Chief Chike Udenze is a former acting chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State and recently contested the post of National Publicity Secretary of PDP. In this interview with Silas Ezeugwu, he? speaks on the need for political inclusion in PDP, the politics of Anambra State and the need for local government and state assembly autonomy in the constitution amendment process, among other national issues.
Since the present PDP national executive came on board, they have been talking about unity, reconciliation and so on; how important do you think this call is at this moment?
I think it is very important, and it takes a man like Alhaji Bamanga Tukur who is an accomplished politician and businessman to know that in any setting in life, the way forward is to have peace and unity among people who have a common interest. He has from day one pursued this reconciliation because we are aware that most of our founding fathers in PDP have left the party because of the lingering crisis and joined other parties. So the current PDP chairman Alhaji Tukur finds it good to bring back all these people, which is the right thing.
Recently, some opposition parties in the country have come together to form one strong party which they call APC; do you see it as a challenge to the ruling PDP?
Well, it depends on the way you look at it. From my own point of view I do not see anything wrong in a group of people coming together to form an alliance; the issue is the motive. The PDP is the biggest party in Africa and, of course, we are bound to have some general heat and so on, but if the APC emerges, of course, it is good for the politics in the country because it now forces every party in the country, both the PDP and other opposition parties, to begin to practise real democracy, and then that is for the common good of the citizens of this country. But they will never be a big threat to the PDP because opposition people usually have an ulterior motive for merger, and if what they are looking for is not forthcoming,? you see them disintegrating again. Some people have pointed accusing finger to PDP for the current issues over the registration (or not) of APC, but PDP will not busy itself with that kind of practice because it is not important. The issue is that they are strange bed fellows and they cannot really effectively unite. And when they come on board, of course, PDP will know that they are on board and the electorate will decide who they will vote for.
Do you think that the current PDP fence-mending effort is a response to the challenge the APC is going to pose to the party?
No. It is a year now since the current PDP leadership came into being and the chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, made it a cardinal point in his inauguration speech that he is going to pursue this reconciliation course and he has been doing so.
??? Most of the people behind these opposition parties are people who left PDP. Some of them were really not well treated; we have to accept that. So, if they are properly appealed to and they feel that they are wanted, I am sure they are going to come back, and if they come back, all the other opposition will collapse. Simple. ?
The Anambra governorship election is coming up later this year. The PDP is not in power in the state right now – it lost to APGA; what are the issues that will decide who wins the election?
Anambra is a state where I have been a PDP state chairman, a peculiar state, different from all the other 35 states of the federation as far as politics is concerned. People who do not understand Anambra think differently of the place. The PDP is the only party that is existing in Anambra State, but because of the so-called godfathers and the major stakeholders, who do not invariably see the need to sit down to reconcile their differences, the party derailed at some point.
?? Also, the party at the national level has not been realistic in dealing with Anambra State. There have been some measures of imposition all along and Anambra people, because they are educated and successful business people, do not agree that anybody will tell them what to do. But if you conduct a free and fair election, or if you have a level playing ground, any person or persons who lose to a contestant will always accept and back the person who has won. They did not have that opportunity and that is why there is this crisis in Anambra State. Because of that, it is the PDP stakeholders that either now dissolved into other parties to pull PDP down and to show the national PDP that they cannot just impose anybody and get away with it. That is the truth of the matter. Now APGA, which has been campaigning, using the name of Ikemba Nnewi, is facing the worst of crisis of its own life. APGA cannot even put its house together; and people would ordinarily leave PDP to use APGA as a spring board to show PDP that they are not doing the right thing in the state. ACN, which is another major party, is a sort of a south west party. So as far as I am concerned, ACN does not exist in Anambra State. We have a senator of ACN just because of the in-fighting in PDP – because Senator Ngige used to be the governor of Anambra State under PDP. So all this is as a result of the crisis rocking the PDP in the state. As far as PDP is concerned, it is going to get the governorship position in the November election.
How do you think the issue of power shift between the North and South Senatorial zones will bear on the coming election?
Well, the general feeling of the North Senatorial zone in Anambra State is that they have not produced a governor since this political dispensation, but t is now left for the north in Anambra State to put its house in order, and if they recall in 1998 what happened in June 12, when MKO Abiola was deprived, the nation felt that the south west should be appeased, so it was agreed that the president should go to the south west, and it did not prevent other people, like Abubakar Rimi from the north and Alex Ekwueme from the south east, from contesting under PDP. So if the people of the North Senatorial zone should put their house in order and bring a candidate through a proper, structured way of how a candidate should emerge, then they have a good chance probably to fight against whoever that will come from other parties, like APGA and others. In a nutshell, we want to encourage distribution or zoning of positions; we want to encourage the north to take the opportunity to fill in a credible candidate for PDP and indeed other major parties.
Constitution amendment is ongoing; what are the key issues you would like the lawmakers to address in this process?
You see, constitutional amendment is not something you can achieve in one day. What Nigeria needs at this time is not to change the whole constitution because we have various ethnic groups who have their own vested interests on the way this country needs to be run.
But what I think is that things can be done gradually for now, because we cannot do everything in one day. One is the autonomy of the local government; two is autonomy of the state assembly. If we have these two things down, I guess we are in the right direction and a lot of things will happen. What we want is where people in state assemblies will do the work which the people have elected them to do.? We want the local government to be autonomous to work at the grassroots level, control the money, control the investment. They can now in any meeting bring in their views for the good of the common man in the society. These are the key areas we need to address in the present constitutional amendment.
Many people have been calling on the federal government to diversify the economy of Nigeria, how do you see this call?
Economically there are certain sound principles and they are principles of universal application. So there is the need for anybody who wants to live and have his or her destiny in his hands to diversify. Oil should not be our only revenue base; time was when we had the groundnut pyramids in the north; we have a lot of mineral resources; we have agricultural resources. In any economy, a nation that cannot feed itself cannot make progress. So there is need for diversification of Nigerian economy, not by word of mouth; there has to be critical, concrete terms and policies and means that people can now put them together and champion agricultural revolution, champion industrial revolution.
We have the Ajaokuta steel company. If I were the president, I will relocate my headquarters to Ajaokuta to make sure that that steel company is working. Government should come out with policies and programmes will bring in investors into the country.
The present administration has been going on about the Second Niger Bridge; how important do you think this project is to the economic life of the people?
The Second Niger Bridge is going to be the livewire of the economy of this country. The bridge is the gateway to the south east, south west and south south, and there’s a lot of traffic on that zone: from Lagos to Onitsha, to Aba and to Port Harcourt. Anybody who really understands the effect of commerce will know that the Second Niger Bridge is a sine qua non. President Jonathan has put it on the front burner and within the next two years, it should be realised. And it is a project that will turn around the economy of the country. I congratulate Mr President for this laudable vision to pursue this project without anybody prompting him.
If you are called to serve, what is your vision of service?
I have served before and people who know me know that, for me, the call to service is a call to serve, and not a call to empower or enrich oneself or to appoint only one’s people.
I ran for office of the publicity secretary of the party in 2012 and since then there has not been any attempt to reach me by even the people I stepped down for. And what is happening there – they are busy appointing their uncles. sisters,? in-laws, etc,? to positions of authority. That is corruption – simply put, and that discourages good service delivery. When people get to public office,? most are there for what they can get, and that is why in Anambra State, you see that when people contest for office, they fight to the last man, because they believe that when people are allowed to emerge, they forget all the promises they made, and they just suppress and oppress people that challenged them, and that is not good for our polity – this winners take all mentality. It is important that participation should be encouraged especially when they know that the person has something to contribute.