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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>PUNCH INTERVIEW: Ngige Speaks with John Alechenu
Sunday, 26 May 2013 20:21

PUNCH INTERVIEW: Ngige Speaks with John Alechenu

Written by JOHN ALECHENU
Dr. Chris Ngige Dr. Chris Ngige

Dr. Chris Ngige, a Senator representing Anambra Central and former Governor of Anambra State spoke on range of issues from his entrance into politics as a former governor and his future in politics.


From your experience as governor and now a Senator of the Federal Republic, which of the two responsibilities do you find more challenging?

 

Both of them are different arms of the government and as chief executive in the executive branch, you are the summation of all government departments, you co-ordinate them, you are head of policy and plans, you are head of research and you are head of executive of that particular branch of government. To some extent, you are quite busy but being in the legislature is another kettle of fish. You make laws and this making of laws entails the making of new laws and the amendment of existing ones that you deem not to be making government function the way it should. We also do appropriation which is part of law making, because what we do in appropriation is money laws-that’s budgeting. A budget is an estimate. A budget presented by a governor or the President of the country is a financial estimate. So, the legislature looks at it through the appropriation committee; every committee is a sub-committee of the Committee on Appropriation. It is a challenging job to be in the legislature because you must be reading on a constant basis to update yourself and you must do oversight which is the third leg of your functions. You have to see how the money is applied. Are they misappropriated? Are they misapplied? You look out for misapplication; you look out for misappropriation which is not easy because you have to go to the field. For me, the legislative aspect of the business is more demanding.


Your election as Anambra State governor in 2003 was controversial. What were the hurdles you crossed before getting into office?

 

First and foremost, I was replacing an incumbent governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, who my party had judged not to have done well and therefore, they decided that in order not to lose the state, they had to get a replacement. I was a member of the National Executive Committee of the party at the time and the party took a decision to draft me to fly its flag. I wanted to go to the Senate; I had already won my primary nomination for the Senate. You can see that even from then, the hiccup had started. Then when I went into the election, I had problems with some party members. Mbadinugu’s supporters did not vote for me. They moved into the Alliance for Democracy and they opposed me in the general elections. And because he did not perform very well, All Progressive Grand Alliance, a newly formed party in the East, became very strong in Anambra State and the people were also involved emotionally. But when I came out, the equation changed and the people of the state were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. We had the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission pronounced me winner and I was sworn in. Right from my swearing in, there were problems. Problems with those who assisted me to get my nomination in the PDP and who  were the engine house of my campaign organisation. By that, I mean the Ubas and from there, one thing led to the other. They wanted the deputy governor to take over from me but they didn’t do that legally. They used unorthodox means not known to law by forcibly removing me and taking a letter to the state House of Assembly that I had resigned whereas that was not the situation. You can see that I went on a rough road and when I tried to assert myself, the then Federal Government supported those people because they were friends of the Presidency. And in order to actualise the mandate given to me by our people, I had to fight back. I had to resist and fight through the terrain, to make sure I delivered democracy dividends to my people. I had to pay salaries and allowances that were owed and I had to pay them off as a government. I needed to also  construct roads for the people because when I came, there were no roads. That was the situation but more challenging was the fact that the government owed contractors and various financial houses a whopping N35bn before I came. I had to do a gradual dismantling and dismemberment of these debts by paying gradually and of course, I returned people’s confidence in government. I started paying salaries as and when due, I paid pension; I paid the pension of 142 per cent rise. As a matter of fact, after Rivers State, mine was the only government in Nigeria that paid followed by Lagos. While on the seat, I had to contend with insurgency and rough tackles given to me by my erstwhile supporters and we had to fight it out, it was a choice for me to make. I had to make the choice. It was either I aligned with people of Anambra State or gave them whatever they (erstwhile supporters) wanted from the state treasury. They wanted N3bn every year, of course, I didn’t have it and I knew I was in for trouble; I decided to slug it out with them.

 

Who wrote a letter to the state House of Assembly on July 10, 2003, signifying your resignation?

 

I don’t know who did that. But you know, in this country, such things are very easy to do. What gave out that letter was the way it was written. It was not with the current letterhead of my office. When I came into office, I changed the letterhead but that particular letterhead was written by them, with the old letterhead.  Of course, my signature, in these days of forgery, people can get near your signature. They got near my signature but it wasn’t quite my signature. It didn’t bother me to investigate it but I got a copy of the letter after the coup or illegal removal failed. I tried to send it for forensic analysis while I was in government but it was overtaken by the fact that I left government much earlier, following the Court of Appeal decision on March 15 that upheld the tribunal verdict that Peter Obi was the elected governor.

 

You electoral victory was nullified in 2005 by a tribunal led by Justice Nabaruma. You appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost again. Do you still agree that you did not win the election fairly?

 

(Cuts in) It wasn’t nullified. I don’t agree with the court verdict. The court judgment was political; it was politically given. The tribunal in its final judgment said I obtained some illicit, dirty votes; if you want to call it rigged votes, they counted those votes and subtracted them from my total votes declared by the INEC. With that declaration, they said I had 260 something thousand votes as legal votes. Then they said Obi also had illegal and rigged votes; they went on to count his illegal votes and his valid votes and then subtracted his illegal votes, from the legal votes. They said his valid votes was 300 and something thousand and declared him winner. I am not a judge, but I know that in law, especially law of equity, he who comes to equity, must come with clean hands. If you have rigged to get some votes and according to them, my party, PDP, and myself rigged;  APGA and Obi also rigged, therefore he (Obi) did not come to equity with clean hands to petition. The logical thing and the highest penalty that should have been meted out to me was the cancellation of the results and a rerun but they pronounced him winner. We appealed based on this and not even that alone, there was at a time a subsisting Supreme Court judgment in the case of Onoh vs Nwobodo said it was not the job of courts to count votes. It is not their job. Therefore, if there is substantial compliance by a winner; you leave him as  winner. If there is no substantial compliance by the winner, you nullify the election but, you don’t start counting votes. They went ahead and ignored that Supreme Court’s pronouncement. The Supreme Court is the supreme authority in terms of judicial pronouncements. That was when the nullification of governor’s elections started and the Court of Appeal, instead of upholding our grounds, was also intimidated. We had it on authority that some members of that panel were intimidated and they had to accede to Justice Nabaruma’s judgment.  I was not talking about it but for the first time last month, I did. Why I did that was because Obi is almost finishing his tenure and I don’t want him to gloat and say he is an angel. No! that judgment is there. He also had tinted votes. If I had said it earlier, they will say Ngige is now behaving like the woman in the Bible who was quarrelling over a baby. They came to King Solomon and one said, “Divide the baby that is alive into two and give me half and give the other one half.” I am not that kind of person, I kept from making any allusion to that judgment till now. I am saying it now that that judgment is flawed, it is not right and that judgment became an albatross because after Ngige and Obi, all the courts in Nigeria started counting votes and removing governors. I was the first governor to be removed by the courts and not through impeachment in the history of Nigeria. That induced a lot of instability in the system. Corrupt judges have now taken over and they are counting votes for everybody. That is what has killed the judiciary today.


It was widely believed that the conflict between you and your godfathers forced you out of the Peoples Democratic Party. Can you still recollect what transpired then?

 

But I told you that the powers that be had the backing of the Presidency. At one point, they put together a panel called Oyinlola panel and said it was a reconciliation committee, that was what they dubbed it. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo forced Chief Audu Ogbeh out, Ogbeh was the national chairman of the party but he said as the chairman, he would not stand by and let a governor of his party be persecuted for nothing. Ogbeh stood his grounds and when the persecution was getting too much, he wrote a letter to Obasanjo and told him that he could not fold his arms and allow a situation where there was an attempt to assassinate a sitting governor, who is a PDP member. Obasanjo replied him and he (Ogbeh) said Obasanjo said I did not win the election. As a matter of fact, one of my friends, an ex-governor of Anambra State called me and said I will lose the case because Obasanjo had made everybody believe that I didn’t win the election. Firstly, the bias came from the ex-President and secondly, from my party. Thirdly, President (Obasanjo) told the nation that I came to his house to confess that I didn’t win the election. That is a very big lie; I never did but he said it to blackmail me and so the judges found their hands tied and to compound matters, he used the power of coercion to beat them into line. So, when Ogbeh refused, he went and brought in Ahmadu Ali. When Ali came, he did what they called re-registration of members of the PDP and before that, they instituted what they called a reconciliation committee in Anambra and one of the first major jobs was that they asked Sam Egwu who was in charge of that reconciliation committee to write that I should be suspended as one of the solutions to the problem. Of course, Sam Egwu as a South-East governor refused to do so. He surrendered the chairmanship of that committee; they reconstituted it and put Oyinlola there as chairman. You had the troika of General Olusegun Obasanjo, Oyinlola and Ahmadu Ali, and the next thing they said was that in the interest of peace in the party, they had suspended me from the party. I was a sitting governor and they also suspended Chris Ubah. Chris Ubah had no status in the party, he wasn’t holding any party office, he was just a member at the ward level of the party. But they brought his matter to the national level and suspended the two of us. They refused to register me again and eventually expelled me. I accepted the expulsion and started functioning. Even with that, they asked INEC to declare the seat of the governor of Anambra State vacant. They said in conformity with Section 157 or so of the Constitution, I had no party. But good counsel prevailed and the then chairman of INEC, late Dr. Abel Guobadia, refused to do that and they had problems with him for refusing their bidding. As a result, they allowed him to do only one tenure. The old man didn’t mind, he did his term and went away. That was what transpired till I and other progressive governors got together and formed the Action Congress with of course, Atiku Abubakar who was also the next in line to be persecuted. Joshua Dariye, my friend, was also persecuted. There were some governors on the sidelines supporting Obasanjo at the time and they said I shouldn’t have reneged on an agreement I went into with people. But they forgot that an agreement that was false and forged ab-initio is no agreement and is not binding at all. We are still meeting in the political war front because the world is round, you take this way, I take that way, we must meet somewhere.


Why did you opt for AC and not APGA, which has dominance in the South-East?

 

I couldn’t have gone to APGA, I went to court with APGA and like I gave you the history, they went to court and went up to the Court of Appeal and when they won the case, they felt they’ve conquered me and my supporters. The relationship between a conqueror and the conquered is that of servant and master. I never bothered to go there and all those persecuted joined forces to form AC. I,  Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, DSP Alameiyeishigha, so many of us, even though the group depleted along the way because not everybody has the heart for opposition politics.


You were widely criticised for being at the dreaded Okija shrine. Does it mean you were in search of political power at all cost?

 

I have not been desperate for power. I have given you the history of my journey. Perhaps I did not add that if you go and look at my track record, I was a federal civil servant and I was trained as a medical doctor. First of all, a good medical doctor is a very patient person. He must be patient to take your history as you walk in as a patient. The doctor should obtain 90 per cent of his diagnosis from history taking, conservatively call it 70 per cent, then the others through physical examination and then tests. I am a well-trained doctor, I was trained when medicine was well taught and I am patient. I worked in the Ministry of Health. I practised in the clinic for 15 years before moving into administration. I did administration for five years before I left the service. I am not a hustler for power and more importantly, I started from the primaries of my party. I was a foundation member of the PDP, I was nominated to be a minister by Dr. Alex Ekwueme but Obasanjo refused because they fought a bitter primaries in Jos and I was in Ekwueme’s camp, so I was blacklisted. I was the assistant national secretary of the party before I came back to contest the primaries for Senate in 2002/2003, then I was begged by Chief Audu Ogbeh and others. Even the Ubas came to beg me as a last resort. That they were my benefactors was because it was when they were begging me that I caved in to run. I gave conditions for going to run and the major condition was that I should be able to run the place unfettered and give good governance to my people in Anambra State. They were the people who breached the agreement by asking me to sign money for them; by asking me to allow them to appoint all the commissioners, special assistants, Aide de Camp, chief security officer and personal assistant. We had no such agreement. They breached that agreement, so I said okay, if you breach the agreement, then there is no agreement anymore. On the way, they noticed some resentment from me that showed that I was no longer happy with the journey.  They said they needed loyalty. So, one of them suggested it (Okija) and they now formed themselves into a cabal. One night they said, ‘If you don’t go with us to Okija shrine, we will shoot (you).’ It’s only a living general that can tell the history of a war. If I was shot dead, the story could have been distorted. I have to be alive to be telling you this story. I asked them, ‘What should I do?’  They said, ‘Let us go to Okija shrine and I said okay, let’s go.’ When we got there, I noticed they didn’t have guns, then I said I wasn’t going in. One of them said he could swear for me, I said go ahead, so he did it for me. But I did not believe in what they were doing because I am a staunch Catholic. I am a knight of the Catholic Church, so I never listened to what they were saying, they were just fooling themselves.

 

You beat a Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, of APGA in the 2011 senatorial election with about 500 votes. Does it mean you are not as popular in your constituency as people think?

 

It was more than 500 votes. I can tell you also that Akunyili was never a politician; she is not a politician, she is a technocrat. I never ran election with her. I ran with the governor of the state who comes from the same senatorial district with me. I ran with Victor Umeh, the national chairman of APGA, who comes from that same senatorial district with me. I don’t regard the election as a contest between us. More importantly, I want you to go and check the results of that election. You will see that they scored Akunyili 23,000 votes in Aniocha local government, where the governor and Umeh come from and where she comes from. The same election was done for the House of Representatives same time, same day and in my cross petition at the tribunal, I asked them to investigate those votes because they were contrived votes. It is in INEC’s reports. In that local government, what Obi scored in his own election was 10,000 votes. How come Akunyili scored 23,000? Just in one year, Akunyili who was living in Abuja, someone who is an urban politician that is not known at home got 23,000 votes. At the time they brought that 23,000 votes, I was leading her with 21,000 votes in the district.

 

The APGA chairman once advised Governor Peter Obi to apologise to you over your removal as governor. Will you accept his apology?

 

Or course, Umeh knew what he was saying. He is not a lawyer, but having gone in and out of different courts; he is now a pseudo lawyer of repute and can quote various aspects of the law. He knows that since the court said they also rigged the election, the proper thing was for the court to order a rerun. That was why he asked the governor who is enjoying the fruits of the labour which they got wrongly to apologise.

 

Will you accept an apology?

 

I will.


Is it true that you’re not contesting for a public office in 2015?

 

I may or may not contest; the election for Anambra State is this year. And nothing stops me from contesting, I am fit and God has blessed me with good health.

 

Are you contesting?

 

I will make a pronouncement within the next few weeks. The pressure is on me to contest. A lot of Anambrarians from overseas and everywhere are asking me to contest; to come and complete the work I started. From my blueprint as governor, what I have in stock for Anambra people, I did only 23 per cent of it in 23 months before leaving. Obi has done only seven per cent of my blueprint in seven years, these other 70 per cent that is left in my blueprint, who is going to do it for Anambra people? Go and find out, they are calling me, sending texts and calling on me to contest.

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