Sir Ifeanyi Eleje is the All Progressives Grand Alliance senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South Zone. In this interview with EDWARD NNACHI, he talks about Simon Ekpa’s sit-at-home in the South-East region, his choice of APGA, part-time legislature and other sundry issues
May we meet you, sir?
I’m Ifeanyi Eleje. I am a graduate of Chemistry from the University of Lagos and I also have a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Benin. I’m also an Associate of Chartered Insurance Institute of London and I also hold various Diplomas in management and administration from Surrey University, Kent University; I’m also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management and an Associate of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.
Many in Ebonyi South Zone say you lack a strong political structure to stand the likes of incumbent Senator, Michael Nnachi, Governor David Umahi, among others at the polls. What’s your take?
Those saying this are uninformed. It’s either that they are deliberately lying to themselves or they are uninformed. I could not have been a greenhorn in politics and was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to be Chairman of the Board of the Federal College of Education in Pansi, Plateau State. So, that alone debunks that claim. The incumbent governor of Ebonyi State knows me and I was a member of his transition committee after his election in his first term. Anyone canvassing that position is uninformed. We have been in this game for a while; I was in the PDP and I was also in the APC and I worked extensively with Senator Emmanuel Agboti in his quest to be governor of Ebonyi State. So, the political terrain is not new to me. The question, I believe should be: why APGA? The Ebonyi political terrain has suffered what I can call a captive capture. It had been warehoused by a group of people who wanted to protect some interests and so, it wasn’t open for a genuine contest. And I believe that this is why we have had poor representation; I also believe that this is why our best has not come on board. And so when we got a platform in the All Progressives Grand Alliance, we want to give it a shot from there.
You have repeatedly said you wouldn’t like to approach politics being in the Executive arm of government but in the Legislature. Why have you been canvassing such notion?
I am merely trying to say that the functions of the executive are different from that of the legislature. Now, if you are a legislator and you are operating as part of the executive it means already that you have failed in your duty as a legislator. This is because part of your duties is to oversight the functions of the executive. I am only trying to say you can’t live in the ‘house’ of the executive arm of government and then oversight the same time. You must come as an independent legislator with the interests of your constituents and that’s the only time you can provide proper oversight function. For instance, a project is sited in your community and the executive appoints the contractor handling it and vets whatever needs to be vetted.
As a legislator, your concern should be: Is this project germane to my constituents? Two, if it’s okay for my constituents, is it being executed with the professionalism and quality that will eventually meet the needs of my constituents? It’s not a case of a contract that has been awarded and it has been executed and everybody ticks off the boxes, the man gets paid and he wanders off. What benefits does it render your constituents? How does align with their own needs? What impact does it directly have on their living standard?
You hail from a local government area where open defecation is rife. How would you tackle this ugly trend in the area if you are elected?
I know that open defecation is already outlawed internationally. So, what do you need to address open defecation? Nobody in the real sense of it likes open defecation. This is a practice that’s sustained by a lack of government attention. If you make it a focal point, it could be addressed by, first, providing public toilets; it doesn’t even matter if you start with pit toilets because water is an issue in the area. So, the first intervention that I will seek when I get to the Senate, will be to arrest open defecation not just in the Afikpo area, but the entire Ebonyi South Zone.
Your community has suffered a power outage for close to 13 years. How would you address this teething situation if you are elected?
Of course, you know that power generation and distribution have gone over to private hands. They are no longer under the government saddle. But then that’s just one part of the story. This is because somebody invested and wants to have a return on his investment. And when you project the cost of having power in Afikpo North, you will realise that any private investor may be wary because it will take him a long time to get the return on that investment. And it may look overwhelming. But the truth is, that’s why there is political engagement. Knowing that this is welfare social responsibility to the community, the government needs to intervene and make the initial commitment required to bring power to this community. I will work with every senior in the Senate if am elected to get that political arrangement in place.
Your party, APGA is widely viewed as an unpopular and regional party. What’s your take?
I’m running for a regional election, even though I’m contesting to be a member of the National Assembly. I’m going to represent Ebonyi South Zone. APGA, with all due respect to those who think differently, should be the only party that represents the interest of the Igbo. There is no ethnic group that does not have a party that serves as a platform to project their peculiar interests. The Yoruba had it in the AC, and then the AD, and the ACN and this is because they were able to galvanise under a regional party that gave them a platform to negotiate a national position. They used that to negotiate with the then CPC to come to what is known today as the APC. The CPC also was a Hausa/Fulani party and they used it alongside the Yoruba group (ACN) to fight Jonathan. We saw how it all happened. Now, Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu of blessed memory saw this early enough and established APGA to give the Igbo a platform to negotiate national interests. But fortunately or unfortunately, it hasn’t been able to galvanise that momentum. They say it’s better late than never. I’m happy today that a lot of Igbo sons and daughters are now trying to realise their political aspirations under the APGA platform. So, it’s really a misconception.
There are these general insinuations that the leader of a splinter group of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Simon Ekpa, who is allegedly catalysing the current sit-at-home in the South-East region, is sponsored by enemies of Ndigbo to forestall the zone’s quest to produce Nigeria’s next president, in 2023. What’s your thought?
It’s very unfortunate. This is because I have had to try to reconcile myself with some of the things that are going on with Simon Ekpa. I think he’s a misguided fellow and I don’t believe he’s acting alone. And I will tell you this: is it a coincidence that the issues that impact the freedom of movement in the South-East region? Is it a coincidence that the issue is most impacted in Ebonyi State and also in Imo State? We have APC in these two states, so there is a correlation. What’s the fear? For the first time in Nigeria, an Igbo man is among the front-runners for the presidential position. Not for the first time, because Ekwueme was, but the party eventually gave the ticket to someone else. So, he didn’t run for president. But now we have an Igbo son running for the president of Nigeria and now, we have a crisis of sit-at-home at a time like this. Could it be that in the weeks to the election, the same Simon Ekpa will make a pronouncement that people are not allowed to come out? I’m assuming if that happens, who will be worst hit or impacted? Is it not the Igbo candidate? This is because the South-East is his stronghold and if South Easterners, because of sit-at-home, do not come out to vote, he will be technically disenfranchised.
It’s unconscionable that somebody sits outside the country and galvanises a sit-at-home for a whole region. Could it have been sponsored by his opponents? Why is it most manifest in the two APC states of the region? Who is to benefit if such a situation disrupts the presidential election? Who would be the losers?
Sir, what’s your thought on part-time legislature as being currently canvassed by some Nigerians?
It’s a good thing and I welcome it. I think one needs to have built a source of livelihood to be able to commit your time to service to your people. If you can’t provide for yourself, how can you provide for other people? You need to have had something that you will do and then you need to pay your taxes because it’s a social responsibility. If you are not productive, you can’t pay taxes. So, it’s when you must have built something that sustains you that you can try to provide service for your people. They say charity begins at home. If you want to serve your people, build your business and run your business, then step out on the days apportion for you to devote to serving your people. Sit, make laws and debate issues and formulate policies. Thereafter go back, do your business and pay taxes. I think that’s the way it should be. This part-time legislature should be championed because that’s what obtains in other climes and it is working wonders for them. In such climes, people are more productive and they don’t call politics business as we do here. It is shameful here for someone to print a card (as a business card) saying I’m a member of the so, so and so party or chairman of the so, so and so party. It’s shameful. People should first, be engaged productively in their businesses and then move on to serve their constituencies. I support part-time legislature.