In this special interview with BigPen Online, former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon.Victor Ochei spoke about his recent call to bar, the APC-led administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the achievements of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa so far, as well as chances of APC in the forthcoming council elections and 2019 general elections in Delta State.
How do you feel now that you have been call to bar?
I feel accomplished. The end of a matter is better than the beginning thereof, that is what the Bible says. I started my journey to becoming a lawyer in 2008 and by the time I was done with it in 2012, I started the law school in Agbani, Enugu but because I was holding public office as a Speaker, it wasn’t going to sit well with my job and the law school is quite demanding. So, I had to let go. So, going back to complete it, haven gone through all the political turmoil and all that and now came out of it, I am grateful and I feel fulfilled.
What really motivated you to read law?
I mean, law is one course that I will implore anybody no matter you discipline or profession to read because believe you me in all facet of life you need the law, everything you do, you need to apply the law at the end of the day so why not be part of it so you are not ignorant. The Bible says my people perish because of the lack of knowledge and so the quest to acquire knowledge is not a lost one, is indeed a good quest and so my quest for knowledge is one of the things that led me into law. I have being a lawmaker for 12 years and I always felt that I was fulfilling the legal maxim that says “you can’t give what you don’t have”.
Are you satisfied or are there plans to add another different degree?
Well, it is still a decision to be made but I know I like getting to the peak of anything that I get into. As a legislator, I got to the peak. In engineering, I got to the peak as a fellow. In law, I probably will look at getting to the peak as a SAN but knowledge is never ending. Basically, you can’t say you have stopped learning so I just might tomorrow but in the present time, I want to consolidate on the knowledge acquired to see how I put that to use to better the lot of myself and humanity.
Are you going into full time practice?
Yes! Practice comes in different ways. I am also an associate member of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators of the UK. So, I can settle well into arbitration and I have a combined knowledge of engineering and law that is quite a rare combination. So, in arbitration you are very much in the want. So, that is an area people are yet to explore, you can explore them. I can practice that and I can also go to court depending but personally as a person, I will like to do cases where I feel the only thing that place me on people who are oppressed. I will go for such cases I want to take on pro bono; I will go and pursue it for no pay once I am convinced that you are dealing with somebody simply because you think the person is nobody. To me is clear oppression, I will step into the ring at no cost to the person. Those are the kind of services I will like to render.
Its almost three years now, how would you rate President Muhammadu Buhari administration?
Well, so far so good, it depends on the prism you are looking at but in totality he has done well in the circumstance he found himself. One, the finances of the country is largely depended on the sales of crude oil which has dwindled occasioned by the fall in the price of crude oil globally and then our quantum of production has not increased beyond 2.2 barrel per day and at a point in this country, the same barrel of oil was sold for $147 a barrel and a lot did not improve. We did diversify the economy and then Buhari came in and it fell to as low as $28 a barrel and the quantum was still 2.2 million per barrel a day. What magic do you expect the man to do? So, he is working within the tight rope and for me he is doing very well. One thing is clear, it is no longer business as usual, there is a lot of complaints no doubt but for things to get better, the complaints must come. I likened Nigeria’s problems which Buhari is saddled with fortunately in one breath and unfortunately in another breath to a couple. The only thing that will give a newly married couple joy is that after nine months, they will hear the cry of a baby. That will bring them extreme joy and happiness but you know no matter how much the man loves his wife and wouldn’t want the wife to go through any hurt or pain, for the wife to bring forth that which will give them joy she has to go through pain. So, whether she goes through safe virginal delivery or through caesarian section to give birth to the child, she must essentially spill blood and that must be painful. Therefore, Nigeria is in the stage where she is pregnant. And whether we like it or not for Nigeria to give birth to a new Nigeria, it has to go through pain. Whether it comes through safe virginal delivery or caesarian section, whichever way you want to turn it around, Nigeria will have to go through pain. And we must tell ourselves the raw truth; some other developed countries in the world today that are giants have gone through the same time that we are going through. They did not import foreigner to come change the country, it is still the same people that changed it and we must imbibe that right now to be able to change the tomorrow and let us stop playing elitist politics by lying to the populace. Nigerians are resilience they are willing to take the pains but the elites must lead the way and that is the challenge that we have. The elites do not want to lead the way, they want business as usual where they can put their hands right in the treasury and do whatever they want with it that is not the business as it is today and that has changed from the centre. That is what Mr President has done. I implore the state governors to do the same and you will see a massive change in this country because I tell you the truth nobody will change Nigeria if we do not want to change Nigeria. So, we either chose to do the right thing and move forward, we may be slow but we are sure we are moving forward than to continue doing the wrong thing and it appears that it is working but by the time we find ourselves in the culs-de-sac, we realize that we can no longer make progress and then we are doomed. In my opinion bringing back your question, has Mr President done well? Yes, he has because corruption is no longer the order of the day with impunity even if you want to be corrupt, you will ensure you look left, right and all around you to be sure nobody is looking at you before you do what you have to do and you have to cover your tracks. There is no country that is devoid completely of corruption but at least let us stem the tides. The tide in Nigeria before now was crazy; it was like if you were not corrupt, then you were not part of the Nigerian state because you don’t seem to fit in but right now let them come out and show their wealth. You have the wealth, throw it around let us see if you know you are sure of what you have throw it around then we will start talking. For me if that is the only thing we have been able to achieve, I think he has done very well. I am not bothered about those who shout he is sectional, really? Have they said that they were not guilty? If I am saying that they are holding people who are not guilty that they have done nothing yet they just come and arresting them then I will listen but if at all you have your hands soiled, go clear yourself, the laws of the land are clear. There is no big deal about it. So, that has put us in check and he has done marvelously well. In terms of security as well, owing to his military background, I think he has done well. I mean relative to what we have before. Yes! There is a massive improvement, security is not cheap and the kind of money you pump into it, global terrorism is a reality today that every nation will rise up to deal with. Unfortunately, we are right there fighting it because we never prepared for it in time. If we prepared for it when we were warned long ago when the Chad Basin and the business around it were drying up that there is going to be crisis, we would have been proactive but we were not proactive as a nation so the resultant effect is what we are seeing today. Part of the global terrorism route and it can be traced. So, in that light, I think he is also doing well.
Economically, I am glad to know that we are diversifying our economy. As a growing boy I know that I use to write and made A1 in geography and writing geography then in WAEC we will write about the Nigerian state, we will describe Nigeria as four times the size of the United Kingdom and then, her main stay was agriculture but today, right before our very nose agriculture suddenly disappeared. Everybody went for the big box but I am glad today that people are going back to agriculture. The government is diversifying and making sure that we are able to feed ourselves. We became so lazy that we are importing toothpick in this country and burn the foreign exchange to have it imported. That was how hard working they thought we were but we are actually lazy, importing toothpick that can actually be manufactured here. We were not growing our own food any more, we depended more on what was coming in as imported foods but you know the truth? The average man who was there and live his life normally and depended on his farm did have the need to complain that things are rough. It is the elites who no longer see money as they used to see it before that are complaining now so it becomes a national problem. So to be holistic to Mr. President’s performance, he has done well in the circumstance. I will score him 60 per cent. He can’t make 100 per cent, no President can never make a 100 per cent even those who had all the surpluses couldn’t do it then you see a man who is micro-managing and you see that he has done this much and you say he is not trying? Well then let them come and handle it let me see how well they can do.
Would you then support him for a second tenure?
100 per cent, I will not blink an eyelid if he declares that he is running, he has my 100 per cent support because I know he means well. If you go outside this country, you will appreciate that we have a President in Mr. Buhari because his integrity speaks volumes. Before now our country was a corrupt nation. You are a Nigeria and you are looked at with disdain because they think you are corrupt, they think you are from a dirty nation where all manner of dirty deals takes place but today they know it is not the same so everybody is being very careful and we are respected in the global community. So, I want to say, for his integrity which has also robed off positively on Nigerians for his position on corruption, no doubt Nigerian image has been cleaned up abroad and for the fact that he means well for Nigeria it is not about himself. I know people may say all manner of things but Mr. President, he is not corrupt if he was I dare them, those who makes a staccato of noise even the ones who speak more than their elevated offices can afford them have put their tails in between their legs because they say things they didn’t know and Mr. President won’t utter a word because it don’t bother him. He knew they weren’t speaking the truth. So, his integrity, stand, he means well and I know he will do well given the circumstance so I will support him without blinking an eyelid.
People say your party, the APC is not on ground in Delta State, how would you react to that?
Well, is Victor Ochei on ground in Delta State? If yes, APC is on ground in Delta State. If no, then we are not. So, let them do the maths. I like it like that when they see you like the underdog that you are not there. At the appropriate time the elections will speak for which party is on ground and which party is not on ground. But don’t forget, people make the parties and not the parties making people. You must realize that Deltans have come out of that old business of thinking it is one party state. No, no longer that. It was proven in many elections before but right now be careful, don’t even sleep on it. I can tell you for free, APC is on ground.
Recently, during your Call to Bar in Abuja, mouths were wagging following caliber of persons from your state, especially from the PDP that graced your reception and we know you are an APC chieftain, what was behind such political alliance?
I don’t know what you call an alliance. I have served this state at a capacity. I served as a Speaker to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. The same time Ovuozuorie Macaulay served as SSG at that top level of government, we worked together and we still maintain our level of friendship. If we are in different parties does it mean we cannot relate? We must learn to deepen democracy in Delta State and stop behaving like parochial people. Those are people who are not broad minded. Are mine any less a Deltan? Is Emmanuel Uduaghan any less a Deltan because he came to an occasion been organized by an APC person? It doesn’t make him any less a Deltan. Ovuozuorie Macaulay, has invited me to his function and I went there, that doesn’t make me any less a person but if you speak partisan politics, we play partisan politics but as humans we must relate. As Deltans we must relate and in other spheres of life we must relate. So, let’s stop all these myopic reasoning. There is no really big deal having the former governor whom I served under his administration as Speaker and an SSG who served in the same administration or head of service in the same administration relates together I don’t see no big deal in it. It is just because of the kind of parochial kind of thinking that we have in Delta. Parties don’t make people, people make parties. Whether I am an APC, I have friends across the PDP strata and I have friends in other parties outside the PDP and I relate very well with them because I am a broad minded person. I am not stereotype or typified into that very microcosm called it is us and nobody else and you try to play politics of exclusivity you think people shouldn’t be part of it. I play an all-inclusive politics. I have friends across board. So, that is what informed people from all strata, PDP, APC and both those who are non-alliance and the big captains of industries were all there. They came to honour me and celebrate me that I went through law school haven crossed from engineering to law. Well, some said it is no mean feat but I am glad their presence also told the story. So, I am glad about that.
It is being said that your antecedents in terms of infrastructure as a Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly have not been surpassed. Every now and then we see people pouring encomiums on you. And calling on you to run for the governorship race come 2019. Would you succumb to the calls?
Well, I am still hearing the calls like you are hearing them and if it is all based on my legacies that I left in the House of Assembly in terms of infrastructure, it is only fulfilling the Anglican hymn that talks about only so shall we pass from the earth and its touring only be remembered by what we have done. Well, I have not passed from the earth and its touring, I am still here and people are remembering you for what you have done, it is a sign that you did very well and I will very much want to leave that as an example for those who are there. In every position you find yourself, make the very best of it, work hard at it and put in your best. At the time you are doing it many people may not like you but by the time you leave and if you genuinely mean what you are doing with the intention to make for public good, the public will appreciate you at the appropriate time and I guess I am getting that. But with regards to the calls, I am still studying the calls and if after studying them I find it expedient I will answer it.
Its almost three years now, as a Deltan what is your assessment of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa led administration. Would you say he has fared well ?
Well, it is almost three years down the administration. You can see for yourselves as Journalists. What is the development like across the state.? I move around the state, am yet to pass my comment but it is abysmal Development! I have seen all those states that are not half as rich as Delta come out with major projects. I have not seen one star project in Delta State. It is abysmal, it is the worst administration so far in terms of development Deltans have ever seen and I make bold to say it.
So what would be those things you considered so dear to your heart that you would want to do for Deltans should you take a shot at the exalted number one job of the State.?
That is putting the cat before the horse. You just said a while ago that people are clamouring for me to come and I told you am studying the calls. So, if I tell you now that if I come on board this is what I am going to do that means I have answered the call, I have not answered the call, I am only telling you that developmentally in Delta state, it is abysmal. At the point when I answer the call, I will chronicle the things that I am going to do and the burning issues that I want to deal with instantly and that will speak for itself.
January 6, 2018 Local Government Election in Delta State is around the corner. What are your expectations, particularly for APC. Do you see your party clinching some councils or is it going to be the usual way of writing results?
For me, I would rather tell DSIEC that if they know they want to write results, they shouldn’t waste tax payers money in organizing an election because they are not organizing any election but if Delta State has come of age and the present administration believe they are democrats, let them test their will before the people. Let the votes count and let us see where they stand in the state. It will give them a mirror on how they are viewed not the lies they tell themselves. DSIEC is a creation of the law, I don’t want to go into the violation of the law by dissolving them without a reason which doesn’t make sense which clearly underscores the intent of putting in a new DSIEC because you think the old one will not do your bidding and if your bidding is pure that you want to hold a local government election that you will call a world class election that is democratic with Deltans coming to exercise their choice why are you bothered about changing DSIEC? But be that as it may you have changed it so let us give it to you. I will only tell DSIEC and their chairman that their integrity are at stake. Whatever they do today, Deltans will hold them in posterity. If they do it right posterity will judge them right. If they do it wrongly, posterity will judge them wrongly and not about themselves but their children and children’s children to come. So, I will advise them even at the pressure of whatever, they should remember that by law they are an independent body and should maintain independence. Otherwise, if all the state governors go to write the results what about the federal government also writing its own results? Yes! And write for APC and all the states becomes APC. Will there be anything wrong with that? Because they seems to take glory in it. It is wrong and it is high time we rise up as people (citizens) and tell the truth, we don’t care who is involved. If the governor is not doing well, tell him he is not doing well. He is a Deltan, we voted him, he is holding our mandate in trust and if he messes up with the mandate, we throw him out. Let him know that Deltans wants election and develop grassroot democracy by allowing peoples votes to count at the grassroot, you don’t come and pay lip service to it and talk so much about it and then go to a meeting in Ughelli and say you want to write the whole results like Akwa-Ibom did. It is a shame; it means they are not on ground that is a clear example of a party that is not on ground. And I want to tell them today, I dare the PDP in Delta State that if they think that they are on ground let them allow a free and fair election let us see. Then they will rightly test and see how they are on the ground in Delta but if they go around writing the results like they want to do, which they are already planning for no matter what they want to try to cover up. Put all the bill boards that they want to put around just to deceive the people, let them go and let the materials get to the field and let them count the real results and let us see how many seat that PDP will clinch. I dare them!. If PDP claims they are on ground in Delta State, let them have a proper election let us see where they stand. That is to Delta State government. Then to DSIEC, if they try to play the master’s tune, well I will not say anything more but my party the APC will take a position and very soon the position will be made public.
Do you see your party, the APC taking over power in Delta State come 2019?
Why not. It is Deltans that will decide. It is not about the party. The party can make claim just like the PDP will come and say that they will win and claimed they are going to be there for 60 years but they have not even concluded 16 they were off. So, it doesn’t mean anything. They can come and say whatever they want to say. APC will say whatever they want to say as well but the final arbiters are Deltans. Deltans will decide who their governor will be in 2019, it has nothing to do whether it is one party or another party. It is about the person who Deltans believe should be able to do the job for them. They are not going to be deceived again. They have been deceived too many times, they will not be deceived again I can promise you that. Go and put it down, Deltans will not be deceived in 2019, they will do the right thing and they will guide their votes.
Politically, do you have any regret?
Any regret? Not at all. Everything I have done in politics, for me is an investment. You need to understand that…. I have won so many times and I have also failed but failing is also part of winning because it has also improved and taught me a whole lots of things I did not know and I did not see but I see clearly now. So, I have no regret whatsoever both the ups and downs of politics all add up to make up the fact that you are very a good politician. You are not the best of politician when you win all the time, you will not know how the other side feels, the man who is defeated, how he feels and how the supporters feels but you will have a lot of learning from it when it happens to you, you become a better politician and I can assure you no regret whatsoever on my side.
How is the unity like in your party in Delta State?
Well, the unity you saw is the whole tendencies in APC Delta State, we were all together because they came together to honour me right? And it clearly underscores the fact that we are united. We must have our bickering because politics is about interest. So, everybody inside the party has the right to speak and protect his/her own interest. That doesn’t mean that the party is not united and for me it is also a clear indication and example that the party is democratized. We are not in a party where they heed down decisions, where impunity is at stake, where people don’t win elections of primaries, they hand it over to them. It is not done in the APC. The primary of Ondo State clearly underscores that and we all saw it. We know and you know better than I do. So also in Delta State, tendencies in a party has the right to air their views but because it is a democratic setting, we all air our views but we sit down in the same house to still straighten up issues and work together. So, we are very united house contrary to what people think. That was what the PDP thought in 2015, that when APC finished their primary, they will be scattered and the PDP never survived their postulation till today and I assure you they will not even survive it many years to come. Go and write it down, they will not survive it many years to come because at the appropriate time, APC will put its house together.
What is your general advise to Deltans and politicians as we approach elections year?
One, we must not play politics of desperation. Let us play politics when you come to tell the people that it is for my people not when you get there it become for you and your clan but you come out in the name of Deltans but it becomes in the name of your clan before any other person and your family. Two, Deltans are wiser and I think my advice to them is shine your eyes… So, we should know better. If they come again saying we are this, we are that, we are accessible, we are humble and you can talk to me. You know that they are lying because they have tested the humble and accessible persons and they have seen how disappointed they are. They should know that deceitful demeanors have nothing to do with competence. Clearly, we have seen crass incompetence and they know the difference. So, Deltans are wiser, my advice is as they go towards 2019 politically, they should open their eyes and ensure that he that they want to vote in actually have them in mind not the one who deceives them and come in disguise that he is for them and at the end of the day, it is poverty for all Deltans.