Magnus Eze, Enugu
Ikechukwu Ugwuegede, an engineer and former Commissioner for Enugu Capital Development Territory in the Governor Sullivan Chime’s administration was the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for the Nsukka/Igboeze South Federal Constituency in the recently held National Assembly polls.
He speaks on why his party lost to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory and the political miscalculation by Ohanaeze Ndigbo in endorsing Atiku Abubakar.
You were to some extent tipped to win the election; what actually went wrong?
We had tried to sell ourselves to the people; and I dare say that we did a pretty job of it. Part of the independent assessment of the process was a poll carried out by an international observer which gave me 65 percent and less than 35 percent to my major opponent, who is of the PDP. This poll was indicative of the relative strengths of the candidates, so in the APC, we were certain that we were coasting home to victory. Unfortunately, the referee-the INEC on that day fall short of the expected performance. INEC had said they were ready to give us free, fair and credible elections; but those standards set were not met. We were playing against the referee; and in any match that you play against the referee; the law enforcement agents running the lines and others; it would always be a difficult situation. That was exactly what happened.
With what happened; what’s your next line of action?
We are a law abiding party; and candidates. We protested to the INEC in good time for the commission to take notice of what happened. I was at a meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioner where we informed him that even as we spoke on the Sunday after the election that collation was going on where the Local Government Chairman of Udi was committing all manner of electoral fraud and we offered to take him there. But he declined because he said he didn’t know about it. We offered to show him because they were still perpetuating the atrocities then. In fact, a media outfit subsequently went there and actually met the Local Government Chairman leading the collation but INEC in their own wisdom chose to go ahead and announce results that cannot stand the test of time. I understand that they are having lots and lots of challenges reconciling the figures with what is in the smart card readers. So, we are aware of what the law says and we are bound to explore those provisions of the law to the fullest to give our people who voted for their choice to be returned to them. We don’t want them to be put to shame for coming out to vote; we don’t want to avoid lacklustre participation in future elections because if the people do not have any trust in the sanctity of the process; by and large, they will not bother because they will feel that their voice would not be heard. We did have the trust that INEC and the security will be up and doing in Enugu State; I don’t know what actually happened because there were lapses. We are happy to hear that INEC did good job in many other places. It was the staff of INEC in Enugu State who collaborated with unscrupulous elements.
Don’t you think that the crisis bedeviling APC in Enugu State was part of the reasons that your candidates performed abysmally?
I think you are using strong words and; you’re imputing the perfidy that went on as a happenstance. Yes, there are contending issues within the political space; but a lot of these issues did not by any means go beyond the internal interest; the corporate interest of APC was paramount. We all realised that we needed to work together to win the election and we were doing that. If there were factions; the factions were working together. Everybody in APC for instance in the Nsukka/Igboeze South constituency met together for the success of the party. Our individual differences or misunderstanding did not stand on the way of our working together. We actually achieved a lot; what happened was that the security agencies and the INEC in the state colluded to thwart the will of the people. All the APC bigwigs are respected members of the party and we hold them in high esteem.
So, what do you think will be the fate of your party in the governorship and House of Assembly elections with the nature of what you have painted?
The result that we have at hand is the presidential victory; we’ve just won it and it’s the most important election in this country. I believe that the people of Enugu State will know that they need to connect themselves to the presidential trail. The presidency is a big power source and we cannot remain in political darkness; we can’t remain in infrastructure oblivion; we must connect ourselves to the political and power source that exist at the national level. So, the people of Enugu State are going to vote in an APC state government so that they can work in tandem with an APC Federal Government in order that there will be no stories on why things are not working; we want things to work. The slogan of our governorship candidate is to “Connect Enugu again back to the centre”, to take us back to the centre of Nigeria so that we can take our place; play our role and get the benefit for our people instead of standing on the periphery to give reasons why things didn’t go well.
What does President Buhari’s victory portend for the South East, considering Ohanaeze’ s position before the election?
That Ohanaeze action was a calamitous one to Ndigbo. Given the circumstances, if the Ohanaeze was looking for the best for the Igbo man; why didn’t they endorse an Igbo presidential candidate; there were many Igbo sons and daughters running for the presidency? The Ohanaeze Ndigbo did not think it best that an Igbo man becomes the president; they thought it will be best for an Igbo man to become the vice president. It just doesn’t make sense. If on the other hand they were arguing that Prof. Kingsley Moghalu was not electable; how come they didn’t know that Atiku Abubakar was not going to win the election? Many of us knew that. So, if they wanted the best for the Igbo man, they would have been strategic; looking at the interest of the Igbo in the long term and go with he whose long term strategy would be best for the Igbo man. Buhari would do four more years and we would have the pride of place to aspire to the presidency of the country. The rotation and other political calculations; equity, fairness and justice, all favour the Igbo presidency in 2023. Nobody is going to give it to us on a platter; I agree, but it favours us because we are supposed to come out and do our own bit. The little bit that the Ohanaeze was supposed to do for us; I dare say, they failed to do it. If they had supported an Igbo presidential candidate, win or lose, they wouldn’t have been blamed because the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is supposed to protect the interest of the Igbo. So, I think that the fact that the leadership of Ohanaeze failed to assess the strategy of the best thing for Ndigbo will not rub-off on the heads of Ndigbo. Remember that the decision was taken by a few people in the so called leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. By and large, a good number of people know that was not the sentiment of Ndigbo and I doubt whether the statement added any particular vote to any presidential candidate; one way or the other. It’s a pity that Ohanaeze Ndigbo went that way when sister ethnic organisations were more taciturn; sober in their own assessment and the so called endorsement of presidential candidates. The presidency and President Muhammadu Buhari know that the support of Ndigbo for him is far more than what is stated in these allocated votes from the South East states and we are certainly going to get the best we can for Ndigbo in the APC. That’s why we advocate that our membership of the APC is not for personal interest but for us to be in a position to get for our people what ought to be theirs.