Chief Ndukwe Ikoh is an industrialist and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks on the leadership tussle for the ninth Senate and is advocating for the zoning of the Senate presidency to the South East. He also warns the APC against concentrating power in one section of the country to the detriment of other political zones and advised it to learn from its past mistakes.
As a stakeholder in Abia, what is your assessment of the governorship election in your state? Did it meet your expectations?
The governorship election in my state from the standpoint of my community was okay even though we had some internal hitches in our party. At that point everyone was struggling to make sure that they deliver their wards to the All Progressives Congress (APC). In Ohafia Local Government, there was no incidence apart from the usual Nporo issue. Nporo is a small community in Ohafia with about eight small villages that constitute three wards in Ohafia LGA. My own ward is Okamu made up of four villages. Mysteriously, they usually churn out large number of votes in past elections that would make nonsense of votes that come out of the larger communities and questions have always been asked why it is so. In the presidential election, we had a similar case where an entire ward was cancelled because they did not use card reader. It happened again in the governorship election where most of the results that came from Nporo as far as I was made to understand did not go through the card reader. There was also violence there. But generally speaking, the governorship election was relatively calm but that does not exclude the issue of malpractice. Those who felt that they were affected by the malpractices have taken the right step by going to the tribunal.
How would you rate the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the general election?
INEC performed better than in any election I have witnessed since 1979. This election was one in which INEC surprised a lot of politicians because people thought it will be business as usual where results would be written in someone’s residence. But INEC made sure that all the results were validated through the card reader. They made sure that the number of accredited voters was not less than the number of people who voted and through that, they ensured the credibility of the process. So INEC did well in that context.
On the other hand, I will score this election as the worst in terms of security because in some cases, we heard the cases of ‘over security’ where people employed the services of security agencies. But in some other areas which constitute the vast majority of people who should be protected, we saw an entire Local Government with less than 20 Policemen and when you distribute them according to polling units, you would see that in an entire ward of more than 20 polling units, there would be only one policeman. So when you have such development, the electoral process is left in the hands of who the strongest person is and that person may end up snatching the ballot box and running away with it. The lack of security we experienced during this election was ameliorated by the card reader to make sure that what came out of the field was verified before they were collated. Even when politicians tried to capitalise on the lack of security to manipulate the process, they ended up not achieving much because when you come to the collation point, the manipulation was of no use.
Was the deployment of the military a good development for our democracy?
In answering your question, I would say that it not a good development. What is bad is bad. I do not see the business of the military in a democratic election with guns. It is a negative development. But there are some scenarios where politicians employ the services of thugs to disrupt elections especially in rural areas. When you have such a situation, it would not be out of place to deploy soldiers to maintain order because some of these thugs come with the intention to kill. So I would not blame INEC in such a situation.
Some interest groups are advocating that the Senate presidency should go to the South East, while others are saying that it should remain in the North because the South East does not have many ranking Senators-elect. What is your take?
A lot of people have asked me this before and my answer has always remained the same. We talk about the APC as if there is something special that differentiates it from the PDP. I have consistently said that the only difference between APC and PDP is President Buhari. If the APC makes the same mistake that it made in 2015 in managing victory, then they would meet their waterloo in 2023. If APC does not come out as a political party to make a statement about power sharing, then PDP will take over government in 2023 and that should be the fear of every APC member. We should distribute power equitably among all the geo-political zones. As a party, we should not concentrate power in one section of the country. Whether we produce two or 10 senators from the South East, what we should ask is if those senators are qualified to take up leadership positions in the Senate. Once you are elected and you are qualified to occupy a leadership position, why should you be stopped especially if your region is disadvantaged in the political setting such that it would be detrimental to your party in 2023?
Who are the APC ranking senators from the South East?
We have two ranking Senators- elect from the South East; they are Orji Kalu from Abia State and Benjamin Uwajimogu from Imo State. Uwajimogu is a current senator who won his re-election and Kalu was a member of the House of Representatives in 1992. What parliamentarians mean when they say someone has to be a ranking senator is the person’s experience in lawmaking. If you have been there once, you are regarded as a ranking lawmaker because you know the process of lawmaking and that qualifies you to be the leader of the National Assembly.
I believe that the South East should be given the Senate presidency for the sake of justice and equity. The APC needs to be very fearful because if you examine the outcome of the election, you will realise that the party lost heavily to the PDP. We used to have 23 APC governors, now we are struggling to retain 19 or even less. In the Senate, there was no major breakthrough in APC’s numbers. As the numbers of APC Senators stood in 2015, that is how it still stands in 2019; there has been no improvement. Buhari is an institution who commands up to 12 million votes in his kitty. But if you mistake Buhari’s popularity with APC’s popularity, you will be making a mistake, because there is no one in APC from the North that can maintain 12 million votes. Even the great Atiku Abubakar could not muster such a number. If the party does don’t manage victory properly, what it would have is a resurgent PDP that has national spread and has governors in every geo-political zone in the country taking over power. The only way to balance the equation is for APC to zone the Senate presidency to the South East.
Like I said, there are two ranking APC senators from the South East and Orji Kalu is one of them. There is no APC member in Nigeria who has the kind of political network that he has within and outside the country and that is a fact. When the ninth Senate resumes, he will be one of the strongest voices of the South East and one that Igbo will be proud of.
There are speculations within APC circles that the Senate Presidency will not be zoned to the South East because the zone didn’t contribute substantially to Buhari’s victory and the APC didn’t perform well there. What do you think?
That argument does not hold water politically because Buhari got the required 25 percent of the total votes cast in most South East states. That is a huge improvement from what he had in all his previous four elections from the South East. Those who are pushing such sentimental arguments are not being realistic. In 2015, there was no APC Senator from the South East but now we have two that, to me is a big breakthrough. You cannot compare the South West and the South East because unlike the Yoruba, the Igbo didn’t have any stake or incentive to vote APC. A zone that produced the vice president is not expected to produce the same number of votes with the South East. There was no single incentive or promise officially made by APC to the South East that when it wins, they would be compensated. The South East had no incumbent Vice President or super minister with powerful portfolio like the South West has Yemi Osinbajo and Babatunde Fashola. So there was no incentive for anyone to now say they should have produced the same number of votes with other zones. There has been political consistency in the South East that is trustworthy but in the South West, PDP won Oyo State governorship and also won the presidential election in Ondo State. In Osun State, Buhari won by a slim margin and Lagos was seriously struggling to deliver victory for Buhari. If you compare how the South West voted for APC in 2015 to 2019, would you say they progressed or retrogressed? To me, the South West retrogressed but APC made more progress in the South East this year than it did in 2015.