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Zoning in Enugu is an elite discussion, says Ekweremadu

By Muyiwa Adeyemi
01 April 2022   |   4:30 am
I have had enough of the Senate and people persuaded me for the governorship. There were two things I needed to do, one was to pray over the matter and the next was to have a conversation with my friend, Governor Ugwuanyi.

Ekweremadu

Former Deputy Senate President and Enugu State governorship aspirant, Senator Ike Ekweremadu spoke to reporters on the contentious issue of zoning in Enugu State, describing zoning advocates in the state as selfish politicians. He also explained why Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is scared of zoning its presidential ticket. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.

It’s time to allow Igbo man showcase his Nigerianess

What are your plans for 2023 general elections?
I have had enough of the Senate and people persuaded me for the governorship. There were two things I needed to do, one was to pray over the matter and the next was to have a conversation with my friend, Governor Ugwuanyi. I told him during one of my meetings with him and I urged him not to give me instant answer. I asked him to consult and pray over it, which I believe he is still doing.

But I have maintained my personal relationship with him because I try to keep my political relationship with people different from my personal relationship with them. That is why people are surprised when they see me with somebody and they say oh, they thought you are quarreling with this person, why are you still relating with him with both of you hugging each other. These things are not personal; politics is different. I believe that after politics, there is life.

Now, the other issue people try to dramatise is zoning in Enugu State and it became a national issue, as if Enugu is the only state in Nigeria. The truth of the matter is that, we have three senatorial districts like every other state; we have Enugu East, Enugu North and Enugu West. Enugu North where the present governor comes from had produced two governors in the persons of Okwesilieze Nwodo from Igbo Etiti and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi from Udenu.

The other zone is the Enugu East, which is now saying it is its turn. But unfortunately, they have produced three governors –C.C. Onoh from Enugu North local government, Jim Nwobodo from Enugu South local council and Chimaroke Nnamani from Nkanu West council.

Then the third zone is Enugu West where I come from. The only governor the zone has produced is Sullivan Chime. Remember, some people select their governors from the cultural groups in a state. In Enugu, we have four cultural groups. We have the Nsukka speaking people of Enugu State, which as I said have produced two governors. We have the Nkanu people of Enugu State, they have produced, if you like, two governors. Let me say that C.C. Onoh is an Udi speaking person. So, Udi has produced two, which are Onoh and Sullivan. Then there is the fourth one, which is Awgu and it has never produced a governor. Awgu is one of the cultural zones. It is just like if you go to a place like Benue and you have the Idoma and Tiv. If you go to Abia, you have the Ngwa speaking people, Ikwuano and all of that. In Enugu, that is the situation, Awgu people have never produced a governor.

I have been a Senator for a long time; this is my fourth time. I am not looking down at my colleagues but because I was privileged to be the Deputy Senate President, I did not see myself as just Enugu Senator. I extended what I have been doing to the rest of the zones and even beyond. As I speak with you today, I am the only Senator from Enugu, who can say I have touched the lives of people from every senatorial zone while my colleagues concentrated on their own zones.

I have done roads, water and electricity projects in the other zones and they know it. The governor knows. The water project that we started in Enugu, I have extended it to Enugu North because they have water underground; so it is easy to get water there but the other senatorial zones, just like my own part of Enugu State, do not have water underground because of the coal formation.

I think what Enugu people now want is a man, who would provide water, jobs, electricity, healthcare and somebody who would develop the place. I am talking about a governor for everybody, making sure that every part of Enugu State is taken care of. Because of my attitude in the direction of making sure that I reach out to everybody, what they call me in Enugu is ‘enye ndi ebea, enye ndi ebea’ (when you give to people here, you give to people there). I don’t have boundaries. So, that is the people’s perception of me. That is why they believe that even as a governor, I can govern for everyone. It is not a matter of concentrating the appointments to one part of the state. I will never do anything like that. I have five local governments that I am representing. I made sure that each of them gets equal attention. So, that has marked me out, as somebody who is not given to sectional politics. People believe that I can be governor for everybody.

Again, I have gathered so much experience and contacts, which I have used to help my people. The government resources are getting lean, so we need people, who can think out of the box. We need people, who have sufficient contacts to attract the private sector. If you do not have credibility and people cannot trust you, nobody is going to put money in your state or country. You need to first of all, build that trust and confidence, which I have built over the years. Even now that I am just trying to run, I am getting calls all over the world; these are people who said that if you succeed, we will be there for you and we would bring investors. I spoke with the Nigerian Ambassador to Portugal just two days ago, you can ask him, he said if I become governor, they would bring investors for me.

Those are the kind of calls I am getting the world over. That is also why people believe that I would make a difference. So, this is a challenging time and we need somebody, who has an extraordinary experience that can manage not just the resources but also human beings in the enclave called Enugu State. That is my story.

Wasn’t there a time that stakeholders in Enugu agreed on power rotation?
Let us take it back and start from 1999. Remember that Jim Nwobodo is from the same Enugu East; he wanted to support somebody from my own cultural zone, Awgu because he believed that we have been cheated. He was supporting a man called Okey Igwe but unfortunately, something happened in 1998 during the local government election; there was a crisis in his house and somebody was killed. So, he was arrested and detained and it was getting close to primaries. Jim Nwobodo did not know what to do. His own people, the Nkanu said, you have to abandon this man. Let us look for one of our brothers and make him the governor. These were all blackmail and that was how Chimaroke was supported and he became the governor.

That injustice has never been addressed till now. When Onoh, defeated Jim Nwobodo just from the next local government, he became governor before that government was removed. When democracy resumed again, the next person that became governor was somebody from Nsukka, Okwesilieze Nwodo but he did not complete his tenure as the army intervened again. So, when democracy eventually returned, remember that Okwy from Enugu North has governed and if there was an arrangement, if there was zoning, it could have come to my place. It now went back to Nkanu when Jim Nwobodo had just finished as governor. It was from the same neighbourhood in Nkanu West where Chimaroke comes from. So, when Chimaroke now finished, he supported Sullivan Chime, not because there was any zoning and he knows that; I was there too. It was because of friendship of so many years.

By the time Sullivan finished, the two Senatorial zones of Enugu East and Enugu West had the opportunity of producing governors and it made sense to any human being that the only remaining zone, Enugu North should produce the governor. It is just like if you have three pieces of meat in a plate and two have taken, there is no argument about who owns the third one.

They said they came and zoned to Enugu North, how do you do that? They said it was in 2013, when it was only one zone remaining. They did not say there was zoning in 1979 or 1999 and they said it was in 2013 when two zones had already taken their turns; that is when you woke up and start talking about zoning. So, it is all selfish agenda. Anybody talking about zoning in Enugu State, go and interrogate his reasons. It is either he has somebody in mind he wants to put or there is somebody he wants to stop. So, it is not borne of any antecedents, justice for anybody or the goodwill of Enugu people.

As I said, you cannot be talking of such things that can divide us because zoning will only divide us the more. The only thing that can unite us now is competence, equity and justice to all.

A time would come when you are going to have a revolution, if the situation is not handled very well. My own plan in Enugu in the first two years is to, at least build two industries in every local government, as a low hanging fruit, you would be able to get everybody at work where they would now have specialisation. We shall do something different.

You said the issue of zoning by the Enugu elite is for selfish reasons but don’t you think that nationally, even the grassroots now understand and believe in the concept of zoning?
Unfortunately, it is not making sense in Enugu. What they did was first to organise what they called rallies.

They started with Enugu East to drum more support and spent N100m. When they spent the N100m, nothing happened and Ekweremadu kept pushing. They went to Enugu North and spent another N100m or more; they thought I would announce I am no more running but it did not stop anything. So, they said ok, the final thing let them go to my senatorial zone; they spent another N100m. In fact, one of the persons who organised the thing, Hyde Onuaguluchi did not know what they were up to and at the arena, when they said it was to drum support for zoning, he said no that there was nothing like zoning. How can you say it was for zoning and myself and Hyde Onuaguluchi, Jim Nwobodo and all others were not there? It was just a group of people that came round to say they were zoning in 2013. The same people; so it is not making sense to the people. Most of our supporters today are from different parts of the state. So, zoning in Enugu State is an elitist discussion. Less than one percent of the people in government are those driving it. Other people don’t care about it.

But there is a 2013 document, which has your signature, indicating that you were in the meeting that agreed on the zoning arrangement in the state?
You are a journalist and you know what can happen with such signatures. I do not want to bother myself about that.

Without the support of your governor, do you think that your structure can pull through the primaries?
I always believe that it is God that gives power. It is not about my structure and anybody; it is God that gives power. You have seen it happen many times. Governor Okowa of Delta State, when he wanted to contest for governorship, his governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan did not support him and had a different person in mind, yet by the grace of God, he emerged. In Adamawa, the current governor, Fintri, defeated the sitting governor; in Bauchi, the current one Bala defeated the sitting governor. In Oyo, the present governor, Seyi Makinde defeated the person the governor was sponsoring and the same governor, who even wanted to go to the Senate, was defeated too by somebody, who is now in the Senate. So, I am not worried about those things. That is why I had to give you the background of my ambition. God himself perfects my life. Sometimes, certain things happen; God does not do ordinary things; he does extraordinary things.

In 2023, do you foresee any threat from the APC in Enugu State?
To be modest, Enugu is about 70 per cent PDP. So, I do not see any threat from APC. The only thing that can cause problem is if we are unable to put our house in order and if we have rancorous primaries. Maybe, some people will split and get angry and all of that. This is because a man, who is unfairly treated, will not be interested in peace.

In case you fail at the primary, do you plan to defect to another party?
If I wanted to defect, I would have done that a long time. You know what I went through since 2015 till date under APC. If I wanted, I would have left like others. So, I have no such plans. I have friends across the world who are politicians. They would be so disappointed in me. I have given lectures all over the world on the subject of democracy. In politics, you fail, you succeed and rise. Sometimes, you fail and you wake up again. I am not afraid of failure. So, I am not going to any other party. I will remain in PDP.

What is your take on the agitation for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction?
First of all, let me explain this with what we have in Enugu State. Our state has three senatorial zones and somehow, all the zones have had the governorship seat. So, everybody can come with his own argument. Remember, I told you that my own cultural zone has not produced the governor of the state. That is understandable. But the truth of the matter is that whether we like it or not, every zone here has produced the governor of the state. It is not the same thing with the Federal Government.

We have six geo-political zones in the country. The other four zones have produced the President, except South East and North East. But even at that, we used to have three regions –the northern, western and Eastern regions. Within those enclaves, you can see that the North has had the Presidency severally. The South West has also had a fair share. You have three major ethnic groups –the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. So far, the two major ethnic groups, including a minority have had it except the Igbo.

We had a war in Nigeria and if you like, the Igbo were defeated and with what is happening, how are you going to reintegrate the country without accommodating the Igbo? We had a similar situation in Canada; the people of Quebec had been agitated to leave the country and one of the things they did to bring the country together was to consciously give that side of the country the opportunity to produce the President. So, that is why our own case is different. There is need for national integration, justice and equity. There is even need to give an Igbo man the opportunity to showcase his Nigerianess.

PDP seems scared of zoning its presidential ticket, why?
It is understandable; if you are sick, they would come with all kinds of recommendations on how to recover. That is the situation the PDP has found itself now; PDP is determined to return to power and Nigerians also want a change of government. So, the PDP out of desperation is prepared to have anybody from anywhere, as long as the person would win the presidency. Sometimes they overlook the justice of the matter.