Chris Ngige is the minister of Labour and Productivity. He is a former governor of Anambra State and a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks on how APC leaders will battle the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South East.
In 2015, President Buhari secured less than 200,000 votes in the South East and of recent, leaders from that region who are members of APC have been boasting that it would be different this time around. With Peter Obi coming from that region, how will your party achieve this feat?
Yes, the PDP has a vice presidential candidate from my zone and I can tell you that it won’t be easy for them. See, politics and winning of election is all about calculation and strategic positioning and measured steps towards a direction. Two things are happening; in 2015 election there was no voting in most of the South East and South South states. Votes were allocated. The card reader hadn’t become functional. It was just new and it can be tampered with and at the end of the day, most votes were allocated.
So, Muhammadu Buhari was allocated 18,000 votes in the entire Anambra State. Is it possible? When my Local Government Area alone has 80,000 registered voters and the one next to that has 200,000 registered voters. You are talking about 280,000 votes. So, they were allocated votes. Even if they want to allocate now, they can’t do it because they are not in charge of police and army as it were. They took police, army, navy everything and armoured tank and drove us away. In fact, they put a price on my head when I was going to the collation centre. I got a call and they said I shouldn’t go because the situation has been taken over from the centre, but I refused. I wanted to go because I am not afraid of death. So my boys insisted and I said they can go. So, they started chasing them about. It was my boys chasing them around that resulted in the writing of only 600,000 votes for Jonathan against the 1.2 million votes promised that they were to bring. This time, it won’t happen. They will go and cast votes and whatever is cast is what we will announce.
We are not interested in rigging or chasing people about with armoured tank. That is one thing. Secondly, the vice presidential candidate of the PDP is former governor, Peter Obi, my successor in Anambra State. I can tell you that those who are shouting that Obi is this and that are the elites who are looking for one thing or the other and people who don’t believe that Muhammadu Buhari has done something good in their lives because he is already building infrastructure for them. They want money. They want all the monies that have been trapped by the TSA to be pushed down again on the table for them to start taking. That one is no longer possible. Peter Obi hasn’t been a wonderful governor as people expected him to be because I am the one to tell you because I know what I handed over to him. He is making noise that he handed money over to Obiano. I was the first to leave money. I left N13.8 billion cash in the bank and I am not counting the bank shares we bought and dividends, but because of propagandists, they shouted that he left N80 billion for Obiano and I left a lot of infrastructure work done. So for people to say because he chose Obi this will happen is false. Nothing will happen. If anything, Peter Obi has no influence in South East apart from Anambra. Even in Anambra Central Senatorial district, we are going to battle him there. Presently I can tell you that in Anambra State Obi and I will struggle for the votes. We are not going to be pushed down like we were the last time.
What do you make of the recent endorsement of Atiku by the leadership of Ohanaeze?
Ohanaeze is a socio cultural organisation. In a bid to please their masters, they went overboard. First, they went overboard to do an endorsement in November 2018 and when the strategy committee of Ohanaeze confronted them in the executive, they denied. They said they endorsed them just like every other person whereas, the clips showed that they were in that meeting and 99.9 per cent of the people in attendance were from the PDP. Only very few came there without knowing that it was an induction and I am telling you we found it difficult to still conceal what they were doing. So, just two weeks ago, they put this meeting on a date that Mr. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was visiting Anambra State to commission the conference centre. I personally spoke to the Ohanaeze President who is my personal friend of many years and I said to him we have a guest so he should do us that favour of moving this meeting. I told him that I had just received the invitation to another day so that we can all attend and so that the governors of the South East will also be involved. These were functions created for that day and he said no that he couldn’t do it because the meeting had been long fixed and so, finally he said we can move the hours from 11 am and I said fine. It was moved from 4 to 7pm. The governor of Ebonyi State, who is the chairman of governor’s forum, I called him.
So, by 6pm, we saw off the president at Enugu airport and we started heading to the meeting which we arrived around 6:30 pm and we were told that the meeting was concluded about 20 minutes past 5pm and that they had endorsed the candidate of the PDP. Two things are clear; Ohanaeze is a socio -cultural organisation not known for endorsement of any candidate. What you are supposed to be doing is to get the candidates here and get from them your demands and not going to endorse. It is there clear in our constitution that we are not aligning with any political party and some people have tried it before unfortunately they got their fingers burnt.
In 2015, the immediate predecessor of Nwodo, Prince Igali and the Secretary-General, went and endorsed President Jonathan and said it is Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan and that he is their brother. They failed because President Buhari beat Jonathan in 2015 election. The claim of marginalisation came because of that endorsement and even the award and allocation of votes that followed thereafter, some APC members used it against all of us in the APC. They said there was no vote from us and that the election was won without an input from the South East, and that gave rise to the famous 5 per cent.
In any case, we are all human beings. If someone looks you in the face and say ‘I will not vote for you’ and you eventually win the election and he didn’t vote for you and you saw that he didn’t vote for you, would you be very happy? You won’t be very happy. However, I am not trying to justify anything at. All I am saying is that, we can’t be adopting candidates.
But for our brothers who came to see Mr. President, it wasn’t an adoption. It was a case of coming to say thank you for the infrastructure development that has taken place in the South East. The second Niger Bridge we can see it. He (Buhari) has put out N3 billion. No other government has done it. He put it in the national budget and put it as a flagship project in Nigeria and we are funding it. It’s unlike the previous governments that say it should be done on an IPP basis.
Okonji Iweala told us when they came to the Senate caucus of the South East in 2011 that it was an IPP that they are doing on second Niger Bridge and investors are coming. I told them that they should clear away from here with the kind of proposal. We did a bridge to connect FCT which cost N80 billion. It was funded from federal budget and at that time they came the Niger Bridge was estimated at N110 billion and Madam Okonji and my friend Pius Anyim were saying that it would be built on IPP and I said no and that was what happened. Today, this man (Buhari) is building the second Niger Bridge. He is building Enugu to Okigwe, to Uhumaia, to Port Harcourt. These projects were abandoned in the last 16 years. He is building Enugu to Oji River, Awka to Onitsha also abandoned during PDP regime. So, I have no apologies to say that Buhari is doing well and that is what our people came to do by telling Mr. President thank you. The people who came are members of the Imobe who don’t believe in what Nwodo and his group have done.
A lot of us and the South East governors don’t believe in what they have done. Governor Obiano has voiced his own out. I have paid my dues. I was president of Aki ‘Ikenga for six years. So nobody can talk to me about Ohanaeze or Igbo politics and no one can tell me that he loves Igbo more than me. The Igbo of Anambra know that I love them more than any of these people that are parading themselves up and down. I put my life on the line for the people of Anambra State so that they would have good things and I am also ready to put it on the line again for the Igbo nation so that they can secure their future in the nation and the only way they can secure their freedom is for them to follow a man who has shown signs that he loves everybody, that he is working for everybody.
People say that Obi will be the vice president. What is Vice President? The position of a vice president is a standby generator. It is a spare tyre you can decide not to use your spare tyre for six years. I have a vehicle that is six years old and I have never used the spare tyre. So the shortest route for the president of Igbo extraction for the Igbo is for them to vote for APC and in 2023 by the rotation principle, it will come back to the South and when it comes back to the South on moral grounds it will be the turn of the people of the South East. So we must struggle for it and it starts now. We must show our party that we can deliver. We must show our party that if we are given the ticket in South East we can do something with it.
Is there any promise by the leadership of APC that the South East will get the presidency in 2023?
Well, decisions of this nature are not taken four years away from when it will happen. According to the late wordsmith of Nigerian politics, he said when ‘the come comes to become, the men would be separated from the boys.’ So when 2023 comes, the party will speak. We are being realistic. It is those that are saying the vice president in PDP is a step away from presidency that are building castle in the air and not us in APC.