Prof. Ajumbe’s interview with The Sunday Telegraph of 30/4/2023_

Prof. Vitalis Orikeze Ajumbe is a member of the Management Committee of the Labour Party in Imo state. Ajumbe, a former Commissioner for IGR and Pension, and former Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Public Utilities, is a strong political voice in Nigeria. In this interview with some journalists, he speaks on political developments in Nigeria, Imo state and the Labour Party. Excerpt:

The 2023 election cycle

So far, the 2023 elections have proved to be an absolute disappointment, defeating the will and expectations of the people. A situation where Nigerians were repeatedly promised and reassured by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu and especially Mr. Festus Okoye, the INEC spokesperson who told us that elections will be free and fair. Repeatedly also, they told us that the BVAS will work and votes will count. Based on these, many people who never voted before believed them and decided to come out and vote, only to be disappointed on election day as they realized that the BVAS did not work as promised and their votes did not count. One then begins to wonder, the same device that worked for the National Assembly elections did not work for the presidential election, which implies that it was a deliberate act of sabotage, to ensure that the Presidential election is rigged. In any case, I want to say that this is the worst election ever conducted in this country; an election that dashed the hope of Nigerians. Having robbed the people of their right to choose their leaders, their rogue parlance is now ‘Go to court’ which has now become a trending line. So if you steal my vehicle and I catch you, instead of relinquishing my stolen property, you say ‘go to court’. And this is a good recipe for widespread voter apathy as people may no longer trust INEC in the future and some may totally lose interest in the nation’s electoral process.

The February 25 election saw Nigerians traveling home from the United States and from all over the globe just to come and vote, and this sham is what they get for all their sacrifice. It is quite unfortunate.

No vacancy in Douglas House

If you have played or watched the game of Draft – it’s a board game – you will notice that even when they are losing and certain they cannot win, you will hear the players always boasting ‘you can’t defeat me’. So I view most of those boasting and chanting ‘No vacancy in Government House’ as making the same empty boast Draft players make. Many former governors who were there before this administration also boasted. Dr. Ikedi Ohakim boasted. You will remember him boasting that he has a vice-like grip and that nobody can take away anything in his grip and it was the reason he was nicknamed “Ikiri”. Eventually, we all witnessed what happened at the end of the day, he was sent packing.

It was the same with Rochas Okorocha who defied every wise counsel in his bid to impose his son in-law as his successor. He boasted he had conquered Imo state politically but eventually, he could not install his son in-law. So it is just a plain boast and they have the right to boast but eventually, it is the people that will decide whether there is vacancy or no vacancy in Douglas House. So by November 11, we shall find out if the boast has any substance or just an empty boast.

Imo Charter of Equity

The Charter of Equity will not rest on nothing. Charter of Equity is when something is on the table and different interest groups or individuals are allowed to take their fair and proportionate share of what is on the table. If we want to open this conversation on equity, we must first ask how many years has the Orlu Zone governed Imo state? Between Udenwa, Okorocha and Uzodinma, Orlu Zone has ruled Imo state for 20 years since 1999. Out of the 24 years so far spent in this political dispensation, Orlu Zone has ruled Imo state for 20 years, Okigwe Zone has ruled for 4 years (Ikedi Ohakim) while Owerri Zone (Emeka Ihedioha) has only ruled for seven months. So the Governor, being an Orlu man, shouldn’t have mentioned the Charter of Equity, he should have been telling us the simple truth that the Douglas House is just for the strongest of the three zones to occupy. In this case, the strongest here will be referring to numerical strength, financial war chest, type of militia you control, and the influence and contact one wields at the national level. So they should not be talking about the Charter of Equity. If the idea was born out of honest and genuine consideration for other zones, equity should have started immediately. For a start the Governor who is from Orlu should have been telling us that he wants to forfeit his second term ambition so that equity and fairness can be achieved and by so doing give effect to the Charter of Equity. Post-dating the Charter to start after his second term, may convey the impression that we are talking about a “Charter of Convenience” and not equity.

The Peter Obi effect

Peter Obi is a movement, not about a political party anymore. To the extent that to whichever party he takes the movement to, that party comes alive. As you all know, so little was known of the Labour Party until Peter Obi came onboard and LP became a trending brand and the beautiful bride. As you could see, because of people’s interest in the Peter Obi phenomenon, LP in Imo produced 15 aspirants while other leading parties like the APC produced just the incumbent Governor and one woman who later backed out. The PDP also ended up with a single aspirant after one aspirant withdrew. So it is easy to tell that the party everyone is interested in now, is the Labour Party. This is because of the Peter Obi movement and everyone wants to benefit from the effect of that movement. Ofcourse the personalities that aspired to run for governorship under the LP platform are all qualified in every ramifications for the coveted seat. Somehow, Major-General Lincoln Jack Ogunewe stands out from the pack of aspirants. His resume speaks volume of his experience, competence and exposure. He has also become a peoples movement as he was actually the man to beat during our Governorship primary. And like a movement he has become, any political party he pitches his tent, will come alive.

Imo LP Governorship primary

Like I said earlier, I’m a member of the Management Committee of the Labour Party in Imo state headed by Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie and I have authority to say what I want to say now. In several of our meetings, we agreed that we were going to use delegate lists for our primary election as is usually the case. And we agreed there will be tight security to avoid people who are not delegates from entering the voting hall. The Management Committee believed that what was agreed was going to be implemented, only for them to change and alter the arrangements overnight. The disturbing issue is that some members of the national body were privy to this change. Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie for one, would have been aware before such a change could happen. How come what we agreed at the meetings were jettisoned overnight and they went ahead to conduct the Governorship primaries without the use of delegate lists?

The horrible thing that happened was that they will call the Local Government Party Chairmen and say ‘come with your delegates’ and the question is, should the Local Government Party Chairmen who are not delegates be anywhere within the voting arena? They were not supposed to be in the hall because they are not delegates. So what we had was Local Government Party Chairmen pointing to anybody they like as a delegate and such a person will go and vote without any delegate list to accredit the delegates before they vote. It was a pre-planned plot. For instance the main Owerri Municipal delegates were stopped from coming to vote as they were attacked by thugs and abducted in a bus before they could come and vote. Eventually, only two delegates voted from Owerri Municipal out of 10 wards. And these are delegates sympathetic to Major-General Lincoln Jack Ogunewe (Rtd). They brought in people that were not accredited to vote and even people from other political parties particularly the APC to vote and derail the will of the people. There was a premeditated plan and they were all there while people were sharing money to delegates against the dictates of the party.

Seeking redress

Major-General Jack Ogunewe, as a decent and principled person, has appealed against the conduct of the primary. He appealed the same day and submitted his petition to the Appeal Committee. And of course, it is within his rights to do so. We are waiting for the panel’s report and hopefully before a fortnight, as the panel has about one week to do their work before presenting it to the party leadership. I have nothing against Chief Athan Achonu as a person, but honestly, he hasn’t got what it takes to win this election in November. We recall how he lost his Senate seat in a rerun election. The Senate is a smaller election compared to the Governorship of a state. If he could not win his Senate seat across 6 Local Government Areas, how would he win the Governorship across 27 Local Government Areas. The truth is that the only person in the Labour Party presently that has the capacity and competence to win the November governorship for LP is Major Lincoln Jack Ogunewe.

Thinking of joining another party

Presently, that’s far from his thoughts. Ogunewe is not thinking about joining any other political party. He just wants to ensure that justice is done in the matter, such that everyone will see that justice has been done.

Offer to deputize Athan Achonu

He is not thinking about any such thing. Ogunewe is not desperate. How can anybody talk about deputizing Achonu now. That is beside the point. Nevertheless, I’m very optimistic that Ogunewe will be the Governor of Imo state despite all their hideous conspiracies against him, Ogunewe will emerge the Governor of Imo state.

Stopping Uzodinma

In spite of the extreme measures and scare tactics deployed against Imo people in the course of the 2023 election cycle, Governor Hope Uzodinma can be stopped if Imo people resolve to do so. No amount of Armoured vehicles can stop the will of a people.

No matter who you are or how vicious and desperate you may be, if you like go and procure even the military MRAM, once the people are fed up with you, there is nothing you can do about it. Imo belongs to all of us. Imo is a peculiar place and not a people that can easily be intimidated. The only way the Governor can right his wrongs, is to give Imo good governance. Find out what Imo people really want, not what you think, and give it to them. They will forgive you. Armoured vehicles cannot help. Will they kill everyone in Imo state? Let them set aside their Armoured vehicles and begin the process of reconciliation and mending of fences.

Insecurity issues

There are local governments you will go to today and you won’t find any young men walking along the street. The security situation is alarming. When you take the oath of Office, the most important part of that oath is the “Protection of lives and properties”. Those are the important things. Apart from these, whether you build skyscrapers in every local government or you build the best bridges over every river in this state, they would not matter because these are things you are supposed to do and you campaigned and promised you will do them. A situation where lives are perpetually in danger cannot make for good governance, so they must begin the process of reconciliation; local government by local government.

Red flags ahead of Nov 11

The current Imo Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) is a red flag and should be replaced before November. She superintended over the most horrible election in our history as Imo people. Imagine APC initially posting 27/27 in the State Assembly election as if it was an ISIEC supervised election. She tends to give legitimacy to the criminality and impunity they perpetrate at the polling units using the force of arm. It appears her office has been overrun by politicians and state actors and cannot be trusted to deliver a credible election to Imo people come November 11. She has to be redeployed. Also, politics and policies of the government must be people-oriented and we must try to stem the tide of insecurity in Imo state so that people can do their businesses and pursue their livelihood without being afraid of their lives. If you look at the economy of Orlu, it is in shambles. The only area you can reside with one eye closed at least, is Owerri, the Imo state capital. If you go to Okigwe, it has also become volatile and insecure. Every Local Government in Okigwe is a flash point. This is affecting the businesses even in Owerri. Owerri is a hospitality and tourism hub but most of these facilities and hotels are struggling to survive now.

There is no war or crisis that has not ended in a roundtable. Force of arm is not the answer to every issue. We must know when to deploy force and when to negotiate. We are dealing with human beings and I believe they can listen, if the thoughts are considerate. Everyone wants a good life, so the government should engage these dissidents.

Government should set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an independent committee. There is still time to achieve substantial peace between now and November 11.

It is not just about building Federal roads that will bring peace, the people have to be cultivated and taken good care of. Yes, for federal roads repairs and construction, Uzodinma is doing well but he should channel the refund from the Federal Government to the construction of rurals roads to reduce the suffering of Imo people moving from one community to another or from one Local Government to the other. He should activate the RAMP projects as this will further help to accelerate development in the rural areas of the State.

Last line

If Ogunewe emerges the authentic candidate of LP, Imo will never experience the pains of the last few years. We shall not go back to Egypt. Let Imo people continue to pray. Our political misfortune cannot last forever.

Prof. Ajumbe’s interview was first published by the The Sunday Telegraph of 30/4/2023_


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