ABIA: I’m ready to give an account of my stewardship — Gov Ikpeazu | #NwokeukwuMascot
By Ugochukwu Alaribe
|Gov Okezie Victor Ikpeazu phD|
Q: PDP‘s performance in the last elections in the state was very poor, what happened?
A: Naturally, I would have loved my party to win but the elections have come and gone. The outcome of any election is a combination of many factors. One could be the perception of the electorate and the other, is the technicalities involved in the election. I am proud to say that we didn’t head from the elections to the mortuary. Whether the verdict is a true reflection of the wishes of the people is a matter for another day. I love the fact that history and posterity are always there to judge and put records straight. Be that as it may, I am consoled by the fact that elections for everybody should be seen as a call to serve. If the opportunity does not come at the time you desire, you should find the courage to move forward and see whether the outcome will be better next time.
The PDP has been there for 24 years. As a scientist, I respect the growth curve and there is a point you get to when you will begin to experience diminishing returns. It could come from lots of things; self-confidence or overconfidence. People will begin to think that we have always been winning and we will always win.
This kills hunger and drives to do the needful in terms of campaign, vote-following, and result. It also creates complacency and a laissez-faire attitude.
Those who are outside are hungry for victory and when you begin to see that the input is not commensurate with the output the curve flattens and subsequently begins to nosedive.
At that point, you need to do something radical to get back to your position. Again, I think that all hope isn’t lost for my party; we are still the majority in the state House of Assembly. This is a good thing to fall back on, we can rebuild from there. If we have 11 members in the House of Assembly which is the grassroots constituency, what it means is that PDP is still stronger than other parties. If not, why didn’t the other parties get the majority?
Q: Your party still went to court contrary to your appeal in your congratulatory message to the Governor-elect. Did your party consult you before deciding to go to court?
A: My party did not consult me to seek my opinion. I say this because I volunteered my opinion and I spoke like a statesman. I am convinced that those who win elections should be allowed work because I was at the receiving end of bitter three and half years of litigation. And I don’t want anybody to go through such an experience. What put a spanner in the works is that even the supposed beneficiaries of my advice, the Labour Party, also went to court against the 11 members-elect of my party, who won in the state assembly.
So, I lost my foothold in advising the party not to go to court, they could ask me if I want them to sit by and watch the opponent humiliate them. All of us should be able to offer what we desire. If I desire peace, I should be able to offer peace too. You can’t be looking for peace with a knife and gun and everything in your pocket at the same time.
It doesn’t work that way. Incidentally, I am not the gubernatorial candidate and I am not the party. I still think that the characters that are involved in this; the candidates, both the victor and those who were not lucky, can still talk to one another.
Q: The Returning officer for the election, Prof. Nnenna Otti, made some allegations on her return to her institution about how she was bullied but refused to be intimidated. Who were those that bullied her? What is your reaction to the issues that played out during and after the announcement of the allegations?
A: I wish I knew those who bullied her. I think she has been making too much noise out of nothing. The returning officer essentially must tally results already collated from the wards through the local governments and declare them.
She can’t change the results because she has no right to do that unless she went ahead and did something like that.
But her reactions betrayed the fact that she was overly excited about something. When you come to that kind of position dispassionately, whatever the outcome should not excite you. But the victory dance she participated in and her statements which are akin to confessions have betrayed the fact that she came for a hatchet job. It could be to reject or accept some results.
I want the world to know that she is celebrating what she has no right to do. I have never met her before; I don’t have her telephone number but I am aware that if she came to do the right thing, she has no right to change anything. She has no right to even reject results because those results were generated from the polling units and wards. Her celebration is unfortunate and unbecoming of somebody who was given that kind of responsibility at that level.
Q: Are you not disturbed by the gifts she has received from some highly placed persons in the state, does this justify your fears that she may have been compromised?
A: You know that bribes can come before or after the event. If I tell you if you do this or if this is the outcome, this is what you will get, it is an inducement. It is also an incentive to behave in a certain way. So, could this be a fulfillment of a promise that if this is the outcome, this is what will happen? I think it is unprecedented, I don’t know where this has happened in Nigeria before, and it has opened a new vista of inducement during the election. You are my friend, and you are running for an election. I can tell the returning officer to do everything to announce my friend and I will give you something after. And when I keep my promise, it becomes inducement. It is very unfortunate.
Q: During the elections, there are lots of stories that came out of your local government, Obingwa, especially the issue of delayed submission of results and alleged hostage-taking of electoral officers. What is your take on this?
A: I am not aware of the hostage-taking of any electoral officer in Obingwa LGA. I visited the area, but before I got there, the Commissioner of Police in charge of the elections in Abia South was there; the Police Area Commander for Aba was there.
The DSS was there. And when these high-ranking officers of these agencies go to such places, they do so with a retinue of their men. There was an armored personnel carrier manned by soldiers stationed at the local government headquarters.
There couldn’t have been a report of holding any election staff hostage. There is a limit to what I can say because the matter is already at the election petition tribunal.
But I want to remind us that this is not the first time an attempt has been made to cancel election results from Obingwa LGA. The first attempt was in 2015. In 2019, an attempt was made to bomb Obingwa LGA headquarters to ensure that votes from the area didn’t count. And I insisted that results must be collated at the various wards according to the stipulations of the Electoral Act.
In 2023, I offered the same advice and INEC failed to heed it. The Electoral Act says that you must announce results at the polling units and collate them at the wards. So, why do you want all the results to be taken to LGA headquarters, is it to make it easy for you to cancel them? This is because it puts the powers on the shoulders of one man. If you collate the results as they arrive from the various units in the wards, you will ensure that even if there are problems in one or two wards, you can get some ward results.
So, what the youths of Obingwa LGA did was to say that results must be collated at the LGA headquarters before being taken to Umuahia. I salute their courage because some of the results taken to Umuahia for collation changed. The results were changed at Umuahia. Results must be collated at the units and announced at the wards and brought to the local government for tallying only.
Any election worker that tells you he wants to collate it centrally at the LGA is giving a recipe for fraud. He may even tell you that he no longer wants to collate results at the LGA level and wants them to be collated at Umuahia. And how will the agents at the polling units appear at Umuahia to give reports about what happened? Will you be expecting them to rely on the testimony of the man you sent to do a hatchet job? It seems to me that they were prepared to reject results from Obingwa LGA.
Q: The incoming administration may probe your administration, are you prepared to submit and cooperate with them?
A: It is not a question of willingness; it is something that will happen, whether I am willing or not, it will happen. So, I am very willing. I have served well and I have also been prudent. I am prepared to submit myself to whatever queries may arise because of my stewardship. I am bequeathing a very healthy state to the incoming administration. I have said that I have a facility that will enable him to start. It is a facility of over 50 million Dollars to do 500 roads with a 0.006% interest rate with a 10 years moratorium. This means he won’t pay one Naira. How healthier can a state be?
And I have done massive infrastructure renewal in Aba and most parts of the state. We did 750 school blocks with over 10,000 people employed. Abia is the most secure state. Security is working and infrastructure is upbeat.
Q: Looking back at the last eight years, do you have any regrets as you exit office on May 29? There has been this allegation that you could have done better than you did, but for some aides who betrayed you.
A: No, I am satisfied with my stewardship, even in my relationship and disposition. I think I did what I needed to do in the circumstances.
No two circumstances are the same but I don’t have any regrets. People are only dwelling on conjectures. If I am to rate my commissioners, am I going to rate them based on their political performance or on the job they are supposed to do? If I rate the job they are supposed to do, in the following weeks, every commissioner will bring up what he or she has done.
All of us aren’t wired with equal capacity. So, I give allowance to those who are not capable of interpreting my vision of governance. I also give allowance to those who understand the vision but are slow. I also give allowance to those who come clueless. The challenge of leadership is not in conceptualizing projects, but in connecting the projects and funneling them towards an agenda that creates a better life for the people.
You must know how to connect or cross the dots. How are the roads you have connected to trade and commerce, for instance? How will the hospital you have constructed respond to life expectancy? Are you speaking about infant or maternal mortality or geriatrics? What is the world thinking? Into which of the programs should I key in to get what I want? Public service is a serious business, it is not everybody that has the gift to align thoughts and develop strategies to achieve the outcomes that I want. So, if you have 10 commissioners, you will be lucky to have six doing the right thing at the right time with the speed you want.
It doesn’t mean that you rock the entire boat because four of them aren’t like the other six. Your prayer should be that your pillars, on which your government and vision stand, be the commissioners that are doing what you want them to do. I don’t have time to rate commissioners whether they performed politically or not. There is no reward or punishment for those who didn’t perform politically.
No time to worry about any commissioner who didn’t do well politically, but I am concerned about any commissioner that has made contributions toward our vision. You built a house called PDP and I was saying, let’s keep our house an unfortunate person was spending his time poking holes in the roof and rain has come, and the rain is on everyone. All of us will be drenched, including him.
Q: What are your plans as you exit the office on May 29?
A: One of my biggest personal accomplishments is that I was able to complete a book on Biochemistry and Environmental Pollution. I have got reviews that there is no book like that as of today.
So, if I could write a book on a technical subject matter like environmental pollution; the molecular basis of environmental pollution, it means that I am a man of many parts. The business of politics is a thankless job. If I make myself available for political stewardship, I do that at great cost to my family. I am not going to miss anything. The Governor’s Lodge in Aba where I live is a three-bedroom flat; I don’t think any other Governor in Nigeria can live in this place. But I willingly elected to run the shortest Governor’s convoy of five cars for eight years and live in this 3 bedroom flat. I need to be close to nature and who I am because I knew that the toga of the governor is ephemeral. I have moved on, but I am aware that a few people in this country appreciate my hard work and capacity to work with people and bring results.
They also appreciate my frankness and stubbornness when it comes to sticking to what I think is right. So, should there be any space for any individual with such credentials, I know that something will happen. But for me now, I am still a lecturer; I have a personal laboratory and I am still writing technical books. I also have a family that is at a very critical stage, they need me to guide them on a few things about life. So, I am not going to be idle, I don’t know how much time I have for public service as a person. I am going to be sufficiently busy doing my own thing.
Q: Abia has enjoyed relative peace among the states in the South-East zone, how were you able to achieve this?
A: It is a culmination of many factors. First is the grace of God. The other one is that I am very intentional about issues of security. I have eyes in every community in the state. I understand all the track roads that lead to Rivers State from Abia. You must know where your threats are coming from. For instance, on the day they broke the jail in Owerri, Imo state, we caught over 25 prisoners heading to Abia at Owerrinta.
We cordoned off our areas leading to the track roads. You must be proactive and find a way to have gatekeepers; you must track the suspects you are looking for. Track them to know whether they are in jail or free. If they are in jail, when are they coming out and going, because they are the people with a proclivity to crime? Then, you must be willing to listen and let the kinetic approach be your last strategy. You must also be ready to sit with everybody and ask questions. This is because if you go after the wrong target too many times, it will bring many enemies.
Finally, our young people in Nigeria are not being fairly treated. So if they are entitled to be angry. The approach should be to understand their problems and know what it is.
Q: You are a member of the G5 PDP Governors who disagreed with the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu over the zoning of the party chairmanship position. With the PDP’s loss at the presidential poll, can you say that the G5 Governors have been vindicated over their agitation?
A: In the G5 group, we are held together by our conviction that Nigeria needs our unity more than anything. And that the people of Nigeria are very sensitive to ethnicity, religion, and all kinds of things. The last few years have brought many of those sensitivities to the fore. And there was a need to douse these sensitivities by trying to respect one another.
Inclusiveness is what we need more than anything else. Ethnic inclusiveness, in terms of recognition for the minority people as much as the so-called majority people, inclusiveness in terms of youth and women, and inclusiveness in terms of people with disabilities and ability to hold each other because this is the way we can harness the potentials of this country. Our greatest strength lies in our people. This is why we have people that are excelling in aeronautics, medicine, and other fields outside Nigeria. So, there must be something we aren’t doing properly that can enable us to attract these people to come to the table. And we said the founding fathers of our party alluded to zoning. We also tasted the water nationally. All the Governors sat and agreed that we are going to support the power shift to southern Nigeria since we had a president from the North.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have people from the North that are qualified. But if we are responding to the sensitivities, we are responding to the inclusiveness that we need to do this. For me, when I attend a meeting and there are agreements made, I take it seriously.
It was only after a while that some people said no, the exigencies and all that. I also saw a few of my friends who agreed that this was the agreement. We told the chairman of our party that if you will not zero in on zoning in the run-up of our presidential primaries, what happens when we have a chairman and candidate from the same part of Nigeria? If the answer is yes; what if the presidential candidate emerges from the North, what happens? And the agreement was, I will resign or the chairman will come to the South.
When the outcome threw up our presidential candidate, we couldn’t deny the presidential candidate. We said to the national chairman; give us something with which to campaign in the South, otherwise, what will I say on the podium in Abia where there is Mr. Peter Obi who is from neighboring Anambra state and he is running in the election? How do I say that neither the candidate nor the party chairman came from the South? And there was no narrative. I stuck with the G5 because I saw in them gentlemen who could stand up to speak the truth. I think we need people across the divides in Nigeria that can stand for the truth. Somebody that can say, yes we agreed it is the turn of the youths or women. I am known to say that if we say we are looking for competent people, we can get them everywhere.
But some people will say this is not the time for competent persons for one reason or the other. There is no angel here.
We are saying that we can find such kinds of people everywhere. Not until we get to that point, let us also begin to respect agreements and be intentional about mainstreaming those who may not be as strong as the other people. If the winner takes all, we are fostering brigandage.
We are saying that the people who will become whatever are the strongest. And this is not good for our country, we must be able to sit as intelligent people and agree that this is what we need for our democracy. Of all the things that are our major problems today; inclusiveness, economy, insecurity, and infrastructure, the most important is inclusiveness because if you bring everybody to the table and the youths and women from the Niger Delta, South East, South West, Kanuri, and others know that they have a hand in the government and that the president is going to work for them, there will be peace.
This is inclusiveness. It will help us solve the problem of insecurity. They will make sacrifices that will enable us to develop. The most important thing is that we must work on cohesion and mutual trust. Before you achieve mutual trust, some people will have to make sacrifices. We can’t be pulling in different directions at the same time and expect the outcome to be different.
Q: There are rumors that you are making moves to dump the PDP for the APC, Is this true?
A: I am the leader of the PDP in Abia. I have 11 state Assembly members. Those who are coming to be the head of affairs in the state have joined not less than four political parties since 2015.