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Change has been in the air since last year, only Ndigbo refused to see it – Ogene

By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
H
onourable 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.

Victor Afam Ogene
Victor Afam Ogene

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?).


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