Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Turned between transparency and jeopardising national security – Oji 

Dr. Ejike Oji  is a medical practitioner  with  over three decades of experience. He is also a social entrepreneur, working to empower communities. He had worked at the international level and facilitated some health programmes that benefited Nigerians, especially women,  his passion to serve his people and make life better for them influenced his interest to participate in politics.  He will be representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi federal constituency of Abia State in the House of Representatives. His initial plan was to run on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but he latter dumped the party for All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He gives reasons for his action, and the programmes he intends to execute while in office, in this interview with CHIOMA UMEHA.
Dr. Ejike Oji
Can you shed more light on your background, especially place of origin, schooling, degrees, professional experience/career pursuit and goals?

I was born to the family of Mazi B.A. Oji and Helen Ogbealu Oji of Ndi Oji compound Umudinja, Amaeke Ovim of Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State. I am married to Hon. Justice Chizoba Oji and blessed with four (4) wonderful children. I have worked for 34 years as a physician and a social entrepreneur, working to empower communities, safeguard the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, and to build the capacities of young people in health and sustainable development.

I have extensive experience in medical practice and consultancy, advocacy, and project and events management. I have over 20 years of international development experience. I have worked as a medical officer in multiple health facilities and was at one time the National Coordinator for the National Program for Prevention of Blindness. I have organized and facilitated several national and international medical conferences, workshops and seminars. Additionally, I am a fundraising advisor for the Nigeria Red Cross and Chair of the Fund Raising Committee at the University of Nigeria.

You recently resigned your position, as the Country Director, Ipas Nigeria, and you decided to go into politics. What informed your decision?

I joined Ipas international in 2002, and worked as its country director until 2013. Ipas is an international non-governmental organization that specializes in women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and my work at Ipas took me to over twenty countries around the world, and earned me over thirty awards in the area of women’s health and rights.

During my time at Ipas, I worked with colleagues to derive the midwifery scheme in its current form, which helped Nigeria get a grip on maternal mortality. This midwifery scheme resulted in a 50% reduction in maternal mortality in less than half a decade and led to Nigeria receiving a number of awards & more importantly aid & investment dollars in health. I was also part of a key lobby for National Health Bill from 2007, facilitating engagement, input & pressure on the bill. I was among the pioneer groups of activists that developed & pushed for the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill. I was part of a key lobby that pushed US congress to release millions of aid dollars for women’s health in Nigeria.

Over the years, I realized that all of these works, and the many achievements that followed, were milestones that would have been achieved faster for Nigerian women, if we had sufficient political will. This meant for me that I could make the lives of millions of Nigerian women better from inside the political theater, than I would as an international development expert on the outside.

You mentioned that you want to represent your constituency in the House of Representatives. Which constituency do you belong?

I am the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Candidate for the Federal House of Representatives for the Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Constituency of Abia State.

What program do you have for your constituency?

What I have for my constituency and for Nigerians is a promise built on a clear understanding of the responsibilities of a representative: Law-making, oversight, attracting federal presence and investment to their constituency.

My Policy & Legislation lobby work for the National Health Bill, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill and towards the US congress to release millions of aid dollars for women’s health in Nigeria, provide me with key experience with Law-making. My passion for pro-poor laws in addition, can only be a huge plus for any potential congress member.

I have over two decades of Project Management experience and I have also worked extensively in events management. All of these require financial & technical oversight. I worked as country director for a leading international NGO in women’s sexual & reproductive health & rights, Ipas, for eleven years. These experiences, and a track record of integrity, provide me with the right skill set to work in Oversight.

In addition to working with colleagues to develop the midwifery scheme, I devised, approved & supervised hundreds of projects in women’s health across nineteen states of the federation, during my time at Ipas. All these projects were created on sound foundations, and attracted foreign Development Aid and Investment. Such experience for a potential congressman can only benefit my constituency & that of other legislators who needs the support.

Over the years, I have created numerous youth & women empowerment programs, including microcredit for widows. All of these, I did with my personal resources, over the years. In that regard, there is almost no doubt that I will attract federal presence to the constituency.

On these key areas, the members of my constituency and the Nigerian public can be rest assured of effective representation in the lower house of the Nigerian congress.

How is your agenda different from that of other candidates in your constituency?

My experiences are different from those of the other candidates. Along with the numerous recognitions that I have earned for myself, for my constituency and for Nigeria, I have a clear plan of how I will make these experiences come to bear in National Assembly, to the benefit of my constituency and the Nigerian public. My agenda differs from those of the other candidates, on that premise.

Why do you think your agenda is the most important thing for your constituency, especially now?

Over the years, my constituency has suffered from poor representation and sub-standard governance. Over the years, we have organized visitations and community wide consultations, and the feedbacks we got from the communities are unanimous: They want more effective representation, and they want it from someone with a track record of delivering for the masses. So my agenda is also largely built on what my constituency has clearly expressed as their need, over the last few years.

How do you plan to ensure that you deliver your promises and give dividends of democracy/development to your constituency?

My 20 years of international development experience, has imbibed me with the skills to achieve set out goals, and to devise robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, to keep us on track towards our goals. In this regard, my team and I are already setting out a clear strategic plan with deliverables and measurable outcomes for the constituency. This strategic plan will birth tactical plans, once we are officially handed the mandate.

What influence your decision to take part in politics?


I am contesting on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The party represents community-centered leadership in its motto of being your brother’s keeper.

You were once a member of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and what informed your decision to dump the party for APGA?

Many of us, had worked so hard to foster unity, transparency and strength of character within the party echelons of the PDP, over the last years. I had in particular worked tirelessly to bring my international development experience to bear, so as to curb impunity and promote progress within and outside the party.

However, following a series of unsatisfactory and undemocratic events within the party, I came to the conclusion that membership of the party was not tenable for me at the time. I felt that any leading political party within the country must be transparent and promote internal democracy. In the absence of that, no party can lay claim to fostering democracy across the nation, and I would not want to be a part of that.

You said that you were adopted as a consensus candidate. Was it under APGA or PDP? What informed your choice as a consensus candidate?


I had initially set out to contest for the election, under the umbrella of the PDP, and this consensus candidate issue was for the PDP. However, my ward and local government had a number of interested candidates. The ward & local government wings of my party decided to organize issue based debates and informal vetting and voting for the candidates, to allow the members of the party consolidate and produce a consensus candidate.

I won both contests in a resounding manner, getting more votes than the total number got by all the other aspirants put together. However, as things turned out in the PDP, my integrity and hunger for participatory democracy mandated that I contest on a different platform.

Do you stand a chance of winning with the new platform you have just joined?

It is an election, and anyone can win. However, I am my people’s choice and this will be clear at the polls.

What are the challenges you are facing since you declare your interest to run?

To be honest, I have had few challenges, and rather it gives me more reasons to be motivated and to renew my commitment. Every day on the campaign trail, I see the people in my constituency who could have benefitted from better legislation and policies, and more federal presence and especially international development aid. They remind me of why I became a doctor. They remind me of why I went into international development. They remind me of why I am in Politics. They have chosen me to lead and help make their lives better. They make me forget all the little challenges.

What is your assessment of the campaigns generally?


The on-going campaigns have been intense, and have sometimes even gone overboard.

This is not surprising, but is an opportunity for us, as community leaders to reach out to Nigerians, calling out to them to participate in the elections, to vote peacefully and to protect their votes peacefully. Nobody’s political ambition should be worth the life and physical well being of another Nigerian, so we must encourage peace and calmness, as people execute their electoral duties.

What is your assessment of the on-going campaigns by the two Presidential candidates? Can you predict their chances? 
 
There are 14 Presidential candidates, and many of them are running very strong campaigns. I wish them all the best.

The most important thing must be that whoever gets elected, will with all the other candidates to build a Nigeria with better security, employment opportunities, healthcare, education, Power and wider development.

Of course, my party, as its candidate, has adopted President Jonathan and he is running a very robust campaign. We will continue to give him the necessary support.

Some believe that, the polity is unnecessarily being overheated and the election may be postponed? Do you subscribe to the postponement?

INEC have reiterated that it does not plan to postpone the elections, and it is working very hard to conduct credible elections. The onus should be on all of us to support them and work together in this regard. The country belongs to all of us, and we must support the available institutions, to the benefit of all.

Propaganda is on the increase on how to stem   insecurity and eradicate corruption in the country; many believe that these are mere gimmicks and may not translate to reality. What do you feel about that?

I believe that many people do not know what is going on, and a typical case is national security; there is a thin line between transparency and jeopardizing security operation.
 
 
This story was published in Newswatch Times.

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