INTERVIEW: ‘If you want to be a statesman, then think about the next generation’’ (1)


MON, JUNE 12 2017-CHIKE JOHN OKAFOR: Chike John Okafor is an elected member of the federal House of Representative. He Represents Obowo, Ihitte-Uboma and Ehime-Mbano LGAs and he is currently serving as the House Chairman on Health. He spoke exclusively to theG&BJournal on an array of issues including his passion for developing human capital in the country and his constituency in particular. The interview will be published in five parts starting today, MON, JUNE 12 2017.

Let us start from you. We know you are big on social and community services. Can you share your engagements and work with the public?

I started running a foundation, a scholarship scheme when I was in the bank and we have also been able to expand at a period to have a lot more number of students in the universities we are responsible for their academics. Paying their fees and giving them money.

It is huge and I really don’t like talking about it because it is beyond the social contract. It is a spiritual commitment. It is not just a social contract; it is a spiritual commitment and may be in another forum we will talk about it.

To achieve growth and to also make it sustainable, one of the things that help you to make progress or make growth sustainable is when destinies are attached to you and God sees it. You see God won’t come down from heaven to do what he wants to do. Somebody somewhere is praying to God to answer his prayer, I need money to go to school or I need money to take care of my health challenges, God wouldn’t come down from heaven to do it, he will only do that through human beings. I call them God’s outstretched hands. I caught that revelation some ten years ago and I began to make myself available for God to use. I became like God’s outstretched hands.  So that’s why some of these other things I do, I do not give details, I don’t want to talk about it because the reason is not for man to hear about it.  So we do that and it is huge, I will tell you it is very huge.

I remember one incident during the campaign before the election, I got the information that some people I helped to secure jobs wanted to come and see me and surprisingly they bought a Toyota Siena, N1.6million. Some of them today are working in the bank. My local government area brought N5,000,000 as their support. And then I have a situation where the undergraduates paid me a visit in the house and were able to raise money and I said what the hell this is.  Those were some high points, you know, some things that really happened at that period that excited me.

Consulting with community members on human capital development
Consulting with community members on human capital development

You must have quite a number of them prospering now. What else have you been doing?

I have quit a number of them in the law school. I have about six now in the law school. One of them is an indigene but blind. Aside from bringing infrastructure and empowerment, we have been able also to create jobs for our people here and there in teaching hospitals and primary medical centres. Our sons and daughters are doctors and quite a number of them too.

In the past one year, I have not less than 25 doctors employed in and around hospitals including Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH.) So this is what we have been able to achieve. I mean you can only leverage on the opportunities you have to help the people around, so that a couple of years down the line you would have developed some human resources around you.

There is an adage in our village that say “where one person has, there is nothing there” so, you create chances, opportunities for quite a number of people to leverage on them and earn a leaving for themselves.  Not only that, they will also have the opportunity to help other people as well.

Providing scholarships and training medical personals
Providing scholarships and training medical personals

What would you say is your philosophy of life?

Well, I will look at it in two perspectives. When it has to do with life generally, do as much good as you can, not because you want man to applaud you but realizing that the capacity you have didn’t come from you. It comes from God. So you do for man so that you will get your reward from God.

Then I also told you that if it has to do with holding political office that the major reason for holding a political office, be it elective or on appointment, it is to bring development to your immediate community. Development can be in form of infrastructure, it can be in form of human capacity development either way. That is why you are there, so that’s what drives me. If you want to be a statesman, then think about the next generation. If you are thinking about the next generation that means you have to be a lot more impactful.

There are some politicians who are no longer alive but their legacies lives on. When mention the likes of M. I. Okpara and Sam Mbakwe, and then you are pointing at tangibles, things that are not just there but things that are measureable, things that had become enduring; the Concord Hotel, if you destroy it tomorrow you can’t change the fact that Mbakwe built it. Looking at the fact that it was a larger Imo that was bigger than the one we have today. So how many of such politicians do we still have? Very few and people hardly associate any negative with these people but that doesn’t mean they were infallible. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have negative side but the good they did outweighs the bad.

You will never hear any Yoruba man mention Awolowo in the negative. Awolowo wasn’t a saint but because of his legacies, things you can see and feel and things that people are still enjoying today. It is same for Mbakwe in Imo State in the south east, you can’t mention anybody else. And this was what the case was when he was alive, so many donkey years after he had left office in 1983. Chief Sam Mbakwe died some twenty years after he left office, he died in 2003. So 20 years after he left office and while alive, he was still being celebrated and in death he is a lot more celebrated.

I had to build an ICT centre in Owerri and I had to name it after him (Sam Mbakwe). In Obowo where I come from, at our local government head quarters: the play ground pavilion, I had to build a five hundred capacity pavilion with toilet facilities and named it after Sam Mbakwe. It was a personal project that cost me N 7 million at that time. That was when I was a commissioner. It was commissioned in 2014 by the governor when we did Mbakwe’s 10 years memorial.

When he became the governor in 1988 I was just five or six years old and when he left in 1983 I was still in the primary school. So I wasn’t old enough to access and appreciate while he was in office but history documented and posterity was able to impart it to me and let me know that Mbakwe did that much and he ought to be celebrated, he ought to be idolized and then I had to do those two projects.

And while I was a commissioner and up till today I still go to pay homage to his wife. Who is in her 80’s because I appreciate what he did while he was Governor. He did so much to affect lives, he did it so much that we are still enjoying it till today.

You can never have any hotel like Concord Hotel in the whole of the south east for the next 20 yrs, I stand to be challenged, it is there, it’s a legacy. So we want to take a cue from there, from him, to also within the limits of the resources available to us and contacts that we have, to also see how much we can also write our name in gold. That is also my philosophy so to say.

Can you talk us through some of the impacts you have made since you came into government?

Between  2011 and 2012 when I constructed a 1.2 kilometre road from Umuahia – Owerri road that leads into my village, I am sure nobody in my village would be believe that in his/her life time that the little community could have a tarred road, with drainages and then a bridge linking us to Ihite – Uboma. I did it.

Before I came into government in 2011, we had wooden poles as electricity poles, from Umuahia – Owerri road, but under my watch I personally changed them to concrete poles, then increased the capacity of the electricity generation to our community and detached our community from the major transformer, changed that transformer to a 250kva and drew the line to my immediate community and dropped 200kva inside my community.

I built a community hall in that community but people are counting what you have done based on what have not come to their pockets, you do understand, right? So that’s how they rate you, they rate your performance based on what have not gotten to them.

I have invested nothing less than N100 million in my community alone for various projects including houses for the indigenes. In 2013 I started a project, a programme that will help to eliminate thatched houses in the community. I succeeded in doing that and today 27 houses of a minimum of 2 bed room flats have been built.

There was a case of three men who were leaving outside our village because they didn’t have a house. I built houses and then they came back, they returned.

In 2010 while I was in the bank, I started paying West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) fees for our children. Initially my wife and I were looking for indigent kids but how would you separate them and so we concluded that as long as you are schooling in the secondary school in my home town you will not pay for WAEC. I have a principal who handles the scheme. It is a special scheme. You don’t have to pay for WAEC fees if you are schooling there. What the school does is to give me the bill for all of them who are going to write WAEC each year and I will pay. In 2014 I took it across to Ihitte Uboma.

I am looking at giving loans now. What have we done? We are trying to give meaning to the lives of these young ones. When we started in Obowo, we noticed a sudden increase in the number.  When we inquired, they told us that people are now coming down to register there. Some come to join from SS-I from other schools so that they can enjoy the scheme. Obowo is a boundary community between Imo and Abia, so people cross from Abia to come and enrol in a school in Obowo, Imo state.

If you read the scriptures somewhere in Esther somebody was telling the queen (Mordecai) who knows this is the reason God brought you to the palace for such a time as this. You should use it.  Maybe God brought me.

I see Mbakwe’s place in history. What brought him in is what he did in political office. So today, I am holding a political office, so I have the chance and opportunity to write my name in the book of history for the next generation to read. I have it now and that chance I don’t want to gamble with it.

(Continues tomorrow).

DCSL 90X780