By Austin Uganwa
Rt. Hon. Austin Adiele Opara, former deputy speaker, House of Representatives is 58, on Saturday, August 28. There are, thus, compelling and intrinsic reasons to applaud, cheer and celebrate him over this milestone. During his eight-year-stint in the National Assembly as elected political office holder, it is on record that Opara undertook innovative roles that impacted positively on nation building and development of the Niger-Delta region. Besides, as a political icon and chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, he has not relented in embarking on far-reaching pursuits needed to promote democracy and the stability of PDP. These unassailable feats make the commemoration of his 58th anniversary largely historic and worthy of red-carpet celebration.
Only a few months ago, leaders of the PDP appointed Opara as the head of Reconciliation Committee to reunify former Imo State Governor, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha and Senator Samuel Anyanwu. The brilliant manner he carried out the onerous party assignment has reinforced the party in Imo and national levels.
Last year, he was sent to Edo State by the PDP at the national level to supervise the party’s congress held in the 18 local councils in the state. He latched on to this critical assignment to inject treasured and genuine inputs into PDP in Edo desirable for its revitalization and consolidation. He was a key member of PDP National Campaign Council on Edo Governorship Election that ensured the victory of the party in the state. The council was efficiently steered by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike resulting in the party’s victory.
At 58, Opara has unmistakably shown great degree of commitment, consistency, assiduousness and loyalty to the party and his governor, Barrister Wike, who is also the leader of the party. As a result, he has never attempted to decamp from the party or showed any perceptible signs of infidelity, fickleness or even embitterment since 1998 that he played a major role with other party leaders to originate PDP in the state. These pleasant echoes understandably inform the adept and candid fashion he has been handling critical party tasks.
His remarkable contributions towards national development plan and the growth of the Niger-Delta region manifested rather significantly during the eight years he considerably held sway in the House of Representatives as a member of strategic committees and later presiding officer. Given the long-drawn crisis that characterised the passage of NDDC Bill, between 1999 and 2000, Opara was in the frontline of the horse-trading, lobbing, debilitating brinkmanship, melo-drama and intricate legislative procedures that crystallized into the establishment of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000. As Deputy Chairman, House Committee on NDDC during the commission’s formative stage, he was deeply involved in designing and overseeing, through legislative oversight, the implementation of the institution’s foundational frameworks. As deputy speaker of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007 at a young age of 39, he undertook remarkable legislative initiatives that underpinned national development options. First, he provided a rallying point and stability to the House when the hitherto cohesive lower legislative body was being torn apart over the third term debate in June 2006.
Secondly, as a member of the Governing Council of the International Parliamentary Union, the umbrella body that governs all parliaments in the world; at its 103rd session held in Manila, Philippines in 2005, Opara lobbied other parliaments of the world to support his well-articulated motion seeking debt relief and moratorium from the governments of advanced democracies. This request coupled with the intensification of the debt pardon campaign on the international front by the then Olusegun Obasanjo headed government yielded positive results. This is because $18b out of $30b Nigeria owed at a time was dramatically cancelled by the creditor nations. As chairman, House Committee of the whole with the mandate of presiding over clause-by-clause considerations of all bills, he injected live and robustness to the debates on the bills with his wit, candour and the profound approach he adopted in moderating the proceedings thereby evoking sterling leadership qualities and immeasurable degree of devotion to duties. This resulted in the unprecedented ample space Aminu Bello Masari who was speaker at that time gave to Opara to preside over the House plenary sessions. Other House positions that Opara held that accounted for his preeminent role in the National Assembly included; chairman, House Constitution Review Committee and member, ECOWAS Parliament.
At 58, Opara’s unique attributes of humility, openness and cordiality make him the unifying point of his peers, friends and political associates. These realities account for the large army of supporters, friends and admirers that still mill around him years after leaving political office.
Over the years, Opara has been supporting Governor Nyesom Wike towards the actualisation of his vision for the state. As chairman of the 2019 Rivers State Governorship Inauguration Planning and Handover Committee he put in place an effective continuity roadmap anchored on Wike’s infrastructural revolution initiative for the state. He has constantly expressed his satisfaction and delight over Wike’s giant strides in the state. At the commissioning last month in Port Harcourt of the new official residence built for Rivers State speaker, Opara extolled the towering accomplishments of Wike:
“You have transformed Rivers State to the level that it has become the envy of the people of this country. We are proud of you. Our prayer is that you move from this level to a higher level. Indeed, Nigeria needs what you’re doing in Rivers State”.
•Dr. Uganwa wrote from Abuja