From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chukwuemeka Wogu, has actually come a long way in climbing the tall ladder of Nigeria’s politics having been in the corridor of powers in his early 20s.
He has climbed from Local Government Area (LGA) Vice Chairmanship position to Chairman, then Special Adviser to the then Governor Orji Kalu to becoming a Minister of the Federal Republic.
Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, Wogu, a lawyer, went on voyage, chronicling why he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC), saying that it was due to entrenched forces. He also gave reasons the Igbo should produce the next president in 2023 and his fears ahead of the 2023 general elections. Excerpt:
Why did you leave the PDP for APC?
I have actually come a long way in politics. Perhaps my long journey into politics will provide a background to the millage I have covered. My political trajectory is a bit historical. I was part of the people that formed the PDP because I was part of Dr Alex Ekwueme group in the Southeast G34/PNF. I remained loyal until I left. I ran for the position of Aba North/South Federal Constituency on the PDP platform in 1999, but lost the election. Ironically, it was the same position I won under DPN during the Abacha transition programme, but the political dialectics did not favour me then. I went to the court up to the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt which gave judgment to the lower court to retry my case. I was appointed by Governor Kalu as his SA Political in 1999. After six months of service, he nominated me as Federal Commissioner representing Abia State in the Revenue Mobilization/Allocation and Fiscal Commission in 2000. I resigned two years after and contested the position of Senate in Abia South. I defeated the incumbent Senator Wabara in the party primaries with a wide margin, but so much gerrymandering thereafter forced me to give up and be reappointed into my position in the Federal Commission. I tried contesting for Senate again, but could not because I was appointed minister. The PDP National Chairman, Vincent Ogbolafor nominated me for the ministerial position in 2010. I rejected it initially, but later accepted the position because the last Ngwa man to be appointed a minister was the late Jaja Wachuku who left cabinet in 1966, a year after I was born. As minister, things changed and I became the leader of the PDP in the state since the then governor, T.A Orji was in PPA. Politically, I have been quite lucky to have tested political office at the age of 26. I have been active in politics resulting in my election in 1991 as the vice chairman Abia South local government following the creation of Abia State at age 26 under Chief Ogbonnia Onu, our governor then. I later metamorphosed into the LGA Chairman before we were sacked while preparing for the next election in 1994. I was, however, nominated to be commissioner the next year, but Gen. Oladipo Diya preferred someone from my area. I resigned my position as a minister to contest governorship in Abia State with a robost blueprint, but I was not anointed because the then incumbent, T.A Orji, had a reservation about my independent mindedness. They had their way at the end, but I still stood by and campaigned for his anointed candidate then. To directly answer your question on why I left the PDP and joined the APC, I will say that there were irreconcilable differences between the operators of the PDP in my state. Even when the late Chief Tony Anini and Adamu Mua’zu told them what to do, they still reneged. I was supposed to replace the then occupant of the position of PDP National Vice Chairman Southeast vacated by Austin Akobundu who was appointed minister following my refusal to return to my ministerial seat, but the operators of the system reneged on it too. I was excluded from critical stakeholders meetings in the state. Politically, it was very unsavoury for me. Apart from the late Allen Nwachukwu, there was nobody whose political antecedent dated as long as 1989 when I started politics. So, political experience and everything put me ahead of every other person in the party then. I saw the signs that I had come to the end of my PDP journey in Abia State. There were so many other things they did to push me out of the party then, but I rather leave the details for the book I am going to write very soon on my years in public service. I knew and concluded that I cannot politically achieve the target I set to help my people with the entrenched forces in the Abia PDP and I had to quit. I was well received when I went to the APC. I also like the ideology of the ruling party and what they espoused. I like the credentials and the personality of Muhammadu Buhari. To cut the long story short I was no longer comfortable being a member of Abia PDP and lamentably, nobody among the principal actors has even called me to apologise for their actions against me since then. I want to think that it was equally on that basis that informed Ogah and others to also leave the PDP. I will reflect the roles of everybody in my book and how they worked against the party in 2015. Now that I am in APC, I am in it fully and anytime I disagree with them, I take a walk. I cannot be APC at the same time hobnob with PDP like some other persons. So, my joining the APC was more or less a protest to the treatment from the principal actors in Abia PDP. I took a walk away from people I could not work with again and because of differences in principles and their attitude to life. They owe me lots of gratitude not the other way because at the time I was the leader of the party, I was very instrumental in facilitating T.A Orji’s crossing over to the PDP from APGA after his leaving the PPA. The burden of joining the PDP rested on me as the minister and leader of the party in the state. People were against his coming, but I made it possible by giving him a soft landing. I did not request and he did not give me gratification because he knows the kind of person I am. I know the implication and that is why it was purely based on principles and some other underlying issues. They have used certain issues to diminish my personality, like politicising the issue of the Ohanku road even when there was no issue. The true story of Ohanku road will be told very soon.
Have you got what took you to the APC?
Well, I did not join the APC because of any political benefits. I had advised the current administration to continue with the infrastructural development plan of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and conclude the ones that were not concluded before his exit. I also said that what the Southeast needs more is infrastructure not appointments. Yes, I am willing to serve the country, but I am not desperate about serving. I must serve from a dignified position. Having been a minister, I could serve in other dignified positions like chairman of a corporation or governing council, etc and I can equally serve without earning money. I am still available, strong and healthy at 56 to serve my country. More importantly, I am not among those politicians people are insinuating that they left the PDP to join the APC because of baggage. I am not among them because I have an unblemished record throughout my public service. I left the ministry without any indictment. I never used any official car while serving as minister. I used my private car because I want to leave within the ambits of the law. This does not, however, mean that I am infallible. As a human being, I must have favoured one section or the other in the process of giving employment.
What is your take on the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023?
There are different perspectives to it. There are blocks calling for presidency of Igbo extraction, there is another calling for presidency from the Southeast and then a more nationalistic group calling for president for where presidency has not gone to before like the Northeast and Southeast. There is also a fourth tendency waiting on the wings that if everything fails, why not invite former President Jonathan to run for presidency. However, when you put the Northeast and Southeast on the same scale, the balance will tilt in favour of the Southeast judging from the political history of the country. But, we should rather be concerned about the challenges facing the country today. People should rather be bothered about finding a way out of the current security situation in the country, not necessarily which zone should produce the next president. It is practically impossible to conduct elections in a tense atmosphere of insecurity. It should not assume the front burner now. The reality is that if the security situation is sorted out, we have many Igbo sons that are more than qualified to become president of this country. We also have ably qualified persons in the Southeast, but I appeal that we rise above those primordial sentiments of zoning. We must be fair and equitable in whatever we want to do. People of the Southeast strongly feel that 2023 will provide the opportunity to go for the position, but we should not also forget that it will be predicated on political parties because we can only achieve political office through zoning by the parties, which everybody expects to be equitable and just. If the two major political parties zone their presidency outside the Southeast, the Igbo presidency will only remain a pipe dream. The whole idea about zoning is predicated on the outcome of the primaries and congresses of the two major political parties. Incidentally, the two political parties are not categorical about their zoning arrangements. However, I am quite desirous of equity and fairness to be enthroned so that it becomes inclusive and every zone will feel accommodated. When we do the political statistics of the previous leadership in this country, post independent, it is obvious that the zone that has not produced a president should stand a chance to be considered and that for me should be the determining factor.
Will you say that the security situation in the country is part of your fears ahead of the 2023 general elections?
The security situation is actually one of the factors that would determine the outcome of the 2023 general elections because I know that election thrives in a secured environment. There are other factors that constitute my fears and which will shape the outcome of the 2023 election, ranging from economic, political to security.
What do you consider as your unrealised dream?
My dreams are still alive and active. However, what I will do with future engagements is to correct the mistakes I made in the past. I know the areas I did not do well, where I would want to correct and where I did well.
Where do you stand concerning zoning in Abia State?
Zoning in Abia State was coincidental and not discussed in 1999, but there is an article of faith adopted at the creation of the state with respect to equity. Luckily, the first governor of the state, Orji Kalu, came from the North senatorial zone; his successor, T.A Orji, came from Abia Central, power then shifted to Abia South, currently occupied by the incumbent governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu. Their emergence have nothing to do with that article of faith. The good thing is that the three zones have had a feel of the governance for eight years each. But there is more to the zoning. My conviction is that zoning breeds mediocrity that has contributed in holding the country down. There are other issues, but I am glad that fairness and equity have played out and power has rotated round the three senatorial zones in Abia. However, there is more to the senatorial district zoning. We don’t know which side that will come into consideration to produce the next governor. Will it even rotate again by the same senatorial zoning formula or return to our previous arrangement of the divide between old Bende and old Aba division? Whichever format that will be used; I will advise that zoning should be married with merit. The beneficiaries of the zoning arrangement must bring the best.
What is your assessment of the Buhari government?
There are areas where the administration has achieved and recorded commendable millage. The Southeast people are beneficiaries of the current government with the fixing of the Enugu-Onitsha highway, and Enugu-Port Harcourt. The second Niger Bridge and others are still ongoing. I also know and commend their achievement in rail projects. I believe strongly that the administration has done well. The good thing is that the president is determined to actualise all his campaign promises despite the security challenges in the country.
How do you remember your days as Minister of Labour and Productivity?
Becoming a minister was quite challenging because the first day after my swearing in, I met a strike on ground involving the federal civil service. But because I was determined to succeed, I had to handle the matter to a logical conclusion. I saw the Labour ministry as central to security, growth of the economy and threat to every government in power if not sagaciously manned. I had a very difficult period in my first tenure. But at the end I was even rewarded with a national award in 2011 to commemorate the input I made in the ministry. Don’t also forget that Mr. President equally made me the supervising Minister in the Ministry of Interior and within one month of being there, I had set up the passport office in Atlanta, New York and Washington.