Chijioke Edeoga is the governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP) in Enugu State. In this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, he speaks on his gubernatorial aspiration and intrigues that forced him out of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), among other issues
Now that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has published your name as the gubernatorial candidate of Labour Party in Enugu State; how do you feel, especially as Everest Nnaji is still in court, contesting the position with you?
I am quite elated in the sense that in Nigeria we all know that anything can happen and we are not taking anything for granted. A lot of my supporters and associates, friends and those who are interested in this cause were worried about this uncertainty. So, even if one has one’s conviction, you will also be worried because your friends are justifiably worried. If you are worried, it affects everything, it affects the enthusiasm, it affects the level of support, it affects so many things at so many different levels.
So, for me it is a good development that I have received validation from INEC, the body that is responsible for that and everybody is now rest assured, confident, happy that their wishes have become real. So, we are set to go. Thank God that it has happened this way, that INEC has confirmed the fact Chijioke Edeoga is the flag bearer of Labour Party and the enthusiasm as you noted worldwide and in the cyber space shows the level of involvement in what is happening in Enugu State.
But your opponent, Everest Nnaji, is still in court?
Yeah, sure he is still in court.
Are you worried about that?
We are human beings, so you never can tell.
What is he asking for?
I don’t even know what he is asking for; I don’t know the details of that matter. But I have very competent lawyers and they are handling it. I have absolute confidence in the ability of the lawyers I have engaged and they are handling it. I think that the idea of the whole thing is to distract me but I have resolutely made up my mind not to be distracted. I don’t even know the essentials of those issues in the court. Whatever is the outcome after my lawyers have done their best, I will accept it.
A Labour Party stakeholder, one Kennedy Iyere, recently opposed your candidature. He even went as far as addressing a press conference where he urged the presidential candidate of your party, Mr. Peter Obi, to be careful and not to aid his failure in Enugu State. What do you say about that?
My instinct is not to dignify Kennedy Iyere’s outburst because it is true he is most likely a Nigerian, but he is not a registered voter in Enugu State. So, his views don’t amount to anything. That is very important in the sense that he can’t even vote in Enugu State. So, his personal preferences are really immaterial because I know that there is a certain personal dimension to all those things he is saying because he came down to Enugu and got himself ensconced in a hotel. I received an unknown number, a number without a name inviting me to his hotel and I told him that when I’m through with my visitors I will come.
Shortly after he ran into a tantrum, that I did not come to see him by the time he wanted, started dropping names; that he is a social entrepreneur, he is the one who made Peter Obi. And I’m not impressed by all those antics, if you made Peter Obi what has that got to do with me? If you are a social entrepreneur what does that mean? If you are a friend of Pat Utomi, I have known Utomi forever! So, I refused to be impressed by those obvious posturing and I think he was infuriated with me. And now, he shifted his allegiance to Everest Nnaji, so we have seen what that amounted to. It amounted to nothing. So, my impression about him from the onset has been proved right, he doesn’t have the kind of weight he ascribes to himself. He is entitled to his preferences but they are immaterial as far as I am concerned.
Some of your opponents have said that you’re part of the Peoples Democratic Party government before joining the Labour Party and that you will not be different from Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi?
It doesn’t follow. What is the issue in Nigeria is leadership, the values that an individual brings to office. All these things about PDP, All Progressives Congress (APC) are just labels. They are just tags because even President Muhammadu Buhari obviously is not even keeping to the ideologies or to whatever APC promised Nigerians with regard to devolution of power and restructuring. He promised all things, is he keeping them now? Even the nature; the way APC was coupled together, is an experiment but is Buhari inclusive in his appointments or allocation of amenities, or his utterances or his mindset which we see through his actions.
So, the party is not the important thing, it’s the value, the character that an individual brings to the office. If you stamp your persona on the office you will make a difference. For instance, you are credible, for instance you are transparent; if for instance you have empathy, if for instance you have a vision, you are very well educated, very well experienced and you’re not corrupt, you have not gone to prison and you are not planning to go to prison, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has not taken you in; those are the issues that matter. And these things can be judged or deduced from one’s background.
So, for me, whether I’m PDP or not; but even in PDP, the problems that pertain to PDP now do they pertain to me? The issue of making promises that you are going to have rotational presidency and they refuse to keep their words, do I look like somebody who does not keep his words, have you heard that I don’t keep my words?
The issue of even the corruption that is unraveling the PDP at its echelon of power, people are returning money and nobody seems to care. Have you heard about me returning money to anybody or even taking anybody’s money? So that is not the issue, PDP or APC, the issue is what character, what persona, what values, what traits, what vision are you going to bring into an executive office when you have the powers to decide, to do. That’s the issue. If PDP was good I wouldn’t have left PDP.
In the same vein, some PDP members said that you reneged on the agreement to support whoever emerged at the party’s primary; that you left the party and joined Labour Party even after congratulating Peter Mbah, the PDP candidate?
When they say that, I just laugh because agreement has elements, contracts have elements. That contract abinitio was illegal. So, sometimes you just pander to the whims of people who think that they know, you understand; this is public policy, you cannot bind somebody, you cannot bind my hands, it’s anti-democratic, it’s unconstitutional to seek to restrain one’s freedom to associate or to disagree.
So, ab-initio that contract was not worth the paper it was written on. But the dictates of those times meant that you had to pander to the whims of people who thought that they knew something when they didn’t know anything. I’m a lawyer, I have two degrees in law, so I know what a contract means, I know what agreement means. That agreement can be faulted from every perspective.
At that point in time, it was just necessary to play along, so that those people who are looking for excuses will not have excuses. It was an illegal agreement, an illegal contract; how can a contract say that you must subscribe to who the governor chooses, is it in the hands of the governor to choose? It is not in the hands of the governor to choose, it’s in the hand of the delegates to choose.
Is it true that traditional rulers brokered that agreement? What have traditional rulers got to do in a democracy?
Those are the type of the comic dimension that things have taken in Enugu State.
Did the traditional rulers play any role?
Yes, they invited us, they midwifed the arrangement but that’s not really the point. We did not say anywhere in that agreement that one should not leave. So, the point is that it was not a valid contract, it was not binding.
Some of your opponents in other parties say that you will not stand for the election even if your name is published by INEC because they will ensure that you are disqualified because you participated in the PDP primaries contrary to the Electoral Act?
There is nowhere in the Electoral Act that says I should not participate in an election, it’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, restraining one’s freedom for no reason. There is no place, not a single line in the Electoral Act seeks to inhibit or restrain or constrain your right to participate.
The conditions they tried to refer to are clearly defined; it has nothing to do with me. If it has something to do with me, I will not run, I will not put myself forward. I have read that Electoral Act from the beginning to the end, I’m a lawyer for goodness sake.
It’s just that people make assumptions based on refusal to be serious or rigorous. What will it take to download the Electoral Act and read it and point out the place where the person has contravened? And why will I put myself through all that stress, move from PDP where I was already a contender until I was ironed out, enter the Labour Party, start the process again, buy nomination form, pay waiver fee, put myself through the primary and I won’t read the relevant laws guiding the process? That will be asinine, it’s not true. So the answer is that it’s not true, they can’t stop me, I’m unstoppable, it’s only God who can stop me from winning the election.
People generally believe that Enugu has been a one-party state, predominantly PDP since 1999, and that with the weaponisation of poverty, it will require a load of money, cash to be able to defeat the incumbent party. Do you have the money to challenge them?
It’s not true, it’s not about money, you have said about poverty; poverty has been weaponized. Everyone feels the pain now but the Electoral Act is the saving grace. It is the coup-de-grace, that’s one of the best things President Buhari has done for us. So, it is the game changer, the Electoral Act is the game changer; it has restored power to the people the way that we expected it since 1999.
For the first time since 1999, power has been returned to the people, we thank Buhari for that. So, if Enugu has been a one party state, in this election we will know if all along people have not had the right to exercise their democratic right. So, forget what has happened since then, but let’s look at how we will respond to the new Electoral Act and what it will bring. But I’m optimistic that people will seize the moment and vote whoever they want to vote, and vote out bad governance and bad people who have not performed optimally.
Some people have posited that the development blueprint by pioneer leaders of Enugu State has been abandoned by successive governments; what will you do differently?
Enugu does not have water in a manner that corresponds with the growing population because in the early 60s, Enugu has focused on only one source of water supply, Ajali, which is miles away from the capital territory and you have to pipe water. These big pipes are subject to rusting, they are subjected to destruction by contractors, and even rupture and loss of velocity and population explosion. What I’m going to do; Enugu is surrounded by rivers and waters and springs, is to capture those waters at that point, treat them and reticulate them to the nearest places.
Enugu is surrounded by rivers; the Idaw River, Ekulu River, Ebony River and you have several natural reserves of water under the ground. So, what I’m going to do that is different as far as water is concerned is to go to those places, those rivers and capture the water and treat it and reticulate. We even have lakes, we have Opi Agu Lake.
So I will not depend on Ajali, I will not depend on only one source, I will diversify the water supply. That’s what I saw the White men do in my own town of Eha-Amufu, they came to the river and put a treatment plant and piped it though the whole town. That’s how railway stations throughout the country were served with water by the white men. So, it is doable, you can replicate it, even the 82 Division Nigerian Army Enugu, it draws water from Ekulu River and treats and reticulates in the entire barracks. So, if 82 Division Nigerian Army can be serviced like that; why don’t we do the same thing to Achara Layout, Trans-Ekulu? Why won’t you have a separate water supply point for GRA Enugu or Independence Layout? The same thing applies to infrastructure. Enugu is congested; we just put roads that will take us far away from this place and link up those places.
Jim Nwobodo was the one who developed Trans-Ekulu, before him, there was no Trans-Ekulu, it’s a mega place of living now. So, there are other possibilities. Enugu has vast land that is begging to be used. So, I will make sure that large expanse of roads take us to places that are now undeveloped and open up new cities. Just get a good planner, good surveyor, bring housing people, give them the opportunity to plan and build either on some PPP level or outright ownership. Whatever model that suits us that make it cheap and affordable for our people.
The same thing for industries and infrastructure; I will make the place friendly for industries, reduce all this multiple taxation. They are crippling. So I will make the environment business friendly. I will invite people and support them and encourage them with rebates, with fiscal policies that encourage growth and development.
I will reduce land cost to the barest minimum because land is there; what are we hoarding them for. I will encourage Diaspora remittance, I will encourage Diaspora involvement, I will encourage our industrialists in Lagos, find out why they are running away, what is scaring them, go to them, meet with them, interface with them and reassure them. So, we will make the place friendly, we will remove filth, reduce tax, multiple-taxation. That’s what we are going to do that is different. So many things that will be radically different from the way things are now. It’s the mindset that is important, it’s the attitude that you bring to that office that is important.