By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Hon. Blessing Nwagba is the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, for Abia State. The second term member of the state House of Assembly, in this interview, says Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have failed the people.
Before the primary elections, you were a member of the PDP. What informed your crossing over to the SDP? Was it run for Abia Governorship election?
It’s true that I had been a founding executive member of the PDP as far back as 1998 and contributed my quota to the development and growth of Abia through the party. Back then, it was about adding value to people through governance, in Aba and in Abia, hence my contest and victory into the Abia House of Assembly under the platform of Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) in 1998. And so when the PDP emerged as a national platform, we embraced it locally, knowing that it was a platform to push our ideologies and seek to secure the future of Abia State. I was one of the people who built the party in the state. While far from perfect, there was a critical mass of the party that embodied the values that matter to me and the progressives I identify with. Internal democracy ensured that there was a meritocracy of ideas.
Personal interests and egos were subordinated to the common good. We were obsessed with working for the people to see that we alleviate their poverty. In a sense, it was like a family. Back then, we were just entering a new democratic political dispensation after living in constant tyranny from one military dictator to another. There was hope that we would finally be able to put our future into our own hands and pave a brighter path for generations to come. With the support of my late husband, the great Pharmacist Israel Nwagba, my father-in-law, my family and my community, I jumped right in with my two feet, not minding the risks and extremely difficult terrain of politics especially for women. Unfortunately, the structure of our democracy is still such that power is concentrated away from the people and passed around; maybe this is a remnant of our past dictatorship. Over time the PDP lost its values.
The passing around of power increasingly relegated progressive people in pursuit of personal interests. It was like the State was now being shared between cronies and some sort of boys’ club. If certain tenets of governance or administration were no longer being practiced, including internal democracy in the operations of the party, there was no point hanging around and eroding my values. It does not take long for these things to show up as deteriorating governance, as you can see today. So for me I have done the much I could, trying to see that things were straightened, trying to see that we did what we promised the people, trying to see that we focused on picking our absolute best, trying to ensure that women and youth were not ignored in leadership. When I discovered the people to whom power had been passed around had no desire to uphold these, I am sorry I just couldn’t continue to manage.
Did the party derail before or after your primary election because it was on their platform that you sought the ticket for the House of Representatives?
First of all, the issues that have propelled me to run for Governor go beyond primary party politics. It would be deceitful to reduce it to that. But let me take just a second to address your point about the mismanagement of the primaries. For me, what happened was only a manifestation of a fundamental breakdown of the party and loss of the basic tenets of governance that I alluded to earlier. The ticket was essentially gifted to an unpopular member of the boys’ club, in the face of overwhelming evidence and support for my candidacy. Delegates’ positions were threatened right at the polls, in broad daylight.
They cannot deny this. It is street talk, common knowledge. Till today, I receive calls from majority of the same delegates, highly embittered and feeling caged. I do not blame them. The more important point – one that was crystal clear to me even before the primaries, but particularly after that whole experience – is that the stakes here are too high, and enough is enough. This is about Abia, this is about 2.8 million people. It is for this reason that I have ever sought elective office. Abia deserves better and our People must be free and be enabled to prosper! We deserve better than eroding values and eroding infrastructure.
We deserve better than several months of unpaid workers and pensioners. We deserve better than treating a whole State like a hangout between cronies. And we certainly deserve better than a systemic exclusion of women and youth in governance. How is it possible for example, that under the PDP platform, not one single woman is a candidate for state or national office? Not a single one of the 35 positions. Meanwhile, I am the only woman in the Abia State House of Assembly; there might be no woman at all in that house in the next dispensation since none succeeded in the PDP primaries, and if PDP were the only party. So things are even getting worse. Luckily we have women running in SDP and in other parties. We must be free to pave a brighter path.
What are you offering the people?
And as I said during our world press conference in December, I made a bargain with the PDP 20 years ago that I would stand with the party if the party stood for the people. But in time, all kinds of people entered in – and the struggle was greatly diluted and principles completely lost. Particularly over the past 8 years, I have traveled the length and breadth of this state as a lawmaker. I have seen rising poverty like none other. I have seen industries crumble, and businesses taxed and levied to their own death. I have seen our young people go from being industrious traders and artisans, to sycophants rallying around government for cheap handouts. I have seen civil servants work for several months without pay. I have seen hopesand aspirations dashed, repeatedly. I have spoken about these issues severally in the past years and severally I was termed a critic or opposition to the same government I was in. One of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves is that we have time. The world is moving and leaving us behind.
ALSO READ: Delta 2019: What Ogboru’ll do differently
Abia may not have a future at this rate. And so, what my party (the SDP) and I are asking the great people of Abia State is to give us a chance. We are simply saying, that if you are interested in a political party that not only is emotionally invested in your wellbeing, but willingly proffers solutions to the key issues facing our people; if you are tired of the ‘Business as usual’ style of politics then, give us a chance and we will transform Abia positively for generations to come. Give us a chance to transform Abia’s agricultural sector and we will directly train, develop, and provide the necessary support needed by our farmers, and in exchange, they will not only feed our state, they will feed the entire country and beyond. We will not cart away funding (even those provided by external donors) for farmers. Give us the chance to create an enabling environment for small businesses to thrive and we will eliminate the use of touts and thuggery and build an effective, civilized method of ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of taxes together. Give me a chance to lead a government based on equity and results, and we shall eliminate the unfair policies that discourage our small business owners. Give us a chance to organize, train and empower our youth and women to discover and harness their God given talents for the betterment of our state; we are losing out on the power of a critical mass of us. That is what we offer.
Do you have the political structure in SDP to actualize your dream at this time?
Absolutely! As you know, the SDP is not an new party. Some of your readers might recall that SDP was the party that propelled the late great MKO Abiola to Presidential victory, in what was considered Nigeria’s greatest, fairest election. What we are doing currently is that we are constantly rebuilding our structure to match the needs of our people and the current times. We have amazing men, youth leaders and women leaders.
We have the most energetic young men and women volunteers, all eager to evangelize and spread the word of the value proposition of the Social Democratic Party. And when it comes to candidates of SDP, you will find a bright and diverse group of very sound individuals, all of whom are eager to serve their people- all over the country! In Abia State particularly, I am excited about the group of experienced, qualified, and independent men and women running as candidates to represent their people, and that makes me beyond optimistic that we have the right set of people to fully represent the interests of Abians.
You are running against an incumbent who is from your Ngwa clan and senatorial zone; and some other big wigs. Do you think you stand a chance among these people?
Yes of course we stand a strong chance because in actual fact our movement is bigger than any man or party. But this election is not about mathematical probabilities on whether or not I stand a chance against my opponents. It’s about who has the solutions our people need. It’s about whose party will be responsive and proactive with regards to the needs of our people. And then it is about whether the people will be allowed to make that choice ultimately.
Our 3 step agenda is based on 3 key pillars that include economic revitalization, infrastructural transformation and social development. We will revitalize our economy by working hand in hand with our small business owners and multinational conglomerates to unleash our agricultural potential and birth a real agro-industrial hub. We will revive manufacturing and empower our SMEs to thrive, and we will modernize our commercial spaces, most especially in Aba because ‘if Ariaria fails, Aba fails, Abia fails.’ We will invest heavily in transforming our infrastructure to ensure that Abia state is a state worthy of long term investments, and worthy to live and retire in. We will build up our educational institutions with a radical infusion of technology and innovation to ensure that our children are competitive in the 21st century.