*Says Ikpeazu on track to develop Abia
By Clifford Ndujihe
Ochiagha Reagan Ufomba, former governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA in Abia, was one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Ufomba, who returned to the PDP in 2017, in this interview spoke on the politics of Abia, and how Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is turning the fortunes of the state around. He also spoke on the state of the nation, how to save the country and why the Igbo should produce the President in 2023.
How do you look at governance in Abia State between 1999 and today given poor infrastructure, especially roads?
Abia is work in progress and to the best of my knowledge is making progress. We have had our ups and downs; it was the shortcomings that led me into contesting elections in 2011 so that we can better the lot of the people. Regrettably, we have not been able to actualise that.
You talked specifically about bad roads. Abia is the only state in the country that is bordered by seven states— Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra— all of them linked by federal roads and these federal roads are abandoned, totally abandoned and neglected.
So, when people talk of bad roads in Abia, we need to delineate federal roads from state roads. The basic problem is that until the nation is restructured to give room for states to manage certain structures within their localities, we will continue to have the issue of abandonment of roads, infrastructure, and all property belonging to the Federal Government.
Most of the federal roads ought to be handed over to the states. The Federal Government has no business coming to repair roads or construct roads in Abia or Ebonyi or any other state for that matter.
Can you assess the present PDP government in Abia
You don’t award marks to those who are still sitting in an exam hall; let the person finish first. We will be able to fully assess the performance of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu around 2022.
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He is on the right direction, salaries were owed before he came; he is filling the gap. This is the only government, to the best of my knowledge, that has done great roads in Abia.
Until recently and I will tell you to the shock of many critics, when I rejoined the PDP in 2017, I discovered that the government was being sabotaged. One of the federal roads he wanted to embark on, he was stopped from doing it.
There are letters and documents to prove that he was stopped from working on those roads. The flyover he is doing at Osisioma, I had to personally intervene when the issue of design came up. The Federal Government refused to release the design. I had to discuss with the Arab contractors. I went to the Federal Controller of Works in Umuahia; I went to the governor because the whole place was a mess.
I believe that you can still work for your people without being in government. So, I took out time and went to the governor, met the contractors, met the Federal Controller of Works and we worked to ensure that the design was released. It was released sometime this year.
So, when people say there is a centre table in Osisioma that has taken ages to complete, we also to have refer them to the cause of the delay, which was the design of the area. They did not know where to step down. You know what design the government was coming down with; you know Enugu Expressway is being reconstructed so he had been able to do that and work is in progress there.
Generally, we have asked the governor to do most of over nine federal roads in Aba alone – the Port Harcourt road, the Ngwa road, Aba-Owerri road, Okpara road, and so many of such roads.
What we have done is to ask the governor, go ahead and rebuild these roads. Whether you are refunded or not, whether you have the permission or not, go ahead and build these roads for the benefit of the people.
So, if you go to Abia today, you will notice that over 60 roads are under construction. That is why I said let us not assess Okezie by yesterday or today. Let’s give him time to run the new initiative and mandate we have given to him to move into federal roads and rebuild them.
Some leaders are clamouring for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023. What’s your position?
For me, 2023 is Igbo President or nothing. We don’t even need to debate it. When we returned to democratic rule in 1999, we had Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; all the parties gave their tickets to South-West. The South-West has had its turn.
After that, it went to late President Musa Ya Adua, from the North-West. After Yar’ Adua it went to South-South through President Goodluck Jonathan. So every other component using the tripod formula of North, West and East, have had their fill. It’s no longer debatable that the President should come from the South-East in 2023.
South-East leaders are clamouring for the presidency, the youths are clamouring for Biafra. How do you reconcile that?
Where there is inequity you have a lot of agitations. Even people like us are agitating. Should we clamour for Igbo presidency? We shouldn’t where you have a system that works. Since it’s zoned, should a component unit that fought for Nigeria’s independence clamour for the presidency? We shouldn’t, and I don’t want to go into immodest areas.
Anything you give to an Igbo man he turns to gold. Give Igbo man the presidency and Nigeria would work. If we want Nigeria to work, do we need to beg and say give it to a competent hand to manage?
Now, if you come to a country where your kin cannot be president, vice president, chief of staff to the President, secretary to government, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff, IG of police, head Customs, head Immigration, head the EFCC, head the NNPC , head of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, why won’t the youths agitate?
So, you see the injustice meted on our people. So the agitations are justified. Political patronage is where Nigeria is today. If you don’t know anybody you don’t get appointed, you don’t get employed.
Commerce has been destroyed in the South-East. Tariff is high up there. I was in the cement sector, we used to pay 10% today it’s 50%. So, instead of employment our brothers and sisters are now sacking, so there is unemployment all over the South-East. Why won’t there be agitation? There is hunger, poverty, and unemployment. The people are bound to react to the very hostile environment they have found themselves.
Fears about the future of the country
The fears are well founded and as long as we continue to treat one part of the country as kings and untouchables and the other as slaves and people who do not matter, people who cannot attain their destiny in their own country, the people are bound to react and you don’t beat a child and tell him how to cry.
Few days after a prominent Emir was kidnapped about eight people were shot dead. The other time it as Chibok school girls, the other day 40+ people who went to farm were slaughtered. So, why won’t there be fear?
We allow herdsmen to come into the country to slaughter Nigerians. Who grants them access? You can’t even have accurate information from those entrusted with leadership. So why won’t there be fear?
The way out is simple. Let’s go back to where we were; let every component unit return to regional government and stop these wastages.
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Having 109 senators and the humongous number representing us in Abuja and then back home we have another set of people running affairs is killing us. We must restructure this country to the extent that it becomes efficient and productive. If we don’t we would be crying every day.
You are back in PDP. What is the assurance that you will not leave again?
People like us have conscience. We are driven by our conscience and by what is right. I’m a founding member of the PDP and I served in that government in 1999. There was a dislocation caused by Orji Uzor Kalu leaving the party with quite a number of people.
We remained to rebuild the party, and I did say myself Vincebt Ogbulafor, and Adolphus Wabara, we contributed the first money that was used in building the party. I personally continued to fund the party and support the party, up to the point of going to court to stop the party from dismantling the state until they brought somebody to say we will give him automatic ticket.
That was not right as far as I’m concerned and the only way I protested was to go to court. I didn’t leave the party; I complained to the leadership of the party they didn’t listen, I went to court in Abuja to stop them but they didn’t listen.
Then the option I had was to temporarily leave in protest. In 2017 the leadership of the party appealed to me to come back, and I’m back to the house I built.
You were once governor candidate in Abia, in 2023. Do you want to contest that position?
To be the governor of Abia, yes. My vision remains the same, but I will take that decision in 2021-2022.
Is Abia charter of equity in favour of your anticipated aspiration?
Well, it does. In 1999, the governorship was in Abia North and the governor then was Orji Uzor Kalu. From Abia North, it came to Abia Central and then an Umuahia man by name TA Orji contested and won. Now, it is in Abia South.
In 2023 it would be returning through Abia Central. Power does not fly. It does not have wings; it has to walk back.
On the security situation in the country
I feel very embarrassed. Nobody believed that we could get to where we are today, where nobody can farm. People find it difficult to get to the farm; people find it difficult to do business of any kind due to insecurity.
Any nation where you have this level of insecurity, there can’t be foreign investment, and not even local investment. Nobody wants to invest in a hostile environment, and that is affecting employment.
Unfortunately, it’s happening under a retired general, somebody who vehemently opposed Jonathan for not doing enough. Today, people are now apologising to Jonathan as the best President we ever had. The man we thought was the Messiah has not lived up to expectation. It’s really unfortunate that we are where we are today.
What’s the way out
Nobody would have thought Buhari would fail to provide security because the fundamental, the cardinal objective of electing a President is for him to protect lives and properties which is enshrined in our constitution.
Some of us worked to bring him in in 2015. That was when he came in. For second term, I didn’t vote for him because already we have seen the style. If it’s not nepotism it’s a bad attitude. The way out is to vote out this government in 2023 and before then change the security chiefs.
We have all said this over and over again, control the herdsmen. Tackle terrorism. I don’t know why they are baptising terrorism by giving it another name, banditry.
The government knows those who are behind these acts, they know the bandits using their own words; they know them and their sponsors, they know those who have said we are behind this action here, they know those who are saying if you kill one of us we would kill 20 here and there. Why are they not being arrested?
It is simple. Sit up and get these people arrested; use them as an example to other people who may want to take up terrorism or banditry as a way of life.