By Chioma Ndife
Accountability, they say, breeds responsibility. The popular notion that good men are bound by conscience and liberated by accountability could be linked to Hon. Romanus Ugochukwu Obi who represented the good people of Orumba North in the Anambra State House of Assembly.
Hon. Obi who is a chartered Accountant was elected into the Anambra State of Assembly in 2011 and had used his position to bring positive transformation to the people of Orumba North following the numerous projects attracted to the area. He had bagged several awards for his contributions in the State House of Assembly. Notable among the awards were United Nations Peace and Positive Living Awareness Centre Award, Gold Medalist of Red Cross Society of Nigeria in Community Development Award, among many others from international and national bodies.
In the 5th and 6th Assembly, Hon. Obi has held various positions in the house namely: Chairman, Rules and Business Committee; deputy chairman, Public Account Committee; deputy chairman, Internally Generated Revenue and chairman Procurement and Tender Committee. Apart from chairing the above committees, had been appointed member of the various committees namely LGA and Chieftaincy Affairs, Works, Procurement and Agriculture, Public Account, Finance and Appropriation, Petition & Conflict Resolution, House Service, Rules and Business Committees among others.
In this chat with Fides Reporter, Chioma Ndife, the house member who has represented the people of Orumba North in the 5th and 6th Assembly gives account of his stewardship at the State House of Assembly and how he served his people.
Can we get to know you?
My name is Hon. Romanus Ugochukwu Obi. I represent Orumba North in Anambra State House of Assembly. I'm the Chairman of procurement and Tender Committee.
In a few days' time, your tenure in the Anambra State House of Assembly will be over. What motivated your decision towards vying for this position in the first place? Can you share your experience with us as a legislator, representing the good people of Orumba North.
My motivation towards coming out for the State House of Assembly position was to be part of the history making in terms of governance because if you shy away from being part of the system, bad people might take over. If you are not involved, whatever you see you take. You know before now, we have a type of government in Anambra State that anything goes. All manner of people were in the house then and the type of laws they made for the people were nothing to write home about. Infact, we didn't have governance then. So I felt that I should be part of the policy making body to enable Anambra get good results. Our coming into the house changed a lot, because if you go through the 5th Assembly and 6th Assembly, you will see the type of laws that we enacted. Laws that improved the health indices, revenue generation among others laws that were geared at steering the state forward to make things work better. We also made sure that we did some oversight functions that made the executives to sit up to their responsibilities.
But at times, when one come into the system, the expectations tend to change because of the entirely different things that come into play. Most often, the executives are overbearing and you as a house member cannot always achieve what you have in mind. Since you are representing your people. The budgeting system has not improved as most projects that would be executed are not in the know of the legislators. Normally, the system budget is supposed to be a situation, where you know the kind of work that would go to each LGA and there are funds allocated to that. But we found a favouristic budgeting, where you have envelope budgeting in the work sector. There is no breakdown of the road that should be worked on. For example, 200 Million Naira might be budgeted for roads, that's all, and there is no attachment. So the governor can pick any of the roads project that is contained in the budget and carryout. And that makes it hard for house members to determine which roads project will come to his constituency. And the only thing is that one will continue moving motions, pledging that roads in his area of representation be given attention. But if it is actually democracy that we are practicing, what we are going to get is a situation where anything that goes into the budget funds will be attached to that for you to be able to monitor the progress of the project's execution; to check whether the contractor is following specification and if your local government is being marginalized, your attention would be called. For example, if one road project would be carried out in all the LGAs in the state and no attention is given to your own after the allocation, you simply need to called attention to the situation. But now, no road is allocated for you to know because if you go to budget, all roads in the state that needs attention are there. Everyone brings in roads and it's funny that the ones in the budget would be left and they will bring in another road project and gives immediate approval for it to be carried out. So, this is a very big challenge, house members' influence things quite alright, at times with a lot of pressure.
You are a House Member in the 5th and 6th Assemblies, what experiences were you able to gather during these periods and what was your contributions to the House?
If I'm to say, during my days in the house, I contributed enormously in making sure that my people are heard. Voice to the people was utilized well. The USAID, the Christian aid, the FID and other organizations. The JDPC always organize Town Hall Meetings for me and it helped me lot to reach out to get the character of demand document that shows what my people actually wanted. I'm the face of Christian Aid, Voice to the People. I was given an honour for representing the people effectively to my own advantage, because Voice to the people are members of DFID, Christian aid and other donor agencies. So I utilized them very well to the extent that I was able to find out what my people wanted and I did Town Hall Meeting with them.
When I came into the system, we had a lot of bad roads in our place, Orumba North. it is one of the disadvantaged local government areas we have in Anambra State. There are almost no roads. So, when we were campaigning in 2010, we were at Ndiokpalaeze and the people were not happy with us because the road that ran through their community was not passable. The road that ran through Aguluezechukwu, Ogboji, Ndiokpalaeze, Akpu to Ajalli was a death trap. And that made it the second motion I moved when I came into the house. And it was carried by the house majority; majority carried it to the extent that they invited Brecco, the company handling the road project, because it was agreed that the company handling the road should be called to the house to explain why they abandoned the road. And actually, they came and at the end of the day, it was agreed with the Ministry of Works that the contract should be terminated and the job was given to Niger Cat and I will tell you that it is one of the best roads we have in Orumba North cutting across Aguata, Orumba North and South. I was very happy that at least, I was able to do something to make sure the road was completed.
The motion again on the issue of expanding the Awgbu Junction Road at Agu and Amaokpala were one of the things I did. Another motion that was very important that I know of, is still fresh in my memory, is a road that went through Amansea, Ndiukwuenu, Awa, Ufuma, with a spur from Ndiukwuenu to Okpeze, Mmaetit and Awgbu. So that road has a challenging terrain, and we met the governor before he accepted to carry out the road project, a very expensive project, in a swampy area. It was given to Staffineti Hapal, a South Africa Construction Company. They came with new machines and work was on progress. After some time, some sections of it were given to Conssel that's from Awgbu to Mmaetiti at the end of Okpeze Bridge. The road was in progress, at a point, it was going as it supposed to until this moment. It is almost abandoned. But it's a kind of road that we know that had it been we didn't make it possible for it to be awarded, nobody will talk about it now. Because it has a very bad terrain and not every Governor can even venture there. Because work is already on-going and we are still putting pressure to ensure its completion. It's almost six years plus but the people handling the contract had done a lot of job on it, it's just a question of releasing money and they would just complete it. The Steffanutti Hapel has completed two bridges at Amansea and at Awa Section. It remains the one that connects Okpeze and Ammaetiti, then from there, Conssel takes off from there to Awgbu, It's ongoing. Then, I moved a motion of a road that cuts across from Ajalli, Umueji, Nawfija and the road is on-going. Then the other motion about a road that cuts through Oko to Ogboji and spur to Ndiowu. I said in the motion that some people from Ogboji, those that live by the side of Ogboko, for them to get to their kins, they go through Ekwulobia, Aguluezechukwu down to Ogboji, but if this road is constructed, it becomes easy for them to live together with their brothers and sisters. This will get all the old Aguata connected, because it's just a stone throw from Oko to Ogboji which is Orumba South. Graciously, the governor approved the design and it has been awarded to Mactex Construction Company but they haven't been mobilized. Once the contractor is mobilized, work would start immediately. It is an achievement and the people of Oko appreciated it. Even the Ogboji people were happy with me, as the road that passed through Ndiokpalaeke, Ndiokolo to Ogboji again, is currently in process and it's my effort. So you can see some of the roads I attracted during my stay in the house.
Then, coming again in terms of personal contributions and carrying out my constituency projects, there are a lot of things we did. We have 19 wards in Orumba North. We carried out a primary school building at St. Michael's Primary School, Awgbu. In the same Awgbu, we carried out the building of a section of a school block, that's an extension in St. Mary's Primary School.
At Nnaka, Agu Enugu Primary School was rebuilt, one section of the classrooms blocks,it was rebuilt by me. Then, Ifite Primary School, Nnaka, I built a primary school block there. Then coming to Oko, I extended the electricity wires to Aguiyi in Oko. So we went to Aronota Ndike did open market for them and we did a two boxed culverts in Ndiowu. Then in Omogho, we built a library/computer house for them. Coming to Awa, they demanded that we should remove all the wooden cross bars in the high tension and we replaced them with iron bars. We went to Ajalli and rebuilt the oldest library and upgraded its facilities to that of modern library. Then in Ufuma, we built a class room block at Umueji Primary School and attracted the construction of two primary school blocks to them.
In Amatiti; we did open market stores. Then in Ndiokolo, we also did VIP toilets for them.
Then coming to the Mamu Bridge between Amatiti and Okpeze axis, it has a wooden cover before, so we removed all the wooden covers. When we opened it, we discovered it was covered with tyres. The bridge was built with track of tyres that were covered with irons. We now had to bring in Hirons and made sure it was filled before we covered it with tick pans making it motorable.
Then in Awgbu again, I built two Primary Health Centres which I have handed over to them but it will be commissioned officially on the 9th of June, 2019 during my valedictory thanksgiving.
Then, we did a lot of empowerment. Our first empowerment was in 2016, we distributed 6 shuttle buses, bags of rice, sewing machines and grinding machines. 4 of the items apart from the shuttles were given to each wards. We made sure that each ward got some sizeable quality of Rice that would go round. All the stakeholders, Igwes among others were all given rice and money for their Christmas celebration.
The same empowerment programme was done again in 2017, so that is far we have gone. And at the end of the valedictory thanksgiving, more people would be empowered again. We normally give Indigent and disabled individuals some seed money to startup businesses.
During the last empowerment programme, some people were given 20,000 and some 50,000 thousand Naira to startup businesses of their choice. Some disabled at the same thing were empowered. This is how we worked and some of the achievements we were able to record. I'm happy that people appreciated my work for the period of time I was in the house. I can tell you also that a lot of things were done during my period because if you look back at those who were there before me, compare and contrast, you will see the difference.
I know it's a challenge to whoever is taking over from me. I said this when they honored me at Omogho with the Onodugo chieftaincy title. My achievements will challenge whoever is taking over from me because if you don't measure up to my standard, then the people will find fault with your representation. I know it might be a bit difficult for someone to surpass my achievements but the in-coming house member has no choice but to work and beat the records which I achieved.
What was your Most Challenging periods as a Representative of Orumba North Constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly?
The challenges here come from the expectations of the people who don't know the real work of a legislator. Most people think that a legislator is a money bag who should distribute money to people at various places. If they come to your house, they expect you to dash them money. They don't know that our job is basically making laws, over sighting the executives, approving budgets for them, attracting projects among others. But when someone asks for money and when you tell him or her that you don't have money, they wouldn't understand you. This is part of the challenge one faces in the course of representing the people because they expect you to give and you have to give. There was a time my bank was asking if I'm the person issuing cheques to people because my bank account was becoming empty. I told them that my constituents have challenges that must be managed. And as a house member, you must attend some function both in the church and outside. For instance, I have 5 Catholic Church parishes in my town Awgbu, 5 in Nanka, 5 in Oko. So you can now see 16 towns inviting you for various programmes and you are expected to give them something during the events. Even if you are giving all of them ten kobo, it means a lot. Various organizations and groups will invite you for their programmes and they expect you to donate for one project or the other and remember that my constituency is very large with so many towns in it.
Being present in most events also becomes challenging as you cannot be in most programmes at the same time due to time constraint. And if they don't see you, they will say that their representative is distancing himself from them very, so we try to measure up and try to visit.
And this is a big challenge because you know, you are a legislator and there is no other way money is coming to you apart from your salary and constituency money is meant for constituency projects. So, you find out that it's very tasking meeting up demands from people. People should know that legislation is not money making. I don't give contracts, but some will expect you to give them contracts; some will expect you to give them supplies; knowing full well that you are not in executive position. They seem not to understand the difference. They mostly don't know that legislation is the first thing about democracy because without parliament, there is no democracy. But they undermine it because even in the military, the judicial and executive have been there. The work of the legislators is mostly misunderstood. Even when you are doing your work, they think you are interfering with executive functions. But they don't know that you duties is straight make laws for the good governance of the people. You are also there to make sure that things are moving on properly. You budget for the state, you monitor and that's the oversight function. While doing the oversight functions, some people will think that you are interfering and they would be like why you are interfering? There are some ministries you will come to carry out your oversight function and they wouldn't cooperate with you. They would be like why is this people coming here. Then, we have to quote laws that give us the right to come and carry out our functions.
Now, when we approve budget for you to carry out projects, we still have to hold you accountable because we represent the people. Our job of over sighting is just to make sure that the money approved for you was utilized effectively for the purpose which they were meant for. So, whenever people see us carrying out our oversight function, don't think we are coming to witch hunt you. Some think that the house members are always coming to expose them even when they have nothing in their compound. I sincerely wish people understand the functions of the legislators because they are development partners. So, this is also part of the challenges.
We know that you were an aspirant for the Orumba North/South Federal House of Representatives under the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) but due to the purported primary organized by APGA, you didn't emerge as the party flag bearer and your tenure in the State House of Assembly is over. Are you exiting the political space in Anambra State? What next are you looking up to and what should the people from your area expect from you in subsequent years to come?
Well, you know when you are working and people appreciate your work, the people will then give you more support to carry out more work in higher capacity. I represented so well, that was why I got a second term. And in the structure, both South and North believed in me and if APGA had conducted primaries in my zone, I would have been the person that would emerge as the party flag bearer and I would win the election with little effort because my signature projects will do the talk. But unfortunately, when we were being promised that the election was going to be free and fair, we didn't know that powers that be have other plans and they didn't even want to tell us, even after extorting money from us, they still went ahead to give the party flag to whoever they want to give. My own is even more pathetic because if not because of God's providence, I wouldn't be alive by now because the thugs that were brought in with more than ten trucks nearly killed me. All the aspirants were upstairs, we were telling the returning officer to sign that there was no election for the primaries to be postponed. Eventually, at about 8pm, one of the aspirants pointed at me and said I should be pushed down. That was how it happened. It was very unfortunate that a sitting house member would be manhandled by thugs sequel to someone's instructions. I thank God for his mercies that kept me alive because after that incident, I had to go to the hospital for check-ups. I'm alive today, I'm grateful to God, tomorrow is another day and I believe that if I don't make it today, I will by tomorrow.
Now coming to what you asked, whether I'm going to step aside from Anambra politics. Well, not really, I am just stepping aside for now, I'm there to wait, the distance is not too far. So, we have to work hard and make sure that the people's choice is allowed to triumph in the next coming election. I know that whoever is representing the people now, does not have the mandate of the people. He just imposed himself on the people. Our great party is expected to improve and allow internal democracy to function properly so that whoever emerges from any primary election will be people's choice. But with what we saw in the past, you see people who don't have that basic knowledge, people who are just thugs were given tickets to go and run. Well, that's one of the life's ups and down
What words do you Have for the person taking over from you in the House of Assembly.
Firstly, I had to state here that the person taking over from me never sought for my co-operation during the electioneering period, so I steered clear because I know that I cannot force myself upon people.
The person taking over from me should learn humility. I brought down governance and I carried everyone alone. That's why, if you come to my house, my gate is always open and I don't discriminate against any of my constituents. My door is always open, people come in and if you have any problem that I can solve within my limit, I do that. That's why, if there had been primaries in my area, I would have emerged the party's flag bearer because I have the support of the masses.
What words do you have for your constituents?
I sincerely want to thank my constituents for their massive support. I'm not the most qualified nor most intelligent person in my local government. But I see the position which I held as God's blessings and I thank God for making my constituents to find me worthy and for giving me the opportunity to serve them for 8 years. Placing such confidence on someone is not easy, if I tell you that I'm not happy with them, then I am a big liar. I pray for God's blessings upon all of them and I will keep contributing my quota for our LGA to keep moving forward even after my representation. I will always be ready to serve my people again whenever I'm called upon.
I thank God for giving me the opportunity, I thank my constituents for allowing me to represent them and I appreciate their efforts and contributions during my stay in the house. I am super happy with them.
To God, I say thank you that I'm I alive and healthy to finish this 6th Assembly because it is not everyone that had the opportunity of staying up to two terms. And during all my years in the house, I never had any accident, my driver never ran into anything not even a dog. So, I think is something that I should be grateful to God for, that's why I am going for valedictory thanksgiving to thank God for giving the opportunity to serve for eight years without having any accident. This is God's doing because it is not easy for one to come out every day and go back safely after running about. That's why I said, I must go and thank God.
Thank You Hon. Obi
You are welcome