By Henry Akubuiro
Former Anambra State commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism and immediate past Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun and the Anambra State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Chief Tony Onyima has said that the incumbent governor would retain his seat against the backdrop of his remarkable performances in less than four years and the shortcomings of his rivals. He asserts that the Anambra election promises to be a referendum on the future of Ndigbo.
The burden of selling the Obiano candidacy in your Ward rests on you as the campaign manager. How difficult or easy is this task?
It is not so much of a burden because of what he has achieved in less than four years. People tend to make a mistake to compare Obiano with some other governors who spent eight years in office. He has only spent three and half years into his first tenure. I think that the best way to assess any incumbent governor is to align his promises with his achievements. This is premised on the fact that government and development are continuous processes.
He came into office with a vision and a blueprint. The question is: ‘how far has he actualised the policy initiatives in his 4-Point agenda? In my considered view, in three and half years, he has scored over 70percent of his vision and blueprint. In all the 326 wards in the state, you can find some projects completed or ongoing with which to market his candidacy. Therefore, it is not so much of a burden to sell his candidacy in my Umuoji ward, where I have the privilege of leading the campaign, same at the local government and state levels. I also represent Idemili North LGA in the state-wide campaign organisation. It is much easier to sell him than somebody who is a novice.
There has been so much fuss over the N75 billion purportedly left behind by the former governor, which is said to have been frittered by the incumbent. How is the issue affecting Obiano’s campaign?
I appreciate the phrase you used – ‘purportedly left behind’. Obiano’s spokespersons have at different times addressed this matter. Recently, Mr. James Eze, Obiano’s SSA Media comprehensively wrote on the matter on the back page of The Sun. In summary, he demonstrated that there was no N75 billion cash anywhere. More importantly, there are two sides to a balance sheet – credit and debit. It is unfortunate that the media, which have been feasting on the N75 billion cash purportedly handed over to the incumbent, have not bothered to ask how much liabilities were also handed over. So I can tell you that the so-called fuss is positively affecting his campaign, because it has afforded a lot of people the opportunity to know the true picture of the state’s assets and liabilities as at March 17, 2014. It is easier to shout the credit side without talking about the debit side. It’s obvious that somebody is playing politics with the issue. But many informed people now know better.
With stiff competitions from PDP and APC especially, some say the state governor is fighting the battle of his life to retain his seat. How is he going to surmount these obstacles?
I look at that question from two perspectives. One is the fact that the governor is an incumbent. Therefore, he cannot be doing the fight of his life. Second, out of several people contesting –realistically, only three or four –if you assess them critically, I have no doubt that Chief Willie Obiano is heads above others, because of what he has achieved. This election, as I have written elsewhere, is about performance vs promise. If you look at somebody promising you XYZ, and somebody who has achieved ABCD, it is left for the electorate to make a choice. But more importantly, people like us are looking at this election as an election not just for Willie Obiano. If you look at what is happening at the country at national and sub-national level, you will agree with me that this election is a referendum on the future of Ndigbo. It’s for that reason that people like us are involved.
For that reason, I don’t see APC making a very strong showing in a fair contest, because we are yet to see and feel the change they promised us at the national level. During its flag-off campaign in Onitsha, it was promises galore. Anambra and other South-eastern states are yet to feel APC in the area of their critical needs. For instance, the second Niger Bridge has been on the drawing board for too long. They are brandishing it again as a campaign promise. Secondly, the candidate of APC in the state has integrity issues.
You mean Tony Nwoye of the APC?
Yes. But Ndi Anambra have not forgotten where they are coming from. If you look at PDP, it is crisis-prone. They are still trying to sort themselves out. I don’t think we know who exactly the PDP candidate is until after the election. Dr. Alex Obiogbolu has reportedly gone to court claiming that he is the rightful candidate of PDP. This is typical of PDP in every governorship election in the state. You still remember what happened in Rivers State; how Rotimi Amaechi emerged governor. November 18 election is not an exception. So, Chief Willie Obiano is in good hands. APGA is rooted in all the 326 wards in the state. It is not so with other political parties. Some don’t even have elected executives in those wards; meaning that they don’t have presence there. But APGA has been in this state for more than 11 years. Governorship election is not like councillorship election where if you are popular in your ward you win. Governorship is more than that. I have the confidence that, in any free and fair election, Obiano will win.
You are talking about a free and fair election when the opposition is claiming that the governor’s recent visit to President Buhari was to strike a bargain. What’s your reaction to that?
Even the logic is flawed. The APC candidate also visited the president. You cannot go to a president that is from a different political party to rig an election. In whose favour would the president rig the election? APGA or the APC? The fact remains that President Muhammadu Buhari is our president today, even though he is of the APC. So, as a sitting governor who has respect for the president, he needed to get the assurances that there would be free and fair election. Some opposition candidates have been boasting with his name in the state that, ‘we know you people will win, but we will use federal might and do XYZ’. With the assurances by the president that there would be free and fair election, it is only left for INEC to translate that into practical terms. But anybody who thinks this election will be rigged is fooling himself because this is 2017; it is difficult for that person to do it; it will be resisted. And the presidency has assured that they are not into that. Given the character of the presidency, I doubt if they would allow their men to do such things.
Some people say by choosing Ekwueme’s daughter as running mate, it is a plus to the PDP and a minus to APGA. What is your take?
Recall that Ekwueme had earlier endorsed Obiano based on what he has achieved and he cannot take back his words because somebody chose his daughter as a running mate. And he has issued a statement to the fact that his daughter was an adult, and could make her decisions. And, if you now look at the words of the elder statesman, who has come out to reinstate the endorsement of Willie Obiano, I don’t know how the choice of his daughter who is not a player in the political process before will make much impact. At best she will be familiarising herself with the process now.
The state governor says he has attracted $7.5 investment to the state since taking over the reins of power. The opposition is saying it is the stuff of fiction. Is it?
So far, the government has signed a number of MOUs with different investors. Some of them are on ground already running. Some are in the various stages of implementation. The opposition will not accept the fact that progress is being made in that direction. Investors will not like to come in an environment that is not secure. What the governor did was to take care of security, which was a big challenge and, thereafter, set up ANSIPPA (Anambra State Investment Promotion and Promotion Agency). And that agency is a one-stop shop where you can negotiate every investment issue instead of going from one ministry to another, manned by competent, experienced people that have worked all over the world. And the governor went on the road to market what he had done in the area of security. There were road shows in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt targeting primarily Ndi Anambra and they responded in good numbers.
I can confidently say that 80 percent of them that invested in the area of agriculture have started work. The other ones are in different stages of take-off. Anybody doubting that should come and go round the state to see some of these things.
APGA is being presented as an Igbo party rather than a national one. As a chieftain of the party, don’t you think it will limit the impact of the party?
I don’t think there is anything wrong if somebody says, ‘Nkea bu nke anyi’. It is a movement; it is a philosophy. If for whatever reason, Anambra decides to embrace APGA, and APGA has retained the power for the past 11 years, what is wrong with that? If you look at the political history of this country, which party has ever been a truly national party? It requires a handshake across the divide to be a national party. Obiano has promised to do that. In the last governorship election in Abia, he gave all the necessary support to the candidate there, and he nearly got, or he got it, but for some unforeseen circumstances. In Imo State, recall that Rochas Okorocha first won election on the ticket of APGA and later he defected. AD started that way, and from AD to AC, ACN and, today APC. So, APGA is in the same trajectory.
There are some Igbo people who hold the view that the five South-east governors mismanaged the IPOB issue, by outlawing the activities of group. How will that affect the election in Anambra State?
This IPOB issue is totally misunderstood. It is an issue that is often discussed with so much hysteria, and some people don’t seem to understand the fundamentals. There are some security issues that some people don’t know that the governors know. They should also know they are the chief executive officers in their states; they are not really in charge of security. So, if an organisation overstretches their activities to a point of jeopardising the national security and the federal government decides to act, I don’t see any other thing the state governments should have done. I don’t think the south-east governors should be blamed. The blame should be elsewhere.