From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Hon. Chinedu Benjamin Obidigwe represents Anambra East and West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives under the platform of APGA. He is the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Environment and member of other committees like the Petrol Upstream, North East Development Commission, and Media among others. In this interview, he talks about the 2023 elections and other issues.
Anambra is regarded as an APGA state having produced the governor since 2006 but it has not been easy for the party when it comes to National Assembly seats as major parties like the PDP take the slots. Now, there is a major threat from Obi’s Labour Party in this 2023 election. Are you not afraid?
Our people are now more enlightened to know that it is not about party now but who is flying that party flag. It is about who is going to represent you. The business of National Assembly is not buying and selling or clearing and forwarding. It’s about the capacity for effective representation and being able to speak for your people, initiating bills capable of taking your people out of the poverty line etc. People know whom they want in any particular office under contest and hiding under party won’t do any magic. You could remember that in 2019, Peter Obi was the Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP and our people voted for him in PDP but also equally voted for me in APGA. I can tell you that among those vying for the same post with me, I am better off and the people know the difference. We are going to checkmate rigging and people will vote for me without any inducement because they know me and I know them too. Anyone contesting this election this time should face the electorate and do away with anything rigging. We are going to support INEC to ensure free fair and credible election and I can tell you that there will be no bandwagon effect from Labour Party in Anambra State.
Prior to your campaigns to be elected as a Rep Member during the 2019 elections, some people wrote you off as a pretender but you were resolute. What gave you the confidence then that you will not only get the party ticket but win the federal legislative seat?
Well, I can say that I prepared myself ahead of time because around 2017, 2018 when I nursed the ambition and also pursued the vision to represent my good people of Anambra East and West, to be candid, I had the confidence because I believed in my ability and capability, trusting in what I can do and also believing God for the ones that needed divine push. I trusted my transparency rate and my vision too and I can say that my acceptability by the masses was overwhelming. Before attaining this height, I’ve served in various capacities starting from my time as local government chairman in Anambra East between 2012 and 2014. I knew that I did well then because virtually all communities in Anambra East felt my footprints. I had one or two projects in each of the communities. My ability to empower the youths was unequalled and totally uncommon too. That time, I was the only council chairman in the state that had up to 28 PAs and SAs too unlike my colleagues that had either one or two. I gave the people opportunities to be in government and to be honest with you; all of them are still with me till today. I’ve not separated with any of them. Also, remember that after serving as local government chairman, I served as Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Youth Mobilisation and within that period, I created as my brain child, the United Anambra Youths Assembly(U-AYA) and United Anambra Women Assembly (U-AWA) and today, it remains the apex youth body in the state. We’ve had lots of events to the extent that we purchased a nomination form for a governorship candidate. We dished out 26 Siena buses to people distributed across the 21 local governments and some of our major stakeholders. Still counting, the 21 over 21 recorded in the state during the former governor Obiano’s second tenure election wouldn’t have happened without the input of these bodies. I also served as Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters 2016 to 2018 which some dubbed as Commissioner of Politics in Anambra of which I’m the youngest ever serving in that capacity in the state since inception. I was 33 when I became a local government chairman and I was the youngest in that capacity as at then. Now, after breaking record in several fronts in the political field, I decided that I will go to House of Reps where I feel that I will make more impact in the lives of my people. I declared my intention two years ahead of time and the result was that people love me and I garnered their support and to God be the glory, in the year 2019, I was elected and duly sworn in as a member, House of Representatives.
How would you describe the journey so far in this your first tenure as a federal lawmaker?
Three years plus and about completing the first tenure, I can look back and say that I’ve done well. I’m proud to say that I’ve displayed legislative competence in the House. I have Motions and Bills including the controversial ones too (Laughs). In my two years in the House, the Speaker of the House described me as a Kingmaker. That assertion cannot be given to anybody without some antecedents. Talk about bills, the Bill for the establishment of Federal University of Education, Aguleri, the first time this bill was introduced, it was declined assent by Mr President and it was returned to the House. Within a space of three months, I had it redone and was reintroduced into the House. Motion to investigate the abandonment of Otuocha, Nzam, Ibaji, Alegu road leading to Abuja by the contractor was also moved by myself in the House. The motion to dredge Anambra river and probably create a buffer zone to avert annual perennial flooding of our area and even Kogi people as well as part of Enugu state. The motion for the Federal Government of Nigeria to delineate the boundaries between Aguleri and Ibaji, Kogi State in order to ensure safety of the people and wanton destruction of properties in the area that has lingered for many years. I had many contributions in the House, very sound and eloquent. In terms of youth empowerment, I believe so much in youth empowerment being a youth too, knowing that they say build the youth and build the nation, destroy the youth and the nation gets more rotten. That was why within the first six months of my being in the House, I created a transport scheme known as Akaoma Shuttle where I dished out 10 Siennas and 26 shuttle buses. As at now, I’ve added more to the fleet and all these geared towards engaging some youths who cannot afford white collar jobs. Apart from that, I’ve engaged many youths in trainings like some others trained in SEDI, Enugu. After the trainings, they were given N500,000 each to start something on their own. Some were also taken to Egypt for training on dry season agriculture. It was an all expenses paid trip where they stayed two weeks in Egypt and after this election, another set will go again. 48 of them will be given N1million each and this is the first time in history that the constituency will produce 48 millionaires in one day. I’ve had so many projects ranging from renovation and building of new schools, road construction, palliatives, drilling of water borehole, solar lights etc.
I can beat my chest and say that in Anambra East and West where we have 21 communities and each of the communities can boast of one or two projects. For me, I’m happy because one of the major things lacking before my emergence was the absence of constant town hall meetings. I changed the narrative by introducing such town hall meetings after six months, annually, quarterly and thereabout. We’ve made it a regular feature in our engagements. We have brought in lots of goodies in our legislative representation and we still have a lot more to deliver especially as it concerns roads. You can attract the attention of the Federal Government to your area by lobbing for more road projects in your area. Returning to the House will make me a Ranking Member and it will afford me opportunity to have more access and corner more things for my constituency.
People of Anambra West known as Mbammili have been complaining of marginalisation and under development over the years. Unfortunately, they had a governor from the area that was in power for eight years but no significant development came to them. Now with Soludo in the saddle, how do you intend to complement and address this situation?
Well, we should not lament but rather keep hope alive. Rome was not built in one day but the unfortunate thing is that my constituency was among the places designated as poverty areas of Anambra State based on the MDG Report of 2012-2015. The five local governments mentioned in this category were Ogbaru, Anambra East, Anambra West, Ayamelum and Awka North. It’s unfortunate I’m representing two out of the five local governments now but I can tell you that the issues are being tackled. Obiano has done his bit and he did pretty well; Soludo is on it again. Obiano started the road going to Nzam; Soludo came in and flagged the road construction to finish. Some of the major bridges that will ensure linkage of the roads in the area have been done by Obiano, what remains is the linkage. The action is there and government is doing something. Let the people exercise patience and with the synergy on my own part, certainly their place must be better than some of the developed places in Anambra today.
What of the threat of violence and insecurity pervading the land. Don’t you think the situation may mar the coming election?
I have to commend Soludo for his competent intervention on security in Anambra State. Today, Anambra State would have been a monster zone if not for his rising up to the challenge. I salute his courage, political sagacity, and doggedness and workaholic excellence. Governor Soludo has proven capacity because few months to Obiano’s exit, hooligans took over most of the 21 local governments in the state especially in the southern zone. I’m happy that Soludo has shown a strong will and mindset and has recovered all the local governments in the state that today you can go from the North to the South in the state and come back safely. Even at the point of the heightened security, we had a successful governorship election in the state. Now that normalcy has returned, I believe that the 2023 election will hold successfully in Anambra. I appeal to all to be security conscious and realise that security is everybody’s business. No one should hide any crooked person or engage in acts capable of destabilising the peace of the state.
If you eventually win the second term, what will be the main focus in your second missionary journey?
If I win this time, my return to the National Assembly will guarantee a robust youth empowerment for my people. Secondly, community development and adequate attention to the education of the young ones. Without education, the community will go blind and any nation that fails to educate its young ones is heading to doom. Finally, they say that traveling is part of education while a traveler can teach the grey haired man. I will connect my people to the world where they will travel outside the country, learn something and come back to implement what they have learnt in our communities.
There is this focus on the issue of more people from the North occupying various positions in federal agencies and parastatals. Have you ever made efforts in terms of getting federal jobs for your people?
Yes, that’s why I said earlier that returning again as a ranking member will give me more cutting edges to do more for my people. Being a ranking member, you can negotiate for a better committee but that notwithstanding, we have not disappointed our people in this regard. Like the road from Isiokwe, Villapoint in Aguleri was attracted by me. Another road whose construction is about to start is from Ifite Anam Mmiata to Iyinkoro to Umuem community in Anambra West. About 12 kilometres and you know the terrain and topography of our area, its not a small money. When I return, I will do more because our area is really lacking on the side of roads.
What is your final message to the Anambra East and West Constituents?
They should be mentally alert and never go out to vote out of inducements. They should vote in line with their conscience and go for the person they know.