I Won’t Be Igbo Megaphone In Senate – Ikpeazu

I Won’t Be Igbo Megaphone In Senate – Ikpeazu

Abia State Governor and Senatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Abia South Senatorial District, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, in this interview with journalists speaks of his expectations in the forthcoming general elections, his senatorial ambition, insecurity in the South-East and issues surrounding violent agitations, among others. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there for Aljazirah NIGERIA.

What’s your pitch to Abia South electorate in your senatorial race against an experienced senator like Enyinnaya Abaribe?

Luckily for me, I’m running this election on my track record and I challenge all those who are running the same election to show their scorecards. Former Governor Orji Uzor-Kalu has had 25 bills and motions in the Senate in four and half years, former Governor Theodore Orji has had 12 to his name in seven and half years, and the man you’re talking about has had only two since 2007 that’s for 16 years. You can research and see it. In the first place, if a person has the people’s mandate, his intervention, his service, and his stewardship should be obtained from the mandate you were given. The person should not change the mandate. The person should not go to the Nigerian senate and arrogate himself the Public Relations Officer of Ignore people or whatever he calls himself. He was sent there to develop bills, support bills, move motions, and create laws that’ll benefit the ordinary person from Abia South because we’re traders. We’re champions in SMEs.

I give it to him, he has promoted made in Aba in his own way because at times he organizes Trade Fair and all that, but that’s not also why he was sent there. He was sent there to craft laws that’ll give an enabling environment for the traders and the SMEs to thrive. We expect him to speak to the Federal Government to the point where they’ll provide funds, and machinery and also provide a window for SMEs and trading to flourish. He took the job of Igbo PRO when he discovered that he has failed in the other parameters and needed to adjust.

As I speak to you, you can’t see a single Federal Government presence in Abia South. The road that leads from Aba to Port Harcourt which is the oxygen valve into the Aba trading community, you can’t go there. Before I became governor, the road to Calabar cannot be accessed and someone is still there talking. Custom officers are still coming to Warehouses in Aba to search and impound goods and somebody is there as a senator talking. It takes one month to convey a container from Apapa Wharf to Aba. A trader who borrows money from the bank with interest to pay will have his goods in the Wharf for six months and the interest will keep growing without him making any profit. The dollar would have jumped up and down by then and the man cannot break even. All of these have been happening for 16 years at what point will the change come?

This and more was the reason why I’m currently remodelling Ariaria International Market and you can see what I’ve done there. I have also opened the channels through which Akwa-Ibom people can come to trade in Aba through Ekwereazu road, dualization of Ururuka Road, through Ukaegbu, Umuola and Ehere Road. Also through the Eziukwu Road that connects to the Cemetery Market, through Osusu Road and Faulks Road leads to Ariaria as well as Ngwa Road that connects to Ahia-Ohuru. For the SMEs, I’ve sent 30 persons to China for capacity building. I’ve built a brand-new garment factory and a brand-new shoe factory that produces 5000 shoes including the ones used by NYSC members. So, the quality of shoes and products from Aba has improved. I have also enhanced the return of Geometric Power in Aba which will cover nine local governments in Abia State. I supported them to get the support 50 million dollars from Afreximbank.

Today, power in Aba is about 18 hours and will be made 24 hours very soon. However, it’s a better improvement now than where it used to be as we await further improvement. I’ve promoted the Enyimba Economic City to the point that I’m convinced that even if it didn’t happen while I’m governor, I’m sure in the life of the next government that Enyimba Economic City will be a tangible reality. Trying to create a Dubai, a manufacturing platform for the first time that will enable the Igbo man to manufacture and export for the time without going to Lagos, Kano, Abuja or Port Harcourt. These are things I need to follow up with to make sure I get the Federal Government’s impetus to deal with them. Because I know the problems and I’ve plotted a pathway that can create a sustainable solution. I’m not going to the Senate to be the mouthpiece of Ndigbo. I’m going there to be the advocate of the issues that concern my people in Abia South which has to do with all those who do their businesses there, visit there, and reside there notwithstanding where they hail from. I’m going to attract infrastructure, I’m going to intervene in ways that’ll affect their lives positively. Our people are still backwards in terms of ICT and I think there’s a need for us to have a huge change. It’s not going to be difficult for me.

All I need is to push issues to the fore. Judge me with what I’ve done. If anybody has done better than me in any way, vote for that person. But if not, trust me. Everything I said I’ll do as Governor, I may have not been able to do 100 per cent of them, but at least I achieved 80 per cent. These things are clear. In Aba, I’ve reduced the travelling time between Osisioma Junction and the City centre. Before, it may take about one hour, but now it’s less than five minutes to do that on the account of that flyover there. Ariaria is becoming a true International Market now with CCTV everywhere. As we speak now, more works are ongoing on different roads like Faulks Road. Somebody said that a Governor for four years is bigger than a Senator for 20 years and I say that’s the worst exhibition of ignorance. These are two different positions with two different roles. Okay, where are the laws that are protecting the interest of Aba traders, where is the advocacy that’ll make sure the customs will not do what they’re doing in Aba? Is it the governor that’ll make these Federal laws?

So, this is my way of saying that we cannot justify failure nor are we going to change the goalpost in the middle of the game. We’re not going to ask anybody to set his questions in an examination and still answer them. We sent someone for an assignment and we’ve seen nothing. I can’t even name one completed project by NDDC in Abia South. With due respect, he has been Deputy Governor and whatever credit that is accruable to his service years as a public servant, I leave it with him, but going forward, we need somebody that’s a little bit more innovative that understands the problems of our people and can address such problems. What if the people say enough of this Igbo advocacy, let’s talk about what concerns us. You need to be an Aba man, an Abia South man and an Abia man before you become an Igboman. There’s no Igboman that doesn’t have a state of origin.

How are South-East governors handling this issue of sit-at-home that’s threatening peaceful election in the zone?

It’s a very unfortunate thing. Let me start by saying that I don’t know about this Simon Ekpa. I understand the philosophy behind what Nnamdi Kanu was saying and he was very reasonable in his argument but what I didn’t agree with was his style. He’s also available for discussion because if the Federal Government had agreed to talk with him, assured and reassured him of steps that were being taken to ensure that things didn’t escalate we probably wouldn’t be here. But Ekpa is a total embarrassment. I saw video clips of about five young boys who were shut as they came to burn down a police station in Anambra State. So, we keep destroying our youths, we keep killing them and showing them to a road that leads nowhere. Very soon somebody will say he’s supporting Ekpa as Igbo agenda that’s not what we need now.

On your question about what the governors are doing, I’m not the chairman of the South-East Governors Form, however, our position initially was to set up Ebubeagu on the one hand and said we’re going to engage. What we meant by the engagement at that time was to talk with the Federal Government because they had Nnamdi Kanu in custody. But I think it’s also hypocritical for the Federal Government to think that the solution to this problem will come from the state government alone. For me, I’ve advised my citizens not to listen to Ekpa.

We have respect for Nnamdi Kanu even as we agree with his style and we think that if he’s engaged properly, we can get something with the IPOB issue. But this Ekpa, I’ve told everybody not to listen to him at all because he has no point. He’s in Finland and I expect that we should use a two-pronged approach. While we try to hold down our citizens down here to ignore him, the Federal Government should engage the diplomatic gear to make sure he’s brought home.

The Finnish government cannot be in Nigeria and their ambassador is listening to broadcasts and post on the internet that creates tension, and disaffection, leading to murder and arson and we still maintain such relationships. So, we don’t have to wait until it gets too serious. I think that the IGP should engage Interpol and the Minister of Foreign Affairs should engage the Ambassador. If it gets to a point, the leader of the Finnish government should also be called by our president to alert him on this. Nigeria should launch a report to the Finnish government and the international community to officially say that Ekpa is a nuisance who stays in Finland to launch attacks and missiles that are killing our people, destroying businesses and livelihoods and threatening our democracy. We need to escalate this and this is not what the state government alone can do.

As we approach the 2023 presidential election, how do you rate the chances of the candidates?

I wouldn’t want to make any predictions now, but for me, I still believe that the PDP presidential candidate still needs to do one or two things just like I think Obi still has to do one or two things going forward. As for Tinubu, I don’t envy him because of the facade there is that some of his party people are fighting him. But he’s a very experienced politician and a very good strategist. If he is in his element, he’s going to be very formidable at the end of the day because they never gave him a chance to emerge at the primaries but he emerged somehow.

So, that same thing could play out. If I’m in this race, I’ll not ignore Tinubu. I will not also ignore any of the candidates. But I don’t want us to make religion or ethnicity a major factor because it will further divide us. We’re already broken as a country and we don’t need to put another hot knife through our butter.

What should Nigerians go for while choosing their next president?

Sincerely speaking, at times I like to see myself not as a leader or politician, but just as ‘citizen Okezie’ who is just a Nigerian. I think we the political class have succeeded in confusing the people of Nigeria so much. We’re now afraid of change because of the calamity that fell upon us as a result of the change we embraced in 2015. So looking at that, I think Tinubu’s greatest burden is the record of his party since 2015.

But there’s this notion that he’s not campaigning with the records of his party?

How far can a human being separate himself from his buttocks? It’s a big problem for him because it’s difficult to detach himself from his party. If you put me in his shoes, I’ll own my party and campaign with whatever is left of the party because he was part of the force that brought the party. So, if he denies that party now, it means he may have become a fair-weather person. Just like what President Olusegun Obasanjo said a few years ago when he was campaigning against President Goodluck Jonathan that it’s a different thing to give a person a job but you cannot do the job for the person. I don’t think it’s a good thing to do that.

The hallmark of leadership is the ability to also choose. So, when you stand surety and said to Nigerians, vote for Mr A, I should be able to say you are with Mr A. If he turns out good fine, but if it doesn’t turn out quite good, you should be able to say you’re sorry you did it, but let’s move forward. So, it gives us an idea of where you are coming from that you’re sincere and that’s you. If nobody wants to take responsibility and nobody wants to be part of it because it’s not looking as expected now, then it means also that there’s something we need to adjust about our leadership paradigm.

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