, they want to see a change from what it was before, so you owe them accountability and there is a lot that will occupy politicians this time around and it is not going to be business as usual.
And Nigeria is gradually going to where you will be judged on the account of what you have done before in office and so, if you fail them in office, be rest assured that you can’t go back to ask for their votes again because voting is becoming much more credible than it used to be in times past.
So, first and foremost, what we have to do as politicians is to deliver on the promises we made to those that voted us into office and be accountable to them, and by the time, we draw near a new order, they will be the ones clamoring for those of them they want to represent them in higher offices or the present offices they occupy. So I think it is rather premature to be talking about it now. For those who say it, probably, it is their opinion and they feel I should be in contention, I don’t have problems with that. When the time comes, it will start crystallizing and we will be able to say yes or no.