I’m comfortable with Lawan, Gbajabiamila’s emergence – PDP stalwart

Barrister Mudi Erhenede is a legal practitioner and a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart credited with bringing many Ebonyi state politicians into limelight. He also led the charge for the re-election of Ebonyi state governor, Engr. Dave Umahi. In this interview with PAUL OKAH, he gives a post mortem of the 2019 general elections and declares that the All Progressives Congress (APC) will implode at the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure.

Did DUFSET achieve its objective?

The platform, Dave Umahi for Second Tenure (DUFSET), was established for the purpose of returning Ebonyi state governor, Engr. Dave Umahi, to office for a second term. We achieved our objective 100 per cent. DUFSET did well in the primary objective of re-electing Dave Umahi. He won in Afikpo North and South, the only places he allowed DUFSET to exist. The man who delivered Afikpo South to the governor is the chairman of Afikpo South LGA, Hon. Eni Uduma Chima. He deserves special commendations. The governor won convincingly, the results speak for themselves. Our PDP candidate in the Afikpo North-east House of Assembly election, Hon. Ngozi Eziuloh, scored more than 13,000 votes, if I can still remember the figures. The closest APC person, Chinasa, got about 5,000 votes. So, to that extent, you can see that DUFSET achieved its objectives. There is a tendency for people to see DUFSET alone on the basis of what happened on Election Day, but that’s where they get it wrong. That’s political naivety on the part of those who assess performance based on elections. Like I said earlier, DUFSET was formed to hold down Afikpo North and South for His Excellency. I stand to be contradicted, if DUFSET was not there, chances are there that APC would have been stronger in Afikpo North, because a substantial number of those who moved to APC, like Tony Ekoh Jnr., and other members of Labour Party that eventually ended up in APC, went in before the formation of DUFSET. When we formed DUFSET, some came out from APC to join the group and consequently transformed to PDP. So, DUFSET held Afikpo North down for PDP and His Excellency for two years before the 2019 election. Our membership cut across every nook and cranny of Afikpo North LGA. There is no ward we do not have a minimum of 1,000 registered voters. In terms of making sure that Afikpo North did not become the headquarters of APC in Ebonyi state, DUFSET succeeded. If you remember the history of PDP/Labour Party in 2015, you would know that DUFSET succeeded greatly in dividing what should have been the strength of APC in Afikpo North. The only examination a politician writes is election, so DUFSET delivered on election. In a nutshell, DUFSET delivered on its mandate. The rest is now for historians and those who even benefited from it to give us credited or not, but we have congratulated ourselves.

Umahi’s first tenure

The governor’s first tenure was fantastic. He set a target for himself and I think he met those targets. I don’t know where you got your information that the governor does not pay workers on time or that the salary is irregular. To the best of my knowledge, between 2015 to 2019, the Ebonyi state government did not owe workers. I am not in government and I am not a civil servant, but our friends, who are civil servants and political appointees, have said that they are paid before the 25th of every month. Sometimes, some of my friends even tell me they received their salaries before 18th, 19th or 20th of every month. Umahi, in his first tenure, was a blessing to Ebonyi state. I had cause to work with three governors, including Umahi. I served in Dr Sam Egwu’s government as Special Adviser, both in the first and second tenures. Towards the end of Chief Martins Elechi’s tenure, I had cause and the privilege to have served as his lawyer and I still his lawyer. I did cases for him concerning attempts to impeach him, which we successfully defended. He successfully served his tenure and handed over honourably. Also, in the course of running DUFSET, I have interacted with Governor Umahi. So, I will tell you without equivocation that Umahi performed excellently well in his first tenure, in terms of agriculture, infrastructure, among other things. His telling credentials earned him a second tenure. However, I would like His Excellency to be more listening. There is something I fear about second tenure governors: the tendency to think you won’t need people again, the tendency to believe that there would be no third tenure, so you want to go for brooks, the tendency to ignore some people who ensured that the wheels of government worked smoothly. His Excellency should look more at the issue of security. In his first tenure, security was OK and Ebonyi was relatively peaceful. I may be wrong, but I believe that 90 per cent of the peace we achieved in the first tenure was because of the policy of youth empowerment, which His Excellency graciously introduced.

DUFSET beyond Umahi

DUFSET, as a political family, has come to stay. The mandate of returning the governor for a second tenure was accomplished; so we are now rebranding for the future. We are now looking for a new name, as we don’t want to completely severe the governor or the Umahi concept. We have come to stay in politics and stronger now. Naturally, some fell apart along the way. Those who didn’t completely abide by our advice have apologized. Some of them voted Maria or other people, but they have since regretted their actions and have returned and more committed to the family. Right now, we are more of a pressure group trying to ensure that things are done properly.

 NASS leaders

You know that I am a PDP man, while leaders of NASS, Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, are APC members. However, I will say that I am comfortable with their emergence, if that will make the executive to work and perform in tandem with honest, reasonable Nigerians. I think Nigerians should be comfortable, because the excuse Mr President kept making throughout his first tenure was that the executive and legislature were at war. Now that his party people or by extension his choices of principal officers of NASS are now there, what excuse could he have again? So, if I am to borrow your phrase of a rubber stamp legislature, if there are to be a rubber stamp legislature and Nigeria is working or moving forward, is it not better than to try and change a man that is unchangeable?

June 12

Today, we are celebrating June 12. The man behind it, Chief MKO Abiola, was a Yoruba. Nigerians supported him in the June 12, 1993, election that was eventually annulled by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military junta, because he stood tall. I bet you, if Abiola was alive to contest election and the controversies that surrounded June 12 happened today, the reactions would have been very different. Everyone would have queued behind tribal lines and at the end of the day, the symbolism and truth behind June 12 would have died away just like that. So, we are not progressing in very many respects as a country and we must hold Mr President and members of his cabinet responsible.

Way forward

The way forward is for Nigerians to develop nerves again. We are a country that anyone can take for granted, because, as citizens, we are not up and doing, otherwise we can keep the government in check. There is no amount of whatever we expect from the National Assembly that will serve as a check on the executive arm as it is today. But if Nigerians can keep tribalism aside and come to the conclusion that we have no other country than this, condemn what is good and support what is right, irrespective of who is doing it or benefiting, then we will make progress. Our biggest problem in Nigeria today is tribalism. Religion is another problem. Therefore, the way forward is to see ourselves as one. You may ask about the fight against corruption. If a minister or public servant is acting contrary to his oath of office, as Nigerians, we can rise against it. It happens in civilised countries across the world, even in Africa. For instance, in Sudan, the citizens are protesting against military rule. Their resistance brought down the oldest serving dictator in the world. Even the military that brought down the government is asking for time, but the citizens are turning down the request, saying they need civilian rule. That is what we are saying about the engagement of the citizenry. Even under military rule, we used to do it. As a student in University of Benin then, I know the number of times we came in the streets to demonstrate, perhaps just N5 increment in the price of petroleum. You make not necessarily succeed, but future government will take note and be careful with policies. But in Nigeria of today, any policy that comes, we will go to social media and criticise it and then stop there. Social media criticisms will not change anything; so Nigerians must wake up. If my generation could do it under the military, why can’t we replicate same under civilian regime? If Buhari wakes up today to say that the price of fuel is N500, it is only on social media that Nigerians will criticise it. The civil society organisations, human rights group, labour unions and the rest will only protest for one or two days and in the streets of Abuja alone. They cannot mobilise the entire country to participate in anything, because they connive with the powers to do things that are not of benefit to the ordinary man. So, we have to take up the fight on our own. We can’t wait for this National Assembly to do everything for us. Granted that we elected them, they will serve their interest first.

Agenda for APC

I don’t want to talk about the APC because such a party doesn’t exist. APC is just a gathering of businessmen and politicians who felt they were not getting a fair deal under Jonathan’s administration and came back for the sole purpose of removing him. Now, APC is going to face the biggest challenge of its existence with Buhari’s exit, since there is no third tenure. The soul of what you call APC is going to be put to test in the next couple of years. The rivalries, interests and challenges will manifest more; so, I have no advice for APC, because it must implode. I would rather advise Mr President to take up the gauntlet and try to serve the interest of Nigerians by doing what is right. We didn’t elect any cabal; rather President Buhari was elected to lead this country. He should appoint men of integrity, men who have the requisite knowledge and competence to drive the economy and country forward. He should shun tribalism that makes plum appointments to go to the North. He should run an inclusive government of Nigerians, not one section of Nigeria. Again, charity must begin at home. If you are fighting corruption, fight it as it were, not in opposition camp and pampering corruption once the people are with you. They were a lot of people being prosecuted by EFCC and were already facing trials, but, once they defected to the APC, their “sins” were forgiven, as it were. They were welcomed warmly in the APC and told to “go and sin no more.” For instance, Orji Uzor Kalu is now walking free, because he is now in the APC. During the campaigns, there was a time he said he was sick, travelled abroad for surgery and his case was forgotten. Are you telling me that if he was still in PDP and was criticising this government, he would be walking free?

There are a lot of things that are currently wrong; Buhari cannot surround himself with people who Nigerians are saying are corrupt and some of whom have cases in court and expect us to agree that he is fighting corruption. Therefore, I will advise him to do something that will leave a lasting legacy. He should do something for Nigerians to remember him in bright colours and not in retrospect.

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