APC has impoverished Nigerianss –  Odoemenem

Mr. Callistus Uwazie Odoemenam (Cally) is the African Democratic Congress’ (ADC) candidate for the House of Representatives for the Ikeja Federal Constituency for the 2019 general election. The Chartered Banker cum politician was a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos. Odoemenem, who did his undergraduate studies at Imo State but earned post-graduate degree in Financial Management from Lagos State University, in this interview with Valentine Amanze, unveils his agenda for his constituency and other national issues.

You were a member of the APC; why did you live the ruling party? 

I was a card-carrying member of APC. However, due to the internal contradictions I observed within the party, I knew it would be difficult for me to aspire for political office on the platform of APC. Therefore, I sought consultations within and outside the party and we had to sieve through nearly all the 91 political parties registered by INEC. The result of search landed me in ADC. 
  My party, ADC, is unique in the sense that it is devoid of the baggage and albatross associated with the two major parties (APC and PDP) that had been described in some quarters as '2 in 1'.  The two main parties are also afflicted by ''cults of personalities,'' which dictate who becomes a candidate and who does not. This type of practice is undemocratic and makes the parties ''private estates'' and not truly democratic national parties. A true political party must transcend the whims and caprices of individual and seen to be really inclusive and give equal opportunities to its members regardless of religion or region. This clearly sets ADC apart from all other parties.

As a young politician, what is your selling point?

I thank God for the grace, courage and confidence to have come this far. I must confess that most of my friends didn't take me seriously at the beginning. Some thought I wanted to make some ''noise'' and get some cheap popularity. Others also thought that the humongous amounts demanded as fees for nomination would be a high hurdle to cross since I have lived purely on my honest earnings. But I'm grateful to God that those doubting ''Thomases'' are now busy selling my rare qualities to the electorate since I won the primary election of my party, ADC, and became their candidate for House of Representatives in Ikeja Federal Constituency for the 2019 general election.
As my selling point, I am dissatisfied with the crop of leaders we have today in Nigeria. My generation missed great opportunities due to the short-sight and selfishness of the leaders who led the country while we were in school. Many bright and intelligent graduates of my time roamed the streets for decades without jobs and little or no opportunities for entrepreneurship. It is more painful now as many of our children are gradually walking into this 'dark ally'' of no jobs. Nigeria has become the ''poverty'' capital of the world. Rather than face the true challenges of governance- tackle poverty, 12 million children are presently out of school, over 30 per cent unemployment rate, insecurity is defining Nigeria in the Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, short and brutish. Governors who said they could not pay a meagre thirty thousand naira as minimum wage (less than USD1,000.00) would leave office after four /eight years owning best real estates, and retire on out-sized jumbo benefits that include choice houses in choice cities, flashy cars, quantum medical allowances, etc. If we don't change this game from the way the current players are playing it, posterity will judge us harshly for being ''indifferent'' while this ''rape'' in the name of governance occurred. 
  I believe that I possess the ''sanctity of spirit'' to change the game.

Do you have the capacity to challenge candidates of other parties like APC and PDP in Lagos?

  Having identified and defined my mission in politics to be ''a game changer'', strategically I would also asses my strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). So, being able to dissect the core issues in my SWOT analysis, I then look at the structure which is like the ''vehicle'' to deliver the mission. Structure is an integral part of my strategy mix. As a seasoned banker, who is used to ''military strategies'' in war time situations, it would be inappropriate for me to disclose the ''nitty-gritty'' of my strategy here. But suffice it to say that I entered this race with full amour of what it takes to win a free, fair and credible contest.

What will be your priorities for your constituency if you win the election?

Ikeja is the capital of Lagos State. As a resident of Ikeja Federal Constituency, I felt short-changed and under-represented. The comedy of failures which the current Representative signifies is compounded by the fact that the most basic necessity- ''constituency office'' he doesn't have after two terms of office. People complain that he is only interested in diverting their ''constituency projects'' allocation to his home state where he made an unsuccessful bid for a higher office and even transferred his voter's card to his home state.
My priority upon being elected into office would be to provide a ''Constituency office'' in Ikeja, which will serve as the centre for all that we shall accomplish within my term of office. Upon setting up the Administrative structure, I will go ahead to employ the personnel who will execute my programmes. These programmes shall include: Strengthening social security for the poor and vulnerable within Ikeja Federal Constituency; Empowerment strategy to be driven by sustainable, profitable and long-term goals. No more recycling of poverty in the form of ''pepper grinding'' machine as constituency project. Setting up of knowledge incubation centres in each of the three administrative clusters/LGA/LCD. Inclusiveness and Equal opportunity to all ethnic groups. I'll practice non-discriminatory representation unlike the prevailing situation where some ethnic groups are disfavoured even with crumbs.

Are you satisfied with the policies of the APC-led Federal Government?

In terms of performance, the APC-led federal government has not done well. The party squandered the enormous goodwill Nigerians vested in it in 2015. Rather than hit the ground running, the government started chasing shadows not knowing that time was running out on them every day that passed. Policy formulation and execution have been too slow and lack-luster For instance, in 2004-2005 under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, CBN led by Prof. Chukwuma Soludo implemented an earth-shaking consolidation and recapitalization policy in the banking sector. Many people lost their jobs. But by 2006/2007 more jobs were created in the banking sector and the industry was bullish again. Under the present APC dispensation, treasury single account (TSA) has been implemented in the public sector leading to over ten trillion naira savings lying fallow in the CBN. While the TSA has helped to curb rampant corruption in the public service, the trillions of naira held by the CBN on behalf of Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should have been ploughed back into the economy to keep it working. Money is a circular flow not a stock. Again look at the minimum wage issue, when APC was elected, they increased pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS) from N87/litre to N145/litre; exchange rate also depreciated by over 80% to the current rate of N360/$1.00. Yet, the same government is contemplating a beggarly  increase of minimum wage from N18,000.00 to N24,000.00 per month. They maintain a double standard on anti-corruption fight. Kemi Adeosun, the immediate past Minister of Finance, was caught in a web of NYSC certificate forgery. Rather than sack, arrest and prosecute her, she was given a golden parachute and escorted back to UK. 
  The Minister of Communication, Adebayo, is still holding forth in his office despite obvious gaps in his documentation as we speak. Still, APC claims to be fighting corruption. Circumventing policy and playing the ostrich when matters of criminal negligence that border on APC members are involved erodes the country's credibility before the international community. Nevertheless, I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for increasing the validity period of Nigerian passport for adult citizens from five to 10 years.
  Without a profound policy to tackle poverty, unemployment and restore unity among Nigerian via a ''restructuring'' agenda, the APC would have under-achieved. 

Do you think your party’s manifesto is what Nigeria needs to move forward?

ADC as party has crafted a manifesto that could address the core and crucial challenges facing the country. Unfortunately, both APC and PDP have been in cahoots to keep people poor so that during election period as we are in now, they could buy people’s votes with peanuts! Imagine where people are queuing to get few slices of bread shared by local politicians on behalf of their masters. During the recent APC primary election, I learnt that some people were shared N100.00 (one hundred naira only) to go and vote. Honestly, I weep for Nigerians. Poverty is being weaponized by the ruling party and it has become a potent force as they use it ''win'' votes during election. 

How would you influence and sponsor bills that would better the banking sector as a banker?

With over 25 years of experience in the banking and financial sector, I am sufficiently knowledgeable to sponsor bills and collaborate with my colleagues in National Assembly on matters that will further strengthen and stabilize the sector. Employees in the sector also deserve better protection of their careers via bills that will serve as bulwark against predatory capitalism. Access to credit is the oil that lubricates the wheel of the economy. Banks must be made to realize they play a critical role in this area. Their robust balance sheets should equally impact on the greater strata of economic agents and not  just be enough to meet their corporate goals. 

Has non-indigenes chances of winning election in Lagos and how?

On whether non-indigenes have chances of winning election in Lagos, the answer is yes. In the 1950s, non-indigenes won election in Lagos. Chief Oliver Biaduo (from Mbaise in Imo State) won as Councillor in Ikoyi Obalande. The street known as Biaduo Street off Awolowo Road Ikoyi was named after him. Another of my compatriot, Chief Chilaka from Eze Chilaka-Ukpo dynasty in Umunama, Ezinihitte Mbaise LGA Imo State, also won during the same period. In 2015. non-indigenes swept the polls in several federal constituencies in Lagos- Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Oshodi/Isolo 2;  Amowodofin were all won by non-indigenes. Even Ikeja Federal Constituency has been occupied by a non-indigene from Kogi State since 2011. And if you observed the demographic dynamics of these area, they are populated by non-indigenes and that was exactly what swayed the victory in favour of those candidates. So, I'm not a trail blazer in this context as I'm only treading a well beaten path.

If you win, would you remain in the party or defect to other big parties?

I joined ADC because it has demonstrated to be an equal-opportunity party for all Nigerians regardless of creed, tribe or financial position. It ensures that internal democracy is observed in the conduct of its affairs as we witnessed during the primary election that I won. Moreover, there is no god-father who dictates who gets what and who is denied. As long as these principles are sustained in the party, it will remain the party of choice for all true believers in democracy. So, my loyalty to the party will be deep rooted because it gave me the platform to ventilate my ideas and launch myself into national politics.

What do you think is wrong with development in Nigeria?

The bane of development in Nigeria is deceit and self-interest. Policymakers think of themselves and their clans first before they think of Nigeria. For instance, the new petroleum refinery being sited in Katsina by President Buhari. The refinery is nearer to Niger Republic than Duara. Yet, there is no single barrel of crude oil in the whole North to service the refinery. Again, look at the Nursing school in Ikoyi, Tinubu acquired the premises and sent away the students to some outskirts of Lagos purely for his own selfish interest. Rochas Okoroacha, the Imo State Governor, wanted to relocate Imo State University from Owerri to his remote village, Ogboko in Orlu zone. Selfishness! So, as long as our leaders and policy makers continue to be conflicted in terms of their clannish and personal interest vis-a-viis national interest, development will continue to elude us.

What do you think could be done to reduce influence of money in Nigerian politics?

Really one cannot wish away money from politics. To run a decent campaign, you need money for logistics. However, problem gets compounded when you now have to feed people street by street, simply because you canvassed for their votes. People who ordinarily would attend other meeting at their cost, once they hear ''politician'' is coming, they expect you to pay their arrears of house rent, provide food, pay transport, school fees, etc. While these issues are clear signs of poverty and lack of employment, the ''money bags'' are exploiting the weaknesses to the detriment of the polity. So, an incompetent fellow who cannot understand the difference between a bill and motion simply would win an election because he can provide the immediate meal of that day, whereas a more knowledgeable candidate would lose the same election because he did not share a slice of bread. This is really pathetic. People must learn how to price themselves beyond ''one pot of soup''. Dignity and self-worth are virtues that people must appreciate even when they are hungry. 

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