By Wilfred Eya
The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Senator Andy Uba, has expressed confidence that Anambra people will vote for him and his party on November 6. In this interview, he spoke on various issues and gave the assurance that nothing will stop the conduct of the forthcoming election.
In the light of militant opposition to election in the South East, what are the prospects of conducting the November 6 poll and what are your chances?
As I have said, the militant agitation is a sad symptom of dissatisfaction among a segment of people but not all the people, by any means. There is a majority of people who understand that even an imperfect election is preferable to perfect anarchy. Many appreciate that Nigeria is still on a long learning curve and that gradually over time, we will begin to get things right. The only way to change unsuccessful governance is to vote out the unsatisfactory incumbent at the polls and give a new administration an opportunity to do better. That is the democratic and constitutional way. There is no other way for now and I have no doubt that in November, the majority of the people of Anambra State will exercise their franchise and vote for the APC to make her great.
Your opponents associate you with the attempted ‘coup’ of 2003 which sought to forcibly remove Governor Chris Ngige from his seat. How true?
I had absolutely nothing to do with that incident and is another example of an untruth being made to sound true as a result of much repetition. I actually got wind of that news while on a foreign trip with President Obasanjo at the time. I received a call at 2.45 am that morning from the Presidential Villa Control Phone. It was Chief Bode George asking me to put the President on the line. I initially prevaricated because of the time of night but when I noticed Chief George’s agitation, I took the phone to the President. He received the news with rude shock and promptly instructed me to call both the Inspector General of Police and Vice President Atiku and ask them to see to the immediate release of Governor Ngige, which I did. That was the sole extent of my involvement in the saga, so help me God. Fortunately, Chief Obasanjo, Alhaji Atiku and Chief Bode George are all still hale and hearty and will corroborate my testimony. The matter was thoroughly investigated subsequently and no mention of my complicity is contained in the White Paper, which is public record.
Several allegations have been leveled against you by opponents; one of them is the alleged sale of Ikenga Hotels, Awka during your brief stint as governor in 2007. What is your reaction to that?
That is one piece of propaganda that might have been laughable were it not for the fact that when you repeat a lie often enough, it begins to resemble a truth. It was a media smear campaign orchestrated by some members of the Obi administration with the complicity of compromised journalists, who were paid to do just that. Some of them have since had cause to repent and apologise to me even though all that is now academic because the damage they did then is almost unforgivable. However, the greater majority of people who know me see it as what it is: an amateur but malicious propaganda effort.
A land sale of that alleged magnitude would be a well-documented transaction containing detailed information in a Conveyance about the Buyer, Seller, witnesses, and a lawyer. It would be usually deposited at the Lands Registry in the end. I would really love to see such a document produced in proof of that allegation. In any case, how come the land on which that hotel was built is the same one on which the construction of Awka ShopRite was begun under the Obi administration? So, how was that possible if the property had been sold? Would the so-called buyer not have cried to high heavens? No matter the skill of a liar, people should be able to decipher what is believable or not by the application of basic intelligence.
These are extraordinary times in the South East with agitations by separatist groups like IPOB, MASSOB AND BNL among others. How do you feel about the groups?
You know that there is usually no smoke without fire. There is no doubt in the significant justification for the feeling of resentment that people in the South East harbour. For instance, there is so much discontent especially regarding unemployment and the apparent inadequacy of infrastructure in the zone. However, on close inspection, you will find that much of these inadequacies are largely down to the governance at the state and local government levels. That is one major reason for my gubernatorial aspiration. Only from an executive position, will I be capable of effecting, attracting or executing the promotion of employment, improvement of education and equitable deployment of infrastructure in my state. Hopefully, when other governors do likewise in their respective states, you will no doubt see that a spectacular change will take place in no distant time.
Furthermore, there is a pressing need to begin meaningful dialogue with all relevant segments of the society: youths, women, artisans, entrepreneurs, civil servants, security outfits, civil society, traditional leaders, professionals and academics among others. Only honest dialogue will help us pass through these unfortunate times. In 2017, I personally initiated dialogue with Ralph Uwazuruike, the head of MASSOB, even while he was in prison. I have always been a believer in dialogue. Violence is not an option because violence breeds violence. We have seen enough violence as a people with over two million dead in the Civil War. Only those who have not experienced war seek it, while those who have done so owe a duty to ensure that those who have not, do not see it.
Marginalisation seems to be the mantra of many Igbo people; how much are these claims justified?
In many ways, every segment of the Nigerian population has areas in which they will feel marginalized, sometimes justifiably. In a developing country of 200 million, it is probably unrealistic to expect that all the people will be happy all the time. One of the reasons why I am running for office is to help bring these feelings of marginalisation that our people feel to the conference table at the centre. I believe that the chances of a robust and meaningful discussion of marginalisation are greater when our state is represented by a political party that is relevant at the centre. As a result, the chances of a successful resolution of the issues to be raised will be assured; issues like employment, appointments, infrastructure and so on. Nevertheless, I also try to look on the bright side even while grappling with thorny issues. As an Igbo man, I am very proud of the resilience, determination and industry of my people. From almost nothing at the end of the Civil War in 1970, look at how far we have come. Igbos people are prominent in every part of the country, doing business, acquiring property and living peacefully among the local populations almost everywhere. Studies show that the Igbo own about 65 percent of the real estate in Abuja. In Lagos, Igbo investment is not less than N300 trillion; it is double of that in Abuja at about N600 trillion.
In Kano and Kaduna, Igbo investments amount up to N10 trillion in each instance; in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, their investment are up to N5 trillion each. In Plateau State, Igbo investment is in the region of N15 trillion! So, while we may sometimes lament marginalisation, let us also occasionally celebrate accommodation. Some of the largest markets in Nigeria are outside the South East and are dominated by the Igbo, such as Alaba, Trade Fair, Computer Village and so on.
I am determined that we must not lose all our gains of the past 40 years even as we try to gain more in other areas. That is my philosophy: ‘Nkemjika!’ What I have is greater. But at the same time, ‘Nkeiruka!’ The future is even greater still! There is actually more that unites us than divides us. The fact is that incidents of banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping and extremism are actually engaged in by an evil minority but the truth is that by their violent nature, their prevalence is greatly exaggerated.
What is your take on the sentiment that there is conspiracy to deny Ndigbo the presidency?
Listen, the question of the Presidency in a country like ours is to be approached principally by way of calculation, coalition, alliance and negotiation. It is not really a matter of entitlement or force because politics everywhere in the world is a game of numbers. With the right attitude and approach, any section of the country can achieve the Presidency and I am not merely talking about the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. The Idoma man, the Itsekiri man or the Ibibio man has as much right to aspire to become President as any other man. We do a lot of disservice and exhibit extreme marginalization towards our so called minorities by not including them in the Presidency conversations. Social courtesy, political dexterity and diplomatic nicety are the keys to engaging successfully with partners in any enterprise, including politics. Without these, it will be difficult to acquire the cooperation and goodwill of those you will actually need to depend on to attain your objectives. I am happy that many of our current crop of leaders have understood this need for engagement and I have no doubt that as far as the Presidency is concerned, we shall achieve it sooner than many think.
There is this suggestion in some Igbo quarters that the APC is an Hausa-Fulani party and therefore alien to them?
One thing with some politicians is that they get so desperate to score points that they engage in the most improbable propaganda, no matter how ridiculous or poisonous. It is the height of ignorance and deceit to contend that the APC has any ethnic affiliation. Once again, I should like to appeal to people not to swallow stuff hook, line and sinker but to apply at least a modicum of intelligent scrutiny. The APC was formed not long ago, in 2013 to be exact. It was the result of a merger of the three biggest opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) as well as a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the new PDP – a faction of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). The resolution was signed by Tom Ikimi for the ACN; Senator Annie Okonkwo of APGA; Ibrahim Shekarau for ANPP; and Garba Shehu, for CPC. How it can be construed as a Fulani party by any stretch of the imagination defies logic. It can only be the product of malicious and mischievous desperation to clutch at straws. It also demonstrates a cynical and disrespectful underestimation of people’s intelligence. The APC is a broad-based national party and that is a matter of fact.
Every political contestant has an elaborate manifesto but what realistic objectives would you say you have for Anambra if you are elected.
After long hours of deliberations, balancing what is desirable with what is possible, I have arrived at a set of practicable objectives, which are interdependent. For instance, the mother of all objectives is the security of life and property. If people are not able to go about their daily lives in peace and safety, no other social goal is attainable, no matter how lofty. Therefore, my priority in order to make Anambra great is the establishment of a public security system that will engender confidence in the people, especially after these long months of fear and insecurity. Only having done that can we turn our attention to other sectors because they are all dependent on a state of law and order. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which is one of my pet plans may then be set in motion, enabling rapid industrialization, which will include the establishment of Industrial parks particularly aimed at small and medium enterprises.
A major priority of mine will be facilitating the construction of the Onitsha-Nnewi-Awka gas pipeline, which will greatly boost the manufacturing sector.
Like I said earlier, one of the causes of the prevalent restiveness and unrest is bad infrastructure such as roads, some of which should be rehabilitated or dualized and so on. The development of inland waterways will also be a priority due to the need to facilitate the movement of agricultural products out of our numerous riverine locations.
Obviously, this is not the forum to delve into all the details of our manifesto but I will like to assure you that all our aims are practicable and attainable and are not the flights of fancy or campaign fantasies usually associated with politicians aspiring to high office
The issue of open grazing has lately been on the front burner among Southern governors and there have been insinuations that you are in support of Fulani herdsmen and open grazing. How true is that?
First of all, let me just say that this is the first time that I will be making any official statement whatsoever on open grazing since it has not been within my immediate purview to do so. Therefore, any statement that may have been credited to me before now is emphatically false.
Having said that, the destruction of private farmlands by cattle is completely unacceptable and there are no two ways about that. As a result, it makes total common sense to pass an open grazing law to protect farmland from cattle. This has been done already by the man, who by the grace of God will be my predecessor as Governor, Mr. Willie Obiano and I congratulate him on that.
One general trend on the part of state governors is the non-conduct of local government elections; is there a guarantee that you will not fall into that trend?
The unwillingness to conduct local government elections by governors is one of the lowest points of our democracy. The emasculation of local governments demonstrates an obvious and bothersome sign of despotism and corruption on the part of state governors. Let me reiterate the time-worn political maxim that all politics is local. As a matter of fact, the local government constitutes the most important and relevant of the three tiers of government. The Federal Government is but a guardian. The State Government is a mid wife. But the local government is the mother of the people by its proximity and familiarity with them. One of the most solemn assurances I will make is that under my watch, Anambra State will conduct local government elections freely, fairly, regularly and promptly. The powers of the local governments will be respected. Their financial entitlements and allocations will be respected. However, to whom much is given, much is expected and so, their rights and entitlements will be matched by their duties and obligations. I shall keep a close watch on them to ensure that they justify their relative autonomy, in the absence of which they will be answerable to the appropriate authorities.