Monday, 25th September 2023

Duru: Why Southeast is supporting Tinubu’s presidency

By Leo Sobechi
23 July 2022   |   4:10 am
I believe and am very confident that APC would emerge February 2023 and will retain power, government. I was one of those that worked with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe when he ran to become the presidential flag bearer of SDP (Social Democratic Party).


Nze Chidi Duru, a two-term member of the House of Representatives, is currently the Deputy National Organising Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He spoke to LEO SOBECHI on the heels of the unveiling of Senator Kashim Shettima as the party’s presidential running mate, that the Southeast would not be missing at the discussion table in the emerging Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Presidency, stressing that the party has recorded many achievements in the Southeast to improve its bragging rights.

With the present noise about same faith ticket, do you think APC could still emerge on the first ballot?
I believe and am very confident that APC would emerge February 2023 and will retain power, government. I was one of those that worked with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe when he ran to become the presidential flag bearer of SDP (Social Democratic Party). We went to Jos and we competed against amongst others, MKO Abiola and Atiku Abubakar and we came second. And, in the collective wisdom of the party and the presidential candidate at that time, MKO Abiola, the lot fell on Ambassador Kingibe to be his number two.
As it is today, it was also then; there was a long line of reasons why it should not be, there were also reasons why a different combination should have been combined and that also throw up the possibility of Pascal Bafyau.
For the politicians, what was important is structuring the combination in a way that addresses the need of the party, not just to win election, but also to address the issue of capacity, competence and to address the issue of coming together to deliver the common good for the country. It is a way of telling the country, ‘we hear you, we understand what you are saying. The concerns are very legitimate; by the way, it cannot be discounted.’
But, we are bringing a combination that will address all the issues that we are talking about in Nigeria. What do Nigerians want? We want a government that can listen to you; we want a government that can address the concerns of Nigerians, we want a government that can arrest the days of the locust. We want a government that can address the security challenges that we have in the country as of today, provide employment, put food on the table, make sure that Nigerians, wherever they are, as it was in those days, are proud wherever they are to be called Nigerian. And that is the possibility that this combination represents for the people of Nigeria.
And like we said, at the end of the day, the combination is open for Nigerians to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and there is also the alternative and that is the alternative of the north again retaining power through Atiku Abubakar. The PDP combination goes against the grain of what we used to know in Nigeria, which is the north holds power, it goes to the south, after the south, it goes back to the north.
But then, in clear disregard of that known convention, the tradition that we know it, we are having a political party that have always depended on the south to retain power consistently within the political dispensation arrogantly telling us that power must remain in the north through Atiku Abubakar. And, on top of that, the base of PDP is southeast and not only considering somebody from the southeast, chose his vice presidential candidate from a different zone.

So, these are combinations that are open for the people of Nigeria to make a choice and I believe that when we go into the campaign, when the whistle of campaign starts in September, as we believe; this message begins to get across, Nigerians will decipher and know which party better represents their interest.
I think that at the end of the day, the will of Nigerians will prevail, whosoever, any political party that Nigerians vote for, will be the political party that will take over power in 2023 and we will stick with that government for the next four years.

Will you subscribe to the notion that the emergence of Peter Obi on Labour Party amounts to distraction of this calculation?
I think that Peter Obi is a man of great standing, he was once the governor of Anambra State and he has a swath of followership across board and he is well regarded and respected. We have two dominant political parties in Nigeria, they have been tried and tested and they have done very well in Nigeria and leadership will always revolve around these two political parties.
I belong to APC, we believe very strongly that APC will form the government in 2023. We think that given the level of support and given what the candidate we have elected as our flag bearer in APC brings to the party and the negotiations that will take place to reassure the people of the southeast, that they belong to Nigeria and they are part of Nigeria, that every efforts will be made, and no efforts will be spared in ensuring that the demands of the people of the southeast are looked into, that southeast will play their part in ushering in that government in 2023.

APC has been showing great capacity to influence the political dynamics of Southeast, but do you see a future for the party in the zone come 2023 elections?
I believe, yes. In the sense that as you know before now, other than Imo State, where we had an APC government, when Rochas Okorocha was the governor of Imo state, APC had progressed to not only retaining the state, but have also gained one additional state in the southeast, which is Ebonyi State, and if you looked at what had happened in the last one year or two, there is a growing acceptance, even if it is not the way we will like to see it, to the extent that people are open to engage in a discussion around the party and what the party represents in many parts of the southeast, in particular the three remaining states which is Anambra, Enugu and Abia.
It is very unfortunate that because of the internal division in Anambra State, Anambra could not come together to deliver the state, but prior to the party primaries of APC in Anambra state, the political class and those who mean well and that can deliver in their wards, in their local governments, in their senatorial districts, we are all in APC. It was as a result of that division within the party that caused a friction and it was not possible to harmonise that led to the poor outing of the party in Anambra in November 2022.

And we also believe that with what we have seen in the last one month or two following the holding of the party primaries in Enugu and Abia, it represents a great potential in the state, that there is a possibility that APC may gain one additional state in the southeast, if you know that only three states are up for grabs in the current exercise in the gubernatorial elections that will take place in March 2023.
Outside of Anambra and Imo that are off-season election, the rest of the three states in the southeast are up for grabs, which is Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia. The party is upbeat that we may again another state in the southeast.

During the unveiling of Kashim Shettima, there were concerns in the Southeast that zoning or selecting the presidential running mate from Northeast presupposes that Southeast should also have been considered for the presidential ticket. How far does this argument factor into the 2023 calculations?
There is not denying the fact. It is factitious, it was not engineered; but I would like to see it basically as happenstance. If the candidate of the party did not come from the Southwest and if the candidate himself did not express a preference for Senator Kashim Shettima as his running mate, who happened to come from Northeast, that argument will be moot to the extent that what is primary here is looking at who takes the ticket of the party and who flies the ticket. The consideration of who becomes number two is a matter that is open primarily to the candidate, who is number one, and of course in consultation with the stakeholders of the party.
And, for so long, I know that the North-eastern part, as well as the South eastern part of the country, have for good reasons made a claim that the zone is now ripe and the conditions are ripe for the president of the country to come from that particular zone.
It will not, therefore, have happened that our candidate in APC will come from the Southwest and then any other person in the South would be the vice presidential candidate of the party. So, naturally, it will go to the north and in this instance, it went to His Excellency and Senator Kashim Shettima, who happened to have played a very strong role in the emergence of His Excellency Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, our flag bearer.
And, on the basis of that, I mean, when the shortlist was done on who could be the potential VP, it was not difficult, given his (Shettima’s) track record; given his experience, his reach and particularly also, that he cut across and straddles two important arms of government, having been a state governor and now a legislator. Those experiences will come to weigh in government to choose him as the vice presidential candidate of the party and there are arguments for that. There is also an argument for why the southeast should have a slot in becoming the president of the country.

There are insinuations in some quarters that the refusal by Senator Anayo Rochas Okorocha not to participate in the 2014 presidential primary worked against him as much as his insistence on imposing his son in-law as the governor of Imo state to succeed him…
I would not want to delve into the realm of speculation or conjecture. I could only say that he (Okorocha) as well as other aspirants offered to fly the flag of the party in 2023 and in the considered opinion of the delegates that voted in the national convention of June 7, 2022, they voted differently and they voted for our candidate, Ahmed Tinubu, who is now the candidate of the party.
Every other consideration is something I cannot speak to and one is not very much informed on what could be the reason for his (Okorocha’s) current status in politics. It will be left for historians and scholars to document his current status in the political sphere and then students of history, who read it would be better informed so that we can learn from it.

There is also this argument that having come from the fragment of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), his infighting within the party, failure to offer leadership, instead choosing to antagonise the current Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, vitiated the effort at membership recruitment into APC in the southeast during his tenure. Do you think there is any element of credibility to those assertions?
I think largely, what we need and what we still require in the Southeast is the consensus building for stakeholders of the party to close ranks, come together and work for the benefit and interest of members of the party and the party in general. There cannot be one tree in a forest; everybody is equally important in helping to build the political party.

It may have happened that at some point, people will assume the position in power, in authority or in government bequeath one with the title of being the leader in a particular environment, whether in the ward, local government, state and zone without of course taking into account that politics is what it is: The ability of people to come together, define their common goal and then work together to achieve the common goal, which is, how do they present their manifesto, their ideology and message it in such a way that the electorate will be able to understand that. And then, they being trusted with the responsibility by electing them into office, to be able to bring about the fulfilment of those philosophy and manifesto and ambition that they have orchestrated.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu is a well respected leader of the party, not just in the Southeast, in the country and within the party; so is Chris Ngige and many others who have not been mentioned that have also done their best in promoting the party, as well as Owelle Rochas Okorocha as many other stakeholders in the southeast.
We need a new chapter opened. And that chapter is to build on the experiences of the past and then hope that our leaders will be able to close ranks and come together and understand that unless and until you deliver in the party, deliver your zone or deliver your state to the party, your bargaining right and your bragging right is significantly reduced in comparison to others that have delivered their zone to the party.
And we think that this lesson learnt, we also believe that it will help us going forward to do the right thing as we continue to tell our people from the southeast that look, we need to come under one umbrella, we are not saying put all our eggs in one basket. The reality on the ground today is that we have two dominant political parties and that political party must be such that we should engage reasonably and the way you can engage is to also come with your followership, the electorate behind you, in a way that suggests to the political party that the people are receptive of the ideals of the party.

From your personal assessment, do you think there is optimum synergy between the two governors of the party in the southeast?
I think that more than ever before, our leader in Imo and Ebonyi States have demonstrated capacity to work together and where there are issues to iron out, they have shown maturity in the way they relate to one and the other. And, we also know like the adage says, ‘you cannot have two captains in a boat; one predominates.’ And Hope Uzodimma, obviously was earlier in time governor of APC in the southeast before the coming in of His Excellency, Dave Umahi. Of course, there is a difference in the leadership of Hope Uzodimma in the Southeast.
We also think and believe that both of them have worked in such a way to give comfort, particularly in the other three states, where we do not have an APC government, like Abia, Enugu and Anambra states. We will continue to look up to their leadership and their guidance to midwife this zone in a way that the zone can then win significantly and then make a significant imprint in the forthcoming elections next year, starting with the National Assembly election, the presidential election and of course, the state Houses of Assembly election. It is only under their guidance that we will be able to provide this.

In the last seven years, the APC administration has delivered visible infrastructural development in the Southeast, especially the much talked about Second Niger Bridge, the Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt highways. Apart from all these, we may call bonus, do you think the party from the southeast will be making specific demands from the party for the incoming dispensation by way of appointment of positions as a kind of bargain for votes?
Politics is all about bargaining and it is all about discussion. It is also about reaching out and making your demands and the people of Southeast, as well as the people of the other five geo-political zones in Nigeria, are more than entitled to make a claim in the government of Nigeria more so, if the government in place is a government produced by APC.
And like you have rightly pointed out, the messaging of the efforts of the government, the current government which is an APC government in the Southeast, has not been well told in a way that our people will appreciate that more than at any other time in the history of this current democratic dispensation, this government had done so much for the people of the southeast. The biggest big-ticket development in Nigeria is taking place in the Southeast and that is the Niger River Bridge and the development surrounding it.
And when people talk about the Niger Bridge, they seem to look at basically the construction of just a bridge. It is much more than that. There is so much infrastructural development that went beyond the construction of the bridge across the River Niger, including the basic road infrastructure and the complete development and improvement of the Onitsha city centre. It all encompasses this development that we are talking about.

So, it brings change in life style, it brings changes in the way people relate, it will expand the economic activities not only in the southeast, but also across the region and then really return Onitsha to what it used to be, which is the commercial nerve centre of the Southeast and Nigeria. And we can also talk about the Onitsha-Enugu road dual carriageway, which is currently ongoing, as well as the one from Enugu to Port Harcourt and of course, the railway lines that will also cut across the place.

We did warn that we cannot afford to put our eggs in one basket. It was important that the people of the southeast actually give a listening ear, not just to one political party, but also to the two dominant parties in Nigeria, which is APC and PDP. Unfortunately, it would appear that there was a more inclination towards PDP to the extent that we lost our bragging right. We lost our negotiation power in the emergence of the constitution of the people in power in the current dispensation. Were it not for the benevolence of the leadership of the country, the President, some of these developments that came to the Southeast would not have come.
When it came to sharing the spoils of office, it became very difficult for the people of Southeast in APC to put their feet down and to negotiate from a position of strength. That was why, even when we were having a legitimate claim, and the possibility that it could make sense for the presidential candidate of the party to come from the Southeast, they couldn’t actively make that demand, because, we couldn’t come to the table with the votes of the people of southeast.
And yet, PDP that the people of the southeast voted over the years, from 1999 to date, as a political party with disdain could not even look at the southeast and say to the southeast, ‘we will give you number one slot in our political party.’ Southeast lost the opportunity. Not only did they lose this opportunity, they also lost the opportunity to provide the number two man to the PDP presidential candidate, so it was a double loss.
And I am beginning to see, people are also thinking that maybe the point that was raised that we made in 2019, which we made very strongly that we need to grant a possibility for our people to look at the opportunity that presents itself and on that basis come to the party, vote APC. Enable the party leaders in the southeast to come to the negotiation table to make a reasonable demand as would be the other geo-political zones in Nigeria.
So, when we do that, I think the government that is coming in 2023, will be able to consider among others what is possible, what can be done to help the people of the southeast.

Apart from Sen. Orji Uzo Kalu, there seems to be no likelihood that APC will produce a ranking Senator from Southeast to suggest a possible Senate Presidency…
It depends on what comes to the southeast and there have always been a doctrine of necessity and sitting here, I could look and see the possibility of one or two others who have been in the National Assembly that are running under the ticket of the APC coming to the National Assembly from Imo State.

We have Osita Izunaso, who is running from the Orlu Senatorial zone. Very experienced, he has been in the House of Representatives, he has been in the Senate, he has been a National Organising Secretary of the APC, he is rounded, he is well experienced and he qualifies as a ranking Senator.
We have from Anambra State, a member of the House of Representatives who have been to the house for the third term (Chukwuma Umeoji) and then the people of Anambra State in our party looked at it and for the reasons that he should advance, thought that he should move to the Senate and run as a Senator and which we the people of Southeast and Anambra State in particular see reasons as we believed he would, he is also qualified to stake for that position.
And of course, like you said, we have OUK who is from Abia State. Highly regarded and respected within the political firmament, he is a very strong voice in APC. And so, the southeast is not lacking in men and materials that will potentially clinch any position that will be zoned to the southeast should that happen. But, at the end of the day, it is important to say at this point that the micro-zoning of who gets what have not happened. What has happened as of today is that we know that our presidential flag bearer is from the Southwest. We know that our number two man is from the Northeast.
And then, the other four geo-political zones will then have to stake a claim as to the other positions that may be available, which I think in the coming months, will become very apparent and clear as to who gets what in terms of the leadership of the National Assembly and then of course, the prime positions that will become available in the executive wing of the party.

Does it worry you that in political party development in Nigeria, there is a lack of research and development as in the days of NPN?
It is a big issue, but I don’t think it is something to worry about or something to hold a political party to account or it becomes a blame game, what has happened traditionally over the period. The line has become blurred over the years, because political parties are not held to account to their manifesto and their philosophy and what they represent. It has become a tool or basically, a platform to seize power and hold on to power.

I think as we begin to segregate and begin to mature in the political space, we will go back to what it then was when political parties are noted for what they stand for. It was unthinkable in those days for any of the members of, for example, Action Group, to move over to another political party and still retain his position. The person will be considered to be a pariah and if you go to do election you will fail, but the thin line is there.

So, I think APC have represented the capacity to document what they believe in and in the directorate, you have a directorate of planning, research and documentation. Yes, could we have done better on the basis of all the big research work, the research that went into what we can do for Nigeria and what Nigerians can expect from APC? Possibly not.
Could we have exercised more discretion in some of the things that we do? Yes, of course. Could we have given Nigeria better alternative, of course we could have, but the point still remains the think-tank is there and that we can still give hope to Nigerians and tell Nigerians that this is the kind of government we like to deliver to them come 2023 and thereafter.