He noted that Ndigbo would be justified to lay claim to the presidency in 2023 if they work hard for Buhari’s re-election by voting for him in 2019.
Mr Tochukwu Ikwuemesi is the zonal coordinator of the Re-elect Buhari Movement (RBM) in the Southeast.
In this interview, he speaks on the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in the zone in the 2019 presidential election, saying that in spite of the perceived dissent against Buhari’s re-election bid in the zone, there will be an improvement in his vote tally compared to what obtained in 2015.
He also noted that Ndigbo would be justified to lay claim to the presidency in 2023 if they work hard for Buhari’s re-election by overwhelmingly voting for him in 2019.
You are coordinating for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the Southeast zone, which is widely regarded as a no go area for him. How are you finding the assignment?
The job is a bit difficult, but by the grace of God we shall make a very wide inroad into the zone. You know that before 2015, Mr President was not widely accepted in the Southeast, but given ongoing infrastructural developments in the zone, and given that a lot of people from the zone have also seen reason with him and joined forces with him in the All Progressives Congress (APC), the political calculation in the Southeast has also changed notwithstanding the perceived general dissent. So, I want to assure you that the outcome of the election will be different from what obtained in the 2015 election. There is going to be a lot of improvements from what happened in 2015 in terms of the number of people that will vote for him.
You talked about ongoing infrastructural developments in Southeast, but the general impression is that this government is not doing anything in the area. How factual is your claim?
If you go to Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, for instance, from Ninth Mile up to Orji River heading towards Ugwuoba, a good percentage of the work has been done. But they are just doing one side of the road for now. If you go there, you will find out that what I am saying is not fiction; it’s a fact. If you go through Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway you will see that work is going on there. There are ongoing projects in Abia State also. If you go to UNN, you will see that most of the internal roads there have been rehabilitated. Also, in Enugu State, there is an ongoing road project from Ogrute in Enugu-Ezike to a border community in Kogi State. I went there by myself and the work is progressing from the Kogi end towards Ogrute. As a matter of fact, there are about 69 project sites in the Southeast presently. I am not telling stories; I have gone round to verify it as the zonal coordinator of RBM and I want to assure you that we have never had it so good. If you go to the Second Niger Bridge and see the quality of work going on there you will testify. Some people won’t know that work is going on there until they get to the site and verify.
And you think these projects will convince your people to vote for Buhari?
Politics is who gets what, when and how according to political theorists. As I said, we have not had it so good. In terms of road infrastructure, the Enugu-Onitsha road that I talked about had been there for decades, but was not reconstructed; but this government is doing it. Is it not a justification that we are getting something even though it is not as much as we want? We are getting something and it is a proof that the president has not forgotten the zone entirely as some people would want us to believe. So, I believe that if we vote for him, we will get even more from his government, especially in terms of positions in government and all that.
But the opposition is always quick to say that he will earn fewer votes in the Southeast this time around than in 2015?
(Cuts in) As far as I am concerned, that is political propaganda. For instance, in 2015, I think it was only Governor Rochas Okorocha and a few of the present ministers from the zone that worked for Mr President. But if you look around now, you will see a retinue of heavy weight politicians that have joined forces with him. For instance, if you come to Anambra State, the wife of former Senate President, Senator Margery Okadigbo, is the APC senatorial candidate for Anambra North. In 2015, she vied for the same seat under PDP. Senator Andy Uba used to be in PDP, but he is presently in APC. He is a core supporter of President Buhari. And there are so many other people like that across the Southeast. So, I want to assure you that the outcome of the election will be different from what happened in 2015. Anybody can say whatever he or she wants to say, but what is on ground shows that there will be a difference in 2019.
How then would you react to the recent endorsement of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar by some Igbo leaders?
Well, you said some Igbo leaders. As a matter of fact, Orji Uzor Kalu is also an Igbo leader and Dr Chris Ngige is also an Igbo leader. Are you getting me? They are Igbo leaders and stakeholders. So, everybody has a right to endorse whomever he wants to endorse. But I want to tell you that President Buhari also has people in the Southeast that are strongly behind him.
Imo State, which is the only state controlled by the APC in the Southeast is embroiled in crisis. Aren’t you afraid the conflict will affect the chances of Mr President in the zone?
Politics is a game of interests and human beings are political animals. So, Governor Rochas Okorocha has his own interest. One way or the other, if he fails to achieve his own interest, it does not mean that the whole of Southeast has failed. However, notwithstanding the crisis, he had consistently assured the president that he would work for him, just that he feels so bad about the loss of the APC gubernatorial ticket by his son-in-law. So, he has promised to work for the president and it is a win-win situation because what it means is that we are going to have a joint force, especially for the president. Hope Uzodinma, who is the candidate, is there. There is also Eze Madumere, who is Okorocha’s deputy and a host of others. So, what I want to assure you is that since Okorocha is not leaving APC, but is only aggrieved that his son-in-law did not pick the APC governorship ticket, Buhari’s chances in the state will not be affected. What we are going to have is a situation whereby two political blocs that are fighting themselves will be working towards one goal, which is re-electing President Buhari in 2019 for a second term.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has been threatening to make sure that people do not come out to vote. What is your take on the issue?
Well, our brothers who are in the IPOB have the right to agitate for one thing or the other while others also have the right to protect their own interests. The same IPOB threatened fire and brimstone in Anambra before the governorship election in 2017. I am from Anambra. They said that nobody should come out to vote in the election that ushered in the incumbent governor. But on that day the election was successfully held. So, I want to assure you that IPOB’s threat will not affect the 2019 general election in the Southeast.
But INEC recently cried out that people were not collecting their PVCs in the zone probably as a result of the threat. Don’t you think that in a way, the threat has started taking its toll on the election in the area?
INEC cannot say that it’s the threat by IPOB that is withholding people from collecting their PVCs, because as I said, IPOB has its members. It is not everybody in the Southeast that is a member of the IPOB. Besides, INEC has not done its homework; they need to engage in proper sensitisation of the electorate. When you sensitise the citizens to collect their PVCs, they will. We had a governorship election in Anambra last year and people used their PVCs to vote. So, if they announce that the PVCs are ready and do proper sensitisation, people will go and collect their PVCs. So, I see poor sensitisation as the problem.
Finally, a lot of Igbo leaders are not buying into the call to support Buhari’s re-election bid so that power will rotate to the Southeast in 2023. How do you look at the issue?
It is common sense. You know that in politics, nobody gives you anything on a platter of gold; you work for it. So, for me, it is even an opportunity for us to work harder so that our quest for the presidency will be justified. Of course, our people have been crying of marginalisation for too long, but nobody will spoon-feed you with anything unless you work for it. I am not saying that we should not be given our rights at the appropriate time, but we also have to know that there are other contending forces that also want the position notwithstanding that fact that they had been there before. Now, we know that the president is doing a four-year tenure. If he is elected in 2019, he will certainly leave office in 2023 and power will return to the South. In the South, the only zone that has not produced the president is the Southeast. So, it is left for our people to work hard now so that by that time, the political calculation will favour us because nothing can be given to you on a platter of gold in politics. That is my appeal to my people.