As the battle for who succeeds late Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu who represented Imo North Senatorial District in the 9th Senate hots up, one of the kinsmen of the Senator who died recently, Mark Uchendu has thrown his hat in the ring to slug it out with other contenders.
In this interview, the former Secretary to Imo State Government gave reasons why he is more suitable for the job.
He speaks on other issues.
The race to succeed late Uwajumogu in the 9th Senate is gathering momentum and you are among the contestants, what informed your decision to succeed your late friend and brother?
I’m not in the race on compensatory ground, but because I’m qualified. I have the experience as a former parliamentarian, council chairman and former Secretary to the State Government. I’m not going to the Senate to learn the rope of legislative functions because as a former member of Imo State House of Assembly, I’m going to the National Assembly to offer quality and effective representation to the people of Imo North Senatorial district. I will bring my wealth of experience to bear in order to attract Federal Government’s presence in Okigwe zone. Meanwhile, I’ am a party man just like my late brother, Sen. Uwajumogu. Both of us are founding members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 and we have remained in the ruling party, hence the reason I said we are party men. It is unfortunate that the people of Okigwe lost two of their illustrious sons in quick succession, Uwajumogu and Ndubuisi Emenike, both who contested to represent the people of Imo North Senatorial District in 2019 and Uwajumogu won. So, to regain lost ground since the demise of our son in the Senate, an experienced person must succeed him. That is the yearning of Okigwe people as any attempt by APC to undermine the wishes of people may spell doom.
There is an indication that one of the family members of the late Senator is also in the race, with another contestant from Ihitte Uboma; won’t that affect your chances in the party primary election?
I’m just hearing that from you that someone from the family of the late Senator is in the race. To me, if it is true, it is a welcome development because the more the merrier. To answer your question, that won’t affect my chances. Like I said earlier, experience counts in the selection or election of who succeeds Uwajumogu in the 9th Senate. Since 2015, Okigwe has not enjoyed the dividends of democracy because at the end of every Senatorial election in Imo North which Uwajumogu had continued to win, they ended in litigation which always delayed his inauguration because of extensive litigations and this development limited his performance in terms of attracting the much needed federal infrastructure. That is why my people have resolved not to send a learner to the Senate, but someone in the same pedigree with Uwajumogu. They have decided to elect an experienced individual like the late Senator to represent them. However, we need a person who will hit the ground running immediately he or she is inaugurated and not a green horn.
How do you intend to contend with other experienced contestants such as Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume, former Governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim and the former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Acho Ihim?
Like I said earlier, I’m also hearing for the first time that the above persons you mentioned are eyeing the position. If it is true, they are over qualified to represent us in the Senate as well, but the question is, are they party men? It will be dangerous for the ruling party to shoot itself on the foot again by entrusting its mandate on persons that are not true party men. I mean those who are not stable or predicable as we approach 2023. Except these men will contest on the platform of other political parties, but if under APC, I’m sorry we will have a repeat of what happened in 2015 in the National Assembly.
What are you actually driving at?
Remember the mass defection that hit APC in the 8th National Assembly championed by the then Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara respectively. These men showed that they were not true members of APC when they worked against the interest of the ruling party and the wellbeing of Nigerians. This in-house fighting led to the removal of Chief John Oyegun as National Chairman of APC and it almost cost President Muhammadu Buhari his job, hence, nearly the ruling party would have lost at the centre, but for the doggedness of the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole. So, we don’t need to go through that path again and the party leadership must start now to prevent a repeat by giving true party men and women its ticket to fly APC flag during elections. Political instability is caused by unstable politicians who switch party just to clinch party ticket at all cost. The same thing happened in the last governorship election in Imo State when some people ensured that the alliance between Action Alliance (AA) and APC in Imo State didn’t work, but today that marriage has worked with the coming of Sen. Hope Uzodinma as governor of Imo State. So far, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila have done their best to stabilize the 9th National Assembly and it will be disastrous to have those who will change this narrative come into the Senate.
How do you feel having switched from APC to AA in 2019?
Thank you for that question. It is a known fact that AA worked to ensure that President Buhari made the required percentage of votes in Imo State in 2019 Presidential election. The only place we had problem with APC was in the governorship election and like I just told you, the recent Supreme Court verdict that ousted Emeka Ihedioha and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma as governor of Imo State has justified those of us including Sen. Rochas Okorocha who stood with APC in the state and ensured the governorship seat did not elude the ruling party. It is quite different from those who worked against President Buhari’s re-election in its entirety and even the governorship position, and because Uwajumogu is dead, such persons just crossed over to APC just to clinch the ticket to contest for Imo North Senatorial seat. I assure you that if they fail to get APC ticket, they will again defect to other parties. That is not the spirit of a true party man, but desperation.
It is alleged that Chief Tony Chukwu who is perceived as a political godfather in Imo North already has a candidate in the person of Eze Okoro from Umuezealla Ama in Ehime Mbano LGA and many believe that you were Chief Chukwu’s preferred candidate up to last week; is there any disagreement between you and the APC chieftain?
That is not true. Let me correct an impression here, Chief Tony Chukwu is not a political godfather to anybody including myself. He is a team player and energizer to many politicians not only in Okigwe, but in Imo state. When he discovers that you posses leadership quality, he buys into you and ensures you use those qualities for the benefit of the people. That is why his country home both in the village and anywhere is turned into a Mecca of sort with people trooping in for endorsement and support. Just as he discovered Uwajumogu, Sen. S.N. Anyanwu and Sen. Matthew Nwagwu, so also he has discovered many people in various field of endeavour who are doing well through his support. Therefore, such a generous and supportive man must be well sought for by those who want to excel even in politics. So, to answer your question, Chief Tony Chukwu has no preferred candidate. The last time he had meeting with major stakeholders in Imo North Senatorial district, he advised those vying for the Senatorial seat not to go to court if they lose, but to support whoever wins. This became important because in the process of trying to upturn the result, the people of Okigwe suffered as was the case of Uwajumogu who won election twice, but ended up going to the Senate late twice. He frowned at such legal action, saying it is a waste of time and resources. Even though he did not support rigging, but warned those who are planning to rig election to desist henceforth as the people of Imo North have resolved to elect a credible and experienced person to succeed Uwajumogu.
What are you bringing to the table that you think will earn you the people’s support.
First, I’m tested and trusted by my people. I’m experienced in administration and legislative matters as former member of the state House of Assembly. I was former Chairman of Ihitte Uboma LGA and former Secretary to the State Government under Sen. Rochas Okorocha. I started politics early in life with late Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu. I will continue pushing for the impending Bills Uwajumogu initiated to be passed into law. Another laudable projects the late Senator attracted to the Senatorial zone is the farm settlement in Nzerem, Ehime Mbano LGA which I hope to complete. A good number of roads projects are under construction, courtesy of late Sen. Uwajumogu especially roads in Umuoma Nzerem that leads to the farm settlement in Dioka Nzerem. That I also hope to continue and ensure they are completed and commissioned. Unemployment is a great challenge facing youths in my Senatorial zone; a lot of these young people have their names placed in various ministries, departments and agencies by the late Senator who served as Chairman, Senate Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity; this tempo I will sustain if elected. It is worthy to note that my empowerment programme spans over a decade where women and youths are being trained to acquire skills and soft loans are given to widows and traders to help enhance their businesses. Many indigent students are on scholarship scheme while on health, the member representing Ihitte Uboma, Obowo and Ehime Mbano Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Chike Okafor is doing a great job. So far, he has improved the standard of health centres in Okigwe South Federal Constituency and I hope to join hands with him to build more health facilities in the other areas in the Senatorial zone.
Finally the Supreme Court has affirmed the election of Hope Uzodinma as governor of Imo State, what is your assessment of the judgment?
I never expected a different verdict from the earlier judgment of the Apex Court because it was obvious that Governor Hope Uzodinma won the election. It would have been disastrous for the judiciary if the Supreme Court had reversed itself. That would have meant the end of democracy in Nigeria because virtually all those who lost at the courts would have appealed their judgments. The judgment is based on technicalities, but to the layman on the street, the man that came fourth ought not to be declared winner by the Supreme Court. What most people did not understand was that it was not a fresh case, rather, Ihedioha only asked the Apex Court to review the case and that was what happened. So, I laughed when people say Governor Uzodinma would be removed by the Supreme Court. The question which most people failed to answer was, did Ihedioha win the governorship election? The answer is no. He just allocated votes from six local government areas to himself. He did not win 2/3 in atleast 18 out of 27 LGAs and that was the bone of contention.
How come PDP and Ihedioha were silent over the results of 388 polling units which they claimed were illegal votes manufactured by Uzodinma and APC? They overlooked it at the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and they expected the same judgment from the Apex Court, but that never happened and they started calling for review. How can you disenfranchise eligible voters who cast their votes in these 388 polling units and you call it free and fair election? So, the judgment is a victory to democracy.
What is your take on the clamour for Igbo Presidency in 2023?
It depends on Igbo if we actually want to produce the next President of the country. So, to me, like I have always maintained, it is left for the North to douse tension by balancing the political equation through shifting power to the South-East. But it is obvious that only the choice of Igbo person by the North can fly due to the fact that we don’t have the number of votes that can make a person of our choice President.