Obiaruko Christina Ndukwe popularly known as Oby was born to the family of Mazi A.J. Ndukwe and Ihuoma Ndukwe of Ndi-Ugbo, Elugwunta-Obayi Ovim after the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War in Enugu. Her primary education was at the W.T.C Primary School, Enugu from where she had admission into Ovim Girls and the Federal Government Girls College Owerri.
She excelled both in the science and the Arts. Oby studied Pure and Industrial Chemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, she went on to write for the Financial Telegraph Newspapers in Abuja. In 2002, Oby moved to Port Harcourt and started a weekly Newspaper, known as ‘The Beam’.
To improve on her writing and journalistic skills, she enrolled in the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, NIJ. The Beam Newspaper is a household name those residents in Rivers State and other neighbouring States.
It is Oby’s passion to own her own publishing firm and to run a nonprofit organization. Having succeeded in the first phase, she has always stood for justice, equity and fair play, this came to play when she stood by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi in a Nine-month battle for justice when he was unlawfully substituted with someone else as the candidate of the PDP then.
Oby, as she is fondly called, also established a foundation in honour of her parents – A.J. NDUKWE FOUNDATION, to advocate for peaceful coexistence among community members. She spearheaded the re-construction of a 3 Kilometre road from Agbo-signboard to Oriendu.
She also initiated a huge water project with the drilling of the first bore-hole on the very difficult topography of Elugwunta, where access to water was hitherto difficult for the community members.
She monitored the roofing and completion of the Obayi Town Hall as well as the Methodist Church Obayi, and the Catholic Church, Mbienku, to mention a few.
Her experience and focus of study at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of London inspired her to join politics.
OBIARUKO which means ‘Nwa-nganga’ that is ‘Our Pride’ is truly the Pride of the Ovim people and Isuikwuato in general. Citypeople’s Business Development Manager, BUNMI DUROJAIYE interviewed her in Port Harcourt.
Tell us your background:
I am Oby Christie Ndukwe some people call me ‘Adaoha’, which means firstborn daughter of the People in general terms) that is my chieftaincy title. And some others call me ‘FBI’ and some call me ‘The ground Commander of the media –GCOM’, probably because of my feat in the Media industry, which I can tell, is through the grace of God and not because I am the best.
More also, I am a Publisher and I live in Port Harcourt, although when the security situation became worse the way it is now, I relocated to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory-FCT.
I am married to a Rivers man, and I do my business, I publish THE BEAM Newspaper and Magazine. I am also the Publisher of CHANGE AGENT Magazine. Academically, I went to WTC Primary school Enugu. I went to the Federal Government Girls’ College Owerri, and later I attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka-UNN, I am currently pursuing another degree in International Relations.
Talk about Citizens Quest, what is it about?
Well, Citizen Quest is what I will refer to as a dream come true. I have been in the Print Media for a while now, almost 20-years or more and I have been looking for the time to show the other part of me. Naturally, I am a creative person, even though people see me more as a science-oriented person but the truth is that I come from the Arts background, family-wise.
Creativity runs in the family, even those who are Science graduates in my family are also involved in one form of Arts or the other. We have those who write creative songs, some play Musical instruments; some are Playwrights, actors, dancers, and whatever you can think of.
When I was in secondary school, I represented my school Federal Government Girls College Owerri a whole lot of times. I used to represent my school in Arts Competition as I won the International Postal Competition, and I have written books, I direct the drama, but unfortunately, I have not been able to show that beyond my school days.
So, I wish that someday, this should be a dream come true. And what is going in our situation in Politics, I like to be different and do something that will not only impact the lives of citizens but also on the lives of those who will help the government do better.
I have never held any government position, although I have been close to the system and to those in government for a while. Citizens Quest came up as a result of the reckless situations and hate speeches that are being circulated through the use of Social Media like the Whatsapp platform and the rest of them.
I noticed that it is difficult for anybody to appreciate those in Government and it is difficult for those people in Government to also see the views of the masses without bias. So, I decided to strike a balance to come up with the idea. Where government is doing well, we will support them and encourage them. If there are areas they need to probably make some changes we will also let them know as we speak to the people, who will trust us enough to pour out their hearts to us.
So, in the course of us interacting with them, we also explain to them, as they may not be very much in the know of the happenings in government, that it is not as easy as people think, so they don’t go about believing every and anything that is being circulated.
We have gotten to a situation where particularly in Nigeria, people just get a bite of information from the Anti-corruption agencies like EFCC, ICPC, and take to their respective handle to pass media trial against the accused. And oftentimes I ask myself could these things really be true?
The people who write these things are not totally correct, but, unfortunately, government officials don’t engage capable hands that can help package them and explain to the people what their policies are all about and their challenges and let the people know.
As you cannot just come up with a policy, for instance, you are talking about RUGA and nobody spoke to the people before now. Where are the media and communication agencies under the government? How come they were not employed beforehand. Why is it that no town hall meetings were held to discuss with the people and get to the grass root and speak to them in the language that the people can understand before you come up with such policies?
The policy may be good but the timing and the packaging may be wrong. And you might loose whatever content you want to push out. So, I looked at it and I said we have to change things. Even the international communities will not be taking us more seriously because their perceptions are forged from what they see in the media.
Our people don’t even bother to do fact-finding, once they hear any story about anybody in Nigeria about being corrupt, they just cast aspersions. And when you travel overseas you become victims of all manners of attacks, you know just because somebody somewhere had written something against the system and against the nation.
So, I felt that I can contribute my own quota by changing the narratives about the nation and about the people. This is because the International communities do not all see the government officials as those having problems, they also see the people as having problems.
They also see them as people who don’t know their rights and duties, because as far as I am concerned their Fundamental Human Rights is concomitant of human duty. So, that is part of the reasons I came out with Citizens Quest.
How many states of the Federation have you visited with your Movement Citizens’ Quest and what were you able to unveil from those visits about what is going on in society?
Well, as somebody who has been in Rivers state for a while I decided to start from other states so that it won’t look as if I am coming from a biased point.
We also have friends who may be on the opposite sides but they are our friends and we cannot say because they have different ideologies, they are not your friends anymore.
So, what I did was to move away from Rivers state and shift my focus to Cross River. As at last year, I started with Cross River, we didn’t call it Citizens Quest though, but that was the main motive behind what we did.
We went to Cross River because in the media, the Governor, Professor Ben Ayade is always in the news doing one big project or the other and I wished to see for myself if these things are really possible and if the state governor from a state that doesn’t have much coming from Federal allocations can do these things.
We went to all the nooks and crannies of the state as we had a tour guide from Cross River and they took us everywhere up to Obudu, as we drove from Calabar to Obudu which is more than 315 kilometers. We went to see things for ourselves and we made sure that we talked to the people.
We were able to place our findings side by side with the claims of government and we found that they are not totally true as 70 percent of the allegation made against the government was wrong.
So, it was then we now realized that the government needs help as much as the people. It is not enough to hear from the people, but also need to get information across to those in authority for them to know the people’s perception.
It is not enough to contest and win elections, there are so many ways people win elections beyond popularity. The truth is that you may be Governor or you maybe whatever, and the people you are governing are not happy with you except the few hangers-on and a few party men who will support anything.
So, the Citizens Quest, last year helped us to find out that most of the petitions against the government were not totally correct.
This is because we were able to speak to elder statesmen and we found out that there is misinformation somewhere, there are also deceptions at some points, and that the people themselves are also weak.
If you feel that the Governor is not performing and you cannot score 50 percent to 60 percent, it is only normal that you vote him out. Come out with your Voters card and resist any attempt of rigging election.
But the people are not interested. They are only interested in complaining. They are interested in sharing hate messages and whatever, they may be correct but it is not enough. I can tell you that the African man has a thick skin as what you write is not enough to stop him from what he is doing.
But if the people will rise up to occasion in one voice, they can actually get results. And you have to go beyond and complaining, beyond circulating messages on Whatsapp and all other Social Media platforms and then have a kind of one-on-one interaction with the system. Citizen Quest is the bridge between the people and the Government.
Back to Rivers state where your NGO operates from when you visited the state, what were your findings of the state when you went to all the project sites?
For Rivers State, we have not embarked on the project sites of the state government. For people not to think that we are biased based on my personal political leaning. We have informed the governor of our mission and he’s prepared to take us around and has shown a willingness to accept ions on areas where he is supposed to improve. But I don’t belong to his political party.
I didn’t want people to see that I am speaking from the biased point of view or that somebody is sponsoring me.
And I asked myself what are Federal government agencies doing in Rivers state? There is the Federal Ministry of Power/Works/Housing, and you have the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, you also have Niger Delta Development Commission-NDDC, and in fact the Federal Government Amnesty Presidential Agency.
So, we decided that we are going to take it one after the other, so we started with NDDC. And the issue of NDDC came at a time when there are several petitions against the present Acting Management Committee, and I asked myself is it that the people are either incompetent or corrupt. And we have to move in to find out and then table our position on those lot to adequate quarters.
It is all about one or two persons getting themselves together and writing petitions to EFCC. I am not a contractor to NDDC and I have never been. What we did was to find out from the masses, is the governor totally correct? The petitioners who are saying that nothing is happening, are they correct? That is why we decided to come together as a group of Social Media Influencers and some mainstream Media Practitioners to go with us to find out for ourselves.
We put questions on Facebook and asked if there is any project being undertaking by NDDC in your locality. We pick a response from our comment box and analyze them for a comprehensive report. Some followers even go as far as posting pictures of projects for us to ascertain.
So, we decided that we should take it beyond Facebook and to go to verify those projects ourselves. This is what inspires Citizens Quest. Our motto is See Things For Ourselves as we don’t want to be fed with a handout from anyone.
So, what we did was to go to the places where they dropped addresses and the locations and we started seeing the impact of the Federal Government through the NDDC. In most of the places that we went to, you won’t believe it as in some places where we went to.
And in most of the communities, we have over 20 roads rehabilitated or reconstructed within two weeks. And most of the people we talked to, being the residents, commuters and others were commending NDDC for a prompt response.
Where do you see CITIZENS QUEST in the next 5 years?
Well, ehmm… It is only God that knows a man’s future but we make plans and believe that God will see us through and keep us till the end. For me, Citizens Quest will not end in the Niger delta. We are going to other states. There are 36 states in Nigeria and we are going to be writing letters to the government and to the people to request for permission to carry out our work.
We need to hold government accountable to the people, as we are the masses and citizens we have responsibilities to also know and if there are challenges.
I will give you an instance, in the case of NDDC, it is a Commission set up to help develop the Niger Delta, but I tell you, every week, the officials are in Abuja to spend 4-days, and spend one day in the state, because their funding comes from Central Bank in Abuja.
So, they spend most of their time requesting for funds to be released by the Central Bank than the actual job. When we go round we were able to understand the challenges that some of these agencies also face at the mercy of government parastatals.
We also look at the masses, that is the people, what are their challenges and immediate need? because we found out that in some cases, we see where a road is needed and their governors are building houses and the people are saying houses are not our problems, what we need is access to good roads to enable our business to thrive.
Their immediate need may be school renovation or equipping of the schools, or even scholarships offer for the indigent ones in the local communities. So, the truth of the matter is that we want to take it beyond the Niger Delta even beyond Nigeria because Nigerians are all over the world. We want to be their voices.
If you are telling us that this is what the government needs to do you, should be seen to be part of it. Some of us have been playing politics, we have contested elections and we sort to become part of the government. We didn’t win, but it will not deter us from contributing our own quota.
But I vehemently oppose those our brothers in Diaspora come home once in every 5-years or 10-years and they sit back in UK Europe and the USA, while they circulate hate speeches without minding that their families back home.