INTERVIEW: Abaribe: I’m Determined To Be The Change In Abia


Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe believes that Abia State, must strive to be the industrial heartland of the nation and he thinks of himself as a governor who can drive this. Segun James reports

Why do you want to become the next governor of the state?

My reason is simple: Abia State deserves the best possible material to lead it and I think I am the best person at this time to lead the state. This is the 21st century; this is also a transition year and this is also a year where so many things are happening both in Nigeria and all over the world. And what Abia needs now is a man that has integrity. Abia needs a man that has credibility, a man that has the capacity to do the job and Abia needs somebody, who at all times the people can go to sleep and say they know that Abia is in very good hands.

I am putting myself forward for Abia people to be the governor for all, not the governor of the North, South, East or West, but the governor for every Abia person. And I think that with the pedigree I have and with what I have done for the people of Abia and indeed, the people of Nigeria, all the oppressed people in this country know that I put them first in everything, that I will do a great job for them.

This will be your fourth or fifth attempt, do you think people will give you their votes this time?

I think that what is important is the adage: if you try and it doesn’t work, then you try again. It doesn’t matter how many times I have made attempts, I think that this is the right time and Abia people know and I have their support and their encouragement. I have had consultations with all persons in Abia, all manner of people; I have had with the leadership, I have had with the led, market women, with the youths, I have had with the political leaders, I have had with academia, I have had with all. At every point I have met with them, Abians asked for one thing: leadership that puts them first and I intend to do that.

As the Senate’s minority leader. What’s your take on the Electoral Act?

It is a good piece of legislation. It was meant to cure some of the problems that were in the previous acts all this while. The basic thing that we have in the Electoral Act today is the fact that it will make rigging almost impossible. There are two things that were done in that Electoral Act. First is the direct transmission of results in each polling unit. Even if you have problems in a polling unit, the cumulative of all the polling booths will give you a near accurate figure. Also, there is a provision in the Act that if you, by any means, force a Returning Officer to announce a result that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not have, that set of results will not be processed.

The other thing about the Electoral Act, which is good, is the very famous one, which everyone saw when the Senate rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s amendment, which is section 84(12). What that section does is that it codified what was already supposed to be the norm of our society. Usually, if you want to run for election, the norm used to be that you would resign. You won’t sit in office and at the same time utilize your office to run and manipulate state resources in running for election.

There is an aspect of that legislation, which people talk about, which I do not think is in the law. I have heard it said that, if you have not resigned by now, you might not be eligible to contest; that you ought to have resigned. No law is made to be retroactive, so Section 84(12) doesn’t say that you ought to have resigned by now. What is actually in the law is that if you are going to be a delegate for the purpose of primary or you are going to be an aspirant or a contestant for the purpose of primary, leading to an election that you will have to resign. The stipulation as to time is what is in the Civil Service Rules because you are a public officer and you are subjected to the same Civil Service Rules, which is 30 days before any contest.

So, it is actually 30 days before primary or 30 days before congress if you are going to be a delegate. It is not for three months. When the parties set their dates, I believe the 30 days will now kick-start from the date the parties put for their elections. That is what is in 84(12).

The President, in his wisdom, has said that it conflicted with the 1999 Constitution, where that particular part of the constitution wasn’t mentioned. So, we didn’t know exactly what he meant. As far as we know, we think that if you are in office and you still want to be in that office and also run or contest for an election, what you are doing is that you are short-changing the country because your office will suffer. And of course, when you are running for office, what it means is that you are going to neglect your official duties, and you swore an oath to fulfil your duty towards the public and towards Nigeria, so you cannot balance the two at the same time. It is not going to be in the interest of the country. The interest of the country should come first.

So when we got that communication from the President, we said some people must have mis-advised him to write that letter. For example, I run the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and I now want to be President and then I want to contest for primary while I am still running the NNPC, something is going to suffer. And what is going to suffer actually is my job for the people of Nigeria in the NNPC. We should not allow that. We just didn’t think that these are things that we ought to codify, but we have found out that because it wasn’t codified people were taking advantage of it and staying in their offices and utilizing the office to run elections and of course, to the detriment of their duties. That was why we declined to put an assent to it.

The All Progressives Congress, APC, is trying to get a foothold in the South-east. What do you think are the chances of the PDP for the presidency and to retain power in Abia?

I don’t think the APC has had a foothold in the South-east. What the APC has done, just like they have done elsewhere, is to poach the leadership that is already there from the PDP and when they poach them, they give them a lot of bogus promises, which they never kept. So, at all times, the PDP will always win the South-east; we have no problem about that. It is obvious that the APC has nothing to offer the South-east and we repeat not just the South-east; the APC has nothing to offer the country. What will they offer you? Is it fuel that is at N600 per litre? You can’t fly, diesel is at almost N800 per litre. And of course the worst, which is that we are in the middle of rising oil prices at the international market, yet we are still crying that Nigeria is not benefitting from the development. This has never happened. At least, everybody can say that when there is rising oil prices, we can no longer borrow; we can pay our debts; we can reduce the deficit but none of that is happening, we are not saving and we are doing nothing. We should ask ourselves one question and that question is this: what manner of economic management does the APC do that has led us to this type of Nigeria where nothing, literally nothing, is working and the country is grinding to a halt? When we asked this question, we were told that the real problem is that we are paying subsidies. Two things we can take from here; this same APC said that there was nothing like subsidy. This same President Buhari said subsidy was a scam, yet subsidy has risen under this government three times or four times more than subsidy under President Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP government that they persecuted so much.

We should ask ourselves another question: how did the consumption of Prime Motor Spirit, PMS, rise under APC from the 28 million to 30 million litres a day under (Dr Ibe) Kachukwu as minister to about 100 million litres a day under the present leadership of the APC? Something is definitely wrong. How can, within three to four years, you tell us that the consumption of petroleum products in Nigeria has quadrupled; how could that be? So, what we see is something that is inexplicable. The United States has an energy department that has the consumption rate of all fuel you use all over the world. If you check their figures, the whole of West Africa doesn’t take up to 35 million of litres a day, the whole of West Africa and you tell me that Nigeria takes over 100 million litres a day and we are paying subsidies on this phantom figures. So, there are things we cannot explain. We all know that the APC has nothing to offer an average man in the South-east, who finds it very difficult to do business, who finds it very difficult to move about, even if he is an importer he has to come to Lagos and the cost of moving his goods to Abia is costlier than what he used to bring it from Europe to Lagos. So, how would anybody survive in this kind of condition? And now after everything they told us that if they remove the PDP from power, they will now give us electricity. I think that was what Mr (Babatunde) Fashola said then.

Now, they are telling us that electricity has fallen because it is the dry season and that the water level has fallen. The same thing they complained about under the PDP. So, you can see that these people came to power on the basis of an issue of propaganda, misinformation, lies and everything, they can no longer sustain it. Therefore, there is nothing for Nigerians to look forward to other than to bring the PDP back so that we can restore the country the same way we restored it from 1999 to 2015.

What is your take on the Igbo quest for the presidency? Will your party, PDP consider the region for its presidential ticket?

Yes, we are clamouring for a president from our zone because we think that every other part of Nigeria has had a shot at the presidency. But beyond that, we think that we have credible, competent and very qualified persons within the PDP from the South-east who can lead Nigeria and take it out of the problem that it has today. And we are also encouraging them that they should come out and contest; they should talk to people from every part of Nigeria because to take the cliché, power is not served a la carte. I am sure that we have many credible people from the South-East that can bring Nigeria back from the brink and the PDP looks good to win the presidency in 2023.