From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Senator representing Enugu North senatorial zone in the National Assembly, Chukwuka Utazi, has sounded a note of warning to politicians of South- East extraction not to dream of contesting the 2019 presidential election as the current political configuration did not support the region producing the next President of Nigeria in 2019.
Utazi who spoke during the recent non-elective National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja, equally recalled the circumstances that led to the internal crisis that rocked the party, saying intimidation, impunity, imposition of candidates and lack of internal democracy as factors responsible for the crisis. He hinged the secret of the relative peace in the Enugu State PDP fold to the meticulous leadership recruitment in the state, endorsing the governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for second term.
What problems do you envisage could bring PDP down again?
The problem responsible for the PDP crisis was lack of internal democracy. The party made the mistake of imposing unpopular candidates against the wishes of the people. The aggrieved ones left PDP and joined the APC where they became governors, legislators and were elected into many other positions. This is exactly what robbed us the opportunity and resulted in PDP losing the grip of the power in many places.
In the past, individuals were larger than the parties and a governor, for instance would bring his son in-law, his brother in-law and sister in-law into government. We did it to an embarrassing level and the effect was the internal squabbles that almost crippled the party.
My appeal is that we should avoid those mundane issues responsible for the shameful party crisis that lasted so much. I know that this great party, the PDP will re-launch itself into power and reckoning if it allows popular candidates to enjoy popular mandate.
I also know that leadership recruitment has always been a very serious problem in the country just like in other political clime. The ruling party, APC is also facing the same leadership recruitment challenge even as a relatively new party.
If the PDP can get the recruitment process right, the party can go places. PDP must recruit popular candidates, deemphasize money politics; allow a candidate with potentials to raise money from the electorate that he will be answerable to.
For instance, former President Barak Obama was the least financially qualified candidate for the President of America, but he became richer than John McCain who was from a very wealthy family because of the one dollar policy where everybody contributed to his campaign.
PDP must resist the temptation of supporting candidates with huge financial muscles to avoid the mistake that brought Ali Modu Sheriff who many believed has the money to solve the problems of the party. We are all witnesses to what such decision did to the PDP and we have to learn from that mistake.
Looking forward, I want to advise that the PDP start shopping for a good presidential candidate from the northern part of the country. He must be somebody with good credentials, unblemished records and all of us must be ready to contribute money to make him the President of Nigeria who can be answerable to Nigerians not the godfathers that made him the President. If we do so, the sky will be our starting point for the party.
What is the situation with the PDP in Enugu state?
We are very much intact and I can boldly say that the PDP has always been in charge of Enugu State; as if no other party exists. We are a very big united family and I can make bold to say that the state has been very careful in leadership recruitment. This is the secret of the leadership progresses recorded in Enugu.
For instance, if we had chosen an unpopular candidate as the governor, all of us would have been in disarray by now. Despite the crisis at the national level, and the threat from the APC, PDP in Enugu is still very intact. There is no dissenting voice anywhere. All the legislators from Enugu and other elected persons are intact. Nobody is talking about defecting to the APC because they all have the feelings that they are in the right party. There is bound to be movements where you have divisions within a party.
No politician of repute from Enugu left the party throughout the duration of the PDP crisis at the national level. I want to reassure that we are going to continue with that one peaceful family because we have a very good governor who means well for the people and have equally done well so far.
Are you then passing a vote of confidence on the governor to continue in office beyond 2019?
Of course, I am passing a vote of absolute confidence on him to continue because he has done well. I don’t see anything stopping him especially now that the storm is over. I have heard people insinuating that the crisis between me and the governor is over too but I can say with measure of confidence that I have never had any problem with my governor.
Based on your advice to PDP to shop for a northerner as presidential candidate, are you saying that PDP members of Igbo extraction should not contest the 2019 presidential election?
I am not expecting any Igbo person to contest for president under on the PDP platform in 2019. Based on truth and fact on ground, the political configuration of the party will not allow for an Igbo presidency in 2019. There is an existing zoning arrangement between the north and the south. It will be foolhardy for the Igbo to contest in the 2019 presidential election. I know that the Igbo have bright chances if the north complete their terms.
Will it be right to say that herdsmen menace in your senatorial zone has been taken care of completely?
All I can tell you is that we are still on it because discussion over the issue is a continuous process. It is not going to be easy because the Fulani must continue to rear their cattle. However, the good news is that we have recorded some level of achievement in that regard especially as they are no longer in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area. We told them point blank that the area is now a- no- go area after the massacre of some persons in Nimbo. Interestingly, since they left there has been respite.
What has been the experience so far on the floor of the senate?
As informed people, I told my senatorial zone, the Nsukka people that they hardly make mistake in leadership recruitment. They are getting the outcome of that good leadership recruitment. Let me also inform to you that I served as a Deputy Speaker between 1991 and 1993.
I am a lawyer and have served in the executive and legislative categories. I did not come to the senate as a green horn but with lots of experiences and I always fall back on those experiences in making my contributions on the floor of the senate.
We must endeavour to recruit people with vast experiences in certain areas because history has proved that they do very well. If we send greenhorns there, they will never say a word let alone move a motion, or sponsor a bill.
I strongly believe that with the level of political maturity in the zone, Nsukka people would not have made a mistake in getting the right people to represent them. I can say with some level of certainty that when I leave the senate, Nsukka people will still recruit another good person to give them quality representation at the senate.
Having said that, what the electorate should expect from me is leadership by example and service above self. I will always think of what will benefit them first and giving them quality representation in the National Assembly.
My happiness is that I have been able to include the 9th Mile-Makurdi Expressway in the budget this year. I had wanted the dualisation of that road but when I could not succeed, I ensured that the federal government will resurface the road with a budgetary allocation of N1 billion.
I have also been able to get a 55km Adarice, Umulokpa road into the budget this year. If the federal government can do the road, it will in no small measure help the predominantly agrarian people of the communities have access to their farmlands to reduce the high cost of foodstuff in the country.
Do you have any regret raising some issues on the floor of the senate that have generated controversies in the country?
I don’t know your perception and definition of controversy, but I am one person who speaks from my heart bearing in mind national interest. My contributions have never been beclouded by selfish interest.
I also know that there is every tendency that people may misunderstand and tag anybody who is not a praise singer to the system as controversial. My joy is that when I look back, I can claim that all I have done in the senate are all about national interest. We will never get it right if we continue with narrow minded thoughts.
Finally, will you run for governorship in 2019?
My answer is that we will wait until we get to the river to know how we are going to cross the bridge. For now, I am doing very well in the senate, working very hard for my people and I can tell you that I am comfortable over there.