HoR Speakership: Why Equity, Justice, And Gender Balancing Favour Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha
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By Rommy IMAH
“A four-time member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Onyejeocha represents many shades of national opinion, especially the much talked about gender issue. Put together with her rich political background as a grassroots politician, a former Local Government Chairman and an effective legislator, she is eminently qualified to represent her zone and to serve the country as a whole.”
-Aaron Artimas, Coordinator, North East APC Forum of Public Relations Officers
It’s been argued that throughout history, women have been battling against inequality and discrimination. They have died for their right to vote, suffered gross misconduct and generally been sidelined because of their gender. And yet, along the way, they have continued to fight for equality and to make their voice heard, whatever the risks.
Perhaps, this is enough background to back the interest shown by the member representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, Hon. Lady Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, viewed in some quarters as more than a passing interest.
Hon. Onyejeocha, one of the very active members of the House, is unarguably the highest ranking member of the Federal House of Representatives from the South East geo-political zone. She is currently serving her third term having been first elected into the House in 2007, and has since then won reelection into the House in 2011 and 2015. On February 23, this year, she was once more reelected into the House.
It is on the basis of this rich legislative background alone that she has declared her interest to contest for the speakership of the Federal House of Representatives, though not only for the massive experience but for the fact that in her opinion, it was time that a woman is given the opportunity in Nigeria to lead the Green Chambers.
Few weeks ago, while presenting her manifesto for speakership titled: “Seeking Your Support,” Hon. Onyejeocha, currently House Committee Chairman on Aviation, provided further insight into her reasons for vying for the exulted office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives erroneously mistaken in this part of the world to be the exclusive preserve of the male folk.
“I believe I possess the requisite legislative skills, knowledge, experience and temperament to be Speaker of this great House. Given the opportunity, I would improve on communication with the general public, facilitate improved internal communications among members, adopt a legislative agenda with a clear framework for compliance and monitoring and ensure improved lawmaking.
“A number of key reform bills were proposed, considered and passed in the 8th House of Representatives, chief among them are the constitutional amendment bills, which contained significant amendments such as financial independence for counterpart in the state i.e state assemblies. A number of some constitution amendments were not assented to while some other key reform bills were not concluded or adopted by the 8th House with its term running out.
“These include bills such as the Police Reform Bill, Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB), Universal Basic Education Act amendment Bill, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) Bill, Audit Bill, Witness Protection Bill etc. I will work to ensure that these bills are revisited,” Onyejeocha assured.
Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha is not new to the workings of government having worked at various levels in her home state Abia. For instance, she was appointed Commissioner for Resource Management and Manpower Development in July 2002, where she worked tirelessly to reactivate the skills acquisition programme in the state. And one year after, she was appointed the Executive Transition Committee Chairman for Umunneochi Local Government Area of the State.
As TC Chairman of Umunneochi LGA, she confronted the challenges posed her local government with such proactive measures such that she embarked on erosion control projects, rehabilitation of feeder roads, and promotion of peace and security within the LGA bordered by four states in the South East.
When between 2007 and 2011, she chaired the newly created Committee on Women in Parliament, she galvanized the female parliamentarians as a bloc to deal with issues of gender, children and the underprivileged- issues she is so passionate about and has continued to address up till today within and outside the legislative chambers.
As Chairman of the Committee on Aviation since 2011, Hon. Onyejeocha chairs a committee adjudged as very effective in its oversight functions which has led to the upgrading of Nigeria’s domestic and international airports to meet international standards. Same way the committee has ensured that the issues of safety in the aviation sector are given priority attention by airline operators.
Like Michelle Obama, former US first lady would say, “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”
This statement by the former first lady was evident when a former Aviation minister from Hon. Onyejeocha’s geo-political zone was undergoing probe by the House. She never compromised her integrity even in the face of mouthwatering overtures. She relegated ethnic relationship and solidarity to the background and insisted on discharging her oversight functions without fear or favour. She never cared about what even people from her geo-political zone said.
Already, some groups are drumming support for Hon. Onyejeocha’s election as Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives.
Proactive Gender Initiatives, a civil rights group, through its National Coordinator, Ms. Esther Uzoma, a lawyer, said a female should be made a Speaker in the 9th House of Representatives, as it would be a huge boost to all Nigerian women, arguing that presently, a female lawmaker, Rep. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC-Abia), who declared to vie for the position recently, was most qualified to be the number two person in the National Assembly hierarchy.
“Number one, we are rooting for a female Speaker because in the National Assembly, we have one female who is a fourth-term member. She is a person of integrity and she has proven legislative experience. She is competent. Secondly, she is from the ruling party and so far, the balance of power has not favoured her region.
“If you look at the hierarchy of principal officers as presently proposed, it appears to favour one region to the exclusion of others. So, it is necessary, in the spirit of democracy, in the spirit of inclusiveness, that persons from her region should also be considered.
“Thirdly, we are supporting her because of her sex. Nigeria is a democratic nation that has passed into law the Federal Character Commission Act. So, we want the tenets of the Federal Character to be considered and to also consider the National Gender Policy that provides that the government in all its appointments should at least concede 35 per cent to women,” she said.
Only on Thursday, April 11, 2019, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Northeast threw its weight behind agitations by the Southeast to get the national leadership of the party zone the Office of Speaker, House of Representatives to its side, and declared its support for the only aspirant to the office from the zone, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.
While declaring its support for the South East to produce the next Speaker, the group said: “The South East is craving for better participation and representation in the present political dispensation. The major crux of their demand is to enable the party to grow in that region going forward. This has nothing to do with the presumed low patronage of the party in the region. We believe that it is very appropriate to give them this wonderful opportunity so as to carry all parts of the country along.
“As we all know, Nigeria has always stood on a political tripod, anchored on by the three founding political regions, namely, the West, East and the North, which have now been further unofficially devolved into six geopolitical zones. The implication of this, is that every political region should be given its own right of equal participation as envisioned by the founding fathers of our country.
“It is in line with all the above that we the forum of APC Public Relations officers of the North East sub-region wish to align and identify with our counterpart in the southeast in their agitation to shift the post of the Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives to their region. The South East APC Public Relations Officers have already issued a press statement endorsing, Honourable Nkeiruka C. Onyejeocha as Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives.”
A public commentator, Moses Nna writing in The Nation Newspaper in 2017, described Onyejeocha thus: “She is frank to a fault, but very compassionate. Her motherly touch to legislative business and harvests of results are really pace-setting. Her country home, Ngodo Isuochi, is a Mecca of sorts for those in need of succour. Indeed, the recent award of excellence by the Authority Newspaper, along with other performing public officers in Nigeria, is indicative of her towering personality. More powers to her elbow!”
Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha’s House Speakership will no doubt position the ruling APC for a much more stronger presence in the South East ahead of the 2023 general elections. It will give the South East that much needed sense of belonging generally viewed as being absent in the current Buhari administration.
Like Joanne Ciulla once opined, “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”
Equity, justice and gender balancing therefore, demand that Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha be elected the next Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives.