By Lekan Bilesanmi
Chief Okwuchukwu is a former Organising Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State. In this interview, Okafor insists the PDP remains the party to beat in the governorship election coming up in the state later this year.
A major problem of the PDP in Anambra appears to be perennial rancour, especially before and during elections. How is the party putting its house in order preparatory to the next governorship election in Anambra State?
The rancour in Anambra State chapter of the PDP is not peculiar to the PDP but is pronounced because it is a party that has more membership and more popular political leaders. Despite the problems in our party and the issue of multiple candidature that we witnessed during past elections, PDP has continued to win elections in the state except the governorship election of 2010 and 2014. In the two elections, we lost because the candidates the party nominated were not able to unite the party behind them. The leadership of our party at these periods was not able to also mediate and address all the conflicting interests.
Secondly, we must not forget that APGA had its fair share of crisis in the run up to that 2014 election. The National Chairman, Victor Umeh, was fighting to retain his position in court and won it back at the Appeal Court. Meanwhile, some strong governorship aspirants were disqualified few weeks to the primary and one or two even went to court to challenge the action. APGA was able to win that election because Peter Obi reconciled the warring interests whilst PDP remained rudderless and the candidate was campaigning as if federal might was going to deliver the seat.
Today, the ruling party, APGA, is embroiled in a fresh crisis that has landed it in court, and even when it is normal to assume the incumbent governor has the right of first refusal, there is someone else already aspiring for the seat within APGA. On our part, PDP is talking within its rank and file, and I am seeing those interested in the governorship talking and mingling, trying to develop some understanding. I believe we all have realised what disunity has cost us, and we are more responsible in the leadership now than was the case before. Another factor working for the PDP in Anambra is the presence of Peter Obi who had proven to be adept in conflict resolution and actually had dealt peacefully with many of the PDP leaders whilst he was governor in APGA. Don’t forget he was at the head of APGA when the PDP lost the two elections in 2010 and 2014.
Talking about rancour, the PDP is being deserted both at the state and national levels. Is that not a sign that the election is lost even before it began?
That some of our strong members are defecting to the APC is pitiable. I feel pity for them because whilst some may think these people are deserting PDP, many see them as deserting the Igbo interest. It is clear what we face today as Ndi Igbo in Nigeria. Someone had questioned why those who gave them five percent should get equal attention. The country is looking for 30 billion dollars external loan and no single project in the loan funding plan is in the whole of the South-East. Our demand that they should give us six states like other zones is not being considered. My younger brothers and sisters making demand in peace are being cut down; yet what the representatives of Anambra at the federal level who were elected by Ndi Anambra on the platform of PDP find worthwhile is to cross over at the green and red chambers to the ruling APC is regrettable. PDP is not the loser from these actions of my brethren who are crossing over. Rather, in Anambra, their temporary absence will enable us reconcile faster and work harder to serve our people. Note that I said, temporary, because I believe they will be back before 2019, once they realise the futility of their actions .
How do you assess the performance of the Willie Obiano administration in the last three years?
Were I to assess this administration on my standards and expectations of a state government, I would not hesitate to tell you that it is a complete failure. This is a government that has not created employment or opportunities for youth and women in about three years; that has neither rehabilitated fully one road outside the governor’s town nor improved the environmental sanitation, or provided any improvement in the health sector leading to high rate of preventable mortality is nothing more than a local government council we witness in Nigeria. If we had to assess them based on their campaign promises of 4Cs, their Four Pillars of Agriculture, security, their failure as a government becomes discernible.
Three years after, which of roads that was left uncompleted by the Peter Obi administration can they claim to have completed? And which one road of their own have they commenced and completed? Where is the boast of becoming number one in rice production? In the last season, we heard of Kebbi and Ebonyi accomplishments in rice production, where is the 900,000-metric tonnes of rice target from Anambra? How can you compete with a state that budgeted 38 billion naira for agriculture when our state budgeted 1 billion naira and is waiting for MOUs to achieve the dream.
They claim they have continued to maintain the security which Peter Obi started but I want to ask, is the state secure only when there is none or minimal kidnapping? Today, youth restiveness has been replaced with communal clashes obviously over land and union leadership struggle. The worst is that the Obiano government is interfering in the running of town unions, imposing leaderships and this is escalating strife across the state. They claim that they are paying salaries and asking us to clap for them, but I ask how they pay the salaries through borrowing.
Would they be able to pay salaries if they had not borrowed 25 billion naira? That is why there is nothing on the ground, except payment of salaries and signing of MOUs, and soliciting for awards. This is a government that inherited over 28 billion naira in cash balances and goes to borrow 25 billion naira less than 24 months after. They have destroyed the local government system by ensuring there are no elections, not even appointed Chairmen. What is then being done with the more than two billion naira monthly allocation to these 21 local governments? This has been the most extravagant state government Anambra has had, and that is why Champagne is popped regularly and Christmas celebrated with millions of naira on fireworks.
If you think the administration isn’t doing well, what is the alternative?
The last two administrations of Dr. Chris Ngige of PDP and Mr. Peter Obi of APGA proved to everyone that, despite our inadequate federal allocations, we could look inwards and make judicious use of the limited resources to develop our state. Ngige rehabilitated about 200 kilometers of roads in three years whilst Obi rehabilitated over 800 kilometers of road establishing one of the very best road networks in the country. Peter Obi reformed the educational infrastructure, resulting in the state students excelling in external examinations. Everyone had looked forward to the incoming administration improving in other areas whilst maintaining the established standard in security, education and road infrastructure.
The Obiano administration has been found wanting in this regard. There is nothing being done about creating wealth and empowering our youth and women. Imagine that in 2014, only about 1,000 farmers were provided with seedlings when there are over 20,000 registered farmers in the state. Even the roads that were rehabilitated are not being maintained. Many of the roads whose drains should have been de-silted are filled with sand and, with the coming rains, many more are going to have erosion of their surfaces.
That is why we are saying Ndi Anambra can do it better. It can be done better and if we allowed this present administration to do another four years, the state would collapse. The present conflicts amongst communities would grind our state to a halt, poverty and loss of opportunities will force our youth into criminal activities, and our educational system, will break down. We need to have our youth gainfully engaged and government promoting activities that will create wealth and empower them. We need to reform our health care delivery system not the privatisation of government hospitals that is going to make healthcare unaffordable for our people. Any person can go round signing MOUs but what happens thereafter?
The crackdown on corruption particularly on the judiciary has been received with mixed feelings. What is your take?
I will continue to maintain that corruption and debased values and norms remain the cause of our stunted economic development in Nigeria. Corruption in all its facets from abuse of public office to bribery and stealing of government funds is encouraged because we lack appropriate values. The judiciary ought to be the last hope for social justice in the society and the truth is that we are all aware that bribery is not alien within the judiciary which is supposed to be the last bastion of justice. As such, it would have been useless fighting corruption without attempting to cleanse the judiciary. The only problem persons like me have against the government agencies combating corruption is that often they are not fighting within the rules of engagement. Accused persons rights must be respected and court orders no matter how distasteful they may be must be adhered to.
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