… We are in a precarious and challenging time in Enugu
Two-term former commissioner and governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 general elections in Enugu State, Chief Chijioke Edeoga, spoke to LAWRENCE NJOKU about his mission, the state of his party and other agitating issues in the state.
There are concerns over the rightful candidate between you and Everest Nnaji, especially after Nnaji held a rally and addressed himself as the “governorship candidate” of the party in Enugu State?
I am not laying claims to being the Labour Party governorship candidate in Enugu State. I, Chijioke Edeoga the governorship candidate for Labour Party in Enugu State. I emerged through a duly constituted and conducted primary.
Initially, the person who emerged in the first primary of the party and who is the current state chairman of the party at a time he thought he would probably run, reviewed the situation and decided to remain as a party chairman. He is qualified to run. He is a lawyer of several years standing. He wrote in his withdrawal statement that he was giving way for Chijioke Edeoga to become the governorship candidate of the party.
So, when the agreements were reached, we waited until the substitution window the INEC permitted, which opened around July 23 and the party subsequently sent the withdrawal notice written by Casmir Agbo and information that a repeat primary would be held on August 4 and the information was duly communicated to INEC both at the state and national levels and a repeat primary was held where I emerged as the party’s governorship candidate. So, the process is clear and all the laid down rules were followed. Substitution ideally happens when a candidate has withdrawn from another. Even before the primary, the provision is there for a consensus candidate. The substitution window does not open for another contested primary. It opens for a replacement and that replacement is Chijioke Edeoga. It stands; it subsists. So, any person laying any claim is just trying to distract the party or has another motive or is being misguided. In the fullness of time, INEC will publish who the candidate is and all that will be laid to rest. So it is not a matter to be worried about.
Your opponents say your desperation to be governor pushed you to LP after participating in the primary of the PDP and failing to clinch the ticket. Again, they said you dumped an agreement you entered with other aspirants of the PDP before the primary. What is your reaction?
We are in a precarious and challenging time in Enugu State and Nigeria. The crisis of this time does not allow for any kind of hesitation because the fortunes of our children are clearly in doubt. The fact of the misgovernance now and in the past years has become obvious and the consequences have combined to the extent that all men of goodwill must act. So it is not the desperation of ambition. It is a call; it is a response to the urgent demands of these times. There is a domestic crisis; an absolute lack of employment opportunities for the youths of Enugu State and Nigeria in general; no prospect of employment; not one single sustainable employment outfit has been created in Enugu State in the past seven years. The anger of our youths is boiling over. There is insecurity everywhere and even our farmers cannot go to the farms again. Terrorists occupy the villages, 14 villages in my home town in Mgbuji are presently occupied by terrorists with beautiful names. They kill, they rape and they maim and people keep asking questions about what we are doing. Things that the government should do in the daily cost of living are not done and there is no doubt that people who mean well, who see service, as what it ought to be must rise to the demands of these times. The times are precarious.
My desire is a response to the multifarious cries that I have heard and these cries were there when I was running in the PDP. These cries became accentuated when I made a statement in the PDP that I was withdrawing. People want me to enter the fray, their cries became louder and they said the times demand people like you. They had watched from 1991 when I entered public service; when I was Press Secretary to when I was elected as council chairman, member of the House of Reps; Commissioner for Local government and Environment and as Presidential aide. There is something about my track record that compels attention and admiration and that is what they want me to exemplify.
On the allegation of dumping an agreement and when you say I’m not being a man of my own words and you talk about an MOU that you have not seen or read, you are being judgmental.
The MOU speaks specifically about not going to court. Its intentions were that the outcome of that primary should not be challenged in court and that we should conduct ourselves in a democratic manner. So, nowhere in the MOU did it intend to circumscribe anyone’s democratic rights to aspire.
The MOU was a matter that was agreed upon by some aspirants in the PDP family and it was within a contest in the firm belief that the primary itself will be conducted according to democratic norms and its outcome will be acceptable to the majority of Enugu State people.
If the outcome of that primary, which the PDP that was before then the dominant party in Enugu State conducted was acceptable to everybody, the loud and ominous silence that greeted its outcome wouldn’t have happened. The popularity that LP has garnered and continued to gain, especially since I became its candidate wont have been strong. It won’t be strong if the outcome of the PDP primary was in consonance with the wishes of the majority of Enugu State people because, ideally, delegates should carry out the express wishes of the people they represent. Those delegates of the PDP should represent the dominant opinion of the Enugu people, which means that if another party had come, it would have been received with lukewarm support but that is not the case in the state. My entry into the LP in addition to Peter Obi’s previous entry has galvanised Enugu in such a manner that has never been before. So, it shows you that there is a dissonance that there is a disconnect between the outcome of that primary and the people of the state.
I also said sometimes that
at the time we did our primary, the PDP at the national level had not conducted its primary for the presidential election and the President and Vice Presidential candidates had not emerged. For the first time in several years, the legitimate expectations of the Southeast that the PDP will be a platform where they can realise their aspiration was dashed by the choice of another Northerner to replace an outgoing Northerner; the clear marginalisation of the Southeast in the choice of the Vice President. It is one of the things that made me make up my mind against the PDP in addition to other things.
I decided not to continue after I left the PDP but I don’t own myself. There are other people following me whose insistence was that I should adopt a platform and that any platform I adopted, they will follow me so, that the battle to save Enugu State can begin. There is no desperation and there is no human being in the world that cannot change his mind. It is only a stone that does not change its mind and it will be cast to the sea when the need arises; it is only a tree that does not move in case of emergency and the tree will bend. So, I have no apology for stepping out again on another platform. I have done nothing that is abhorrent; I have done nothing that is abnormal. I have done the right thing. The fight that I have received from the PDP shows me that I have done the right thing, that I am hitting the right ball that we are resolved, and that we are determined to go. Changing one’s mind is not a sin and I will change again if the occasion demands good reason and the right direction.
Why did you want to govern Enugu State?
I want to govern Enugu State because by training and experience in public service and by the coincidence of other positive pointers, this is the time for me to indicate interest and an opportunity for me to put together the experiences of a lifetime. I have been prepared for this office incrementally from deputy press secretary when Okwy Nwodo was governor; to elected council chairman to a member of the House of Representatives; Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters and Commissioner for two terms. These wide experiences stretching over several years have helped me to see how government works at the local, state and national levels in different capacities and most of them are in incremental order.
So, there is a sense of being prepared and if you ask yourself, why this incremental preparation? Why have I been kept alive? If you ponder these matters, the fact of my preparation from a very early age in my life, the fact of being kept alive at a time like this, requires men of integrity and men of experience. So there is a coincidence, a convergence of issues and facts that make a gubernatorial bid for me at this point in time, especially when the convention of rotation that operates in Enugu State has rotated the office of the governor to the Enugu East senatorial zone where I belong. So, I have relevant experience, good health and the coincidence of the fact that the governorship is rotated to my zone. These convergence of facts are the additional impetus to my gubernatorial bid – experience, the turn of my zone, knowledge of what needs to be done and especially at this time of national crises; the fact of being prepared in terms of the values that are inherent in me, in terms of educational qualifications that I have acquired. So, in theory, and practice, the situation we are in, all these combined to tell me in very clear terms that I must present myself to be the candidate for our times, the times of national emergency, the times of domestic emergency.
What influenced the choice of your running mate from Enugu West when other contestants are picking theirs from Enugu North, apparently in line with the rotation mantra in the state?
Others are following the precedents laid by the PDP in Enugu State. Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party was not bound to follow the zoning arrangement established by the PDP. I am bound to follow an arrangement that aligns with my calculations of what will give me victory. I am not running for the sake of running, I am running to win. If everybody has picked a deputy from one zone, then there is a scramble there. I have not offended anybody or convention with regards to the Labour Party in my choice of running mate. I did it with an eye toward victory. I did it with an eye toward deviating from what others are doing. If others are picking their running mate from one zone, why should I go to that zone when there are other big zones yearning for recognition and their votes are there to be harvested? It is a strategy, it is politics, and I am a master of the game. I have been here for a long time and I know the field.
You were part of the present government, what are you going to do differently?
Several things but most importantly, what underlines everything is transparency. I was brought up on conservative values guided by the holy bible. It talks about empathy, transparency and fear of God. It talks about being satisfied with what you have. If you combine the virtues the holy book teaches us as your guiding principles, you must think about what to do to ensure that the people are happy. You must talk about opacity in the accounting process. Your expenditure will be limited to what you have. I will make council chairmen publish monthly what they receive. The allocation to councils must be transparent and they must be accountable. I am going to insist that men of values emerge as council chairmen.
If you have credible people running the councils, the state will run well. If you are not going to aggrandise money, you will do well. We will provide healthcare. All over Enugu State, the health centres are in decline. Choose any ward in the state and go and look at the health centers, they are overrun with weeds, and the whole place is like a farm. So, we will ensure that these are no more. Look at the primary schools, there is no model. What you see now are houses arranged anyhow. So, fear of God and empathy will help us do well. I am going to be transparent in my dealings. There are many things we can do to make Enugu a better place.