Hon. Chijioke Chukwu is the member representing Bende North in the Abia State House of Assembly. In this interview with IGBEAKU ORJI, he bares his mind on governance in the state
As a first timer in legislative business, how is your experience in the Abia State House of Assembly?
Actually, I am a first timer in the House, but before I came to the House I have been around the political circle for close to 10 years. So, coming to the House affords me the opportunity to serve my people in a different capacity. I was psychologically prepared and when I was elected on the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC), from day one, I knew I was going to be in the opposition because of the party I came from was not able to win the majority in the House of Assembly. So far, it has been a wonderful experience, very intriguing though challenging but to a large extent, we have done well.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state recently collapsed into APC; what future do you think APC has in Abia State?
The future is very, very bright for the party. If you remember, during the 2019 elections, APC was very popular in the state because of the performance of the party’s governors in other states and the strength of the stakeholders of the party. The party paraded the best among equals in the 2019 elections. We had the likes of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Dr. Uche Ogah, who was the governorship candidate.
In fact, people at the grassroots were of the belief that the election was rigged against the APC. In that 2019 election, you can’t rule out the Alex Otti factor. Otti was a very strong contender for that position because he is well accepted within the APGA fold.
That gave PDP a slight edge because the two strong contending forces voted in opposing directions. So, with the coming of the likes of Alex Otti and his APGA people into the party, your guess is as good as mine. You will find out that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a party is already jittery.
In Abia North, PDP is almost dead and in my own constituency, you will see members of the newly inaugurated PDP in various wards decamping to APC in the coming weeks. They have already given us their signal. They are waiting for when APC will start its local government tour. In Abia North, for instance, it will be a tsunami.
I wonder whether you will still have up to 10 per cent of the political class in Abia North remaining in PDP. The PDP is already dead because its performance has not helped matters. The governor has struggled to manage the affairs of the state, particularly with the dwindling economic fortunes of the federal government. They have already plunged the state into unbearable and very huge debt that they cannot manage, so anything they are getting now is going to debt servicing.
Not that they are not receiving money from the federal government, the allocation has not really gone down but they are suffering from the hangover and mismanagement of 2019 election funds. In 2019, if you go to look at Abia finances, you will find out that Abia lost billions of naira. I am talking to you authoritatively, even from the figures submitted and signed by the Auditor General that N46 billion was spent on capital projects. If you look at the length and breadth of Abia State, you can’t point at any project done in the past eight years that will gulp that kind of money.
If you look at our revenue profile, you will see that in 2018, capital projects took about N15 billion. In 2017, it was N13 billion. In 2016, it was between N11 billion and N12 billion. Why is it that in 2019 that was an election year, the state executed a project that is of that magnitude, higher than all the previous years put together? Most of those funds, if you look at the revenue profile, were borrowed. So, what you see happening now is not that the governor has mismanaged the economy, but the hangover of the heavy borrowing during the 2019 elections.
What they are doing is to try to offset it. And that is why you see that pension has not been really paid as at when due. These are part of the reason we are advocating for a change. But that is not to say that the governor has totally done badly in all the sectors. I commend him for the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You were in the entourage of the Speaker of the state Assembly, Chunedum Orji, when he visited Senator Kalu in Abuja. What really transpired?
What happened was that from the day I came to the House of Assembly, I had a mission; I had a vision. One of my visions was to reduce bitterness and rancour among the political class because without peace we cannot achieve meaningful development. All these fighting; if I tell you what it has cost the state in terms of infrastructure development, your guess will be as good as mine. Billions of naira that would have gone to infrastructure was spent on political litigation from the tribunal to Appeal Court.
Friends, brothers and sisters, overnight, turned foes because of politics. And remember, we were first brothers and sisters; we were first friends before going into politics. These are close knitted families that have controlled the affairs of the state positively.
That singular misunderstanding was hijacked by political jobbers to the detriment of the state. Huge resources were deployed wrongly to service charlatans in the name of politicians. Money that would have been used to develop the state was given out to people who do not mean well for the state to build mansions and send their children abroad. People who had no work except political thuggery, turned billionaires overnight because of that misunderstanding. And who suffered the most? The state! The average Abian cannot boast of good life in his own state.
Go and look at Ebonyi and see how the state is. Go to Akwa Ibom. But go and look at Aba now, there is no industry in Aba now with an annual turnover of N2 billion because of the consequences of that political misunderstanding, which was taken too far. So, when I came to the House of Assembly, people thought I came with a prepared mindset to fight the speaker. I assessed the young man for two months and I found that most of the things I was told about him were not totally correct. When I got very close to him, thinking on daily basis he will be indoctrinating me against Orji Uzor Kalu, he rather kept lamenting to me in private his regret over that political misunderstanding; how he feels things can be done better.
He never criticised Orji Uzor Kalu before me for one day. Any time we are together, he will tell me how Orji Uzor Kalu took him as a son and how his father took Orji Uzor Kalu’s younger brother, Mascot Uzor Kalu as his son. So, I latched on that opportunity. I started working on his psyche and it was not difficult for me because we were already of the feeling that Orji is like his father who treated him well. Where they differed, it’s only both families that can find a common point to reconcile. All I did was to provide, by the grace of God, through my acceptance of the speaker as the leader of the House without opposing him, to build capacity for the peace process and that was what people saw as the outcome of that visit. That visit was well intended. It was like a reunion of members of the same family.
Abia celebrated the 29th anniversary of its creation last week but one of the founding fathers of the state, Ezeogo Dr Anagha Ezeikpe, said Abia has not done well. What is your evaluation and the way forward?
No sane Abian or even a visitor will disagree with the elder statesman in his submission. The momentum with which Abia State development started in 1999, when Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, took over after the military regime, was not sustained over time. I could remember that very close to 100 roads were done within the first six months of his administration.
That momentum after he left office was sustained by Theodore Orji, but the political misunderstanding crept in. The setback started from that political crisis, which made a lot of people who today parade as Abia politicians to rape Abia State. The state was abused economically as a result of that misunderstanding and the state after Orji, has not fared better. Politicians started seeing the state is meal ticket instead of an avenue for service.
People started seeing proliferation of revenue agents at the expense of the state. Our internally generated revenue nosedived, while political thugs became overnight millionaires at the expense of the state. And so there was no money left for the state for infrastructural development. That was the bane of Abia misadventure.
The way forward is for the state to go back to the pre-1999 vision. That pre-1999 vision envisaged a situation hinged on peace and harmony, among the political class. It did not envisage a situation where an Old Bende man will see an Ukwa man as an Ukwa man. It did not envisage a situation where I will see Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, as a governor of Ngwaland or Ngwa people. It did not envisage a situation where I will see myself as an APC member and Hon Chinedum Orji will see himself as a PDP member.
Let’s look at the empowerment of your constituents that you did recently. What was the motivation?
The motivation is service. Before I was elected to the House, I had made two previous attempts to come to the Assembly. I was born in the village. I attended primary and secondary schools in the village. So, I know the challenges of our people.