Hon. Legor Idagbo represents the Bekwarra/Obudu/Obanliku Federal Constituency of Cross River State in the House of Representatives. In this interview with KENNETH UDEH, the lawmaker spoke on the chances of the different aspirants in the 2023 Presidential race, asserting that the APC would win the race. He dismissed insinuations that some other candidates were a threat to APC candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He also spoke on other issues.
How will you describe the conduct of the APC primaries at all levels?
I think the conduct was quite peaceful and smooth; we didn’t have any incident all through our primaries. Of course there were a few people who were expecting to get the party’s ticket but were not very successful in their attempt. There are also some aggrieved persons which is normal in any democratic exercise in which our party was very democratic. I think at the end of the day, the party has set up a machinery to speak to people and reassure them to further build confidence in the people and what the party stands for.
Should the recent defections bedeviling your party, the APC be a source of worry with regards the forthcoming elections?
I don’t think it will. I believe that our party will win the elections. As regards the people decamping, they are probably doing that for personal selfish reasons, looking at where suits them in terms of financial inducement and all of that. But if you study the nature of their decamping, you don’t see them move with their foot soldiers and their supporters. You see solo decampments for personal reasons. In Anambra State during the governorship elections held this year, a lot of people defected to the APC before the governorship elections and it didn’t change much because the APC didn’t win the elections. Some of those who decamped to the APC later returned to their former parties. So it depends on the reason(s) some people are decamping and the calibre of people decamping. But in Cross River, I believe we are in a safe place. We are confident that APC will win elections any day and anytime. However, that is not to say that it’s a walk in the park.
Many lawmakers won’t be returning to the National Assembly. Do you think the fiasco between the NASS and governors over the Electoral Act is responsible? And what does the coming of new legislators portend?
Yes! I believe so. I believe it was the main reason. Statutory delegates were shut out of the primary exercise and it affected, to large extent, a lot of incumbent members. We have a scenario where we had a structure which includes ward chairmen, chapter chairmen, the ward executives All these people were assumed were going to the part of the primary elections. So you see a scenario where members maintained these party structures, attended to them and spent over three years financing these structures with the hope that at some point these structures will be part of the process of re-electing them at the primary level. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen. They came up with the new Electoral Act which I don’t believe itself excluded statutory members but it was interpreted as such. And because of that, only the elected delegates were part of the process. And of course these delegates had their own plans. They were put together by most of the incumbent sitting governors and it reflected in the outcome of the primaries.
So you saw a situation where the delegates voted where they were directed to and it affected a lot of our members at the National Assembly. But I don’t believe it’s a healthy trend because unlike an executive position, the legislative position calls for experience and it’s only when you return as a member that you’ll garner that kind of experience, that you’re stronger. In my first tenure I was Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Legislative Budget. Today, being my second tenure, I chair the House Committee on Nigerian Content.
The more you come back to the house as a member, the stronger you are, the better you are with legislative work and you can apply yourself to the benefit of your constituents and ultimately the benefit of your country. Just like it applies to other climes, you have members returning to the parliament as many times according to how they have been effective as possible. So I don’t think the parliament is a place where you just toss members to come in one term and go then another person comes and goes because the same thing that is happening to people that are leaving now will still happen to the new ones that are coming, so it’s a vicious circle that does not help anybody.
What’s the solution to this?
If the statutory delegates had taken part in the primary process, we would have had a higher number of returning members, because the members spent time taking care of these statutory delegates and the delegates knew them and they could also rate their performance in the parliament. There would have been a chance that the statutory delegates would have returned some of those members. But that wasn’t the case. So if we want to move forward and we can adopt a process where it will ensure some good number of members returning at every election cycle, it will help our country and it will help our people.
How will you rate the conduct of the presidential primary of the APC?
I think it was free and fair and very successful, APC as a party showed that they are a strong political party and that they have what it takes to resolve whatever issues or differences and come out stronger. I think at the end of the primary, APC has come out as an even stronger party ready to continue leading Nigerians.
Do you think the party should have adopted the consensus method?
No! I am convinced the party did the right thing and I want to use this opportunity to commend the President and the leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari who has indeed shown once again that he is for “everybody” and for “nobody” . Consensus to me is not an ideal scenario under the given circumstances because if he has gone to pick an anointed candidate and say “I am supporting this person,” it would have foreclosed the opportunity for other people from taking part. Rather what happened was, the delegates were allowed a free hand to appraise all the aspirants and to choose which aspirant they wanted to vote for. I think a lot of people had spoken to the President before the primary, and I am happy that the President bowed to superior argument and allowed the process to be free and fair.
Today we have our candidate in the person of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whom we are very satisfied with and believe that he has everything it takes to win the general elections for us in 2023.
The governors were allowed to choose their successors, but President Buhari was not allowed to pick his…
Personally, I don’t believe in the saying, ‘choosing your successor.’ That is narrowing it down to look as if the state of the country is your personal estate where you can sit down and choose your successor. I believe that it is something that should be left for the electorate to decide who is the better candidate to serve them. Because there are two arms to it; you can impose someone in the primaries and the person will lose the general elections. But kudos to some governors who were able to feel the pulse of the people, make consultations, ask questions on who best could fly the flag of the party in their states.
One of such governors is our governor in Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade who didn’t singlehandedly sit down to impose somebody who will succeed him. He held consultations and at the end of that consultation it resulted in the person of Senator Prince Bassey Otu.
Coming back to the Presidential primaries, I commend the president for doing the right thing for allowing the process to play itself out, without sitting down and imposing anybody on the people. Again, you will recall that PDP had their primary, and it was free and fair and Atiku Abubakar emerged as the party’s Presidential flag bearer. So if we were to go into an election against PDP, being the major opposition party and then imposing somebody on the party, I don’t think it would have gone well because at the end of the day we also need to win the general elections.
But do you think your candidate’s age would appeal to the young voters?
I believe he has a very bright chance of winning the elections because of his pedigree, because of his achievements as governor of Lagos State, because of the vision he has had in putting APC together, because of the contacts he has and his general acceptability amongst Nigerians. I believe Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has everything it takes to win the elections.
However with due respect to the youths and their clamour for a younger president, let me state here that the job of a president is neither necessarily determined by age nor is it mandatorily required that the person must be young. I believe that we should rise above some of these sentiments and begin to speak the truth as what leadership entails. There are some young people that have not done well in governance. There are some young people that have abused powers and also some that have performed very well and kudos to them. I, for example, became a local government chairman at a very young age when I was in my early 30s. Based on that, I believe that the youths can also do well. But not every youth can do well in governance.
If you also compare what’s obtainable in other climes, in America today how old is the President? A country that has one of the biggest democracies in the world. The President is not a very young man and the former President is not a very young man either, so I don’t believe that age can hinder your performance. So I believe that Asiwaju still has what it takes to become a very good and exemplary President of Nigeria.
Considering the voting strength of the North, what are the chances of your candidate who will be facing a strong Northern candidate, among others?
I have a lot of respect for my Northern brothers, because they are very intelligent politically and from what I know of the Northerners when it comes to elections they don’t just move in a singular direction by supporting someone simply because he or she is a Northerner. They believe in fairness and equity. If you see those that championed the Asiwaju’s emergence, they mostly came from the North.
You will recall that a certain number of governors from the Northern extraction who lead their people and who are respected by their people came together and agreed that it was only fair after Buhari has done eight years from the North and it’s only fair for the Presidency to return to the South. This decision was not taken in isolation; they consulted amongst themselves and these are Northerners speaking. Now that they supported a Southern candidate to emerge I believe that they will follow through on it and ensure that we emerge winner in the general elections.
You will also recall when the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO) ran against Alhaji Bashir Tofa in the 1993 Presidential elections. Though Tofa was from the North, Kano to be Precise but MKO still won massively in the North with the support of the Northerners. You will again recollect former President Goodluck Jonathan who is from the South South Region when he contested against the same Atiku Abubakar from the North, Jonathan won by a landslide in the North. So the Northerners are intelligent people and they practise fairness. They also believe that power should naturally come to the South, having had their son Muhammadu Buhari who would by 2023 have spent eight years in office. So it’s only fair and just for the Presidency to return to the South. I believe we chose the right candidate who has all it takes to win the election.
How will you describe the chances of former Governors Peter Obi and Kwankwaso?
I don’t see them as a threat. I have a lot of respect for what Peter Obi stands for and for what he is doing . I think what he’s doing resonates with young people in Nigeria which is a good thing. I believe that someday Peter Obi could be President of Nigeria but I don’t believe it will happen in 2023.
I trust he’ll make some inroads He’ll get some votes in the Southern part of Nigeria and even in the Northern part of the country. He will definitely get some votes but I don’t believe it will be enough to threaten the APC Presidential candidate. A lot of people say that Peter Obi shares the same supporters with the PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar in the South, particularly the South-East and some states in the South South for obvious reasons, but I am thinking that Peter Obi will try. He will put up a very good show but I believe that at the end of the day Asiwaju will be the President of Nigeria.
What if there’s a merger between the two?
I still don’t see that as a threat. The reason is because the Peter Obi support base is predicated on that fact that he will be President. So if there’s a merger between Kwankwaso and Peter Obi and Peter Obi becomes the Presidential candidate and Kwankwaso is made the Vice Presidential candidate, both of their support base will deplete. Kwankwaso also has a support base that’s premeditated on that fact he will become the President and if Peter Obi also decides to deputise Kwankwanso their support bases will still deplete further. If Peter Obi decides to deputise Kwankwanso he will lose his support base completely, because that support is not based on a Kwankwaso Presidency. So they are two extreme ends and I don’t believe that their merger poses any threat. I respect both of them and what they stand for but I believe that at some point Kwankwaso will also see reasons to support the APC’s Presidential candidate.
With candidates of the two major political parties emerging from the North and South West, the chances of a South Easterner becoming a Nigerian President seems to have faded away. What do you think?
I believe the South-East should be given the opportunity to produce the president and that’s one of the few geopolitical zones that have not had the opportunity of producing a President. However I am aware that these things are not donated on a platter.
A lot of work and negotiations and partnerships with the government at the centre is required for the Presidency to come to a particular zone. Before Goodluck Jonathan became President, the South-South had not produced the President and it was not as if the Presidency was zoned to the South-South. Yet the South-South is the zone that produces the major wealth of our nation’s economy in terms of our oil. But if you see the circumstances that led to Goodluck becoming President, those circumstances can best be termed as an act of God. And for Goodluck when we lost the former President Umaru Musa Ya-Ardua, Jonathan served out the remaining part of his tenure and ran a fresh election and won with the support of all the zones and every well meaning Nigerian.
I believe someday the South-East will produce Nigeria’s President but I don’t believe it will come through a struggle or a revolution or fighting. I believe it will be actualised through discussions, networking, negotiations and partnerships that will build some confidence and trust from other zones. I believe that’s what’s needed for a South East Presidency.
What’s your opinion on the deplorable state of security in the country?
I am of the view that we need a President that has the courage to bite the bullet and take very hard and drastic decisions. Fighting insecurity is not something you do casually. It’s something you do deliberately and decisively. It’s an issue where you use culprits as scapegoats to serve as a deterrent to others for them to see that it doesn’t pay to delve into crime. To be honest though I am an active member of the APC today but if you ask me if our President has done very well in security in terms of tackling insecurity, my answer will obviously be no, because insecurity has been on the rise, rather than reducing, I believe that if Asiwaju becomes President he will tackle insecurity. Because I see him as someone that has the courage and also has the doggedness to bite the bullet and take difficult situations to spend the money that needs to be spent in tackling most of these security challenges. I understand that it’s not only in Nigeria. There’s insecurity all over the world and once insecurity comes, it’s difficult to eradicate it.
You need a dogged and courageous President that can put his foot down and take decisions to spend the money. When insecurity thrives, it becomes encouraging. When others see that those partaking in crime, terrorism and all are living fine without any challenge from the government and its security agencies, everyone will be tempted to join that trend, because there’s nobody being used as an example.