Sunday Magazine

Ikpeazu: We need to prune down list of presidential aspirants

Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State could be said to be one of the most criticised governors especially in the area of performance. With about a year to complete his two-terms in the state, he tells JOHNCHUKS ONUANYIM about his accomplishments, the huge number of presidential aspirants, security and other national issues

 

Your Excellency, the Igbo Presidency is germane to the people of the South- East, why are you not in the race?

 

Well, thank you so much for considering me. I think that if we are serious about our project to rescue Nigeria and our project to ensure that our party stands a good chance of winning the election come 2023, one of the best things to do is to make sure that we discipline our personal ambitions and relegate selfishness to the background as much as possible so that we present a poignant and a common front.

Again, the issue of who becomes the President in a country like Nigeria under the circumstances that we have found ourselves also requires that such aspirants must be prepared to consult widely and be prepared to engage Nigerians from other persuasion, ethnicity and religion.

 

It must be a deep and incisive consultation. It is not something you can just wake up and say that you are heading into. Again, if you also see an aspirant who has an agenda and programmes that align with your own vision, what is the point of everybody running at the same time?

There is a time for everybody. So, for me it is not in my contemplation. I still want to focus on my few months as a governor and tidy up my projects. So, these are my concerns for now.

 

There is a recent agitation for president of South-East extraction and president of Igbo extraction. Which of these two divides would you want to lean on?

In the first place, I believe that the most important thing is the President of Igbo extraction because you can’t have a South-Easterner that is not an Igbo. So, we have heard other people refer to the South-Easterners as people of the ‘dot’ nation.

That word is deep and pregnant and many people do not understand it. Some of the implications of that is that to them, we don’t have access to the sea, to them we are in the cul de sac; to them, we have been surrounded; to them, we have been captured, we have been enslaved and we can’t express ourselves because all around us we have been sitting in the middle of everything and for them to achieve that expression, it seems to me that some people carefully delineated the country in such a way that they put enmity between the Igbo that live, reside and habit some part of South-South.

 

This is because I do not understand in which other dialect in Nigeria that a name like Chibuke would make meaning, a name like Ifeanyi cannot have meaning with any other dialect in Nigeria except Igbo. A name like    Wike would not have meaning in any other dialect than in Igbo land.

 

Why I’m I going to emphasize the things that separate us from my kinsmen? Why? So, l think it is time for us to break the padlock that has locked us inside and then find expression in our search to bring out the full potential of the Igbo nation wherever they might be across the world.

That time has come. My ambition as an individual, my goal as an individual, my aspiration as an individual is infinitesimal compared to the need of the Igbo nation and that is for me a higher calling. It is spiritual, it is divine, it is deep and that is where you find people like me.

The argument of some persons is that Yoruba people are in Kwara and Kogi states but they dare not contest a position meant for the South-West under the guise that they are Yoruba. How do you relate this with what you are saying?

Such people don’t understand the precarious situation of the Igbo man to be referred to as a ‘dot nation.’ Nobody can refer to Yoruba land as a ‘dot nation.’

They may or may not have any need of their kinsmen in Kwara or Kogi states but ours is existential, we need to realign with our kinsmen wherever they may be because our lives and existence in this country called Nigeria is threatened and when you are pushed to the wall it’s the time for you to rebound with your full potential. Anything less than that would not be good enough.

 

What do you say or make of the number of presidential aspirants in your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?

 

It is healthy. The place is a healthy platform. The place has good potential because if you have a bad party you would not have that.

 

As a governor on the platform of the PDP from the South, how convincing are you that the presidential power of your party would come to the South, given the argument that 16 years rule of PDP, the South took 14 years?

 

Well, our party has in its constitution the requirement for zoning as a mechanism to achieve peace and stability. What this means is that if you were availed the opportunity to run in a certain dispensation as somebody either from the South or from the North that the next opportunity will actually come from the other side. So, that is the long and short of the equation.

Where are we today? Where did we zone the Presidency in 2019? What reason do we have now to go back to that same zone because you don’t look at the matter in the face and make a decision? If you want to run strong on a policy, your policy has to be firm and you should not prevaricate.

You should be able to stick to what it is and remain firm. It may not be convenient, it may not be very sweet but history but posterity would always stand on the side of the person who is just and fair. If you continue to prevaricate, you would not do anything serious because human beings must continue to find reasons and arguments to undermine and sabotage the truth.

 

With this your position on zoning one can infer that you do not agree with the submission of the committee led by the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, which has thrown the ticket open…

 

No, that is not true. The committee was duly constituted by our party and as a loyal party man, whether I like it or not that is the position of the party  However, I thank God because it also creates a window for candidates from the South to vie in that regard. The disadvantage of that position is that the conversation continues, the agitation continues. If they had zoned it this way or the other, that would have been the final nail on the coffin at that time.

But suffice to say that I think we have a chance and I thank God they did not completely ban or shut the South out.

 

Preparing for the general elections next year, as a member of PDP what edge does your party have over the ruling party?

Well, the thing is for the common man on the street to answer some of the questions I am going to pose now: Are we safer? It doesn’t matter how much we pretend, it doesn’t matter what we say. Are we safer?

Tow, is food cheaper or is naira doing better in comparison to what it was before this government came in? What about power energy? Have we improved in that sector? So, if you look at all of these, the price of bread, the price of garri. The price of one ton of asphalt today is not what it was when I became governor.

The asphalt you need to do one kilometer of road was about N26m -N27m but it is about N60 million and above now. So, are we better off, are people happier? So, I think the case has been made already. What about our GDP, what about our rate of inflation? The case is made and what l want our party to do going forward is to push forward with our agenda.

We should convince Nigerians that there is nothing for this party to offer. What about the price of fuel, the price of diesel, aviation fuel? These things speak to everything – the fate of the middle class. What about our nation, how much do we trust each other

 

now? Everything is threatened including things like the NYSC programme that are institutions of cohesion. Who will want to send his son or daughter at 20 to go and serve as a corps member somewhere?

 

So, these are the issues and we are saying to Nigerians, yes PDP must have made a few mistakes and we don’t begrudge Nigerians for their anger against the PDP when they did, but we are saying to them, if you are embarking on a journey towards a goal and agenda, you don’t stop unless you arrive at your destination. This can’t be our destination. Permit me to end by alluding to a proverb in my place that says that if a woman marries two husbands, she will know which is better.

 

Your Excellency, there is this allegation that you have chosen Prof. Ikonne as your successor. How true is that?

Prof. Ikonne is one of the governorship aspirants. Ikonne is a Professor of Optometry, a former Vice Chancellor, a former Rector, an erudite scholar and most importantly an Abian. So, l think he is eminently qualified but whether Ikonne will be or not would be a function and decision of the delegates during the primaries.

 

He has his job to do and I am not interested in foisting anybody on the state. Those who foisted people in their states, 99 per cent of them ended up burning their fingers. There is a crisis between predecessors and their successors. I am not somebody who would want to live part of my time in a government house as I leave. I will do a cleanup and go away.

 

So, the delegates would eventually and ultimately decide or determine who they want. I think that Ikonne is qualified just like one or two other persons who are qualified. So, let us see how it goes and the party will decide

 

PDP members of Abia North believe that the ticket should have been zoned to the North to continue the zoning system in the state. Don’t you think they have a valid argument?

 

Abia is a very lucky state, which should have no business being unstable because the founding fathers of Abia State were very wise and they understood that human beings are greedy and selfish. So in August 1981 before the creation of Abia the founding fathers came together and crafted what they call the Abia Charter of Equity.

 

At that time there were two Senatorial Districts in Abia, the Umuahia Senatorial Zone, comprising of all the local government areas from Umuahia to Arochukwu and beyond and then the Aba Senatorial District comprising of all the local government from that area and they said in that charter of equity, particularly Page 4 that the governorship power will rotate between Umuahia Senatorial zone and Aba Senatorial zone.

 

So, if we adhere strictly to the tenets of that charter, nobody would have difficulty knowing that there is need for us to enshrine equity and balance because what somebody like me stands to achieve is to whittle down agitation as much as possible but some people because of their own selfish ambition are trying to foist anarchy on Abians by saying, either half-truth or by saying the things they know that are not exactly the truth.

 

The political equation for Abia is not a tripod, it is a quadratus and because it is quadratus we think that there is a need for us to continue to hold this conversation like brothers until we see    reason with each other. I am not bothered about the agitations and the things people are saying because they are entitled to their views and opinions, but I am a fare minded person and without sounding immodest I have the fear of God.

 

I have continued to preach peace and say to my people that those who stoke the embers of disunity and tribalism and ethnicity are taking Abia backwards, but my duty is to push the frontiers of development in Abia and we are saying that we are one Abia under one God, but let us try to see the point of view of one another.

 

So, those who preach ethnicity and the plank of which their argument rest is to divide Abia, they would not find me in that kind of conversation whether you are from Abia North, whether you are from Abia Central or whether you are from Abia South, what I preach is that we are brothers and sisters, let us sit down and talk about how to build a stable state -free of agitation, free of rancour- and l think it is possible because a lot of men of goodwill understand this.

 

And I want to recommend that before our people enter into the fray, they should go and read and study the Abia Charter of Equity. Even some of my brothers from Abia North who started the conversation are based on their understanding of the charter of equity and I said to them where are the Senatorial Districts in the charter of equity?

 

You can’t import something into a charter that had existed before the creation of something, you want to import because the intent of the founding fathers was that these two major divides in Abia should have equal slots in the governorship of Abia.

 

Your Excellency, at a point it was said that you were to join the ruling APC and suddenly we didn’t hear this again. What really changed? What changed?

The rumours. I am not in the rumour mill.

 

Are you saying you never contemplated joining APC at any point?

I never told anybody anything like that. You know I hold a record of being one of the most vilified governors in Nigeria, so they say all kinds of things and they contemplate all kinds of things. I am feeling much like an elephant, those who are holding me by the tail think I am a rope and those who are holding me by the feet think I am a big pillar.

 

Now, after your tenure as governor, what would be your next political move?

 

I have answered this question so many times and my answer has been: 1. God needs to speak to me. 2. I am also listening to my people and 3. It is for me to go back to the classroom. Whereas l am in full control of the third option, the first and second belong to God and my people.

 

You said you are one of the vilified governors, why do you think you find yourself in that state?

I am not a classical politician. I am not a run-of-the-mill politician and many people, especially those I will consider as pedestrian thinkers, people who are devoid of capacity for thinking analysis, my ways would not appeal to them. And I am not a flowering man, I am a lover of my people and I engage my people, I deal directly with them.

I am a street person. And because I don’t have all the money and because there is so much work to be done, I don’t spend  as much money on media. If l do five kilometers of road with N650 million, I will not want to use N50 million to publicize it, I will rather do another one kilometer road.

 

But I have seen that that is not the way to go. Somebody told me that if you don’t blow your trumpet, others will be blowing their own and nobody will blow yours. However, I am very, very proud. I feel that l have not done everything but I am very, very proud of my accomplishments under the circumstances.

This is a state I inherited without a long term development plan. This government has given Abians a-30-year development plan, this government is collaborating with UN-Habitat to do a master plan for Aba and Umuahia, nobody knew that these two cities have no master plan.

These things are germane and key if you want to develop. No other government has engaged donor agencies as much as I have engaged them and for us here, in terms of capacity we are very, very concerned. A governor who can wake up and send 30 shoemakers to China, thinks well for his people; a governor who can wake up and send 20 to 60 young graduates to go and do postgraduate overseas in an inflationary economy, I don’t know how many people have done that but we were able to task ourselves and sent 26 young Abians oversees.

 

Such a governor must be thinking about his people. A governor and government that have reversed infant and maternal mortality by 71 per cent (That is total turnaround in the health sector); a governor that has reversed enrollment from 150, 000 pupils in 2015 to over 700, 000 pupils on 2021; a governor that has retrained 3, 000 teachers and built 750 classrooms; a governor that has all the primary healthcare centers connected through tele-health programme to 15 doctors that speak to them and help them with their jobs every day for 24 hours. I can go on and on and on.

 

Abia could be said to be relatively quiet with the activities of sit-at-home, ESN, IPOB, etc in recent times. One will like to ask, did you in any way engage these groups?

Well, two things I will say. I am not in any war or battle with ESN but I do not subscribe to their style. However, there is a way to speak to your son if he is angry, especially if he is armed and my comments regarding these issues can be summerised in three sentences.

  1. Can we engage Nnamdi Kanu, as a government; can we sit down and talk with him; can we ask him what his grievances are and can somebody in that conversation tell him the ones that are possible and the ones that are not possible. If we all agree, can steps be taken to ameliorate or deal with issues that he might raise in the conversation?

The second one is can we also have a way of looking at some of the issues of marginalisation, zero federal presence or infrastructures in this area and then see how we can improve on some of these things that have become very, very concern issues? Again, how do we manage the disengagement?

If you recall, the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta and if you have a template that worked, how can we see if it is possible to deepen discussions along this line?

But I think some of the activities of the ESN are hurting the economy of the South-East and I also think that whenever you want to prepare a medicine to help you cure an eye ailment make sure that one of the

 

ingredients is not the pepper because pepper in the ointment that you want to apply in your eyes from the surface will not enable you see clear. That is it.

 

Your Excellency, you are one of the only governors in the last seven years who have not had any problem with his successor. What is responsible for this?

 

Well, my predecessor is a gentleman and he understands the red lights also because he knows that there is a sitting governor here and he respects that.

 

And then he agreed with me that in an inflationary economy under our circumstance, where we are threatened by security issues that the most prized input for rapid development is peace and stability. So, whatever thing you will do, the Bible says ‘seek peace’ and if peace was a common thing the Bible wouldn’t have asked you to seek that.

So, wherever you see peace there has to be compromise, whether it is in the family, business table or in the church. Wherever you see people without compromise you can hardly find peace. Some people who may be dragging you into a fight may be doing so out of their own personal agenda and their agenda may have nothing to do with the common goal of developing my state.

 

My responsibility as governor of Abia State is to steer the ship of leadership and governance from 2015 to 2023 and make sure that this is my ship and all the habitants in this ship are safe.

 

What kind of Abia do you want to see in the next dispensation of governance?

Let me say this, whatever I am going to bequeath to whoever becomes governor in 2023 is road network constructed and completed that he would not need to go back to during the course of his tenure as a governor.

 

What this means is that he doesn’t need to go and do the roads that l had constructed because I started ridged pavement technology in this part of Nigeria. In fact the governor of Rivers State learnt how to do ridged pavement from Abia State and he publicly declared that and ridged paved roads have capacity to be there for 30 years.

 

That is one. So, he is not going to go to roads. The second one, I am also bequeathing this long term development plan which tends to create a better life for Abia people in a sustainable way. We are the SME capital of Nigeria. I expect that the successive governments would continue to promote those things we have a comparative advantage over other states.

 

This government has built two industries, brand new industries and I expect that more industries should be built; this government has supported the revitalisations of some moribund companies, although the private sector is behind the Golden Guinea but with the tacit support of this government that was done.

 

This government is also going to bequeath uninterrupted power supply through Geometric Power here and I expect the next government to leverage on the steady power in this environment to drive growth and development in the system. This my government also will bequeath Enyinmba Economic City, which is said to be the Dubai of Africa where 650, 000 jobs would be created over 10 years and our vision for that project is tied to the steady power which is just around the corner.

 

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