Chief Eugene Odo was a two-term Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Damain Duruiheoma, he evaluates the chances of presidential aspirants from the Southeast in the next general elections, among other issues
The All Progressives Congress (APC) was widely expected to zone the presidential ticket to the South, particularly the Southeast, which is yet to take a shot at the presidency since the return to civil rule in 1999. But, from the look of things, it is likely going to be thrown open to all aspirants. Does this bother you?
Well, the APC has not zoned any political office anywhere. However, people are showing interest in positions they feel they deserve to contest. At the appropriate time, the party will certainly make a categorical statement on zoning. Power rotation or zoning is not limited to the presidency alone; it is also applicable to other positions, such as that of the national chairman. For instance, when the chairmanship position is zoned to the South, the presidential ticket is usually zoned to the North. If the chairmanship position is zoned to the North, by implication the presidency would go to the South. These are ordinary mathematics. But, nobody can stop any aspirant from showing interest in a position, as long as he is a Nigerian and a member of the APC.
However, when the party zones its position, everybody, including the Southeast will respectfully align. We in the Southeast are very optimistic that the party would zone positions. They cannot be thrown open. But, so long as the party has not zoned its positions, every member is free to run. Immediately the party zones its positions, every other member will align with party decisions because the party is supreme. But, in the absence of that, people must show interest in any position they are interested in. Such interest is a way of calling the party’s attention to what each zone deserves. But, at the end of the day, you find that not more than one person will be president. By the time the party pigeon-holes it to a particular geo-political zone or zones, discussions will ensue from there.
Your party, the APC has made some appreciable inroads into the Southeast within the last couple of years. But, there is this general belief that the APC would die a natural death if it failed to cede its presidential ticket to the zone in 2023. What’s your take on this?
What is happening in the Southeast is an elitist conspiracy. I was in the PDP and if you compare the PDP’s 16-year reign to the APC’s six and half years, in terms of what they have done for the Southeast, you will agree with me that the APC has done far much better. The second Niger Bridge that looked as if it was a white elephant project is being tackled headlong by the APC. If you are familiar with the road going to Asaba, you will notice that it has gone over 75 per cent.
If you have had the course to travel from Enugu to Aba, you will notice that the road has been completed almost from Enugu heading to Aba and Port Harcourt. So, also, Enugu to Onitsha Road is under construction. These are projects that were awarded during the PDP era, but were not done. In fact, many of the roads that are up to 15 kilometres in the Southeast are currently being executed by the APC-controlled Federal Government. You can make your research. We’re not talking about the Enugu Airport that has been modernised to the tune of over N10 billion.
The clamour has been about appointments and integration of the Southeast, which is very germane. We’re clamouring for more positions, just like every other zone. But, one should ask oneself, in spite of the resources that accrued to the country under the PDP, it did not do anything with it. Now that the resources have dwindled, all these achievements are being made. If you go to Umuahia-Ohafia Road, if you go to Ebonyi, Anambra and Enugu here, various Federal Government projects are ongoing. But, what we found out is that there is an elitist conspiracy. The people who are being manipulated are fanning the embers of those manipulating them. That’s the problem of the people of the Southeast. This is because people prefer to be ‘dashed’ money, rather than establishing an infrastructural base upon which businesses will thrive. I can assure you that the best bet for the Southeast is to be connected with the centre. We cannot do it alone. People have been talking about what Buhari has done and what he has not been able to do. Nobody has ever thought about asking questions about the funds received by the various states and local government areas in the Southeast. An average local government area in the Southeast receives between N160 million to N200 million every month. Nobody has questioned where those monies are. Nobody has asked questions about what is done with the monthly allocations that come to the states in the Southeast. But, are just interested in asking what the Federal Government did. If you are from any of the local government areas in the Southeast, move around and ask what they have done with such money. Before doing that, just investigate and find out how much money accrued to every local government. You will not go too far to find the answer. You can do that on your phone. Google any local government area you like and any month of your choice, the answer will appear. But, people are not interested in such questions. They’re only interested in pursuing ephemerals, which is not going down well with us. This is why our people are going down; nobody is interested in speaking and those who speak out are maligned or intimidated. A lot of them are dying in silence. So, we believe that the APC has done well in terms of infrastructural base. So, in terms of infrastructure, you cannot compare the 16 years of the PDP, a party I was equally a member then, with the six and half years of the APC. Nevertheless, the APC needs to do more in terms of appointments in the Southeast.
What would be the fate of the APC in the Southeast, if it doesn’t zone the presidential ticket to the region?
There’s no political party that will not zone its positions. A lot of people from the Southeast are already in the race. Ebonyi State’s Governor Dave Umahi has declared. He is from the Southeast. A lot more will still declare. By the time the party sits down, it is our expectation that it will first and foremost zone the ticket to the South. Then, the South will come and discuss and then zone it to a particular geo-political zone.
In all of this, what is the hope of the APC in the Southeast ahead of the 2023 general elections?
The party is moving very well. In Enugu State where I come from, we have been able to at least extricate the party from the PDP government, which was controlling the party before now. The party is now fully in the hands of the APC people in Enugu. Before now, the party was being controlled by the government in power. But, by the grace of God, we have been able to get that dislocated. We’re hopeful that after the national convention, we will move. I can assure you that what you used to know about the APC in Enugu State, where I come from, is certainly going to be a different story. The results are already showing.
Talking about the APC in Enugu State, the state congress of the party produced two persons who are now laying claims to the chairmanship seat, in the persons of Ugo Agballa and A. C. Udeh. What is your reaction to this?
It is normal; it is not strange in politics. It is normal that people will be canvassing their own position through whatever means they want. The party chairman is Ugo Agballa. The National Executive Committee (NEC) set up a seven-man committee to monitor congresses in every state. Those sent to Enugu State came. They had with them venues from the national headquarters. In Enugu, the seven people came and went to the appropriate venue and conducted the congress where Ugo Agballa emerged. It is unfortunate, if somebody decided unilaterally to find a different venue. It is just akin to the JAMB scheduling exam at CPS Emene and you leave CPS Emene and go to Central School, Ukeh to set exam for yourself.
At the end of the day, you bring it to the examiner. Nobody will listen to you. In fact, the issue of parallel leadership is being propelled by you reporters. There is nothing like parallel leadership in Enugu APC. A parallel is when two opposite things are equal. In this case, nothing is equal. Those who were sent from Abuja were not divided. The venue was not divided. They went to the venue and conducted the election and somebody emerged. But, another person went to a different place without any electoral material, without the officials who were posted to conduct the election and declared himself as chairman. Unfortunately, you people are describing it as a parallel congress. It is not right. The term parallel as being used in this case is deceptive and elusive because parallel is when two equal lines are moving in opposite directions. In this case, there’s nothing like parallel, as far we’re concerned. It is either you won the election or you lost it.