Imo 2027:Charter Of Equity Is Unconstitutional, Owerri, Okigwe, Orlu Should Present Their Best Guber Candidates, Says Lugard Osuji (INTERVIEW)

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Hon. Lugard Osuji was the Majority Leader of the Imo State House of Assembly from 2015 to 2019, having been elected as member for Owerri municipal State Constituency. A solicitor of the Supreme Court in this interview with newsmen in Owerri, called on Nigerians to support the administration of President Bola Tinubu, arguing that he means well for the country. He also supported the Federal Government suit against state governors in administering the local governments with caretaker committees, most of whose members are their appointees.He also kicked against the Imo Charter of Equity, saying that it is unconstitutional, and that the three zones in the State should present aspirants for the 2027 Imo governorship.


What is your assessment of the one year of the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu thus far? What are the positives and negatives?

For me, there are lots positives, but the negatives are what we are witnessing for now. The truth is that Nigeria was in a very bad shape economically and security-wise and even administratively. President Bola Tinubu has taken the bull by the horns by introducing some reforms in all the sectors of the economy. The removal of the subsidy is the major decision that the president took upon the inauguration of his administration. The truth was that we were living on a borrowed economy. In fact, we are all faking as if all is well before now. But as far as I am concerned, President Tinubu was being realistic and he faced the challeges of Nigeria head-on and what we are feeling today is the effects of the ongoing reformations. The major one is the removal of the subsidy and the devaluation of the Naira and the floating of the currency. These are the two major economic decisions the president took. So, all that is happening in Nigeria is the side effect of it. Yes, the cost of living has gone so high as well as cost of transportation. The president has said that he is not unaware of the effects of the economic policies he has taken on Nigerians. He has also said that the current economic hardship is for a short time and then Nigeria will stabilize. So, this is the time for us to cut our coat accroding to our cloth, time to take more interest in farming. If you ask our brothers and sisters who are either in the UK or U.S, they will tell that it is easy over there. The only difference is just the currency which has more value when they send it to Nigeria. I’m pleading with the people to be patient with the president and adjust to the realities as we will live to see the good times of this nation. I am optimistic that Nigeria will get better economically and otherwise.

But most Nigerians have argued that President Tinubu had removed the subsidy without any alternative in place. Don’t you agree that there should have been an alternative in place before the subsidy removal?

This is not the first time that “fuel subsidy is being removed.” They call it partial removal. It started even from the administrations of Obasanjo, the late Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari. Subsidy has remained an issue. If you followed the last presidential campaigns, all the presidential candidates of the various parties, each of them made a commitment of removing fuel subsidy because they were all convinced that it is a fraud. Even with the subsidy while Abuja and Lagos were selling at some time N97 as at then, but in Imo we were buying at almost N200. So, it is in other Southeast cities. So, it was not real. In Imo State, we have never benefited from anything called subsidy, but the Federal Government is paying for every drop of fuel imported into the country. Where is the subsidy, who is decieving who? As far as I am concerned, it is a cabal business. Somebody once said on national television that he does not want that money again. This is because they have made such much money. You don’t fight such cabal without them fighting back that is what is happening now. The president is fighting with the cabal and they want to frustrate the reforms because they want business as usual. Even, it is not easy to take off a baby from the mother’s breast, he or she will resist it . They are resisting because the milk which they are sucking , the president has removed it from their mouths. They are protesting against the system. We will not allow the cabal to defeat this nation and we will defeat the cabal who have been sucking Nigeria dry using fake subsidy.

At his inauguration last May 29, President Tinubu had promised that the Port Harcourt Refinery will start operation within six months or thereabout, but till now the Port Harcourt Refinery is still not ready . Now , it does appear that Nigerians will have to wait until Dangote Refinery comes on stream to have a locally refined PMS. Don’t you think that this has added to the frustration of Nigerians?

I believe that when the president said the Port Harcourt Refinery is going to start operation, I’m sure he didn’t know the enormity of the work required or the damage. Maybe after reading the handover note from his predecessor, he had thought that the problem would be a quick fix. But what is on ground is an entirely different scenario. However, the leadership of the NLC has gone to see the work being done at the Port Harcourt Refinery. In their report they said that the Port Harcourt Refinery will soon come on stream. Dangote is a private refinery, and the management has promised that the refinery will commence operations by July. It is a private business and I think that the earlier it starts the better for the company in terms of making profit. Inasmuch as I don’t want to doubt Dangote and his date of commencement of operation. They shifted the date from May to July . And, I believe work is still going on at Port Harcourt Refinery. We should give the president the benefit of doubt. The president will gain nothing by deceiving Nigerians. We know things are very difficult. I live here and work in Nigeria. I’m only pleading with my fellow countrymen to be a little patient with the president. At least, give him two years. The prices of fuel is gradually coming down, the security situation is improving a bit, salaries of workers should be increased to a living wage . But the salaries of political appointees and elected political office holders should be slashed to the level that the government will be able to implement the budget .

Coming down to Imo State. The people have said that the state is under lock and key in the last four years as the local government councils have virtually collapsed as the government closest to the people as there are no elected council chairmen. Although Governor Uzodimma has fixed LG polls for this September which many doubt will hold. What is your take?

To the best of my knowledge, Imo is not the only state using non-democratic system to run the councils; 22 states out of 36 states, including Abuja, as far as am concerned are using unconstitutional and undemocratic means to administer the local government councils; it is very wrong. And that is why I am happy over the measure that the Federal Government has taken to ensure that there is a democratic system at the local governments . If the local government councils receive their allocations directly there will be more developments and people will not be rushing to the cities. The governors are just playing with the huge allocations received by their local government councils every month. Elections into local governments should be conducted by the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) so that what the Federal Government is trying to do will be fruitful because if you allow the state governors to conduct the elections with their state electoral bodies, it will not be different from the appointments they have been making. I want a situation where a national electoral body will conduct both national, state and local government polls. So, by that we can have a fairer and more democratic election at the local governments.

Before the November 11, 2023 Imo gubernatorial polls, Imo Elders Council had adopted a new Charter of Equity that after Governor Uzodimma had completed his second term that power will shift to Owerri zone to produce his successor to which the governor agreed, do you agree with the decision?

That Charter of Equity or whatever they call it is unconstitutional and as a lawyer, I will never support any unconstitutional form of arrangement for governance because it is against the norms and letters of the constitution. I don’t believe in zoning. I believe in good governance because hunger does not recognise zoning, insecurity and bad governance does not recognise zoning. I believe that all the zones in Imo State have qualified persons who can provide good leadership to the entire state. What I advocate is for free and fair election. The governor has the right to support whoever he wants . He has the right to encourage whoever he wants, but he should provide the enabling environment that would guarantee free and fair election. So , whoever is elected from any of the three zones will know that he or she was elected by the people and that he or she is answerable to the people. This is my position when it comes to zoning and any electoral position.

So, you don’t agree that power should be rotated among the senatorial zones for equity, fairness and justice?

What I tell people is that no particular zone whether in Nigeria or in Imo can become president or the governor without the collaboration from the other zones. Any zone that feels it is their turn or entitled to it should go into negotiation . Orlu zone has been ruling this state, for instance, in the last 24 years. Did they force us? Who are their campaign directors? Didn’t they get votes from both Owerri and Okigwe zones?

Most of the times it is an Owerri or Okigwe man that are their campaign directors. So, let them go into negotiations and work it out. No particular zone on itself can gover the state because the constitution has made it clear that for you to govern the state the person must win two-third of the votes cast in the state. The framers of this constitution are intelligent and they know that other zones must be involved and you need the collaboration of the other zones to make two- third.

They are saying that all governorship candidates from the major parties should be Owerri zone to effect the zoning?

That is why I said it is unconstitutional. You don’t have the right to ban any person from the other zones from contesting the election? The answer is no. The right to contest an election is included in our constitution. The constitution also spelt out who is qualified and who is not. Zoning has never been a constitutional requirement. As far as am concerned, zoning is secondary to the Constitution.

You may be right. The issue of power sharing or zoning is working in Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra states and in other states across the country, why hasn’t it worked in Imo?

Imo is a peculiar state and all the states are not the same. The Nigerian constitution stated that power should rotate between the North and South. It didn’t say Southeast , South-south or Northwest or Southwest, no. It only said between the North and the South. Is there anything they said with regards to the states? The answer is no! What the constitution said is that everyone is qualified to contest an election once you meet with the criteria spelt out in the constitution for qualification regardless of where you come from . I will never be a zonal apostle or apologist, my position has always been that let the best candidate leads.

So, in your view in 2027 If the best candidate as you’re advocating is from Orlu zone let him go ahead even after 24 years of Orlu governing the state?

If Imo people come out to vote in a free and fair election, if it is an Orlu man that wins let him go. If it is an Owerri man or an Okigwe man, it’s okay by me, it’s not about who I support or my own candidate. However, as an Owerri zone person, I will be glad if a person from Owerri zone wins. It will be my joy that the entire people of Imo finds my brother from Owerri zone worthy to lead the state. What it means is that Owerri zone should bring out their best. Let Orlu bring out their candidate the same for Okigwe and let Imo people choose. Whoever wins will know he was elected by the people. Look at what is happening in Abia and Rivers states. Who will not choose the case of Abia over Rivers State? There is peace in Abia, everybody is on the same page even those who didn’t vote for the governor are happy with the governor. Because the majority voted for the governor.

But Otti also emerged as a result of the rotational agreement?

No, Otti was the best candidate and was voted by the people. Fortunately, he is from the zone that is supposed to produce the suceesor to Okezie Ikpeazu. That is why I said that Owerri zone should present their best. However, I don’t believe in zoning because it brings mediocracy. You get the best in a competitive environment. I like competition and I don’t like anything free. And, when you come out and people vote for you, you will have that boldness and courage to face the situation. Now, let’s take Imo as an example. What are the Orlu people gaining? The governor built a road from Orlu to Owerri, he built from Owerri to Okigwe. The insecurity where is it worse? In Orlu. The majority of his brothers and sisters don’t live in remote villages, they have abandoned their homes because of insecurity, some of the appointees of this administration from Orlu zone cannot visit their villages. Even hunger is more in Orlu as most of the people cannot go to their farms. When Buhari was in government insecurity was worse in the North. Up till tomorrow kidnapping is higher in the North. Hunger is higher in the North . We are advocating for people who will to carry everyone along and turn things for good. That is the area I’m saying not who comes from where.

Maybe, this is the time to clear the air over the allegation that you supported ex-Governor Rochas Okorocha to demolish Ekeukwu Owerri over an alleged promise to make you the running mate of Uche Nwosu in the 2019?

At least, 2019 has come and gone, Uche Nwosu ran an election and I was not his running mate. But the truth about Ekeukwu market is that from 1976 when Imo State was created and Owerri became the capital, every successive government had made efforts to remove the market. That was how we had the proposed Somachi market, and that was the origin of Somachi market. That is where you now have Shoprite. It was originally the site of the new market. Right from when Owerri was made the capital of Imo State they knew that the position of the market wasn’t good. Douglas Road is the major road to Government House and there are too much obstruction on the road because of the Ekeukwu market. Before Owelle came nobody plies that Douglas Road and after he left nobody still plies that road. What was the problem, Ekeukwu market. Today, all kinds of vices are going along that Douglas road. Two weeks ago, robbers snatched the phone of one of my colleagues on that road because of the market. In fact, at a time they were selling human parts in that market. Every responsible government no matter how people feel should to do what is right. As far as I’m concerned the market should be remodelled. I never supported the removal of the market, but pushing it inside, away from the main road. Ekeukwu is our traditional market, even in UK they have their traditional markets, but you don’t allow it to expand beyond what it is. In fact, some people who live on Ekeonuwa and adjoining streets, their homes have become markets. I have always supported the remodelling of Ekeukwu Owerri and to clear Douglas road and all adjoining streets from being markets. Nothing says that we cannot modernize the market. The truth was that I supported the remodelling of Ekeukwu Owerri not removal. I had problems with Governor Okorocha at that time, I was even … the state Assembly over my position on the market. Today, I still support the remodelling of the market now that I am outside the government. Emeka Ihedioha came and started remodelling it, the incumbent government is doing the same thing. Those who played politics with the market are facing the consequences today

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