‘Ekweremadu’s Emergence As Deputy Senate President Was By Default’
Former governor of Anambra State and Chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator Chris Ngige spoke to some journalists about this year’s general elections, Buhari’s presidency, crisis in APC, and other topical issues. SAMSON EZEA was there and reports
HOW will you react to the deputy senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s recent comments about his position as filing the slot for the South East zone and his appeal for the South-South zone?
Why should Ike Ekweremadu be making a case for the South South? Is he from the South South? He has no locus standi to say such. Even the South East he is talking about, he can’t claim that he can speak for we of the APC in the South East or Buhari’s APC controlled government.
Moreover, I was disappointed when I read it the newspapers and the electronic media. Ekweremadu is someone I like a lot. He is a young man and intelligent. I can say without fear of equivocation that when we were in the 7th Senate, he did well. I don’t know what got over him for making such pronouncement that he has gotten the share of the Igbos of the South East. He didn’t get our share; the share he got was for himself. He is a receiver of a stolen good. The PDP people in the Senate had an opportunity because our 51 senators were not in the chambers when they elected Ekweremadu deputy senate president and forced on us a hybrid leadership of the Nigerian Senate. I don’t want to go into the merits or the demerits of that, all of us know what caused it yet they took away the position by default.
They stole it and Senator Ike Ekweremadu received it. If it were to be me, I will just keep quiet and allow things unfold, but with these statements now he is incensing our members in the Senate with this gloating. Even our party members in South East are not happy and rightfully too because the implication of Ekweremadu’s Deputy Senate Presidency is that the PDP in Nigeria has the highest ranking elected public officer from the South East coming from their fold and that person is Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
On the side of the South East APC, it has endangered our members because the PDP in the South East will now have oxygen to breath from because they now have the highest ranking person in Nigeria coming from the South East, that is disadvantageous us and that puts us in a difficult position on our aspiration to make the South East people to join the main stream of Nigerian politics by aligning with the President (Muhammadu) Buhari-led APC government. He has made our job difficult, but we are going to face it squarely because we won’t give up.
We are back to the drawing table because it poses a problem for us and for some of us who know the powers and the rules of the Senate, a deputy senate president exercises powers given to him by the Senate President. It only asks him to act for the senate president when he is not around. The Deputy Senate President is like a deputy governor- a spare tyre.
With Ekweremadu’s emergence as deputy senate president, do you have hope that Southeast will get the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF)?
The position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation is an executive appointment. The office is a clearing house for executive business. Therefore, it is the prerogative of the President. The appointment is at his prerogative. Our party knows what happened in South East and the South South during the elections. And the thing there is that our President happily was once a general. In warfare, an area where your enemy is strong is where you deploy the crack brigade that you have the crack armaments there.
One will expect that in an APC government, efforts will be made to bring up the South South and the South East that are weaker, more work will come in there. The President knows what to do; we will not speak for him. There is nothing that guarantees that the area you did well today you will do well there tomorrow. Politics is dynamic and the situation is like fluid movement. Our party has a policy and strategy arm and I know that the right thing will be done.
What are the key things you think the people of the South East will be expecting Buhari government?
The preponderance of the people of the South East didn’t believe that a change of government was possible. Luckily, some of us believed in it, luckily our mantra in our party is change.
While the people of the South East are hoping, we also expect them to change in their political behavior and political culture. There are a lot of things they will expect from the government, there are a lot of things we expect from them too. It’s reciprocal. Our party is not like PDP, we don’t share money in polling booths like PDP is doing and even APGA. We don’t believe in that, they have to change. Our government believes in equity, everybody knows that the South East roads are one of the worst in the country. Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Okigwe-Umuahia- Aba-Port-Harcourt, Onitsha-Nnewi- Arondiziogwu- Okigwe, Umuahia-Ikot-Ekpene-Aba and Onitsha-Aba roads are all impassable, so many federal roads that abound there. So, for the people of the South East, they are looking up to this government to give them good roads and infrastructure.
There are insinuations in some quarters that the crisis rocking your party is about 2019, is it true?
What has the leadership of the National Assembly got to do with 2019? Our party leadership is intact and they have four tenure of office from the national level down to the states, local government areas to the ward. How does this translate into the battle for 2019? Nobody will do that at this time. Do we know who will be alive in 2019? Do you know who will be alive in 2018? It is a makeup of the press and I don’t blame the press.
People believe that your defeat in the last election has cast a doubt on your popularity and may affect your political career. Do you agree with this assertion?
I wasn’t defeated as per votes from the people. I was defeated by the security forces sent to Anambra State and in fact, the South-East and the South-South, to make sure that the Peoples Democratic Party carried the day and to make sure that President Jonathan was returned overwhelmingly with a large quantum of votes whether the people voted or they didn’t vote. What happened during the March 28 elections was just a charade.
In the whole of the South-East and the South-South, votes were allocated. After the voting at the polling units, they refused to allow the votes to be collated. It started with the card readers not working; they were intentionally disabled in all areas of the South-East. Anambra State was worst hit because, whereas in Enugu, you could still see some polling units they wanted to use as guinea pigs working. In the entire Anambra State, the card readers were not functioning and all our attempts to get them to function were met with stiff resistance from the Resident Electoral Commissioner to the last man in the polling booth.
These polling booth officials of INEC are people who were identified as PDP members, card-carrying members of the PDP posed as students, as NYSC people and the list was changed that morning and there was nothing anybody could do. When your polling assistant and presiding officer were all working for PDP and card readers were all disabled and even when the people finished voting, it was meant to just be a mockery of an election, they just allocated votes. Based on votes allocated to the PDP, I didn’t win the election but in the minds of the people of Anambra State-especially the people of Anambra Central, I still remain their favourite son. They sent me to the Senate in 2011, amidst opposition from the then governor, Peter Obi, and my family friend, late Professor Dora Akunyili. I defeated them all the way. And when I came to the Senate, I was not one of those recalcitrant senators or those you call benchwarmers or concur members.
It was alleged that you were penciled down by your party to emerge as the Senate president if you had won your reelection, how are you feeling now for not making it back to Senate?
It’s God that puts people in positions. When I became the governor of Anambra State, I did not want to be governor. I was running to be a senator. Even when those overtures were made, if you ask former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, he will remember very vividly when I was brought to meet with him, I pleaded with him that I should be excused from that journey of becoming a governor; that I wanted to be a senator. Little did I know that was what made the man insists that I would be the one who would go to Anambra State and replace (Chinwoke) Mbadinuju whom his party had adjudged not met their expectations.
For me, that I didn’t come back to the 8th Senate is not painful at all. I don’t think I lost anything. I ascribe it as God’s will and God’s permit. If God wanted me to be Senate President, he would have brought me back to the Senate and if he had brought me back to the Senate, we wouldn’t have had all these tussles, confusion and trouble that have enveloped our party.
Maybe God would have navigated me in such a way that all these things would not have happened. It could have just been a way of not allowing my party to suffer what we are suffering now. In his own way and in his own wisdom, he did not want me to be part of the confusion, so he insulated me. So here I am, I am free and I am one of the peacemakers. Members of our class have constituted a small committee of which I am heading. We are going round to the major dramatis personae in the crisis that enveloped the 8th Senate because most of those people were classmates in the 7th Senate.
Are you lobbying for the SGF position?
We don’t lobby. You can’t lobby with President Muhammadu Buhari for any position. He knows all of us, he knows who is best suited for what, so it doesn’t make sense to say I am lobbying. The South East has formally asked for the position of SGF from him and they submitted three names. My name is one of the names, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, my very good friend and former governor, an elder and leader of the party, he is one of them, Professor Anwuka former VC, Imo State University, and former Secretary to the Imo State government is one of them. All of us are eminently qualified.