Former Imo State governor, Chief Achike Udenwa has said that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will reclaim power from the All Progressives Congress (APC) in next year’s general elections. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on various issues and expressed disappointment in Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration.
There is no end in sight to the violence and killings especially in the Northern part of the country. Why do you think the situation has remained so despite the promise of the security agencies to deal with the problem?
Honestly, what I would say is that the government has been trying but I do not think it has been enough. I do not think the efforts of the government are enough because it is difficult to say that our whole security forces cannot combat the rate of killings that we are having in this country. Nigerians are not naturally violent people, so we should look deeply and find out the real reasons for these killings. An elder statesman like T.Y Danjuma made a very strong allegation that the Army has been compromised and a lot of Nigerians seem to believe him. This is because if our armed forces are neutral, committed to the country, we would not have this problem. I believe that they are well equipped and sufficient in number to be able to combat these armed terrorists. So, it beats me why these things are happening. That is why I am saying that Nigerians should open their eyes more, look deeper and see exactly what is happening.
Do you share the position that the administrative style of President Muhammadu Buhari is escalating the violence in the country?
I feel that the government has not shown enough commitment to stop the violence because I remember when they deployed the operation Python Dance to the South East, that the whole place was turned upside down. We have had so many operations in the Boko Haram area and there have been no changes since then. They had already declared victory and said they have beaten Boko Haram. That was over 18 months ago and up till now, the killings and violence continue. So, I doubt if the will is there. Look at the other killings involving the herdsmen; who are the herdsmen? Why can’t the Nigerian armed forces be able to combat the activities of the herdsmen? I believe that if the will is there, the government can handle the situation. I know Nigeria can deal with the activities of herdsmen if the political will is there. But I cannot say that the will is there so far.
How prepared is your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to take over power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general elections?
We are very prepared for the coming general elections and we are still talking with some other political parties. We believe that at the right time before the general elections, we should be able to come to an agreement with some other opposition parties and some elements who are dissatisfied where they are even in the APC. So, if we pursue the way we are going and if we field the right candidate, I am sure we are going to be victorious and effectively take over power from the APC. I believe that the next election is about three issues. The first one is national unity, the second is security and the third one is the economy.
These are the three main issues that will decide the next election. Now, if you watch, the ruling party has not shown enough will in these three directions. When you come to the issue of national unity, you will agree with me that Nigeria cannot go on the way she is going. It is obvious and that is why people are clamouring for the restructuring of the country. If you restructure the country, Nigeria will be better. I do not see any part of the country losing from restructuring. Anybody who fears that restructuring will take away power from him and all that is not correct. I believe that restructuring will make it possible for every part of this country to be in a position to harness and manage its resources fully. When restructured, every region should be able to manage even its internal security. So, restructuring will continue to be an issue as far as the next election is concerned. You cannot have any national unity without restructuring. Then, you also talk about security; you can only have progress in any country where there is security of lives and property. Progress and development can only happen in a place where people can move around easily and conduct their businesses freely without the fear of bandits and terrorists harassing them.
The national security is very important and the ruling party has not done well in securing the lives and properties of Nigerians. Everyday, you hear about killings as if it is the bandits that are being killed. The third issue is about the economy and when you talk about the economy, you ask yourself, when the PDP was in power, were Nigerians worse off than they are now or is it the other way round. The average Nigerian will tell you that they were better under the PDP government. What it means is that the present administration has not tackled the economy as to change their lives. There are vital areas of the economy that they still need to address. They need to address the real sector of the economy –agriculture, manufacturing, solid minerals and so on. These are areas that they have not really come out with a laid out plan on how to tackle them. Today, Nigeria is still a dumping ground for other economies and that should not be. We have the population and the purchasing power; so why should we continue to import from other countries to empower them instead of our own nation. In Nigeria, we have a lot of resources but it is only the value addition that we have not been able to achieve. We exploit crude oil and then import the refined products from oil. What type of economy are we running as a nation? We have continued to spend billions in the name of oil subsidy.
This is a country that is a major oil producer. What are we doing and what is stopping us from producing the refined oil at home? So, the issue is what value are we adding to our oil resources or are we exporting them just raw like that. There is a lot of minerals in different parts of the country. What are we adding to these solid minerals? Look at even the agricultural products; we still import oil. We still import a lot of vegetable oil into this country but we export palm oil, groundnut oil and all these things to other countries without adding value to it. After exporting, we immediately begin to import the finished products from the same thing that we exported from our country. What we are doing in essence is to export employment and import unemployment. So, these are things that should be looked into very closely. And that is why I am telling you that if we restructure, the different regions would be able to look at their different potential. The states would be able to survive than coming caps in hand every month to share the federal allocation. That is not right. So, I think the ruling party has deceived us but I believe that now, the PDP is well prepared for next year’s general elections. If other opposition parties work with us, we would flush out the APC from power.
Ahead of the 2019 poll, what kind of presidential candidate is your party looking at that would have the integrity and national appeal to win the election against President Buhari?
Luckily, the PDP has also zoned the presidency to the North. We are looking for that candidate who is not an extremist. We are looking for somebody who understands Nigeria and understands the diversity of the country and somebody that can accommodate all the people of Nigeria irrespective of tribe and religion. We are also looking for somebody who will be acceptable to all Nigerians. Even though we zoned the position to the North, we do not want somebody who is only accepted in the North. We are looking for somebody who has a track record, someone people can trust and one who can treat every Nigerian equally. We are not in any way looking for somebody who will give any special privileges to the South or to the North. We want someone who will treat everybody equally. These are what we are looking for and we will get it in our party.
We are talking about somebody who is already experienced and understands Nigeria. We cannot give that position to somebody who does not understand the diversity of the country. Even in the North, so many people do not know the number of the ethnic groups that exist in that region. Many do not know that so many Christians exist in the North. So, the North is not a bloc as some would think. The region is also full of diversities. So, let there be somebody who can look at all these diversities and know exactly how to galvanise all of us toward national integration and development. And it must also be somebody who believes in restructuring. The unitary system that we are practicing in the name of federalism is not working.
Many believe that the fear of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the beginning of wisdom; ahead of the election, many opposition party members especially from your party are being arrested over issues of corruption. Don’t you think it will affect the morale of the members ahead of the election and do you think with all these baggage, the party will be able to substantially challenge the APC in 2019?
The facts are there and you have just stated it yourself. I support the fight against corruption. I believe that when you are corrupt, the fact that you are in any political party would not count. When the fight is no respecter of person irrespective of status or which party you belong to, then we will know that you are fighting corruption. You cannot be fighting corruption and it is lopsided.
To us today in the PDP, we see them as fighting a lopsided fight. We see many who are around them and who they feel are not corrupt and we get surprised. So, you can see the insincerity of the whole exercise. It is insincerity of the highest order. That is why I believe that if the PDP is brought back to power, we will still fight corruption. Of course, no well meaning and right thinking Nigerian would condone corruption. But let the fight be seen to be against everybody that is corrupt and not some people. In any case, by the time you begin to prosecute people within your own party and government who are perceived to be corrupt, people will take you serious. People will learn that it is not only the opposition that you are fighting. I believe that these are issues of the election.
Do you have confidence in the present leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
There is no doubt from what we are seeing in the lopsidedness of the appointments of officers to critical federal institutions that there could be biases. You can imagine that virtually all the heads of most of the federal institutions come from one part of the country, one religion and ethnic group. So, what do you expect. But I know the INEC chairman personally and he is a gentle man but I do not know what pressure they would bring to bear on him during the elections. I do not know what level of partisanship he can show in the election but Nigerians are all watching because INEC is very critical to the election. And INEC is not the only critical institution to the election. We have the police, Army and all the other paramilitary organisations. Even the judiciary is critical to the election. These are all critical institutions in the elections. A lot will depend on how free and fair the INEC will be and it is very worrisome that some of these institutions are showing signs of partisanship. I pray that they do not show such partisanship during the election because if they do, they would make the poll very volatile. People would not accept that. Let the affected institutions remain neutral so that the better side will win.
In your state, Imo, the APC has been in power for over seven years and this is a state you governed for eight years too. How would you rate the Rochas Okorocha’s government now that he is gradually rounding off his second tenure?
The performance is disappointing. Governor Rochas Okorocha is a colossal failure in terms of his performance as the governor of Imo State. Honestly, he is a colossal failure. I am happy today that the whole people of Imo are speaking the truth. Everybody in Imo State is beginning to see the realities on ground. In 2015 during the last election, we went round and told the people of Imo not to give this man a second tenure. We told them that if you give him a second tenure, the state is finished. But either by hook or by crook, he was able to get a second tenure. You can see what we are suffering since then. Go to Imo and meet any man on the street, you do not even need to be partisan and you will hear what they are saying.
People of Imo are fed up with the people. In Imo, there is no government; they are only looting. You can imagine where the ordinary man in the street will stand and tell you that so and so properties are owned by the governor and his family. The ordinary person in the street knows what I am telling you. All the so-called projects that he claims to have executed are collapsing already. Go and look at the roads. I challenge you; the roads I built about 15 years ago when I was the governor of that state are still standing very strong. If you go to Imo and ask people what roads I built in my time, they will show you; they are still standing. I can name them for you; I still use many of them when I am in the state. But you cannot say that of Okorocha’s roads; they have already failed. So, it is just somebody being smart. You say you have built 800 kilometers of roads, where are they? In some cases, they will say they are building roads and in the roads, they are already patching the potholes. So, it has been a complete misplaced trust on the part of government.
The governor has so disappointed the people of Imo State that they cannot wait for another administration to come. That is why we are being careful on who will take over from the present administration in the state. And in order to cover up all the iniquities they have committed, Governor Okorocha is insisting that his son in-law would take over from him. I would not be worried if the young man was an experienced person but the man has never worked before in his life outside serving his father in-law in government. That is why I am worried. The young man is qualified and if he is such an experienced and mature person and he happens to be the son in-law of the governor, I would not raise an eyebrow. If you go now to Imo, they will show you all his assets and buildings; this was a boy who was an applicant just yesterday. Ask yourself, where did he get all that money? You want him to become the governor and he has no experience. They only want to make money from nowhere without sweating or working. His son in-law has learnt how to make money and that is what he is going to carry out when he becomes governor. I have nothing against his age; anybody of his age who has experience, intelligence and the background can become the governor. I am not against such a person but not this one that has nothing to show. And he has imbibed only the wrong values.
What will you say to the claim by the governor that it is only the elite in Imo that do not appreciate what he is doing and that they are fighting him because his administration has challenged the status quo?
He thinks he can buy the ordinary people of the state with money but this time, money will not help him. The issue has nothing to do with the elite. If you talk about the political elite, what are you comparing? Are you comparing his intelligence or experience? The problem of his administration has nothing to do with the political elite. Who is he and what is his curriculum vitae? Let him put his C.V in the media, let us see where he has worked in his life and the experiences he has gathered. The office of the governor is not for all comers. And of course, any experience he has gathered from Governor Okorocha cannot be anything to write home about. Governor Okorocha is very incompetent, inexperienced and cannot pass on anything meaningful to anybody. So, if Okorocha thinks that his son-law is qualified to be the governor of Imo State, let him publish his C.V in the media, let people see.
What is your take on the proposed move by the governor to build houses for the former governors of the state?
This is an issue that I do not want anybody to play politics with. In the retirement benefits of governors, that provision for providing house for the governors has been there. They have not done it for the past seven years he has been in office. He has not provided any facility to the former governors and has not even paid any pensions to them. They are saying that the amount provided for the governors’ pension is too small but have you even paid that small one. So, why make an issue out of building houses for the former governors as if you are doing them a favour. You are not doing any favour to anybody. Nobody has come to ask you for anything and you should not make issue out of nothing. It is not a favour in the first place. Whether he builds it or he does not, nobody cares. The end of Governor Okorocha’s administration is about 11 months from now.