From Okey Sampson, Umuahia
Chief Charles Obioha Ogbonnaya is from Umuobasi Ugba in Afarata Ibeku in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State. He joined politics in 1987, when he ran for the Councillorship of his Ward in Umuahia and won. From there, he rose to become the local government chairman, before becoming deputy chief of staff to the deputy governor and later, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
Chief Ogbonnaya in this interview, spoke on why Abia North should produce the next governor in Abia State and other issues.
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One may say you have seen it all in Abia politics as a staunch member of PDP. Would it be said the party is still what it used to be in the state?
I have seen it all in Abia politics, Nigerian politics; I was there during the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, I nominated the first PDP Chairman in Abia State, Chief Tony Ukasanya. It’s unfortunate that in PDP today, the governor is now the leader of the party. It is said he who pays the Piper dictates the tune. Because the governors fund the party, they now turn to be leaders of the party and that has put the party in the hands of one man who dictates what happens in the party. It was not like that in the past. Yes in the past, the governors had a say; they wielded influence, but the way we see it today, well, in most cases, parties die in their hands because of their overbearing influence.
In some cases, some of the governors who decide to work hand in hand with stakeholders, things move smoothly; unlike what we are seeing in Abia State today, where the governor has decided to be an emperor, let’s see how it goes, I pray God helps PDP win the next election in the state because of what we are seeing.
You’re one of the PDP stakeholders in the state. Have you been able to approach the governor and what has been his reaction?
Let me tell you, there are issues I don’t want to talk about, the governor is my friend, I still believe he is my friend, it depends on him whether he believes I’m his friend. I have tried as much as possible, I have done everything humanly possible to make him see reasons on issues he is going into, but after discussing with him in-house and I discovered there are people who may be advising him better and he decided to take their advice and people are shouting.
In most cases, people will ask me, this man is your friend, how come you don’t advise him? And that has made me to come out openly to tell the world that I have been discussing with him in-house.
Ikpeazu used to come to my house, he was made governor in this house; God used me and others to make him governor. If he agrees, it is his business, if he doesn’t agree, that’s his business too. We had all our things in common, except our wives.
There are people he listens to. You see, I tell people, for those who are Chief executives, the developed world that established that position of adviser, they know why they did it. No man is an Island, no one knows it all, but unfortunately, here in Nigeria, people instead of appointing those that will advise them, do otherwise.
You turn around to be the one that will advise your adviser? And that is exactly what is happening today. Who are the people advising my friend? Political neophites, men without experience. Experience is not bought in the market, it is acquired, it is not even taught in classrooms, with your PhD, you need to come back to learn, so, I don’t know what his aims are, he understands what he wants, but that thing he wants, let’s see how it goes.
So, what’s happening today, all those things we have been talking about are the things that have been surfacing now, everybody is now shouting that these things are not good, which are the things we discussed in-house.
You’ve had cordial relationship with the governor until the issue of zoning of the governorship thicket came up. Apart from that, are there any other issues you have with him?
Most importantly is the issue of zoning. We have a system in Abia and for someone to come and truncate that system, it means there is something behind it. We have an understanding, our founding fathers laid a good and proper foundation for us; a foundation that brought the present governor to power.
The first governor of Abia State was Ogbonnaya Onu, that was before the creation of Ebonyi State. Immediately he left, Orji Uzor Kalu became governor, after that, T.A Orji, that’s Abia North, Abia Central and his own Abia South benefitted from the system. And in fact, during that time, before Ikpeazu was chosen, there were lots and lots of discussions. T.A Orji constituted a committee, a committee that was headed by Chief Onyema Ugochukwu and each Local Government Area was represented in that committee.
The committee after series of discussions, agreed that for peace to reign, that Abia South should be allowed to produce the next governor and the lot fell on Okezie Ikpeazu to be governor, and that’s how he became governor. The elders who were there when Ikpeazu was chosen are still alive, Chief Augustine Alaribe of Isiala Ngwa South is still alive, the wife is still alive. Okezie Ugboaja, immediate past chairman of Local Government Service Commission, is still alive, Dr. Eme Okoro is still alive and they were all there. It was agreed that at the end of the tenure of Abia South, that they would hand over to Abia North. So, we agreed so that there will be no problem in Abia State. But unfortunately, my friend came and decided to go into ethnic something that one cannot understand, pitching Ngwa and other people including old Bende.
He fails to realise that old Bende, Isuikwuato and Umunneochi are quite different people; Arochukwu, Ohafia, Bende are different people. Umuahia North, South and Ikwuano are different people. For them to now say politics of Abia State should be based on old Bende and old Aba, what kind of arrangement is that, are we moving forward or backwards? Why do we have Senatorial Districts which the Constitution made simple for us? Other states are sharing power based on Senatorial zones. Take for instance Cross River, the next governor of that state will come from the zone it started in 1999. It’s the same thing with Enugu and so many other states, so, why is our own different? In fact, that’s the major reason I said this man is an ethnic bigot, I don’t like that kind of a thing.
Some people are of the view that if power should rotate between old Bende and old Aba divisions, Ukwa people and not the so called Umunneato Ngwa should be allowed to produce the next governor. Do you agree to that?
You’re very right. If you say it’s between old Bende and old Aba zones, okay, now, Umuahia zone we’ve produced, Ngwa zone, you have produced, why not Ukwa? If you are being sincere, why not Ukwa man? You have the governor, an Ngwa man, you have the Senate, an Ngwa man, you also want to give Ngwa man the governor and the Senate again. So, where lies the justice.
Before now, people were thinking the former governor, Senator T.A Orji unilaterally picked Ikpeazu and made him governor without consultation. What actually happened?
No,no,no,no. I have mentioned names of people that were in that committee; this my friend, when I asked him because I was asked to nominate people, get the names of these people, I hinted him, I said look we want somebody from your local government, he gave the name of Okezie Ugboaja. So, I can’t understand why people will begin to tell lies or begin to do things to favour them only without looking backward where they were coming from as to know where they are going.
Was Ikpeazu in the know that power was meant to shift to Abia North before he was made governor?
He was aware, he was not on the card of who was going to be governor, he was not there. The first man that was favoured to be governor, was his in-law, the former deputy governor, Acho Nwakanma. Something happened, Acho Nwakanma failed off. Then, the next person was F.N Nwosu. Yes, the Ngwa people came, brought and presented him and we’re begging that he be made governor. But, we searched and said we have been with Okezie Ikpeazu for a very long time, it will be wrong since it was his local government, to get another person outside him. That was how he was made a candidate.
You’re from Abia Central, why are so engrossed with this fight for power shift to Abia North?
It’s not our turn. See, I’m 69 now, by April 15, next year, I will be 70. I have children and of all of them, one is interested in politics. Why must I tell lies, what will I bequeath to them? I want a situation when I go out to talk, people who knew my father, will say, ‘this is Moses Ogbonna’. , because the first thing my father told me when I was growing up was, ‘fear nobody, respect everybody. Learn to tell the truth no matter whose ox is gored and I bought that completely. I try as much as possible to tell the truth at all times. It’s not our turn, it’s the turn of Abia North.
People from Abia Central where you came from are also in the race, how do you see this?
It’s their business. Let me tell you something, I’m not a church goer, I believe in tradition, I also believe in God Almighty. The God we worship, is a God of justice, no matter what you think you are, no matter your human intelligence, you can never outwit God, never. So, when I poured libation and people were making noise, they failed to realise that I was only presenting myself before Christ Jesus, because, at the end of that libation, I said ‘it will not happen in Jesus name’. With that, I petitioned to God and that petition is for him to judge whether what we are saying is correct or not correct. So, that’s my own and I believe that justice must be done.
Some people see that your pouring of libation as a controversial one because in Igbo land when you pour libation, it means the issue at hand is a serious one, why did you do that?
Is the issue at hand in Abia not a serious one? When Okezie was presented to Ibeku people, asking for our support, what did we do, we poured libation. The traditional prime minister of Ibeku kingdom, Uche Akwukwaegbu was called upon to pour libation and I assisted him being his deputy, to pour that libation. Ngwa people were there when we poured the libation and they concurred. When we were going to the Supreme Court for Okezie’s case, we also poured libation and asked Ibeku land, our ancestors to help him succeed in the matter, did the Ngwa people not echo amen? They also concurred. Why are they not concurring now?
There was this saying in the past that if PDP brings out a goat from any part of the state, it will still win election. Do you subscribe to that?
People saying that are those who cannot win elections in their polling units, they are the people making this noise. We know ourselves, the results of past elections are there for anybody to see; we forget easily, I don’t forget, I work ahead. I believe there must be consequences of what has just happened.
There is this rumour that you are trying to dump PDP for another party, Is that true?
No, no, no, no, I have said it before; if the leadership of our party refuses to do what is right, what option do you think is left for me? To remain and die with them? No, I will not remain and die with them, I will go to more progressive people that are thinking of a better way of rebuilding Abia.
Recently, IPOB accused you among other people of causing insecurity in Abia. Could this be true?
When I got that publication, I laughed over it and immediately forwarded it to the governor to tell him that we know and others know where this is coming from. Nobody will kill me because what they want to do is to pitch me against IPOB. I’m a Biafran, I’m not a member of IPOB and nobody will kill me because I’m not a member of IPOB. All these children did not see what I saw during the war. I so much believe in Biafra, but I’m not a member of IPOB.
Nmamdi Kanu is my blood brother, he knows that. His father was my political mentor; the mother and my mother are from the same house. So, how can idiots in government get up one morning and begin to act funny. I raised issues which everybody is expecting government officials to react to. All good politicians don’t discuss individuals, they don’t, we discuss issues and I raised issues.
How can you be paying Councillors eighty-something thousand naira, when RAMFAC established that their salary is N200,000 plus, why are you paying them that. Why are you paying local government workers 70 percent of their salary, when you have enough money to pay them.
When I was the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, I was receiving between N1.7b and N1.8b and I paid salaries. Then pension, ask the Pensioners, whether during my tenure I was paying them or not. I was quarrelling with all those money hunters, scavengers. Some people said I was kicked out of the Ministry of Local Government, yes, that’s correct because I refused them to do what they are doing now. I have told them, there are other issues if raised, the foundation of the state will start shaking, I’m just holding back, they are trying me, threatening me by using IPOB to threaten me, its sheer nonsense, they will not do anything.
What’s your advice to Abians now that political parties including your party, PDP have chosen their candidates?
My advice to Abians is to look back eight years ago; what happened in Ebonyi State. The governor then, Elechi, tried to impose a governor on Ebonyi people. But Umahi came out on his own, unsponsored. By the grace of God, the people changed their mind because they wanted better Ebonyi and voted for Umahi; Umahi remains the best governor in Nigeria today considering the resources available to him, I’m not from Ebonyi State.
I’m begging Abians to take a cue from what happened in Ebonyi State, the ball is in your court. Do you want us to remain the way we are? Or you want us to be like Ebonyi State? They should forget about the imposition. I have told them that the person the governor has put across is an old man, older than me. How can you put such an old man there, when there are younger people? May God give Abians the enablement to think aright. Collect the money the governor is going to give, is it not our money? Is it his own? Before he became governor, how much did he have in his account, so the money does not belong to him, it belongs to Abians.
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