Following his victory at the Supreme Court, Ben Nwankwo, the member representing Orumba North/South Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives, was sworn in April, two years after the 2015 parliamentary elections. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Nasir Ayitogo, the lawmaker narrates his long walk to victory in court, Anambra politics and other issues. Excerpts:
PT: You were recently sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives following the decision of the Supreme Court that you won the election in 2015 and not Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka who was earlier sworn in. Can you tell us how your journey to victory started?
Nwankwo: It started on 7th of December, 2014 when PDP primaries were conducted in Anambra State for National Assembly election. I contested alongside five others and on that day, there was no Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka at the venue of the election. That was in Mbarinzu – Umunze. He did not show up there. He didn’t feature there. He was not seen anywhere around the perimeter of the environment. He never got a single vote. He didn’t send an agent (because) he was not serious with that contest.
I won the election and all the people who contested with me didn’t score up to 20 per cent of my votes. It was a landslide victory. The moon, sun and land witnessed that election. My name was forwarded by the person that conducted the election, one Engr. Okuchukwu, to the electoral panel of the entire state. That election was conducted between 12 and 1 p.m. contrary to what Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka claimed that it was by 8 a.m. As at 8’oclock we had not even started accreditation for the senatorial election. The Electoral College for the House of Reps is the same as that of Senate as it were then in my jurisdiction. In other words, the delegates that participated in Orumba North/South primaries election that elected me also elected the senatorial candidate, Dr. Andy Uba. It was after the senatorial election that we moved to prepare for House of Representatives primaries. So, I had a landslide victory. My name was transmitted by Mr. Okuchukwu Okafor to the electoral panel sitting in Awka.
Somewhere in Abuja, in one hotel owned by one of the self-acclaimed godfathers of Anambra politics, unknown to me, some lawyers were cooking up tales of lies in the name of originating summons in favour of Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka. He approached Justice A.R. Mohammed seeking summarily that he should be declared the validly elected and authentic candidate of PDP without joining any of the persons that contested elections.
It wasn’t that he sued all the people that contested and said to the judge ‘oh look, amongst all of us joined in this suit, I’m the one that won the election, declare me the winner following A, B, C and D.’ He went on a frolic of his own to the judge and the judge so granted in its entirety all the prayers. The judge went ahead without finding it wise to demand that I be joined in the suit. I wasn’t aware of it. My name was in the kitty of INEC and INEC was represented in that suit. They also kept quiet. So, I will say that it was a journey that was very tortuous. I passed through a political Golgotha to reach my political salvation because it was a conspiracy of the godfathers who felt seriously threatened by my being elected for the third time into the House of Representatives.
There is no Anambra citizen that has been validly elected three times into the House of Representatives and I will be the first to be so elected. That being the case, the conspiracy was thick and the threat was obvious and they conspired and came out with an order which I was not a party to and which was to affect me adversely anyway.
I ran in the election, which took place on the 28th of March. On the eve of the election, a SAN representing INEC as Director (Legal) wrote a letter to the REC in Anambra State asking him to remove my name and put Ezeonwuka’s name as candidate of PDP in obedience and compliance with the directive of the Federal High Court given by A. R. Mohammed. The order was for PDP to send the name of Ezeonwuka to INEC and for INEC to publish. But as at that time publication ended, submission ended and PDP didn’t send his name anywhere. INEC again went on a frolic of their own, procured and sponsored him as their candidate and inserted his name 24 hours to election as their candidate via a letter written by Director (Legal). It got to Anambra on the day of election.
At the point, I was to take my declaratory certificate, the letter surfaced. My certificate was cancelled and before me, given to Ezeonwuka by the commissioner in INEC who represented the South-East. If you ask me, Ezeonwuka was an INEC candidate who was sponsored by INEC and not by PDP. That was how the legal journey started. So, we took it up from there.
We went to Court of Appeal to set aside the judgement of the lower court but the Court of Appeal misconceived the matter totally, ordered for a fresh election all together from nowhere, a relief no one sought.
I applied to be joined as an interested party in the case and my application was pending before the Court of Appeal. They gave judgement on the matter when my application was before them. They told me their hands were tied already and that I should go to the highest court. That made things more difficult, more tortuous and more protracted.
I went up to the Supreme Court and filed a joinder. It was a very difficult task to argue it through. The Supreme Court rarely join parties at that level because the Supreme Court is not a trial court as you know, it is the highest court in the land. But maybe something struck them, my application was heavily supported by affidavits by PDP lawyer, Arthur Obi Okafor and as God would have it I was joined as an interested party. My joinder in the case actually turned out to be my turning point. They were able to look at the two sides.
The judge who presided over the matter said he was interested in knowing the truth and the truth must be discovered because there were two results emanating from one election. One of them must be forged and the other must be original. He ordered the IGP to investigate the two results and prosecute any person that has forged any and they also went ahead to order that I be included as an appellant in the case. That brought another twist to the case. The cabal that was behind Ezeonwuka tried to spite me politically, fought relentlessly and I gave them a run for their money. But then, he that comes from above is above everybody.
They succeeded in getting the two warring factions of PDP. First, they got Sheriff to write the court that they should withdraw the PDP appeal upon which mine leveraged on. I went to Makarfi and he linked me up to Ben Obi and that we should go back to the court and follow the case to its logical conclusion. But before the hearing, they did a 360 turn around and wrote a counter letter. In fact, Ben Obi came himself and urged the Supreme Court to withdraw the case but as God would have it, the Supreme Court heard everything on the same day and in the judgement, they agreed that PDP had the right to withdraw the case and debrief the lawyer. Luckily, I had been joined as an interested party and so the appeal succeeded on my own.
A lot of waters passed under the bridge which I don’t want to discuss publicly but at the end of it, summarily speaking, the godfathers were put to shame by he who is above all. Right now, they are very angry and are fighting back and they are not ruling out any possibility, including assassination. As it is now, I’ve been receiving all manners of text (messages), funny calls and funny movements here and there.
One good thing that came out of that judgement was that the Supreme Court stood up to its responsibility. They looked politicians in their faces and told them to stop corrupting the political system and stop putting clog in the wheel of progress in this country. For the political system to stand, the political class must be sanitized.
First, they ordered him to return every kobo he has received from the National Assembly in whatever manner to serve as a deterrent for other people who may want to try funny things and reap from where they did not sow, those who want to take advantages of leakages in the system, collect certificate and then rush to the National Assembly to be sworn in, particularly in Anambra State.
If you know the political history in that state, you will know that anything is possible politically in that state, including kidnapping a serving governor, staging a civilian coup. Someone won’t contest for election but will get a certificate of return. All these happen in Anambra State. It took me two years to fight this battle but I am happy I am telling the story. And I have to say this – all power belongs to God. He gives to whom he wishes. Without any godfather, you can go ahead and become whom God wants you to be.
PT: Why are your elections always marred by controversies? In 2003, your election was stopped, you were not sworn in until 2005 after you got cleared by the court.
Nwankwo: The same godfathers, I don’t do their bidding. In 2003, prior to that election, a political godfather asked me to help in removing the then governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, whom I served in his administration as commissioner for special duties, finance, works and transport, housing and urban development. I told him that I wouldn’t have any reason to organise such a coup. He said he needed me desperately to remove Mbadinuju and I should talk against him and say all manners of things. I said I wouldn’t do that and that if I do it, it would hurt me and my children because I will be seen as biting the finger that fed me and it will be ungrateful of me. It is also because for you to be a commissioner in Anambra State without being sponsored by a godfather is very difficult. I was a commissioner without a godfather, I had God the father as my Godfather and I said no I wouldn’t do that. For that reason, they conspired and wrote a petition against me and the then Inspector General of Police ordered for my arrest without any investigation or intelligence. I was just locked up in a police cell for months without charge. I was kept to prevent me from winning the primaries but as God would have it, that election you are making reference to, I won the primaries while in police detention. When I was released, I came out, contested the election and I won. The same cabal fought and removed my name and brought somebody who contested under the UNPP to replace me as candidate of PDP. I went to court, the court also found out that Nedu Ugochukwu whom they used to replace me was the candidate of UNPP who contested the same election and lost to me. But they went to INEC and replaced my name with his. Somebody who contested in UNPP now became PDP candidate that won the election which I contested and won.
So, I went to court for two years again I fought. I didn’t come on board again until two years after, I was sworn in around April 2005.
My elections are not marred by any controversy but you can say that the godfathers have been against me.
PT: It was believed that your name was substituted with that of Ezeonwuka as a result of factionalization in your party, the PDP. How many factions exist in Anambra State?
Nwankwo: Well, my name was not substituted as a result of factionalization. Ezeonwuka’s case was not that his primary election was conducted by another faction of the PDP. Both of us laid claim to the victory of the primaries conducted by the NWC of PDP. It had nothing to do with factions or differences in delegates. He was talking about the same delegates that elected me and the senator but that he was the person that won the election. He won the election from a hotel room in Garki District of Abuja while I won in the field which exists in Orumba North and South Federal Constituency.
PT: Why is the Anambra PDP always in crisis?
Nwankwo: Clash of the godfathers and absence of consensus which you can also trace to the first PDP governor. There was no arrowhead that every person will follow. There were too many political “deities” and so what happens in Anambra is that there is interlock of these political “deities.” They are at war in the then PDP as the ruling party both at the state and federal levels.
PT: Prominent South-East politicians have been dumping the PDP for the APC, the latest is former Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State. Do you intend to defect to another political party?
Nwankwo: The right to defect to any political party is the right of that individual and I will not question that. Those of them who are defecting from PDP to APC in Enugu State know their reasons. As for me I must be guided by one thing – what do my people want? Where do I want to take them to? Where can I achieve that which they want me to do for them? If it is guaranteed in PDP, I’ll stay put in PDP. If it is more actualisable in any other political party other than PDP then movement will be inevitable.
PT: Are you saying there is every possibility you may dump the PDP?
Nwankwo: I haven’t said there is every possibility and I haven’t said there is no possibility. I said that if remaining in PDP will make my people achieve their political objectives, the reason why I am here, then I’ll remain in PDP. But if it is threatened by my continued stay in the PDP then of course…. It is only a tree that will hear that it is going to be cut down that will stay in one place. I will be guided by the political objectives of my people. I will also be seriously guided by which party stands the best chance to make things happen for my people.
PT: The Anambra governorship election is just around the corner. How bright are the chances of the PDP given the leadership crisis at the centre? Can the PDP upstage Willie Obiano in the contest?
Nwankwo: It is a very simple thing. Failure and success are by choice and the two alternatives are before PDP. If they choose success, they must come together. If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. If they (PDP) want to fail, they will be divided as they are and if they remain divided, they have chosen to fail. If they decide to come together and stay under one umbrella which is their logo then they become a united front. So, they should mobilize the people and bring them together and tell them ‘you will do our bidding, not that of any individual. Anything other than that, I see very thick clouds.
PT: Some say you Anambrarians have too much money and that is why you don’t agree, politically. Can you provide some insight into this claim?
Nwankwo: To play politics in Anambra state is very stressful because of the nature of human resource capital in that state. The society is republican and there is a very high political awareness and also individuals are not people that can be pushed around. I think that is more like it other than money. Money is playing its own role but I’m looking at the nature of Anambra society, the people are very enlightened. You can’t find more than 30 per cent of the voters to be illiterates and unenlightened. They look into your eyes and tell you what they want to tell you. There are so many “big fishes” or “big trees” but no matter how mighty a tree is, if it doesn’t take care, it will fall. That is the lesson they don’t know. Most of the time they keep fighting each other. But my advice to them is that Anambra would be a better state than it is now if they can achieve a political consensus, if they can be driven by a shared vision to be the greatest state in Nigeria. It is one state that has the lowest level of poverty in Nigeria. I’m not saying they are the richest in the federation. You can rarely find a typical village in Anambra state where there are no basic amenities. It is as a result of the nature of the society, the blessing God has deposited upon the people and the state. I will advise them to look inwards to do some kind of introspective analysis and not to push their luck too far and take their blessings for granted. They should come together as people united by passion and vision then build the strongest state in Nigeria. I know you will talk about Lagos but I will also tell you that a good percentage of the productivity in Lagos is coming from Anambra State.
PT: Do you intend to run as governor of Anambra State?
Nwankwo: If God finds me probable and worthy, I will be a willing tool, I will be very glad to serve my people but I wouldn’t be desperate about it. I will wait for my own time. When the time and tide favours my choice, no man can stop it. As for now, I’m a legislator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that is the job I am seriously committed to doing for now.
PT: Can you disclose how much you earn as a legislator?
Nwankwo: To start with, I have not been paid any money since I came to the National Assembly. I have only been advised that my salary is coming towards the end of May and I’ll be earning about N600, 000. Maybe, my basic is about N400,000, but I can’t give you the real figures. I think there is something that people have been making mistake about. What I earn in the National Assembly is different from any cost of running this office. That is what they keep mixing up. No legislator takes his pen to write anything that immediately translates to release money, unlike the executive where a minister approves something and then payment is made. My own accounts department is the same that serves the entire National Assembly as a system. But out there, Nigerians believe every legislator has a provision of money somewhere called constituency allowance.
PT: You have been a member of the House of Representatives even before the 8th Assembly and also a commissioner in former Governor Mbadinuju administration, can you point out some of the things you did for your people?
Nwankwo: I was made a turnaround commissioner under Mbadinuju administration and that was why I served in four different strategic portfolios. I was never dropped in any cabinet shake-up and I was never sponsored by any godfather. I only resigned to contest for election which the governor himself refused but I couldn’t help it. I gave the best of my youth to my state and I’m proud I did and when some godfathers were looking for where to nail me, they went through all the ministries that I’ve worked but they couldn’t find anything. They came attacking physically and that is why you see them always attacking me during elections.
I was a member of the 5th, 7th and now 8th Assembly. Of course, if you ask me my legacy, I will tell you people development especially focusing on the younger generations. The greatness of any society or nation is the leadership pipeline you put in place, the investment you make on the people that will take over. I did a lot of work under youth empowerment. I made sure I bridged the gap between my constituency and the federal government. I see the job of the legislator to be like that of a messenger, bringing the yearnings of my people to the federal government and the message of the federal government back to my people.
That is why in my constituency, they call me the messenger of Orumba.
I am happy and proud that I’ve been a messenger to my people, having empowered many youth.
I am proud that I’ve served them and I will continue to do so, more so now that I have just two years to do that. I feel I’m given a job of piloting the people of Orumba who are on board Boeing 777 to London from Abuja and I’m expected to get there in three hours, not in six hours and the aviation fuel for three hours is already rationed to me and I’m already airborne and I have two options; to crash the aircraft alongside the people or to land them safely to destination. By the special grace of God, the same God that made it possible for me to be back on the saddle will deliver us with a speed that is rather beyond human imagination to the destination we’ll be proud of.