The governorship candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) in Anambra State, Dr Obiorah Okonkwo, spoke with reporters in Lagos on his defection from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), his aspirations and factors that will shape the November 6 poll. Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU was there
From the record, you are not new in politics. Could you tell us your trajectory in politics?
I have been involved in politics as a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). In 2015, I contested for the Senate and there were issues about who was the valid candidate of the party. The court eventually decided that I was the candidate and actually ordered that I should be given the Certificate of Return and sworn in as senator. The Appeal Court later ruled otherwise. In 2019, the PDP offered me a ticket to go to the Senate for Anambra Central. I looked at it and felt that my political ambition should be better realized as a governor because you are responsible for your actions. It is a platform where you take initiatives and carry them out. I offered to work with a candidate that the party would provide. That was how Uche Ekwunife became the senator representing Anambra Central today. We had an understanding that she would go to the Senate and I would go for the governorship seat.
Immediately after the election, we embarked on the process of putting the party together to deal with all the issues that are common with political parties in Anambra State. God helped us to bring it to the level that we had until 48 hours to the last governorship primary on June 26 and the party in its own wisdom dissolved the executives for what they termed conflict of interests. We were concerned initially because we knew that with that singular action, they had breached the party’s constitution. The constitution of the party is very clear that the state congress has the responsibility of electing the governorship candidate. The state congress is made up of the state exco, local government excos, five members representing each ward, and three ad-hoc members. The constitution went further to say two-thirds of that number shall form a quorum. What it means is that in any business of the party, if you do not form that quorum, that business is null and void. The party went ahead to conduct that exercise.
Eventually, the primary was conducted. When that result was announced, many people were disappointed. I did not know that for the short period we were marketing ourselves and our programmes, we had been able to build a silent, committed followership that has turned into a movement. There were calls that this project should not just end like that. I recall the commitment of those who decided to work with us that they would not be behind me but with me. This is because if somebody is behind you, you might be moving forward and he might be moving backward. So, remembering that it was a commitment we made to one another, I was not flattered when they made that appeal that we should not just stop. It took a while to decide what to do next. I made some further consultations and I saw that genuine confidence that we have something to offer; that somebody like me with the 10-point agenda will be needed for Anambra State and even the Southeast geo-political zone, and that we could be a source of inspiration for Nigeria at large.
Won’t you consider yourself lucky that you were not announced the winner of the primary because the party produced two candidates from parallel primaries?
Yes, there are problems in all the major political parties. Litigations are endless in the PDP because they have two major things to contend with. They are already saying that the product of that exercise is null and void. That means that the PDP might not have a candidate in that election. The APC also has its own issues and the problems are still there coupled with the latest Supreme Court judgment that may have made it null and void for any primary conducted by the national chairman of the party. Then the other party is APGA, which is going from one crisis to the other. It looks like a good number of the people of Anambra have realised that our state is in a total political quagmire. There were concerns that we might fall from frying pan to fire and that people might wake up one day and an unexpected person might just be declared the governor of Anambra State. So, I hearkened to the voice of the people and decided to take up this project with full knowledge that this is a difficult task. This is because anyone that hears that I am from a known party to one that is relatively not well-known, will wonder what happened. If the person does not have the other details, one may conclude that one is going on a suicide mission. I would not blame anybody. I would have thought so myself. However, there is a prospect in this venture.
We decided to agree to this call because the people who were with us in the PDP are still with us today. We decided to seek the governorship on the platform of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). There was a window for substitution of the candidate and we took advantage of it. I have looked at the advantages. As we speak today, I am the only governorship candidate from Anambra Central, which has the highest number of registered voters. Apart from that, I am from Idemili Federal Constituency that has over 600,000 registered voters. So, that flank is open. There is Anambra North, which has the second-largest number of registered voters and they were compensated with the emergence of Governor Willie Obiano. Many people from Anambra North are angry, having thought the PDP could pick a running mate from there, which didn’t happen. We have taken care of this in my candidature.
Strategically speaking, we thought that with my strength in Idemili, and my reach in Anambra Central and a partnership with Anambra North, we could make a difference. There is work of mobilisation and sensitisation to be done. We will do our best. The choice of ZLP is strategic. It is the last party on the ballot paper. We will tell voters to go vote for the last party on the ballot paper, instead of leaving them to start looking for our logo in the midst of so many others. It is not going to be easy, but I believe that it is only people that can make things easy. Anambra people are already in the kind of mood that what would determine the outcome of this election is the individual and not the political party. Internally, political parties are flawed and the best, most times, does not emerge. I am not in this race by my strength, but I believe that with God, everything is possible. Human beings have spoken but God would always have the final say. We have something to offer in Anambra. It would only take a good person on a platform of governance to be able to influence what is happening. With my background and exposure, we will give Anambra the best. I am in this because I believe that the greatest resources are available in the state and human resource is more important than anything. The world today is knowledge-driven.
I was telling a group of people that the Israeli prime minister has the capacity with drone technology to determine the type of soil in a farm and use the same drone to correct whatever is in that soil without going there physically. If Americans would stay in Washington and pick the enemy one by one in Iraq or Afghanistan without setting foot on the ground; even pick those inside an armoured car, then what are we talking about? That is the world of the future and the brainpower is there in Anambra State. I do tell people that what makes the difference is leadership and you do not need all the people; just one or two people, to drive the process. I studied in Russia; I had my Ph.D. in Political Science, Masters in Economics, and a first degree in Economics. I have what it takes to be Anambra governor.
Don’t you think the issue of zoning would affect your chances?
We have come to the end of that agitation. Like I have always said, in the first place, the agitation was unfounded. It was for the simple reason of some people who wanted to eliminate me from the race without reasons. Anambra has never zoned the governorship seat. And it might interest you to know that the biggest propagandist of that zoning was APGA. One wonders if APGA had zoned its ticket to Anambra South, why are they pushing other political parties to go to Anambra South? The only reason you were hearing about zoning is because I am in the race. They did not want me to be in the race because they know that I would win. In the PDP, you heard about 14 aspirants from Anambra South talking about zoning then. If they had the strength to win, they would not have been agitating for zoning. But talk about zoning has ended. Even those who were talking about zoning before now would tell you that it ended during the primaries. It is not an issue now and nobody talks about zoning.
Beyond that, Anambra South has had its share. Mbadinuju served as governor and it was not by any person’s fault that he did not complete eight years. We in Anambra also believe that those who should be crying of marginalisation should be the ones that never had a chance. The power base of Anambra had been in the South. A kingmaker is usually bigger than the king. It is just that people do not manage what they have. But even if you go to that South, there is also a dichotomy there. There is old Aguata South, old Nnewi South and there is Ihiala that is standing alone. I think that the answer to the issue of zoning as reflected in the primaries shows there is nothing like that any longer. Have you ever wondered that in 2003 when Mbadinuju was leaving office, why did APGA not choose its candidate from Anambra South? Talks about zoning are all about the politics of deception.
The church is a critical factor every candidate in Anambra must consider. What is your relationship with the church?
The relationship with the church is a fact and it is not with their prayers only. Whether it is the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church, they are just like any other civil society. When you talk about civil society and politics, it becomes a game of numbers. The church has a dominant population and when they organize themselves, they might be able to push their followers in the direction they want. I am acceptable to both sides of the church in Anambra State. I have a good relationship with them. I don’t play division; I work with both the Catholics and the Anglicans.