By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
Honourable Victor Afam Ogene, the member representing Ogbaru federal constituency in the House of Representatives and deputy chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Ogbaru federal constituency in the March 28, 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
In this interview with select journalists in Awka, Ogene said he feels sad that the Igbo nation that used to have the finest crop of political strategists in Nigeria lost out in the country’s political chess-board in 2015 because its leaders failed to do their homework well.
He also spoke on the reasons for quitting his former political party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for APC; why he lost his re-election bid, expectations from the incoming APC federal government of General Muhammadu Buhari, fate of Igbo nation in the country’s political power equation, among other issues. Excerpts.
You are representing Ogbaru Federal constituency, Anambra State. You were elected on the APGA platform before you defected to the APC on which platform you re-contested on March, 28, 2015. What is your assessment of the election in your constituency?
Well, for me, the elections of Saturday, March 28, 2015 had come and gone, but, its ripples will continue to reverberate. I set out on that contest, primarily to ensure that my people of Ogbaru Federal Constituency are not denied the right to choose their elected representative.
You will recall that the leaders of my erstwhile political party, APGA, in strong indifference to the position of the party members, imposed a candidate for the House of Representatives seat on the people of Ogbaru. It was, not just in Ogbaru that this happened, it was a statewide occurrence. And some of us felt that as elected representatives of our people, we must stand up to fight such imposition, such a charade.
So, my contest or participation in that contest was primarily to stop APGA candidate, Mrs. Chinwe Nwaebili as represented by Governor Willie Obiano and, national chairman of APGA Victor Umeh from imposing their will and caprice on the people of Ogbaru.
And I will say that despite what transpired , including, anomalies that attended that election, ranging from missing result sheets, non-provision of ballot papers in some polling units, deliberate instigation of violence in some polling units, we achieved our major goal, which was to stop the orchestrated imposition of a particular candidate on the people of Ogbaru. And to the glory of God, we did achieve that guest.
The APGA national chairman, chief Victor Umeh did state when you and your collogues in the House of Representatives left the party that your defection will not affect the party’s popularity in any way because according to him, none of you made any contributions both politically and financially to grow and strengthen the party while you were in the party. What is your take on this?
In terms of political contributions, I think that some of us did much more than Chief Victor Umeh. You will recall that when former Governor Peter Obi, first muted the idea that the governorship slot of the state should go to the North senatorial district of the state, one of the vehement opponents of that proposal was Sir Victor Umeh. In fact, it got to a stage that some people said that people from the Anambra North senatorial district did not have the personality and the financial capability to run for the governorship. I took the campaign upon myself.
I was the first politician from the Anambra North senatorial zone to put up bill-boards contending that we have the men and materials to produce a governor. I went beyond that to insist fiercely that if we are to be considered a part of the tripod that make up Anambra state, then equity, justice and fairness demand that a governor should come from that part of the state.
And I pushed that agenda on radio, television and in the print up until the emergence of Chief Willie Obiano as candidate of APGA in the 2013 gubernatorial election. The rest as they say is history.
In terms of financial contributions, I don’t think that Victor Umeh contributed more than any of us. He was rather the receiver and recipient of the financial largesse from the elected members of the House of Representatives under APGA.
Yes, at the time that some of us decided to call it quit with APGA, he granted an interview where he said that from their records, we made only about N500,000 contribution to the party. And none of us at the time wanted to dignify him with an answer because political players know that financial contributions are hardly receipted. If I make financial contribution directly to the national chairman or secretary of a party, will I be expecting a receipt? All the monies that former Governor Obi was donating to the party, how many receipts did Victor Umeh issue him?.
All the financial contributions I was making during the court cases when I was giving him cash physically he didn’t issue receipt; all our allowances because we had a certain percentage paid to him as a party, he didn’t talk about them. Even the governor and his wife during the contest for the party primaries, some of us were coerced and compelled to contribute to the Governor’s wife’s pet project. I contributed no less than N10 million to the pet project of the Governor’s wife, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano. Again, it wasn’t receipted, but, we have proof of some of these contributions.
So, if you compel an elected representative or party stalwart to support a project and, he or she does as stated, then at the end of the day you turn round to say that such a fellow has made no contributions, It is the height of ingratitude.
And anybody who shows ingratitude to any cause always has the law of Karma staring at him. And remember that the same man came to my empowerment programme on March 9, 2014, wherein he not only endorsed me; he actually said, let me quote him: “Victor your re-election by the out –pouring of love and support from your people has been concluded today . The only thing left now, is for the INEC to declare the result”. This is what Victor Umeh said on March 9, 2014.
How can the same man, six months later make a 360- degree turn around to say that I contributed nothing? It is some of us who kept the name, APGA aglow on the national scene. Since we left, let him tell us how many people have spoken for APGA. Who recognizes that APGA is a serious political party over the last six months? Here are posers that only Victor Umeh and Willie Obiano can answer.
It was amazing that despite your popularity in Ogbaru Federal Constituency before the election, you did not win. What could you attribute to this?
Well, in my constituency, Ogbaru, we had two heavy- weights running for senatorial election. One is former minister Stella Adaeze Oduah, senatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Anambra North. And we also had Chief Duben Obueze, the senatorial candidate of APGA, he is also from Ogbaru.
They are not just from Ogbaru federal constituency, but, Ogbaru Local Government. So they are indigenous Ogbaru people. They have their own supporters. So, while the generality of Ndi Ogbaru stood with me in the House of Representatives election many of them found it difficult differentiating which ballot to cast their lot. So in the midst of that confusion … and don’t forget that I ran on the platform of APC which had erroneously been stigmatized by not just Ogbaru people, but, all people of the South East. So, it was quite a tall order for the people to come to terms in terms of political platform upon which I stood. But it was not just that.
The political party that was in charge of the state, APGA, and, the PDP using the federal might, all descended on us, by ensuring that illegalities and anomalies attended that election. They ensured that materials left late to the polling units. In my own polling unit for instance, voting materials got to my polling unit at 4pm. The exercise was also marred by missing result sheets, deliberately so.
In some others, they instigated violence, which was why, there was no election at all in Mputu / Umunankwo Ward. There was no election in Ochuche/ Ogbakuba Ward; there was no election in Ogbe-Ukwu which was part of Odekpe Ward; there was no election in Ohita community.
Ask anybody in Ogbaru, those are my strongholds. And the influence of the security in the entire charade. It was such that at a time, the Governor himself, Willie Obiano had to come to Ogbaru to try to manipulate the process. And you would ask; why would a Governor leave his own polling unit, his own local government, his own federal constituency to come to another place like Ogbaru.
It is because he had sworn that even if it is only one seat that APGA was going to capture in the House of Representatives election, it was going to be Ogbaru federal constituency because he imposed the speaker of the state legislature (Mrs. Chinwe Nwaebili) on the federal constituency. But the people of Ogbaru typical of them resisted him successfully. That was what happened. We were short-changed, but, unlike some other politicians we are not crying about it. We take it as part of the sacrifices we must make for the sustenance of democracy.
How do you see the in-coming APC –led federal government? What should we be expecting as Nigerians.
Well, it is not change by itself in the name. Change has been blowing in the air, at least over the last one year. The only people who refused to see it, take it, are my people of the South East.
They are the only political zone that was blinded when people of other zones knew that change was imminent.
As for expectations arising from the victory of the All Progressives Congress, I can tell you straight away that it can no longer be business as usual as we have seen over the 16 years of the PDP administration. If not for nothing, everybody knows that the President elect, Muhammad Buhari is not one who would condone corruption; he is not one that will condone the current ways of doing things in Nigeria where by service, there is widespread corruption, there is nepotism.
Those are things we are sure he will fight, beginning with blockage in the leakages in our oil revenue. If we get only that right, I can assure you that Nigerian economy will pick up once more if we can block the leakages in oil exploration, oil production and oil receipts. So the change that is already here with us is sure to usher in a new dawn in Nigerian nation.
Would you challenge the outcome of the result of the election in your federal constituency during the March 28, 2015 presidential / National Assembly election in the tribunal?
There are two levels of seeking redress in an election. One is the party. The party has a right to seek redress, individual also has a right to seek redress. But if you followed what happen in Ogbaru, you will know that the people of Ogbaru feel elated, and, I am not going to spoil their joy. They felt emasculated by Governor Willie Obiano.
And any way by which they get their freedom, I am sure that they will be happy with that, rather than truncating that joy. So the APC in the state is at liberty to seek redress. My lawyers are also studying the papers. Don’t forget that all the papers haven’t come in. They are still studying the situation. I am saying that all in all, I, as Honourable Victor Afam Ogene will side with the people of Ogbaru in ensuring that no imposed candidate will represent them.
Do you regret quitting APGA.
No regret at all. Given another opportunity, I will do it all over. However, the only regret appears to be the fact that a Pharaoh who does not know Joseph came to the Throne. And so, instead of taking the people to the expected Promised Land, he has decided to maroon them in Egypt. And we can now see the consequences of his bravado.
For a man who met five elected representatives at the national level to drop so abysmally to a point where he had to use raw state power to maintain just two seats in the House of Representatives, then I think that something is not adding up . And going ahead to lose three senatorial seats as a sitting governor who has been prancing up and down as not only the national leader of the party, the BOT chairman and at the same time as governor, in the same spirit that Victor Umeh has held APGA in the jugular in the past ten years, it is the same way that Chief Willie Obiano has decided to conscript APGA and its members into his pockets. But his pockets are not big enough to contain all the people to make APGA what it should be. And as you may know, impunity does not last forever.
A political party whose national chairman does not have the glory of an elected person, even as a counselor, he has never won an election even as a councilor, and goes ahead to fail a senatorial election; losing to a female co-contestant who only a few months ago, you described as a political prostitute coming now to trounce you in an election who will have any regret leaving a party of egoistic individuals? I don’t think anybody will have any regret.
We have rather proven to them that power belongs to the people. And that is why I also told you that in my re-election quest, all my campaigns, I never asked the people of Ogbaru to vote for me; all I told them was ‘don’t allow an impostor to impose a candidate on you’. And to the glory of God the people listened to me. So, the governor and his candidate failed woefully. That is enough victory for me.
The irony now is that while you are saying that Governor Obiano has destroyed APGA, we are hearing that he is making plans to cross over to APC where he chased you to. What is your reaction?
Yes, I also heard the rumour that Governor Obiano summoned his party stalwarts, party executives in all the local governments to his Aguleri country home where he made veiled reference to the fact that he might be looking to the way of the APC. My immediate response was that he is not welcomed because he should first clean up the mess in APGA before thinking of jumping ship.
APC, if you followed the history of its formation welcomed people who had something to bring to the table. What will he bring to the table? Every single governor who joined the coalition that metamorphosed into APC brought something to the table.
What is Governor Obiano taking to the APC table when he does not have even one elected senator? He managed to smuggle two House of Reps seats that are still contentious. I would rather advise that he stays in APGA and cleans the mass. He should try to see that Anambra still maintains a hold on APGA instead of trying to abandon an empty shell he created. Some of us will not allow him. We will block him.
Of course the link is obvious. Like the national leader of our party, Senator Isiwaju Bola Tinubu would always say, ‘power is not given to anybody freely; you fight for power, you canvass for power, and in extreme cases you should be ready to make extreme sacrifice in defence of your beliefs, and ideals.
It is the executive arm that took that decision to remove the speaker. The legislature is a different arm of the government. Our resolute stand at the time was against high handedness wherein the executive branch of government would always interfere in the activities in the legislature.
But don’t forget that in June, 2011, we decided that we will regulate our conduct by choosing our own leaders in the national assembly. But in each step on the way, as the executive tried to bring down the legislature, and, I thank God we resisted it, and we are still going to resist it to the very end, until such a time another session takes over.
What is your next line of action considering that you didn’t scale re-election.
I don’t have a next line of action. Shakespeare says what concerns us will be last said; it is not about me. I keep re-iterating; it is about the people, the people, the people. At the end of the day, I, as Victor Afam Ogene, I am fine. I am a professional. So I wouldn’t be looking for job. But what is paramount is: What happens to your people? What is their stake in the scheme of thing?
And that is why I feel so sad that Igbo nation which used to be top political strategists, this time around got it all wrong such that even outside the political spheres somebody like Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka had to even come into the equation. And I thought that my people will take heed of his message out what happened.
They threw the baby away with the bath-water. If you look at the configuration today, the Presidency is gone, Vice-Presidency, the Senate presidency, speaker of the House of Representative, the CJN are gone; no Igbo man is there. What it means is that where decisions will be taken pertaining to Nigerian nation over the next few years, there will be no Igbo man sitting in those meetings.
Even in this out-going dispensation, even though we were fringe players, at least we had Igbo man attending such meetings intermittently. This is because if the senate president was not attending such meetings, his deputy, Ike Ekweremmadu was there. If speaker Aminu Tambuwal was not attending such meetings, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, as his deputy, would attend. But in the next dispensation no Igbo man will have such opportunity.
As the court will say, ‘there is no Father Charismas in Politics’. This is because out of the 15 senators from the South East none is of APC; of all the House of Representatives seats from the South East, none is APC. So how would you get Speaker of the House of Representatives or President of the Senate? So, clearly it is not about our collective destiny.
And that is why I would at any given opportunity, eulogise the foresightedness of the late Chuba Okadigbo. People know that even as the Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo was part of those who set up APGA. When they got the APGA certificate, the very first person it was taken to was the late Chuba Okadigbo. He was not selfish.
Even though he was a top PDP member, he contributed to the setting up of APGA so that his people will have a fallback position. But our current leaders, because of their mercantilist disposition have decided to look after themselves while neglecting the interest of the entire people of the South East geo-political zone. So, while the victory of APC was a happy day for me, it was also a sad reminder for the low depth that my people have sunk politically.
Rev Fr. Ejike Mbaka of the popular Catholic Adoration Ministry, Enugu was almost crucified based on his prophesy about the just conduced presidential election. But the result has vindicated him. What is why reaction to the way Ndigbo reacted to his prophesy considering that they refused to take the prophesy seriously?
We should have listened to his voice. But we neglected both man and God because like I pointed out earlier, Igbos used to be the finest crop of political strategists, but what has happened to us since 1999, we have missed every major position we have gone for through some very deliberate and obvious political miscalculations. Is it from 1999, when Dr Alex Ekwueme who appeared like a president in-waiting was disappointed up to the musical political chess- game that was played on us?
We had senate presidency and we were rotating it around the various states in the South East until 2007 when we could produce neither the president nor the vice-president nor even the senate president, nor even the speaker till date.
So, I don’t know really what has happened; why we have descended from our Olympian height in which other regions held us in awe to such low depth that we have become the scorn of other people, and, a laughable race for other political zones to spite on. It is such a disgrace that out of the eight or nine protocol list of Nigeria, no Igbo man will be found in the coming dispensation. And all those people who led Ndigbo to this political Golgotha, they will account for their sins on the Igbo nation because it was their deliberate mercantile policy for their families and pockets that contributed to this mess. The Nigerian federation will not wait for an Igbo to catch up.
PDP zoned speakership of the House of Reps to the Yorubas, but it did not materialize. Who will come and beg you to be given any position in Nigeria? You must strategize for any position that you want. People of the South East did not strategize for any of those positions and nobody is going to reward them for their indolence; equity does not reward indolence.
If Governor Obiano and the other leaders of the APGA come to you tomorrow and apologize for the alleged unjust treatment meted to you in the party and plead with you to come back to APGA to help in rebuilding the party, will you accept?
I will prefer to answer you this question with an Igbo proverb because I know you are Igbo person. Madu a narapu ebe a na echi ozo we gaba ebe an aru agwu (Should one leave the place of coronation to the place of mourning?).