Full Arise TV interview: Vested interests resisting a ‘New Nigeria’ – Obi *2023, presidential polls, INEC’s worst
Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), was the guest of The Morning Show, a breakfast programme on Arise Television, on Monday, where he had a robust engagement with his hosts. He answered many questions surrounding the election which held on February 25, which he insists he won. He pledged to use every legal means to prove that he won and would definitely recover the mandate, though he acknowledged that it would not be easy.
He not only picked so many loopholes in the election, but maintained that those asking him not to go to court under the guise that whatever happened was the wish of God, had missed the mark, because God was not known to support injustice, and therefore would never allow a rigged election. Excerpts:
How is it going? How do you assess your journey so far and what are you saying to your supporters and Nigerians, many of whom are disappointed by the conduct of the process?
Well, my first reaction is to say, thank you for inviting me and being there for Nigerians. First is to thank God Almighty for keeping Nigeria, protecting it and blessing it. I’m thanking the good people of Nigeria for their interest and participation in trying to build a new Nigeria. The journey so far has been very tough, but that is what is expected. It’s difficult because we’re trying to change what is there that has kept us where we are. So, it’s going to be difficult.
If you look at the last election, it’s probably the worst election in this republic, considering the 2022 electoral act, which was meant to improve our overall election process and the continued and consistent promises of the INEC Chairman that this is going to be the best thing that will ever happen to Nigeria.
You could see it in all the editorials in all the international newspapers – The Financial Times, Economist, World Street Journal and everybody, including Chatham House where the Chairman was. He has questioned the rating of the country. For me in particular, it is one of sadness that 63 after Nigerian independence, we can’t conduct a simple election, talkless of any other thing – just election despite all the promises.
And it’s not as if we’re too big. The world’s biggest democracy, India today has about 900million registered voters. In the last election, 67 per cent participated – over 600million, which compared to our 25million is 25 times our size. Yet the infraction was less than five per cent. In our own, the opposite is the case.
However, my appeal to Nigerians, to my Obidient family is to remain calm and remain prayerful for our country Nigeria. We have no other country except this one and we will go through all legal means to bring a new Nigeria, where everybody will be happy and proud to say, I’m a Nigerian.
But some clergymen and influential Nigerians are saying that you should not go to court, that the outcome is the way God wants it. What do you say?
Well, I’m very respectful to prominent Nigerians, especially church leaders, traditional rulers and all of them. And I think that they should be respected for what they represent in our society. But I disagree with them. What they are actually preaching is the problem with Nigeria. The problem of Nigeria is accepting wrongdoing, accepting what is unacceptable. That is using God’s name in vain. that’s not what God says. God says do not use my name in vain. So, what they’re saying is not God’s wish. It’s not God’s plan for Nigeria. So, why don’t we accept that the 133million Nigerians who are poor is God’s wish? Why don’t we accept that 95million Nigerians living in abject poverty is God’s wish? Is it God’s wish that we don’t have constant electricity? Is it God’s wish that our children are kidnapped, is it God’s wish that we have collapsed primary health care leaving us to be the country with the highest infant mortality. Is it that everything that is happening is God’s wish? That’s not what God says.
No! God’s wish is when you do the right thing and in the end it is done. This election is predicated and planned and we had clear laws about the conduct of the election. If it was followed, if the results were uploaded from the polling units, to the server and everything, I won’t be here. I won’t be talking about it. It would have been concluded in a matter of hours without anybody arguing about it. But it is not God’s wish that INEC should do the wrong thing. It is not God’s wish that you go and rob a train and go and start sharing money. This is what is killing the country. People come here, take public money and then go and give it to the churches and traditional rulers and they say it’s God’s wish and start giving them titles in the churches. That’s what we’re fighting. That’s what we’re trying to stop. We want God’s wish to be truly God’s wish. That’s when we do the right things and God gives his blessing.
What do you tell the young ones growing up? That it is God’s wish that you steal, that it is God’s wish that you conduct a wrong election? Tell me the difference between those of us who are doing this and the armed robbers. What is the difference between us and the train robbers? Let’s be sincere with ourselves. That’s why it’s God’s wish that somebody came out to say he knew a governor who kept N22billion and nobody is talking about him, but we’re stopping young people who have laptops and questioning them and calling them names. That’s not God’s wish. God wishes us something better. What I know is God is wishing us to do the right thing so that we start building a better country for our children.
We hear that INEC is not allowing you to inspect materials used in the election. What is going to be your next step?
You know, INEC is a public institution sustained by taxpayers money, including you and me. I believe in the laws of our public institutions. If there is anything, they should be open, because they conducted the election. That’s what happens everywhere. If you do something and people are not satisfied, it is for you to open up yourself. This is not the first time I’ll be going to court with INEC. Since 2003, I’d had to challenge INEC results. Don’t forget that I was the first governor in this country to come through the process of court. Throughout these three years, I was in court with INEC giving me access to whatever materials they used to conduct the election. You’ve conducted the election, you’ve announced or declared the winner. I’m only asking, can I have access to the documents and materials you used to arrive at that. I’m not asking you to change what you said.
Remember, as I used to tell people, I’m not challenging who they declared or the outcome, I’m challenging the process with which they arrived at their declaration. Unless we do that, we’re not going to stop the rascality we witnessed during that election. The process through which people come into office is for me, far more fundamental than what they do thereafter.
There’s a process of doing things. There’s a process of arriving at any destination. Like I said before, if you’re going to answer Your Excellency, the process of coming to that position, must be excellent. If you’re going to be bishop, there’s a process of being a bishop. You can’t answer a Doctor if you’ve no PhD. Even if it is conferred on you, you must have done something to merit it and there must be a process. So, the proccess is important.
So, what are you going to do?
Well, we’ll go back to the court to say what you granted, these people are not obeying. We’re not going to be lawless. We’re going to do everything through the law. Whatever we’re going to do will be for the interest of the country. But they’ll give us access, because they pronounced declared somebody. So, we must have access to the process with which they made that declaration.
Governor Nyesom Wike, said you’re the hero of that election, because you stopped Atiku Abubakar from winning in his traditional areas and paved the way for APC to win. Festus Keyamo, APC campaign spokesman, said that you’re role stopped in making Tinubu President and Reno Omokri, accused you of massive rigging in the South East, because he couldn’t understand how you could score 97 per cent in Anambra. Even Atiku acknowledged that you took most of his votes from his traditional areas. What is your response to all these?
Well, my first reaction generally is that even the declared winner did not win. He may have been declared by whatever means, but he has not won, because to win is to win the people. Democracy is government of the people by the people for the people. That means, if you must win, you must win the people. But if you have not won the people, you’ve not won. And I can tell you that in the last election, the declared person did not win. However, the rascality is what we’re challenging. On the various comments, let me talk about the issue of Reno. Ordinarily, I won’t comment on anything he says, because I only reply presidential candidates and not spokespersons, because they’re not contesting.
But since it is something that I’ve never participated or been part of, I have to reply it. I’ve never and I’ll ask anybody to add one vote for me that doesn’t rightfully belong to me. I haven’t paid anybody to rig election for me. Go all over Nigeria to ask anybody in INEC and the so-called EOs, Resident Electoral Commissioners and all of them whether any of them has met Peter Obi, saying do this. Go and ask the police or army to say do this. Never! They’re referees. It’s their job, and they should do their job. The issue of where I got 97 per cent is in Anambra State. Reno Omokri forgot that in 2019, go and check the records, where the PDP had the highest votes, was in Anambra State. That was when I was Vice Presidential candidate to Atiku. Our votes in Anambra State was almost 96 per cent. That’s where the PDP got the highest votes, because I was on that ballot and they know me.
I live in Onitsha. If you want to know how I got 97 per cent, come and go with me to Anambra State with me. I don’t need police. When I come out, you’ll see the reactions of the people. In fact, I’m actually surprised that I didn’t get up to 100 per cent in Anambra. I’m telling you because I don’t know who would be voting against me in Anambra State. In the South East, it’s a similar situation. People know me, people know what I stand for, people know I’ve kept to my promises. People know that I’ve kept to what I’ve said. It’s a simple thing. It’s like people going about and saying he got votes in Lagos because of the Igbo. How many Igbo live in Lagos?
I got more votes in Lagos from indigenes than from those you can call visitors. Are the Igbo in Nasarawa, are the Igbo in Plateau, are the Igbo in Abuja? In Rivers, where you know that the governor came out against me, I say if they leave the votes of Rivers to be counted, I won. I had more than 50 per cent of the votes in Rivers and the other two parties were sharing the other. That I won in Aso Rock, will you say it’s rigging? Which machinery did I have to rig? I had no councillor, I had no local government chairman, I don’t even know any DPO. So, which machinery will I use? They’re the ones who have belief in this. What they’re doing is what I’m trying to change.
How are you going to leverage on the momentum built by the Obidient movement? How are you galvanising this to help those vying for governorship on March 18 and what is this reason for renaming BVAS from Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to Basic Values Acceptable to Society?
Let me start from the Obidient Movement. Because Nigerian politics have largely been transactional, when we were starting this, many people didn’t believe in what we’re about to do. The consequence was that we didn’t have candidates for governorship in most of the states, because in a transactional thing, people like to be where things are being shared. So, nobody believed that a political party without councillor, or local government chairman can come up and become something. So, we didn’t have in most places, candidates. In a few places we’re able to have candidates, they’re first class candidates. I believe and I support them and I believe that they should be supported by the Obidient family and the people because I believe they’ll do good jobs.
Take GRV (Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour) – young man, excellent background – you can’t have somebody who has a degree from MIT. So, these are the qualities we have.
In some places, we’re going to work with some good candidates, because there are some states where we don’t have candidates. In the South East for instance, we only have candidates in two states. We don’t have in Ebonyi. In the North we have in Plateau, and we don’t have in Zamfara. So, there are few places we’re asking our people to support other candidates and where we’re going to have partnership, like in Cross River State, where we’re supporting the candidate running under the PDP, we support him because he’s an excellent candidate.
So, for me, it’s about having competent, credible people having integrity with track-records that can do well. It’s not just about saying it must be Labour Party always. Where we think we have good people, we support them and we’re supporting them. Where we think we have somebody better, we give our support. The same thing is what I preach to the people. Don’t say if it it’s not Labour you won’t support. With time, we’re going to build this institution and ensure that everything we’re going to do is the right thing. But it’s not going to be overnight. So, for me, in states where we have good candidates, we’re going to support them.
We’re going to make sure it works and where we don’t , we’ll be honest to the people, because what we’re trying to do is to build a new politics that will thrive on character, capacity, competence and compassion and telling the people the truth always. That’s why I got 97 per cent in Anambra State, because everything I said, I did and where it was impossible, I told the people the truth and not telling them lies. I accounted for their money.
When I said BVAS should be Basic Values Acceptable to the Society, what makes a good society? It is values. The values they accept, the values they tolerate is what builds the people. Just like you’ve said that the Bishops are saying it’s God’s wish, how could God wish that the people are poor? How could God wish that Nigeria is in darkness? No! It’s not God’s wish.
Has Tinubu called you? What’s your reaction to the ethnic coloration the campaigns are taking in Lagos and what do you say to those arguing that your candidate in Lagos is too young, having just turned 40?
I’ve always said that the APC presidential candidate is an elder brother. I could even call him a father and I have a lot of respect for him in everything. I’ve not been opportune to speak with him. I don’t have any issue with him. I respect him and I’ll continue to do so. I’m only challenging the process through which he was declared winner, because that process is wrong and that process must be corrected. I believe that things must be done rightly. We must follow the rule of law, we must have a society where things are done in a decent and organised manner. We must try to build this new nation for the world to respect us.
What you see as ethnic strife is just people trying to hide under what doesn’t exist to cause confusion. The votes I got in Lagos, as I said earlier, cut across everybody in Lagos from Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw and all the tribes that live in Lagos voted for me. I can tell you that a lot of people who I know that are thoroughly Yoruba who are supporting me. In 2003, Obasanjo got over 90 per cent of the votes in the entire South East despite that our own revered leader, Ojukwu was contesting. Nobody shouted at anybody. Nobody said I won’t do business with the Yoruba or with Northerners or with anybody. He failed in Yorubaland, but we gave him more votes in the South East even when our own revered leader was contesting. Nobody quarrelled with it. We have Yoruba people who live in the East. Don’t think that it is only here that the Yoruba live. I can tell you that in Onitsha where I live, two prominent people who I deal with are completely from the South West. They’re there and nobody is harassing them. They’re doing their businesses and voting for whoever they want. I can go back to history. In 2011, we voted for Jonathan and he got more votes in the South East than he got in the South South. When Abiola contested election, he had more votes from the South East, even when his Vice Presidential candidate, Kingibe, was a Muslim from the North – when Tofa had an Igbo man as the Vice Presidential candidate, a respected Igbo man, yet, Abiola won.
When that election was eventually annulled, go and check those who lost more in NADECO. It is the Igbo. Ralph Obioha’s businesses were ruined. Go and check it. So, when people bring what doesn’t exist, we should be careful. So, who were the people who voted for me in Abuja? We’re they only Igbo? Nobody got 25 per cent in Abuja out of the two parties. Is it the Igbo who voted for me in Plateau? Do the Igbo occupy Nasarawa? The governor of Nasarawa said I won’t get 10 per cent of the votes in Nasarawa, and the governor of Kaduna State said I won’t get 2,000 votes in Kaduna and I got 300,000 votes. So, I’m appealing to people, in the interest of Nigeria. Today, we have a Pakistani as Mayor of London and Indian as Prime Minister. And they’re doing far better than we’re doing. In this place that is not even working, we’re still trying to divide ourselves. That’s what we’re trying to remove. It’s this rascality, it’s this structure that we’re trying to remove that brings this hatred, which we must remove from the system so that the system can work.
When people can no longer compete on character, competence, compassion and capacity, they resort to religious and ethnicity. They were shouting, Peter campaigned on religion, but they’re the ones doing it. I’ve never told anyone to vote for me based on this. I said it, don’t vote for Peter Obi because he’s from the South East.
On issue of someone being too young, it’s laughable. We should actually stop people who are too old from contesting. If I had my way, if we can retire our bishops at 70, our professors at 70, Supreme Court justices at 70, it’s time will peg the age in this our politics so that people should also retire, because the reason why we say at 70-75 people should go and rest, is because it’s these people that are bringing this confusion.
Age-40 is the age where people became Presidents in America, the world’s biggest economy – $25trillion and we just $400billion. And you’re talking about age. I think he has the right age, the right background, the right education.
Your party, despite not having a structure has made inroads into the National Assembly with six Senators and 34 House of Representatives members. How do you comment on that? Secondly, this issue of INEC not allowing you to inspect materials, Yusuf Tanko, your campaign spokesman, has served notice that the only option is to picket INEC offices nationwide in a peaceful protest. Why not go back to court to press for contempt against INEC?
We’ll apply both. We have a situation where you cannot imagine. INEC is an institution backed by law, the court has given an order and they’re not obeying it, how then do we start to build a nation. The most important ingredient, what makes a nation is the rule of law. I said it when I was campaigning that we must govern by the rule of law. The biggest contributor to the western economy today in terms of the growth is the intangible assets, called rule of law. The reason why people want to live America and Britain is not because things that happen here don’t happen there. But because if it happens you can seek redress in court and it will be obeyed. If you call police, they’ll respond. Nothing else. Law and order is what we’re working here. We must live in a society that is organised. Today, with the way Nigeria is and considering how bad things are economically what the world expected of us in 2023 – there was so much expectations – was to have free, fair and credible elections, where the new government will come to start – people talk about low-hanging fruits. The number one low-hanging fruit here is to start governing by rule of law. If you start it, you start changing this country. And that I’m committed to. And I’ll urge INEC to please help the country. The image of the country – our strategic importance in the comity of nations is being put to question by all this rascality.
For me I thank God that we’re able to get the number of seats. I hosted the candidates after they received their certificates and urged them to know that we’re committed to a new Nigeria and we must do things differently. We must support what is right. We must work out everything and I’m sure they will do that. There are things we need to do going forward for the Labour Party. For them, it is to build a democratic institute that will be able to teach people what their job is all about and what they’re expected to do. It is not just that you’ve won election and it’s now time for you to be part of the confusion that exists and go transactional. We now want to leverage and we’re talking with different organisations, different countries that can help us build a proper democratic institution that will teach our people, including me what governance is all about.
Critics have question why you accept the NASS results without that of the presidential since both of them took place at the same time. So, what’s the difference? Again, in Enugu, there seems a confusion about who the Labour Party is supporting between Frank Nweke of APGA and Chijioke Edeoga of LP. Who are you supporting?
Let me start from Enugu. The issue of Enugu is because Aisha Yusuf, tweeted in support of Frank Nweke. Let me clarify. The Obidient Movement are not necessarily LP members. There are so many people in the Obidient Movement, who have nothing to do with Labour Party. Somebody like Aisha Yusuf is not a member of the Labour Party. We even have what is called The Big Tent, where many groups gather, which has all the groups who supporting me today, as a presidential candidate, who have nothing to do with the Labour Party.
These people believe I can do this job. So, they have a right to choose who to support. But as a Labour Party, which I’m a member – don’t forget that the party is far more supreme than any individual – Labour Party, has chosen Chijioke Edeoga. He is our candidate. And that I stand with, because I’m a member of the Labour Party. Members of the Obidient family have their own choices and I can’t question them. So, that’s the difference.
On the issue of the National Assembly elections, remember INEC said the House of Representative was going through and the Senate was going, but it’s only the Presidential. So, by that, they’ve defined a process. They have accepted a process. Go and read your law. In the other two, they followed that process and in this one, something happened. They gave an excuse, which shouldn’t be, because they know what they were doing.
Is LP collaborating with PDP in Lagos? Are you talking with Atiku to pursue this case together and what happens if even declared winner by the Supreme Court and the order is not obeyed?
Well, there is no partnership between Labour Party and the PDP. Both of us are challenging a process that is wrong. That is acceptable. The process was wrong and we’re all challenging it because we’re all participants. It’s like a woman that was raped and she goes to court and several other women come out. They’re not acting jointly, but they’re victims of the same manner.
But both of you are claiming to have won the election at the same time. How’s that possible?
There’s no problem. That is why we want to check the process. It is that process that we say who actually received the highest number of rightful votes cast in that election and the spread. So, if we do the right things, what we’re claiming now is because of the confusion that was deliberately created by INEC. If they had done the right thing, we won’t be here. Nobody will be arguing. Like I said, I have my respect for Atiku. My respect for him remains for as long as I live. He’s a respected elder brother.
But have you been speaking to him?
Of Course! Not as regards this election, but on any other issue. We’ve always remained close. On issue of Nigeria, we’re two different candidates. I’m committed to a new Nigeria, committed to doing things differently. But my commitment does not in any way affect my respect for him or Tinubu. I’ll remain respectful to them.
On issue of Lagos, the Labour candidate in Lagos, remains the best candidate. He’s true and thorough Lagosian, from a family that is well-known. His educational background, his age and everything gives the impression that he has the right thing and the right energy and I support him 100 per cent. So, also do I for any other Labour candidate that is chosen through the right process.
I told you here that we don’t have candidates everywhere. We have may be five-six or seven candidates and I support them. Wherever you see me not supporting a candidate, Labour Party, especially our chairman, must have worked with them in partnership or somehow to be able to achieve in the last election and Labour as an institution is bigger than me. And I respect and take directives from the Chairman, because we want to build institutions, so that it will work. Even if I’m the leader, I still believe in the institutions. And we must respect the institutions.
That’s part of the rascalities that I saw in other parties that made them not to work, because people think they’re bigger than the party. I’m not bigger than the Labour Party. Labour Party remains bigger. Whatever directives they give I obey. So, I assure you, we’ll support GRV and I can tell you that he’s a fantastic candidate.
Your critics say at 63, if you’re harping on youthful age, you’re not qualified. They even say elsewhere, the use age for any job is discriminatory, just like religion and gender. What do you say to the allegation that using age against your co-contestants is unacceptable?
But I wasn’t talking about myself when I talked about age. I was only replying that somebody who is 40 is too young to govern Lagos. That is when I said that people who are talking about age that people above 75 should actually retire. But, let’s not compare age in the US and here. In the US, life expectancy is 72.5 years. Here in Nigeria it is 54. So, at 70, you’ve actually passed 16 years and should have gone. And some of these people saying this have contributed to why people are dying and why we have high rate of infant mortality. So, let them not compare. It’s not the same thing. Some who is 80 in America is different from someone who is 80 here. So, you cannot compare the two of them.
Number two, I’m not 63 years old. May be right, may be wrong, my affidavit letter, which I still carry around me, which my mother gave me in 1970, said I was born on July 19, 1961. If anything is wrong, I hold my mother responsible. But she’s been a wonderful woman. I don’t have the privilege of my father giving me. So, if you follow it, I’m still going to be 62 in this July. So, I’m not comparing age. But I assure you of my commitment.
They keep saying we need experience of age. But the aged and the old have not used that experience. But rather what they do is claiming experience in failure. They’ve not used it to progress the place. Rather, they tell you that I’ve been doing this for 30 years. So what? The place failed. How can you claim experience in failure? If you’ve been doing this for 30 years and we’re in this mess, then actually, you should cover your face in shame. It’s not about saying that I’ve been around for 20 years and therefore it’s my entitlement. No, you have to claim entitlement where things are progressing, where things are going well. That’s what it should be.
People are raising the issue of age against Gbadebo, because they say it is linked to political experience. Yes, MIT, is an Ivy League school, but they say if you have to govern a diverse state like Lagos, you’d need more that an MIT certificate. What do you say to that?
Which experience? When I was campaigning to be the governor of Anambra State, I’d never worked in government, I never had anything to do with government. I was faced with the same thing. I was his age. I started campaigning in 2001. I was just 39. By the time the election took place, I was 41-42.
So, I was that age. And it was the same, because people were saying who’s he? He has never done this, he’s never worked in government before. The only experience they can claim is the experience of corruption, the experience of stealing, experience of doing the wrong thing. In fact it is good sometime for you to bring in someone who didn’t have that experience so that he can clean up the mess.
I came in without that experience and when they wanted to teach me that experience, I told them they’re wrong. I recall asking my people why Anambra State will have a lodge in Abuja and they told me because every state has it. I told them you can’t because the governor doesn’t live in Abuja. So, shut it down. Why will this one happen? Why will the governor have 18 guest houses and they said because he’d have guests. These were all the things we shut down that gave us the money to do the work. So, the experience they have is what we’re against. That’s the structure they claim they have.
What you see us challenging now is the structure they’re telling you that we’ve no structure. As far as I’m concerned, he’s at the right age, the right energy, the right educational background. Whatever there is that you think is lacking, because of his exposure and all that, he’ll be able read it. The job of a leader is always listening and learning. And I did that and we succeeded. Listen to the people and do what they want. Prove your integrity and look at the background where you’re coming from. Remember that if you steal, it will show in the alumni record of MIT that you’re now a thief.
What is now your relationship with Governor Soludo, who said you’d win only two states? What do you say to him if he’s watching now that you won more than two states and counting?
First is that Soludo remains my respected elder brother. He’s also my Governor. So, I respect him always. An I remember him in prayers that he governs the state very well because at the end of the day, I leave in Onitsha. If anything goes wrong, it affects me directly. So, I always remember him in my prayers and I’ll always wish him well. We never had any argument. His political understanding or stand, does not in any way affect me. We’re family and we’ll remain family. Like I said when he said it, he’s a professor and I’m trader. So, two of us have different ways of reasoning. You can’t expect a trader to be thinking like a professor neither would you expect a professor to be thinking like a trader. that’s where we are. So, there’s no problem between the two of us. We’re friends and we’ll remain so.
Talking about the issue of age, I’m not against age. If you’re 70 and you’re healthy and everything – I only said age should not be used to talk about inexperience. I’m also saying age at a certain time can be used to say you can no longer physically do certain things because the job requires physical energy. I can tell you, ask those who know me well, I used to travel to London and back here three times in a week. I arrive in the morning and go back in the evening, arrive in the morning, go back in the evening. Today, it’s not possible. I was doing it in my 30s up to 40s. Today, I needed to break it. So, if I get to 70, it won’t be the same thing. I went to not just 36 states when I was campaigning, but to over 100 places. If I go to your state, I’ll visit to another place. I went to Oyo and to Ogbomoso, I went to Ibadan. I went to Adamawa, I was in Numa and I was in Mubi. I was in Maiduguri and I was in Biu. I went to Edo, and I was in Auchi and Uromi. It was possible, but the other candidates couldn’t do it. It was impossible. It had to do with physical energy. It’s important.
There’s something circulating right now that you were a member of the Association for Better Nigeria that supported the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. Were you with Arthur Nzeribe who led that movement at that time?
1993, I lived in England and I had nothing to do with politics. In 1993, my business was between here and the UK. I was living in England with my family. If you want to know, my son was born in 1993 December. You can go and check his birth certificate. My daughter also. They were in the primary school in England. How could I have little children who were in primary school in England and be in Nigeria doing Better Nigeria, while my wife lived there. So, who would I leave them for? People said a lot of things. I was never involved in politics and never even voted as at that time.
I was actually a businessman, contributing to building a better Nigeria, involved in supporting Nigerians in different places. Just like I said, I supported Abiola when he contested because I was listening to what he was doing. And I was doing so, in my capacity in different. And when it failed and they started NADECO, there were other people who were involved in it like Ralph Obioha or the late Ndubuisi Kanu, who would tell you that they knew me and other things. I all, I say there shouldn’t be any tension, people should go out and vote for Gbadebo. He’s the right candidate. And they should go out and vote other candidates, even where I mentioned that if you have competent people in other parties, vote for them.
Abia more important to me than electoral victory – Ikpeazu
Okezie Ikpeazu, Governor of Abia State, appears to be cutting the image of an unusual Nigerian politician in the manner he seems to be taking the political losses that have come to him in the 2023 general elections, where he not only lost his bid to move to the Senate, but also the loss of grip at the government house Umuahia, power would be transitioning from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which held it since 24 years, to the Labour Party (LP).
Instead of the usual anger, agitation and bad blood that usually accompanies such a development in the Nigerian contest, he seems to be taking the political misfortunes with philosophical calmness and sees it more as the right of the people to decide where to invest their votes as opposed to the his own determination to continue leading them. In this interview, he states that his foray into politics, which he capped by becoming governor in 2015, is not for want of other things to do, stressing that there were many other engagements that would occupy his time outside politics. Excerpts:
How do you feel after the election?
I’m okay. I feel very well and I thank God that I’ve run this race to this point and expecting the next phase of my life.
Losing your Senatorial ambition and your party losing the governorship, was that a big disappointment?
The two are not the same. For me, I’m a man of very modest expectations and public office is a call to serve. If I offer myself to serve and the people say no or wait, it’s not a personal loss. It gives me the opportunity to open other doors and do other things. I had a manifesto, I had an agenda which I thought was going to bring about some paradigm shift in the way things were done especially having been here for a couple of years and seen what I felt were gaps that needed to be filled and I offered myself. I congratulate myself for the courage to offer myself.
I congratulate myself also for the courage to run that race and I also congratulate myself for the courage to be able to say, oh, well, maybe the people think otherwise or something happened because what comes to play in an election is not entirely about what the people want. There are artefacts in every experiment. So whatever thing it is, I feel sufficiently bought to put myself together and move on. I won my last elections at the biggest league in the state. So this one for me is not a do-or-die thing or question of life and death. Ultimately history and posterity will make things clearer.
Did you just allow the system to run because, in this part of the world, it’s difficult for a Governor to want something and not get it?
If I want to be frank with you. I’m one of the people that the BVAS deceived. I’m one of the people who believed the stories around BVAS. No two elections are the same and this particular season of the election was difficult. I give you an example, at some point, more than 102 polling units with more than 100,000 registered voters could not vote in one of the LGAs in our senatorial district. The margin of lead for the first three candidates was not up to 30,000. Ordinarily, when the margin of lead is not up to what’s outstanding the right thing should be done. Again, same election was declared inconclusive at some point by the same INEC returning officer who later came back to say she was now ready to declare the results as directed from “above.”
That is obviously neither here nor there. The Nigerian system creates victims and creates scenarios of varying victory, but I said to myself, that I needed to teach Nigerians that, though an incumbent, if you try an election and it doesn’t work, you can move on. Especially if you really think that it is a call to serve. As governor, even with the very very tight schedules of a Governor, I was able to write a book in Biochemistry. So I’m certainly not a man of combat. I can get busy doing other things and I have callings in other spheres of human endeavour. I think I have given my eight years, no vacation, and never slept anytime earlier than 2am. My family needs me too and I need to take a break, so, I have moved on.
You talked about being deceived by BVAS, in what way?
Yes, because of all the advertisements about the BVAS, the human element and interferences in the entire process is still above 90 per cent. We thought it was a Super Technology, but it’s nothing. They’ve taken it to a point where somebody sits back to say I feel like I should look at the BVAS but under a different circumstance, the same person will say I don’t feel like looking at the BVAS now or the results are still uploading. So, if you look at the scenarios you see opportunities for people to be mischievous. Unfortunately, also characters within INEC advised some of the ad-hoc staff not to bother about the BVAS. So, some of us believe that there was something like that. From our situation room, what we get and the tumbling results that eventually manifested on the result sheets do not tally. It’s a monumental fraud.
With all these, one wonders why you advised that aggrieved people should not bother the governor-elect with litigations?
Yes, that is because this same governor-elect took me through hell when he lost in 2015. He’s been in this race for eight years and for me, I feel he must have an agenda. He must be desperate to begin to work for Abia and I’m still serious with my advice to candidates to let him be. Whatever be the case. The money that will be thrown into the tribunal belongs to Ndi-Abia. The energy and time would have been deployed to other things and the governor-elect would have sufficiently been distracted.
I know that some people take others to court just to distract them so that at the end of the day, they’ll be sufficiently weak and become vulnerable as they attack them the next time, but I do not think that is necessary. However, unfortunately, nobody wants to heed my advice. Even the labour party is taking some PDP candidates to court. So, nobody wants to listen. It’s only in this country that you want to expect what you can’t offer. Somebody says to you, I’m not going to take you to court, you tell the person thank you and then you go home and brief your lawyers to take the same person to court. I can’t understand where people are coming from. Its crazy.
But I still think that in Nigeria, we must learn to walk away and say I’ll need to fight another day. And sincerely speaking, I have sufficient courage to commend even my most vociferous opponent if he is doing well. Nothing is big enough to make me tell a lie. If you are doing well or if you do better than me, I will congratulate you and say you have done better than me. I was arguing with, my friend and I asked him between better and best, which one is more superlative? And he told me grammatically that it’s best, but I said what if something is better than your best?
So, I think better is more. So there’s always room for improvement. If I look back retrospectively, I will take pride in the things that I’ve done properly, but I thank God who has given me the courage to also own up to those things that I didn’t do properly. He also gave me the humility to pray that somebody comes to correct it for the general good of the people of Abia State. Nobody is an angel and nobody was made in heaven. We’re all from here.
After the presidential election, didn’t you feel that the Obi wave will make LP do well here?
The Peter Obi factor was a huge factor. People became very sentimental and emotional and a lot of things contributed to the cultic image that Peter Obi has in this part. One of them is that there’s hardly anything you can preach in favour of the established political parties that will excite Nigerians. Whatever you’re doing, if you touch on security, everyday life like food and access to money for my people here, you’ve touched on their jugular. So, people became extremely sensitive, frustrated, and angry and they voted and reacted out of frustration. But we know that very soon, the scales will fall from their eyes because there can only be one Peter Obi.
In the days ahead, Nigerians will interrogate the Peter Obi personae on one hand and also look at all those who rode on his back to become something and put them side by side with the Peter Obi personae and the question will now come naturally, was this what we went in for? But I pray that some of the aspirations of Nigerians will be assuaged in the coming days because I don’t think we still have the energy for further experimentation because our elasticity has elapsed. That’s what it is.
But do you think people got tired of 24 years of PDP in Abia State?
You see, the growth curve is a dumbbell. It has a point where it begins to experience diminishing returns and input will no longer be commensurate with the output. So, it flattens out and now begins to nosedive. The established parties have come to that point. The truth of the matter is, who’s not from PDP in Abia? That’s what it is. I pray that what happened to Nigerians in 2015 will not be the case here because I don’t think the change we subscribed to in 2015 met our expectations. Most times we change and change into something that will make some people in the PDP become heroes.
Did the issue of the death of your first candidate and emergence of a new one a few weeks before the election have an impact?
It’s very difficult to access but what I can give you for free is that the demise of Prof. Ikonne wouldn’t have been to our advantage. There’s no way his death could have helped our fortune. So, if it didn’t anything, then it would have counted against us. So, we were swimming against some very negative tides. Most importantly, we were contending with vitriolic propaganda because some people are experts in creating bubbles in the air and castle in the air, they don’t exist. They do these things deliberately in Abia.
This is the safest state in South East. This is the third state in foreign direct investment in Nigeria. This state has brought down infant and maternal mortality by 71 per cent as reported by World Bank. This State is working. It’s at variance with the picture that people try to create. There are 31,000 workers and 29,000 of them have received their salaries up to date. But they create scenarios and make it look as if there’s a Utopian paradise existing somewhere. But I know that having sat here for eight years, public service is not a tea party. There are things embedded in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that must discipline you. So, the demise of Prof. Iknonne must have reflected negatively on the outcome.
Was there a sign of internal sabotage?
Yes, I think that was even 60 per cent of what happened and that’s why I’m a happy man. If everybody under a house choose to pull down the house and stay under the weather, and you see the rain threatening, you can be sure that it’ll fall on everybody’s roof. Because people can because of envy, jealousy, avarice, selfishness, greed and do something unbelievable. You wanted something, and you know that only one person can get it in a big family. You may have had a shot before, a second and third time and you’re asked to wait because each time you went previously, it was at the expense of somebody, but your reaction will be if not me let the house fall. So, that was massive to the extent that members of the house pulled down the house and all of us are going to be tenants. Is either you stay outside or you be a tenant. For you to be a tenant, you must be able to pay rent. Possibly you go and beg to squat on somebody’s balcony. The three options are available to us.
What’s your impression generally and what happened to the G-5?
Nothing happened to the G-5. For me, my reaction to what happened in the presidential election is this; in every situation and circumstance, I try to find success because I developed a philosophy last year of saying thank you God for all the doors you’ve opened and thank you also for the ones you’ve closed because I don’t know what lies behind the door. For us, in G-5 if you will recall, we’ve been consistent in saying that for all the governors in Nigeria in the course of the exercise of our duty and mandate to unite this country and build a country where everybody’s opinion matters, come together and say that it’s time for the South to provide the leadership at the level of presidency.
The argument was that if we had a smooth sail, we would have brought the conversation home to say, within the South, there are three zones and how do we get a candidate from the zone that can win an election in the 2023 circumstance which is different from the 1999 and the 2019 circumstances. So, somehow, we left that meeting in Lagos and Asaba and it wasn’t easy for the APC. They had an incumbent from the North who could have railroaded everything to suit his kinsmen, but the governors in APC from the North stood their ground and said that it has to be a Southerner.
Of course, for them, they had to look at a Southerner within the rank of their party that has earned their trust and confidence and the lot fell on Tinubu and people started shouting. We came back to our people that we must do South now and when it became apparent that our Chairman is from the North and we say, Mr Chairman, you’re from the North, since you said you’re jettisoning zoning, if our candidate comes from the North what will you do? He said he’ll resign. So, handling of the aftermath of that convention was untidy. The convention that all of us participated in, the convention that we threw in everything, everybody who participated must have contributed but eventually, we heard that some people are the “heroes of the convention” while others are villains. Know it very well that wherever there’s a hero, there must be a villain and that wasn’t good enough. We expected a retraction of that comment from the top-level leadership of our party.
Then, I wasn’t particularly involved in the selection of who becomes the Vice Presidential candidate, but something happened. So, an aircraft that should move with four engines was now making a 12-hour flight with two engines. It became a problem and a whole lot of time was given to see how we can keep every member of the G-5 within the party and create room for the conversation to continue because my father told me that however bad I feel, I should remain on the table, continue to hold the conversation. And that was what we did. We kept everybody at the table and we were talking. But people became arrogant. I can take the arrogance of people because I see them as people that lack understanding but a lot of people can’t take the arrogance of other people. So, we started having problems. So, for me, a Southerner has become president.
He may not have come from my party, and I may not have done anything for him since he ran through another party, but for the stability of this country, we have another chance. If a Tinubu-led presidency decides to invest time, emotion and energy towards the unification of this country, than energy for frivolities, around the economy and security then we can be hopeful. These things are very important, but the first thing should be how do we gain the trust of Nigerians again? So that Nigerians from all walks of life, tribes and ethnic groups can know that this President is “my President”. If a Nigerian is held in any country, he’ll say “my President will come for me” if a Nigerian is being maltreated in any part of the country, he can say “my President will intervene” if a journalist is manhandled, he’ll say my President will come if a policeman is bullying a student, the student can say if my President hears this. We need a people’s President who will be able to galvanise all the resources we have in this country because I’m sure we have enough to be able to build ten countries.
The economy is not such a big deal because we have people who can fix this economy. Security is not such a big deal because we have people and a gallant military that can rise to the occasion. But what we lack is if I die in the line of service what happens to my children? We need the people’s President. Today, the South can’t say they were not given the opportunity to superintendent the affairs of Nigeria. So, when the time for the North comes, I’ll also be part of those that’ll say it’s the turn of the North. I’ll never come to a point where I will want the strongest or the fittest to take everything. I’ll rather continue to canvas for the society that’ll hold the hands of the weakest. For me, there’s some upward movement in the right direction. How our incoming President manages that and deploys it to become a capital for development is a conversation for another day.
You talked about things that make you proud, what are those things you will be remembered with?
Let me say this and I’m going to be very predictive. There’s going to be a very massive attack to demolish my legacies and monuments in Abia. It’s going to be a lot of falsehood. There’s going to be a lot of petty vendetta and all those sorts of things, but I’ll be proud to say that, I’m handing over the safest and most stable state in the South East despite the fact that this election didn’t go my way, I’m proud to say that no life was lost and I’m proud to say that the government of the day was rather a victim. In some places, people from other political parties were unleashing mayhem on our supporters and dealing with them the way they love, but in all of these, like Jonathan would say, this election, victory or loss, is not worth the life of any Abian.
Going forward, people will know that it’s when you have a secured state that you can become the third best in foreign direct investment. It’s also when you’ve created a better life for your people that you can become number three best when it comes to the poverty index in this country. These are world Bank parameters. In this place as I speak, the governors’ forum is doing a very serious review of our tele-health initiative. Abia State is the only state in Nigeria that has connected over 400 primary health care centres to a team of doctors in our call room online in real-time. The level of service we render in our primary health care centres today is comparable to the level of service some people render in general hospitals if not specialist hospitals. Today, in Abia State we’ve started the gradual establishment of laboratories in primary health care centres where a diagnosis can be done. Abia State runs a geriatric outreach for old people. We’ve built a specialist pediatric hospital and by the special Grace of God, we’ll deliver one of the biggest hospitals in the South-East before the 29th of May with a CT Scan that can do 265 slides.
I think the best I’ve seen around us recently is 32 or 64 slides. There’s no other machine that’s better or that can do better in this environment. 71 per cent reduction in infant and maternal mortality is not easy. I was asked by some journalists about some months ago to tell them how I’ve been battered and kidnapped by some internet warriors and terrorists? When I tell them that the World Bank has published that we’ve reduced infant and maternal mortality by 71 per cent they wanted to know how did you do it? And I told them that the strategy is to bring everybody to loop in our primary health care centre and do whatever you can to stop people from running to quarks for delivery. So, how do you do that? We keyed into the Basic Health Care Provision Fund.
We offered free delivery which is costing more than N120,000 in some private clinics. We give you free delivery pack needed to take care of the child. In addition to that, we also give you a token of N500 to go home with. The one that made news was that Ikpeazu is giving women that got delivered N500. When people ask me, how have you felt with the economy and how’s business in your state? I say to them, well before the statistics of being number three in foreign direct investment came, I told them, in 2015 when I became the Governor that fast food joints were closing because people were not investing in Aba. But today when you come, investment is growing , industries abound here, the Enyimba Economic City is almost taking off and people are building lubricant plants everywhere. But in addition, you have new Cinema, Chicken Republic (Fast Food that was nowhere in Abia before) and all these things for leisure and nightlife.
The one that they picked is that I said that the achievement of my government is Chicken Republic. But I was very happy when the World Bank published that we were number three in foreign direct investment. If you look at the turnover of Kentucky Fried Chickens (KFC) there’s no company that does better except the oil companies and Dangote. They employ over 6500 people in a city. People don’t understand. I have added 700 brand new classrooms to our credit and four new model schools. We’ve migrated into digital learning. We have continuing teachers training institute that continually trains our teachers and interfaces them with the best from the rest of the world like Australia, India and Bangladesh. That’s why today, out of eight years we maintained first in four years in the West African Examination Council (WAEC) conducted West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). And we’ve not gone below fourth.
We moved Abia State University from number 97th to number 26th in Nigeria and the number too best state university in Nigeria. These things are not easy feats. We reversed enrollment back into public schools from 150,000 pupils to about 650,000 and above pupils on the account of our free meal programme started before that of the federal government and we employed about 5300 women to handle it, collaborating with Federal Government, as food vendors. I don’t want to talk about four Bridges and the first flyover in Abia. I don’t want to talk about connecting the major markets in Aba with good roads for the first time in 30 years. There are so many things I can beat my chest and say I’ve achieved. We have two industries for shoes and the other one for garments. By the special grace of God, I’ll be the Governor that’ll hand over a brand new government house. I don’t also want to talk about the completion of the International Conference Centre, the ASUBEB building and the JAAC Building started by my predecessor. Or the Abia Investment House, New ABSIEC and ASOPADEC headquarters. We’ve done a lot and there’s one that is very dear to my heart.
People did everything to stop the intervention of the African Development Bank in supporting us to do 500 kilometres of rural roads. They wrote petitions against the project. But despite all these, I was able to get the project on course and I’ll do the ground breaking before I leave. Somebody else may take the credit, but put it on record that this government paid the counterpart funding, defended that project before the Senate, the ministry of finance, attracted it and we’re doing the groundbreaking. Before the end of this year, that project would have touched the lives of our people. So, as I leave on the 29th of May, I’ll leave a very proud man. There may be things I didn’t do well. I still have 3000 workers which I wasn’t able to attend to their needs as I would have loved to. I still owe pensioners and of course, I inherited most of it. Some doctors as well. I still have about three or four months of their money in their own account but I’m asking them that if they don’t resume from strike, I’ll not pay because, if they claim they are being owed 29 months, in all honesty, they’ve not worked for 15 months within this period. My Bible says that a worker deserves his pay but they’ve not worked.
Each time I bargain with them, I remember one particular occasion they caused me to go and borrow N400 million on a Thursday and I paid them that Thursday, the next Tuesday, they embarked on a strike. So, I urge them to search their conscience and I pray that they get a better deal in the years ahead. In my first three months as governor, I paid them 11 months’ salary arrears. Those who were earning N500,000 went home with N5.5 million. So, I wanted to prove to them that I was a humane forthcoming leader but my relationship with them did not go, regrettably, as I would have loved it to. But I take solace in the fact that 29,000 of the rest of my workers and all the ministries were paid. As I said, there are a few things which I can say I didn’t do well, but I’m in a place where I can say I’ve given my best.
General assessment from the 2023 election?
The difference between the 1999 election and the 2023 election is that in the 1999 election, you could see and track rigging. But in 2023, they put the rigging beyond what you can see. People are left more frustrated than they were in 1999. In 2023, you don’t need to carry ballot boxes. All you need is to have a pen and a few friends in INEC. In 1999, if somebody is rigging the election, you’ll see the person rigging the election and you can shout. The jurisprudence of election litigations will be very interesting this time around. Let’s see what happens. But here again, when facts and figures are hidden inside the computer leaving the right to retrieve such facts and figures in the hands of one man, so, you can imagine?
I don’t know how it will be. I blame Nigerians. We spent a whole lot of time glorifying what we didn’t completely understand. What I expected, especially from our young ones, is that a deeper interrogation of the shortcomings of BVAS would have been brought to the fore. I’m not a very strong person in terms of ICT, but those who know it would have just walked up to us to say, this thing cannot do what they’re saying it will do and we take it up from there. Nigerians going forward should henceforth interrogate some of the stories they sell to us.
Expectations were very high and people thought we had it covered end to end but you can now see that it’s not so. I don’t know how we can pick up from here. I encourage Nigerians to remain resolute. If we had interrogated properly and asked the right questions, we’ll not be here. That’s why particularly I advised those who can bear to bear and those who can’t bear should follow the law to ventilate it. I said so because if I could not ask questions and I trusted, it’s a risk I brought upon myself, otherwise, why should you trust them? If you took the risk, then bear the brunt.
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