By Comrade Salihu Othman Isah
As Nigerians again heads to their various polling booths in yet another general election that comes every four years, one of the areas that will attract special focus both from local and international observers and analysts is the Enugu Central Senatorial zone. The reason for this is not far-fetched. First and foremost, the election will be mainly between the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Deputy Senate President (DSP), Senator Ike Ekweremadu and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dame (Mrs.) Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, also a legal luminary alike DSP. She is the main face of the opposition in the zone at this moment. Until now, she was the Special Assistant to the President on Justice Sector Reform and the National Coordinator of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global stakeholders’ body which ensures citizen/public engagement and participation in governance which leads to the achievement of a transparency and accountability by politicians and public/civil servants. To some many, this contest can be likened to that of a David against a Goliath, the David here being Juliet versus a Goliath, here represented by Ekweremadu.
Perhaps, the interesting thing about this contest is that both gladiators are coming into the contest with very strong and intimidating pedigree, however, this write-up will not be pretentious as to bother dwelling on the resume of the incumbent and Deputy Senate President because the electorate already know him as a politician and legislator who is serving his fourth tenure and second term as DSP, he desires no more introduction. No doubt, his achievements for his people cannot be said to be commensurate with the time spent so far representing the zone in the upper legislative chamber.
I therefore crave the indulgence of readers to permit my concentration on the ‘David’ as identified by this write-up, Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu. For the benefit of those who are unaware, she is coming into the fray with a twenty-six years of post-graduate experience as an international law development expert. Before she joined the Nigerian government in 2004 in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (in fact, she was the first director of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) before its current autonomy.
As one of the few Nigerian females with rare experience at the global level having worked with such renowned outfits like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Commonwealth Secretariat, United Kingdom, the British Department for International Development (DFID) funded programs as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); she has traversed several nations in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia thereby acquiring the desired experience required to be tapped into in the service of the good people of Enugu West Senatorial zone and the nation at large.
But how did it all begin. See her intimidating credentials which I expect will help you decide your fate this February 16 senatorial poll. Dame Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1993 and has a Masters Degree in International Human Rights, Humanitarian and Criminal Law and a postgraduate certificate in anti-corruption studies, investigation and prosecution of financial and economic crimes. She is an alumnus of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Enugu Campus), Nigeria Law School, Lagos, University of Lagos, Hague Academy of International Law, Netherlands, University of Hong Kong Program on Anti-corruption, University of Salzburg, Austria’s program on International Human Rights and Humanitarian law as well as the United States International Florida Bankers’ Association. She is also an alumnus of Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education.
Further insight into her resume reveals that her experience in public service has been exemplary. Since her appointment in early 2016 as Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reform, she has since then spearheaded the implementation of various justice sector reform initiatives under the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. The reform initiatives have resulted into the development of a strategic plan for the reform of the justice sector. These achievements cut across prosecution, drafting of new policies and legislation, human rights, asset recovery and anti-corruption initiatives.
Besides, through her work on governance, she has made significant contributions to the review of laws, regulations and procedures to strengthen anti-corruption institutional and legal measures in Nigeria and globally. In addition, her nomination as the National Coordinator for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016 saw her convoking a multi-stakeholders group made up of government, civil society organizations and private sector entities to develop and co-create the first National Action Plan on Open Government in the country’s history. Ibekaku-Nwagwu not only set up the OGP Secretariat in Nigeria, the quintessential legal mind equally laid the foundation for civil society participation as equivalent partners in the governance of the nation. In appreciation of her sterling effort, in 2018; under the leadership of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Nigeria was elected into the Global Open Government Steering Committee for three years starting from October 2018. In this role, Nigeria will lead other African nations in the implementation of OGP principles across the continent. Needless to say that her commitment to the task thrown before her by the Federal Government has began to yield fruit. And going forward, she has represented the Federal Ministry of Justice on several international meetings, particularly the Board of the International Institute of Justice and Rule of Law, Malta, Europe and was nominated as a co-chair of the Board in 2018 as well as the negotiation for the return of various funds running into billions of Naira to the Federal Government of Nigeria for investment in social development programs and infrastructures.
Apparently, it will not be out of place to say Juliet is already exhibiting the mindset of a leader with soul that cares. This has been evident even before getting the official endorsement of her people. She has been touching their lives in so many unique ways through her contribution to good governance as well as social and infrastructural developments. Her disposition towards ensuring that her people have access to good healthcare, education and economic opportunities through the provision of business start-ups is legendary. This has led her to establish the J.C. Ibekaku Hope Project (JCIHP) and the Ibekaku Multi-purpose Cooperative Society as the channels.
For those who are outside the zone and don’t know of her contribution to developing her people, it may suffice to know that through her Foundation, she supported the leadership and entrepreneurial development of the girl-child, women and youths besides the award of scholarships to indigent children. Some of her interventions and assistance to the under-privileged have been extended through the entire state and beyond. Her Foundation has also provided interest free loans to rural women and men who are farmers and traders to improve access to credit and assist them in training their children in school.
Similarly, she has provided access to free medical health services for people in rural communities in the Enugu West senatorial zone. And through the J. C. Ibekaku Hope Project which is an initiative that has created several opportunities and rekindled hope for many young people in the entire state; it has equally helped several youths to rediscover their potentials for self-sustenance. That hundreds of youths have been trained and graduates assisted to secure jobs both in government and the private sector of the economy is stating the obvious. Many of the graduates through her Foundation’s economic empowerment programs have applied to learn trades that will make them self-sufficient and employer of labour subsequently. Over a hundred beneficiaries have secured employments in this direction. While not sounding immodest, she once told this writer that through her Foundation, she has sponsored two doctoral students in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. She disclosed that the third student is currently studying at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu. Also, over 50 pupils/students have benefitted and are still assessing from the scholarship/bursary funding in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. That she has added to the educational development of her people and even beyond cannot be over-emphasized.
In the economic empowerment sphere, she has also through the J. C. Ibekaku Hope Project and the Ibekaku Multi-purpose Cooperative Society improved the lives of rural women by giving skill acquisition trainings on cake, bead and liquid soap making organized in 2014-2016. Some women in communities such as Egede, Umuoka and Ngwo Uno were provided with credit support. Various women groups were empowered through training and financial assistance to register cooperatives in Enugu state so they can own their businesses. Some members of the community in rural based cooperative societies were given soft loans to shore up their businesses as well. Similarly, skill acquisition trainings were conducted for rural women while gift items such as clothing materials, bags of rice, cash donations etc were distributed to several rural poor women and men for Christmas and New Year celebrations.
She has done nothing less in the area of healthcare believing as it is said, that a healthy people is a healthy nation. To this end, her J. C. Ibekaku Hope Project successfully embarked on the 2013 International Women’s Day Health Care Outreach Program tagged, “Free Health Care for Rural Women”. To achieve this, the JCIHP collaborated with volunteer doctors and nurses to promote good health for the women and men. As a result, a total number of 250 women and 45 men were administered free drugs after comprehensive test services were conducted on them. Similarly, during the Annual Leadership Seminar in 2013, free HIV and Hepatitis B test were carried out on 115 beneficiaries that voluntarily submitted themselves for the test. JCIHP also conducted medical outreach programs for more than three thousand patients in Agwu, Aninri, Ezeagu, Oji River and Udi Local Government Areas in August 2018.
Going forward, Ibekaku-Nwagwu has already packaged and perfected laudable strategic agenda that will aid her successful performance when elected. She is aware that the primary function of a legislator is to make laws for peace, order and good governance of the nation. In her estimation, the legislator is expected by the Constitution to provide oversight functions on the executive and judicial arms of government. The legislator must work with the other two arms of government to ensure that the people of Nigeria have access to qualitative education, water, health, infrastructure and economic opportunities that will enhance their livelihood.
“I am equally aware of the principle of separation of powers that is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). However, the principle recognizes the need for the three arms of government to work in harmony in order to deliver democracy dividends for the good people of our country. It will therefore be my goal to work on an approach that is bipartisan and to cooperate with one and sundry towards the provision of good governance for our people”. She said the famous constitutional lawyer; Rosabel summarizes this principle thus, “The constitution decrees separation but the impulse of common purpose decrees unity”. The woman who is desirous to rescue Enugu West senatorial zone also explains that within her strategy, her commitment to the people of the zone is to take steps to address the challenges of industrialization, healthcare services, education facilities and youth employment.
Perusing her well articulated manifesto, she expressed her fervent wish to work assiduously with federal, state and local governments to ensure that industries that were once vibrant and the pride of the zone if elected. She listed some of the industries to include small scale agro industries across the zone such as the Premier Cashew Processing plant built in 1970 in Oghe, Ezeagu Local Government Area and the now moribund vegetable oil manufacturing company, AVOP Nachi, Udi Local Government Area. She explained that in addition to reviving the industries, she will galvanize the various communities to identify areas with abundant mineral and natural resources that will be used to power new small scale industries for the production of rice, cassava, yam and palm oil in Agwu, Aninri, and Oji River. “I will create a platform for local and strategic partnerships between government and the private sector, civil society organizations and the international development community; to promote synergy and inclusive growth in ways that ensure efficient allocation of resources that will lead to employment opportunities and sustainable poverty reduction.
She further espoused that her strategy would be to harness federal and state resources towards the provision of youth and women empowerment, infrastructure and rural community development. Hear her: “It is a well known fact that the Igbo man is as industrious as he is ingenious. The Igbo towns of Aba, Nnewi and Akwa have been designated as the technological clusters of the Igbo nation and even Nigeria by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. This is largely due to exposure, hard work, consistency and commitment of Ndigbo in those areas. I am unaware of any inhibiting factors that will prevent the good people of Enugu West Senatorial Zone, starting from the Northern Ojebe-Ogene clan to Ugwuoba in the South, from pitching our tents in the technological firmament of our own part of the country. We will sensitize, organize, encourage, empower, strengthen and harness the capacity and skills of men, women and youths in the zone”, Ibekaku-Nwagwu assured.
Furthermore, she pointed out that, “With ninth (9th) Mile Corner as a commercial hub and with its strategic location, the people of Enugu West zone cannot continue to live in penury. This area has also been described by successive administrations as a gold mine. Reports from seismic studies indicate that the areas within and around the ninth mile corner, have the best underground water in the entire West African sub region. This is why the companies engaged in the production of alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages have presence there. Some of our Enugu indigenous companies have set up bottled and sachet water production companies in that area because of this finding.
If elected as Senator for Enugu West Senatorial Zone, I hope to accomplish the following in the area of technological and industrial advancement of our people: I will visit and actualize the raw material development centre for which a site was acquired at the Nsude end of ninth Mile, during the administration of Chimaroke Nnamani as governor of Enugu State.; I will revive the export free zone earlier planned to be located at ninth mile and ensure that it is fully implemented for the benefit of traders in Enugu and across the Southeastern states; I will ensure that a skill acquisition centre for artisans is established in Oji River to support local manufacturing industries especially automobile manufacturers or those who deal on second hand vehicles. This will create an opportunity for many of our young people to be trained and retrained on modern trends in manufacturing; I will establish technology industrial zones in Aninri and Agwu Local Government Areas in collaboration with private technological firms so that our youths can rapidly understand and appreciate computing skills, software programming and how to build computer hardware. This industrial zone will also be linked to computer science departments in universities so that undergraduates are better equipped through practical exchange of knowledge with experts.”
Development of an Infrastructure Master Plan for Enugu West Zone will see her collaborating the local governments and stakeholders in the zone to develop a four-year infrastructure plan as well as ensure the completion of ongoing construction of the high way roads linking Abuja, Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri and Port Harcourt. She equally pledged to engender a development of an integrated rural development plan with emphasis on the provision of water, community feeder roads to make every community accessible. In addition, she promised to identify and address the challenges that inhibit the provision of electricity including solar.
In conclusion, the ever humble Ibekaku-Nwagwu admits she cannot achieve her dream for her zone alone, but assures that, like the great Mother Theresa who said, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples’, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate has this to say:
“My people, your support can make the difference. Let us remember that political power distribution is not about gender or ethnicity but about commitment to the social, economic and political development of our people.”
Let me say unequivocally that to buttress her above summation, she is obviously not relying on the sentiment of being a woman, an ‘Amazon’ at that; seeking to be voted for by women and youths, however, they still need to ensure she emerges as their next occupant in the red chamber. Let me reiterate here that I stake my honour to vouch for her to fulfill her promises having worked with her on several projects. My experience with her proved to me that she is an exceptional workaholic, articulate and result-oriented politician and public servant. She does not subscribe to half-measures as she has the Midas touch that resonates in every task she sets out to achieve. And in all of these, the Enugu West Senatorial Zone needs her to tap into the international community and what it has to offer especially assessing her connection to foreign donor agencies.
This time around, the people of Enugu West should vote right. It is either you vote for another four years of inertia…inept representation and unfulfilled expectations or settle for a fresh four years of assured achievements; and of course, queuing to the politics of the centre with its attendant benefits in the kitty. Mark this day, February 16 on your calendar, Ndi Enugu West senatorial zone; go out there and cast your votes for Dame (Barrister) Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu because she is a true progressive in all ramifications, your new face of hope. I have no vote in your zone, on that special day; I will be engaged in casting my vote for my preferred candidates in my constituency, but I have contributed my bit by giving you this enlightenment and passionate advice.
Comrade Salihu Othman Isah is a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abuja.