Walter Ukaegbu, Abuja
There was mixed reactions recently when senator representing Imo West, Sen. Hope Uzodimma, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). While his supporters hailed the move, Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, accused him of joining the party through the back door.
In this interview, Uzodimma, who is the Chairman of Southern Senators Forum and Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, spoke on his defection, the position of South East in political equation and 2019 presidency.
Are you planning to return to the Senate or you will contest the governorship of your state?
In answering your question, let me draw your attention to the classic saying that while politicians think of the next election, statesmen think of the next generation. So in this case, I have chosen to think first of the next generation before thinking of the next election. My immediate concern now is how to promote National Unity and ensure in particular that the South-east where I come from is, for all intents and purposes, connected to the national political grid.
If you look carefully, you will notice that some political forces are at play right now in the nation. Some people from the South-east are being sentimental and politics is not about sentiment but reality. In my view, the political reality on ground today is that some unseen hands are either wittingly or unwittingly taking actions and inactions that if not checked could confine the South-east further to the fringes of the national platform. There is an urgent need to address this squarely and let our people see the need to look beyond our noses and become part of the national build up for 2019.We do not need to complain again after the elections. This is what I am working on now. After taking care of this then one can begin to talk of the elective office I shall be seeking.
What exactly do you mean by national build up and why are you afraid the South-east will be sidelined?
You see, let us be frank, in 2015 the South-east voted massively for PDP. Perhaps, we had good reasons to do so. But the truth is that our calculation failed us. At the end, the South-east was among the two geopolitical zones that did not read the mood of the nation properly, in terms of the political alliances at play. After the election was won and lost we started complaining of marginalisation.
Now another election is around the corner and if you look carefully you will discover that the alliances of 2015 are still intact. The election of a Nigerian president has always been a product of alliances, not sentiment. So can we really afford another miscalculation and be the complainant again in 2019. I think the South-east should put on her thinking cap and take the right political steps for 2019. This is what I am working on right now with like minds.
But some people say you joined APC because you want to be governor of Imo State. Is that correct?
That is laughable. If being governor of Imo State is my only worry, I can actually achieve that from any party platform. I could have joined APGA or any other party. I can assure you that my support base in Imo State is quite formidable and I can use that to pursue a governorship ambition. But there is more at stake than just being Imo governor. I will not want to be a governor of Imo State while the South-east is not adequately accommodated at the Federal level. So I think the immediate task now is to reverse the relative exclusion of the South-east from the Federal Government. An assurance of that is my priority and that is what I am working on right now.
But you could still have achieved that in PDP. Some people say you and your group are just bad losers that you would not have left the party if you had won at the Supreme Court?
Well that is the kind of things you hear in politics. First of all, if anybody told you we can still achieve whatever in the present PDP, that person must be a joker. The PDP on ground today is a shadow of itself. It has shrunk into a regional party and that was not the dream of the founding fathers of the party. I was a foundation member of the party so I should know better. How can you protect the interest of the South-east in a regional party? It does not make any political sense to me.
In any event, my group you say some people refer to as bad losers I assure you were the most patriotic group in the PDP while they were still members. After the Supreme Court judgment, we stayed on and pushed for accommodation of everybody to ensure a real family reunion of sorts. That was why we hung on up to and into the national convention, hoping that it was the opportunity we needed to re-jig the party. But what happened at the convention was appalling. Rather than open the doors for everybody, those who saw the Supreme Court victory as personal victory, shut the doors against the vast majority of PDP members and produced a regional party from the convention. At this point, it became clear to me that the PDP had lost it and can no longer champion real national issues. So as patriots we had to look for better alternatives so we are not bad losers rather it is those who saw the Supreme Court victory as their personal victory that you can call bad winners. They have destroyed the party. When you win in a battle and you are not magnanimous in victory then you become parochial and even paranoid, so the winner can actually turn his victory into a loss through ignorable actions. That was what happened to the PDP.
But your State governor says he is not aware you have joined APC. In fact, he said by joining in Abuja, instead of your ward, it was tantamount to joining through the back door. What’s your reaction?
I don’t want to believe that the governor actually said that because as the leader of the party in the state, he should have known that I joined the APC in my ward almost three months ago. If he did not know this, then that speaks volumes of how much grip he has on the party in the state.
At any rate why should a governor that means well for the party feels rattled that a ranking Senator from his state is joining the party? That doesn’t speak well of him. If he truly loves APC, he should be happy that I have joined. After all, they say that the more the merrier. Besides does he need to be told that I will add a lot of value to the party both in the state and the South-east and Nigeria? I really do not understand why he appears rattled, it does not add up at all.
At any event, the governor himself was once a member of PDP. He left the party to join APGA and I am not sure he took permission from anybody to either leave PDP or to join APGA. He also left APGA for APC, he did not take permission from anybody to join or leave. So I don’t think I need anybody’s permission to either leave PDP or to join APC. This is democracy and the constitution guarantees all citizens freedom of association. So I think the governor is making much ado about nothing.
You have repeatedly maintained that a South-East support for Buhari’s re-election in 2019 will translate to the region producing the president in 2023. Do you have any guarantee from President Buhari on this?
It is not really about guarantees. It is about doing the right thing first. Here the first right thing to do is to mobilise support for Buhari in 2019 and ensure that we massively support his victory thereof. As you mobilise this support and it is crystal clear that a huge difference is noticeable, you can also negotiate or make your interest in 2023 known. Even without guarantees, you can still get what you want if you truly bring a huge difference to bear in the outcome of the 2019 elections.
When you achieve this, you will be in a position of strength to participate in all the post-election talks about the next election. Again, when you have demonstrated your strength in 2019, you have positioned yourself so strongly that nobody can afford to ignore you. So automatically you are in a position to be taken seriously at negotiations and once you achieve that you can negotiate your way through the presidency for 2023.
Why are you so sure that Buhari will win in 2019?
First of all, take a good look at the groups on in the other political parties. We don’t even know who their aspirants are. How many people have declared interest to run for the presidency in PDP, SDP and the other political parties? By now, we should have known a good number of aspirants who want to challenge Buhari. That has not happened. So I ask when will it happen and how much time will they have to market themselves as the alternative to Buhari? So Nigerians as of today don’t even know who the alternative or alternatives to Buhari is or are. What do you make of that? So as it were, APC has an incumbent President who has declared interest for re-election. The opposition parties are short in coming up with alternatives to Buhari. So, you can reach your own conclusions.