Okey Ezea, a lawyer, is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu state. He spoke to Ismail Omipidan, on the gale of defections from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-east, the challenges facing the APC in the region, the Buhari administration and other partisan issues.
What is the state of affairs of the APC in Enugu state?
The APC is doing pretty well in Enugu state. We are consolidating on our membership drive and continuous registration exercise. A lot of very prominent politicians have joined our ranks since after the elections of 2015. They include people like Senator Jim Nwobodo, Senator Ken Nnamani, Orji, Dr. Mrs. Nwodo, Hon. Eugene Ogwu, former member of House of Assembly for eight years, Chief Madubuisi, Chief Collins of GNG. We have made tremendous progress, consolidating our membership.
The only snag we have, the only drawback we have is Mr. Osita Okechukwu, who is fond of attacking the people who want to join the party in Enugu state. You can imagine a personality like Jim Nwobodo joining the party and they are attacking him. May be, he doesn’t like his face. A party is like a stream. There is no hindrance to entry. But the other day, they were on national news; they said they didn’t want Ike Ekweremadu to defect. Who is Osita to determine who enters the party or who doesn’t enter the party? I was surprised.
To the best of my knowledge, Osita has never worked for the APC at any time. In 2015, he worked against me as the governorship candidate of the party. He was campaigning for PDC, the party of former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. Our incumbent state chairman, Dr. Benjamin Nwoye, was a senatorial candidate, but Osita led delegations to him to step down for PDC. The election was held the same day as presidential election. When we confronted him, he said he wanted Ben to step down so that people in PDC could vote for Buhari.
In the polling booth where the candidate of the PDC, Chimaroke Nnamani voted, APC scored three votes. The person Osita was begging ben to step down for gave Buhari three votes. Even, Osita lost in his polling booth. Buhari had 22 votes in his polling booth. These are the people that hacked the APC down in Enugu state and we are saying enough is enough. We need to move forward. We need to build the party to win elections. It is a shame that APC did not perform well in the South-east. And the people who claim to be stakeholders could not win their polling booths. If they had won their polling booths, the party would have done better. He parades himself as the South-east spokesman of the APC. It is not true. The spokesman of the APC in the South-east is from Enugu South Local Government Area. He was a candidate for the House of Assembly election. His name is Isient Ngwu, a member of the House of Assembly on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He is the Zonal Publicity Secretary. What manner of a spokesman will condemn people defecting to the party; people who will bring victory to the party?
Now that you have many defectors, how is the party going to tackle the challenge of harmonisation?
In a political organisation, where the vision, aim and objective of everybody are the same, there is no problem of harmonising interests. Where people have divergent interests, aims and objectives; like somebody is working for the party to win and somebody is working for the party to lose, of course, there will be problem. I can assure you that the new people who have come to the party want the party to win. Every genuine politician wants his party to win. Thus, there will be no problem. The most important thing is the party winning elections, keeping the spirit of the party, sustaining the change mantra in word and in deeds.
But do you think the defectors too are sincere?
With all due respect, I don’t think any man or woman at that level will leave their previous party and move to the APC for the sake of coming to the APC. They are very sincere people and they are coming for change and victory.
Does the party stand any chance in Enugu state in 2019?
Basically, the people of Enugu state are desirous of change. The PDP has been using federal might in Enugu state to win elections. But, I am sure the apparatus of the Federal Government this time will uphold the constitutional requirement of one man, one vote.
We are also hoping that INEC will insist on the card reader machine to avoid a situation where people vote two times, or where people who are not registered even vote. For instance, in the last governorship election in Enugu state, in 2015, INEC recorded 580,000 voters. Meanwhile, the people who were really accredited to vote were less than 250,000. It is on record. That gives you the idea of the figure being recorded for the PDP in Enugu state.
In 2019, I am not sure the PDP will have the apparatus of the Army, police, SSS, INEC doing their bidding. There is going to be free and fair elections. There will be one man, one vote. If that is done, there will be free and fair elections.
From what has been happening so far, would you say the Federal Government is courting the South-East the right way?
The South-east is not waiting for anybody to court her. The South-east knows where its bread will be buttered. The only way to be part and parcel of the mainstream politics is to be in the APC. The boat has left the shores. It is better to join the boat.
But how do you address the issue of marginilisation of the region, in view of your latest position?
The issue of marginalization of the South-East has been on the burner for long before the APC government came to be. So, it is something that requires a fundamental solution. The government must recognize the deprivations the South-East had suffered in the past. There should be a system in place that recognizes equity, justice and fair play in the whole gamut of governance in Nigeria.
It is not essentially the making of the APC government. The South-East has suffered a great deficit, even under the PDP. The PDP was in power for 16 years. What did the PDP do for the South-East? When Dr. Azikiwe Jonathan was President, what did he do for the region? At a time, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Minister in charge of the economy, the Senate Committee Chairman on Works, were all from the South-East. The roads in the South-East are bad. What did the Jonathan’s government do for the South-East in terms of road? It is the APC government that is doing Enugu/Onitsha road. The road is at the heart of Igbo land.
There are three major roads in Igbo land. The Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, which connects Enugu/Port-Harcourt Expressway and Onitsha/Owerri, a triangle. If nothing is done about this triangle, Igbo land is nowhere in terms of roads. That has been the situation in the last 16 years. So, the issue of marginalisation of the South-East is not the issue of the APC government or the Buhari administration. Those who made it under the Jonathan administration are the people now deceiving our gullible countrymen.
Are you going to revive your governorship ambition ahead of 2019?
It is not on the table for now. We are talking of making our party a strong organisation, a strong political party in the state so that it can win elections in Enugu state. It is not a matter of Okey Ezea being a candidate or Okey Ezea not being a candidate. I want my party to be successful in my state that is my priority.
Besides, in Enugu state, it is an unwritten law that the governorship position should shift from one zone to the other. The incumbent PDP governor is from my zone; Nsukka Senatorial Zone. We expect him to join the APC. If he joins the APC, I will support him for a second term. If he does not join the APC, I will support the candidate of my party.
Many people are complaining that the APC-led Federal Government is not living up to expectations. What do you think?
Those complaining are PDP people. They can’t see anything good in what the APC is doing. Why will it be good when they have looted everything before the APC came to power? We were not part of the people who carried bullion vans to the Central Bank to carry money. You don’t expect that kind of leadership from the APC. We are disciplined people. It must be rough before it is smooth. We are suffering because of what had happened in the past.
We are suffering because they refused to plan for the raining day. Now, the raining day has come and we have no shelter. That’s why people are suffering. Now, they are turning around and blaming it on the APC. That’s why there is a blame game. We cannot manufacture any other thing than what is happening. The reality is that some people had run the country aground. Some people have come to rescue the boat and keep it afloat again. We are sweating trying to make the ship of state sail again.
What is your advice to the Enugu APC?
The advice is that every person is a stakeholder. Go back to your polling booth. Go back to your ward. Go back to your local government. Go and deliver. If every stakeholder delivers his ward, as I did, then, the party will win. But, when you stay in Abuja and make unguarded statements, abusing people on the pages of newspapers and television, it will not APC, it will be counter-productive. People should stop playing to the gallery.