2023: Election may not hold –Umeh – The Sun Nigeria – Daily Sun

By  Henry Umahi
Former national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Senator Victor Umeh, has said, considering, recent developments in the country, the 2023 general election may not hold as scheduled.
He also said the motley crowd of aspirants from the South-South and South-West may be harbouring a sinister agenda, as they have had their turns at the presidency.
He also lambasted the Peoples Demoratic Party (PDP) for jettisoning zoning at this point in time.
The governorship election won by APGA in Anambra State was alleged to be massively rigged. How do you react to this?
That is a fallacy. APGA has never been known to play money politics in Nigeria, since 2003 when it started contesting elections. The election in Anambra on November 6 and 9 were conducted in strict compliance with the law. There were no manipulations. The INEC was alive to its responsibility, ensuring that only credible voters accredited by biometric voter machine were allowed to vote. There were no incidents of manipulation of the election at all.
Indeed, one woman was offered money to vote against APGA and the woman said she would never vote against her conscience. That woman was from Ukwulu in Dinukofia Local Government Area of the state. She was honoured by the state governor after the election. Her altercation with those who tried to bribe her went viral on social media. It was a case where the people expressed their choice by voting for Chukwuma Soludo and APGA. Those who planned to manipulate the election were disappointed. The riggers planned to write the result as they used to do in the past but INEC rebuffed them because the device used for accreditation did not admit such malpractice. So, they collapsed.
The security agencies that were deployed to the state were above board. They maintained order and never aided anybody to either hijack materials or manipulate the process. We had a 34,000-strong police team, with two deputy inspector-generals of police and many other officers in the team. We had 20,000 men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. We had over 5,000 soldiers. So, the state was taken over by enough security personnel. Nobody was molested. The election ran freely and those who were not to win lost and the party and the candidate the people wanted won. We never had money to unleash. The APC was using money to buy people from APGA but those people ended up not doing anything for them because people rejected them at the polls.
APGA seems to be on the decline, what is the leadership doing to recover lost ground?
That statement is subjective. The party is still alive and, since 2003 when it won the governorship election but was denied and went through the courts and eventually took Anambra State in 2006, APGA has remained in charge of Anambra State till today. Yes, I agree that we won Imo State in 2011, making it two states. In 2015, we won Abia State but it was brazenly stolen. The party is still there working hard but there is room for improvement because it is only when you win more territories that you will expand in scope and size. So, we are hoping that the fraudulent conduct of elections in the past will give way for credible elections in 2023. It is after 2023 that we can objectively say which party is growing or which party is declining. We are happy that we are still holding strongly in Anambra State and we hope to use it as a spring board to spread to other states in Nigeria.
The security situation in Anambra has worsened since Soludo came into power. Does it mean he didn’t do his homework well, considering the promises he made before the election?
Insecurity is a national problem, it is not restricted to Anambra State. Before the governorship election in Anambra State, people who wanted to destroy the election sponsored killings and mayhem in the state. But for President Buhari’s determination that that election must hold, it was nearly derailed.
When Soludo came in, it looked like things would get better but soon after they launched attacks on the citizens again. It’s still raging but Soludo is doing everything to contain it. He is just two months in office, so it is too early to say that he has not been able to handle it. He is doing his utmost best, gathering intelligence, retooling the security equipment that would be used. The other day, we were with him  in Lagos for security fundraising and he has gone to Abuja to continue.
You know, security is an expensive venture. Considering the grave situation, he needs to be equipped. So, we have to give him sufficient time for him to organise his strategies and launch a proper response to insecurity. We are appealing to those behind this to stop it; we cannot be killing ourselves for any reason. We cannot be kidnapping people for money; Igbo are not known for that. We are known to be hardworking, ingenious and creative. Kidnapping is rampant in the country now, as well as banditry. I think it has to do with the level of hopelessness in the country. The poverty level is very high and many people are desperate to eke a living from any means possible. They kill fellow human beings for whatever reason. Sometimes they say that the unknown gunmen that are killing are not taking anything from the victims. How can somebody just be killing? What’s the purpose of killing your brother? What are you looking for? If it is because of any grievances you may be nursing, you cannot solve the problem by killing yourselves. Somebody who fires a bullet into a crowd cannot know who it will hit. On assumption of office, Gov. Soludo called on everybody to sheathe their swords. I believe, with prayers and intervention of religious leaders, people who are not listening will begin to listen. We want reason to prevail; let’s give peace a chance. When there is peace, we will rebuild our land. Before the election, people were coming back from all over the country and outside to Anambra State because the place was very safe. But shortly before the election, these activities started. After the election, it abated for a while and resumed. Nobody comes to Anambra State anymore because they are afraid to come home. Our big stakeholders have taken flight. So, the state is being impoverished more and more every day.
What is your position on Governor Dave Umahi accusation that Ohanaeze is not doing enough to deal with the security challenge in the South-East?
Gov. Umahi should not pass the buck. The security of life and property remains the major responsibility of governors in the South-East. They are the people who should have developed a strategic plan to curb insecurity and criminality in the region, not Ohanaeze.
Ohanaeze is a cultural organisation. What will Ohanaeze use to enforce security in Igboland, apart from condemning such  activities? Ohanaeze has no teeth to bite. They have no resources. Even to maintain the organisation is a very big burden to the leadership of Ohanaeze. The governors ought to have been supporting Ohanaeze financially, but I don’t think they have been doing enough.
The governors have the resources to battle insecurity. They have security votes, running into hundreds of millions of naira every month. So, let them do what is expected of them by providing watch over the region. They came together and agreed to form Ebubeagu and not much has been heard about it up till now. That was a poor response to the challenges of the zone. The governors have not done enough in reining in our youths, looking at their plight, to find out what they want. It is a governor that will create jobs for youths, not Ohanaeze. When a youth has a means of livelihood, it will be impossible for him to go and carry arms and start killing or kidnapping people for ransom. So, if you ask, I will say it is the governors that have failed in dealing with insecurity. On one occasion, I challenged them that some of them move with armoured personnel carriers in their convey but the ordinary citizens are not protected. If they had suffered any hurt, they would have found a solution to the challenge. So, there is no coordinated regional security response in the South-East now.
The other time you made efforts to return to the Senate but failed. Does that mean that your popularity has waned?
How can my popularity be going down? In 2019, when I contested the senatorial election, I got 85,000 votes. Those 85,000 votes were enough for victory in so many senatorial districts across Nigeria. My case, in 2019, was just a simple problem: I come from the same senatorial district with Mr. Peter Obi, who was the vice-presidential candidate of the PDP. At that time, my people wanted me desperately to continue what I was doing at the Senate but the odds against me was that Obi cried out that he wouldn’t want to lose his senatorial district while going to serve as Vice-President. He said it would be a sign of weakness, if he didn’t deliver his zone. So, out of sympathy, many institutions announced that PDP should be supported all the way. So, the 85,000 votes I got were resistant votes by people who didn’t want to be cowed into such blind bandwagon voting, knowing that there was something I was doing for them. With all the rigging PDP did, they got 105,000 votes because that time election rigging was possible. If it were that the (biometric voting) device had been put in place in 2019, I wouldn’t have lost the election. But I’m not ruffled about it. I’ve continued doing all that I was known for, whether in the Senate or not. I have been in the forefront of fighting for the rights of our people. My scholarship schemes are still running, producing graduates in various fields.
It appears every Igbo man wants to be President in 2023. What is your take?
I don’t agree with that. We don’t have up to 10 presidential aspirants but there up to 15 in the South-West. More people are still declaring in the South-South. All the South-South governors have declared that they are running for presidency, apart from Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and Douye Diri of Bayelsa State. They may still declare, nobody knows.
In the North, so many people are running for presidency. So, I think there is a mad rush in Nigeria ahead of the presidential poll. People have refused to apply reason in entering this contest. When we see these things, we begin to wonder what is responsible for this reckless declaration for presidency. Somebody would just wake up in the morning, go and buy the form, if they are still selling form. You now wonder when he prepared his mind to run for the presidency. Contesting for the presidency is not an overnight thing. It is something somebody would have nurtured the ambition to do maybe for two or three years. But we are seeing sudden declarations for President across Nigeria.
We in the Greater Nigeria Conference (GNC) organised a conference on April 25 and the people from the South-East running for President that came were only about eight across all the political parties. That’s a manageable number. And when the contest comes in the party primaries, maybe only three will be seriously running for consideration in their political parties. I don’t think that is harmful for now. What is needed is that somebody from the South-East should emerge as candidate of any of the major political parties and, when that happens, the whole South East will queue behind that candidate, irrespective of the party.
How far do you think Greater Nigeria Movement can go in the quest for a President from the South-East?
We have created national awareness. In fact, at the conference on April 25, which held in Abuja, we were able to bring people you could consider as the conscience of the nation. Pa Edwin Clark, the leader of PANDEF, who is 95 years old; Pa Ayo Adebanjo, the leader of Afenifere; the president of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu; and others were there. Dr. Pogu was the guest speaker at the conference. The leaders of these three groups came together and called on Nigerians to support the South-East to produce a President in 2023, for equity and fairness. They were very loud. Pa Adebanjo, who is about 94, spoke with so much energy that the only way Nigeria can continue to exist harmoniously will be for somebody from the South East to be President in 2023. These are men who have seen it all in Nigeria. They used historical demonstrations to support the clamour for a President from the South-East for the simple reason that the zone has not produced a President in nearly 60 years.
Why was the core North not involved in the conference?
Some people from the core North attended but I know that they came to spy. My friend at the national conference, Abubakar Maina, was there. He said he was supporting Mr. Peter Obi, who was also at the conference. Also, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has been saying that they are interested in the presidency again. It has been crossfire between the chairman of NEF and other Nigerians.
We have proved it that no zone can produce the President on its own, even if you conduct the election 20 times, without the support of others. That is why it is important we honour the North-South rotation of the presidency. Buhari will exit next year and it will be a breach of the understanding and agreement on the rotation, if the North wants to produce the President again.
The South-East people believe in Nigeria more than any other zone and that is why we are everywhere. A South-East presidency will promote national unity, growth and harmony.
With South-West and South-South aspirants also in the fray, what does that suggest?
What I have started seeing is that the motley crowd of presidential aspirants from zones outside the South-East is an indication that some people are pursuing an agenda that is unseen. People have not seen it yet. I think some people are pursuing disintegration of Nigeria. They want to cause confusion; they want the place to collapse. Otherwise, how can you justify that the South-West that produced Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years and South-South that produced Goodluck Jonathan will be angling for presidency again in 2023? It is not in accord with any sense or reason, other than they want to scatter the place. The South-West ought to be supporting South-East to produce the next President, the way Pa Adebanjo expressed it on April 25. He said the quest by some people from South-West aspirants to become President of Nigeria in 2023 is inelegant. That was his English. In other words, it is not in accord with reason. They want to deepen the marginalisation  of people who are marginalised. Such actions do not promote national unity. Maybe they want to force a situation whereby this place will collapse and everybody will go home. Remember that one group from Ekiti State has challenged the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in court. So, this pursuit may be coming from different ways for the disintegration of Nigeria, because the only thing that can keep   Nigeria together is fair play.
The South-West and South-South ought to be in the forefront supporting the South-East.They are doing that through their elder statesmen but the political gladiators are doing a different thing.
The South-East supported Jonathan’s presidency and paid dearly for it. So, why is the South-outh not supporting the South-East now? It’s a very big disappointment. I think it is a case of people not being honest with themselves.
It is the same thing that PDP is doing. For all the support the South-East has given PDP over the years, now that it is the turn of the South-East to produce the President of Nigeria, it has abandoned zoning. It is a wicked payback to the South-East for all the support it has given PDP for over 20 years.
What would be the feeling of the South-East if a ‘continental Igbo’ (that is, Igbo from South-South) emerges President in 2023?
There is nothing like continental Igbo; Igbo is Igbo. But what we are talking about now is rotation on the basis of geopolitical zones. The agreement we had in the 2014 National Conference was that the presidency should rotate between the North and South and across the geopolitical zones. So, going by this agreement, it is clear. In 1999, Obasanjo, from the South-West, became President. After his tenure, the presidency went to the North through Umaru Yar’Adua, though his presidency was affected by death. Then Jonathan, from the South-South, took over and we supported him. Thereafter, power returned to the North through Buhari. So, after Buhari, power should naturally go to the South-East. So, if you are Igbo from the South-South, by your zone, you have been excluded. We are not talking about Igbo presidency or tribal presidency. We are talking about zonal rotation. It is the turn of the South-East. The tribes in South-South should also rotate among themselves. We are against our Igbo brothers who are from the South-South aspiring to be President, it is not their turn. They should support their brothers in the South-East.
What is your take on Nnamdi Kanu?
I have been speaking on this for nearly six years. The government of Nigeria is aware of my position on this. Even when I was in the Senate, I made my position known. I’m saying that government has not been dealing with the matter through the correct means. When somebody says he is not happy, you don’t force him to be happy. What you do is to do things that will make the person happy. If somebody says he doesn’t agree with the way Nigeria is being run as it relates to his own people, don’t go and proscribe his group. What you need to do is to look at what they are saying, to find out whether they are really marginalised. If you are marginanalising them deliberately, you may play ostrich to their demands and you will continue to have problems. So, what the government has failed to do is to use the right approach to deal with the problem of Nnamdi Kanu and his group. They are saying they are not happy being in Nigeria anymore because there is total discrimination against the Igbo in Nigeria. What government should have done was to review it’s actions towards the Igbo like in the case of South-East agitation for President in 2023. These are things that would have solved the problem, not clamping down on them. You cannot force somebody to be happy. Only a progressive action that would address the plight of the person who is unhappy would turn his face to broad smiles. Buhari has a historic opportunity now to support somebody from the South-East to become President and his name would go down as the person that restored the unity of Nigeria. He will become a hero. I think Kanu’s continued detention has worsened the security situation in the South-East. Kanu is now a prisoner of conscience.
As I have said before, Buhari has tried for the South-East. When I said it the other time, some people tried to attack me but by the time they finished reading what I said, they retraced their steps. The PDP was in power for 16 years but our road infrastructure deteriorated beyond imagination. But since Buhari came, he has been fixing our roads despite the economic situation in the country. He been able to do Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, two lanes up to Aba. He is now fixing the two lanes of Enugu to Onitsha, after completing the old road. He is also doing the Second Niger Bridge, which is something anybody can be proud of. He can still do more. He should cement his achievements by supporting a South-East candidate for 2023. We need to manage Nigeria like a business and an Igbo can do it.
All things considered, do you think election will hold in 2023?
It is a very difficult question to answer because the threats to the election are plenty. The insecurity across the country is a potential threat to the election. The attitude of the politicians is also a threat to the election. If we cannot reason and come to a just conclusion that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, if our considerations now are not driven by the passion to make Nigeria truly united, then we will not be looking forward to having a good election in 2023. It is not going to be easy in 2023. What  I am predicting is that, if there will be an election at all, no political party will win it in the first ballot. The whole thing will get so messy that results will be delayed. What we are showing is insensitivity to what is right.

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