In this interview with Charles Ajunwa and Ahamefula Ogbu of ThisDay Newspapers, Abia State House of Assembly Speaker, Rt Hon Chinedum Orji spoke on the speculation over his 2023 governorship interest, his relationship with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu among other issues. Excerpts:
Question: You have been Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly for over seven months now, what difference have you made in that office?
My greatest achievement is the unity of purpose in the House of Assembly. I have a very good working relationship with my colleagues and they have been very supportive in whatever achievement that we have recorded so far especially with the passage of the budget before the end of the last fiscal year. Also, we have all been so much in synergy with the policy trust of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu that you will not even notice that the House has membership from three political parties. Basically, the achievement could be traced to that, unity of purpose, among my colleagues, respect for each other’s opinion and doing things in consultation with them.
Question: Apart from the synergy within the House, has the relationship between the executive and the House been cordial?
The relationship between the executive and the legislature is perfect, in the sense that whatever bill, both economic and social bills that are brought before us by the executive is given accelerated hearing and importantly, the Governor pays very serious attention to the welfare of the members to the effect that I am bold to state that we rank very high among our colleagues in the South-east, if not the best.
Question: What is the relationship between the executive and the legislature in your state?
The Relationship with the House and the Governor is a very cordial one. People have tried as much as they can to incite trouble into that relationship but as far as I am concerned, the Governor remains the Governor of the state and a very good friend that lays emphasis on mutual respect. In effect, the relationship between the legislature and the executive is harmonious.
Question: So there is no mutual suspicion between you and the Governor?
Mutual suspicion is in the mind of those who suspect it and I will not dignify that question with any further answer.
Question: There have been rumours that you wanted to be Speaker so that you would impeach the Governor and his Deputy and it was even used against you during the campaign for the seat, how true is that?
What you should ask them is what would be the impeachable offence? If you want to impeach somebody, the person must have committed an impeachable offence. Can those people tell me what the impeachable offence is? Is the Governor of the state not doing his job and besides, how can you betray a man that gave you the job? That is why I am happy with the Governor, a lot of insinuations have been made and many things said to cause problems between him and I.
But he has resisted them because he knows my mind. He knows I mean well for him. I don’t blame those that started this propaganda. They started it because they do not know the depth of the relationship that exists between me and His Excellency, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu. If they know, then they would not waste their time giving themselves high blood pressure and talking about impeachment all the time.
Let me ask you, so I have now become so powerful that the governor does not have his people in the Assembly representing him? He doesn’t have any other person in the House so that I will just come to the House and railroad an impeachment process in the House; not minding other colleagues, the principal officers and Leader of the House who is a brother of the governor? How can I achieve that? I don’t know how our people think. I suggest that they try to find other areas of propaganda to feast on and not on this area because I don’t have any history of betrayal since I started my political career.
I do not have any history of betraying anybody who trusts me. As far as I am concerned, going by what the Governor has passed through, it is by divine intervention and providence that he is Governor of the state because attempts have been made to ensure he didn’t become the Governor of the state and at the end of the day, he emerged victorious, so it means that his project is divine. As for me, anybody that is instigating or inciting or trying to instigate any trouble should look for another area to excite themselves.
The Governor has been doing his job very well. He performs his functions as the governor of the state and I do not know the excuse that anybody will wake up tomorrow to say he wants to impeach him. Of course, you know that Abians will not be clapping for you. His brothers and sisters from Ngwa that have never been governor before will also be clapping for me? The security agencies and most importantly, my colleagues of Ngwa extraction and even of other extractions that believe in him and his cause will also be clapping for me in the House? It is ridiculous, wicked and it is only God that knows the heart of man but that issue does not arise. Those that go to Abuja to paint me black that my intention is to impeach the Governor and after impeaching the Governor I will also stay here and impeach the Deputy Governor in a state like Abia are lazy people. I don’t know the type of power and influence that is ascribed to me but I thank them for granting me such privilege of having such imaginary powers to be able to do some of these things which they say I plan to do. Those people instigating and spreading these rumours will be the first to betray this governor when the chips are down. My father experienced it, his own will not be different.
Question: What of the insinuation that there are plans that the Governor may hand over to you when his tenure ends?
That propaganda was started by those that view me as their enemy. It was started by those that feel that I am a stumbling block to their peace and happiness of becoming governor without actually working for it. As far as I am concerned, I didn’t want to answer this question but since you have asked it, let me summarise by telling you that it is morally wrong for me to aspire to become governor of this state for now. Why do I say that? My dear father left office in 2015 as governor. In 2023, it would have been eight years since he left office. The question I want to ask these propagandists is this, is there no other qualified Abian that I should become governor? If they know how my father plays politics, they will not waste their time propagating falsehood. To me, it can be summed up very simply that Chinedum Enyinnaya Orji whether Speaker or not, that it is morally wrong for me to aspire to be governor of Abia in 2023 or even 2027 or whatever- for the simple reason that my father, the immediate past governor just left office. We have not reached the level of the American mentality in politics. If I want to contest election, the signs would be on ground and not mere insinuations.
My simple advice to those that are afraid of Chinedum Orji with respect to the issue of Speakership, is that they should hit the ground running, that they should go to the field, channel the resources they are wasting on this propaganda on the youths, women and critical stakeholders on the need to elect them. They should stop this their fear of the unknown. I am not their problem. They are their own problem because they have started badly by using propaganda instead of empowerment.
Question: Why did you become Speaker in the first place?
The reason I wanted to be speaker was basically to contribute my quota to the development of the state; correct some negative impressions about my person and at the same time, use the instrumentality of the legislature to help my friend, the Governor. Before now, a certain impression was heaped around me because I am a very private person. I hardly say much to the media.
In 2015, I contested election just to be a member of the assembly but the insinuation then was that I wanted to become Speaker. At the end of the day, I did not become that Speaker from 2015 to 2019. As the Majority Leader then, I never moved any motion to remove this same Governor they are accusing me of trying to betray. I served as Majority Leader of the House of Assembly between 2015 and 2019 and nobody said anything, so if I didn’t betray the governor as Majority Leader in the House, what moral justification do I have now to betray him? I worked very well with the Speakers. In fact, I supported the previous speakers from the other part of our senatorial zone. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with them becoming Speaker for two reasons- those people gave my father 100 per cent support in 2015 to go to the Senate. Secondly, they produced ranking members.
The motion for the removal of anybody in the House is moved by the Majority Leader and like I explained before, I was Leader for four years and I never moved any motion for the removal of anybody or against this Governor. Now, the person that is the Majority Leader in the House is the brother of the Governor, will I force him to move a motion to remove his own brother? Will he have the guts to go back to Obingwa that day? Malicious people always manufacture malicious propaganda.
I only wanted people to know me for who I am as a person because even on the day of inauguration of the sixth Assembly, the gallery was filled up with people who came to witness my composure in the House. They came to find out if I can even speak proper English, talk less of expressing myself. The impression of me out there was that of an illiterate.
Even when my good friend then, Martins Azubuike was removed as Speaker, there were pressures on me to succeed him, I resisted it because I had announced it to the world that I did not want to be Speaker at that time. After that, we elected my other friend, Barrister Chikwendu Kanu as Speaker who served out his term meritoriously without any disturbance or distractions from anybody.
So in 2019, I decided to vie for the position of Speaker because I felt that people must have understood me by then. The good Lord has been gracious to my family. My father became Chief of Staff for eight years. He was governor for eight years. For the first time in the history of Igboland, a father and a son contested election twice and won. I became a Majority Leader then and now a Speaker. What else do I want? What other favours do I want from God that He has not granted this family? Any aspiration for the position of governor would be what my father would call vaulting ambition. It is now the turn of others to go and make that same name that we’ve made. Let them go out there to do the needful but whether they like it or not, from any political party, they will need the help of the youths, the help of the critical stakeholders in Abia, including my family. My advice, once again, to them is instead of using those resources to fund propaganda, they should use it to empower the youths, the women and the critical stakeholders in Abia and leave the rest for the people and God to decide.
Don’t you think the rumours and propaganda are because you are silent and not responding?
I cannot respond to every propaganda. I am only responding to it now because I don’t want this Governor to be distracted from his job which is enormous.
To calm their mind, let me tell you that at any time I wear my suit to go to work, I always have my resignation letter in my pocket; at any time the Governor feels I am no longer protecting his interest or the interest of my colleagues, I will simply submit my resignation letter and go my way.
Question: How would you react to the insinuation that you are leveraging and pulling your weight under the umbrella of your father without who you would have no political life and weight?
Is it my fault that my father has been a governor of a state? Will I disappear from the face of the earth because I am the son of a former governor? I am proud of the accomplishments of my father. I am proud of who he is and what he represents. I have no apologies to give to anybody who feels otherwise. Why won’t I give credit to my father for my accomplishments in life? If that is the insinuation out there, kindly let them know that my father made me what I am today and the present Governor added to my CV by allowing me to become the Speaker of the House with the help of my colleagues. If I follow him everywhere he goes, these same people will accuse me of dictating to him. I am a student of power and I know what it means to be close to a governor. There is no superior governor, every governor is equal. If anybody says I have achieved because of my father, tell them yes, that it is correct. I have no apologies for that.
Question: Is the Abia State House of Assembly well-funded?
If you go to the House, this question you have asked me will be answered. Pending the assent to the law that we have passed concerning financial autonomy of the House, the House is being well funded as you can see from our environment here. The governor has been able to give a massive facelift to the infrastructure of the House of Assembly.
Question: State Assemblies are seen as an appendage of the executive, is it different in Abia State?
It depends on what you people understand by the word appendage. State Assemblies are not meant to be confrontational to the executives, even the National Assembly is not meant to be confrontational to Mr. President. In the previous Assembly, not every senator was against the President. State Assemblies are not supposed to be at loggerheads with their governors, it is supposed to be a partnership. If they are at loggerheads, it will slow down development. That word appendage is not good because if the Assembly does not pass the budget, will the governor perform? There are three independent arms of government that should work in synergy, so I don’t understand the word appendage. Is it that for you to prove that you are tough that you need to be confrontational to a governor? What for? There is no basis for that. If you are a student of power, you will know that. If you need anything, you get the governor, give him the reasons why you need those things, if there are 10 requests he grants you five or six and you go home, you cannot get everything. It is called dialogue- checks and balances.
Question: On harmonisation of taxes, why is it that people have their number plates yanked off and harassed over tax collection by ‘agberos’. Why can’t the taxes be harmonised?
There is an existing tax law that we have passed, what is left is for its proper implementation. You know that sometimes the executive takes these steps because our people find it difficult to pay taxes so they resort to all manner of means to make them pay. That doesn’t mean I support some of the things like plate numbers being yanked off.
Question: How come the President got 25 per cent votes from Abia State?
I don’t understand this question. I don’t understand why people ask this kind of question. Does it mean that the President and his party did not campaign? Does it mean that the President and his party do not have people that are members of his party in Abia State? If they got 25 per cent, with the calibre of stakeholders that they have in Abia, I think that it is even poor. He came to the state, campaigned like every other presidential candidate and the people he convinced voted for him. I know quite a lot of his party men that are in my constituency that worked for him. People like Chief G. O. Onyemaobi, former Speaker, Stanley Ohajuruka, Chief Chris Adighije, Hon. Acho Obioma and many others. So by this your question, are you insinuating that these stakeholders do not have followership? If they continue the work they are doing at Enugu Expressway and the one from Owerri to Abia Tower, they might get more than that number of votes.
Will your Assembly pass any law on state police given the security challenges?
That is the question I would like you to direct to the Governor who is the Chief Security Officer of the state. If the Governor sends an executive bill that will help in the protection of life and property different from the ones we have passed, the House will do justice to it.
In the build-up to 2023 where would your support swing on governorship as you said you are not contesting?
My support is immaterial to any of them since they are accusing me of contesting. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. The personality of the candidate from any of the political parties, not necessarily my own party will play a role when the time comes.
Question :Zoning or no zoning?
Let the people of Abia decide.
Question: APC is making inroads into the region, if they woo you will you cross over?
Well, if you have noticed, my father has said he is retiring from elective politics by 2023. If you have also noticed, we don’t play politics of betrayal and criticism which means that we do not need to engage in destructive criticism of the President just to show that we are in opposition, after all what is politics? Is it not reward of loyal people? The President rewards loyal people around him. To answer your question, when we get to the bridge we will know how to cross it because politics is dynamic.
Question: How do you respond to the rumour that the Governor wants to hand over power to you on finishing his tenure in 2023?
Did the Governor tell you this? I want to know. As far as I am concerned, it is fake news. Like I have said before and let me repeat it for the last time, it is morally wrong for me to aspire to be governor of this state for now. Like I said in 2015 about the position of Speakership, this propaganda will come and pass and it will happen just the way I have said it. The future belongs to God, whatever destiny God has planned for someone, no human being can take it away.
Question: What lies ahead for you in politics?
It is in the hands of God and the people of my constituency.