The All Progressives Congress senatorial candidate for Anambra Central, Kolichukwu Okelekwe, tells IKENNA OBIANERI about his ambition and what the legislature should look like in the next political dispensation
What is your mission in politics and why you want to be a senator?
One of the problems we have in our leadership process is that many people who aspire to public office have no clearly-defined vision that paints the picture of their aspiration. What they do is: I have made money, and because I have made money, I want to be a governor or a senator or I want to be a president for the sake of personal ego, because they have money, but leadership is much more than that. And that is why most people derail when they take up public office because there is no clear vision that underpins or informs that aspiration. The only thing that propels their aspirations is ego. I have got the money and so, why don’t I answer a senator or a governor, so for them, that position becomes an end in itself.
However, for me, I have a clearly-defined vision that informs my decision to run for senate. And what is that clearly defined vision? I had a very humble beginning. We were so poor that even the poor called us poor, and I am not ashamed to say that. It taught me empathy, and in those trying times, every time I kneel to pray, tears will roll down my cheeks, and in those tears, I will be telling God that if he removes poverty from my life and makes me successful, I will use the wealth to work for humanity, which is exactly what I have been doing. God has been good to me. He has blessed me and I am keeping to that promise. I have given scholarships because I grew up in a leaking mud house that had no doors. I have also been building houses for people who don’t have a roof over their heads over the years.
Over time, I discovered that I am just one person. The needs out there are enormous, so my personal effort is like a little drop in the ocean. That was what gave rise to my decision to run for public office to have a greater platform to reach quite a huge number of people. For me, it is about touching lives. It is about service because I believe, like Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived in the service of others is a life worth living.”
How long have you been nursing this ambition?
This is not the first time I have aspired. Actually, in 2015, I aspired on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party but I did not get the ticket. For me, politics is nothing but the public good. Any other thing that is not for the public good is not politics. I am not in politics to look for what to eat. Pope Francis famously said, ‘We live to serve and not to live’ but unfortunately, most of our politicians serve to live, they don’t live to serve.
So, for me, it is about service; it is about the public good, nothing more, and nothing less. And that is why, if you look at my brand of politics, perhaps, I am the only politician in Anambra State that has not gone to court with anybody or any political party. Do you know why? Because for me, it is about service, and if truly it is about service, why would I want to go to court because I want to serve you?
What is your assessment of the current legislature and what do you think Nigerians should expect from them in the next dispensation?
Let me answer your question by quoting the great Algerian revolutionary, France Fannon’s theory, and I quote, “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” What I mean is that the current legislature has done the best it could, given the circumstances. It is expected that the next legislature will do better. It is a continuum. The next legislature has the opportunity to improve and better what has been done by the current legislature.
What is your view on restructuring?
Yes, I believe sincerely that restructuring is the right thing to do at the moment but I will tell you the kind of restructuring that I mean. Restructuring means that there should be equity, there should be justice, there should be fairness. I believe that how far one can go in this country should not be determined by tribe or religion. I believe that how far one can go in this country should be determined solely by his abilities. This country is so blessed. No state is not endowed with human and natural resources. We are a large country. I believe that the states should be granted some level of autonomy. Most of the items on the exclusive list have no business being there. They should be on the concurrent list, where both the federal and state can legislate.
So, taking, for example, the national grid and power generation, I don’t see why states cannot be allowed to generate their own power and distribute it as they deem fit. If restructuring is deemed fit for this country, the Federal Government should shed some weight, and then those excess pounds should be removed from the Federal Government and given to the federating units so that each state can develop at their own pace. So, I believe restructuring will do all the federating units good. It will do the North good and also do the South good. It will do all six geo-political zones good.
What is your view on governors’ going to the senate after serving eight years in office?
That is democracy. It is not only done in Nigeria; it happens in the United States or elsewhere. People serve as a governor and then move to the Senate. It is now left for the Fourth Estate of the realm to educate the people to ensure that the right leaders are elected. People should interrogate the process that throws up leaders in this country. We must go beyond the rhetoric in the leadership selection processes. Let’s go beyond what they say and look at their antecedents; what have they done in their personal lives? I believe that if you are not successful in your personal life in terms of public service, you can’t get into government and become a saint.
A lot of people think that the country should adopt a part-time legislature, looking at the dwindling resources. Do you think Nigeria is ripe for that?
Yes, I agree that a part-time legislature will do this country a lot of good. And when we do that, it will attract the right calibre of people. It will interest you to know that once we make the legislature part-time, people like Dangote can volunteer because it is part-time and the country can benefit from their experience. I am in support of it so that the enormous resources expended on the full-time legislature can be ploughed into other ventures.
Of course, I support a bi-cameral legislature because of our multi-ethnic nature. That is why when you look at the Senate, it has the quality of the states. The senators represent their states, the House of Representatives members represent their constituencies, and it is based on population, so balancing is good. It will attract the right calibre of people so that those who have no business in the legislature will be wielded out. When you do that, you now begin to have people who want to really serve. If we do the legislature part-time, we will have people like Dangote, who are made already coming in to give back to society. The country will benefit enormously from the part-time legislature.
Another recurring issue is the state police. Do you think the country is ripe for state police and can it solve the problem of insecurity and crime facing the country at the moment?
Again, it is part of the restructuring we are talking about. If you remember, in the first republic, we had local government policing, or native policing; we had state police, which were the regions as of then; and we had central police. That is part of the restructuring I just talked about. Yes, we need state police. It will reduce crime. Nigeria is too large to have a central police force.
Even in the US, where we copied the presidential system from, they have county police, they have central police. Even universities have their own police. So, a country as large as Nigeria needs state police, and it will also have a positive effect on crime prevention and control because these people know the terrain better, so they can better police their environment. There may be some downsides, so we can craft a law that will insulate the state police as much as possible from political manipulation by the governors.
Talking about your ambition, what are the elements you think may give you an edge over other contenders?
From Nibo, where I come from, the whole traditional institutions, the president-generals, the youths, the women, everybody came together and publicly endorsed me. It has never happened in the history of that community. It shows that there are things I do that they like. So, my people know me, they know my antecedents, and they know who I am. They know what I have been doing. They know I have empathy.
There is this negative perception about your party, the APC, in the southeast. What do you think is responsible for this?
There is nothing like a negative perception. Maybe that’s your opinion. I have not seen anything of the sort because everywhere I have been for the campaign, they have embraced me. But besides, what’s a political party? It is just a vehicle to take you to your destination, especially in Nigeria where independent candidacy is not allowed. So, to go to any public office, you need a political party. I have not noticed any bad perceptions about APC in the southeast. You are just informing me.