Stella Oduah, a senator from Anambra north, says she’s among the best public officers to have ever headed Nigeria’s aviation ministry. Oduah also says that having witnessed poverty in the communities she represents, she is determined to drive laws that will end the deprivation. In this interview with TheCable, Oduah talks about her work at the senate, and a bit about herself.
Your profile on the national assembly website says your focus is to legislate towards best standard of living and equity, what will you say has been your achievement at the senate so far?
Legislative wise, I have been able to prioritise and mainstream policies and laws that will address the inadequacies and gaps that exist in rural communities. During the campaign, I took time to ensure that I visited every community. I have 59 communities in my zone and I visited every single one of them. So, I understand the extent of deprivation, of degradation… the poverty; it is so alarming. If you ask me today to paint the face of poverty, I can close my eyes and paint it. So when I talk about policies and laws that will address these gaps, I am not just being theoretical and I am saying and driving it because I know I have seen them, and I have lived with them, so I know what they feel.
Critics say your constituency project bill is an avenue for lawmakers to steal money, giving the fact that funds for constituency projects have been diverted in the past; can you explain what this bill really entails?
I think they are not just being fair, either because they have not read or because they have failed to understand. And I will make an excuse for them to say they probably they don’t understand what constituency project is. And what is constituency project? It is about those projects that are domiciled in our communities. It is about those projects that will bring infrastructural development. That will bring and bridge the gap that exists in our development. For instance, it is impossible for the minister of budget and planning to know all the communities in Nigeria. It is even impossible for him to even spell my community, and probably your community. He is just a human being. And so the only way you can address that is through constituency project development, and that will come through the various representatives of the people who know what the gaps are, how they are, and so know how and what to prioritise.
I think for us to have a bottom-up, holistic development in Nigeria, we must mainstream and prioritise our community development through constituency projects.
What is constituency?
They are those we represent, the communities. Don’t forget too, the legislature doesn’t execute. They don’t implement. The executive will have to implement it. All that will be required of legislators in constituency project is to identify where these projects will be domiciled. It is for me to say for instance, that my community needs water, and not a school. And so because I know the communities, and I live with them, I can identify their needs, and make sure that the projects are executed. But the processes for the award of contracts, and whom they are awarded to, are not the business of the legislators.
Have you considered the drawback of your independent candidacy bill – one of which is that it may make running for political office a free-for-all?
I don’t think so. There will be criteria. It has worked in the US. Indeed, it is a global best practice. If you bring it back home it will give the electorate the opportunity to choose who they want. We may not like political party B or political party C, but we like this individual. So, people will have direct access to choose their leaders. It will also remove the issue of imposition. It will not be a free-for-all. The best will emerge.
You were one of the ministers in the cabinet of former President Goodluck Jonathan, if you looked back is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
I think with all sense of humility, I was one of the best ministers to ever serve in aviation. The evidence is there. I didn’t do it because I was just a minister. I coined the word “transformation”, and I wanted transformation to be personified. I wanted it to be on the record that indeed we can transform. All we need to do is to ensure that we do all we have to do and think outside the box. If you remember how Abuja, Lagos and Enugu airports used to be. We did a holistic transformation. Again, it is just to prove that transformation is doable. All it requires is hard work and good people to implement the strategy.
What are the challenges you face as a female legislator? Do you face intimidation from male colleagues?
That doesn’t exist. I think it is about mutual respect. At the senate, gender issues do not arise. What arises is the extent of your competence and capacity.
How do you handle criticisms?
Oprah [Winfrey] said several times, if you don’t want to be talked about, then you have to do away with success. So, it comes with the package. People say and write hurtful things about you; they forget that you have children. The world is a global village, so your children read them and your children’s friend read them too. For me as a person, I think no one can give me a name that is not mine. It is me who will define me. That makes it easy for me to live with it. It annoys me sometimes – because I wish they could just ask me.
God shall continue to bless and sustain you in all ramifications.. Ada Ada Ndigbo.