AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CHIEF CHARLES AHIZE, THE LABOUR PARTY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE FOR IMO WEST SENATORIAL CANDIDATE
Chief Charles Ugochukwu Ahize is a top businessman and philanthropist who is one of the most successful auto dealers in Nigeria and a former President-General of Obigbo Sociocultural group. He is the Labour Party Senatorial candidate for the second largest senatorial district in the Southeast of Nigeria and a longstanding campaigner for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. In this exclusive interview with the NIGERIAN HORN newspaper, he unveiled his plans for Orlu Senatorial District and as well his passion to see that the Southeast is properly integrated in the Nigerian political, economic and development plan. He argues that the Southeast has been left behind through inexplicable marginalisation by successive federal administrations since after the civil war. Enjoy the interview.
Question: Who is Charles Ahize?
Answer: The most important of my identities is that I am an Igbo man. I am not prouder of anything about my life than the fact that I am Igbo, full and through. I was born 62 years ago to my beloved parents in Umuezennachi Ihioma in Orlu LGA in what was then, Eastern Region of Nigeria, but today known as Imo State in the Southeast geopolitical zone. I am a God-made and self-made successful businessman. My parents were poor, very poor, but through God’s grace and a dint of unrelenting hardwork and diligence, I broke the chains of poverty. I am an automobile dealer, a real estate investor and I have interests in the pharmaceutical industry. By God’s special grace, I was born into the Anglican Communion but I am now a born again Christian, a community Chief and a Christian father. And by God’s grace and the support of our good people of Imo West Senatorial District, the next Senator representing my people of Imo West in the Red Chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly.
QUESTION: Talking about representing Orlu zone in the Senate, your opponents have criticized you for not having the requisite political and Legislative experiences like your two main rivals who had each been to the National Assembly before now. What do you have to say about this?
ANSWER; With all due respect to my two younger brothers who campaign on the basis of having had past legislative experiences, I want to say that none of those aspiring to the Senate for Imo West is as prepared and passionate as I am to deliver the best ever representation to Orlu zone. Experience is not synonymous with competence. One can have a very bad experience and one could also have been at a particular place without exploiting the opportunities available in such places. It is also possible that those you describe as being experienced are not the right models for legislative excellence. And I believe that if there is anything we should be talking about as niches for the next Senator of Orlu zone, they should be; competence, integrity and character.
I am known as a successful businessman, I have a background as one who is dogged, as one who makes promises and keeps to them, as one who has the right contacts to attract development, employment and unprecedented opportunities in Orlu zone. I can tell you that no one can run a business successfully for many years, such as I have done without being a good negotiator and a trustworthy person. Legislation is all about negotiation. You have to negotiate with your colleagues in the Senate, negotiate with the executive and even the judiciary to ensure that the best things are attracted to your constituency. I am not going to the Senate to build new contacts, with all sense of modesty, there are very few Nigerians who can boast of the contacts I have in this country. Businessmen are not apolitical. That I haven’t been an elected member of parliament does not mean that those who had been know their ways around the National Assembly more than me. I know my way in and out. Some of them are my business partners, some of them are people I had rendered some help to in the past. So, when I get to the Senate, I will bring up motions on the floor of the Senate or sponsor a bill, I will not find it very difficult getting the right numbers to push through my bills and motions because most of those coming to the Senate are friends I have known for years, and that’s on first name basis. We will negotiate and agree.
If I go to the Ministry of Works for instance to day, please, capture this road and this project for my constituency in your 2024 appropriation proposal, I won’t take a no for an answer, because I am also a very dogged and resilient person. I also know that there is something called filibustering in lawmaking. I won’t be in the minority, because Labour Party is going to form the next national government, but even if I bring a proposal, for instance for the construction of the Orlu Megacity Project, and the Senate leadership or some people feel it is too audacious a project and refuse to give me the necessary support to have it captured in the budget, I will employ the filibuster tactics to delay legislation, until my proposal is met or at least my constituents are assuaged with something better.
The greatest skill a Nigerian legislator should have is good human relations. If you are able to convince ministers and heads of parastatals to slot in projects for your constituency, to accept your young constituents who apply for jobs in their ministries and agencies, to capture your Constituency in their programs, then you are a very competent legislator. You can be in the Senate for donkey years and without good human relations skills you would still be unable to do that. Human relations is one of niches. I go to places and have things done. I have succeeded in business thus far, because I have good human relations. People can attest to my ability to keep to terms and keep good relationships. These are actually what matter.
And by the way, I am trustworthy. Integrity is my most valuable currency. I made my money doing business with Indians, most of whom remain my friends and business partners till date. To do business with Indians for over three decades now, you must be someone who can be held by his words, someone with unquestionable integrity. I have retained friends and partners across social and professional classes for many decades because I keep to my words. This is what I am taking to the National Assembly; a history of trust, of integrity and strong character. With that, you can be sure that I can get a lot more things done than the one who rides on the claim of having been there before.
QUESTION: Few months ago, you were in the APC, and today you are a Labour Party candidate, many people are wondering why you left the APC.
ANSWER: That’s a good question. You see, while I am passionate to go to the Senate because I have a plan that will benefit every Orlu constituent, I am also not desperate. So, it is wrong for anyone to insinuate that I am in Labour Party out of desperation to go to the Senate. I left the APC because they denied the Southeast the presidential ticket. I have always been a fighter for Igbo interest. I had made substantial financial contributions to initiatives that were aimed at ending Igbo marginalisation. During the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference I made huge financial contribution because some Igbo politicians approached me and told me that they needed to push through an item in the Constitution that would have made rotational presidency constitutional. Unfortunately, it was shot down. In 1999 and 2003, I made enormous financial contributions towards ensuring that the PDP zoned its presidential ticket to the Southeast and in 2003, I narrowed down the struggle to Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Beyond money, I undertook some strategic initiatives and even took it personal with some Igbo individuals who sabotaged Chief Ekwueme in that contest.
So you can see where I am coming from. If the APC had given its presidential ticket to a Southeast candidate and denied me the Senatorial ticket, I would have remained in APC. And if, they had given me that ticket and denied the Southeast the presidential ticket, I would have thrown that ticket into the dustbin. I think that is a major reason why they didn’t give me the ticket. My close friends knew what I was going to do and they made sure I didn’t get that ticket. They knew I wasn’t going to campaign for a non Southeast presidential candidate, so they pushed me out on time. Simply, I joined the Labour Party because they were responsible enough to have done the right thing. The most moral and most justifiable political arithmetic that can keep Nigeria together and stable beyond 2023 is for an Igbo of the Southeast to become our next President. I am not merely speaking as an Igbo man, I am speaking as a Nigerian. Any Nigerian who wants the best for Nigeria, who wants Nigeria to survive, knows that the best thing to do is to support a Southeast presidential candidate. That’s the most equitable thing to do and it is only on the basis of equity that a nation as diversified and multifarious as ours can survive.
We have an understanding in this country. Nigeria is built on a tripod and that tripod is; Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. That has been how our power sharing formula since inception of this country. Anyone or group of people trying to distort that arrangement is an enemy of the country. The Hausa has had their turn, over and again, the Yoruba has had their turn, over and again and when it got to the turn of the Igbo, you say no. That’s injustice and no nation will survive when it treats a significant group such as Igbos with such disrespect. Even if you wanted to argue on the basis of North/South dichotomy, the Southeast is still the only geopolitical zone in the South that hasn’t tested the presidency. So, why deny them that at this time?
QUESTION; There have been accusations that were planted in the Labour Party by the Governor of Imo State. How true is that?
ANSWER: That is a very lousy lie. Governor Hope Uzodimma is a staunch APC leader and those close to me have told me that he stopped me from picking the APC ticket because he knew I wasn’t going to support any presidential candidate who is not from the Southeast. I have not spoken to the governor since after that APC primaries. I know that he is not happy that I left the APC, but I couldn’t have done otherwise. I have chosen this path and I am going to see it to a successful conclusion.
You see, I have a feeling that those around the governor might have planted that fake news in order to see if the LP would substitute me. They didn’t want me on the ballot, because they know what I am coming with. They know that I have the people on my side and that I am going to defeat their candidate hands down. So, they didn’t want me on the ballot. They did everything to take my name off, but to God be the glory, they didn’t succeed.
QUESTION; Orlu has been in crisis for over one year now, with series of violent incidents taking place. What do you think is responsible for this and how do you aim to tackle this when you are elected?
ANSWER: What is happening in Orlu is a consequence of long-standing injustice. The youths feel maltreated. They feel that they have been robbed and scorned and unfortunately, they resorted to self-help. The degeneration of the security situation in Orlu is most regrettable and it gives me sleepless nights, because I cannot feel at home anywhere else but in my hometown.
But you know, if these youths had good jobs, they wouldn’t have the time to take up arms, if they had confidence in government, they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing. So, their actions are actually direct consequences of many years of neglect by governments and the high rate of abuse going on in the Nigerian system. That is their own way of fighting for justice, unfortunately, that is not the right way.
As a private individual, I have been doing my best to tackle unemployment. I have secured jobs for a number of our youths, I have also assisted a number of them establish lucrative businesses and mentored some in different lines of business. But there is a limit to what a private individual can do. That is why I am going into government.
I will fight against arbitrary detention of our youths by security agencies. This is one of the major triggers to violence. A number of these youths are angry over what they believe are unjust treatments meted out to them or those close to them. I will fight to ensure that those who were unjustly detained are not only freed unconditionally but also paid a reasonable reparation by government.
Creating jobs, enhancing more access to quality education and opening bigger windows of opportunities for wealth creation are some of the items on my Orlu Recovery Plan, which is my manifesto.
QUESTION: Talking about the insecurity in Orlu, what do you have to say about the continued detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu?
ANSWER: I have said it before and I will say it again; Nnamdi Kanu should be set free immediately and without preconditions. The FG has no reason keeping him in detention up till this moment, especially, when several courts have ruled that he should be discharged of any prosecution. The Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami should advise the FG correctly. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has got several court judgements discharging him from all the charges preferred against him and it will amount to an affront on the judiciary and to rule of law, if the government continues to keep him behind bars.
QUESTION; Can you shed more light on the Orlu Recovery Plan?
ANSWER: Well, like I said, that is my manifesto. It is a well-researched action plan which is like a contract I am signing with Orlu people before they elect me to the Senate.
Before you can effectively tackle a problem, you need to diagnose that problem. You need to identify what these problems are. I had sat down to study and analyse what the problems of Orlu zone are, and these are contained in that document. After identifying these problems, I went ahead to proffer solutions. The projects, I aim to attract and the legislations I shall initiate to see that these problems are tackled. I did not stop at that, I also specified the methodologies towards achieving these lofty proposals.
On the face value one might see those ideas as too audacious for a legislator to achieve, but it requires a simple understanding of the powers and influence of the legislature to appreciate that the executive cannot do anything legitimate without the approval of the legislature. A responsible and proactive legislator would exploit necessary legislative windows to secure good projects and programs for his or her people.
I will not divulge what is in that document until it is officially unveiled to the Orlu electorate. I will be looking forward to inviting you then.