From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Abia State governorship candidate of the Action Peoples Party (APP), Mascot Uzor Kalu in this interview, gives reasons why he left his former party, the All Progressives Congress(APC).
Among other issues, he spoke on the chances of his political party in the 2023 general election.
Few weeks ago, you emerged the governorship flag bearer of APP in Abia State. What could you say led to your success ?
So far so good, we have conducted our primaries and I won and my name has been sent to INEC as a governorship candidate. Since I left the APC, a good portion of the people have also left the party thus leaving the party in disarray with poor chances of performing well in the forthcoming general elections in the state.
Was your exit from the APC as result of dissatisfaction with the congress that ushered in the new leadership of the party in Abia State?
My leaving the APC was not because of the leadership issue. I am a party man and a grassroots person. So, I can work with any Chairman that might have emerged during the Congress.
So why did you leave APC?
My leaving APC was because the party failed to compensate me for the work I have done. That I have an elder brother who is the leader of the party in the state shouldn’t put me on the disadvantage when I have paid my dues in the party. I shouldn’t be shortchanged as a result of that. So, when there is opportunity for me to appear as somebody who is contributing on my own capacity, they will remind me that my brother, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is Chief Whip in the Senate and that others should be given opportunity. I told them that it’s not the way it is done. APC is a political party and people should be regarded based on their contribution to the party. For instance, if we are 10 brothers and members of a political party and are also biggest contributors in the party, then the 10 of us should be accorded maximum respect and recognition. So, my decision to leave was because the party was not adequately recognizing me and my followers.
Undoubtedly, your brother is the leader of APC in Abia State. That should be to your advantage.
It is bad blood and spirit, which is also why the party is in disarray today. A situation where high ranking member of a party is not respected, things won’t go well as expected.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who, by the Constitution of the party is the leader of the party being the highest political office holder in South East, and as a former governor should be respected and regarded in decisions of the party, but that is not being done. The party men don’t seem to be recognizing him, instead, they run to Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma when there is a problem in the Abia State chapter of the party. The party politics must be respected for you to grow the party. Two years ago, we had a party that was strong enough to unseat any governor in the state. That is all gone, just because of selfishness. People are not sanctioned when they make comments against the party’s procedure. I cannot belong to such a political party. And tomorrow if I win, I will not return to APC. Politics has discipline and procedures, but today we resort to money singing.
Do you think your exit from APC can affect the chances of your brother in the state, politically?
It will not affect him because he has worked for the people. He deserves the opportunity of being returned to the Senate to continue to represent his people. He stands to be returned as top political leader within the Senate from the South East because as it stands today, he is the longest serving National Assembly member. He was in the House of Representatives in 1992. There is no South East National Assembly member today who was there in 1992. So, he is the longest and oldest legislator. Any opportunity that will come to the South East in the Senate, he can get it whether on party level or not.
What are the ideologies that attracted you to APP and do you think it can give you an edge needed to provide good governance for the people of Abia State?
Given the new Electoral Act , I am in short of being an Independent candidate because the Act has made it easy for anybody that has followership to actually rise and win election. It has made big political parties less important, especially when that political party is not doing well. Belonging to a big political party is no longer an advantage unless you are in a ruling party and it is doing very well. So, that was my consoling prize that made me realize that it is not about the political party but the person. One of the things that attracted me to APP was that we found the relationship we were looking for. Worst thing that could have happened to me was to leave APC and come into a political party and start going on litigation. So, we found peace in APP. Secondly, we found that the symbol of the party which is elephant represents the people of Abia State. We believe it is a symbol that will work well as our people will recognize it and identify with the party.
What are the calibre of APC party loyalists that followed you to APP?
I am not talking about people who joined me; there are plenty of them. And there is no need of mentioning names. APC is in disarray in the State. Today Uche Ogah and Ikechi Emenike are in battle as to who is the authentic governorship candidate of the party. Alex Oti has pulled out, and I have pulled out, just as many others also did. So, that unity that was in APC is no longer there. It is difficult for any political party in the state to claim that it can win the governorship seat of the state. The governorship position will be won in the field based on the message and trust the people have on the messenger.
What messages do you have for Abia people?
Our message is simple. I am interested in having Abians who will be able to have common goals and dreams regardless of whether you are APC, PDP, APGA or any other party. We are talking about returning power to the people. We want salaries paid on 26th of every month. We want gratuity and pensions paid. We want to return the dignity of education. We want to go back to the times when we were giving primary and secondary education for free. We have a plan that every local government will have good roads. Those are examples of what we are trying to bring to our people. Our universities have lost their accreditations. I have assured our people that within my 90-120 days in office, I will restore those things.
With your quest to become a governor in Abia State after your elder brother governed it, people are already thinking of Osun scenario where the Adeleke dynasty hold sway. Would that be possible?
I am a man of my own. That my brother has been a governor should not mean that I should be shortchanged. The time to lead the state out of both political and economic mess is now and I am in the right position to do that. Let us be honest, nothing is working in the state. Schools are closed down.When our universities don’t have accreditations, what is the need of going to the university because your certificate is as good as a tissue paper. It is not valid and can’t use it to secure a job. So, Abia State is in comatose and in a mess. So if someone like me can bring the state out of the mess, why will people not vote for me. Let me say this, as I have said several times and nobody has been able to prove me wrong. I am the most experienced among all the candidates. I am the only one with governance experience. I have been Chief of Staff to a governor, Theodore Orji, before. The rest don’t have such experience. They may be strong in their respective fields, but talking about governance, none of them can match my experience.
If you eventually wins, what are the pitfalls you have identified and would want to avoid by all means?
I am not part of the present government. So, I cannot tell you anything that is not going well with the administration. But I do know that experience has a lot to do with governance. I don’t know why government is not paying salaries, and I do know that every month they are getting three to four billion Naira. So, why they are not paying salaries is open for discussion. I think things are like this because they did not do the right thing from day one. Now the problems have piled up and they lack the ability to handle it. We will look at how loans were got and would also ensure that loans are paid before a new administration takes over. So, we would want to know what they did to get themselves in this mess.
As an acclaimed grassroots person, how do you think that people are assessing this your ambition to become a governor?
For those who know me one on one, I don’t think I have a problem. The issue is that you can’t be a leader without stepping on toes. Some of the problems I may have are the people my brother stepped on their toes when he was the governor. It won’t be difficult for me to survive enmity. However, I have labelled myself a unifier. Having a brother who was a governor, and I worked with former governor, Theodore Orji, there may be some damages that come with these already. As a unifier, if there are things my brother did wrongly to individuals or communities, I want to correct them. If there are things the former governor, Theodore Orji did wrongly, I also want to correct it.
As a member of the APP now, and your elder brother being leader in the APC, how is your relationship with him, are there clashes of interests at family level?
Not at all. We don’t live in the same compound, both in Abuja and in the village, and we never had a quarrel about my political ambition. Before I left the APC, I went to him and gave him the reason why I want to exit the party. He also agreed that APC has not been fair to me as well. In his own way, he reached out to the National Chairman of APC and the two National Deputy Chairmen. He also tried to bring me together with the state party chairman, but I refused. My refusal to accept his reconciliation efforts has never brought quarrel between us. He understands that as a man, at a point in life, you have to take a bold decision about your life. He respects that decision. On that note, I want to thank him.
What is the structure of APP in Abia state?
We are about 90 to 120 days old. And I can tell you that we have over 5,000 membership. All House of Assembly positions, House of Representatives positions, Senate positions have all been filled. Our expectations are that we get at least one Senate seat, five out of eight House of Representatives seats, and in the State House of Assembly, we get 20. Our expectations are based on the quality and calibre of people who are running for the elections. I did not buy forms for these people, neither did I persuade them to follow me. We only have the same political ideology. All these happened within the last 90 days. The confidence I have is because the days of sitting down somewhere to write results is gone with the new electoral Act. Now everything is in the field. So as long as we have strong people in the field, we will get what we deserve.
Does zoning in the state favour you?
Yes, it’s the turn of Abia North and I am from Abia North. Abia people may not be interested in a political party as much as they will be in good governance.
What are the development agenda for the people in your first few months in office?
Abia is in a state of comatose; there are so many things to be done. But first of all, we will restore free education up to secondary school. We would also focus on transforming Aba, giving it a facelift. Today, once it rains, people are restricted in their social and economic activities for several hours until the flood gives way. Aba is the commercial nerve centre of Abia. So, if Aba is not taken care of, we can’t raise revenue to take care of the state. This is because the state cannot be taken care of only with the money that comes from Abuja. How do you take care of the state with about N4 billion? Salaries are already over N1 billion. My administration will look at the projects that will help us raise revenue. And that will be controlling flooding and road construction, which we will do to gain our peoples confidence. We will also simplify our IGR collection system, and not what it is now, having touts on the roads harassing people.
We will also restore the health sector and partner with donor agencies to equip our hospitals with necessary drugs and human capital.