Accuses Okorocha of denigrating Igbo tradition
Hon. Emeka Ihedioha is the immediate past Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2015, he was the governorship standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, but lost the election to Governor Rochas Okorocha.
In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU, FRED ITUA and MAGNUS EZE, Ihedioha spoke on the rift between the Senate and the executive. He opened up on the crisis rocking the party and why the problem may linger on. Ihedioha spoke too on his 2019 ambition and why he thinks Okorocha has performed poorly. He spoke on other salient issues.
So many things are happening in your party and it appears people do not know where you stand.
That cannot be true. Maybe, you have been on vacation in Nigeria. Within this period, I do not think I have hidden my position on issues. I have been prominent on issues and on where I stand. I am always upfront on any issue.
The peace committee led by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has advanced some recommendations. Do you see these things enduring?
What is the popular view of majority of PDP members? What responses have confronted the report? When the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt gave a judgment, it was to validate the decision of the national executive body of the party. What was the position of Sheriff and Dickson? I want to understand. Why are they so much in a hurry? Why do they want to blackmail people as if that is the ultimate thing? Is our problem a convention? How did Sheriff emerge? We had a convention in Port Harcourt. All the governors of the party, including Dickson and his cohorts, all participated in appointing a caretaker committee. The decision was taken by the supreme organ of the party. Markafi committee came on board as a result of this. I always want to set the records straight and look at issues in a pragmatic way. The caretaker committee arose because a court in Lagos said we should not conduct elections into the positions of the chairman, secretary and auditor. We took the safe option. We said rather than go into an elective exercise, we remove all national officers through a motion and it was seconded. Uche Secondus was our deputy national chairman then. Our constitution says that in the absence of a national chairman, the deputy chairman acts. In the absence of Sheriff, Secondus was the chairman of the convention. One of the cardinal elements of the convention was the screening. Sheriff was screened and he was aware that he did not pass the screening. On the day of convention and having realized that members had lost confidence in him, he held a kangaroo press conference to cancel the convention. How can one man suspend the national convention of a party? Is that what the constitution says? Are you saying that the chairman of APC can get up tomorrow and suspend the convention of the party? The convention was duly held. We took the safest option to appoint a caretaker committee. The Court of Appeal had a divided decision and because of this, there are chances that the Supreme Court will give a judgment in either ways. The matter is in the Supreme Court. Let us wait and see what will happen on May 4, 2017. At least, progress is being made. We need to know the outcome of this case in order to set a good precedence. The PDP has been properly flogged for disrespecting its constitution. They need to get this one right. The executive implements laws in a democracy, while the legislature makes laws. The judiciary interprets. Let the judiciary interpret for us. I believe this matter is still much alive. We should appeal to the conscience of the Supreme Court to immediately pass this judgment so that we will know where we are.
Were you shocked that the Court of Appeal gave that judgment?
I was expecting the Court of Appeal to uphold the judgment of the High Court. That was my expectation. But the court in its decision, through a split decision, gave that ruling. I do not think it is right to subject me to further scrutiny since the matter is in court. Let the Supreme Court do justice.
What about the Dickson committee report?
Was Dickson not alive when the judgment of the Federal High Court subsisted? What was the role of Dickson all along? This gives me concerns. Dickson tells people that he has one or two issues with people in the party. That is his business. That should not worry me.
We have seen some people dumping the party, giving the impression that the party is on its way to the grave. Are you worried?
When we started, some of these elements defecting were in APGA, ANPP and other parties. They have the tendency to always gravitate towards places where there is power. They have their reasons. Some of them do that for protection, business reasons and to belong. I do not think ideology has been a factor. Some people do not believe in anything. I believe in something. I do not see things that way.
Will you still stick with the party even if it sinks tomorrow?
I will remain with the heart and soul of the party. Where people are, is where I will be. I am one of those anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Supreme Court. Then, I will decide the next line of action. There are certain elements who, I am aware of their antecedents, and I will not be in the same party with them.
If the Supreme Court rules in favour of Sheriff, what will you do?
It is obvious that Sheriff and I belong to different sides of the political divide. His antecedents are different from mine. His ideals are different from mine. We do not have the same friends, character and everything. I am optimistic that the Supreme Court will do justice.
How worried are you over the relationship between the National Assembly and the executive?
There have always been tensions between the legislature and the executive. In our time, there were tensions. We were bold and told the executive certain lines that must not be crossed. We protected the integrity and independence of the legislature. I was part of the PDP government, but we protected the parliament. I have no regret over my actions.
But it almost cost you your ambition…
Thank God it did not. I won the primaries of my party in a hotly contested race. It is on records that I had the electoral votes. Situations can always arise and a situation arose. We have learnt from our mistakes. It has strengthened me. Let us get back to your question. What is happening is not strange. What is strange is the position certain people who should know better have taken. People try to misinform the public. The constitution has three arms of government. It spelt out their responsibilities. The fundamental responsibilities of the parliament is appropriation, lawmaking, oversight and representation. The parliament should not be cowed by the executive. When I hear people who should know better telling Mr President that he should not listen to the legislature, they are not his friends. They are fifth columnists acting a script. I always tell people to watch out for those people. When anything happens, they are the first to jump ship. If you listen to Falana and Sagay, their positions are different from what they said in the past. These men are not as honest and sincere as they want people to believe. They need to respect the powers of the legislature. There is what you call lobbying. It is a norm in a democracy. In the United States of America, lobbying is done. We as the people, we have the responsibility to hold our representatives to account.
The argument is that the National Assembly plays politics with almost everything. Do you support this claim?
What does the constitution say about the powers of the Senate when it comes to appointments? Did it say anything about the way and manner? Everyone has a representative in the National Assembly, you can sponsor an amendment to any section of the constitution through your representative. The Senate has the responsibility to exercise its powers. The executive has enough already. They should allow the National Assembly to do its work. Some people want the legislature to be an arm of the executive.
What is your take on the continuous stay of Magu in office, despite his rejection by the Senate?
I am not the Attorney-General of the Federation or a judge. I do not think I am qualified to interpret the constitution. From my understanding of the constitution, I think the advisers of the President should tell him to follow the constitution. The constitution is clear on the issue.
Some South East governors want to meet with the President on the detention of Nnamdi Kanu. Do you think they are acting belatedly?
It has touched their consciousness. The issue should be taken seriously.
If the President declines, will that suggest that the President has something against the Igbo?
I do not want to suggest what the President will say. Let them see him first. If the governors go to see him, then we will know the issue. Then we can say something.
Do you think the President has been fair to the South East in terms of appointments?
I do not belong to the APC. I do not know what their contract is. In the PDP, things are different. I do not know what the APC has agreed on. I do not want to be part of the whole thing. It is clear that under the APC, the South East is shortchanged. For me as a man from the South East, it is clear that we are being shortchanged. The issue of Nnamdi Kanu is in court. I do not want to comment. You also know that governors are meeting with the President. As responsible Nigerians at the level I am, I do not want to comment on the issue. If they find it necessary to brief us, then it is okay. Its best that we allow them exhaust the processes.
Were you happy about the position of Governor Nasir El-Rufai that the South East is being shortchanged?
I do not need the validation of El-Rufai to know that the South East has been shortchanged by the APC government. The governor was a principal player in the emergence of Buhari and the formation of APC. He has his own way of talking to the President.
There is an argument that when President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, prominent Igbos were in power, but did not do much for their people. Do you agree with that argument?
As Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, my impact was felt. I realized the need to influence projects to my zone. You can ask members of the executive to give their accounts of their performances in office. For me, my records speak volumes.
There was a rumour that the cold relationship between you and President Jonathan, eventually led you to kneel before him and beg and that it was on that account that you got the PDP governorship ticket. How true?
I was not given the ticket, I won the primaries. I was nominated validly and I had the day. I did not beg President Jonathan. I related with him as my President and as the leader of our party. As the Deputy Speaker, I related with him on matters of state.
There was another angle that at some point, you were almost used to upstage Tambuwal whom you have worked with. How true?
Was Tambuwal eased out? Tambuwal and I have always had a good relationship. He is a man whose personality I respect. From the time we met in the House in 2003, we struck a harmonious relationship. I was the Chief Whip and he was my deputy. When he became Speaker and I was his deputy, it was a continuation of that friendship. We were very nationalistic and we looked at issues in the interest of Nigerians. That is the secret behind the success of our relationship. If anybody was suggesting otherwise, he was suggesting to himself. I could not have moved against him or betrayed him. I shoot straight. One thing I have not done is to change the rules of the game.
In 2015, you fought a good battle. Do you think the people still want you in 2019?
Imo state has been suffering from bad administration since Rochas Okorocha came in and it is still suffering. Okorocha has not had the privilege of being tutored in governance. You cannot give what you do not have. It is clear from what he has done that he does not know how to govern. He does not enjoy the respect of Imo elite. He does not command the respect of the judiciary. He is at loggerheads with the academia. He is fighting with labour unions. He has issues with religious bodies and pensioners. In my state, the Local Government is not functional. He has obliterated the third tier of government. I do not know any sector in Imo that is working. He has made the traditional institutions part and parcel of his government. In Igbo land, the people select their traditional rulers. But Okorocha has changed that. He has abused the Land Use Act. I do not know how many people in Imo State are happy. He does not believe in enduring projects. He is a man of propaganda. People cannot rate anything he has done right. One thing I know is that Imo State has the highest GDP in the South East, yet our people cannot feel the impact.
If he has not done well, how does he lead his party to win elections? We saw the case in Okigwe
They did not win that rerun election. That is the beauty of the electoral amendment the Senate is proposing, that election results will be transmitted from the polling units to collation centres. Today, what we see is that, people who know that they will not win elections, tamper with election results. I salute the Senate for this wisdom and courage. I pray that the House of Representatives act in line too. It is a positive development. The votes of the people must count. Governor Okorocha does not believe in the people. He believes in winning elections by crook or hook. Let us wait and see.
Were you robbed in 2015?
I will ask you. Check the results of the polling boots. When you collate them, you will get the answers. Why was Governor Okorocha so desperate to ensure that our matter was never heard? I respect the institutions of democracy. I respect the judiciary and I accepted their verdict on the election issue. I believe that Imo people voted for me.
Are you worried with the way our democracy is going?
Yes, I am worried. I want to say that the media should do more. I urge them to do more. Beyond the executive, legislature and Judiciary, the media is the next. Perhaps, it is the most important. For those who do not know how we got here, it took us a while to get here. I am one of those who believe in the unwritten code of balance of power. I believe in power rotation from one region to another. It makes a lot of sense. I hope that Nigerians will one day appreciate that the South East has been shortchanged and that it is time to give them a chance. I hope that realization begins to sink.
Your critics keep accusing you of being proud and autocratic. Do these things reflect who you are? Some people are defecting from the PDP in the state because of these things
I am surprised that people will say these things about me. I am a democrat. If I was autocratic, it would have been impossible for me to emerge as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. I was chairman of committees before I was elected Deputy Speaker. If you say that I am result- oriented, I will agree. Maybe it is a misrepresentation of that. To say that I deny people opportunities to express themselves is untrue. I am not aware of people in my party who want to defect. There are about two members of the House of Representatives who want to defect for reasons best known to them. I am aware that there are two attending meetings. You may also find out that those people will not affect my chances. I am an asset. As Deputy Speaker, I deferred my position. I attended meetings in private residences of some people, despite my position. You might find some level of envy. I have been productive. About 360 members of the House of Representatives elected me as Deputy Speaker. The House was stable under our leadership. We set new rules in the House of Representatives. Under our watch, we democratized so many committees. It took strength of character to do that. As chairman of the ad-hoc committee on Constitution Review, we had meetings in every constituency in the country. We gave Nigerians the opportunity to contribute to the making of a new constitution. Sometimes, my tone may be misunderstood. To get results, you need to move at a higher speed. As Leader of PDP, I led my party to win three senatorial seats and 18 out of 10 seats of the House of Representatives. We have learnt our lessons.
Is the place of the opposition to put the ruling party in check? I do not see that in Imo State.
Part of the problem of the PDP in Imo State is the division at the centre. Some former leaders of the party in the state are in concert with the state government. They have continued to confuse the people. These people are those with the Sheriff group. I often refer to them as fifth columnists. People have been talking about the issue in the state. We have said that Okorocha is a governor who believes in substandard dividends of projects. My job is not to speak everyday. Our governor does not believe in quality control. He does not believe in the rule of law. Some projects are death traps in the state. I am certain that in 2019, the governor will get the full dividends of his misrule.