Senator Annie Okonkwo hails from Anambra State and represented Anambra Central in the 6th Senate of the National Assembly. Since his departure from the Senate, he has been involved in other things, relating to the development of the Ndigbo nation. He is the president of C-21, a pan-Igbo cultural group, pursing the South-east agenda. In this interview, the former federal lawmaker added his voice to the ongoing call by Igbo leaders that it is their turn to produce the next president. He also spoke on the race to succeed Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State. FRED ITUA brings the excerpts:
Since you left the Senate, what have you been into?
I am currently heading the C-21, a social cultural action group from the South-east. We are projecting the South-east agenda ahead of 2015.
What informed the formation of that group and what do you intend to achieve with it?
First of all, we have decided that this is a group that we want to use to articulate the vision of the South-east in the country. Of course we have been championing the issue of infrastructure that is not in the South-east. We are also championing the position of an Igbo man in Nigeria. We are also looking at the social aspect of life where most of us are not happy with the position of things.
We are further looking at the position of the South-east to see that they get their own share in whatever development happening in Nigeria. We are also pursuing the empowerment of our people, to see that good leadership happens in our areas. All these points are what we are actually looking at to see that we can put in more pressure on government to make sure that they do the right thing.
Some people see the Igbo agenda of producing the president as a tall dream considering that President Goodluck Jonathan is most likely to contest again in 2015. Should that happen, will the Igbos support him or will they insist supporting their own.
The South-east has defined their agenda clearly and that is why we have decided on a political party which is APGA that we are going to use as a platform in fielding our own presidential candidate.
We will also meet with some other zones and get their support and we hope they will support us. So if PDP members from the South-east have endorsed Jonathan, what is our business? We are fielding a candidate that will be supported by all the people. Our concern is to ensure that we produce a credible candidate that will be supported by all South-eastern people and of course other zones who believe that it is good to be fair. If you listen to any gathering in the South-east, all of them unanimously agree that this time around, we are going to field in a candidate of Igbo extraction.
But there are internal crises in APGA and if these crises are not put in check, don’t you think it will affect the chances of the region in 2015?
If you have watched events, there may be personality clashes in one way or the other. But the truth of the matter is that APGA is intact. People are trying to sabotage and sack the chairman of the party. But you can see that INEC has come up to say that they have breached the constitution and they are not allowed to do so. The National Chairman is still in charge. As far as I am concerned, the party is going stronger and stronger every day.
Does that mean that APGA will not be part of the coalition to form a mega party?
It is part of our negotiation. This is part of the strategy that we know that will help our cause. APGA will be part of any new coalition.
Anambra State will soon have another governorship election. A particular senatorial zone has been complaining that never produced any governor since the creation of the state. What is your projection on that and on other issues that will decide the outcome of the election?
There is no day Anambra leaders have even sat to agree on sharing of any position. There is no issue of any region producing the next governor. Our policy is, let the best candidate emerge. Every party has its own candidate, so if you are in party A, you can field a candidate from zone B and it is also the same with other parties. At the end of the day, all the candidates will go to the field. There has never been a situation where one zones will be fielding candidates alone. I don’t think a different thing will happen in 2014.
Anambra State is currently dealing with the issue of flood that has displaced many residents. Do you think well-to-do people from the state are doing enough to help salvage the situation?
From what I can see, the flood issue is a serious problem. I want to use this opportunity to applaud the Federal Government, especially the President himself for going there to assess the situation. We also have the presidential committee that was set up to raise N100 billion, which I think it is not enough, but let us start from there. I think we should allow the situation to get to the international community to see whether we can attract NGOs.
For me personally, I have visited them and have spent millions of naira in supporting them and I think individuals are doing the same thing on personal levels as well. But collectively, I have not heard any group doing something about it.
The South-east has been agitating for an extra state to correct the imbalance in the South-East region. Some are of the opinion that, why would they canvass for another state even when the existing states in the country appear not have the capacity to self-develop.
There is no doubt that the South-east has been marginalised. There is no justification where some zones will have six and seven states but one will have only five. By doing that, you are depriving them of funding to develop their zone, local government and all that. It is good to be fair. I think we need to continue to say it that we must be given another state.
Since the independence, no civilian administration has ever created a state in the country. Some believe therefore that there might not be that political will. Do you share such fears?
It is part of the problem we are facing. we must address injustice like what happened in the Niger-Delta region. A President woke up and decided to create the Niger-Delta Ministry. He decided to give them amnesty. We all supported it because we believe that there was need for that and today, South-easterners are agitating for an additional state because of the imbalance. It is being ignored. We want it whether a President will declare it or through the constitution, but we must also be given our own due.
As a former senator, what is your take on the on-going face off between National Assembly and Executive over the 2013 budget benchmark?
I think before the budget is passed, the two Houses must agree. The issue is that, the President sent in an estimate. The real appropriation is passed by the National Assembly. I believe that they will still have to agree on the figure because they are in a better position to know what the people needed because they are closer to the masses.
The Presidency does not know what happens in the constituencies. So it is their duty to know what will benefit their people. The National Assembly has the right to amend it for the benefit of Nigerians. But I still think they should settle the issue quickly so that they can start working on the bill and ensure it’s passed before end of this year.