Magnus Eze, Enugu
Senator Emma Nwaka represented Abia North in the short-lived Third Republic. In this interview, the former Abia State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) condemned what he described as ‘coup’ staged these days by the nation’s election umpire in the name of elections.
He predicted what will happen in 2023 should “the brigandage” go unchecked. Nwaka who revealed why Abia North fell to the All Progressive Congress in the 2019 polls, warned governors on the bitter consequences of playing god. He did not spare Southeast governors over the fate of the zone while hinting on why Enugu airport, Second Niger Bridge may not get the needed federal attention despite public outcries. He also spoke on the 2023 presidency and other topical national issues.
What’s your take on the death penalty being proposed for hate speech offenders in the controversial Hate Speech Commission Bill before the Senate?
It’s very disappointing that anyone will come up with such an idea. But I have no doubt that other senators will shoot down the evil bill. It can’t fly because it’s not acceptable to the people. It won’t see the light of the day. There is a general impression that the bill is tending towards authoritarianism. You know when something like this comes up; you won’t know that those behind it are testing the waters. So, it’s even good that Nigerians and the international community are kicking against it.
Before now some people dismissed the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate as a “rubber stamp”. What’s your view?
What do you expect when the Senate President said it by himself that any piece of legislation brought by the President is good for Nigerians? That tells you that we don’t even need the legislature any more. But we thank God we have some good people in the Senate who will checkmate the authoritarian tendency of the current administration.
Do you foresee Nigeria becoming one-party state as some predict?
It won’t work! I can only advise those who now hold the reins of power at the federal level to be careful not to push Nigeria to the brink. Nigeria cannot be a banana republic; it’s not a small country that anyone can toy with. Any attempt to make Nigeria one party-state will be vigorously resisted by the people. People will go out to the street, and will be prepared to lay down their lives.
What will be your assessment of the ruling All Progressive Congress-led Federal Government?
The worst thing APC has done for Nigerians was to turn back the hand of the clock in our march towards installing democratic order. What we have now is not really democracy if election is part of it. I see what is going on now in the name of election as coup. It was never envisaged in our constitution that someone can shoot his way to power. When we thought that the Independent National Electoral Commission will learn from its mistakes in the previous elections, it’s even getting worse.
How would you describe the just-concluded governorship polls in Kogi and Bayelsa states?
A total mess! Thank God for the social media. We saw people in police uniform seizing ballot boxes. We saw them shooting and scattering people who came to vote. Then, you wonder how they generated the figure they announced. The fact remains that we did not have any election in Kogi and Bayelsa. What we had going on was electoral heist.
There are speculations that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was instrumental to APC’s victory in Bayelsa State. If it’s proved to be true will you be disappointed in him?
That’s a speculation. I don’t know what happened, and PDP has said the party has no issue with Jonathan. But I must stress this: when you become a governor, do not play god. Politics is a collective enterprise. Don’t even at any time think that anybody does not matter. Just remember that when you wanted power; you found the stakeholders useful. You were going to their houses always. But suddenly when you get what you wanted; you boycott them. That’s not fair. It’s like somebody who has been blessed of God turning his back on God. The person should take whatever he sees. Most governors who played god have paid dearly for it; as much as possible, try to carry people including stakeholders along. Don’t get there and begin to denigrate them. If a stakeholder comes to you with a demand you cannot meet, be bold enough to say no instead of avoiding him or treating him with disdain.
What do you think is the way out of the current ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality of those in power?
Those in authority should realise that power belongs to the people. It will be unfortunate if APC by its rough tactics drives the people to the streets because if there is turmoil in Nigeria, the whole of Africa will boil. INEC should do what is proper. It should try and regain the confidence of the people.
Would you advise PDP Presidential candidate in the 2019 poll, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, regarding his rumoured ambition in 2023 considering the PDP zoning arrangement which allegedly recommended power shift to Southeast?
It’s still a speculation. I don’t know if he wants to run again, but I think the proper thing will be for power to shift to no other zone than the Southeast. I’m sure we don’t lack men and women who can do well as Nigeria president. Zoning is in PDP constitution and I don’t see our party going back on that.
Should APC field a Northerner as its presidential candidate in 2023, what do you think should be the right response from your party?
What is right is that power should shift to Southeast in 2023 for equity, peace and justice.
Do you frankly think the Nigeria president of Igbo extraction in 2023 project is still realisable given the body language of the Southwest believed to be seriously angling for the plum job?
Power is not given on a platter of gold; you go for power. We are not saying that power should be donated to us simply because we are from Southeast. We must synergise with other ethnic nationalities. Politics is all about dialogue and compromise and not what is currently happening in the country where a particular section of the country has virtually taken over the country. Look at the security architecture of Nigeria; the Southeast and South-South zones have almost been tactfully excluded. Those in power now use force and bullet to scare the electorate and declare results.
As a former senator, what is your impression about the current crop of senators from Southeast? Do you think they are doing enough to make the zone’s voice heard at the centre?
Legislation is about law making. It is sad that these days we expect them to build roads and hospitals. That’s the function of the Executive. A lawmaker is expected to attract projects to his constituency, but it’s the executive that still executes the projects. So, it will be difficult for me to blame National Assembly members from the Southeast under the current administration. We know that the civil war is not yet over. We are still being grossly marginalised. Even if Ike Ekweremadu and other senators from Southeast talk about Enugu airport, Second Niger Bridge and the poor state of federal roads in the region till tomorrow, nothing may change because they don’t have the resources. It’s the Federal Government that decides what to do, and from all indications, the government at the centre does not seem to be favourably disposed towards the Southeast.
Do you think Southeast governors committed enough to advance the cause of the zone?
I think they need to synergise more and work together as a team. They come from a zone where the people are not getting their fair share from the centre. That is enough to make them come together as brothers. There is so much they can achieve together including having water-tight regional security arrangement and economic blue print. Our governors are in a position to make Southeast have a Sovereign Wealth Fund funded by all the indigenes and you will be amazed at the huge amount of money that will be raised by our people home and abroad when they see the sincerity in the governors. Once the confidence of the people are won that the funds will be used to execute critical projects of common interest to the zone; the people will happily comply. Didn’t we build Imo airport in the days of Sam Mbakwe and handed over to the Federal Government? We need to revive the Igbo spirit in our people just the way we fought the civil war. When somebody hates you, you don’t have to hate yourself. We have to manage our resources judiciously to serve the interest of our people.
There has been serious agitation by your people – the Isuikwuato district for power shift come 2023 in Abia State. How feasible is this considering your population?
There is a document called Abia Charter of Equity which recommended power rotation among clans in the four -letter acronym that formed Abia State. Abia comprises ‘A’-Afikpo division; ‘B’-Bende division; ‘I’- Isuikwuato; and ‘A-Aba division. Afikpo division had taken its turn through Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Old Bende did twice through Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and Senator Theodore Orji. Now Aba division is completing its second tenure. Therefore, by 2023 it will be the turn of the ‘I’ in Abia to produce the governor. Some of the founding fathers of the state like Ezeogo Anagha Ezikpe, Eze Ezo Ukandu, Dr. James Onyeike who authored the document are still alive. They have said that what was encapsulated in the document was that every district involved in the formation of Abia should all have a shot at the topmost job. We have all supported other districts when they took their turn, so by 2023, it will be our turn. Abia charter of equity demands that the next governor should come from Isuikwuato/Umunneochi division. Don’t forget I was PDP Chairman up till 2015 and the then governor made a strong case that our brothers from Aba division should produce the next governor, we all supported him. I remember my people held a meeting on that and in that meeting, I spoke strongly in favour of power shift to Aba division and my people harkened to me. So, why will the arrangement change now that it’s our turn? All we need do is to present credible people with capacity and acceptability, and I know we have them in abundance.
Are you aware of some scheming by power brokers to retain power in the Ngwa clan of Abia Central?
It will be unfair for power not to go to Isuikwuato in 2023. It will show bad conscience.
What are the likely consequences should PDP insist on fielding a candidate from outside Old Isuikwuato division?
The PDP which I belong to from inception is a party of justice and equity. I don’t see them doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to assume anything. I don’t think it’s possible. We are still part of the decision making organ of the party. I don’t see that happening.
Do you think that your Abia North is still under the firm grip of PDP considering the party’s abysmal performance in the 2019 polls as evidenced in the fact that the APC has claimed three of the four House of Representatives slots in the zone plus the only senatorial seat?
We know what happened and how they emerged. That hasn’t changed the fortunes of PDP in Abia North. However, I’m not sure PDP worked as a team in 2019. PDP should see the entire Abia as one under its control. Anywhere there is deficiency the party should make up.
That means that the PDP abandoned Abia North during the last general elections?
Yes, that’s what happened! I can say it again. Take Isuikwuato for instance, we had a governorship candidate though in another party.
That sentiment that this is our son was there among the people. PDP forgot that factor and abandoned us. There was no special assistance. Isuikwuato should have been given a special consideration by the party.
What kind of consideration are you talking about?
Parties normally raise funds for elections. We didn’t have to spend much money in Aba division because there was also this natural sentiment that the governorship candidate of our party is their son. So, this excess fund should have been transferred to Isuikwuato to help out. But we were just treated like any other zone.
What lessons has the party learnt from that experience?
When next we have election, we will recognize areas of special need and pay special attention to them.
Do you foresee PDP surviving up to 2023 in Abia North considering the fact that APC which seems to have taken over the zone will also try to consolidate on its ground?
Which APC? The party in charge of Abia North till tomorrow is PDP. No party can uproot PDP in Abia North. All the LGAs in the zone are firmly under our control. If normal elections are held any day; PDP will still win in Abia North. If the brigandage that is associated with our electoral process does not continue, I don’t think we have any problem in the zone.
May we have your honest assessment of the PDP-led government in Abia State?
Every person at the helm of affairs at any time will always do his best given his abilities. It’s not for me to judge, but I know considering the paucity of funds across the country, our governor is doing the best he can.
Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but do you think that the majority of Abians will agree with your view more so considering the level of development in some neighbouring states like Ebonyi and Enugu that are non-oil producing states unlike Abia?
One thing I will agree is that there is room for improvement. And I believe that the governor is aware of the people’s agitation and how they feel, and I know that in his remaining years in office, whatever is left undone will definitely get his attention.
How would you react to the alleged grumbling by the State Executive Council of your party that they are being starved of funds?
There is this mistake that people make: It’s not the responsibility of government as such to fund political parties. It’s about time political parties, evolved ways of funding their activities independent of government. But when a party has produced the governor, deputy governor and lawmakers, you expect them to pay their tithe to the party. If you leave a political party unfunded; it may not survive for long. Parties need funds to run and fund its activities. To get this done, all those elected on the platform of the party should, therefore, pay their tithe to the party, every person to the extent of his/her ability. It is even in our constitution, but I know they don’t obey it. If they are doing that, the elected persons are enough to keep the party running. They forget that if the party was not there, they wouldn’t have been where they are, and if they allow the party to die, there will be no PDP and no government for us to run. I keep telling everybody in PDP that if we allow the party to lose any election for whatever reason, every member will be affected because by then you will know what it means to be in opposition. The constitution of the party provides that if you are government official by virtue of the party having won an election, you should contribute regularly to the upkeep of the party. It’s like paying tithes; every person should pay according to his income. Aside from that stream, the party should embark on fundraising drives. It’ll be an act of bad faith to attain political power on the platform of a political party and allow it to atrophy for want of care. So, it’s very important that we all work together to keep the party alive. If you get there and think you have arrived and neglect the party, it’s like climbing a tree and kicking away the ladder. How do you climb down? It’s when you become an outsider in government system that you will appreciate what it means to belong to the ruling party whether or not you benefit directly. Go and ask Rochas Okorocha how he feels now in Imo State being in the opposition party.