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Anambra governorship not for the highest bidder – Uchendu

A chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra State, Prince Neville Uchendu, in this interview, speaks on the forthcoming governorship election in the state, among other issues. STEVE UZOECHI reports

You are rooting for Prof. Chukwuma Soludo to emerge as the next governor of Anambra State. What informed the support?

After my personal assessment of all the aspirants that indicated interest in the November 6, governorship election on the platform of APGA, I felt that Prof. Soludo is the best for the state in terms of the intellectual and ideological qualities needed to govern and drive a state to new and beneficial heights. Soludo is a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and was outstanding in the policies he introduced, especially, those that nipped in the bud, the hitherto perennial problem of failed and distressed banks in Nigeria. Without sounding immodest, Soludo has an intimidating credential being a distinguished professor of Economics of global rating.

I feel he is the most appropriate person to steer the ship of Anambra to safe harbor at this very critical period when many state governments are battling with economic difficulties. Again, Anambra people should understand that the forthcoming election is not about voting a candidate that is capable of giving the highest money, but it is an exercise geared towards consolidating the gains already made in the past 16 years of APGA leadership, especially, that made by the incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obiano.

As you are aware, Anambra’s poverty rating was 54 per cent in the year 2010, but the 2020 poverty index recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that we now have 14 per cent in spite of the fact that most economies are dying at this very time. So, what we need is a governor with micro and macro- economic ideas like Soludo to drive our economy to enable us make a quantum leap in our socio-economic drive.

What are your thoughts on APGA’s primary election, which some of the aspirants kicked against?

Soludo won by a landslide during the June 23, governorship primary held in Awka, scoring 740 votes, while his closest rival got 42 votes. I belong to a group called ‘Anambra demands Soludo.’ I have equally been asked at various media interviews why I am backing Soludo, and my answer had always been that he is the best for Anambra given the present economic challenges occasioned by the impact of COVID-19. As one of the delegates that took part in the governorship primary, I was so happy over the conduct and outcome of that exercise.

My greatest excitement was the orderliness, transparent and peaceful way the exercise was conducted. Anybody that watched the exercise will conclude that Anambra people actually know what they want given the wide margin by which Soludo won the election. In fact, APGA set the pace for other political parties on how to conduct rancor- free primaries in Nigeria.

I must say as well that what APGA did was a clear signal that Anambra people have spoken because in most advanced countries, if an aspirant defeats his rivals with such a margin, people will begin to guess the direction the final election will go.

I can say that what happened during APGA’s primary was a tip of the iceberg on what is expected during the November 6 governorship election. Soludo is a game-changer; like he said, he will not abandon any project initiated by past governors and that is the kind of political paradigm shift we need to drive our society.

The humility of Soludo is a clear departure from what we use to hear from our politicians, who will feast on casting aspersion on perceived political enemies. Soludo eulogized past Anambra governors irrespective of their current political parties as well as mentioning projects he helped to initiate during each of their administrations starting from former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju to Governor Willie Obiano. I think that is the spirit we require at this time to grow the state beyond its present level.

Are you not worried that money will be a determinant factor during the election?

I lived in five states in the United States of America before my return to Nigeria. There are things that are not done during political campaigns such as paying people money to get their support. Anytime somebody is paid for his or her vote, the person who gave the money will not have the audacity to say do this or that for me because it will be construed that he has offered the person money for support, which is unlawful. I can tell you that a lot of individuals including myself have spent quite a good chunk of money hosting people in support of Soludo, to forestall Soludo being weighed down by heavy financial obligations, so he can perform without unnecessary encumbrances when elected.

Some people believe that APGA cannot take Anambra to mainstream politics. How would you react to that?

It does not matter whether other states of Nigeria are controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or All Progressives Congress (APC), what is of paramount interest is how Anambra fares under APGA. To be honest with you, the party is the identity of every Igbo man presently in Nigeria. The day we accompanied Soludo to pick his Expression of Interest and governorship form in Abuja, every person that saw us wearing the party’s customized uniform said these people are Igbo people and Anambra people. So, for me, APGA is enough protection for any Igbo man and we should all see the party as our own identity. I must also say that if we lose APGA, the Igbo people have lost a lot politically in Nigeria. The party is the platform that we can use to emancipate the Igbo people and all that we need is to embrace APGA as our own, starting from the South-East zone and we move into other zones and that is the surest way to emancipate our people politically.

How can APGA consolidate ahead of the 2023 general election?

To be honest, the way things happened during the last APGA primaries in Imo, Abia and other states resulted in too many complaints which I feel the leadership of the party must address for us to move forward. The party should do damage control and initiate reconciliation of all aggrieved members because that is what will further open more doors for the party to extend its reach and get a grip on more states in the next generation election. Also the party should guard against a repeat of such mistake in the future. Without mincing words, the June 23 governorship primary conducted in Anambra which produced Prof. Soludo showed that APGA’s leadership has improved and the party must endeavour to sustain such transparent primaries because poorly conducted primaries often cause rancor that adversely affect the fortunes of the party.

How would access Obiano’s performance and how will it impact on APGA’s electoral fortune?

The appraisal has to be fair. During the eight years tenure of former Governor Peter Obi, Nigeria recorded a boom in her crude oil sales, but for now, we are experiencing a burst in crude oil sales plus the effects of coronavirus pandemic, which started late in 2019 and hit the country in early 2020 and the effects shook the world economies including Nigeria. In spite of this obvious reality, you and I are witnesses to what Governor Obiano has done in the state in the past seven years. For instance, the governor recently test-ran Anambra Cargo/passenger Airport at Umueri in Anambra East Local Government Area, this was constructed within one year and six months beginning from early last year and that project rattled critics of APGA’s government in the state and beyond. He is equally constructing an International Conference Centre and the Awka City Stadium.

In the area of security, the state is about the safest in Nigeria for now, when you compare the rate of crime being recorded in other states of the country. Governor Obiano has also done tremendously well in infrastructural provision, especially, in the construction of several roads, 17 bridges scattered across the 21 local government areas and a lot more. But of great significance is what our governor did in all the communities in that the communities choose their priority projects by themselves. Under this programme which has gone through first, second and third phases, the state government disbursed N20 million to each of the communities in the three phases for them to execute projects of their choices.

Some communities built markets, schools, halls, feeder roads and other projects according to their needs and this initiative accelerated development in rural communities of Anambra and that explains why no community can be regarded as a village in the state today. Also, since the inauguration of Governor Obiano, civil servants have not been owed salaries in the state and that is why our governor is called the ‘credit alert governor.’

The government of Obiano has done very well and I can boldly say that the chances of the APGA candidate in the November 6 governorship election, Prof. Soludo will receive a big boost by these achievements. Like I did mention before, Obiano has also recorded achievements in the area of security; he has provided modern equipment and other logistics to the various security agencies and local vigilance groups with primed drones hovering around the state. This has kept criminals at bay and residents are the happier for it.

What is your advice to Anambra electorate as the election approaches?

We should desist from unfounded criticism and learn to support the good policies and programmes of our government. Taking this very important position will help position our state and nation on the path of sustainable growth because it will enable government to create enabling environment which most advanced countries do to open up their economies. Soludo has said that opening these windows will be his major priority as a governor. Already, we have some of our illustrious sons who are doing well in job creation as private persons and Soludo has assured that more would be encouraged to do business in the state to create more jobs. A country with high population like Nigeria is not supposed to be poor. Nigerians are so much engrossed with unnecessary criticism and flamboyant lifestyle, so I advise that our people should minimize the quest for ostentatious living and be contented. They should equally minimize demands for handouts from our politicians because that is invariable what contributes to the high level of corruption bedeviling our society. And on the part of public officials, the culture of primitive acquisition of money and property ultimately portrays one as foolish before God and man.

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