Sir Ifeanyi Eleje is the senatorial candidate of the Grand Alliance of All Progressives for the Southern Ebonyi Zone. In this interview with EDWARD NNACHItalks about Simon Ekpa’s home sit-in in the South East region, his APGA election, part-time legislature and various other topics
Can shall we meet you, sir?
I am Ifeanyi Eleje. I am a graduate of Chemistry from the University of Lagos and I also have a Master of Business Administration from the University of Benin. I am also an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute in London and also have various degrees in Management and Administration from the University of Surrey, the University of Kent; I am also a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management and an Associate of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.
Many in the Ebonyi South Zone say they lack a strong political structure to support the likes of incumbent Sen. Michael Nnachi, Gov. David Umahi, and others at the polls. What is your opinion?
Those who say this are misinformed. It is that they deliberately lie or are not informed. I could not have been a novice 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 just discredits 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 seeking that position is uninformed. We’ve been in this game for a while; I was in the PDP and also in the APC and worked extensively with Senator Emmanuel Agboti in the search for him to be Governor of Ebonyi State. So, the political arena is not new to me. The question, I think, should be: why APGA? Ebonyi’s political terrain has suffered what I can call a captive capture. It had been stored by a group of people who wanted to protect some interests and was therefore not open to a genuine contest. And I think that’s why we’ve had little representation; I also think that’s why the best of us haven’t come on board. So when we get a platform in the Grand Alliance of All Progressives, we want to give it a go from there.
You have repeatedly said that you would not like to tackle politics while in the Executive arm of the government, but rather in the Legislature. Why have you been probing such a notion?
I am simply trying to say that the functions of the executive are different from those of the legislature. Now, if you are a legislator and you are operating as part of the executive, it means that you have already failed in your duty as a legislator. This is because part of their duties is to oversee the functions of the executive. I’m just trying to say that you can’t live in the ‘house’ of the executive arm of government and then supervise at the same time. He must come as an independent legislator with the interests of his constituents and that is the only time he can provide an adequate oversight role. For example, a project is located in your community and the executive appoints the contractor who manages it and examines what is necessary.
As a legislator, your concern should be: Is this bill relevant to my constituents? Two, if it’s okay for my constituents, is it being executed with the professionalism and quality that will eventually meet my constituents’ needs? It’s not a case of a contract being awarded and executed and everyone ticking the boxes, the guy gets paid and walks away. What benefits does it provide to its constituents? How does it align with your own needs? What impact does it have directly on your standard of living?
You come from a local government area where open defecation is common. How would you address this ugly trend in the area if elected?
I know that open defecation is already internationally prohibited. So what do you need to tackle open defecation? Nobody in the real sense likes open defecation. This is a practice that is sustained by a lack of government attention. If you make it a focal point, it could be addressed, first, by 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 I will be looking for when I get to the Senate will be to stop open defecation not only in the Afikpo area, but in the entire South Ebonyi Zone.
Your community has suffered a blackout for about 13 years. How would you approach this initial situation if you are elected?
Of course, you know that power generation and distribution has passed into private hands. They are no longer under the seat of government. But that is only part of the story. This is because someone invested and wants to get a return on their investment. And when you project the cost of having power in Afikpo North, you realize that any private investor may be wary because it will take a long time to get a return on that investment. And it can seem overwhelming. But the truth is that this is why there is political commitment. Knowing that this is a social welfare responsibility for the community, the government must step in and make the initial commitment required to bring power to this community. I will work with all the senior members of the Senate if I am elected to put that political fix in place.
His party, APGA, is widely seen as an unpopular and regional party. What is your opinion?
I am running for a regional election, although I am running to be a member of the National Assembly. I will represent Ebonyi Zona Sur. APGA, with all due respect to those who think differently, should be the only party that represents the interests of the Igbo. There is no ethnic group that does not have a party that serves as a platform to project its peculiar interests. The Yoruba had it in AC, and then AD, and ACN and this is because they were able to galvanize themselves under a regional party which gave them a platform to negotiate a national position. With that they negotiated with the then CPC to reach what is known today as APC. The CPC was also a Hausa/Fulani party and they used it together with the Yoruba group (ACN) to fight against 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, he hasn’t been able to galvanize that momentum. They say better late than never. Today I am happy that many Igbo sons and daughters are now trying to realize their political aspirations under the APGA platform. So, it’s really a misconception.
There are these general suggestions that the leader of a dissident group of the Indigenous People of Biafran, Simon Ekpa, who is supposedly catalyzing the current sit-at-home in the southeast region, is sponsored by enemies of the Ndigbo to prevent the invasion of the area. . quest to produce the next president of Nigeria, in 2023. What is his thinking?
It is very unfortunate. This is because I have had to try to come to terms with some of the things that are going on with Simon Ekpa. I think he’s the wrong guy and I don’t think he’s acting alone. And I’ll tell you this: is it a coincidence that the issues that impact freedom of movement in the South-East region? Is it a coincidence that the problem is more affected in the Ebonyi state and also in the Imo state? We have APCs in these two states, so there is a correlation. What is the fear? For the first time in Nigeria, an Igbo man is among the leading candidates for the presidential post. 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 president of Nigeria and now we have a stay at home crisis at a time like this. Could it be that in the weeks leading up to the election, Simon Ekpa himself will make a pronouncement that people are not allowed out? I guess if that happens, who will be affected or affected the most? Isn’t the candidate igbo? This is because the Southeast is his stronghold and if Southeasterners, due to staying home, don’t come out to vote, he will technically be disenfranchised.
It is inconceivable that someone sits outside the country and organizes a sit-in at home for an entire region. Could it have been sponsored by his opponents? Why is it manifested more in the two APC states in the region? Who will benefit if such a situation disrupts the presidential elections? Who would be the losers?
Sir, what is your opinion on the part-time legislature that some Nigerians are currently asking for?
It’s a good thing and I appreciate it. I think you need to have built a livelihood to be able to spend your time serving your people. If you can’t provide for yourself, how can you provide for other people? You must have had something you will do and then you must pay your taxes because it is a social responsibility. If you are not productive, you cannot pay taxes. So that’s when you should have built something to support you that you can try to provide a service to your people. They say that charity begins at home. If you want to serve your people, build your business, and run your business, then take advantage of the distribution of days to dedicate yourself to serving your people. Sit down, make laws and debate issues and formulate policies. Then go back, do your business and pay taxes. I think that’s the way it should be. This part-time legislature must be defended because that is what you get in other climates and it is working wonders for them. In such climates, people are more productive and don’t call politics business like we do here. Here it is embarrassing for someone to print a card (like a business card) saying that I am a member of so-and-so party or chairman of so-and-so party. It’s embarrassing. First, people must engage productively in their businesses, and then move on to serving their constituents. I support the legislature part-time.