“PDP sent out a publication that they are postponing indefinitely all activities… until Olisa Metuh is released… I had no choice any more than to move because this is a time bound election.” – Ekwunife
Mrs. Uche Ekwunife represented Anambra Central in the National Assembly on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform until her election was nullified by the Court of Appeal. In this interview, she speaks on her recent defection to the All Progressives Congress, APC, and her readiness for the forthcoming re-run poll in the zone.
Your defection from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, has triggered an intense debate in the state, what was the motivation?
What happened was that for the six months I was in the Senate, I was in different courts. From the FCT High Court to the Federal High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court. I spent the six months going from one court to another, everybody was claiming to be the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The national committee of the party conducted the primaries but when I emerged as the candidate, other people started declaring themselves as candidates of the party and they went to court.
So, when the election was nullified, I thought that they will use the opportunity to reconcile all the factions but the problem persisted. I made every effort for reconciliation to happen but it was impossible. I was the one that wrote to the party, notifying the leadership of the nullification of my election and requesting for a fresh primaries. I don’t want to criticize the party but I feel that with that nullification, the party should have been proactive enough to put its house in order. When we had a stakeholders’ meeting in Awka with the state chairman of the party, all other members came and at least two of those that took me to court came and I saw the vehemence.
One of them said that if the court had not nullified the election, he would have nullified it in the Supreme Court. And I said it was like King Solomon that was adjudicating between the case of two women claiming ownership of a baby. One told the king not to kill the child that when he grows, he would know the mother, the other one said cut the child into two halves. Of course you now know who won that election.
When I took the microphone, I said they should look at our result sheets from different wards and polling units and from that they will know who ran the election and who has the capacity to win election again for the party. Some of them claiming to be candidates lost in their wards. A day after the meeting, someone told me that there is a publication by my party. I said what publication and she said it’s a paid publication. I sent my email address and she scanned the publication for me and behold the party sent out a publication that they are postponing indefinitely all activities relating to congresses and primaries until Olisa Metuh is released from detention. And on Thursday, the publication was in almost four national newspapers.
When the court cancelled the election, some political leaders in the South East called me and said that since they have nullified the election and requested for a fresh election, we should use the opportunity to play national politics. But I was scared of what people will say. Will they say that I was joining another party? So, I said let me continue with my party, but when that publication came out, I had no choice any more than to move because this is a time bound election, if we do not do a primary before Tuesday or Wednesday next week (today and tomorrow), the party will not have a candidate anymore.
And they said that they are postponing indefinitely, giving the condition that until Metuh is released. And who knows when he would be released? At that point I had no choice anymore, because I believe that Metuh’s detention has nothing to do with lawful activities of a political party. And Anambra Central is the most difficult zone in Nigeria today. Bayelsa as a state has about 840,000 registered voters while Anambra Central has 720,000 registered voters. I know what I passed through during that election. For a woman to win such election is not a joke. So, that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now that you are in APC, what are you chances in the forthcoming re-run election?
I went through APC’s manifesto and constitution, once you are a member of the party, you have the same right with old members, the only difference is that you are not an executive of the party, but you enjoy the same right and privileges. Remember in Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom ran the primaries in PDP but the next day he moved to APC and became their candidate. Remember the Barnabas Gemade case, he was running for Senate in PDP and when it became impossible, he defected to APC and got the ticket and he ran the election.
What should be paramount for any political party is the capacity and capability of the candidate to deliver and the sincerity of that candidate to face the electorate. We are not foreigners, irrespective of political parties or political affiliations and our religious background. So, I’m very confident that I will win the primaries because they are not going to import foreigners to come and vote.
How did your supporters and other stakeholders in the zone receive the news of your defection?
Some initially didn’t know what was going on and were a bit skeptical, but those of them who followed the trend of events in PDP were very happy and supported the movement. For those who don’t know, we have started explaining to them and they are seeing reason with us. This has caused a rush movement to APC in this senatorial zone and even beyond. I’m from Anambra South, Igboukwu in Aguata Local Government, which is the biggest clan in Anambra, but married to Anambra Central and I tell you that because of me, many people in Anambra South are moving into APC.
I represented my constituency well for eight years and when you put my achievements together, none of my contenders will see my back. Even in my place in Igboukwu, I tarred one of the best roads in that place. So, I think I have represented the people well and that is why it is always good to serve the people well whenever you have the opportunity.
Don’t you envisage a situation where major stakeholders in the APC will say that you can’t just come to the party and pick the ticket?
Nobody is dashing me the ticket and I don’t want it that way. The primary is open for everybody and I want proper primaries to be conducted, if I win I want to be supported and if another person wins, I will support the person.
There is an argument that only those candidates who participated in the nullified election are qualified to contest the fresh poll. What is your take on that?
Every case has its own merit and when you are confused about a court judgement, the honourable thing to do is to seek interpretation in court. You don’t assume being a lawyer when you are not one, I have never seen where an estate agent will turn to a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer, so when the judgment came, I sent it to two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, for interpretation, because at my level I don’t speculate.
After every judgement, the only thing you can obey is what the court has ordered. The judgement said that I won Chief Victor Umeh, so why didn’t he pick that aspect? The court ordered four things, it upheld the petition; it said a fresh election should be held within 90 days; that the appellant should pay N50,000. The court order said fresh election; what’s fresh election? It means that the election has been nullified in all ramifications. So, there is no way you’ll leave the order and start speculating. I like having my facts because when my opponents started speculating on disqualification and all that, I started wondering why people will leave the court order to go and fish out something else.
Moreover, the Nigerian Constitution is quite clear on how a candidate can be disqualified in section 65/66 of the 1999 Constitution. You cannot disqualify a candidate because a political party didn’t do good primaries, it’s not done anywhere. You can only disqualify a candidate base on either fraud or that the person was sacked from the civil service.
Do you suspect underhand dealings to cause the postponement of the PDP primaries?
I don’t know, but nothing is impossible in politics, because it is very surprising that a political party facing a major election will postpone indefinitely its congresses and primaries. It is the height of injustice. Even what they meted to me in court was the height of injustice, the same primaries that produced me produced other candidates and we all appeared in the same panel and our eligibility was challenged by all the opponents, how come it was only my own that was nullified? I’m just a victim of circumstance because the state government is after my seat.
Why would the state government be after your seat?
Because Victor Umeh was their national chairman. When Umeh contested that election, he was chairman of a political party and at the same time candidate of the same party. So, he nominated himself and gave himself the ticket. He nominated himself, signed his nomination papers and was the candidate of his party. So, he never thought in life that a man like himself who used to put and remove anyone he feels like, will later face the electorate. He saw himself so influential and went to the electorate with that euphoria but that led to his failure.
He never subjected himself to any type of election. His has been endorsement of people, he never subjected himself to the level where you have to go to a mechanic, okada rider, to beg for votes. So, it became impossible for him to understand that a woman will win him. Because Anambra is Umeh’s state, and being ruled by the All Progressives
Grand Alliance, APGA, they saw it as a slap that a woman won the election. But, I’m not exaggerating, go round and conduct an opinion poll in my senatorial zone, then you’ll understand that I’ve served my people well.
You will still face that challenge in the forthcoming election if you pick APC ticket because APGA is in charge in the state?
I will floor him again. I gave him 24 strokes of the cane before, now I’ll give him 48. I’ll win him flat and out. The people know us and Anambra Central is where it is going to happen. There is a difference between speculation and facts. He can speculate, but every family here, has one bitter experience or the other about him. They can be in power but they cannot defeat me.
Your reason for leaving PDP for APC appear plausible but there is this impression that you are an itinerant politician as you have moved to four or five parties in the last seven to eight years.
Victor Umeh moved from PDP to APGA and when he was fighting in APGA, he thought he wouldn’t win and he joined others to form Accord with the intention of moving to party. But when he succeeded in staging a coup against Chief Chekwas Okorie, he stayed back. He would have been the chairman of Accord by now; that’s three parties. The constitution has given people the right to freedom of association and freedom of movement, so you can’t hold anybody.
There’s this allegation that you joined the APC so that you can make use of federal might in the election. How true is this?
Anambra Central has 720,000 registered voters, I polled 95,300 votes and Umeh polled 82,000. Put the figures together and what Ngige scored, it is not up to 200,000. That is less than 25 per cent of the registered voters. Can you consider rigging anywhere? When an election is rigged you’ll know, at least one would have gotten about 350,000 votes. No security personnel entered any of the polling units, they only maintained peace and order because the people are used to thugs. So, if you say security, look at the last state Assembly election, Jonathan has lost then, I share the same state Assembly with Umeh and I won in the two state Assembly positions.
You’ll will be running on a platform some people see as anti-Igbo. How are you going to convince the people to vote for APC?
APC is not anti-Igbo and no other party is anti-Igbo. If you are in a party they call Igbo party and you are not patriotic, you can’t do anything you people.
Do you have confidence in the present Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, conducting a free, fair and credible election in Anambra Central?
The recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states are evidence of INEC’s credibility. The transparency is there and I have every confidence that the commission will conduct a free, fair and transparent election.
The PDP chairman in the state said you are still a member of the party as he is yet to receive your resignation letter…He is ignorant of the law, I don’t owe him that. I registered in my ward, they registered in the state. I belong to the ward, I sent a resignation letter to the ward and I have my acknowledgement. I know they will deny, so I copied INEC and I got a certified true copy from the commission.
Where do you derive your energy from because Anambra politics is full of intrigues but you have been able to weather the political storm all these years?
My energy comes from God and sincerity. I worked in the bank before joining politics and I came into politics with the zeal of a banker. How? For every deposit in the bank, you must market. So, for every vote, you must market yourself to the people. It’s all about convincing people and proving to them that you have the capacity. Seeing the electorate as a market, you have to reach them and convince them why they should buy you. As it is, there are two products in the market now, Umeh and myself. So, looking at the market, which one is more marketable that the voters can buy out of the two? No voter will go and look at what Umeh is writing on the internet; they will look at us, the impact we have made in their lives.
Now, I’m chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Down Stream, which he will never get. Are they ready to trade it for a neophyte? The answer is no. This is a woman that has given employment to so many people, will they trade that? The answer is no. And for a lawmaker to attract developmental projects and serve the people better, it is always better in a ruling party. APGA is a mushroom party, it’s a minority in another minority party, so what will one APGA senator do in the Senate? And mind you, in the Senate, when you raise hand to say something, it is only when you are recognised that you can talk. If you are not recognized, you will not talk. The only thing you will do is to go out and talk to the press. And because you are not the spokesperson of the Senate, you can say the one that may lead to your suspension, because there is a limit to what you can say.
In terms of benefit, our people don’t have any benefit if they vote for Umeh, because the committees have been shared, so what is he going there to do?
I’m a ranking senator, the first time they are giving Petroleum Downstream to a South-Eastern senator and to a woman. Go and check the history of the National Assembly, is that what they will trade for Umeh? It goes beyond party now, it is about the interest of the zone and in the interest of the zone, they have no reason to vote for him. He’s better off as a party chairman. In any business you do, you talk about profitability; you cannot open a business that you’ll lose. In voting somebody to power, there must be reasons why you are voting for that person. What value will voting Umeh give to the people of Anambra Central? He is of no value to them. I will be of great value to them, looking at what I have done in the past and my present status in the Senate. They have no value to vote for him except they are no longer looking at gains of democracy, but if we are talking about democratic dividends, he has no value.
What’s your message to the voters?
My message to the people of Anambra State and our senatorial zone is that looking at the two products that will be in the market, which of them will they get democratic dividends from? That’s the essence of politics. He cannot do anything for them. I’m already a ranking senator and chairman Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream, which is of immense benefit to the people. I don’t think that it is something they will trade because of someone that is making noise on television and radio. Political party is a platform to serve the people, and like I said, the character of each of us matters a lot and also the positions we are going to hold in the Senate also matter to our people.
[Courtesy: The Authority]