NseobongOkon-Ekongholds a conversation with Prof. Osita Solo Chukwulobelu, Secretary to the Anambra State Government and Director-General
2021 APGA Governorship Campaign Committee
To what will you credit your victory at the polls?
My understanding of the game is that opposition doesn’t win election. Incumbent lose election. Incumbent lose election if they have not done well in the period before the election. In developed countries, there is what is called the feel good factor . If people do not have the feel good factor. In the UK, if the feel good factor is not there 12 months before the election, the incumbent will lose the election. If they feel that the government of the day is floundering, they will do badly and may not win the election. That is one.
Two, the character of the party candidate is very important across the globe. I will give you an example again. The acceptability of the person who holds the ticket is very important too. In 2007, coming to the general election in the UK, the person the Labour Party should have fielded, in terms of popularity within the party was Gordon Brown, but in terms of the general acceptability, the persona and the rest of it, people felt that Tony Blair will do better. The party chose Tony Blair. He won that election and took power from the Conservatives after almost 18 years and subsequently went on to win two other elections.
Three, the incumbent must understand the opposition and see what its weaknesses are. Once you take all these things to mimd, you will see why APGA has done well. This campaign wasn’t the usual type of campaign. When I was appointed the Director General of the APGA Governorship campaign, I actually said I don’t want to be that I have never played politics that well and to some extent the role of Secretary to the State Government is to ensure that government carries on. I initially objected but the governor-elect said you have to do this. We would like you to supply administrative coordination and think many things through together in terms of how we prosecute this election. Given that, you find that APGA government has done well under the present governor, Chief Willie Obiano in the eight years. The last one year has been challenging, because our road network has suffered. Two, because there is increased insecurity. We needed to be honest to identify where the weaknesses might be and develop a credible explanation.
Governor Obiano concentrated on the airport project and refused to take loans in the last one year. Once that happened, there was bound to be some crowding out effect. Some areas were going to suffer. We acknowledged it, but how do we explain it to Ndi Anambra, so that they can understand without blaming the government? The first thing to do was to stop saying we have the best network of roads, . If we do, they were not in good shape. Countries keep building roads. Americans and Britons are still building roads. The governor-elect has said that he will declare a state of emergency on roads, but we tell our people, look at where the money has gone into and that kind of thing. If you do not want to borrow, there is no new money coming in. Do we need this airport or not? We need it! That is part of the burden of leadership. That had to be explained but we also had to pinpoint to the electorates, that there are federal roads here that our opponents who ought to have done them didn’t do that. We needed to deal with what the electorates should know.
The other part of the challenge is that leading up to the election, two weeks before the election, there was so much garbage everywhere and I felt Anambra people will not forgive us. They can forgive us for not fixing the roads, but not for not carrying the garbage. It was almost like a task force. I was yelling at people, do want us to lose the election, you must clear this.
We showed that the incumbent government has done well and reminded people of many things he has done. Many community driven projects ; street lighting, making the place safer and the rest of them. People could see that . He has done the airport and international conference centre. He did all these at the expense of the road infrastructure. Roads are things you can quickly fix within one year. After a while, the electorate was beginning to understand that. Even the opposition said we will forgive Obiano all his sins if he delivers the airport. If he doesn’t deliver the airport, crucify him. There was that kind of acceptance.
The other thing, like I said, was the candidate. If you make the error of coming up with a candidate that is not generally known and very unpopular, you will struggle to win that election, but if you run with ‘a good market that sells itself,’ choosing Soludo as the candidate was a major factor in winning this election. First of all, you don’t need to introduce him. I remember him coming to my village and my uncle said to him, ‘God will always ess you. I almost lost N18million in Savanah Bank, but for you.’ People could identify with him and relate to his vision and mission. The candidate was a good material. He is very prepared. He has a been saying he wants to create a prosperous and liveable homeland. His programme excites people . He keeps taking people back to the history of the Jews after the Holocaust. They swore that they will build a land of Israel where whoever that is a Jew that is persecuted anywhere in the world can come back to the homeland. That is not what is happening here. Our non land assets are scattered everywhere. We face persecution here and there; in Lagos, in the North and where have you.
Soludo has promised to build a prosperous homeland that is liveable. You can go and make your money elsewhere, but if you have any reason to come home, you are coming home to a land of opportunity. A land you can live in and be happy. As we kept talking about that message, it resonated with people.
The other thing is that opposition does not win election, it is the incumbent that loses it. What that means is that as incumbent, you know the weaknesses of the opposition. You can use resources to deal with your own weaknesses. There are some quick programmes that you can do. I remember going to Onitsha South and the Governor was so upset about the road, he yelled at the sitting chairman and ordered him to fix the road. That was about two weeks before the election. He took to his heels immediately. As incumbent, you have the resources to make intervention in something that can make you lose the election, but you are praying that you have not done it too late.
Then you look for the weaknesses of the opposition and don’t let up on that. We know the APC is unpopular in the South-east. We know also that its candidate has a past that haunts him. The debate exposed his emptiness. With that it was very clear to us that we will win this election, but what people don’t know is that we had an internal poll to see where the party stands before the electorates. Our own strategy was to look at all the local governments; using three criteria-green, amber or red. We identified three local governments that were red. Three that were amber and the rest green. Once we did that we had six out of 21, we were already above two-third, but you can never be sure, the margin of error in this kind of thing can be as high as 10 percent. It became very clear that those local government that were amber must turn to green very quickly. Those that were red needed special intervention . We were right .
We knew Nnewi was red. Nnewi North people did not come to that special engagememt we had. Because election was coming too close we did not focus on that anymore. We wrote it off. We knew we will lose it. Ogbaru, we knew was red. We felt we could turn Ogbaru around. We tried. We lost with a few hundred votes. Idemili South was red. The Commissioner for Basic Education who was campaign coordinator, every morning she would wake me up at 4:00am. I realised she needed help. We worked on it and Idemili South became green. So, we knew that we will win this election because of all the stories about rigging and hijacking the results, we worked harder.
What that did was that we were prepared. They almost would have succeeded in my local government, Idemili North, but for the fact that they did not know that we had a central security team that was mobile and quick. They would have done that thing in Abatete. Without sounding too immodest, in the opposition, we defined APC as the main opposition because of the way they were going about it. The PDP we knew we had quite a challenge there because the young man was seen as a fresh face and there is a power base in Anambra politics, the church, which is more or less, split, quite a substantial number had moved towards his candidacy, especially given the influence of the former governor (Mr. Peter Obi), but in the debate his inexperience was made obvious. So, we thought we would win between 16 and 18 local governments, but we did far better.
In what ways do you foresee this election shaping the general elections in 2023?
I have witnessed two state House of Assembly and National Assembly elections in 2015 and 2019. The 2015 happened just a few months after we came into office. Some people thought we were neophyte. We did not understand the politics. Many of us who joined Governor Willie Obiano were not professional politicians. Nonetheless, we did quite well in the House of Assembly, but not so well in the National Assembly. The same thing repeated itself in 2019. It began to show that maybe in Anambra, we play two politics. The politics of electing the best for the state as governor and members of the state House of Assembly, but when it comes to the federal legislature , I don’t know if it is a conscious decision of the electorates, something else happens that people who align themselves to the party at the centre are those that are elected. Our politics is almost bifocal as it were. You have the House of Assembly and the governorship where the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) does very well, but when it comes to the Senate and the House of Representatives, we don’t seem to do very well. But this particular election has shown that it won’t be the same in 2023, because you find people who move from one party to another, in search of where they stand a good chance to get the ticket to contest.
This particular election has shown that APGA has solidified its hold on Anambra and must now become the platform for people who really want to do well in elections . The last time in the House of Assembly, we had 24 members out of 30. With the decamping, some have left.
In 2023, if the government that is coming in is as successful as we all think it will be within the one and a half years before the next general election, I am convinced APGA will do by far better than we did in 2015 and 2019. It showed very clearly that this is now the party to beat , with all the defection, the party is still intact.
Despite the victory of your candidate, what mishaps experienced in the election do you think could have been avoided?
Not with this election to be honest with you. We live to learn lessons and we do learn a lot of lessons. In terms of how the election was prosecuted, there is mantra we use in APGA, ‘a rat does not eat the food of one who is awake and watchful. We found that this opposition called APC, if we are not watchful, they will steal this thing. We made sure we blocked every area they could exploit to rig the election. We thank God too that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came up with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). It helped too to check rigging.
How do you hope to handle repentant APGA members who may wish to return to the party?
I am not in the party leadership, as it where, but obviously, we think it is better to have an all inclusive system. And there are children who err and the parents take them back. I can tell you that it is not a case of welcoming them back. What is happening in APGA is that the party is beginning to have a very clear political philosophy, which is one of progressivism, as it were. The way the Governor-elect put it, we are almost like a party that is left of the centre, a social democratic party that understands the role of the liberal market. It also captures the public good. One of the things that distresses me is that people talk about politics of interest. I say, yes, of course, everything is about interest, but there is a hierarchy of interest. What APGA as a political party is beginning to get people to understand is that, the common good is the most important in that hierarchy. If you are not able to subsume your own personal interest, let the community good come first and rank higher than yours, then you have a problem. Every time I hear, it is about interest and I see that it is personal interest,; all these decamping here and there is all about personal interest. The week before the Deputy Governor decamped to APC, he was saying to people examine your conscience before you vote and make sure you cast your vote according to the dictates of your conscience. When he decamped, I actually felt very surprised that his conscience told him that the best thing for Anambra at this point in its development is to be governed by a candidate of the APC who has a lot of issues from the way he has behaved in the past and, who, as the debate showed is not prepared for governance.
Those who left, if they decide to come back, they must understand that this party is beginning to define itself as a party driven by progressivism ideology and therefore, the general public good,the state interest must rank above their personal interest, which made them in the first instance to leave the party. If they have not reconciled themselves to that it will be very difficult to come back to this party.
To what extent did reverence for the memory of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu help APGA in the election?
There is what you call a paradox here. Dim Ojukwu was from Nnewi North, but the party lost Nnewi town. The party is moving towards the progressivism of the old NCNC, which recognises that market mechanism is what you must use to make progress and if you look at what Ojukwu stood for, it is just unfortunate that the way the party developed , you may say that the first time it won was in Igboland, Anambra and Imo and subsequently Rochas left and the party has found a stronghold here. There is no denying the fact that a lot of the party members look with nostalgia at the role, the late Ikemba played. He was the first leader of the party and its presidential candidate. You can legitimately see the link in terms of other emotions and the rest of it. I am also saying to you look at what has happened in this election that in his hometown, APGA lost. You would have thought that we would never lose election there.
There is wider appeal about the party than Ojukwu’s personality. I think what resonates more is the ‘this is our own philosophy. Any party can claim, ‘this is our own.’ I have said to the leadership of the party that this is a very interesting slogan that you can localise in every state. If you take this slogan to Kano and use Aminu Kano as the front, people can identify with, ‘this is our own.’ If you go to, say, Imo State, you are looking at someone like Sam Mbakwe. You go to a state like Benue, Paul Unongo and the rest of them. You are going round looking for the progressives in these places and people can identify with, ‘this is our own,’ and using them as the rallying point. It has no ethnic connotation , eventhough that has been hijacked that this is an Igbo party, No! It is used to identify the progressives in certain geographical locations. The cock is an NCNC symbol. It is not right to identify APGA only as an Igbo party. The motto of the party, ‘you are your brother sister’s keeper,’ has a universal application
Do you think this victory will inspire APGA to advance and consolidate its presence in other South-east states?
We have a chance now and our neighbours have seen the progress Anambra has made under Peter Obi and Obiano APGA government. The whole world is excited and wishing Anambra to do even better under Soludo. If a Soludo administration in the next 15 months before the general election and before governorship election in other parts of the country has begun to show what the administration is capable of doing by way of disruptive change that takes the state much higher, success begets many friends. Our neighbour, Imo State will wonder why it is suffering. That will have a snowball effect in even states outside the South-east. Given what Soludo plans, after the next four years of APGA government, the party will become a brand and electorates in other zones will say we want it. Let’s call it, ‘this is our own,’ too and they will use their local heroes as the rallying pint for that cry
Why did APGA panic and go public with information that APC had rigged an election that had not even taken place. It turned out that you overrated the APC?
It is always better to overrate your opponents than to underrate them. I don’t know if we overrated them. We considered the APC, the main threat. It is a better strategy to overrate the opposition and therefore prepare than to underrate them. It was better that we took all those things seriously and prepared against them. We had a sitting governor that had done very well, it is just that the road network has challenges here and there, which is explainable. Any government that decided to build that type of airport without going to borrow, some crowding out effect had to happen. That is inevitable because there is binding resource constraint. You don’t have infinite resources. It means, therefore certain things will suffer. Unfortunately, the rains this year have been too heavy as it were. Roads can be quickly fixed. The Governor-elect has said during the campaigns that he will declare a state of emergency on roads. I believe during the first year of the Soludo administration, a lot of the roads will be fixed
What commentary does the result of the election make on the brinkmanship of Governor Willie Obiano?
Governor Obiano must have had some kind of divine inspiration. He has had a long period of time of dealing with Soludo to actually say, this the man I am convinced will succeed me. I think his relationship with Soludo, probably started in 2013. Remember he ran in 2013, but was disqualified. He did not leave the party, but gave Obiano support. In 2017, he gave him a very direct support-if it is not broken, why mend it? I believe that overtime, he must have begun to see something in Soludo that made him feel this is the man Anambra needs after me. This is my first time of seeing an outgoing governor saying to his people this is my chosen successor vote for him because he will surpass me. He is better than me. He has a wider reach, in terms of where he will get the resources. It is a struggle to see any former governor that has made this statement. I am sure he must have been thinking about the state. If he was selfish, Anambra has many billionaires he will take money and hand over to any of them. If Obiano was not thinking of the good of Anambra, he would probably not have chosen Soludo. He would say why should I support a man who is likely to outshine me. That is why Anambra will continue making progress . This is APGA philosophy.