Chijioke Edeoga is a major factor in next year’s elections in Enugu State. The former House of Representatives member resigned his appointment as Commissioner for Environment in the state to join the governorship race on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was initially seen as the preferred aspirant.
Today, Edeoga is in the Labour Party to actualise his bid to govern the state. He spoke to MAGNUS EZE on his driving force, why Enugu needs him now, his agenda for the state, and the dynamics that could save the state from a possible capture.
He also spoke about the Presidential candidate of the party, Mr. Peter Obi, disclosing that the latter personally pulled him (Edeoga) to the Labour Party.
Why do you want to be governor?
I want to be governor because the need for a better situation for the people of Enugu State, for the people of South-East, the people of Eastern Nigeria has become obvious. We want to bring back joy and hope and enthusiasm and love for living among our populace. If you look around now, there is despair on the faces of people. There is despondency in the lives of people. The things that are supposed to be common have become absolutely unavailable. The road infrastructure has decayed beyond belief. The environment has soured beyond belief. Enugu State is littered in a way that it has never been littered before. The complaint about payment of some basic entitlements such as pension and gratuity, the evident lack of any viable employment outfit in the whole of Enugu State, the fact that our youths in their thousands roam the streets and there is no possibility of engaging them meaningfully in a sustainable manner, the crying need for availability of water in Enugu township and in most urban communities in Enugu State. These things are self-evident. You don’t even need to be in politics or campaigning for office to see that these things are there. The fact that Enugu has become congested and there is a need for multiple or several other urban centres that are properly planned, that are properly connected. The need for a better housing situation, the soaring cost for houses in Enugu township, the decay and absolute planlessness in our primary schools. Just look anywhere in Enugu State and you will see that the primary school system has collapsed and there is a need to return to the foundations. You see that rural healthcare; all those ward health centres are in a state of decay. So, there is virtually no area of our lives that you don’t see the need for major improvement. The Enugu environment is conducive for tourism but you must prepare it for tourism. There is a crying need to empower the people even through Nollywood, by making Enugu State a home for Nollywood. There is evident need to make Enugu State a hub. Enugu has several universities, several tertiary institutions but there is no place where they can be engaged creatively. So, there are budding centres for ICT hubs in Nsukka, Enugu and Oji River. The markets in Enugu are also primitive. The markets need to be re-planned and realigned. We have to have proper planning for our markets. You see trading everywhere in all parts of Enugu State. Go to Ugwogo, Opi, all parts of Enugu State, you see people trading on the streets. So, the things to be done are just self evident. We are going to make Enugu State to become a hub for intellectual renaissance, economic renaissance, administrative renaissance of the South East and Eastern Nigeria.
What will you do differently if you become governor?
What we have been used to in Enugu State is that the PDP has spoken and everybody moves to that direction. There has not been a real pre-election or pre-primary election campaign for a long time. I cannot remember the last time the PDP had actually campaigned for the governorship position in Enugu State. So, if you didn’t go round at all to see, feel and hear from the people, articulate those yearnings, expressions and sentiments into a covenant, there is no way you are going to perform. Because in the process of going round, canvassing for votes, in the process of hearing what are the major needs of the various components, the bonding, the covenant is created. When you speak the way I am speaking, you are making a firm covenant arising from what was established in the course of your campaigning. So, politicians can speak, but if it arises from a highly felt need of the people, communicated to you in the course of your campaign and you make promises, then a different situation arises. You establish a covenant in the process, when you get into government whether you like it or not, you are propelled by forces inside and outside of you to complete those promises. That is the charm of serious campaigns for positions. You create a covenant which you don’t even know about. Because you make promises and people pray for you, people troupe out for you, you see them in the sun, in the rain singing, clapping, praying, wishing that you become and you pray that if you become, this is what I am going to do. And once you get into power on the basis of this covenant with the people, hammered out of their difficulties, you have no option but to perform. So, the difference is that I have gone round the communities in Enugu State in the course of my campaign. I have listened to their yearnings and it is the combination of their felt need that I am presenting to you as what I am going to do and there is no way I would not do it. The Electoral Act has presented a new situation where you must have to campaign or you will not get it. I want you to know that this is a new beginning. That’s the difference. Before in PDP Enugu State, once the governor speaks, everybody falls in line.
Would it be correct to say that what you and your team are doing is to end the old order, where there was imposition?
No, the Electoral Act, which by the grace and mercy of God, President Buhari signed, has enthroned a new order. The Electoral Act which manifested itself in Ekiti, Osun and Anambra States has engendered a new order. The days of allocation of votes, the days of rigging and padding and misapplication of votes has ended with instant uploading at polling booths. We are just hoping that INEC will stay firm to this new system and make sure that peoples’ votes count at polling booths. So, we are not enthroning a new order so to say, we are only responding positively to a national situation which Buhari through the mercy of God approved. It has made it inevitable and we are happy about it because at least the voices of the people, the choices of the people, the decisions of the people to decide who governs them, who represents them at the House of Assembly, in the Senate, at the House of Representatives as it happened in 1999 when some people like myself and many other patriots on their own self recognition, by the choices of their people went to the National Assembly. The difference is clear. Look at the 1999 to 2007 set and look at what happened after when the governors took the reins of power and chose the weakest to lead the National Assembly. They felt threatened that if someone goes to the National Assembly and does well, they will be overshadowed. So, all these weaknesses of people in power by the grace of God have been put asunder by this electoral law and the BVAS that has returned power to the people. My hope is that people who have slept over the years, who have been indolent all the years will realise that power is in their hands now and that they should use it for the good of our society.
There is this call by some people that the BVAS and electronic transfer of results be jettisoned by the INEC. What is your position on this?
You know when the National Assembly comes to agreement on something and the president signs it, then it is a felt national need, evident national need. The Nigerian condition, if we must get out of the woods at the end, something fundamental must be done to our electoral system. For instance, the Uwais report, you know I was there, and the compromises and the weaknesses of that era to ensure that it didn’t see the light of the day. But we are coming to the realisation that if we must move ahead, fundamental changes must be done to the way we select people who lead us. And this is just the beginning. So, those who are pressing ahead for the new order must continue to push for these changes to the electoral system. Those who are interested in retiring us and pushing us backwards will continue to do what they are doing. It is just expected that those who are pushing for progress in alignment with what is obtainable in other parts of the world will succeed. The alternative is failure and the consequences of failure are already with us. There is unemployment, banditry and all those things, and they will get worse unless we work in tandem with what is in the interest of the national order. I think the new electoral law is a step in the right direction and we should do everything to protect it, promote it, preserve it and even make it better until it comes to complete alignment with our thoughts and aspirations for the electoral system. To do otherwise is to invite chaos and anarchy and national destabilization, which we don’t pray for.
The picture of despondency you just painted now about Enugu State is such that every sector must be overhauled. But what will be your priority?
We will declare an emergency on infrastructure, especially urban roads which are in a state of disrepair. We will declare emergency in the primary school system. The primary school system needs to be remodelled, and models created and people encouraged to patronise public schools. We are going to create an emergency in the rural health situation. Yes, the infrastructure is there but we need to up the game as regards to the environment, the training of staff, attendance to work and furnishing of the existing facilities. We are also going to do something very urgent about water supply in Enugu State. Others will fall into line but fundamentally, the state of infrastructure, especially roads, need immediate attention, especially urban centres and adjoining local government areas. Where we cannot start with tarring them, we grade them maximally so that access will be guaranteed both within the urban areas and roads that connect local government areas so that we boost commerce. Security is also important. We must reinvigorate our local security; the community security arrangements, the vigilante, the forest guards. We will reengineer them and re-equip them so that we flush out whomever it is that is inhabiting our forests and our farms and have made life difficult for our people in the rural areas. So, there is so much to be done and everything that would be done will be done immediately in several directions. Engaging the best hands and giving them the authority to perform.
Since you mentioned security, even your community, Eha-Amufu, has come under severe attack for a long while now. Do you have any special plans for security and, is it something you would want to make public?
We are going to work in tandem with the national security architecture as it is constituted presently. The Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Police, we are going to engage with them. I know for instant that in my own area, there are two bridges that the military establishment asked for in order to give them access to our rural areas. Two of them will not cost N100 million. There is even a standing bridge somewhere. So, what is needed is maximum cooperation with the Nigerian Army so that what needs to be done in terms of supporting them with logistics will be activated at the highest level so that our forests will be rid of miscreants and all sorts of occupants. Then, additionally, we are going to reengineer the Forest Guards so that the people who should be the forest guards are the forest guards. We are going to reengineer the vigilante; professionalize them, give them security of tenure and give them proper orientation and training and have a centralized system of command and control.
Out there, traditional rulers and groups are endorsing the PDP candidate. Are you not bothered about the issue of structure and that you have not been receiving such endorsements?
I am a founding member of PDP in Enugu State. I have left PDP. Several other founding members both in the state and nationally have left PDP. Several other founding members in different parties have also left their parties. We are at a time of movement. What you call structures are human beings. If we are to get a strong number in PDP, the party becomes strong. If we move to another party, like the APC in the way Nigeria moved from PDP to APC in 2014 that brought in Buhari, that party became strong. All the performance of APC and the PDP and the national calamity that has arisen in the course of their reigns since 1999 has made it inevitable that a new order must be created or else Nigeria will collapse. And the consensus is that that new order is revolving around Peter Obi; the presidency of Peter Obi, the vitality of Peter Obi, the energy of Peter Obi, the enthusiasm of Peter Obi, the brilliance of Peter Obi. The national consensus is that the PDP has failed, the APC has failed and Enugu is part of this national consensus. Enugu is not isolated from this national consensus. So, those endorsements that are conjured or manufactured or induced do not worry me. I know that at any point in time, those who are receiving salaries as paid political appointees are in the infinitesimal minority and of course they will work to protect their salaries and allowances because there are no options. There are no alternatives, no jobs, no industries, no health centres. So, what else will they do in Enugu State except to gravitate towards free money from government? But the majority are up in arms against the old order. They are asking for change and this change has come. So, I am the pilot, the driver of this emerged consensus of the concerned; the consensus of the deprived, the consensus of the worried, the consensus of the agitated, the consensus of the underrepresented, the consensus of the patriots in Enugu State who are yearning for a new order, who know that Enugu should be better than it is now, who want to recreate Enugu of the past, the hope of international renaissance which Enugu represents in the South East, the cultural centre of the South East, the pride of the Igbo people. We will return the international airport, we will return the commerce, we will return the sense of purpose of the Igbo people which Enugu is at the heart of. Every good thing that happened in the South-Eastern Nigeria and in Igbo land and Nigeria was engineered from Enugu State with Azikiwe in the lead, Okpara in the lead, Pius Okigbo in the lead, Akanu Ibiam in the lead, Asika in the lead, where are they now? We are going to make sure that these failures and retrogression that has happened to Igbo people, starting with Enugu State, will be reversed. We are going to reverse them in Abia State through the instrumentality of a genius called Alex Otti. We are going to revitalize all over Igbo land. So, we don’t worry about the thing they call structure. The people are the structure. People are with us now. We see it, we feel it in all the places we campaign and we are campaigning ward to ward, community to community and we are determined to do that all over Enugu State and victory is inevitable by the grace of God.
Shortly after the primaries, there was this message that came out that you congratulated the winner in PDP. What really led to your change of mind?
There is no human being who does not change his or her position especially in view of better reasoning, new arguments and new developments. There is nobody in the world that does not respond to new development. I congratulated my friend, Peter Mbah who emerged in the PDP. It is not as if I did not have issues with the processes but the important thing is that he reached out to me immediately after and I thought the best thing to do as a gentleman was to say, look, my friend congratulations. And I wanted to just end it like that. I could have challenged the processes that led to his emergence in PDP. From the beginning to the end, the entire process was flawed. It was a charade. But because of what I have said, I didn’t want to get into all those things, I thought the best way was to move ahead. But thereafter outside the PDP but within Enugu State, forces, interests, personalities that I could not say no to, situations that I could not refuse to respond to, emerging national developments that would not leave me lukewarm or indifferent began to happen simultaneously and as a human being, I had to reconsider. One of those things was the emergence of Atiku Abubakar. I am a founding member of the PDP; I was close to Dr Alex Ekwueme. I know that the main issue in PDP was rotational presidency, because the PDP was created out of the June 12 debacle. And the June 12 debacle was about denying Abiola his mandate. And a new beginning had to be made and the PDP said that the rotational presidency was cardinal as it was cardinal in the NPN. And I know the sacrifice Dr Alex Ekwueme made for the PDP. So, how come that the same Atiku Abubakar, Tambuwal, Saraki, all those forces who left PDP to go and enthrone Buhari in APC will now move again to PDP and enthrone another Northerner? So, a Northerner to a Northerner succession was not in consonance with the spirit of the founding of the PDP and I am a founding member of the PDP. I convened PDP in my local government on the instance of Dr. Alex Ekwueme who saw me as a son. So, I felt that a tremendous injustice has been done and something happened to my spirit. Luckily enough, a new national platform that harmonized all those frustrations emerged and there was a clarion call by the people of Enugu State who were hoping that through me change will come to PDP. They said that I should move ahead, that I should take up the gauntlet. That I should lead the charge for the new Enugu State. Enugu State is free from electoral manipulations, from shenanigans, from imposition of candidates not based on capacity or equity but on whims and caprices. And I had to answer that call. It was a clarion call for national and state revival. It is bigger than any personal decision to run or not to run. When the duty calls, your personal whims become immaterial. So, all those people who are saying that I congratulated Peter Mbah, yes in PDP, I congratulated him. I have left PDP. I am on another platform, what does that congratulation have to do? Did I challenge the charade in the PDP, the imposition of candidates, the monetisation of the processes? The commoditization of human beings, the buying and selling of human beings in the PDP, did I complain? Did I write anything? Did I go to court? Did I post the pictures of the people supervising the voting process of what should be a closed process? Local government chairmen watching where people would vote in the primary of the PDP on that day? Did I talk about the humiliation I got from Senator Chimaroke Nnamani? I could have complained about those things but I chose not to complain. I moved ahead. Anyone who doesn’t change his mind, who is a robot, good luck to that person. But I have no regrets. I have no apologies.
Before the PDP primaries, you were seen as the preferred aspirant. Did you feel any sense of betrayal because of the outcome?
My belief in God is almost impregnable. It is not to be tempered with. In PDP it was clear from the acceptance I gained everywhere even from the lowering of morale that happened after the outcome. Everyone in Enugu State knew that I was the preferred candidate of the people of Enugu State; the normal people who will vote on election day. That goodwill, that love has followed me and clearly now in Enugu State, I am the candidate to beat. I am organising, mobilising and piloting the movement for change in Enugu State. So, at no point, I just took it within my stride. If I felt sad, if I felt betrayed, I wouldn’t have congratulated Peter Mbah. I would have gone to challenge him. I would have made a statement. I didn’t do that. I just took it in my stride and when the need to move to Labour Party came, I just saw it as the hand of God. So, that is why in all my billboards, you see the Igbo word, ‘Akachukwu’. That means the finger of God. There has been the finger of God in my life. There has been the hand of God in my life. My name is Chijioke, my lot is in the hand of God and it is something that I have internalized. So, I am always at ease with myself.
Will it be fair to say that your governorship ticket is in jeopardy following that you are still in court over it?
My ticket is absolutely not in jeopardy. This is the finger of God as I have told you. Nothing will happen to it. Nothing has happened to it and nothing will happen to it. There was a determination at the Federal High Court that the primary that the candidate who bought the form as Odengene Airline Services be repeated because he was not served a notice of the primary. Notice is not made available to an individual, it is available to the whole world. Airlines are not persons who are qualified for election purposes. We have appealed that judgement and by the grace of God, wherever it goes, whatever God decides will be all right by me. I am confident that everything is all right.