What went wrong with the elections in your state that your governor lost the Senate ticket and PDP lost the governorship?
We are still reviewing data from the elections to better understand what exactly happened. At the same time, we are preparing for seamless handover of power to the incoming administration based on the declaration by INEC. There will be more than enough time to look back but in all of these, I personally appreciate the democratic credentials of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who does not see electoral contests as “do or die” affair. Posterity will be kind to him and his family.
Was there issue of internal sabotage in your party? Many government officials were not visible during the elections?
While many people talk about “sabotage”, I prefer to speak to individual choices and protection of personal interest. In politics, people take positions on the basis of personal interest and of course, group interest. I am in no position to know, if there are cabinet officials or others in government that did not share in our collective aspiration to install a PDP government, led by amiable Okey Ahaiwe. I am also not inclined towards propagating unverified rumours and innuendos but I won’t be surprised if there are government officials whose personal interests clashed with our collective position on voting PDP and her candidates. It is the nature of politics, especially during a transition year cycle such as we have just been through.
But, your governor did reasonably well. Do you think he paid the price of PDP’s hold on the state since 1999?
Certainly, Governor Ikpeazu performed well in many areas including the primary function of government, which is to secure the people. Abia is today the most peaceful and most secure state in the South-East region and one of the top five in Nigeria. Beyond that, I am proud of the fact that after all said and done, we did not lose a single life during this election cycle.
Governor Ikpeazu’s Abia State came 1st in performance ranking of Nigerian states by WAEC back to back for 4 years. He has built many new classroom blocks, improved public school enrollment from about 140,000 to more than 600,000 pupils, established a foreign scholarship scheme that is first of its kind in Abia and remains the first Governor to establish a teachers’ continuous training institute in the state. When you look at infrastructure development, it is safe to say that no administration before him has done as much as he did with road infrastructure across the state. More than 160 road projects completed. Under his watch, we now have permanent structures for ASOPADEC, ABSIEC, Investment House and even completed ASUBEB building among many. I am also certain he will sleep in the new government house in Umuahia before May 29th. Similarly, he did very great work with healthcare, agriculture, SME development and industrialization. Our trading environment improved tremendously under his watch and our traders are now making more wealth relative to where they were in 2015. When you examine where Abia was in 2015 and where we are today, you can’t help but agree that Governor Ikpezu performed well and I am happy that the recent report on Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index vindicated him by placing Abia among the top three best states in Nigeria. That report came from a federal agency with support from global institutions and nobody can in his right mind say that Ikpeazu sponsored or orchestrated it.
I think what has happened is that while Abia positively turned the development corner under his watch, his opponents managed to frame all the real or perceived failures of the past as his personal fault. It is like carrying the burden of all those, who were governors before him on his head and because of his nature and beliefs, he deliberately refused to make excuses or demonise past administrations to save himself. If you know Dr. Ikpeazu, you will know that he is not the type to engage in blame game. Instead, he will try to see what he can do to change the situation.
Interestingly, most of his traducers were major actors in PDP governments in the state from 1999 to date. So, you begin to wonder how they have suddenly become saints while Ikpeazu is now the one wearing black. Personally, I think time will expose those who actually messed up the state and yet turned round to gang up against Ikpeazu to save themselves politically. You can’t hide pregnancy forever. I’ve listened to some of those who worked with different former and even current PDP governments in the state take to media houses to praise themselves and their superb contributions while in office and I continue to wonder that if they did all those wonderful things as integral members of PDP-led governments in the state, then our people should actually be happy. It is either they are lying about their individual achievements as part of a team or they have taken new positions to protect current personal political interests that make it necessary to attack the platform that brought them to limelight. Whichever way, time will expose all of us and like I told a friend, who is with the incoming administration, the only advice I would have loved to give Dr. Alex Otti is simply to say to him that given all that have been said and written about our dear state, he should not allow anyone that has ever been in government from 1999, be part of his new executive team. Let’s make a clean break from the past and see if we will get a better leadership outcome as proposed.
If PDP actually failed Abia, then there should be collective responsibility for all of us, including me. It is disingenuous to single out Governor Ikpeazu as the bearer of burden of failure because he has only governed for eight years and didn’t do so alone. In my personal view, Otti should make a clean break from the past and assemble a completely new team to help him govern since many of those who were in past governments publicly admitted that they failed collectively and individually.
Yes, Ikpeazu paid the price for the real and perceived failures of previous administrations in the state but now that he is going off the stage, I suspect it will soon become clear to all that he was not the problem. He did his best and of course, is a great leader who loves our people, does not want to see violence and bloodshed in Abia State, even when his personal interest is threatened. It is only a matter of time before the truth will emerge that Dr. Ikpeazu is a good leader of our people and some of us are prepared to wait to see that day. Same way we waited and saw much vilified Dee Sam Mbakwe emerge as a leadership icon in Igbo land after many years.
From your vantage point as the campaign spokesman, can you let us into some of those behind the scene events that cost you the election?
I think the magnitude and ramifications of the “Obi wave” in the South -East unsettled us to a great extent. You must know that most of us in Abia PDP, including Governor Ikpeazu, had sympathy for Peter Obi and quietly supported him without fully considering likely consequences beyond the presidential ballot. Even where consequences were mooted, I think Governor Ikpeazu was ready to sacrifice his senatorial ambition for the greater good of Ndigbo and Nigerians. In Abia, we felt that it is actually the turn of the Southeast to produce Nigeria’s president and with our brother, Peter Obi, representing everything good about Nigeria, we decided to do what in our view is the right thing. Obviously, our major opponents rode high on that our altruistic disposition to conjure a seemingly irreversible electoral hurricane from the Obi wave.
Beyond that, there were issues of internal organisation and structuring of our campaign. Some had reasons to feel personally alienated and when that is added to the strong demand for power shift to the northern zone in Abia, we ended up with a bad cocktail. Amazingly, the same people, who wanted a candidate from Abia North to emerge ended up supporting a candidate that claims to be from Ngwa side of Abia Central for reasons they are yet to fully make known. May be, they got sucked into the hurricane Obi and keyed into what they perceived as being inevitable. Politicians will always follow whoever they think will win and Abia politicians are not different.
Again, we suffered massive setback with the ill health and ultimately unfortunate death of Prof Uche Ikonne. Immediately after he was given the flag in Umuahia, opinion polls indicated that we were on course to victory and only needed to pacify a few dissenting voices within the PDP leadership ranks in the state. But, Prof leaving the stage immediately afterwards, we could have managed the dissenters and gone ahead to win easily. But, with his prolonged medical absence and the rumours around his health status, our opponents had the opportunity to poach many of our party faithful, who were hitherto on the fence. By the time Chief Ahiwe emerged, it was difficult to find enough time to woo everyone back to the fold and really raise the momentum again to the right level before the actual election. In reality, Ahiwe had only two weeks to campaign before the first election. Even then, Ahiwe’s amiable personality helped us to cover much ground, but until we have all the data on the election, we won’t know how far or how well he actually performed. I know for a fact that a lot of things happened during the election on March 18th, but we will wait to see the full data before commenting further.
What next for the PDP after this loss? Are you going to tribunal?
I believe we have to review and of course, also work hard to keep our members together. Four years is not a lifetime. The Governor has made an appeal as the leader in the state that all those who contested against Dr. Alex Otti should eschew litigations. As father of the state and someone, who suffered immensely from multiple litigations by Otti and others, who contested against him in 2015, I think he made the right call as a progressive leader. What I do not know at the moment is what the party, PDP, and her candidate think. Naturally, the candidate and the party are free to heed the call of the Governor or choose another course based on facts available to them, but I personally commend Ikpeazu for his peaceful and progressive disposition to leadership. He doesn’t believe in do-or-die politics and at all times prefers to place the greater good of Ndi Abia over and above his personal interest. Let us wait to see what the candidate and party will decide because as you know, the party is supreme and they sponsored the candidate. If the party feels there is a basis to litigate the election result, I doubt that the progressive call of the Governor will deter them because the structure of the party goes beyond Abia. We have seen instances in Nigeria where even a candidate decided not to go to court and the party chose to go to court. The most recent case is the one involving the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan.
Prof Nnenna Otti, the INEC Returning Officer for the governorship election has received different gifts and praises for her feat in the election. Do you think it is merited?
I am not aware she has received gifts but read about folks, who promised to give her this and that. I just hope those individuals are not chasing clout only. As per whether she merited whatever they promised her will be decided by time and history. I personally won’t want to get into that as I have scanty information on what she did or did not do. All I’ve heard are rumours, including that she was specifically nominated by the APC candidate in the election, Ikechi Emenike, to do a particular job. To me, all that is being said are yet to be verified, hence it should not interest me one way or another. If she has acted altruistically, I pray that God and posterity reward her, but if she has not, time will tell.