Balance of political forces makes rigging Imo guber impossible, says Ararume
Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, the gubernatorial candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in this interview with LEO SOBECHI traces the crisis of governance in Imo State, stressing that the calibre of candidates in the election would make rigging impossible.
How far have you gone in reconciling with aggrieved APGA members on the aftermath of the governorship primary?
Every primary election has its peculiar challenges. When I joined APGA, there were 23 aspirants who had been there before me. So, it is natural that everyone would think that he or she would win.
But the fact remains that I have the best political structure in Imo State, the Destiny group; it has been there for a long time, and its members are everywhere. Therefore, you cannot compare me to a man who has just left the bank and has no knowledge of politics. You can’t compare me to a man who has no knowledge of what party primary is all about and you cannot compare me to a man who doesn’t understand party administration, because I have been there before.
Members of the party understand that as a former party chairman, I will understand them better. Many of those in APGA were in All Peoples Party (APP) when I was chairman. So, they voted for me because they believe if I become the governor, I will understand the challenges facing the party. We have been able to reconcile over 80 per cent of those that felt aggrieved, the other 20 per cent is either they have left like Ohakim has joined Accord Party, Okey Eze SDP or Humphrey Anumudu in another, and there is nothing you can do about it. But for those still in APGA we are reconciled and working as a family to deliver APGA and good governance in Imo State. My running mate, Steve Ibe Nwoga, used to be an aspirant, but I picked him. I don’t know if it has happened before where a candidate picked the person who competed against him as running mate. I did it because in spite of the fact that he is a nice person, he is an older member.
Are you a violent person?
That question should not arise because I have given you a little bit of my background. I am an only son in the midst of two girls with a very doting and protective mother. That I got married at the age of 23 shows how far my mother went to ensure that I did not grow up as a rascal. So violence cannot be associated with me.
Given the personalities involved in Imo gubernatorial race, what do you think will guarantee free and fair poll in the state?
The role of the electoral umpire will go a long way in guaranteeing free and fair elections in the state. But I can tell you that Imo people are determined to ensure that their votes count. So, if INEC does what it ought to do, the election would be free and fair. Again, I will tell you that there are four strong parties contesting elections in the state, namely APGA, APC, PDP, and AA. The implication is that there would be a balance of forces in every polling unit; so, it will not be easy for anybody to manipulate the process.
This is your third attempt at Imo governorship. What is the special attraction?
The attraction to govern Imo State stems from the fact that things are not working the way they should as nobody has dealt with the challenges we have always had. And as long as nobody has deliberately tackled those challenges, the attraction will always be there.
Just take the issue of road infrastructure. You cannot drive on a kilometre of smooth road anywhere in Imo, including Owerri, the state capital. Maybe that was what informed Governor Rochas Okorocha’s statement that the rain in Owerri is acidic. But I don’t know how the rain in Imo State is different from the rain in other states.
What is the place of zoning in Imo politics given the agitation for power shift?
Some states have gotten it right with regard to zoning, but in Imo, people are still a little bit confused. One thing that is certain is that nobody in Imo State will look in the direction of Imo West Senatorial District because since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, the zone has held power for almost 16 years.
So, it is unfair, no matter whoever is looking at it, to elect somebody from Imo West as Okorocha’s successor. Although sometimes, people say there is no fairness in politics, I believe there should be fairness. Even if you overlook the political parties and focus on individuals, post-Okorocha era demands that Imo people should look at the individuals aspiring to be governor because it is not going to be like the direction after Udenwa.
You know we had four years of Ikedi Ohakim after Udenwa, which like the Okorocha administration, was not a pleasant experience in terms of developmental indices. When you put these together, it has been 12 years the state has gone through trauma. Therefore, it is not going to be an easy task governing Imo State from May 29, 2019, but we have to start from somewhere.
It is perceived that like Okorocha, you want to use APGA to win and return to APC. What is your take on that?
This is my last attempt at the governorship. I am not going to contest for the position again after 2019. The only way I will contest again is after winning this contest and I will be seeking re-election in 2023. I will not start afresh to run for governorship after this. I am not going to do it again, and that is why, by the grace of God, we will do everything possible to ensure that we get it right this time and I don’t intend to leave APGA.
I can’t leave the party for some obvious reasons. I have not seen any special advantage to be in the ruling party at the centre. President Buhari works well with Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State more than any other governor in the Southeast, and he is not a member of APC.
That working relationship is because the president feels that the programmes of Anambra State government fit into his vision for the country. Okorocha is a member of his party, but the Imo State governor does not look at the manifesto of his party.Another governor in the Southeast, who is running a programme that fits into the vision of Buhari, is Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi. Look at his programmes on agriculture and infrastructure.
What puts you ahead of other contenders, knowing that most of you were formerly members of All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Yes, three of us- Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance (AA), Hope Uzodinma and I-were all in APC. But I can tell you that all these parties have no clear-cut difference in terms of ideologies.If there are no ideological differences what will then inform movement would be the treatment you get in any of the parties. If you find out that where you are the treatment is not fair and that those around you are strange people, people of abnormal behaviour, people who do not share in your vision and particularly when someone, who should decide your fate in a party behaves in a manner that cannot guarantee fairness, you have to leave.
I can tell you that most of our leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, have changed parties because of these reasons. If you remember, the president had to leave All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) after the 2007 general elections to form Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) because of unfair treatment.
There was a situation that some ANPP governors then signed an agreement to work for the PDP as against their party’s presidential candidate. The then chairman of the party, the late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, who was the vice- presidential candidate, had to abandon his principal in court to accept an appointment from the ruling party.
So, it is the treatment you get from a party that informs whether you will be there or not. We had a party that was doing well under the leadership of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, but Adams Oshiomhole came and decided that those who supported Odigie-Oyegun should be dealt with.
Yet, they supported Odigie-Oyegun at a time the party wanted him. If Oshiomhole cannot forgive them for their support for Odigie-Oyegun, it means that such members of the party will not receive fair treatment under his leadership. And, if I am aspiring to lead my people, the first step is to go through the primary, and whether you like it or not, the national chairman of a political party plays an important role in determining who emerges as a candidate.
If he is not fair, there is likely to be a problem. So, some of these things are what inform people’s movement from one political party to another. Okorocha himself was at a time in PDP, ANPP, AA, and APGA, but his supporters are now back in AA. Among them, I have travelled the least. On a scale of one to 10, I will be on the eighth position.