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Equity was responsible for my choice of successor – Ikpeazu

Equity was responsible for my choice of successor – Ikpeazu

Okezie Ikpeazu is the governor of Abia State and the senatorial candidate of Abia South in the 2023 election. In this interview with a select group of editors, he spoke on a number of issues, including his relationship with his predecessor, his choice of successor, his views on the crisis in his party, his thought on Peter Obi’s candidacy, among several others. ZEBULON AGOMUO brings the excerpts:

There have serious battles in some states between predecessors and their successors. How have you been managing your own predecessor?

Anywhere there is peace, even in a family, there must be a compromise. Luckily, I am a man that is devoid of ego because of my training. I am a very sophisticated person. I understand signs and times.

My predecessor has also been a gentleman. He understands that there has been to be one key in the plug at a time; that Abia State has one governor, which is me. In return, I accord him his respect as an elder statesman.

I seek his advice whenever I need and I also urge him to call my attention when he doesn’t understand what I am doing but largely, we build sufficient confidence that he is sure that I will act in the best interest of the state and not necessarily to undermine him.

If there are things I do during the course of work that he is averse to, he would also see my view that it is for the overall interest of the state. I was confronted with this question recently and my response was that my predecessor understands me and he looks out for me, he is an elder statesman and I am grateful that he provided his platform and opportunity for me to serve. I really don’t have any problem with him.

That leads to the question of support for your own successor. Your predecessor seems far detached from your decision…

He has not told me about his preference for another person…

Many people in your party are not happy about that decision…

Which decision?

Your choice of your preferred successor…

You said many…

One of them is the man that left PDP, Senator Abaribe, to contest the Senate with you…

No. His reason for leaving is that he wanted to be governor, and we are from the same local government. How do we conceive that it takes 84 years in a state of 17 local government for every local government to produce a governor? How does one justify eight years by 17 that?

This is the bane of politics and politicians in Nigeria. When they don’t get what they want, there is no ideology and morality behind it. I don’t understand what it is. Somebody whose house is a 5minutes walk away from my house? I think we need to get to that point where we will be more sensitive to issues concerning politics.

Another thorny issue is that your would-be successor is from the same area as you…

No, I am from Abia South, he is from Abia Central.

Abia Central has about six local government areas, three local government areas are in Umuahia, which is Old Bende, and the other three are in Old Aba. From the Abia Chater of Equity, Orji Uzor Kalu , who is from Bende Local Government handed over the next local government which is in Umuahia North, though in Abia Central, the same Old Bende.

If it was a crime, it was committed long before now. So, equity dictates that if I am returning to Abia North, it has to also stay in the three Ngwa Local Government Areas in the Central and then proceed from there.

In fact, a friend of mine, who is also one of the critics of the projects of Chief Ogbonna asked me a question when Governor T. A. Orji was running to be governor, and we were talking about it and he said to me that in Igbo tradition, that if one lifts a load from the head, he puts it on the shoulder as it is going down and my question to him now is that if one is carrying something from the ground, one will first put it on the knee and take it up there using the same analogy that he used.

With Uchenna Ikonne’s emergence, it has provided an opportunity for equity. Old Bende would have done, Orji Uzor’s and T. A Orji’s 16 years, Old Aba division would have done Ikpeazu’s eight years and Ikonne’s eight years, which makes up for 16years. If it goes to Abia North, we don’t mind if it will come to Umuahia again before it comes to the South. It is a recipe for peace and stability.

Going to the Senate after serving eight years as governor, one would wonder if you are not tired. Why do you want to go to the Senate?

Let me say this. I am tired of being a governor but certainly not tired of responding to impulses from my people. If it is the wish of my people that I represent them in the Senate, so be it but after my stint in the Senate because of age, I will contemplate retirement from politics but if my people feel I am still young enough and also have something to offer, especially in the area of the fact that all that you see in Aba today is done under my watch.

If you delete my intervention from Aba, in fact, Abia South and some parts of Abia Central will be left a void, formless and shapeless. But of all things you have seen, we have done so far, they are by efforts of the state government.

There is no Federal Government presence in Abia South. They think they need somebody who has the capacity to create and attract Federal Government’s attention to Abia South.

They want us to continue along the line of supporting us as the SME capital of Nigeria. We need to give Aba Manufacturers a global perspective, and we need to give the Federal Government impetus to use us as the arrowhead in the Continental Free Trade Agreement, where we rightly belong.

We are not contending with anybody as the largest producer of crude oil, neither are we contending with anybody as the largest producer of rice but we are the best manufacturers of shoes in Africa and the best manufacturer of garments and wears in Africa.

So, we need to give a national voice to all of these that we have been doing. If I could create an SME bank as a governor, I could do more on capacity building. I could even establish two industries around Aba, then I understand what the problems are and I can speak about them.

I can mount strong advocacy in that direction and get things done. I have also done so much in terms of support for trade and commerce and my people think that I will be able to ask questions in the area of why Custom Officers raid warehouses in Aba and after going through the rigours in the Wharf, harassment along Benin-Ore Expressway and getting to the warehouse in Aba.

It is just like somebody coming into your pot of soup and lifting the wing of chicken and asking you where is the birth certificate of this chicken?

So, we think that there is something that is not right about how the rest of Nigerians perceive our people in this our genuine calling as traders and small-scale manufacturers, which is just our God-given talent.

God doesn’t give one everything but the much he has given, we are asking that we need to protect. My people also think that I am in a position to mount strong advocacy in that direction. I am in a position to drive this transition leveraging on Federal Government impetus to do that.

Why was it difficult to do that as a governor?

As a leader of the subnational government, I have my job cut out for me. I couldn’t do everything. It’s important but that is not to say that nothing is being done in that direction.

We have two to three ICT hubs that recently exported somebody that is valued at $1million. The person is residing in the UK now. The person came up with an app for a payment platform but we think we can do more.

We have over 350 boys in one of those hubs and this ICT initiative has been recognised by Ford Foundation and we won many times through the Platform and by the grace of God, Ford Foundation put Abia State on CNN for several weeks where Made-in-Aba products and ICT exploits were promoted. We have done quite a lot.

We just signed off to transform the digital library at Umuahia into an IT hub for young people to idealise, create and innovate. So, we have created the fundamentals. So, we have done this much as a subnational government.

The real thing is the Federal Government and we think there is a missing link and my people felt I can do the needful by bridging this gap. Again. If you recall all the major issues we have today, be it Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, or Ikot Ekpene… these are Federal Government roads because I have suffered a lot trying to do these things without a refund from the Federal Government and I have done several Federal government roads.

The time has come for the man who understands where the shoe pinches to lead out in the next four years at that level to speak for his people.

Incidentally, the man you are contesting with was known for his outspokenness, and vociferousness on issues affecting the Igbo on the floor of the Senate.

That gave him a heroic status among the Igbo as the voice of the voiceless. I mean, you have a formidable opponent to contend with. How do you see that panning out?

Going forward, I think our people are asking questions about the work he has done. If you go to Ike Ekweremadu’s local government, I don’t think there is any track road that is not better and no one will say Ekweremadu is a complete pushover in the Senate, either judged by his ability to play the politics of the Senate and position himself and he rose to become the Senate President, or by advocacy for Enugu or Igbo people as it were.

In addition to all of these, people could see what he has done. I have a lot of respect and regard for my elder brother, distinguished Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and most of us learnt politics watching him. Nobody remains an apprentice forever. At times, experience is very important but if combined youthfulness and energy is unbeatable.

You and a few PDP governors were not at the launch of Atiku Campaign. What happened? Is it an extension of the ongoing battle between you and your presidential candidate?

There is no battle between the presidential candidate and I. He is my presidential candidate. I don’t have any other candidate but at times, when one gets to a certain point in life, and a vehicle is put down for a journey, every kid will jump at that offer.

What a mature man questions will be, is to ask about the destination of the vehicle. That is the question I am asking. I am a South Easterner. I am an Igbo man. We have been faithful apologist of the PDP since 1999 and needed to ask a question.

The greatest need of Nigerians today is inclusiveness. Can we be sensitive to the feelings of other people? Can I be guaranteed a country where a criminal in Sokoto is a criminal in Abia and a criminal Abia is a criminal in Zamfara?

Can I be guaranteed a country where my son will be not brutalised because his name is Okolie? Can I be allowed into a meeting out of respect for my capacity to make contributions in that meeting and not necessarily because I am here but because of where I come from?

There was a time in this country when the quota system was the order of the day; even in admission, because if we take candidates on merit, some sections of this country may not have candidates and everybody agreed to it so that our brothers and sisters can catch up with us.

When did we jettison that consideration? The other name for hypocrisy is double-standard and these questions were being asked quietly and politely before some characters escalated to the national platform.

I was not in Abuja because I went overseas for a United Nations meeting held in New York and I just came back, which is why I couldn’t attend the launch. But going forward, if those questions are not answered, we will limp into the bus and see how it goes but I thank God for the courage to ask those questions for and on behalf of Nnamdi and I will end this particular question with a proverb about a chicken that found itself the claws of a kite and the chicken continued to shout and it said ‘I am shouting not because the kite will leave me but let heaven and earth hear my voice.”

It is said that a group of governors like you, Seyi Makinde, Ortom, Wike, and Ugwuanyi are opposed to the candidacy either because of Wike’s loss or the quest for southern president. Was that the reason all the five governors boycotted the launch? Was it planned that the five of you were not there?

It will be very childish for me not to attend our party activities because Wike lost. I granted an interview on the floor of the convention that night and I have told Wike before the convention that we should be hopeful and prayerful so that we can win, but if we don’t win, are we still going to remain in PDP and his answer was positive that we will remain in PDP; that if another person wins, we will go with the person. However, in trying to make our party strong and give us a narrative with which to market the party from this part of the country, people would always ask me questions as a leader in the party what is the way forward and what’s in it for us?

If that question is posed, I don’t know what I will say or have we gotten to the point where nobody says anything again?

Like the PDP and APC did…

This is why I needed to satisfy my conscience that I have these questions. It is not about Wike and we are not against his Excellency, Waziri Adamawa. The problem is beyond Waziri. It is about dredging up the courage to speak the right words and this is also part of what is bedeviling Nigeria.

I have said that if I were in the shoe of President Buhari, I will engage citizen Nnamdi Kanu. Engaging him does not belittle our president. He is our citizen, and there may be things that Nnamdi Kanu is not seeing because he is not sitting on the presidential chair.

Then, you enlighten him, there could also be things that he is hearing because he is closer to the grassroots which the president doesn’t know and he would educate him.

This is what leadership is all about but if you say I would not sit and listen to anything, democracy gives opportunities to be heard.

You mentioned some difficulties you faced, the issues of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, three economic recessions, and the rest of it.

How would you situate the kind of governance we have had at the federal level since 2015 when you assumed office? Could we have done better if we had a different approach to governance?

Everybody is miffed and shocked at the kind of leadership we have experienced at the hands of the APC since 2015. The main reason why many people are shocked is that government is judged based on promises and manifestos they made and President Buhari is not particularly new to presidential orchestration.

Read also: 2023 elections: Abia PDP inaugurates campaign council

Perhaps, he is the most prepared at the time having tried several times and experienced leadership at that level as a military ruler. So, we thought he has the levers of power at his fingertips and he could pull them but it is shocking that the value of the dollar to naira is N730 as at present, which has never happened before and it is on a free fall and the resolution of issues like ASUU strike appears as if we are implementing Boko Haram by default, which is we don’t want western education.

The rate of inflation is uncontrollable, and then people are being paid N30,000 and they don’t want to see criminals. Graduates won’t get jobs and now they won’t also graduate.

Even the simplest of things, the only thing I see happening is sharing of loots. Is that government? They would collect money from London and share it. How does that represent sophisticated thinking?

The answers are clear to this particular question and the greatest disservice to our nation is the disunity and the rate of mutual suspicion brought in by the government that today one could be stoned in one part of the country for posting your views on social media and nothing will happen.

Some cities are cut off from other cities and in all of these; they still post statistics on agriculture. Where are the farmers? On which farm are the farmers?

Having said all these, why do you think the APC should be confident about winning the 2023 elections?

What gives a party or candidate hope about what he or she will do in an election is a combination of two things. The first one is what he is able to do and his opponent is unable to do it. So, if those that are contending with APC become indolent, they say justice does not favour indolence.

Finally, the South-East is not speaking about Peter Obi. Is it about party politics or about the brightest chance the Igbo have to make an impact and possibly win the presidency?

I don’t know what you mean by the South-East…

I mean leaders…

Leaders of a geopolitical zone cannot be synonymous with the geopolitical zone. Most politicians speak from a selfish reason and it is about how it satisfies what they perceive but if any leader in the South-East wants, to be frank, he will say Peter Obi is a narrative that is resonating and I believe strongly that God still interferes in the affairs of men.

Secondly, I also believe strongly that a mango will fall when it is ripe and it is time. Nobody knows whether it is time and season now or not but whosoever will emerge as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should know there is a Goliath confronting that David.

If the person is unable to dredge up the courage to kill that Goliath, then you are not the David. There is no way we can run away from it.

Can you explain that?

What I mean is that today for the candidate of PDP, his Goliath is to dredge up the courage to demonstrate your capacity for inclusiveness and nation-building. It is a big-time Goliath. For Peter Obi, dredge up the courage to speak Nigerianness into the seeming South-East Agenda.

For Bola Tinubu, the Goliath is to create a 360 Degree departure from what has brought us to this path in the past seven years.