Honourable Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama is the Chairman, House Committee on Culture & Tourism, member representing Oredo Federal Constituency, Edo State. In this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, he shares the story of his journey through politics, his personal life and views on the state of the nation. Excerpt…
Tell us what your experiences have been joining others to make laws for the nation.
It has been a truly amazing experience. Firstly, the consciousness that my people chose me to represent them and help them secure a better deal from the ‘Nigerian Project’ daily gives me a new appreciation of this responsibility and inspires the constant zeal to deliver for them. For the time I have been here, I have learnt so much. Particularly, I have been able to develop a key skill that every legislator must have to achieve any reasonable success-Relationship Building. Informal lobbying among legislators is a vital exercise on which our individual activities depend. Whatever you need to push in the house, whether it’s a bill, motion or projects for your people, you need the support of other members often times to achieve success. So thankfully, I have built wide relationships in the house which has helped me attract a lot in terms of projects for my people, and progress on some of my bills and motions.
My time in the house has also given me a clearer and better understanding of our nation. I’m better positioned now to see the immense potentials we have and the areas that hamper us from achieving those potentials. I understand other tribes, cultures and people better. So much to say about this experience but it is one I will forever be grateful to my people for.
You are representing Oredo under the PDP which is now in the minority back home, how are you enjoying the moment compared to when your party ruled at both the state and national levels?
Well, my party has been out of state governance back home for nine years now, so it is really not new. I also wasn’t in government when my party ruled the state and country, so I really can’t make a comparison as you have said. But the truth is when it comes to serving to make life better for the people, one really must transcend party lines and place the people first. Of course, I must confess that it is an advantage for a lawmaker when he has his party also at the helm of affairs. Firstly, there is a larger tendency to have uniformity of ideas and policy direction, and one also gets more support at the state level for some of the interventions facilitated from the National Assembly. In all, what is most important is the support of the people who are more concerned about enjoying a better life than which really which party rules.
A legislator’s primary interests aside making laws should bother more on the youth, women empowerment and generally the welfare of constituents. How much have you been able to affect lives in this regard?
A legislator’s primary concern is securing a better deal from the Nigerian project for the people he represents. That influences everything he does including the laws he proposes or seeks to amend. The question always should be “how does this make life better for my people”.
My engagement with the very enlightened Oredo people has been very robust. Through my various and regular engagement with my constituents starting from campaigns through regular meeting with groups and physical visits to the streets and communities (a first by any lawmaker in Edo State and I dare say Nigeria), I know what I should be doing at the National Assembly and back home.
Firstly, I have opened various channels of communication between my constituents and I. I have one of the most effective and functional constituency offices. It’s located in a befitting facility that was commissioned by the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara and was significant enough to have been listed among the ‘Star Performers’ in the Speaker’s publication to mark one year of legislative activities in the House. I also run very solid and responsive social media platform where I personally engage contributors on several issues. All these are in addition to the fact that my phone number is publicly available for anyone to reach me on. I am in constant touch with specific needs of my Oredo constituents. More specifically, I have been able to facilitate the renovation of several of our schools and the construction of an ultra-modern girls’ secondary school-one of the 13 initiated by the Federal Government across the country-through the Universal Basic Education. This particular project is sited in Okhuoromi community, one of the small communities that make up the expansive Iyekogba community that hasn’t felt much infrastructural presence from the state or federal government. I have also facilitated the provision of a healthcare centre in Ulemon, another of its rural communities. I have facilitated the provision of ICT training centers in some of our schools.
On a more personal level, I provided three state-of-the-art ambulances to ensure Oredo constituents access medical attention quickly at any time and at no cost. Through the Ogbeide-Ihama Foundation, we initiated a Women Empowerment Programme, through which we have provided financial grants to 1000 women to boost their small businesses. We intend to extend the grant to about 9,000 more. I have provided several empowerment materials to constituents including the now popular ‘OYES Taxi Scheme’ where we provided vehicles at no cost to individuals under the Oredo Youth Engagement Scheme to run taxis. I currently have several children on scholarships and my office has been able to facilitate the employment of Oredo constituents in various government agencies and departments.
You are an expert and a big player in oil and gas which hitherto was believed to be the blessing of the nation, are you not worried that it is gradually becoming the source of the country’s problems, how did we get here and what solutions would you proffer?
We got here because we failed as a leadership to plan. Our biggest failure was not taking concrete steps early to diversify our economy. By ignoring to harness the immense potentials available in other income generating sectors like agriculture, tourism, entertainment and solid minerals, successive governments made us over dependent on oil and this gave birth to several other socio-economic problems we are dealing with today.
The solutions remain a committed decision and consistent policy direction towards diversification of our revenue sources. On a more professional note, there has to be more encouragement for indigenous oil companies to participate in land and deep sea oil exploration.
Share the memories of those childhood moments with parents and siblings.
Some of the best times of my life remain my growing years. Today, looking back at those times, I see how my family system prepared me for where I am today. A combination of my dad’s traditional influences, my mum’s strong disciplinary tendencies, and a Christian family environment, played various roles in guiding the decisions I make even up till now.
My parents taught me two key values in life; one, that whatever I set out to do, I must keep trying till I succeed. Two, to always share what I have, no matter how little with those who don’t have at all and to always be willing to help those who need help from me.
At what point did you decide to play active politics and what actually encouraged you into it?
At childhood, it seemed inevitable that I would end up in active politics. It had always been my way to extend help to others from the resources God had generously blessed me with. Public service offered a bigger platform for me to render wider-reaching and more sustainable interventions for my people. As to what actually triggered a concrete action in contesting for office, I would say the consciousness that my people didn’t seem to have a loud and vibrant enough voice to speak for them and secure a better deal from the Nigerian project. You must understand the peculiarity and importance of Oredo as the heart of Edo. Apart from accommodating the state capital, Oredo federal constituency is home to our highly revered Oba and the palace, the seat of government, the economic nerve centre of the state, and several remote communities that haven’t felt any kind of government presence. Who represents Oredo at the federal legislature has to be someone with a peculiar mindset, conviction and drive.
Also central to my decision to enter active politics was the glaring realization that the younger generation I represent was seriously being short-changed. We need more young people in active politics to offer a newer, fresher and more contemporary approach to solutions.
What’s your ultimate target in the public service and do you run your private businesses now that you are very much involved in politics?
Like I always say concerning political service, power belongs to God and the people. I really do not have a target. I will go as far as God and the people decide I should go.
By law, and to avoid conflict of interests, I took my hands off the management of the businesses I was involved in when I got prepared for public office.
What’s your favourite designer brand of wristwatch, dress, shoes and choice car brand?
I have always been a smart dresser, but my personal style has always been more inspired by comfort and trends rather than specific brands. I wear any nice wristwatch, and shoe as long as it looks good. I must also highlight that since I got into public office, my dress style has tended more heavily in the direction of contemporary native wears.
Again, for cars, I’m really not into brands. Any car that is comfortable and sound, works just well for me.
Tell us about your wife and kids and when do you have more time to enjoy leisure with them.
The importance of family can never be over emphasized. My wife has been a source of strength and support, very prayerful, hardworking even as she holds the home front as a wife and mother of our 13-month old daughter. Remember, behind any successful man is a supportive wife like mine and our daughter Esosa whose name means ‘God’s gift’ remains the center of our world. I always create time in spite of my very tight schedule to spend time with my family because the joy I derive from being with them is a driver to my focus and success at work. They are a key component of my success and output.
What drives your ‘can-do’ spirit?
Strong determination, deep inner convictions and God-inspired faith.
When you prefer to be with just friends, how do you like to enjoy your leisure?
Talking, chatting, debating, exchanging ideas and proffering solutions.
How would you assess the Buhari-led government?
I have come to understand from my time in politics that the promises made by a party or candidate during campaigns are usually a major basis for assessing his performance.
On that point, you will agree that a fair sampling of opinions of average Nigerians on the streets will show a general disappointment with the way things are run presently.
One can also make the excuse for the government that they made those promises from an ‘outside’ position. Managing a country like Nigeria with all of its complexities is not a child’s play and one cannot get a grasp of its enormity by what he perceives from outside. The ruling party is also new in governance and naturally has to pass through a learning process that has given rise to some of the difficulties being faced by citizens presently. We just hope they learn faster and the pressure on the people is reduced as quickly as possible. It should be open to new ideas and welcome help from any source it can find even if it’s from the opposition. The government must also see the other arms and institutions of government as partners in progress and not competitors. Governance gets to a point where ego must be suppressed and the benefit of the people must be made the focus.