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James Ocholi: One year after

One year ago this week, precisely on March 6, 2016, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, James Ocholi, his wife Blessing and son…

One year ago this week, precisely on March 6, 2016, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, James Ocholi, his wife Blessing and son Joshua died in a motor accident along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway.

Many family members, relations, well wishers and admirers of the late minister could hardly believe the news when it first broke but it all turned out to be the reality.

One year after the death of James Ocholi, the anguish created by his demise lingers.

For one, especially among Kogi people and his kinsmen of the Igala extraction, the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint a minister to represent Kogi State in his cabinet almost a year after the death of James Ocholi (SAN), has been causing disquiet.

The present administration has trudged on with the running of its affairs for one year without a minister to represent the people of Kogi State in the Federal Executive Council.

Indigenes of Kogi State at the memorial lecture held in Abuja in honour of the late minister lamented their non-representation in Buhari’s cabinet as their expectation of naming Ocholi’s replacement on the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had failed to happen.

Those who bared their minds on the development, said it was unfair and condemnable for President Muhammmadu Buhari to have allowed such "colossal vacuum" for so long, thus depriving the entire state their rights of having inputs in his (Buhari’s) administration.

An associate of late Ocholi, Mr Attai Uwodi, said his (Ocholi’s) demise had remained fresh especially "for the fact that the state is being shortchanged at the Federal Executive Council on the account of Ocholi’s death.

"The whole state is not happy about that. It is constitutional that we should have a representative at FEC. The delay in appointing a replacement is worrisome especially when there are capable people to represent Kogi. The people of Kogi east especially are pained that this has not happened. We appeal to the president to do something so that we will not be marginalized the way things are now.”

He however commended the federal government for its efforts in providing employment for two of Ocholi’s children while the other siblings were placed on  federal scholarships.

Attai said people of the state were still missing Ocholi because he was a leader  that had the interest of his people at heart.

"He was a large hearted person. He was very truthful and honest, godly, straightforward and forthright. The interest of his people was very paramount. He came out to fight for his people but unfortunately, he had a very short stay," he said.

On his part, President of a pressure group, Ujache Igala Association, Mr Goodman Akwu, said his pain was aggravated with the non appointment of a replacement for Ocholi one year after.

He said, “It is so sad. Can you imagine a president can work without a state, an important fragment of the federation, for a whole year? I cannot call this an act of omission. This is simply negligence on the side of the president. He has neglected a state with so many millions of people.

"It was sad we lost our person in a tragic accident but Buhari has added more pains to us in not announcing a replacement since his demise. We worked for his success and we should share in what is attached to it. Ministerial appointment is not a favour but a constitutional right. The only state that should be denied the way he is denying us should be Katsina state because Katsina is having two members in the FEC."

He expressed worries that people of the state at the moment have no one to speak for them, adding, "I don’t see any of the late Ocholi’s colleagues speaking for us. That is why the framers of the constitution thought it wise that each state should have a representative in the cabinet. Part of prayers for him is for him to recover soon and come home to do the right thing. Imagine Lagos State alone is controlling three ministries while a state like Kogi is not having any one. It is sad. Ocholi only worked for 115 days before he died."

A rights activist who is Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights and Conflicts Resolution, Idris Miliki, expressed worries that the president violated the constitution which he swore to uphold by failing to appoint a minister from the for no reason one year after Ocholi’s death.

He said the appointment of a minister from Kogi State was neither a favour nor privilege for the people but a constitutional requirement which is incumbent on President Buhari to adhere to in line with the principle of rule of law which his government had pledged to uphold.

"As a civil society person and somebody from Kogi, I’m disappointed in the sense that this is a constitutional matter. The constitution states it clearly that there shall be a minister from each state of the federation who shall be an indigene of such state. This is what the law says. If the law says that, "they shall be", it means it is compulsory.

"It is not a question of whether the president likes it or not. He has therefore violated the constitution which he swore to uphold. If somebody dies and the constitution says they shall be a minister, in each state of the federation who must be an indigene of that state, what then does it take the president to appoint a minister?

"We condemn in totality, the lack of respect for provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Buhari’s administration as it regards the appointment of a substantive minister from Kogi State in his cabinet. It is condemnable.

"In all ramifications, Kogi State has produced competent people. It may look controversial or sentimental but there is no state today in northern Nigeria that can boast of the level of education Kogi state has attained. We have produced several firsts, so I see no reason why it has taken the president such a long time to appoint a competent person from the state.”

He said the non-appointment of a minister from the state, has negatively impacted on the progress and development of the state since it has no representation in the federal executive council where "far reaching" decisions and policies that affect the entire country are taken.

"The number one effect is that when it comes to voting, Kogi has no votes in the federal executive council because at that level, there are some elements of democracy. If there are debates, and there are divisions, they will have to vote on a particular issue. In that case, the state will have no votes since there is no representation.

"Secondly, the office he (Ochoil) was occupying is vacant and has no impact whatsoever on the people. If there is a minister, he would have to appoint some aides and would equally visit his people to know their problems with a view to making case for them. The state is completely lagging behind; we have no votes, we have no opinion, we have no suggestions and we have no benefits as far as we are concerned and even in preparing the national budget for 2017, Kogi State has no input.”

Also speaking recently on the development, the state Secretary of the All Progressive Congress, Bar Tom Adejoh, said the party was equally worried that the issue of appointing a replacement for the late Ocholi had lingered so long.

"Frankly speaking, we are not happy about the whole situation. Kogi State in particular surprised the nation in the last presidential election; the margin of votes the APC got in the state was unimaginable. The people of Kogi state are expecting the dividends of what they have done for the president. We are mindful of the fact that the president has enormous tasks before him, but for us to have lost a minister for cWlose to a year without any replacement being made, it is indeed worrisome. We didn’t even expect that it will take up to three months to get a replacement not to talk of six month or more", he said.

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