Ogoja: A Chat with Honorable Peter Odey
I have always imagined that all Legislators live in impressive suites. Therefore, I never imagined that water could drip through the ceiling of a State Legislator’s official residence and soak a portion of his sitting room, until I visited Honorable Peter Odey, one of the youngest member of Cross River State’s 8th House of Assembly. Honorable Peter Odey, represents Ogoja Constituency in that Assembly.
It was raining heavily when I went to his official residence located at the Assembly village in Ikorinim, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, to keep my appointment with him. Despite the downpour, I waded through the roads to ensure that I kept to time, last Saturday. When I reached his residence. he ushered me into his tastefully furnished sitting room. I was so eager for respite from the rain that I couldn’t wait for him to direct me to a seat. I simply walked in and took a seat, without waiting for his cue. How could I have known that I was sitting under a ”shower”? But I was! Promptly, Honorable Peter apologized for my wet clothes and politely ushered me to another seat. Instead of apologizing to him for taking the wrong seat, I told him that what I saw was unexpected of an Honorable’s official residence. Dear Reader, please forgive my lack of manners in that instance.
Well, Honorable Peter wasn’t angry with my manners. Rather, he replied that the residence was worse than what I saw, when he moved in there. He added that he has been spending from his private pockets to make it better, but he refused to make further comments on this matter, despite my attempt to prod him further. Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. On that occasion, his silence hinted me that Legislators may not be as independent as their offices demand. Thus, I knew that it was imperative that at some point in my conversation with him, I should seek his views on the clamor for autonomy for state legislature. But firstly, what is Peter Odey’s background? He answered this question and spoke on several other issues, including his efforts for his constituents.
Please keep reading…
I am from a very modest and humble background, born in Ogoja, schooled in Ogoja, grew up in Ogoja. I did most of my schooling in Ogoja. I was privileged to have you (Cornelius Ellah) as my teacher at Army Day Secondary School. There is nothing extraordinary about my family background, but now, people look at my achievement and the fact that I have lived and schooled in the United Kingdom. I would call myself a Street Boy. I grew up in the streets of Ogoja from where I have been able to achieve the little that I have.
After my secondary school education, I got admitted into the University of Calabar where I did a degree program in Sociology. Thereafter, I got admission to study abroad, where I did a Masters in International Relations (IR) in London. After my degree in IR, I was lucky to work with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). After that I also worked with the British High Commission, all in international development. After that, I got home where I dabbled into the murky waters of politics.
I was very active in student politics. At some point, I was President of National Association of Ogoja Students. I was also President of National Association of Cross River State Students (NACRISS). It was from my university days that I really picked up my interest in politics. Even when I was abroad, I told myself that if I don’t come back and get into politics, then there is something missing. So, it was from there my interest in politics started.
Although I had what I would term a well-paid job, I had to let it go and get into politics. I remembered when I came from London to contest for Chairman of Ogoja Local government council, my grandmother, God bless her soul, called me one day and said, ‘sit down’. She had never been to London before but from what she had heard, she heard that London is beautiful, and a nice place. ‘Why would anyone want to exchange the comfort of London and come to Ogoja where there is no water, no transport, and no light?’ Many years later, I understood that I was being driven by a stronger factor and passion that she could not comprehend at the time. For me, that is the passion and drive that made me go into politics.
Empathy for the People
It is this same passion that drove me into politics to see how to make things better for my people. The pains of my people have not gone away from me. You only need to ask the Commissioner of Health how many times I have called her to complain about the strength of Doctors at the General Hospital Ogoja. They call me from there to lay complains. Ogoja General Hospital, which is the best government-owned hospital in Ogoja, has only two doctors and one is an NYSC member. I don’t know if he/she has passed out of service. The explanation they gave me then was that the hospital had just recruited and most of the staff moved from State government hospital to University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH). They also explained that they were in the process of recruiting. Even last week, I still called on the same issue. So people are in pains over there.
Apart from the hospital, the roads are bad. There are no jobs and other things, and that is why there is government and that is why I am here to make sure that we provide remedy. We will keep doing our best to make sure that remedies are provided.
Contributions at the House of Assembly
To the glory of God, I have six (6) bills; four (4) have already gone through and two are in the process of going through. The ones that have been passed into law are bills that reflect the core of what I believe. One of the first bills that was passed was a bill to domesticate sustainable development. We all understand that there is downfall in what comes into the state in terms of revenue allocation. Now, this bill that has been passed into law will take some of the burden from government, because there will be support in terms of counterpart funding; provision of borehole/water, and other amenities will receive support. And by the grace of God, the hospital earlier mentioned has been captured for renovation, including the Maternity Hospital in Monaya.
A major problem they have there is transportation. Two buses have been provided by the Ministry of Sustainable Development. This is to ease the transport burden of people working at the hospital.
Another bill I have sponsored is, instead of a member having a constituency project, let’s have a committee within the community to do a need-assessment and say this is what we want. That fund that should have been given to a legislator should be given to the committee so that at the end of the day, the people hold themselves responsible and say this is what is not done. The outcry now is that legislators get monies from constituency projects, both in the State and National Assemblies, and divert to other things.
When that bill is finally signed, the communities themselves would come out and identify projects that need attention. It would take constituency projects from the hands of legislators to the hands of the people. Just like if I go to my village now, the people may say that the provision of health care is more urgent than renovation of road. Or between now and next year, you can give us roads while we manage the health centre that we have. Let it be a collective decision. Let it also follow due process. By so doing, it will impact on the people and touch more lives.
How His Exposure Influences His Contributions in the House
I have been privileged to live abroad and I see the way things are done. I think in my own little way, if that is the only thing I can be remembered for, I need to use my experience from abroad to impact on my people. Apart from that, I try in my own little way to bring communities together, by organizing football matches.
As a student, I benefited from bursary. So as a legislator, I sometimes identify little areas where students struggle and I give them my support, just to encourage them. Someday, they too could be legislators and even governors. They will remember that someone at some point helped them.
The Role of God-Fatherism
There have been different stories about my emergence as a State legislator. Some people say that the former Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, was responsible for my emergence, but the truth is that I wasn’t that close to him. I knew people who were close to him, but as in having one-on-one with him, I wasn’t that close to him. How I emerged is largely divine. Even when I contested for the House of Assembly, the primaries were out of the hands of Senator Imoke.
Ask any political stakeholder who followed the process in Ogoja. At a point in that contest, we became three candidates, Chief Charly Abuo, former Chairman of Ogoja; Emmanuel Elom and myself, Peter Odey. We were asked to go and vote among ourselves. We did that three times and there was a tie. Imoke now asked leaders of Ogoja to meet and vote for who would become the party’s candidate. I don’t know what transpired there, but at the end of the day, I emerged. Maybe people had seen my merits or they had sympathy about the fact that I had contested elections before and lost. This time, I was around and followed the process from the beginning.
A god-father, in my opinion, is someone who would call you from wherever you are and say, ‘come and take’. In fact, Imoke did not even know I was running until it was close to the primaries. God-father has worked for some people, but for me, I do not attribute my emergence to any god-father. I did not have any god-father when I contested for Chairmanship and lost, and the first time I contested for the House of Assembly and lost. Why didn’t a god-father make it possible at that time? Rather, it was all because of God. When God decided that it was my turn, he made it that way.
His Perception on the “Not Too Young to Run” Bill
I am totally in support of that bill. The only thing I am against is the issue of independent candidate. My personal view is that in our country’s level of development, we are not ready for it presently. But to encourage youth participation in politics, I am totally in agreement with that. We should see young men coming into politics. I don’t want to limit it, giving it a maximum age limit. It is just that when someone is about 80 years old, it becomes an issue of concern. But if the people want an 80 year old man to be their LGA chairman, that is their choice. Right now they are not stopping the old ones from running, they are only stopping the young ones from participating.
Politics is something that needs youthfulness. I think anyone who is capable should be allowed to run. All these clamor began when the President of France emerged. People felt that if it could happen in France then it could happen here too. There is a clamour to put a cap on the old and to encourage the young. If you take away my youthfulness, you are taking away the best part of me.
His Perception of the House as a Family
The house is one family. To start with, we are from one political family, so there is a meeting point. There is one ideology so it is easy to say the Cross River State House of Assembly is a family. But it does not mean that within the family we do not disagree among ourselves. Whatever we disagree on, we find a way of resolving.
How the House Treats Defectors from this ‘Family’, Following the Defection of the Member Representing Obubra Constituency
He is a member of this one family, but he decided on his own to go to another family, which he thinks would serve his interests better. So, whenever we meet to discuss the interest of our family, he cannot be part of us because we discuss our ideology and the way forward as a family. However, if we have to meet as a general group for the state, he is part of the state. When we discuss an internal issue, we cannot expect an outsider to be part of us.
His seat has been declared vacant by the House of Assembly and I was part of that decision. This matter now is before the court so I will not like to comment further on it until the court decides. This borders around three things, one, what is the constitutional provision and that is before the court. This is not the first time that this is happening in this Assembly. It is left for the judiciary to determine. If the courts determine that at the time he decamped, he had constitutional provision to decamp, then he could come back. If he is not, then elections will be conducted. If his party decides to put him as a candidate, then they are free to do that.
Reaction to some People’s Perception of Houses of Assembly as Ineffective, against the Backdrop of ongoing Constitutional Amendment
It will depend on issues. I don’t think the Governor will call and tell people who to vote for. He will allow people to vote. Like the issue of independent candidate. If it comes in I will vote ‘No’. For instance, the issue of independent candidates, somebody somewhere will come up and say he wants to run and would want his name on the ballot. I personally don’t think we are ready for that. We are struggling to have candidates for two or three parties and then one unserious minded person will come. I just think it will be too much trouble. You will have independent candidates spread all over the place. So I don’t think I will wait for the Governor to tell me what to vote on that. I wont speak for other members, but I can speak for myself.
Personally, I think Local Governments should be autonomous. If it comes to that, I will vote for autonomy. I also think that State Houses of Assemblies should have autonomy. My ‘yes’ vote on this may not turn it over, but majority will always have their way and the minority will have their say, because it is two third that will be required. Even if I vote ‘yes’ and thirteen of my colleagues vote ‘no’, it would be taken that the Cross River House of Assembly has voted ‘No’. The issues I am against are the issues of devolution of power. Why do the National Assembly want so much to be in the exclusive list? Like the issue of the Local Government election, if the State House of Assembly legislates over local government elections, we would have oversight functions over them. They would not come from Abuja to do the oversight.
So, why wont they want State Independent Electoral Commissions to conduct State elections? Why should it go to INEC? Who says INEC have been conducting free and fair elections? Have INEC been perfect in their conduct of elections? The answer is No. So on that issue alone, I will not support. INEC should not conduct local government elections. The state government should be allowed to do it. I also think that state governments should be given powers on other things. Powers should not be centred so much around the Federal government. The National Assembly is withdrawing powers from the President from signing the constitution yet they want to take power from the state government. Is that fair?
I think that local governments across the Federation don’t exist. If you give them autonomy and money given to them directly and not through the governor, you will be a very wicked person to say ‘no’ you don’t want it. That is because you don’t want the people at the grass root to benefit from it. I know of local government chairmen who have stayed for three years and yet didn’t do a contract of even a culvert because of the way things were done. So, if now all that is going to change to benefit the people, we should support it.
Factors responsible for the current State of Affairs in the local Governments
Two things are responsible for this. I know of local government chairmen who live in Calabar and do not go to their LGAs until the end of the month, and state Governors have security reports. But if local governments have autonomy they will also have Councillors who will also check the activities of their local government chairmen and who would now know that there is money. And the people voting for them as Councillors will ask questions. They will need to be accountable to the people, to the security agencies and to the government. But now that it comes through a joint account, the Local government chairmen can easily say that they have not gotten anything.
Factors Responsible for Perceived Control of State Assemblies by Governors
If you say Houses of Assembly are being controlled by Governors, I would not say No to it. There are several factors responsible for it of which the National Assembly is trying to correct. For instance, if you are the Governor of CRS you are the leader of the party. So, we owe you that duty as the leader of the state to give you respect. As it is right now, the State Assembly go cap in hand begging.
For some Governors, they will use that as a tool to force the Legislature to make the laws that they want. But luckily in CRS, we are at liberty to pass the laws that we want. If there is any aspect of the law that the governor is not happy with, we sit down as a House and discuss it. Except it is an executive bill that comes to the House. For instance, the health insurance scheme that is now called Ayade Care. It came from him and we saw it as a wonderful idea. With just one thousand naira a month, a family is entitled to treatment, which is obtainable world over. There are certain times like that when we have such bills. Don’t forget that the Governor was once a Senator, so he knows about bills. He is a very thorough person.
Relationship with Ogoja Legislators in the National Assembly
I have a wonderful relationship with them. I have no disagreement with any of them and even when there were seeming disagreement, we discuss among ourselves. And to God be the glory, they are doing well. For me, I have nothing against my colleagues at the National Assembly.
Cult-Related Violence in Ogoja and in CRS
It is very horrible and beats my imagination that somebody would take a gun and shoot another person. I have seen a lot of things being posted on Facebook, but it is not a social media issue. We should go back to our communities and interact with our people on what is happening. From my findings, Modey who was killed in Ogoja was not even a member of any cult groups. Why do you kill an innocent person who is not even a member of any cult? It is a stupid thing. Apart from government, even as families, we need to sit down and address such issues.
If you go back to Ogoja, the names of listed cultists, non of them is even a student. As far as I am concerned, this is just rascality. Whatever it is, I think we should condemn it. I personally discussed with my brother, Hon. Agom Jarigbe, member representing Ogoja/Yala at the National Assembly. We should have a conference in Ogoja where these things will be discussed. I don’t know Ogoja to be otherwise. We have always lived like a family. Apart from Ogoja, I hear it is happening somewhere else, and in Yakurr. It is wrong and it needs to be addressed.
Political Plans for the future
I have not been thinking about it. Maybe in 2018, I can start thinking about it. A lot of people have been coming to me about it saying I should do this and do that. But my belief is that let us deliver on the mandate we have now before we talk of the future.
On a final note, we know the difficulties of our people and we are doing our utmost best to see that all the problems are addressed. The only joy that I will have as a person is to see that we put joy/smiles on the faces of our people. That is why they elected us, so that the lives of our people will be improved. With God on our side, that joy will come.
- Cornelius Ellah
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