I want to make a difference at the House of Reps, says Cosmas Okoli


    Cosmas Okoli is the President of Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC), Ashoka Innovators for the Public and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. An advocate for the physically challenged, Okoli has touched the lives of many disabled and even those without any form of disability, despite his being physically challenged himself. Now, Okoli aspires to represent Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency of Lagos State at the House of Representatives on the platform of the Labour party. When PATRICK OKOHUE met him, he spoke about his driving force and passion for service.

    IT is surprising that you have decided to throw yourself into the murky waters of politics despite its nature in Nigeria, what made you take that decision?

    Well, you are right about the nature of politics in the country and that is one reason I have stayed away for sometime, this is because I did not want to get myself involved in rigging, I wouldn’t want to stain my name, but when Pro Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was appointed and when I saw the body language of the President, I realised that this is a President that wants to stamp his name in gold and on the sands of time by conducting one of the most credible elections that we have had and I also saw Jega as a man of his words, a man of integrity and honour, who cannot mortgaged his conscience for anything and so I have the confidence that this election will be the freest and fairest election that we have ever had, so I decided that yes, this is the time to get involved in politics, so that I can contribute my own quota to the development of our country in the my capacity of an elected officer.

    I have been doing a lot as a private citizen, as a philanthropist, as a social entrepreneur and as a business man, now I want political power and government resources to do more for the people and that is why I got into politics.

    But, why the Labour Party (LP)?

    Labour Party because that is where I found democratic space, that is where I found a level playing field to participate in politics, I actually started from ACN, (Action Congress of Nigeria), but unfortunately I found out that the ACN is not a democratic party, that it is only a few leaders that decides what happens in ACN, the people don’t have a voice and there is no way I can be part of that kind of organisation, so I moved on to the Labour Party whose ideology is interndem with my ideology and thankfully I realized that it is truly a party of the people, that the comrades have a voice, that the members of the party have voice and there is democratic space, so I pitched my tent with Labour Party.

    Over the years you are known to be an advocate for the physically challenged, trying to create environment that will make them have equal rights, does that in any way have something to do with your coming into politics?

    Well, to put it differently, my experience in that advocacy is part of the things that inspired me to get involved in politics and contest for an office, because I realised that being in the system will give me ample opportunity to help change the system and I realised that there is so much I can do with political power, that those who are there now are not doing. So, my advocacy for people with disabilities generally as well as my advocacy for the masses, for the vulnerable has prepared me in certain ways to play very important roles in politics.

    As an activist vying for a seat in the House of Representatives, how can the people be confident that like others before you, that if they give you their mandate, it will not be like others who they had trusted in the past, but who eventually joined the league of corrupt politicians, who forgot the electorate?

    Well, many may have compromised, but there a few that will not compromise, that are doing very well, for sure I know Senator Bode Olajumoke is doing very well, I know that Abike Dabiri is doing very well and a couple of other distinguished personalities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are doing very well. But, the problem is that they have not formed that critical mass that can give the National Assembly the direction that it should have, so my hope is that when I get there I will join the crop of distinguished lawmakers and also help get a lot more.Even those you think are not doing very well now, if someone make effort to get them on board, to move them to the side of the distinguished lawmakers, a number of them will buy into this.

    Nigerian politics is so tough, people say it is dirty, but then if you have got a name to protect, if have got a very good track record, because there is a level you get to in life, nothing, not money, not even power can change you, so I am sure that when I get there and I also pray that a lot of the new legislators will be men and women of honour and integrity who will now join hands with us and a couple of the old ones that are men and women of honour and integrity and then we will push towards that critical mass of honourable members of the House and Senate that will give this country that direction it deserves.

    I see no reason why this country should be where we are today, I see no reason why we should have the kind of poverty that we have in the country, given what God has blessed us with. Beautiful environment, fertile soil, a lot of mineral and intelligent people, so why and how did we allow these crop of leaders who don’t mean well for the country to take us to where we are today and the only remedy is to get the right people in the right position and that is one of the things I hope to achieve.

    But, in the Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency from where you are running, other parties like the PDP, the ACN are obviously strong contenders among others, but considering your party and your tribe, because you are obviously not Yoruba, what chance do you think you have?

    I have very bright chances, infact, I will say I am tops now in terms of rating and the reason is that, if you look at our antecedents none of the other candidates have the kind of pedigree that I have, the kind of track record that I have and also my campaign strategy is different from theirs, I don’t get involved in mudslinging, I don’t get involved in mane calling, I focus on issues and the needs of the people and I am consulting widely and while others are busy trying to acquire godfathers, to get leaders to bless and anoint them, I have been busy mobilising the people, interacting with them and getting feed back from them.

    You can be sure that some politicians still don’t believe that we have a new leadership that will ensure that elections will not be rigged as usual this time, so some of them are working preparing themselves to rig the election, while I am preparing myself to win the election through the ballot papers and through the masses vote.

    Yes, you might also know that though you may think that the Labour Party is not strong in Lagos, the party has very good men, it is a party that many credible people wants to associate with, so, it is a question of reaching out to them, letting them know that credible candidates are on board and ready now top make a difference in Lagos.

    Also when I started, I was conscious of the fact that I am an Igbo man contesting election in Lagos, but then you that Lagos is a cosmopolitan city and I have been here for nearly 30 years and I am on ground, close to the people, touching lives, so when I decided to go into politics, the first thing I did was to consult with ‘indigenes’ and it was a very welcome idea. They accepted me, welcomed me and infact they were very excited.

    You know a lot of people are not even sincere, more than 50 per cent of the Yoruba people who are in Lagos are not from Lagos State and most of the leaders of Lagos State over the years are not even from Lagos State, so what are we talking about, so we are all settlers, we are all non-indigenes. But, in any case I went down to the original indigenes and they accepted me, infact when I went to them, the question they asked themselves was what has our own people done for us and there resolve was that if drifting as they have always drifted will land them on the predictable rock, while won’t they change and begin to swim against the tide, so adopting and supporting me is like now swimming against the tide to get to where they want to be, rather than getting the sole called indigenes or the Yoruba to get into office and at the end of the day the needs of the masses are not met.

    I am sure and I have assured them and I can assure you and anybody that cares to listen that what I will bring on board nobody can equal it and nobody has done what I intend to do. I am a very serious minded person, I am focused, I have passion for empowering people, I have a good name to protect.

    Talking about what you intend to do for the people, can you elaborate on some of it?

    First of all, from my interactions I know that the poverty level is too high, offcourse you know that the basic functions of a legislator is to make laws and perform oversight functions, so I am going to promote and initiate bills that will create jobs for the people, that will reduce the poverty in the land, and I will make sure that my oversight functions will be diligently and honestly executed, so that people can feel the dividends of democracy. Also I am going to be very transparent, am going to declare my constituency project fund, everything that people need to know about my office will be transparently declared. I will run two offices in Amuwo Odofin and Oriade councils so that I will be close to the people and I will have my ears to the ground, listen to the people and do what they want me to do for them.

    When any important issue comes up in the National Assembly, I am not going to vote in line with what will favour me and some pressure group, except what favours my constituency, so, I will always be in constant touch with my constituency and seek for their advice and opinion on any thorny national issue before casting my vote.

    I will also have elders advisory council, that I will rob minds with and they will advise me from time to time to ensure that I do the things that will touch the lives of my constituency, I am going to focus on youths to make sure that they make the best use of their time, develop themselves to be good leaders of tomorrow, people who will be able to take the country further in the right direction, God willing after we had laid a better foundation.

    There are so my other things I will do, if I have been empowering people with my own resources and with the help of people who believe in me, when I get there and I have some government resources obviously I will do a lot more, so I am going to empower the people I am going to be their voice at the National Assembly and I am going to ensure that my constituency is well developed, because I will also liaise with other colleagues at the state level and even the state government to ensure that my constituency to ensure that my constituency gets its deserved priority in government programs and government business generally.

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    I want to make a difference at the House of Reps, says Cosmas Okoli