Recently, the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, Imo State declared Dr Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the winner of the April 2015 governorship election in Abia State. However, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC filed the case at the Supreme Court. In this interview, he speaks on various issues including his expectations from the Supreme Court and blueprint for governing Abia State. Excerpts:
Your victory at the Court of Appeal has been trailed by mixed reactions from lawyers; now that the case has been further taken to the Supreme Court, what are your expectations?
The Appeal Court judgment was greeted with wide jubilation in the length and breadth of Abia State. I was in Abia and there was tumultuous celebration. It is understood why there would be that kind of celebration. Abia State indigenes and those who live in Abia voted for me. I have received a lot of text messages, E-mails and one thing that underscored those text messages particularly from Abia people was ‘we know who we voted for’. Everybody knows that I won that election. So, people were very happy with the verdict. But as an afterthought, 48 hours later, the government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) first held a meeting and decided that they were going to protest the judgment. There was no less a person to lead the protest that the former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara. The only thing I want to say is that senior citizens should live in a way that people should like to emulate them. But understandably, Wabara has no job and has not been doing anything in the last couple of years. Understandably, he was protesting to ensure that he secured his source of livelihood. It was an arranged protest. You may have also watched a few lawyers that have been recruited to dominate the airwaves. But the people that cast their votes know who they voted for. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that Abia people voted for me and they are waiting for a time that I will take over the leadership of the state and begin to develop the state as I promised them. I do not see that the Supreme Court would not uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal because it was a well grounded judgment that they gave. The major issues are very clear. If you go by the registered voters, there are about 1.3 million of them in Abia State in 17 local governments. The PDP knew they were not going to win that election.
All they did was to isolate three local governments that they used to perpetrate fraud, Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North. On the day of the election, they removed the original result sheets for ward and local government collation for the three local governments. We have this on good authority. All what they did was that on the day of the election, they ensured that there was maximum violence in those three local governments. They would come to the polling unit, shoot in the air, people would run away and they would carry all the materials and take off and wait for the collation to start. In the 14th local government, I was leading with about 60,500 and they quickly filled those original result sheets and forced them into the collation centres. That was what happened. When you say that there is going to be an election, it is for people to exercise their will and when you do not win an election, the best thing to do is to concede to the man that won. Having done all what they did and declared the result, what did I do? I went to court which was the right thing to do and the judges at the tribunal misunderstood the case and gave a judgment in their favour. We did not call people to the streets. We have more people than the PDP in Abia State. Eighty percent of the people in Abia State are with us, forget all the things that we hear. People wanted to protest and I said no, nobody should protest.
There is this allegation that the composition of the judges of the Court of Appeal that delivered the judgment in your favour was wrong. The allegation is that all the judges were of Lagos division and that you, being more or less a Lagos person could have benefitted from the composition. What is your take on that?
I saw a petition that they wrote which came barely 24 hours before the panel sat. Quite frankly, I do not know what to react on your question. I do not know how panels are set up. But I understand it is the President of the Court of Appeal that sets up such panels. The reality is that the Court of Appeal is Court of Appeal. If you followed a case that Nyesom Wike filed that went up to the Supreme Court, I believe when that case was decided, the Supreme Court said the Court of Appeal was Court of Appeal in spite of where you sit. If they decided to sit in Abuja, Port Harcourt or anywhere, the prerogative is that of the Court of Appeal. My reaction would be that the PDP unfortunately is not in a position to determine the membership of the panel, neither am I in a position to do that. They know that the mandate they are exercising, they stole it. They found that they may not be able to do the wrong thing with the panel and that is why they started doing all sorts of things.
Many argue that this is not the best time to be a governor in Nigeria considering the downturn in the nation’s economy. What is driving your enthusiasm? Do you know the enormity of the challenges in the position you are aspiring for?
This is the time for uncommon people to come into government; people who have things to deliver. It is not going to be a tea party and I know that and I have come to face the challenges. I was reading an article and somebody said he was supporting me because I can read a balance sheet. It is true. People who cannot read a balance sheet should not aspire to lead a state or even any position of leadership because this is a challenging time. This is a time for creative people, people who have something to offer; people who have skills and know what to do without necessarily going to Abuja with cap in hand for the federal allocation. This is the time for people like us to come in. I am aware of the enormous challenges; I did a study with the consultant that I hired on Abia State. When the result came out, I was shocked with the level of rot, infrastructural decay and lack of direction. Aba is finished, Umuahia is a glorified village. This is the time for people who have something to offer to come in. If you know a little bit about me, you will know that I thrive in circumstances like this. I am blessed to create something out of nothing.
Abia was known sometime for kidnapping; could you let us in into your blueprint on how to provide security and power in your state?
A lot of companies relocated because they could not operate because of insecurity. Tackling the problem of insecurity has to be done from the roots. A lot of people who get into criminal activities could be reoriented particularly if they have skills and things to channel their energy and most importantly, if you have jobs for them. So, job creation is key to eradicating insecurity. And unfortunately, it is a vicious circle. By the time you have insecurity, it leads to more insecurity. Because of insecurity, a lot of the companies would relocate and unemployment becomes the order of the day which now gives rise to a reserved army that could be used to reinforce insecurity. You need to break that chain at some point. What we need to do first is to ensure that people get something they are able to do. That population that you have taken off the streets and given a source of livelihood would not be available for crime and criminality. The second thing is also to ensure that government goes into programmes including agriculture, micro and medium scale enterprises and all those kinds of things that would help get people self employed. Of course, there is little percentage of people who are criminals by their nature and you now deploy the power of the state to fight them. It has been done elsewhere.