Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has thrown his weight behind the quest for the Senate President position to go to Southwast.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Ngige, a former governor of Anambra State, said that both Dr Orji Uzor Kalu and Senator Ben Uwajimogu are fully qualified for the position and should be considered by their party, APC.
Ngige also spoke of the just concluded general elections, condemning the violence that trailed the polls in some states. Excerpts:
How would you assess the just concluded general elections?
The elections on a general basis are not bad and you can rate it less than that of 2015 because they are both at par in terms of rating. The only thing there is that there is some resurgence, more violence in some areas. Some areas that had a very little violence the last time like Rivers State have more threatening violence there. In Anambra State, the area we have our flashpoints, which is Obosi, Idemili North axis also had problems this time again too. There was more violence there to the extent that people lost their lives though; but for me, on the national basis everywhere, I don’t think there is too much departure from that of 2015. Yes, the election was stopped, but this is not the first time election was stopped. In 2011, election was stopped. This time, even they stopped election some hours to the poll. But in 2011, the poll had started, we were midway in the poll for Presidential and National Assembly before it was stopped. I remember that clearly because I participated as a candidate. I was the candidate for the Anambra Central Senatorial District for the election and I had finished voting and was going to look for my campaign coordinator, they said he was in another polling unit. At this time, INEC has tried, my party, the APC, will have improved too in our strength both in the Southeast and in other places. In Southeast, we couldn’t make 25 per cent in any of the states, but today, we made 25 per cent in Ebonyi, Abia and Imo states. So, it’s a good improvement and even in the North, the party also made appreciable gains. While people were saying that President Buhari has lost his core followership in the North, it was may be in the North-central, that we had some votes diminishing, but that did not make him lose any of those places in North-central and these places are Benue and Plateau only. He won additional votes in Kwara, we won all the seats. In the Southwest, it was the same margin as the last time. So, the election to me, was free and fair, credible in all its ramification because you could see APC losing Oyo State, this is our state and you can check other places this is what happened.
Nigerian elections have never witnessed the magnitude of violence that trailed this 2019 election. What do you think was responsible for the violence witnessed in this election?
Well, few things are responsible: ignorance, the attitude of the security agencies. The question of the magnitude is completely out of it. It’s not because we recorded violence now, there has been violence since the other times and what it shows is that security agencies in those areas took the people for granted. What happened in Lagos was an isolated case and cannot be used to generalise the entire exercise, and it shows that some politicians or more of the politicians are becoming more desperate to win by all means, by hook or by crook and results in what they call do-or-die politics. In APC, we are not apostles of do-or-die politics, we are not. It’s Obasanjo and his PDP people that are do-or-die politicians. So, I think we need a lot of voter’s education, we need an indoctrination for people to understand what elections are all about. So, that they don’t become desperate that if they don’t get these positions, that their lives are finished. They must have other things doing and political parties should start to know how to make it clear to people that those who have addresses, those who have something to offer will have a priority in the choice of candidacy in the future. The security agencies also have to do what is called security marking and know the areas that are very prone to violence, especially in elections.
Many have decried the use of the military in elections like the issue in Rivers State, what can you say about that?
Well, the military deserves to be isolated from politics no doubt, their commander said so, their Chief of Army Staff said so, even their superintendent of Commander-in-Chief told them so. But funny things have happened in Nigerian environment that the populace do not take the police very seriously sometimes, especially in terms of quelling violence or even attacking terrorists and stuff like that. These are internal insurrections the military are always brought out to do, but they don’t constitute nuisance. So, it is something that is a little bit worrying. I am one of those who canvas that the police should have another level, in the former time, that was why the mobile police was brought in, but now I think they should put up another layer that will be more sophisticated in between their training and that of the military that can be used to quell such insurgence and violence. The military were forced because of the situation to start playing some of those roles. So, I don’t know, in Rivers, the army had set up a committee to investigate whether what happened there was actually by the military or impostors who had military uniforms. So, I will not be in a position to comment on that until the report of that committee is out.
Your party had a rough time controlling the leadership of the Eight National Assembly, would there be difference this time around?
This time around, it is going to be different. What happened in 2015, was what I will describe as an unfortunate scenario. The party shied away from doing discussion, doing its caucus meeting for the election and by the time they started discussion it was late, positions have been taken by contestants and their supporters and that was by end of May whereas this is a discussion that was supposed to have taken place in April before the legislators start talking to one another and start lobbying each other and the party did not also help matters by not starting early. So, all these things will now be taken care of this time around in the national caucus of the party. These things we will not shy away from, we will discuss at the caucus in conjunction with Mr President and then it will be zoned to zones to share things in the Nigerian politics. Therefore, as soon as the bye-elections and the results are taken, the party will be zoning all offices in the National Assembly.
What is your take on the Southeast pressing for Senate President?
I am from the Southeast, naturally I should support it. We also have APC legislators now that are ranking from the Southeast unlike the former time. We have those that are ranking now. We have Ben Uwajimogu, he is now a two-term Senator, he is coming back from the ruling party. We have Dr Orji Uzor Kalu. Orji Uzor Kalu was a Federal Assembly legislator during the military regime, it’s counted, because it was a National Assembly, so he has got some ranking, so he is ranking from the House of Reps, is counting for him. Therefore, Orji Uzor Kalu is also qualified. Okorocha’s case will be determined before then. We now have some senators unlike the last time when we had zero non-party senator coming from the Southeast. There was nobody at all. So, the Southeast should definitely be in the equation, I mean the proportion of Senate presidency.
The Sultan of Sokoto was allegedly quoted as pleading with Atiku not to go to court, that though he will win in court that it would cause war and people will be massacred, how do you react to this?
I do not know whether the Sultan said that Atiku should not go to court and win. I am not sure you are quoting him correctly. It is the Council of the Nigerian Traditional Rulers that made a courtesy call, congratulating visit to Mr President and they advised Atiku and appealed to him that if they were in his shoes, that he should not go to court. That Allah, God is the one that gives power, to whoever He wants and at whichever time and I do not think that he said that if he goes to court, that he will win; the election results coming out from governorship have shown that if you go and look at every state, you will see the quantum of votes coming out, especially from the North where they are claiming that the votes were not legal votes. If you go there, you will see that the same quantum of votes was divided between the PDP’s candidate and the APC candidate. That shows you the legality of what happened at the presidential election. You will see that the votes are divided in such a way that APC will take some and PDP will take some and when you aggregate both of them like in Borno, Katsina, Kano; you will see that the quantum is the same. So, I don’t know how they want to prove that. I also know that PDP for certainty like in Anambra elections, you will see that governorship elections end in 400 and something thousand, quantum votes. When you add the votes of the APGA, because the APGA has been winning there, and the votes scored by other parties; the ACN, PDP in the former times, it has never crossed 450,000, but this time alone, PDP had 500 and something thousand. So, what happened? Some people said it’s because Peter Obi was vying for the vice president’s position and cogently, people believe; from the preaching he gave to the bishops and to the traditional rulers about bringing the presidency to them, that was the cause of astronomical rise in the quantum of votes. It’s neither here nor there, but these are issues that call for people to look at. So, I don’t know how they can prove what they’re alleging because by straightforward arithmetic and by the votes in the North, this governorship and the National Assembly elections; for me, they add up. I know that those who say that Atiku should go to court, some of them have also recanted; like Agbakoba and the rest of them. It’s Atiku’s constitutional right to go to court, but one thing is for him to prove the allegation that he is laying before the court and everybody, including me; I have gone to court on election petitions many times for governorship and for the Senate and an election as large and huge as a presidential election is like looking for a needle in a hay sack. Those who say he should not waste his time going to court are probably right. They know what they are saying; especially those election petition lawyers; Femi Falana, Agbakoba; I align myself with their views.