As 2023 general election draws near, Emameh Gabriel, writes that Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha has yet again mounted the rostrum to return to House of Representatives for another four years.
Calm but fierce when passionately advocating her cause, prudent with words even when lost in thoughts, perhaps also contemplating her next political move, as she strives to keep the right of women political leadership banner afloat in the nation’s political turf.
In a society where men have called and have continued to call the shot for a long time, especially given our not too far history of military and patriarchal tendencies and leadership, a few women have continued to overcome the barrier as well as keeping the fire burning by establishing themselves against every odds, and holding tenacious the bastion of women representation in national politics.
Fighting tirelessly to put women, children and social innovation issues on the policy agenda, one can count on the likes of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Hon Patricia Etteh, Prof Dora Akunyili, Senator Stella Oduah, Mrs Lauretta Onochie, as falling into the same league by reason of sheer chance or pure determination.
But Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Deputy Chief Whip of Nigeria’s House of Representatives and member representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency in Abia state, is in a class of her own, especially coming from a background without requisite political relations or pedigree.
Like the proverbial Shakespeare, which said some are born great, some attain greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, Onyejeocha can be said to fall into the category of the latter, when a community found her worthy and invited her to serve their cause of representation at the national level out of the impression of diligence and honesty that has marked her private life.
Having been found worthy by the elders, she decided to heed their call and learn the ropes.
She became a commissioner of Resource Management and Manpower Development and later executive transition chairman of Umunneochi local government area of Abia state in 2002, before taking up the task of full time national representation as the House of Representatives member for Isuikwuato – Umunneochi Federal Constituency.
She has had an exciting run in a male dominated legislature, particularly being one of the few female members, who have held sway since 2007, proposing innovative policies and laws.
With a background in the maritime sector and international affairs, she has not only effectively advocated the cause of her constituency, she has also become a champion of other national and gender sensitive issues, striving for national consensus.
Knowledgeable and depth in Nigerian politics, she has won four consecutive elections in her constituency between 2007 and 2019, with virtually new set of candidates at each turn, as they come to test her popularity, which from the figures and trends had shown a social standing, grounded in popular support, which is anchored in concrete performance and excellent politicking.
Among the proposition she has championed or co -championed in the House include the compulsory treatment and care for victims of gunshot act, the anti – torture act, both passed into law in 2017, the Senior Citizens center act, of 2018 and the local government financial autonomy bill currently before the houses of Assembly and the additional seat bill and affirmative action bill intended to increase women participation in politics.
Speaking on the affirmative action bill, she said, “The solution to the whole of these is, Nigeria needs a president who is committed to affirmative action for women. A president who will order political parties to include certain percentage of women for elections.
This is not rocket science. Cameroon, Rwanda and Kenya did it. In 2021, the proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament of Rwanda stood at 61.25 percent.
“In fact, in the recent election in Kenya, seven women were elected governors. What the women did was to extract commitment from one of the presidential candidates, Williams Ruto, who publicly signed an agreement to allocate specific number of Parliament seats to women. But the men fought it vehemently.
“I was with the Deputy Speaker of Kenya Parliament, she told me that before this election, she asked the presidential candidate that the only way you could have their support is to promise them that you are going to give certain number of seats to women in the parliament. And that he must signed that agreement in the public. That is what they did. The man said he doesn’t have a problem with women in the parliament or having women in government.”
After spending about 12 years in the House on the platform of the PDP, on which she witnessed so much transformation on the domestic and national political scene, in 2018, she defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in a predominantly PDP state, where even the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) has been making better incursion, and succeeded in keeping her seat.
Onyejeocha, who has always declared her political ascendancy as divinely ordained, after winning the party’s primary election, is heading to the poll once again, determined to continue her winning streak as a champion of her constituency and the nation.
Onyejeocha will be going into the election as a political heavyweight, with an excellent appreciation of the political landscape and having the credentials and good work to show for it. A resume’ that will be difficult to beat.
If politics is all about good representation, Onyejeocha has made dexterously and ingeniously. To her kinsmen, she is a monument of pride, having lived up to their expectations by bringing home the dividends for which she was voted for.
Her supporters believe that the special providence that has kept her wining since 2007 has already defined her political future. To them, Onyejeocha represents the face of hope for the people of her constituency.
Her period of service to her people still remain part of the sunny sides of the constituency. She has done exceedingly well by bringing brilliance, finesse and precision on the flow of the House of Representatives, even girls intending to venture into politics in the future now draw inspiration from her leadership style and disposition.
She is today still perceived as the best attraction for her party in the South East, and of course one of the political icons to watch out for in the future.
Onyejeocha represents courage, competence and character. She has become a shining example for many. It is for this reason that many still believe the last has not been seen nor heard about her, hence, she deserves another shot.
In October, 2022, she was conferred with a national honour by President Muhammadu Buhari and earlier in the year a newspaper listed her as one of the most inspirational women in Nigeria.
In 2021, she was also awarded the Abia woman of the year and was also honoured by the Women Africa International (WAI) for her contribution and service to humanity.
As a Principal Officer at the House of Representatives, Onyejeocha had before now served in various committees in the House such as Navy, Petroleum, Public Procurement, INEC, Police Affairs, F.C.T as well as Aviation which she served as chairman.
She has touched most policy sectors of the government. Her model of governance of aligning with Christian groups, women groups and youth associations have endeared her to the grassroots that the traditional style of political scheming of the all male club have been countered, has seen in her mobilizing massive support at elections.
The February, 2023 Isuikwuato- Umunneochi House of Representatives race is largely expected to be a three horse race between Ofoegbu Loveth Nonye of the ruling PDP in the state, Ogah Amobi Godwin of the Labour Party and herself, but Onyejeocha has an already established structure that threatens her opponents.
In 2019, she was instrumental to the APC growing chances at the gubernatorial ticket. She has carefully exploited her status as a ranking lawmaker in the country, embedding herself in partisan politics with a blend of independent personal style and philosophy, that is both feminine and conservative.
Today, she enjoys the goodwill of her people because of her style of politics.
Speaking recently with THISDAY about her re-election chances, Onyejeocha explained why she has the mandate of her people.
According to her: “I ’m not a conventional politician because the term “politician” has come to connote somebody who steals, lies, cunning, etc. So, it makes me skeptical to say I’m a politician. I prefer to be called “Servant of the people”, Servant of men because I serve my People.
“Before I became a Commissioner in my State, I had many people under my scholarships programme for indigent students. In fact, it was because of my philanthropic gesture that the traditional rulers in my local government nominated me for Commissioner representing my local government.
The four time federal lawmaker was recently endorsed by the Isuikwuato/ Umunneochi commercial riders association. The General Chairman of the Union, Comrade Kelechukwu Chimeremeze, while speaking on her endorsement, said “she has been exceptional and has paid her dues”.
This, he said, led to the association unanimously declaring their readiness to mobilise for her re-election come February, 2023.