In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Tunde Eludini, the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 11 November election in Imo State, Tony Ejiogu, speaks on his chances, plans for the state, the current administration, INEC and other issues.
PT: What’s your assessment of governance in Imo State in recent times especially in the last four years?
Ejiogu: Imo State in the last four years has been a very unpredictable state, in terms of insecurity. From statistics available to us between August 2020 and July 2023, we have recorded over 209 violent attacks in Imo State. From those 209 violent attacks, we have lost 289 lives and over 100 people have been kidnapped and unaccounted for.
I would say that Imo has become a wasteland. Imo has been turned into a theatre of war and violent extremism within the last four years and is nothing to write home about.
There is a very clear palpable fear in the land, the level of multi-dimensional poverty is unbelievable, and unemployment stands at over 55 per cent in Imo State. Our debt profile is over N238 billion. Here in Imo State, the level of restiveness among youths and the lack of trust and confidence between the people and government is nothing to write home about.
We don’t have any critical infrastructure in Imo State and yet funds are being collected via FAAC, 13 per cent oil derivation and all that, yet the roads are deplorable. I have campaigned and traversed the 27 LGAs and I see poverty written on the faces of our people yet we have a lot that could sustain people, that could create very robust economic activities in Imo State, I don’t even have the words to describe Imo State. My assessment of the state within the last four years is just very poor because our people are suffering. There’s no peace, no peace of mind for Imolites. There are no jobs, our youths are leaving Imo by the day. A lot of young men are being killed. So what is there to talk about? This is my assessment of Imo within the last four years.
PT: APGA is seen as a popular party in the South-east but it has not translated into victory at the polls except in Anambra. What are you doing differently to change these narratives, looking at the strong candidates you are pitched against, including incumbent Governor Hope Uzodinma?
Ejiogu: Well, that is true but you must understand that APGA is the identity of the average Igbo man. Yes, APGA does very very well in Anambra State because they have had successive governments of APGA in Anambra State. We cannot say the same for Imo. But you also have to look back. APGA has consistently won elections in Imo State though the mandate most times has been stolen.
In 2007, Martin Agbaso won the election clearly under APGA but it was given to Ikedi Ohakim. In 2011, Rochas Okorocha won election in Imo State under APGA, but he defected to APC. And I think this was the turning point in Imo politics for APGA. And the party has been struggling to rise out of the ashes of that ordeal. Now I am running under the platform of our great party APGA. What we are doing differently is to try to create a different narrative. First is the time that Imo APGA gubernatorial candidate is not a money politician, he is not a normal politician. This is the first time they have a technocrat as a gubernatorial candidate. So we believe that things will be different this time around. I have taken the pains and time to campaign around to see first-hand what the situation is like in Imo State. I have gone through the nooks and crannies of this state. I have dealt with people directly for them to hear my voice and understand where I’m coming from and also to understand that I feel their pains so that we can change their situations when we become successful at the polls.
What we are doing differently – we are running a different campaign, we’re running an issues-based campaign. I am different. I am not a regular politician. I am pitched against, like you said, the incumbent of course. We are selling the situation in Imo State and I am not worried about the incumbent. The people are very desirous to have a change and we are offering ourselves as the most credible alternative for our people. So, as far as I am concerned, APGA runs in the veins of every Igbo man and every Imolite. We just have to have the right message that will resonate with the people to ignite that passion in our people.
PT: Are you confident that INEC will conduct a credible poll and respect the will of the people?
Ejiogu: A lot of people have had reasons to doubt that INEC has the capacity or the willingness to even conduct a free, fair and credible election. However, I want to give them (INEC) the benefit of the doubt that they would do and show a high level of professionalism especially since this is an off-cycle election. So there wouldn’t be any excuse to say that they are overstretched and also that they have no security agencies and security presence to help them cover a lot of places that materials should get to.
I am calling on INEC to use this opportunity to do what is right to announce the will of the people and also make sure that people come out to exercise their franchise. They have funding for this election they should utilise those funds and make sure that this election is free and fair so that the will of the people would prevail. I cannot say whether I am confident or not confident. That remains to be seen as we go into this election. But I am also confident that INEC would want to clear their name, especially judging from what happened in the last presidential election. I want to believe this will be different in an off-cycle election.
PT: Briefly, can you give the highlights of the plans in your manifesto that you intend to implement if voted?
Ejiogu: My manifesto has a five-point agenda. These five points are connected. The first is security. Security is utmost in everybody’s mind. Nothing will thrive in an unsafe environment. Our main focus is to find a way to restore peace and normalcy in Imo State. We are going to do that in multi-faceted ways. The change in leadership will create a perception that something new is happening. And of course, we are going to open up channels of dialogue with local communities and find ways to restore confidence and trust between the government and the people; and also allow the people to be truly empowered so that we will run an inclusive government where communities will be part of the decision-making process in the government.
Second, is the social and institutional reforms that we intend to do, which is very critical. It is to make sure that we restore the third tier of government which is ensuring that we conduct free and fair local government elections and return power to the local government. It is supposed to be the level of government that brings government to the grassroots and brings development to the grassroots. That is what we intend to do because once we do that, and fix the fundamentals, every other thing will fall into place.
Educational reform, making sure that we tweak our curriculum, and focus on churning out students or graduates that will be self-sustaining by focusing on vocational and technical skills. These are some of the things we need to do. Also, we tweak our curriculum to ensure that we take cognizance of the individual God-given talent of our students from the start. To also make sure our teachers are well equipped and bring them to contemporary teaching methods so that they can deliver quality education to the students.
Our judiciary reform and prison reforms – these are some of the institutional reforms that we need to do. We are running a digital economy, making sure that we make the right investment and ties into the power and infrastructure. We must make sure that we have the right infrastructure that will support us as the backbone of running a digital economy. That is what that is all about.
PT: Having toured all the LGAs in Imo State this past month, how has it affected your plan for the state?
Ejiogu: The beauty of running an election and campaigning allows you to traverse the state, see things for yourself and the people and feel their plans, understand the opportunities the enormous resources that lie in the state, human resources that are in this state and also see that our people are suffering. My conclusion from the assessment of all these is that our situation has been a function of bad leadership. Period! I have been to places like Ohaji Egbema Local Government Area, which is the home of Ada Palm, the biggest plantation in the whole South-east and you ask yourself – how come this place is moribund? How come nothing is happening in this state when we have this? The Malaysians came here and took these palm fruits and went back and today Malaysia is one of the biggest exporters of palm oil and Nigeria is even importing palm oil from Malaysia. What an irony! Here we have this plantation. I was there and the funny thing is that this is also the home of a lot of oil wells in Imo State. Where the oil is being produced in Imo State has given us the status of an oil-producing state yet the roads are deplorable, and people are suffering. You ask yourself, what is going on? I have seen these things first-hand. I have experienced them and it has further encouraged and emboldened me to do what I’m doing to challenge the status quo, to have the audacity to dream and to hope for a better tomorrow for Imo. It has given me that resolve that there is a lot of work to do and our people need sincere leadership, someone whose heart beats for humanity of ours. That’s what this has given me and allowed me to experience. I thank God because he has taken me to places that I would never have gone to without running this election.
PT: Some analysts see you as a featherweight who does not have a chance in Saturday’s poll or have what it takes to lead a state like Imo.
Ejiogu: That is the most absurd thing I have heard. I don’t know what I am lacking that is required to lead a state like Imo. Yes, I’m featherweight when you stand me against the other contenders, the LP candidate, the incumbent and the PDP candidate. People who have benefited from government institutions are part of the problem that we have in Imo State. These are the nominal politicians that we have. These are part of our problem. Yes, I’m different. I’m a technocrat. I’m probably the youngest candidate running. I’ve never had any patronage from the government, I’m an individual that is running this thing solely, independently on my own. I am running on the conviction that Igbo people deserve the best, things can be different and that is why I’m doing what I’m doing. As far as lacking what is required, I don’t know what is required to lead a state. What is required is empathy, competence and knowledge, exposure, global knowledge of economics, thinking out things that will better the state, economic policies that will stimulate the state in terms of wealth creation and generation. And with all due respect and not sounding immodest, I remain the best candidate in this election from all ramifications. In terms of academic qualifications, global knowledge exposure, pedigree, clean background, and age advantage, I am the best candidate and I am the most qualified, prepared and passionate in this race. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t consider myself a featherweight. I consider myself as the right weight that is most suited to bringing about the process of building Imo State at this time and bringing about peace and prosperity with a transparent, accountable and responsive government. I remain the best candidate and I have what it takes whatever it is to lead this state more than all the candidates that are running for this election.
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