By CHARLES KUMOLU
A dispenser’s son, whose memories of having to depend on rainwater for drinking and attending schools that were roofed with thatch, combined to shape his disposition, engagingly offers insight into the various aspects of his life. Starting with the valuable lessons from his father, to the experience of being born into an area known for social crisis as a result of effects of environmental degradation and inequality, this account, tells the story of Daniel Reyenieju like never been told. It is a tale told with a fine display of intellectualism. He represents Warri Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.
I grew up in a community and region where the activities of crude oil production have led to environmental degradation. Aquatic life has been hugely disused and destroyed as most of the communities depended on fishing for their livelihood. On the ground, oil spillage rendered the soil unproductive and this has given rise to regular confrontations between the host communities and the oil prospecting companies in the area. The result of these negative consequences arising largely from neglect on the part of the government and the prospecting companies are environmental devastation, social crises, and economic deprivation. Again, it is important you know that my father worked as an itinerant dispenser and as such, I had the rare opportunity to accompany him to different communities including some adjoining ones for dispensary purposes. As such, I have firsthand knowledge of those places. It is critically sad to put on record that most of these riverine areas are being neglected by successive governments without concrete plans to alleviate the suffering of the riverine communities. What we have seen mostly is revenue generation from the communities with less regard for environmental degradation.
We depended on rainwater for drinking
We depended on rainwater for drinking and attended schools that were roofed with thatch and walled with bamboo. In spite of this, the teachers were dedicated and they gave their best. These experiences of course largely formed my disposition and attitude towards my legislative functions and gladly too, my constituents appreciate it. Aristotle’s dictum that man is a political animal and the dialectics of classes and class struggle, have greatly influenced my character. Politics became naturally implanted in my subconsciousness. All it needed was a spark. It was a spark that my stint at the Itsekiri National Youth Council, INYC, where I was the National President, provided. As a graduate of philosophy, I have been able to combine some elements of the classical, medieval, modern and contemporary principles of the discipline cleverly in the handling of the many political and social challenges one had to be confronted with in the course of my role and position as the peoples’ representative.
You are reputed as one of the cerebral persons in the House and this is quite impressive considering that intellectual content seems to be deficient in public service these days. How did you come about your intellectual prowess?
I am passionately committed to the Nigerian Project. I grew up holding onto the values of honesty, respect, humility and hard work that my father and mentor taught me. I realized that I spend most of my time trying to solve problems, mediating in peace agreements and empowering people across board. These, I have done with all sense of responsibility and commitment to humanity. My coming to the National Assembly has further helped me to express this passionate commitment, ideals, and service in a much broader spectrum. Over the years, I have observed that the quality of debates and discussions in the House has developed with regard to intellectual content and sophistication, understanding social issues and knowledge of the ideals and rudiments of democracy.
What moment can you consider the most defining so far for you and what lessons do you think can be drawn?
It would be the massive assertions exhibited in the various legislative Bills we brought for consideration in the National Assembly. Recall that the works of the legislature are initiated by the introduction of a proposal in one of four principal forms: the bill, the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple resolution. I have been involved in every process of legislative activities. I take every sitting seriously and also maintain a robust constituency office. Furthermore, You will agree with me that the Niger Delta from Ese Odo in Ondo State far into the coastal shelf of the Escravos and beyond have been largely peaceful. This is not because people are afraid of another ‘crocodile smile’. What you see as lasting enduring peace is a product of diligent inquiry which we started. We brought it to the consciousness of stakeholders across the span of the Niger Delta. I am saying this with very sincere conviction, having undertaken a similar part in the past before my coming to the national assembly. I hold very strongly to dialogue as the only way to resolving a resource engendered crisis as we now have in the Niger Delta.
On mentorship, role models
It depends on what your concept of role model is. In my view, role models are people that others copy. They inspire or motivate others by their way of life, character, and speech among others. So your opinion of them being in short supply may not be entirely correct. But having said that, I would like to say that I have a few of them as my role models. The first is Socrates, specifically for his dictum: “man, know thyself” and the other person is Prof. Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate given my espousal of his book “ The Man Died”. Another person, who is one of my mentors is Prof Lucky Akaruese, an erudite Professor of Philosophy with the University of Port Harcourt, whom I learnt the act of progressive activism from. My view is that one can have a multiplicity of role models depending on different variables. Many of our people, especially the young ones are overtly materialistic in their consciousness and such have an unbridled propensity for wealth irrespective of the source or sources. And it has made them to have agents of debased values as their role models. Again, we must not confuse the idea of role-model with godfatherism as both in my considered view are markedly different. Whilst a role model could be living or dead, a godfather must necessarily be living. This view is personal to me and thus subjective.
Looking at how far you have come in life, what do you consider your greatest achievements and how do you think your story can inspire people?
My greatest achievement in my personal assessment is my commitment to altruism, humility, and treating every person as an end and never as a ‘means to an end’. This character-trait I think has endeared me to my constituents. In addition, my Constituency remains my primary spot of recourse. I do not hesitate to use any available opportunity to articulate their concerns and needs. Though this is not exhaustive in nature. Also, my disposition to good representation and lawmaking and the quality or aggregate of qualities in my personality may also be worthy of reliance or trust in my constitutional role among others. Above all my firmness of purpose to my constituents from education,social welfare and strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage is something I think is worthy of mentioning.
What are the personal virtues that have so far shaped your life and what values stand you out?
Yes! virtues! Dignity, courage, humility, honesty, and discipline. My characteristics to do what is good and just always. The state of being principled, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility in my daily life predicated on my stable character of being well behaved and under good control of reasonable intuition. I am also sincerely frank on issues. This is what I take to heart and I do not know which of them really endear me to people.
As I had already said, I am very passionate about my constituents and constituency. I leave that evaluation to their considered judgment.
You are among the longest-serving members of the House. What is responsible for this longevity?
My constituents are in a better position to explain why they voted for me in 2007 and returned me in both 2011 and 2015 respectively. They know my mien and flair for sustainable development projects. And this I have successfully done to the best of my privileges. I mean projects with the characteristic infrastructure to impact on the quality of life. Some of these projects are ongoing, while the majority are yet to be executed by the executive arm of government due to the paucity of funds. What experience has shown is that when nobody from your area is within the coterie of the executive branch of government, such area remains perpetually disadvantaged. This is our tragedy. That is why some of us are calling for re-federalisation of our country.