Rt. Hon (Engr.) Victor Onyekachi Ochei, FNSE, need no further introduction, he is the current speaker, Delta State House of Assembly. Prior to his elevation as the Speaker in 2011, Rt. Hon. Ochei had represented Aniocha North State Constituency since 2003. He was the Deputy Minority Leader of the 3rd Assembly and also served as the Chairman of the House Committee on Education of the penultimate Assembly. In this interview with our correspondent, Ochei who spoke on variety of issues stated emphatically that, he believes in competition as such zoning of elective positions especially the Delta state governorship is nothing but an act which promotes laziness and mediocrity
Can we meet you formally sir?
My name is Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei; I am the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly
Sir, as the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, how has it been so far so good?
First I am grateful to God, it’s been peaceful, interesting, it’s been a learning field. Most importantly, it has also been a place where you develop friendship and cordiality and the experience is a wonderful one.
From my calculation, you happens to be the long serving Speaker of the house, what is the secret?
(Laughter), everybody seems to ask me this question. But for me like I say the first thing I consider most important in keeping your seat as a speaker is to be transparent. Transparency has done a lot to my being there because transparency is the product of integrity, once the integrity is there and you have nothing to hide, whatever comes is open, your dealing with the people will be open. You have no reason whatsoever to bother how people are feeling because you tell them the truth and they can also relate with what you are telling them as the truth. The moment that is done, you are like 50% done. The other thing is don’t get greedy or too selfish, if you get selfish, considering your interest over and above your colleagues. Don’t forget you are just the first among your equals. In five minutes they can throw you over board. But as long as their interest becomes your own primary interest, they will always give you their support at all times and that is very key. Then of course you have the other task of building confidence in your colleagues, the moment your colleagues can trust you then be rest assured that it will be well for you. Because that can only comes when you are by your actions and by your dealings you have instil confidence in them that they respect and trust you that whatever you say, you can keep to it and whatever you tell them they can verify that is the truth. Then be rest assured that they would always be there for you because you earn their confidence. So, that is the key thing that I have seen that is most important. The other thing that I know that is most important is that God’s grace will keep you safe because it is not by your power. God can allow anything to happen to you, God also keeps you, he directs your part at all times and wisdom will be your watch word.
Sir, for some time now people keep on saying the house is not doing their job; some even refer to the house as a rubber stamp?
Is it because of the cordiality, the relationship between the executive that is why they are being perceived not to be doing their work? Yea! Of course it is expected that when they see the legislature and the executive working in harmony people begins to get worried because what they are expecting is that they should be at war, they should ensure that if the war is raging of course the legislature is working. But what is the benefit to Deltans if it is just to pose a war that is the only thing that can make an assembly thick. So, for us we have our challenges with the executive arm of government, we do every now and then. It is just like the tongue and the teeth we have always been biting and fighting but we live together. The truth is that in Delta State we have devised a means of resolving our issues, whenever challenges comes which we must deal with or iron out with the executive we will go out to a round table and sit with the executive and discuss those issues, the moment these issues are discussed there are areas where we would look at. It is always a give and take situation. Those things that can work can work those things that cannot work we would also see reasons why they can’t work and the ones we can beat into line to make it possible to work we will do that as well because at the end of the day it is not the interest of anybody that is being served but the interest of the entire Deltans that is being served. I want us to look at it from that perspective. So, when the public sees we can resolve our things easily without having recourse to them or fighting and shouting they think our job is a rubber stamp. But then what bill has come to the house and left the way it came? None! So, what else and how would you describe a rubber stamp? A rubber stamp is when you bring in a bill and we stamp it the way it is and send back to you that is not the case. There is no perfect bill and there is no perfect law but when they come we have to do our work and do it well, that is the much I can say.
Sir, the turnaround in the Assembly people have lauded it especially Deltans and visitors to the state but people in the politicalcircle are of the opinion that the rate at which you are working there may rubbish some past governors of the state if you becomethe next governor of the state.?
Is that what is making some people to be afraid? I don’t think that is anybody’s intention, I don’t think anybody should be afraid of development. Basically the development in the house is what we agreed as a house of assembly that we need to put this place and bring it to a kind of speed with other institutions and if we believe in strengthening of the institutions, the legislature is one of those institutions that should be strengthened and then of course you will go ahead and put in place infrastructure that will strengthen the institution that is basically what we have done. Maybe yes, it comes out appealing but that is because there is a lot of time that went into the planning and all of that but it is not a cause for concern where people would get worried. And if maybe politicians feel that that would rubbish anybody, why would anybody come to office with the aim of rubbishing what past administrations have done? We are only building on the successes of the administration and strengthening it because government is a continuous wherever one stops the other continues. You don’t come to jettison what others have done and in the house we have former speakers and they are also part of the present administration and we collectively did it. So, it is not for anyone to come take glory for himself that he did it, it is a collective responsibility of us all and we did it together. So also if God gives one the opportunity to work at a higher level, it will become the glory of Deltans because the benefit goes to all of us as Deltans not to an individual. So, I don’t think individual glory matters at all what we should look at is what legacy we will leave behind everywhere we step our foot on and the larger benefit will be for those who elected us to enjoy the services which they elected us to give to them. I think that is the best benefit anybody can ask for is not about who does the work but the work get done and we are happy for it.
Sir, recently there was this kind of political uproar in the state and it has to do with zoning that the SSG talked about that there isnothing like zoning that the people of Delta North are clamouring for. We want to ask do you believe in this zoning arrangement?
First and foremost opinion expressed by anybody, you must always respect their opinion and sometimes journalists the way you carry your headlines of course you must sell your paper people no longer understand whether this is what the person said or not but whatever opinion expressed I respect them. For me as a person, ordinarily zoning should not be an issue because if you are looking for an office, the office what the constitution prescribed is that there are certain qualifications if you meet it you should run. And what makes it interesting, I believe in competition because it brings out the best and once you are competing people tends to put in more efforts but when you talk about zoning it has ways of promoting laziness and mediocrity but that is not to say that if in a particular environment we see the need to allow for rotation, I don’t call it zoning but rather rotation so that everybody can be part of it. If you go to Switzerland power is rotated among the Germans, the Dutch and the French. They know when it is each body’s turn to produce, it is like a rotation, it is like it is accepted. If that is allow to come into our own system to pacify or give everybody a sense of belonging, it fine not because power must shift from one place to the other. I don’t subscribe to that I always maintain that the best man for the job would be the man who will take Delta to the next level. The man who will ensure that ethnicity is not our basis for our everyday drive. The man who will ensure that at the end of the day there is peace and quiet in Delta State and there is massive development in the state, the man who will ensure that an initiative started by the present governor, Delta Beyond Oil which I believe is the best thing that can happen to this state will begin to look at this state beyond our oil where we can use our oil money to develop non oil resources and make money from it and we can remain self sustainable for as long as time permit. These are things we need to look at, we shouldn’t be looking at the man is coming from the west or the east because that is not important because once you have the best man for the job you don’t remember where the man is from because the man will ensure there is equitable distribution of projects, ensure that there is a plan to improve on what you have and do it well. So, these are sentiments that we bring in and we use them to destroy ourselves much more than we should promote ourselves, we should begin to look at the diversity we have in Delta State as our strength, we must develop those diversities to be our source of strength and the moment we can achieve that I can tell you that Delta State would go beyond the skies I believe so much in that and not about zoning or whatever you call it. Most importantly is to ensure that you have the right man for the job.
Sir, I don’t know whether you subscribed to godfatherism because you said you don’t believe in zoning I know very well thatsometimes the political parties that we have these days are controlled from the top if peradventure they say you should step down.Do you believe in somebody giving directives to the political parties from the top?
Well, I cannot tell you how political parties are run. I know I belong to the Peoples Democratic Party and the party stipulates clearly how things should be done but I do know that in the process of an election there is room for primaries where the party members come together and pick their standard bearer all those would be done and if the party decides to call you together and say okay you step down, the party must have some other plans for you to ask you to do such a thing I don’t think that is really an issue and you need to look for a godfather. I believe the biggest godfather anybody has is God almighty and so there is no need for all of those. What would the godfather do, would he tell everybody to vote for you and if they don’t, what would happen? Politics is dynamic; things are changing fast from what they were yesterday to what it is today. So, you will naturally see a trend of things of yesterday no longer holding water today, we are improving I believe so.
Sir, as a PDP member how would you rate the party in Delta State?
To me there is no other party in Delta State, I mean with due respect to other parties in Delta State. When I mean there is no other party, what do they control? All elective offices in the state are controlled by PDP even the house of Assembly the majority is overwhelming. So, I don’t think there is any party that would pose a threat to PDP in Delta State and to that extend I safely say there is no other party in Delta State but the PDP.
Sir, sometime ago, Chief EK Clark made some allegations against you on the IPP, would you please clear the air?
That is an allegation made and until proven I am not guilty but what I think is like I said then, I respect our father, Papa Clark a lot. It was the information that was available to him at the time he made the statement was what he had then but that is not what it is today. The IPP project is ongoing, it was awarded to a company I used to have interest in, Davnotch Nigeria Limited, I have since divested my interest many years ago and I would not be the appropriate person to answer the state of the project at the moment. I can say, it will look funny, I am sure if you talk to the MD or the chairman of Davnotch they should have what is on the state of the project but what I do know is that before I left Davnotch Nigeria Limited, the project have advanced to an appreciable level where equipment have arrived. So, I am very optimistic that it has gone very far and is doing very well. So, I have no doubt in my mind, things are going on very well.
Sir, any time people are campaigning, the first thing they say is the IPP and they are using it against you. I don’t know how thisissue could be rested?
If they say they want to use the issue of the IPP against me, then you know they are going political. Once anybody says it, the first question you ask the person, have you been to the site? If you have been to the site, and like it was said then it was bush and there was nothing happening there, you can say yes probably money was given to me and I ate the money and I have become fatter than I used to be, that could be it. But if you go to the site and you see work done and people are still working then you access yourself if what you are saying is true or you are just blabbing. It is not everything you have to bother yourself because people will have to say things about you, as a public figure they must talk about you. As somebody they are looking at likely to contest for a public office they would talk about you and if they don’t find ways to naturally get at you they would criticize you with whatever they find and whether they have been there or not they would say a whole lot of things. Does that necessarily go to say it is what the situation is? The answer is no. So, people would like to talk but then you are journalists take your time and visit the site and then when you leave the site you can on your own do a story and want people to desist from accusing an innocent man for nothing. Whether people will talk, they will always talk. It is not everything you have to bother about. So, I expect it to keep coming just like you are asking now again many years after as if because the idea is oh money was stolen but IPP is not like going to procure generator and installing it, it has a whole lot of things that goes with it, if that were to be the case we won’t be talking of power problems in Nigeria we would have long solved it but it takes time. Like Warett Buffer said, some things just take time. To bring a child to the world it will take you nine months even if you get nine women and get them pregnant, nine of them won’t bring forth a baby in one month. A cumulative of nine women in one month is nine month but that does not give birth to a child. So also is the case of the IPP some things take time and a plant of that magnitude take time and no matter what you try to do even if you buy all the equipment down on the same day, it still will not be tantamount to between been ready except the time that it needs to take to gets taken. So, don’t worry about talking, is all part of the game (laugh).
I would like you to clear the air on DESOPADEC project because we were made to understand that the budget was sent to the housebut the house kept the budget and they are still working on it and that they have interest in it hence they kept it for this long.
We have just past 2014 state budget and DESOPADEC had a provision there and it will take the governor to send us their own budget for scrutiny because we have passed the budget in the main budget then what will now come later from DESOPADEC will be for scrutiny but we have not receive anything officially. No official transmission of that. Sometimes I wonder where people get their stories from. Those are stories in the street there is no just thing existing anywhere. Am the Speaker and if I have received any such correspondent I can assure you; authoritatively speaking there is no correspondent of the Governor conveying anything to do with DESOPADEC to the house. We must treat it with dispatch; it is automatic because the first item on our order paper after opening prayers is messages from the governor. There is no such message received, you can’t keep the governor’s message beyond 24 hours once it get to your hand, the next sitting day it must be announced, there is no such thing.
Please, Mr. Speaker Sir, what language will you use to describe what you suffered in Obomkpa during your consultationbecause some of your loyalists are of the opinion that your political profile is getting intimidated and that is why people are afteryou. I don’t know whether you agree with them?
No, I don’t agree with that. It is not political; I don’t want to look at it from the realms of politics. What is most important to me is that God exposed the devices of the enemy that their hand could not perform their enterprise and God gives you grace to survive such, all you need to do give God all the glory. You don’t bother whether it is political or not political. If their hands cannot perform their enterprise they are the ones who have the bother to deal with not you. So, don’t give yourself too much tassels. I don’t see it as anything, I see it as God’s glory been made manifest in my life.
So, what are we expecting in 2015?
2015 is an election year and by the grace of God am consulting, my political associates and of course across the state and by the time my consultations are done I will be categorical on my next political aspiration.
Sir, every time you always look very calm and admiring, but yet people still say behind your back that you are arrogant. Why is itlike so?
(Laugh) I don’t know, you are asking me why they say so. Thank God you are the one sitting down with me here, is there any signs? I don’t know what they call arrogance or what people say. I hear it too like you hear it, honestly but it makes me laugh I don’t know what is expected of me, maybe when I am walking along the street I will greet everybody I see, I wouldn’t know if that is humility. But I think all they call that arrogance is body language maybe my carriage also makes people feel that way. I have a big body structure. So, perhaps the way I move will make people think that also by and large if you tell me am arrogance it means you are arrogant because it takes a thief to know another. I wouldn’t just look at you and say you are arrogant, it is only what I know that I do and I see someone else doing it then I will believe that the person is doing that same thing. So, if am arrogant as a person and I see another arrogant person there are certain traits I would know immediately and I will know this man is arrogant. What are going to be arrogant about that you went to school more than everybody in the world? There are people who read many times over what you study, my name is not yet in Forde list (laughter), I have not even made it to the list not to talk of say you have the kind of money to be called a top billionaire. What is it, is it power? This is not the end of politics, am not the president of the country. I mean considering all that would really make a man arrogant because the moment you want to get arrogant, there is something you are feeling superior about that others don’t have that you have and I don’t know what that is. For me, it is not a part of me, is not me. So, I only laugh when people associate me with it.
So sir, what is your comment on this incessant killing in the Northern part of the country by Boko Haram?
(Deep breath) It is a very sore point for us in this country and my prayers is that God will help us solve the problem and it is very disheartening, I grow up in the north and so if I see things happening from that part of the country I feel pained because it could have been me if I was still leaving there. So, I only pray that God will help us because you don’t know now whether it is Christians or Muslims because both Christians and Muslims are like suffering the same fate. So, you begin to wonder what really is the issue and you can only but pray to God that God will bring the issues at stake to calm and our security agencies that God should give them the courage to face these demons with everything that needs to put to it to stop it because is really embarrassing us and the country.
What would you want to be remembered for in life?
In life! Hmmm, that is a tough one. In life! Well, if you ask me I want to be remembered as that one man that has being able to touch the life of the ordinary man. The only time I enjoy true happiness is when I see the man who ordinarily will not be able to do something and I can play a role in assisting the person do it, then I would have been fulfilled as a person. I feel happy being able to get the person do something that ordinarily on his own he would not have done. Because what it simply means is that when God blesses you, God is blessing you to become a vessel of blessing to others, not blessing you so that everything stays with you. You must spread it and the person who is blessed by you is also spreading the blessing. It has a multiplier effect. And so if there is anything I want to be remembered for, is the fact that I touched lives.
Sir, do you do it through an NGO or you float a foundation through which you do it?
You do not necessarily have to find a medium of doing it. By your everyday living even on the road there are people who you relate with as one runs to you. He doesn’t need to say please, they are people who just by shaking their hands, perhaps you have made their day. Just a smile has brought a sweeten feeling for them. So, there are so many things that you would do but that God should just use you as a vessel to lift peoples spirit, it may not necessarily be physically, cash or whatever but things you do for them even a smile because there are people who are in despair, who are looking for the next line of hope that would just lift their spirit or take them to the next level. I have been in public office now I have been privileged to meet and see a whole lot. The good, the bad and the ugly and there are things you would not believe exist but they would shock you when you see them. They would shock you to your marrows, I don’t want to start giving example because it won’t be nice but they are so many things you can actually do to touch people’s lives. Like I said, you don’t need to set up an NGO by calling people am doing this. I have sat down some day just flipping through my mails I saw somebody who had a health issue and I reached out to the person. I was not told, the person was rather requesting me to help them talk to the state government but I did it myself. It is not because I had all the monies but because I can touch this one and they could not believe, today am glad the person is doing very well and any day I sit down if nothing else makes me happy when I get sad and I remember that singular thing alone I will just smile to myself not because I have being able to put money into the person’s pocket but I have given the person a life back.
Sir, by way of legislature, don’t you think it will be better to put up a bill to cater for the less privilege and even when you leave office the bill will still remain there and the government will still continue with that policy?
We already have such laws existing; it’s not as if we don’t have them. In every law you make there is the room made for the less privilege. So, I don’t think there is any big problem; the only thing is for us to consciously implement it. If you enter a bus and there is a pregnant woman next to you, you will not stand for her. Do you need a law to tell you to stand for her? If you see an old man who have walking difficulty enters a vehicle and he need to sit down even the young men will just keep their face up right and won’t bother. You know is a cultural thing, we must learn to give respect, you don’t put laws that when you see your elder you must greet the person, when you see a pregnant woman you must give her space, when you see someone on crushes, you must create room for the person or even crossing the road, you see someone who has difficulty walking or disabled walking or a blind person wants to cross the road waiting you just walk and passed, you don’t bother, but if you spare a thought for once and say oh this person might need help and offer that help. You would have changed the person’s day and you would have been building a society where we all are responsible to the less privilege, it is our attitude really that matters to it. It is not the laws that you make, if you entrench it in the law and it lives on forever even if it lives on and nobody implements it, it remains in that paper where the law was signed. As far as I am concern, the law is not the issue; it is in our attitude and expressing it and learning to give out love.
So sir, any regret in life?
Hmmmm. Well, I have not finished living life so I can’t talk about regret at the moment (laughter).
What is your advice to Deltans?
My advice to Deltans is that let’s learn to be patience, that is the only thing we really have issues with. We are not quite patience as a people, we need to be patient with government, we need to be patient with the leaders because it appears that the moment you are a leader you are an enemy to the people but we must learn to appreciate them even the Bible enjoin us to pray for the leaders because they are ordained of God. So, my advice is keep in line what the Bible say, pray for our leaders because when you castigate them, Deltans say if you call you cloth Abanayan, people will help you to call it Abanayan. If we have our leaders, respect our leaders and pray for our leaders, people will also respect and pray for our leaders. So, if you want those good things that happen out there to be part of what you will also enjoy, the people, your leaders should enjoy which eventually translate to you and your state of course we must learn first principle to start respecting our own leaders and giving patience. Let’s allow patients to be the watch word for our reactions to the government, am sure we will get far.