Hon Joel-Onowakpo Thomas is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of the Delta Senatorial District in the forthcoming general election come 2023.
The former Delta State Board of Internal Revenue Chairman and ex-State’s coordinator of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, in an interview with The Trumpet Newspaper correspondents, Kelvin Ohoror and Oviri Kelvin bares his mind on his visions at the Red Chamber to make the Delta South Senatorial District a better place if given the mandate come 2023.
You are seeking to represent the good people of Delta South Senatorial District and we have four ethnic groups in the district. How do you intend to cope with this ethnic diversity?
No matter how diverse human beings are, it still boils down to interest, whether black or white, Christian, Muslim or Hindu. Whatever it is, it boils down to interest.
The interest boils down to how people’s interests are taken care of, and how they are appreciated. Are they able to provide food, quality health care, and good schools for their children?
Are they protected in their environment? Despite these diversities, what the people need generally is good governance. Once you can deliver good governance to them, everything is history.
Good governance and effective representation are what I seek to offer them. If given the mandate, what are the people of Delta South Senatorial District expecting from you?
You know the position of the legislator is not like the executive position. It is basically for making laws to provide a better benchmark and framework for the executive arm of government.
So I must look at the Niger Delta and the Delta South Senatorial District. What are the pressing issues that will make it a better place for all of us?
Do we have Ministries that are supposed to do certain things that they are not doing? Then, I will take them up and ensure they do what they ought to do. Is there a gap in the law that is supposed to provide the basic framework to ensure the government performs?
We will now begin to push for those laws along with my colleagues in the National Assembly to ensure that those laws are provided. Our environment, as you know, is very peculiar, partly water, swamp and land. All these things make us unique with vast cultural diversities.
I have to ensure my senatorial district has the best representation. In the area of primary healthcare, you see people complaining of liver problems, kidney problems, and all sorts of illnesses which did not start on their own. It started from minor symptoms that you can go to the primary healthcare centre and they can be treated. But because of the deficiencies in the Primary Health Center, it aggravated to that level.
Then, in the riverine areas, what do we need to do to make life much better for the people? Do we have the needed roads? Do we have the needed infrastructure that ought to be in those places? These are the things I will look at to make sure that at best we provide them for our people.
Like I said earlier, I have seen someone with an open mind, who has been able to do so many things in Delta Central Senatorial District, the Deputy Senate President Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
What he has been able to do alone in Delta Central is something some Governors cannot do for 8 years. That is what I expect the people of Delta South Senatorial District to see. Look at the Maritime University Okerenkoko, it has not even taken off, is something that is supposed to benefit our people.
The seaport in Warri, is it functioning? It is something that brings about economic change to the District. What is preventing it from functioning? Even though the Federal Government said vessels can go to those places. What has happened to the refinery in our area?
What kind of leverage is it providing for our youths? The Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC), what is it providing for our people? Our roads are bad. These are things being a legislator gives you an overview to see. And you begin to attract them to your place.
All along in your political journey, you have been operating from the executive position right from when you were the Local Government Council Chairman, Chairman Delta State Board of Internal Revenue and States Coordinator, Federal Inland Revenue Service. Now you are crossing to the legislative arm, How will you convince the electorates that you are going to serve them well?
When I joined the Delta State Board of Internal Revenue in 2009, I was a tax practitioner. When a tax practitioner becomes a tax administrator, he is an excellent person to be a legislator.
For that position, for example, if you are a lawyer and they now made you a judge, you will discover that there is nothing a lawyer will tell you as a judge that you have not done before. My experience as a tax practitioner will become handy as a tax administrator. Now, to be more specific to your question.
You need to be abreast with executive duties to know the lapses rendering this organ of government from functioning effectively. The truth is that most executives operate within the perimeter of the law. And when you operate within the perimeter of the law, you observe that there are hindrances provided by the law that enable them not to perform to an optimal level.
That is why they continue to review the laws to accommodate those gaps that are there. Having been in the executive position, starting from the position of the Chairman of Isoko South Local Government Council, Delta State, Chairman, Board of Internal Revenue, States Coordinator, Federal Inland Revenue Service, I know there is a lacuna in the law that needs to be provided to make the executive perform at the optimal level.
My focus mainly will be on primary healthcare because the diseases that kill our people are not the diseases that take the rich out of the country.
It is small, small ailments which standard primary healthcare can take care of. If we can provide the benchmark and framework for taking care of these things in a structured pattern and strengthen the primary healthcare system in Delta South Senatorial District, with the laws that are there in proper perspective, the prevalence of High Blood Pressure, Diabetics and stroke will be limited.
Also, having held executive positions, I am more experienced to know what my people need, and the laws that need to be provided for the executive to perform optimally.
What is your take on the issue of resource control and restructuring?
The issue of resource control and restructuring has been there for a while now. This present administration did their best as much as possible to move resource control from where it was to a new dimension.
The hindrances that prevented this present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari are still the same people who are preaching and calling for resource control. Resource control is allowing people to be in charge of their resources.
But if you want to be in charge of your resources it also behoves you to provide the benchmark on how the resources will be managed.
If you are pressuring the Federal Government for resource control and you at the State do not want the Local Government to have control over their resources, then you are paying lip service to it.
As the issue of the local government autonomy, judiciary, national assembly, and state assembly are processes of resource control. If you ask me what my position on resource control is, I support it 100 percent because it will create competitiveness among States.
I am also aware that States in the federation have enormous resources that can support their existence, just that we are not willing to tap into them.
I said something during my primary election that I will liaise with my colleagues in both Chambers of the National Assembly to strengthen the States to be more sustainable. So that in their own way they can provide some basic things that can eliminate poverty, because if we are unable to tackle poverty we are going nowhere in this country.
Looking at your Senatorial District since 1999 till date, it has been occupied by PDP. How do your party, APC, plan to wrestle power from them?
If you look at it from that perspective, for someone who has been in a position for so many years, there is the inability to push that person away. Let me remind you what happened in 2015, PDP that has been in power was removed by APC.
There is still a gap, people are dissatisfied, there are gaps, people feel cheated, people feel they are not getting their fair share and the clamour for change is greater now than ever.
People want to experiment with something new, this desire for change and greater participation in governance in the Senatorial District is one of the things that will create the catalyst for change and I believe the time has come and the people are well prepared for that change.
I am talking to people in the Senatorial District and the major thing they are looking at is, can he provide our needs? I am going to provide them with effective representation and my antecedent corroborates that.
I am one person if they allow being in that position, everybody in the Senatorial District will get their fair share. And I believe they are ready.
The people I have talked to are ready for that change. I am happy that I am not contesting against an incumbent. The truth is that without trying to undermine my opponent, PDP will not be a match for me.
Why do I say so in this election, we are not looking at political party. We are going to be looking at individuals and their antecedents.
The National Assembly that we are going to is not a place for just anybody. If you send somebody that does not have the ability and the connection to deliver on the expectation of the people, then we have lost it entirely.
For me, without trying to pride myself on the way of blowing my own trumpet, I have been in government, private sector and public sector and I was very successful. I am the right candidate for the position.
The Delta South Senatorial District comprises four ethnic groups, do you have a good reach to the people?
I think it is a little bit premature for me to begin to talk about how deeply the politics of Ijaws, Itsekiris and the Urhobos. It is too early for me.
Politics is all about strategies and you must keep certain things to yourself. What I want to say is that I have served on the executive board that covers the whole state, and I have made my mark. I covered from Delta North to Delta Central and Delta South, I dominated it.
Not only that, in the Federal Inland Revenue Service, I dominated six States; Rivers, Edo, Delta, Akwa-ibom, Bayelsa and Cross River States. So, in terms of reach, and relationships built over the years, I want to say that I am firmly rooted and I have no doubt that these relationships will pay off.
Looking at the past election, do you think this new electoral law offers some hope?
The new electoral law? Yes! BVAS offers some hope, the second thing is that in this election everybody is fighting for his head, there is no sitting governor who is going to say he is returning, and the commissioners are not thinking about whether they are going to retain their positions because it is going to be the end of the tenure.
This race is very open, some of the things that occurred the last time and they got away with in 2019, they can’t get away with it this time around. I think I want to rest it at that.
PDP is known for buying votes. How do your party intend to curb vote-buying during the general election?
When there is poverty, people will begin to sell their conscience for a pot of porridge. It is difficult to prevent people from taking the money if they are offered.
But what I want to say is that the environment that will occur in the 2023 election will be dif- ferent from 2019, simply because they are bringing BVAS. Secondly, if you see people buying votes you have the right to report them according to the law. We only need to become more vigilant, we also need to educate our people.