By Wilfred Eya
Former Deputy Senate President, Prof Ike Ekweremadu has said there is no zoning arrangement in Enugu State. In this interview with a select group of journalists in Lagos, he spoke on a wide range of issues including his reasons to succeed Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in 2023.
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What are your plans ahead of 2023 general elections?
I have had enough of the Senate and people started coming to persuade me for the governorship. There were two things I needed to do. One was to pray over the matter and the next was to have a conversation with my friend, Governor Ugwuanyi. I told him after the meeting that he should not give me an instant answer and that he should consult and pray over it which I believe he is still doing. But I have maintained my personal relationship with him because I try to keep my political relationship with people different from my personal relationship with them. So, that is why people are surprised when they see me with somebody and they say oh, they thought you are quarreling with this person, why are you still relating with him with both of you hugging each other. These things are not personal; politics is different. I believe that after politics, there is life. So, I have met with my governor and consulted a lot of people and asked for their support. It is very important to me. I made it much easier and I told him to go and think about it so that we later have another conversation around it. Now, the other issue people try to dramatise is zoning in Enugu State and it became a national issue as if Enugu is the only state in Nigeria. It is not the way people look at it. The truth of the matter is that we have three senatorial districts like every other state. If you come to Enugu, you have Enugu East, Enugu North and Enugu West. Enugu North where the present governor comes from had produced two governors in the persons of Okwesilieze Nwodo from Igbo Etiti and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi from Udenu. The other zone is the Enugu East which is now saying it is its turn. But unfortunately, they have produced three governors –CC Onoh from Enugu North local government, Jim Nwobodo from Enugu South local government and Chimaroke Nnamani from Nkanu West local government. Then the third zone is Enugu West where I come from. The only governor the zone has produced is Sullivan Chime. Remember, some people select their governors from the cultural groups in a state. In Enugu, we have four cultural groups. We have the Nsukka speaking people of Enugu State which as I said have produced two governors. We have the Nkanu people of Enugu State. They have produced, if you like, two governors. Let me say that CC Onoh is an Udi speaking person. So, Udi has produced two which are Onoh and Sullivan. Then there is the fourth one which is Awgu and it has never produced a governor. Awgu is one of the cultural zones. It is just like if you go to a place like Benue and you have the Idoma and Tiv. It is the same in Kogi and all of that. If you go to Abia, you have the Ngwa speaking people, Ikwuano and all of that. In Enugu, that is the situation. Awgu people have never produced a governor. I have been a Senator for a long time; this is my fourth time. So, I have been Deputy Senate president. I do not see myself representing Enugu West; I see myself as a Senator representing Enugu State. I am not looking down at my colleagues but because I was privileged to be the Deputy Senate president, I don’t want to see myself as just Enugu Senator. So, I extended what I have been doing to the rest of the zones and even beyond. As I speak with you today, I am the only senator from Enugu who can now say I have touched the lives of people from every senatorial zone. My colleagues from those zones, I don’t know the reasons but they concentrated in their own zones. I have done roads, water and electricity projects in the other zones and they know it. The governor knows. The water project that we started in Enugu, I have extended it to Enugu North because they have water underground; so it is easy to get water there but the other senatorial zones just like my own part of Enugu State, do not have water underground because of the coal formation. So because of that, I didn’t bother myself to say I want to be governor of Enugu State because I am from Awgu. That is the truth. I think what the Enugu people now want is a man who would provide water, jobs, electricity, healthcare and somebody who would develop the place. I am talking about a governor for everybody, making sure that every part of Enugu State is taken care of. Because of my attitude in the direction of making sure that I reach out to everybody, what they call me in Enugu is ‘enye ndi ebea, enye ndi ebea’(when you give to people here, you give to people there).I don’t have boundaries. So, that is the people’s perception of me. That is why they believe that even as a governor, I can be able to govern for everyone. It is not a matter of concentrating the appointments to one part of the state. I will never do anything like that. I have five local governments that I am representing. I made sure that each of them gets equal attention. So, that has marked me out as somebody who is not given to sectional politics. People believe that I can be governor for everybody. Again, I have gathered so much experience and contacts which I have used to help my people. The government resources are getting lean, so we need people who can think out of the box. We need people who have sufficient contacts to attract the private sectors. If you do not have credibility and people cannot trust you, nobody is going to put money in your state or country. So, you need to first of all build that trust and confidence which I have built over the years. So, even now that I am just trying to run, I am getting calls all over the world; these are people who said that if you succeed, we will be there for you and we would bring investors. I spoke with the Nigerian Ambassador to Portugal just two days ago, you can ask him, he said if I become governor, they will bring investors for me. Just that kind of thing; those are the kind of calls I am getting the world over. That is also why people believe that I would make a difference. So, this is a challenging time and we need somebody who has an extraordinary experience that can be able to manage not just the resources but the human beings in the enclave called Enugu State. That is my story.
But wasn’t there actually a time that the stakeholders in Enugu agreed on power rotation?
I was the DG of Chimaroke’s campaign organization. Let us take it back and start from 1999. Remember that Jim Nwobodo is from the same Enugu East; he wanted to support somebody from my own cultural zone, Awgu because he believed that we have been cheated. He was supporting a man called Okey Igwe but unfortunately, something happened in 1998 during the local government election; there was a crisis in his house and somebody was killed. So, he was arrested and detained and it was getting close to primaries. Jim Nwobodo did not know what to do. His own people, the Nkanu said, look, you have to abandon this man. Let us look for one of our brothers and make him the governor. These were all blackmail and that was how Chimaroke was supported and he became the governor. That injustice has never been addressed till now. When Jim Nwobodo was defeated by Onoh, just from the next local government, he became governor before that government was removed. When democracy resumed again, the next person that became governor was somebody from Nsukka, Okwesilieze Nwodo but he did not finish his tenure as the army intervened again. So, when democracy eventually returned again, remember that Okwy from Enugu North has governed and if there was an arrangement, if there was zoning, it could have come to my place. It now went back to Nkanu when Jim Nwobodo from there had just finished as governor. It was from the same neighbourhood in Nkanu West where Chimaroke comes from. So, when Chimaroke now finished, he supported Sullivan Chime not because there was any zoning and he knows that; I was there too. It was because of friendship of over so many years. So, by the time Sullivan finished, the two Senatorial zones of Enugu East and Enugu West had had the opportunity of producing governors and it made sense to any human being that the only remaining zone, Enugu North should produce the governor. It is just like if you have three pieces of meat in a plate and two have taken, there is no argument about who owns the third one. What will you say that you are zoning for instance the third meat? They said they came and zoned to Enugu North, how do you do that? They said it was in 2013 when it was only one zone remaining. They did not say there was zoning in 1979 or 1999 and they said it was in 2013 when two zones had already taken their turns; that is when you woke up and start talking about zoning. So, it is all selfish agenda. Anybody talking about zoning in Enugu State, go and interrogate his reasons. It is either he has somebody in mind he wants to put or there is somebody he wants to stop. So, it is not borne of any antecedents, justice for anybody or the goodwill of Enugu people. As I said, you cannot be talking of such things that can divide us because zoning will only divide us the more. The only thing that can unite us now is competence, equity and justice to all. What people want is a governor that can put food on their table and provide jobs for the people. Today, if you have a meeting of young people, by 12 pm, you already have about 10,000 people. Assuming you are walking, where will you get the 10,000 people when you just called the meeting by 10 am? You invited young people at 10 am and by 12pm, you already have 10,000 people; won’t you get worried? It is a time bomb. It is not just Enugu; I am talking of the whole country. Former vice president Atiku just had his declaration, did you see the crowd there? Fine, if all those people are working in banks and other organizations, how would they have time to come there? They would sack you. But because there is an army of unemployed people, if you have one million people, they come. It is not going to continue that way. A time would come when you are going to have a revolution if the situation is not handled very well. My own plan in Enugu in the first two years is to at least build two industries in every local government. As a low hanging fruit, you would be able to get everybody at work where they would now have specialisation. We shall do something different.
You said the issue of zoning by the Enugu elite is for selfish reasons but don’t you think that nationally, even the grassroots now understand and believe in the efficacy of the concept of zoning?
Unfortunately, it is not making sense in Enugu. What they did was first to organize what they called rallies. They started with Enugu East to drum more support and spent N100million. When they spent the N100million, nothing happened and Ekweremadu kept pushing. They went to Enugu North and spent another N100million or more; they thought I would announce I am no more running but it did not stop anything. So, they said ok, the final thing, let them go to my senatorial zone; they spent another N100million. In fact, one of the persons who organized the thing, Hyde Onuaguluchi did not know what they were up to and at the arena, when they said it was to drum support for zoning, he said no that there was nothing like zoning. How can you say it was for zoning and myself and Hyde Onuaguluchi, Jim Nwobodo and all others were not there? It was just a group of people that came round to say they were zoning in 2013. The same people; so it is not making sense to the people. Most of our supporters today are from different parts of the state. So, zoning in Enugu State is an elitist discussion. Less than one percent of the people in government are those driving it. Other people don’t care about it.
But there is a 2013 document which has your signature indicating that you were in the meeting that agreed on the zoning arrangement in the state.
You are all journalists and you all know what can happen with such signatures. I do not want to bother myself about that.
Without the support of your governor, do you think that your structure could pull you through the primaries?
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I always believe that it is God that gives power. It is not about my structure and anybody; it is God that gives power. You have seen it happen many times. Governor Okowa of Delta State when he wanted to contest for governorship, his governor then, Uduaghan did not support him and had a different person in mind, yet by the grace of God, he emerged. In Adamawa, the sitting governor was defeated by the current governor, Fintri; in Bauchi, the sitting governor was defeated by the current one Bala. In Oyo, the present governor, Makinde defeated the person the governor was sponsoring and the same governor who even wanted to go to the Senate was defeated too by somebody who is now in the Senate. So, I am not worried about those things. That is why I had to give you the background of my ambition. My life is perfected by God himself. Sometimes, certain things happen; God does not do ordinary things; he does extraordinary things.
In 2023, do you foresee any threat from the APC in Enugu State?
To be modest, Enugu is about 70 per cent PDP. So, I do not see any threat. The only thing that can cause problems is if we are unable to put our house in order and we have a rancorous primaries. Maybe, some people will split and get angry and all of that. This is because a man who is unfairly treated will not be interested in peace.
In case you fail at the primaries, do you have a plan B. Do you plan to defect to another party?
If I wanted to defect, I would have done that a long time. You know what I went through since 2015 till date under the APC. If I wanted, I would have left like others. I would not have gone through all the things I had to. So, I have no such plans. I have friends across the world who are politicians. They would be so disappointed in me. I have given lectures all over the world on the subject of democracy. In politics, you fail, you succeed and rise. Sometimes, you fail and you wake up again. I am not afraid of failure. So, I am not going to any other party. I will remain in PDP.
There are some people who are surprised that you are contesting for the governorship seat instead of the presidency. With your wealth of experience, are you afraid of taking your ambition a notch higher?
You are right; even in the international community, some people have spoken to me on that direction. But first of all, Nigeria is like a broken bottle. So, it is going to take some time to be able to fix it. It is easier for you to fix a state and there is a model I am looking at. This is because if you are talking about Nigeria, you could have good intentions which could be translated into saying you want a Nigeria that works. You want a Nigeria where there will be jobs, stable power supply, roads, waterways and others working. That is what it means by having good governance. But because of the situation we have found ourselves and you have a limited time of eight years to do that assuming you did not get a second term, it would be very difficult for you to create impact. But it is easier for you to create impact in a state. If you go to UAE, it is a federal state like us; like in Nigeria, they were in darkness in terms of governance; nothing was working; it was pure desert with poor people everywhere until one of those emirates just like states in Nigeria decided to think differently in Dubai. Dubai now went ahead like in the aviation sector to Pakistan and hired one aircraft and started what is today the giant called the Emirates. They went into housing and started building high rise buildings and asking the whole world to come and invest saying this is heaven. They went into sports and built sports facilities all over the place. People started going there for car racing. They went into hi-tech and built bigger cities. They were just expanding; they had a vision of building an estate inside a sea. They called experts to help them to design it. They said they were going to build the tallest building and people waiting for it and they did it. Do you know what happened? The rest of the state started copying that. All the states there are competing and doing well. So, if by the grace of God we have the opportunity of doing what we intend to do in Enugu, we are hopeful that that can inspire the rest of the state and that is how Nigeria can also do well. If you do not get three four states doing very well, we will continue to go the way we are going. But once we see some states doing so well, others would copy. That is the model we want to adopt in Enugu as well.
On zoning at the national level, there is the agitation for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, what is your view on that?
First of all, let me distinguish that with what we have in Enugu State. Our state has three senatorial zones and somehow, all the zones have had the governorship seat. So, everybody can come with his own argument. Remember, I told you that my own cultural zone has not produced the governor of the state. That is understandable. But the truth of the matter is that whether we like it or not, every zone here has produced the governor of the state. It is not the same thing with the Federal Government. We have six geo-political zones in the country. The other four zones have produced the president except the South East and North East. But even at that, we used to have three regions –the northern, western and Eastern regions. Within those enclaves, you can see that the North has had the presidency severally. The South West has also had a fair share. You have three major ethnic groups –the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. So far, the two major ethnic groups including a minority have had it except the Igbo. We had a war in Nigeria and if you like, the Igbo were defeated and with what is happening, how are you going to reintegrate the country without accommodating the Igbo? We had a similar situation in Canada; the people of Quebec had been agitated to leave the place and one of the things they did to bring the country together was to consciously give that side of the country the opportunity to produce the president. So, that is why our own case is different. There is need for national integration, justice and equity. There is even need to give an Igbo man the opportunity to showcase his Nigerianess.
It is like the PDP is scared of zoning the presidency. Why?
It is understandable; if you are sick, they would come with all kinds of recommendations on how to recover. That is the situation the PDP has found itself now; the PDP is desperate to return to power and Nigerians also want a change of government. So, the PDP out of desperation is prepared to have anybody from anywhere as long as the person would win the presidency. So, sometimes, they are overlooking the justice of the matter.