May We Meet You Sir?
Ok, well as you know my names are Kemela Okara and I am from Yenagoa Local Government Area in Bayelsa State. I am a lawyer by training, for over 20 years, I have also been very active as a pastor for the past 15 years or more and I also recently authored a book and as you know I was the Gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria-ACN in the February 11th 2012 Election in Bayelsa State. I am married with four children and that is who I am.
Being a lawyer and a pastor, we are inquisitive to know what actually led you into politics. Why politics?
I feel that politics is too important to be left alone to professional politicians. In Nigerian politics, a lot of people who are involved are people who have made politics a profession. Politics is a unique vocation for public service and my life predominantly has been about public service. Side by side to being a lawyer, I have spent a considerable amount, possibly may be 50 percent of my time also working as a pastor. A lot of focus on what I have done is really for public service and Nigeria or more specifically Bayelsa state, is in desperate need of leaders who truly have the People’s interest at heart, who truly want to give the people of my state dignity and this is why I got involved in politics. I felt that the condition of the people of my state was nothing to write home about, poverty everywhere and very difficult circumstances; people living with such poverty in midst of the kind of wealth being generated by oil, and so I felt that it is important to get involved, to bring in that human face to the politics in the state; to bring the dimension that really put people at the centre, for the interest of the people, so that is why I got involved in politics
Throughout your politicking process, and while the exercise lasted, what was your central message and what was that burden driving you into this despite the negative things we hear about politics and politicians.
I think my central message was, is and has always been restoring dignity to the people. Our people need dignity. If you look, if you come to Bayelsa state over 70% of the people live in abject poverty and that is unacceptable considering the potentials the state has, it’s unacceptable. And I feel the reason why that has prevailed is because we haven’t had leaders who believe in giving people their dignity. Every human being deserves dignity and what does dignity involve? You at the very least provide people with the basic essentials of life; access to clean drinking water, good health care facilities, access to good education, the expectation that you, after a good education, get a decent job, be able to start a business, I think these are the basic components of giving people dignity, if you ascribe to dignity and when that is lacking, then you don’t really respect people, you don’t really have compassion for people and that was and has always been my central message.
For someone who has been actively involved in Bayelsa politics what can you say now, looking at the outcome of all the results, the court verdict between Sylva and Dickson and even the results both contestable and incontestable? What can you say of the process?
Well, first of all we were very disappointed with the result of the elections, it is truly clear for many reasons that the result is seriously flawed. To begin with, the president himself had said that there was low voter turnout on that day and at the end of the day when the votes were all tied up we now have a voters’ turnout which is even higher than the norm. Where you have high voters’ turn out and most necessarily high voter turn out we will be looking at a turn up between 50 & 60% that is considered high voter turnout in Bayelsa state. Where they said it was low voter turnout to about 73 % was the case so what does that tell you? It tells you that the figures were doctored and the votes ascribed to us was basically because there was a fear that A.C.N clearly, by our performance in the campaign, were a force to be reckoned with. So every attempt was made to make it look as if it was irrelevant on ground, but that doesn’t tell the truth about what was on ground. But be that as it may, we are committed to working in the long term interest of our people, irrespective of what they have said the election results have been. We are committed and we are going to keep working until we see the condition of things improve. Talking about the recent Supreme Court decision, well as the Supreme Court said that was an internal PDP matter whether to fail Sylva or not is an entire PDP matter, that is a decision of supreme court and am not a member of PDP so I am not in the position to be able to really debate if that was the right decision or wrong decision, that is why the supreme court said it was internal to them alone and we have to leave it like that. As regards the state, going forward I think the best option for us is to ensure that we provide the people of the state what I will call constructive opposition, we must act as the champion of the people’s interest because in the last 12,13yrs of our return to democracy the people of the state have not seen evidence of democracy, what is the hope that with the election of Governor Dickson, that will change? There is no guarantee so what we will do having committed the elections to the political process, is to ensure that we hold this government accountable to the things they promised.
Before we go into what you want to do, can you tell us why the ACN did not contest the electoral results of the election or was it a bilateral decision of your party?
Well, as you know unfortunately today even when you have good cases you find out that many times the out come of court decisions may not favour you, that has happened on several occasions. Recently we had a scenario where the Federal High Court in Asaba said that Ibori had no case to answer only for him to be convicted and sent to jail for 13yrs in London. So there is a crisis of confidence in the judiciary presently and we can’t run away from that fact; for the common man there is a feeling that justice may not always be obtained currently in Nigeria today. So this is a huge crisis of confidence and we are mindful of that crisis of confidence and we asked ourselves should we not focus our resources on things that can improve the lives of our people rather than going to the court and finding out the odds that stands against you, because there are huge challenges with the way the whole election petition process is being conducted. These are big issues today on the ground we are not on the mindful of that fact. So where there is a crisis in confidence we then look at that and decide that is our best interest to pursue what we feel will advance the cause of our people from a different, typical point of view by them holding this government accountable about what they said they will do. The long and short of what am saying is that there is a crisis of confidence regarding the delivering of justice in Nigeria today.
With this example and with you coming from the legal arm, what do you think is the hope of the judiciary in Nigeria?
It is quite a tragedy, my father was a judge so for me it is actually a tragedy that even a lot of the decision that have come out of the Nigerian Judicial Commission(NJC) have shown that corruption has become a part of the Nigerian judiciary, unfortunately it is a huge tragedy but that is the truth and the hope of the judiciary really rests on the leaders; that is the judge of the supreme court and the chief judge of different states leading by example, showing that their integrity is unquestionable; every thing rises and falls on leadership
If we have as I do believe we do, judges at the Supreme Court level, at the court of appeal level and at the state level and federal high court; who are of integrity, who have a desire to see that justice is not only done but seen to be done. I know we have judges at all levels that have not been corrupted in terms of their service. Now we need to have such judges continue to be steadfast in their role as defenders of the judiciary because the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, we need to have them steadfast not only in standing for what is right in the judiciary, but we need to have them standing steadfast in also helping to uncover acts of bribery and corruption within the system. So we need them to play two roles; we need them to continue to uphold the law and we need them to also act in the interest of everyone by exposing judges from within their ranks who are corrupt.
Now back to holding them accountable like you said, how does your Party intend to hold the ruling party accountable in the state of Bayelsa?
What we intend to do first of all is to review every thing this government, that is Governor Dickson and his team, intend or have said they will do, from the budget to the agenda they set out to accomplish in his four years tenure. Our strategy will be on a regular basis, perhaps on a quarterly basis to review what they are doing side by side with what they’ve said they will do. One, to see whether they are doing what they said they will do, two, if they are doing it, to see whether they are actually achieving the results they said it will achieve and if it is not, to request that they give an account as to why it is not working the way they said it will work. So the whole essence of what am saying is that we are going to measure to see whether the change you said you will bring about has happened and if not, we want to know why and where possible we will actually, because we will also do our own home work in asking ourselves what and what can be done in various areas that we feel are priority to bring about change in the state, like education, like health care. For instance the Governor has said that he is declaring an emergency on education ok. You said that some months ago when you made your inaugural speech as a Governor, what steps have you taken to match your words with action? If you said that you have declared a state of emergency on education, what have you done so far to show that you have really declared an emergency, so by our next outing with the press when we are doing our quarterly review of what is happening in the state, we will be asking the Governor what have you done to show you have declared an emergency? What steps have you taken to begin to show that you are serious about tackling the fact that we have a crisis in education? We have less than 3% of the population to get at least 5 credits from WAEC or NECO, that is a huge crisis to education, that is over 97% failure rate. What are you doing to ensure that the average Bayelsan in government has the secondary education? At least a majority of these people coming out in secondary school are getting the minimum of five credits or more in exams. That is what we intend to do in holding them accountable.
Also while holding them accountable, I want to ask, what should be the role of the opposition, I mean generally in Nigeria, what is your assessment of the opposition, how are they faring?
I think the opposition has always seen their roles only in times of an election, so most times opposition parties are active only when an election is about to hold and that is unfortunate because politics is not just about winning or losing elections. Politics is about public service and one of the key areas in which anybody involved in politics can positively contribute is after the elections have held and there is somebody who is a winner. You must play a role to make sure that the winner does what he says he will do. They wouldn’t mind who is going to hold them accountable, we know that the electorate and electoral body do not have the tools for holding them accountable and many of our elections are full of rigging and all kinds of electoral malpractices, so who is going to hold the politicians accountable anyway? Who is going to be there for the people? So my message is that we want to be the champion of the people’s interest because we know that without us they won’t have anybody who is there for them and that is the role we play.
And what are you doing presently to ensure that this role is effectively played?
The first thing we did was immediately after the yuletide celebration in April. We sent out an Easter greeting to the entire state where we announced on Radio, Television and Print Media that we are going to hold the Government accountable. So we announced our intention to broadly hold them for the good things they say they are going to do. We pointed out to them that it is one thing to say you want to do things and another thing to do them, which is the easier part of government, to be making statements; we will do this, we will do that. The harder part is to do and for people to look back and say have you done it. We have our work cut, which is basically to keep the government on their toes and make sure they are accountable. So every quarter we are going to be having a programme called ‘My State in Review’ and that will be the programme where we will review what the government said, we will review their budget they do always say they will do, and tell people of that state whether they are doing what they say they will do.
Now bringing this to the church, there is this general idea we have about pastors, men of God going into politics and I am very sure you must have heard one or two comments from people outside saying, ‘Pastor what are you doing with this group of people’? So what has it been like for you going into politics as a pastor?
Well I think people who first of all have the problem of understanding why the pastor should involved in politics probably don’t read their Bible very well because if you look at the Bible and you look at the messages of Jesus Christ, it is about not only transforming the individual, is about the individual also being able to transform their community. Nobody leaves in a bubble in a part of the community and if Christianity is removed from the community then why was Jesus Christ here? He is the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world who are we suppose to be light? The world, what is the world? The world is made up of the system of the world Education, Politics, Business, Marriage, Children and every thing that makes up the society. It says you are the light of the world, politics need the light of God, education need the light of God, marriages need the light of God, schools need the light of God, everything needs the light of God, in fact if we don’t get involved in politics, then we would never have politics that puts people at the centre in terms of the wellbeing of the people, and that is why we as Christians must be involved in politics.
And how are you able to handle the pressure that comes with standing righteous and being a Nigerian kind of politician?
I don’t think it is any different from the challenge anybody else has in every other sector. How does somebody stand up for the principles of God in business? How do you stand up for the principles of God in marriage? How do you stand up for the principles of God in your community? It is the same challenge. If you recognized that you are the Ambassador of the kingdom, then you stay loyal to the principles of that kingdom. When people ask me that question I understand it’s because people have that feeling that politics presents peculiar challenges. But if you are ready to stand on the principle in your business you refuse to give bribe when others are giving bribe in their business, then you are rude, if you really stand on the principle in the home and you maintain your fidelity with your wife when others are not, you are well on the way. So the fundamental point is really about your way of life that accepts the fact that you must stand by the principles. A man or a woman who is not dealing with principles, you really are not ready to live because whichever way you go, you have to have principles. I mean everybody should live a life based on principles. If you don’t live your life based on principles you are in trouble because anything that comes can just blow you left, right and centre, so I don’t think it’s any different in politics and of course when it came to the different challenges which we faced, whether to rig or not to rig for instance, I told my supporters we are not going to be involved in rigging because I want to stand by principles. For many of them it looked like it was a foolish step we were taking, but I told them we were fighting for a long term battle and you don’t win by adopting the strategy of your opponent, you win by standing by principles and whoever stands by principles, the society always comes to reward ultimately, because the world is a world of principles, every thing we live in is upheld by principles. And we must understand that God is a God of principles, if we say we will follow Him, then we must live by His principles.
So what is the role of the church in the transformation agenda of the government?
The church is God’s agency on earth, we are God’s embassy on earth, and we are God’s representatives so our role is critical because we are the ones to communicate God’s agenda on earth. You see God has an agenda for the earth. He created that agenda for the earth and His children and who is in the best place to represent Him than His children? So the church’s role is critical in every sector, but we must do it with humility, we must do it with compassion, we must do it with love, we must do it with patience, we must do it with longsuffering because you are working against the tides. So it requires humility, patience, longsuffering, love, compassion, because the message of the church too many times is not a popular message, people who are benefiting from a wrong system don’t see any reason why they should change.
And how is the Church faring in that aspect, looking at what is on ground?
I think that is last the church has not done very well, but there is hope. Why it has not done so well is that churches often focused on themselves and lose sight of their mission to the wider society. Churches do often focus on what I call house keeping duties, managing the internal affairs of the church, this is necessary but they focus on it so much that they lose sight of the fact that there is a wider society that needs their healing touch, that needs their counsel.Tthat I think is where church is not looking. So churches need to look at the society which they live in more often, look at their communities more and identify the areas where they can bring the message of the healing, of the hope that the Gospel presents.
So generally what is your future plan, what is the future agenda having come this far, what do you have as a personal project beyond holding accountable the present government?
That is a huge responsibility which we pledged to the people, let us first discharge that one, then we will look at what next. Because what we are saying is that we are going to be the voice of the people, not only the voice of the people but we are going to be the people’s champion. That is a real responsibility and there are so many sides to this, when we have executed that, then we will now review and look at politics in the state. At the end of this government tenure, then we can say what next. It’s a pioneering role, and it’s a new role; we have to exploit its fullest potential before we can then say really what next.