By Wilfred Eya
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and former Abia State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), Reagan Ufomba, has praised Governor Okezie Ikpeazu for his determination to reposition the state. In this interview, he spoke on various issues including the politics of Abia State.
Given the state of infrastructure in Abia today, how do you look at governance in the state between since 1999?
Abia is work in progress and different leaders have different challenges. The challenge of the military is quite different from the challenge of the democratic setting; if you look at it from the modus operandi where everything is done with immediate effect, the real democratic arm that is the legislature is absent; a military officer can easily get away with his policies, programmes without so much strain but within the last 20 years under perspective, we have democracy and everything under the sun is debatable.
But Abia to the best of my knowledge is making progress; we have had our ups and downs, it was the shortcomings that led me into contesting elections in 2011 so that we can better the lot of the people. Regrettably, we have not been able to actualize that.
You talked specifically about bad roads, Abia is the only state in the country that is surrounded by seven states – Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, all of them linked by federal roads and these federal roads are abandoned, totally abandoned and neglected. So, when people talk of bad roads in Abia, we need to delineate federal roads from state roads. The basic problem is that until the nation is restructured to give room for states to manage certain structures within their locality, we will continue to have the issue of abandonment of roads, infrastructure, and all property belonging to the Federal Government.
Most of the federal roads ought to be handed over to the states. The Federal Government has no business coming to repair roads or construct roads in Abia or Ebonyi or any other state for that matter.
What is your assessment of the present PDP government in Abia State?
I did say a few days ago that you don’t award marks to those who are still sitting in an exam hall; let the person finish first. We will be able to fully assess the performance of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu around 2022. He is on the right direction, salaries were owed before he came, he is filling the gap. This is the only government, to the best of my knowledge, that has done great roads in Abia.
Until recently and I will tell you to the shock of many critics, when I rejoined the PDP in 2017, I discovered that the government was being sabotaged. One of the federal roads he wanted to embark on, he was stopped from doing it; there are letters and documents to prove that he was stopped from working on those roads. The flyover he is doing at Osisioma, I had to personally intervene when the issue of design came up. The Federal Government refused to release the design, I had to discuss with the Arab contractors; I went to the Federal Controller of Works in Umuahia, I went to the governor because the whole place was a mess. I believe that you can still work for your people without being in government. So, I took out time, I went to the governor, met the contractors, met the federal controller of works and we worked to ensure that the design was released. It was released sometime this year.
So, when people say there is a centre table in Osisioma that has taken ages to complete, we also have to refer to everybody to the cause of the delay, which was the design of the area. They did not know where to step down; you know what design the government was coming down with, you know Enugu Expressway is being reconstructed; so he had been able to do that and work is in progress there.
Generally, we have asked the governor to do most of over nine federal roads in Aba alone – the Port Harcout road, the Ngwa road, Aba-Owerri road, Okpara road, and so many of such roads. What we have done is to ask the governor, go ahead and rebuild these roads whether you are refunded or not, whether you have the permission or not, go ahead and build these roads for the benefit of the people.
So, if you go to Abia today, you will notice that over 60 roads are under construction. That is why I said let us not assess Okezie by yesterday or today; let’s give him time to run the new initiative and mandate we have given him to go ahead, move into federal roads and rebuild them.
Some leaders are clamouring for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023. What’s your position?
For me, 2023 is Igbo president or nothing, we don’t even need to debate that. When we returned to democratic rule in 1999, we had Obasanjo, all the parties gave their tickets to South-West. The South-West has had its turn. After that, it went to late President Musa Ya Adua, from the North-West. After Yar’ Adua, it went to South-South through President Goodluck Jonathan. So, every other component using the tripod formula of North, West and East, have had their fill; it’s no longer debatable that the president should come from the South-East in 2023.
South-East leaders are clamouring for the presidency, the youths are clamouring for Biafra. How do we reconcile that?
Where there is inequity, you have a lot of agitations. Even people like us are agitating. Should we clamour for Igbo presidency? We shouldn’t where you have a system that works. Since it’s zoned, should a component unit that fought for independence for Nigeria clamour for the presidency? We shouldn’t, and I don’t want to go into immodest areas, anything you give to an Igbo man he turns to gold. Give Igbo man the presidency and Nigeria would work. If we want Nigeria to work, do we need to beg and say give it to a competent hand to manage?
Now, if you come to a country where your kin cannot be president, cannot be vice president, cannot be chief of staff to the President, cannot be secretary to government, cannot be Senate President, cannot be speaker of the House of Representatives, is not the Chief of Army Staff, is not the Chief of Naval Staff, is not the Chief of Air Staff, not the IG of police, doesn’t head Customs, doesn’t head Immigration, doesn’t head the EFCC, doesn’t head the NNPC, the oil they are producing at Owasa, is not even heading the Federal Road Safety Commission, why won’t the youths agitate?
So, you can see the injustice being meted to our people. So, the agitations are justified, begin to solve these problems. Political patronage is where Nigeria is today, if you don’t know anybody you don’t get appointed, you don’t get employed. Commerce has been destroyed in the South-East. Tariff is high up there. I was in the cement sector, we used to pay 10 per cent, today it’s 50 per cent. So, instead of employment, our brothers and sisters are now sacking, so there is unemployment all over the South-East. So, why won’t there be agitation? There is hunger, poverty, unemployment; the people are bound to react to very hostile environment they have found themselves.
Fears about the future of the country
The fears are well founded and as long as we continue to treat one part of the country as kings and untouchable and the other as slaves and people who do not matter, people who cannot attain their destiny in their own country, then the people are bound to react and you don’t beat a child and tell him how to cry.
Few days after a prominent Emir was kidnapped about eight people were shot dead, the other time it was Chibok school girls, the other day it was 40+ people who went to farm that were slaughtered. So, why won’t there be fear? We allow herdsmen to come into the country to slaughter Nigerians, who grants them access? You can’t even have accurate information from those we entrusted with leadership. So, why won’t there be fear?
So, the way out is simple. Let’s go back to where we were, let every component unit return to regional government and stop these wastages.
Having 109 senators and the humongous number representing us in Abuja and then back home, we have another set of people running affairs, we must restructure this country to the extent that it becomes efficient and productive. If we don’t, we would be crying every day.
You are back in PDP; what is the assurance that you will not leave again?
People like us have conscience; we are driven by our conscience and by what is right. I’m a founding member of the PDP; I said so and I served in that government in 1999; I wasn’t in PDP until there was a dislocation caused by the leaving of the party by OUK and quite a number of people, we remained to rebuild the party, and I did say myself, Vin Ogbulafor, and Adolf Wagbara, we contributed the first money that was used in building the party. I personally continued to fund the party and supported the party, up to the point of going to court to stop the party from dismantling the state until they brought somebody to say we will give him automatic ticket and that was not right as far as I’m concerned and the only way I protested was to go to court. I didn’t leave the party; I complained to the leadership of the party; they didn’t listen, I went to court in Abuja to stop them but they didn’t listen, then the option I had was to temporarily leave in protest. In 2017, the leadership of the party appealed to me that I should come back; so I went back to the party and I’m there, I’m not young anywhere; I’m back to the house I built and will continue to make PDP great; as one of you rightly said, Abia is PDP,PDP is Abia.
You were once governorship candidate in Abia; in 2023 do you want to recontest that position?
To be the governor of Abia, yes my vision remains the same, but I will take that decision in 2021-2022.
Is Abia charter of equity in favour of your anticipated aspiration?
Well, it does. In 1999, the governorship seat was in Abia North and the governor then was Orji Uzor Kalu. From Abia North, it came to Abia Central and then an Umuahia man by name TA Orji contested and won. Now, it is in Abia South. In 2023, it would be returning through Abia Central. Power does not fly; it does not have wings, it has to walk back.