‘The problem with Anambra is that there are too many leaders’
Mr. Jerry Ugokwe, an architect, Former member representing Idemili North/ South Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and initiator of the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Bill that was later signed into law, bared his mind on the poor implementation of the FOI Act, life outside the political office, politics as a calling, why his home State, Anambra has remained a theatre of unending political absurdities and other sundry issues
Are you satisfied and fulfilled with the use and implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act since it was signed into law?
I was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. The Freedom Of Information Bill was my first bill in the National Assembly. It was the very first private member bill that was sponsored on the floor of the House. I presented the Bill exactly on June 6, 1999. It was passed by the members of the House of Representatives but the Senate did not pass it before the end of the tenure of the 4th National Assembly.
I was re-elected into the House of Representatives in 2003, so I represented the Bill on June 9, 2003 and it was passed by both Chambers of the National Assembly. However, we were later informed that the Bill was either not in the list of Bills sent to President Olusegun Obasanjo for his assent or that it was missing. But because the government was winding down, nobody had the time to find out what the true position was before the end of Obasanjo’s administration and the end of the 5th National Assembly in 2007.
I didn’t return to the 6th National Assembly. I was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Austria and Nigeria’s permanent Representative in Vienna, in 2007.
I am pleased to see that Freedom of Information is now a law of the land.
However, Freedom of Information Act though now a Federal Law has not been properly utilised, particularly in the fight against corruption.
Nigerians have not taken full advantage of the Act and consequently, much of it has not been tested in our courts of law for the benefit of the common man.
Furthermore many State Assemblies have not taken time to enact Freedom of Information Law for their States to guarantee access to information to their people. My appeal is for the State Assemblies to quickly domesticate the Freedom of Information Act in their States for the benefit of their citizens.
How has life been to you since you left public office?
As you know I am a trained and licensed Architect. I am the Chairman of a Consortium of Architects and Construction Managers known as Global Group Limited. A good politician must have a second address. So I am back to my second address doing what I know and trained how to do best.
I am also still actively involved in politics at different levels and caucuses, so I am busy and there is no dull moment for me.
Are you better off now in terms of coordination and planning than when you were in public office?
There is no such difference for me, because naturally I am gifted with multi-tasking and that means that I can do so many different things at the same time without short-changing any of the tasks.
Are you missing anything outside public office?
If there is anything I miss in public life, it is the opportunity to serve to my people, Nigeria and humanity. I see public office as service to the people and that has been my guiding principle. It is all about service and now, out of public office, I still find ways of serving humanity.
How soon will you seek public office again?
I will never stop seeking public office because that is my calling. I am not called to be a businessman, I am gifted in other areas, but as a young man I realised that God has ordained me for public service.
I have been involved in public office even as a child, way back from elementary school, through University where I was the Secretary of Students Union and a Member of the Executive body of the defunct National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), during the turbulent days of student’ unionism of the famous “Ali Must Go” era. And I have never seized to be involved in service to humanity throughout my life.
Why do professionals abandon their profession after occupying public office?
I have not abandoned my profession. I am still a licensed practitioner and I am active in the professional body also. I do not know why anyone should abandon a profession he or she trained for, just because he or she has once occupied a public office. Maybe those who do such must be those who went into public offices not to serve, but to be served by the offices. If they were in public offices to serve, I have no doubt that there would be life after public office.
Can you say that politics is a profession?
For me, politics is a calling, not a profession. I am a professional Architect and a practicing politician. My routine is that whenever I am occupying public office I put everything of my personal participation in my company in a blind trust and whenever out of public office I go back to my profession.
Why has your State Anambra always remained a theatre of political absurdities?
Well, the trouble with Anambra is that there are too many leaders and no followers. Everyone is a leader and no one is a follower. There is no division of labour. As I said earlier politics is a calling and not a profession. In Anambra everyone wants to be a politician whether they are called or not. So without a proper division of labour, roles are not played right.
Where a carpenter usurps the work of a mechanical engineer what do you expect, disaster! That is why Anambra is a political theatre of political absurdities. The right thing is for those who are called to politics to be supported by others who are called to do other things and there would be mutual respect and shared responsibility for the benefit of all.
What is your immediate family members’ impression of you since you left political office?
Well, my family members all know from the beginning that I am called to service to humanity, so it does not make a difference to them whether I am in or out of public office. They know that there is no dull moment for me as far as service to humanity and country is concerned.
My wife is at peace with it and my children love me for that. My daughter Jackie has already taken after me and has been busy all her young life engrossed in the service to humanity with a bunch of her friends who share the same views, under their NGO known as Transformed to Transform Nigeria, and I am proud of her. My wife is a natural giver. My first son, Jerry II is an American football player for his University and is very intense and has no time to do anything else but to study and play American football.
My second son Joshua is in his first year in the University in New York and very committed to his studies and a goalkeeper for the University Soccer Team. So my being out of office has not changed anything much for the family, because I am still a busy bee serving humanity in any way that I can. There is no rest for the son of man.
How do you relax?
I relax by reading and writing. Right now I am writing some books and I also write a column on Sundays for an Online Newspaper, NIGERIANEWSBEAT. Try to read my columns on Sundays on www.ngerianewsbeat.com. I also enjoy playing saxophone as a means of total relaxation. I own an Alto Saxophone, which I play at my spare time. I enjoy music, I used to play the piano when I was in secondary school, but I later opted for the saxophone, which I enjoy a great deal.
What do you regret most in life?
I have no regrets. All the things I did in service to humanity, if I have any opportunity, I will do them all over again.
If there is any regret at all in my life it will be if there was any opportunity I missed unknowingly to help others, but I can assure you, I try not to miss a chance to help when I am in a position to do so. If I have missed any without recognising it, I regret it and may God forgive me.
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