Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe represents Abia South on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in the Senate. In this interview monitored by DAVID CHUKWU, he speaks on some political developments in the South-East and other issues
Distinguished Senator, how were you able to win in the last election, to return to the Senate, despite all the road blocks you had to cross?
Well, I can’t say how it happened but I can say that we have to thank the people of Abia South Senatorial District, who found me worthy to be sent back to the National Assembly. In actual fact, that election was a contest between the record of the incumbent Governor Abia State at that time and my own record for the people of the Senatorial District. I know that a whole lot of people were interested in it from all over the country. First of all, because the habit and the tendency is that governors exiting from their position will all like to come and rest in the National Assembly.
And I think that in the 2003 elections, about seven governors were unable to make that transition, which means that I wasn’t the only one that was able to surmount an incumbent governor. What I mean by record is that INEC also has some kudos. The National Assembly also has some kudos because if you remember, we fought hard to bring in electronic transmission of result, and you could be sure that nobody could go to the centre and wrote result as it used to happen in the past.
So, as results were coming, they were also being uploaded at the appropriate time; never mind what happened at the presidential election, which happened at the same time. But that is subjudice for now, so I will not comment on that. But for our own, that is the Senate and the House of Representatives, they were all uploaded and INEC saw the results; they were clear. The people of Abia South Senatorial District, decided that, on balance, I represented more of what they wanted than the then incumbent Governor at that time, and they made their decision based on that.
You talked about records, what did you put on the table when you were asking to be returned to the National Assembly?
Basically, what a legislator does is first of all representation. You represent your people whichever way. Secondly, you make laws and of course, every other attendant thing that follows it. There is this motion that every member of the National Assembly has to be able to build roads, construct schools; those ones are ancillary because what you do with regards to that is that when the national budget comes, you start seeking on how your constituency can benefit from the projects that are captured in the budget.
So, you start struggling on how you can put the projects that you think that they need. But the essential thing is representation. So, when the people of Abia South, and I am always an advocate for good governance; an advocate for their rights, an advocate to make sure that the right things are done and that things are done properly, and that nobody is treated as second class citizens in his own country. I think they saw me as their champion, and that was what I brought out when I was doing my campaign.
And none of them made bold to say what is it that you have done because they know that I am not a member of the Executive. They know that I am not supposed to come and say that I built trunk A road because I am not supposed to do so. It is the job of the Executive. Their point of decision is, when you put these two individuals side by side, what is their record compared to where they are. And of course, they found that in terms of representation, they didn’t see anything that was deriterious with me. So, they felt that it was better for them to go with what they already know. In summary, that’s what happened.
You have made several attempts to become the governor of your State but that never happened. Do you have any regrets returning to the Senate instead of serving as the governor of your State?
No, I don’t; not at all. The point is that you may seek a thing and you don’t get it, and if you don’t get it you move on. What actually has happened, we can situate it in the general Nigerian malaise, which is to make sure that the right people are always prevented from coming in to do the right job. So, I found that at every point that I go to seek the position of the governor, there are always all manner of obstacles, not from the people because we haven’t come to that point, but from the party apparatus, the people who decide who gets what?
So, in the last one; never mind the previous ones, it’s a story for another day, in the last one, what really happened was that there was a mistake by the political parties, which has just been cured by a court judgement. And that mistake is this, at a point where we in the National Assembly were amending the Electoral Act, apparently, after we have done the specific assignments, when it came to the fact for who will determine within the parties, who becomes a delegate, it was already in the old Electoral Act, that the party executives were supposed to be the delegates.
It was assumed that it was there, but we now added a proviso to say that there would be three persons elected, who will join the party executives. But it was found later that it wasn’t up-loaded and when we made the argument, it didn’t really matter because we also said in the Electoral Act that the parties have their rights to make their decisions on who becomes what. But the party apparati, seeing an opportunity, latched onto it and now said that it was only those three persons. So, what we found in all the parties said that they were going to do an election for the three persons.
And the election was supposed to come from bottom to top. Of course, you know how it used to happen, party executives in each state now went to the leader of the party, who is the governor, and he simply wrote the names of the list of who became the delegates, and that’s how the infamous three-man delegate came about. It therefore meant that one single person had to determine who became a candidate at all levels.
That’s not democracy; that’s something else. So, you could now say that in a State where they didn’t have a governor, it was far more democratic because not one single person can determine. But in a state where you had a governor, he determined who became a member of that three-man delegate. So, we were all frozen out. That was why you saw that my former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lost our heavily because by handing over a democratic process to a totally undemocratic one, what now happened was that decisions were taken which were not in consonance with democratic ideals.
So, whatever whims and caprices by the leader of the party in the State determined, not the generality of the party people and not the generality of the populace presented the person. And that is why you see that in Abia State. For instance, went from controlling all the eight House of Representatives candidates to one and went from controlling two senators and one APC Senator to no PDP Senator at all; went from controlling the government through the Governor to another government of another political party. And this was replicated in many other States.
So, you could see that that singular decision to close your eyes to what is in the law and turn to what you thought was expedient to give you power ended up costing the party so much. Remember, that’s what happened and Peter Obi left and so many other people left. In Abia, so many of us who were pillars of the party went our way and that’s the end of the party forever.
When you left PDP for APGA, people thought you would have contested for governorship. What happened that was not so?
When I went to APGA, I had been exhausted running through the primary process in the PDP. So, I didn’t have the resources to run into another gubernatorial process. And my new party said, well you are a very well-known figure in the National Assembly, and we don’t want to lose somebody like you speaking for us in the National Assembly; why don’t you just stay there? So, I had to sit with my political group and we considered and weighed all the options.
Then we said ‘well, a bird in hand is greater than two in the bush.’ Instead of going into another gubernatorial contest, you may win quite alright but you may be bruised after the first bruising. And we had a very short time within which these decisions should be taken, according to the INEC time table.
Let’s look at the position of the Igbo nation in Nigeria. Some people say that Igbos are disadvantaged because other zones have had a shot at the Presidency. Some blame it on Igbos; others blame it on the rest of Nigerians. What’s your take on this?
I don’t see us marginalised. I think if Igbos feel anything, you shouldn’t bother. Look, Igbos took the best decision in the interest of Nigeria. And I will explain what I mean; at a point when Igbos determined that Olusegun Obasanjo should be supported, despite the fact that an Igbo man, Alex Ekwueme of the blessed memory, had just been denied the opportunity by the then military that was going to hand over, and despite the fact that Igbos were actually looking at the whole thing at that time on national unity, Igbos still supported Obasanjo.
And you know what happened thereafter. He formed the government that has remained the best government till date in terms of economic revival of the country. And what did he do? He didn’t marginalise anybody from the South-East. He actually used a lot of people from the South-East ideas from the South-East as the core of his cabinet, which eventually led to a government that was able to exit the debt espionage we have just been brought back to.
When the Igbos also supported President Goodluck Jonathan, it was also that they saw that he was a better economic manager than whoever contemporary he was running against as at that time. And he ended up making Nigeria at that time one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And of course, at the point when the APC, with propaganda, brought former President Muhammdu Buhari and said that he was the best, of course, Igbos never supported the Buhari ticket.
And what happened? It took us all the way down from a government that didn’t owe to a government that is now not actually able to pay what it owes. So, what that means for us is that Igbos has always taken the best decisions for the rest of the country. The reason is because we are always everywhere; for everybody and we are part of everything. So, the question is that, from the time Buhari became President, he made it a point of duty to Fulanise the country, and at every point, made every effort to make a section of the country, the South East a pariah. And that particular trend is what we are seeing with the present government.
Are you saying that it was the plan of Buhari’s government to ensure that Igbos were never given a chance to produce the President in 2023?
There were a lot of Igbos who left the PDP then, on the premise that they were promised that they were going to be President; that President Buhari was going to make them President, but when they entered that political arena that was represented by the Buhari government. But what did they find there? They were disappointed.
I think it’s nothing but de- liberate action, but I don’t feel marginalised. You can say that I won’t make me Minister of Petroleum; where does it get you? The essential thing is this; for this country to work we need the best hands. And if you now want to keep away a section that is very innovative and very highly educated and also has the well with all to move the country forward, you are just hurting yourself, you are not hurting the Igbos; just check the statistics everywhere.
If not for sit-at- home every Monday and all these people running around in the South East, murdering people and killing people, statistics does not show that all these places where all these Presidents come from, who are trying to neglect the Igbos and push down the Igbos, that their standard of living is better than the average person in the village in Igbo land. Therefore, what is it that you are actually doing? What you are doing is cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Igbos are always accused of not being united and not working in synergy to win the Presidency. Do you agree with this view?
Well, with all due respect, I think that is fallacious and not correct; and the facts are there. In 1999, to bring Obasanjo on board, there was no combined South West energy to bring anybody, no. Instead, there was a combined energy of the elite in Nigeria and all the tendencies in Nigeria, to get rid of the military. And in order to get rid of the military. And don’t forget that the G34, which ended up in bringing into being the PDP, was led by an Igbo man. It was the same military that connived and changed what had been agreed, because everybody had agreed that the best person was the Late Alex Ekwueme.
What the Yorubas did was that they did not want the same Obasan- jo, and so he lost in all the Yoruba States including Ogun State where he came from. So, that’s number one; it’s not correct. Number two, with regards to Jonathan, nobody can say that the whole South-South all came together, no. All that happened was that the incumbent President to whom he was Vice President, unfortunately died and he was now sworn in. And once you are sitting on that seat, the next step was that there was an election coming, and there was an effort by everybody in PDP, to say, let him stay.
And Igbos were part of the people who said, let’s leave a man who is there, who is doing well to continue his job because we have a sense of fairness. This later day story is just a later-day story and it’s not correct. There is no group in Nigeria that you can say that all of them do come together, and then they struggle and go and tell everybody. The Buhari government wasn’t brought by Buhari despite his fabled 12 million vote. I know it was not 12 because by the time he contested with the Late President Yar’Adua, what he got was six million votes.
Are you saying that Igbos are not doing anything wrong?
Yes, I am saying that Igbos are not doing anything wrong. We make a decision on who is the best person to vote for. And if anybody comes and tells you that he loves Igbos but they don’t come together, you ask them, do they also come together. At the time that Shagari did his own election, he fought against Adamu Ciroma. At the time that Obasanjo came, he also fought against Olu Falae and Bola Ige. So, it’s all concoctions against Igbos by those who don’t like them.
Okay, they say that Igbos don’t love themselves, what happened in the last elections? Peter Obi took all the votes in Igbo land, and everybody who went to check found out that it was correct. Why? Because Igbos saw him as the best person to run our economy at this point, we need a sane, sober and very meticulous and prudent person to run this government. No Igbo man voted for him because he was an Igbo man. Igbos voted for him because he was the best person. And I stand to be challenged by any person. That is why you could see that his appeal is country wide.
Never mind about what you hear today that he didn’t win in this area or in that area, it is not true. All the people that were deprived, disenfranchised, disadvantaged and all that, saw him as a beacon of hope. And that is the fact; we don’t run away from facts.