Senator Ifeanyi Araraume is the Imo State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in next year’s election. He had represented Imo North senatorial district at the National Assembly from 1999 to 2007. Since then, he has been making efforts to govern the state.
He spoke to a select group of journalists in Lagos recently on why he won’t run again after this attempt. ISMAIL OMIPIDAN was there for Daily Sun and brings you the excerpts.
What is the attraction in Imo State governorship given the present situation in the state, which many have described as pitiable? And what will you do differently if elected governor to take the state out of the woods?
The attraction to govern Imo State stems from the fact that things are not working the way they should as nobody has really dealt with the challenges that we’ve always had. And as long as nobody has deliberately tackled those challenges, that attraction will always be there. Just take the issue of road infrastructure; you cannot drive on a kilometre of smooth road anywhere in Imo, including Owerri, the state capital. May be, that was what informed Governor Rochas Okorocha’s statement that the rain in Owerri is acidic. But, I don’t know how the rain in Imo State is different from that of other states.
In Imo State, you don’t see any notable contractor handling even a single project. Imo soil is not as bad as those of other states, the problem we have is that there is no design for any of the roads being constructed in the state. You can’t drive for a kilometre on our roads without undulation. In this 21st century, people are still making use of shovels and head pans in road construction.
We also have challenges in the education sector and ease of doing business; from a recent report by the Federal Office of Statistics, Imo State is number 34 out of the country’s 36 states. There is a reason why we ask people to vote APGA. Look at Anambra State; it stands out among the five South-East states. But Imo State has more resources than Anambra State. What is the problem? That is the question many keep asking. The answer is that we must enthrone good governance in the state. Our local governments don’t function. I want to be governor of Imo State, not to add value to my life economically, but, it is an opportunity to serve my people and uplift the state. So, the attraction to govern will continue to be there as long as these challenges are there.
Some people believe that you want to use APGA to win the governorship election and return to APC. How true is that?
This is my last attempt at the governorship; I am not going to contest for the position again after 2019. The only way I will contest again is after winning this contest; I will be seeking for re-election in 2023. I will not start afresh to run for governorship after this. I am not going to do it again, and that is why by the grace of God, we will do everything possible to ensure that we get it right this time and I don’t intend to leave APGA. I can’t leave the party for some obvious reasons. I have not seen any special advantage to be in the ruling party at the centre. President Buhari works well with Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State more than any other governor in the South-East and he is not a member of the APC. That working relationship is because the president feels that the programmes of Anambra State government fit into the vision he has for the country. Okorocha is a member of his party, but the Imo State governor does not look at the manifesto of his party. Another governor in the South-East, who is running a programme that fits into the vision of the president, is Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi. Look at his programmes on agriculture and infrastructure.
Nothing says that because you belong to the party at the centre, you would be given a special treatment, rather what will determine your relationship with the man at the centre, is your performance. If that is the case, I think the party you belong to does not really matter. So, what I think we should do is to build a strong APGA in the South-East and ensure that by 2023, all the states in the zone would have been under party. This will enable us to discuss and negotiate with other zones. If you recall what happened in the Second Republic, Imo and Anambra states were controlled by the National Party of Nigeria (NPP). Plateau State was also under the party’s control, but the agreement between NPP and the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), saw NPP producing the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy President of the Senate.
Is zoning still a factor in Imo politics given the agitation for power to shift to a particular area of the state?
Some states have gotten it right as regards zoning, but in Imo State, people are still a little bit confused. But, one thing that is certain is that nobody in Imo State will look in the direction of Imo West senatorial district because since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, the zone has had power for almost 16 years. Achike Udenwa was in power for eight years from1999 to 2007; Okorocha, who is also from the zone, has been in power since 2011 and by May 29, 2019, he would have been governor for eight years. That would be 16 years in power by the zone out of the 20 years of this dispensation.
So, it is unfair no matter whoever is looking at it to elect somebody from Imo West as Okorocha’s successor. Although, sometimes, people say that there is no fairness in politics, I believe that there should be fairness. Even if you overlook the political parties and focus on individuals, post-Okorocha era demands that Imo people should look at the individuals aspiring to be governor because it is not going to be like the government after Udenwa. You know that we had four years of Ikedi Ohakim after Udenwa, which like the Okorocha administration was not a pleasant experience in terms development indices. When you put this together, it has been 12 years that the state has gone through trauma. Therefore, it is not going to be an easy task, governing Imo State from May 29, 2019, but we have to start from somewhere.
The governorship election in Imo State is going to be a contest between former APC gladiators in the state. What edge do you have over these other candidates and what does traversing many political parties speak of your personality?
Yes, three of us were formerly in the APC, but I will tell you that all the parties have no clear-cut difference in terms of ideology. If there are no ideological differences, what will now inform movement would be the treatment you get in any of the parties. If you find out that where you are; the treatment is not fair and that those around you are strange people, people of abnormal behaviour, people who do not share in your vision and particularly when someone, who should decide your fate in a party behaves in a manner that cannot guarantee fairness, you have to leave.
I can tell you that most of our leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, have changed parties because of these reasons. If you remember, the President had to leave the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) after the 2007 general elections to form Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) because of unfair treatment. There was a situation that some ANPP governors then signed an agreement to work for the PDP as against their party’s presidential candidate. The then chairman of the party, late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, who was the vice presidential candidate, had to abandon his principal in court to accept an appointment from the ruling party. So, it is the treatment you get from a party that informs whether you will remain there or not.
We had a party that was going well under the leadership of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, but Adams Oshiomhole came and decided that those who supported Odigie-Oyegun should be dealt with. But they supported Odigie-Oyegun at a time the party wanted him. If Oshiomhole cannot forgive them for their support for Odigie-Oyegun, it means that such members of the party will not receive fair treatment under his leadership. And, if I am aspiring to lead my people, the first step is to go through the primary and whether you like it or not, the national chairman of a political party plays an important role in determining who emerges as a candidate. If he is not fair, there is likely to be a problem.
So, some of these things are what informs peoples’ movement from one political party to another. Okorocha himself was at a time in PDP, ANPP, AA and APGA, but his supporters are now back to AA, so if you look at it, Iam even the one who has travelled the least, on a scale of 1 to 10, I will be on the eight position.
How far have you gone in reconciling aggrieved members of your party over the fallout of the governorship primary?
Every primary election has its own peculiar challenges. When I joined APGA, there were 23 aspirants, who had been there before me. So, it is natural that everyone would be thinking that he or she will win. But the fact remains that I have the best political structure in Imo State; it has been there for a long time and its members are everywhere. Therefore, you cannot compare me with a man who has just left the bank and has no knowledge of politics; you can’t compare me with a man, who has no knowledge of what party primary is all about and you cannot compare me with a man, who doesn’t understand party administration because I have been there before. Members of the party understand that as a former party chairman, I will understand them better. Many of those in APGA were in All Peoples Party (APP) when I was chairman. So, they voted for me because they believe if I become the governor, I will understand the challenges facing the party. These were the things that informed my emergence as APGA’s candidate and naturally, some people will react the way they did. But, the good thing is that we have reconciled with more than 80 percent of those who felt aggrieved. The other 20 percent have left, like Ohakim left for Accord Party, Okey Eze left for Social Democratic Party, while Humphrey Anumudu left for another party. While these people have left, we have reconciled with all those who are in APGA now and everyone is working for the party’s success ahead of the governorship contest.
Given the personality of candidates in the contest, what do think will guarantee free and fair election in the state?
The role of the electoral umpire will go along in way in guaranteeing free and fair elections in the state. But I will tell you that Imo people are determined to ensure that their votes count. So, if INEC does what it ought to do, there will be free and fair election. Again, I will tell you that there are four strong parties that will be contesting in Imo State, namely; APGA, APC, PDP and AA. What this means is that there will be balance of forces in every polling unit, so it will not be easy for anybody to manipulate the process.