Immediate past Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Chinedum Orji, has given reasons why the North will still support President Bola Tinubu’s reelection in 2027. He also cautioned the Igbo that the surest way for the South East to produce the President of Nigeria in the near future is to negotiate and partner with President Tinubu and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Hon Orji, who spoke with the Managing Director|Editor in-Chief of the Sun Publishing limited, ONUOHA UKEH and PAULINUS AIDOGHIE in Abuja, said through negotiation with other ethnic groups in the country, the Igbo will assume the presidency.

The former Speaker, who recently shifted political camp from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC, spoke about his sojourn in the Abia State House of Assembly, his politics and life in general.

Recently, you left the PDP and joined the APC; what informed this change of political party?

You know that life is dynamic. I changed political party after much reflection and projection into the future. I am in politics for the good of my people in particular and Nigeria in general. I will be anywhere I feel would help me achieve this objective.

Coming from the East, I know that there is every need for us to be in national politics and national government to attract more dividends of democracy to our people. I feel that joining APC and working with other like minds are the right things to do.

How has life been out of office?

Life has been good. There is no difference between my life when I was in government and now. In fact, when I was in government, I knew that a time would come when I would be out of government and I conditioned my life to it.

As Speaker, I was not living in the Speaker’s lodge. I lived in my own house. Most of the cars I was using were personal cars. Now, out of government, I do not miss anything. The only difference I can identify is that I have more time for myself and my family. I am no longer under pressure of government. I am no longer under pressure of office or whatever. I am not missing anything. It has been a very relaxing period.

Looking at your life in politics and the years you spent as Speaker, are there things you did that if you have another opportunity, you would have done them better?

I believe that I did my best when I was a lawmaker, when I was Speaker. For one, I didn’t see the position of Speaker as an instrument to be confrontational to the Executive and, in the process, constitute a cog in the wheel of progress. I saw it as a position whereby you work in tandem with the Executive for good governance and benefit of the people. 

However, I felt that we could have done better in oversight functions. I tried my best in that direction but was misunderstood. Looking back now, I believe that there should have been more of oversight functions, but without being antagonistic.

What will you say was your greatest achievement as a lawmaker and Speaker in Abia State?

When I became Speaker, I set out to make sure that the environment where we worked was enhanced. I had the cooperation of some of my colleagues, and we renovated the House of Assembly complex to give it the stature it deserved. If you visit Abia State House of Assembly complex today, you will be proud that an engineer was once a Speaker there.

As Speaker, I led an Assembly that made good laws for good governance in Abia State. The laws are there for posterity. I remember one of the bills that I sponsored – the Girl-Child Inheritance Law – that abolished the deprivation of female children from inheriting or having any share in their father’s estate.

What is the Abia State of your dream?

Abia State is prided as God’s Own state. It is not by accident that the state is regarded as such. It is not also by accident that Abia State is number one when all 36 states in Nigeria are listed. My dream Abia is a state that would be number one in everything – governance, infrastructure, conduct, investment, etc.

Abia State of my dream is a place where constructive criticism, instead of destructive criticism, is entrenched. Constructive criticism helps those in government to make amend but destructive criticism kills morale and brings about so much bad blood.

I also want Abia State, where those in government would take advice even from unusual quarters and not behave as if they know everything. When I was Speaker, it took the advice of Chief Tony Ukasanya for me to see the need to renovate the Assembly Complex. It was good advice that came at the right time, with good intentions. I heeded it, and the result was good. When those in government consider good advice, things would work out well.

What informed the good relationship between the Executive and legislature in Abia when you were Speaker? Was it a case of compromise or by design?

The three arms of government are, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. These arms of government have their distinct functions but they work together to ensure good governance and welfare of the people. We at the Assembly understood this and played our role in this regard.

Like I said earlier, I don’t believe that the job of Speaker is to be confrontational to a governor. The Assembly is there to help the executive, not to fight it. My duty and that of my colleagues at that time were to make laws, approve budgets, carry out oversight functions, et cetera, for the smooth functioning of government and welfare of the people.

States where the Assembly and the governor, nay Executive engage in battle of supremacy make no progress. Tell me any state where there was a cat and mouse relationship between the Executive and Legislature that made progress. Where such happened, you only see ego at play. Ego fights do not bring about progress.

The House of Assembly is usually rancorous. Speakers and the leader are sacked at will. But during your tenure as Speaker, there was no such thing. How did you manage to make this possible?

From experience, I know that what brings about contention in the Assembly are misunderstandings and suspicion. A Speaker has to be open and transparent. You can’t succeed as Speaker if you are greedy and if you are not a team player. There are two ways to remove a Speaker. The first one is gang- up of members. The second is contention with the governor. 

Kindly note that where a Speaker carries his colleagues along, gives them the respect they deserve and their due, there won’t be issues. Also, when a Speaker concentrates on his constitutional duties and allows the governor to also perform his duties, there won’t be any problem.

So, any place you hear that the Speaker is removed or so, just check out the relationship the Speaker has with his colleagues. Is he carrying them along? Is he being transparent?

Within the time I served as Speaker, my colleagues and I were in good terms. There was nothing I did that I didn’t inform them about or carried them along. Therefore, the issue of impeachment or so did not arise.

In a newspaper interview when you were 50, you said that you were a man greatly misunderstood. Has people’s perception of you changed?

Yes, the perception has shifted. The best thing that happened to me was to contest election and serve the people. This has helped to make the people see me for what I am and not for what others say of me.

Before going into politics and government, people had a wrong impression of me, occasioned by wrong perception and bad politics. You know that in politics, the practice is to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. My father was governor; so it was easy for political opponents and those who wanted to cause disharmony to tag me for their selfish gain.

I will give you an example. There was a time that it was rumored that I went to a supermarket and chased out everybody in that place and even slapped a soldier. It was said that soldiers came and descended on me, and I was flown to India for treatment owing to injuries I sustained from the beating by soldiers. That story went far and viral, to the extent that I went to the house of a bank CEO, and the wife asked me questions regarding that. That was when I knew the damage that fake news caused me.

The truth is that the story was fake. Nothing like that happened. If you beat up a soldier, the military won’t keep quiet. At that time, did the military say it happened? Certainly not. How people concocted that story, I don’t know.

I would admit that the fake news was circulated when I didn’t care about what people said about me. Therefore, I didn’t make any effort to correct the impression. But when the wife of the bank CEO confronted me, I realised that I should not have kept quiet.

You could recall that even when my father was governor, they went to town and said that I would go to my father’s office and point a gun at his head and tell him to sign cheques for me or do my bidding or I will shoot. There was nothing like that. In fact, I cannot imagine such act, let alone execute it. Those who know the respect I have for my father would tell you I could not have done that. My father is a man who exudes respect. He is my father. After God, he is the next person. Also, those who know the workings of government would know that nobody would enter a governor’s office with a gun. The security personnel around him would not allow such.

When my father was governor, I tried to distance myself from the government. Throughout his stay as a governor, I only visited him in his office once. I only went to his office once.

What happened on that occasion that you visited?

There was a very serious issue that had to do with the political party. I called and called and called, but he could not take my call. I needed him to know so that he could make a decision. So, I had to go there. When I went, I briefed him and left. Nobody would ever tell you that I was a regular visitor to his office. I stayed in my house and minded my business.

Let’s go back to people’s perception of you…

As I said, my days in government afforded people the opportunity to know me better. Public office helped, in a way, to erase some of those misconceptions because some people, looking at me and what I have done in government, will say, is this the same man that they were hearing about? Are you the same person? I always told them I am the same person. That is why I told you that the best thing that public office afforded me was for people to know me and to see that what was said about me in the past was wrong.

Related News

You contested the House of Representatives election on the platform of the PDP but lost. What went wrong that a powerful Speaker like you at that time lost an election?

That’s politics for you. Sometimes, you win. At another time, you might lose. What I have come to learn about life is that whatever happens is a lesson. Win or lose, election is a lesson. And I have learned both ways.

For me, post-election has been a moment of reflection. It has afforded me the opportunity to know my real friends. You find out that some people you have been mingling with are just there because of what they can gain from you. So, it is a period of retrospection to be able to teach you some lessons and then, you move forward.

PDP also lost the governorship election in Abia with an incumbent governor. As an insider and with your experience in politics, what will you say caused this?

There is no point dwelling in the past. The election has come and gone. It is for us to learn whatever lesson therein and move forward.

Was there any time in government that you ever contemplated quitting, maybe because of people not appreciating your good works?

As the son of a civil servant, I grew up to know that in public service, you cannot please everybody. And therefore, you should continue to do your best, no matter what people say. Knowing this, there was never a time I contemplated quitting from government out of whatever. In fact, I must say that nobody can make me quit when I don’t want to quit. It is not going to happen; it will never happen.

People see APC as a weak political party in the South East. What should we expect from APC in Abia State, for example, now that you have joined?

Well, they keep saying APC is weak, APC is this, APC is that, in the South East! But the party keeps making progress and expanding. Remember, there was a time PDP was in charge of all the South East states. Now, PDP has only one state. APC that they said is weak is now holding two government houses now in South East. Nobody would say that the party is weak in the zone. With two states and massive mobilisation, campaign, and sensitisation, APC can take more states. The Anambra election is coming in one and half years. You could be shocked about what may happen there in respect of APC performance. A lot of our people want to play national politics. The consciousness is increasing.

Talking about national politics, what will the South East gain to be part of APC?

It is clear that APC is the better route for South East to produce the president of Nigeria. The South East has to, therefore, get entrenched in the party, win the confidence and buy-in of others, negotiate, and get the ultimate political power. There is no way an Igbo man can be President of Nigeria if we don’t negotiate power. We have to talk with our southern brothers: the Yorubas; the South-South people, and northerners. Our population is not enough to vote in an Igbo as president. We need the votes and support of other Nigerians.

If we continue to be at loggerheads with our brothers from the South West, North and South South, it will be difficult to get the presidency. Have you ever asked this question: What did the President do to become number one today? He understood power dynamics and played his cards well. Coming from South West, he entered into partnership with the North. It started in 2015. He supported the North to occupy the presidency in 2015 and 2019. In 2023, it was natural for the North to support him.

By 2031, political power goes back to the North, and they will now decide where they want the vice president to come from. That is how Nigeria is built. The South East has to be in the calculation in the whole equation in APC. If Igbo don’t negotiate power in Nigeria, it is going to be difficult.

It will take South East 15 years from now to the presidency using the APC route, all things being equal. Are you seriously recommending this?

Let me ask you something: What is the surest way of getting there? Let’s keep the 15 years you mentioned. Yes, apart from these 15 years, tell me what other pathway is there for us to get to Aso Villa?

If they take the PDP route, which assumes that the North will take the presidency in 2027, after President Tinubu’s first term. Don’t you see that the PDP route is shorter?

Tell me; what will make the President not to return, not to have a second term? Well, as far as I am concerned, you are dealing with President Bola Tinubu. He is a thoroughbred politician. Do you understand what I am saying? After four years, he has a right to seek re-election. Isn’t it? I don’t see any stress for him getting the nomination of his party to contest for the second term in office, which is his right. I don’t see why Nigerians won’t vote him in again in 2027.

It is in the interest of the North that Tinubu completes his second term and handover to them. Knowing that after Tinubu, it is their turn, northerners cannot gamble with this reality. They will support him.

You are saying that the best bait is for South East to wait for 15 years, after the North must have occupied the presidency and leave by 2039?

That is what my calculation is giving. We have to negotiate. Let us focus. We have been waiting for how many years to get into Aso Rock? Waiting for another 15 years won’t kill anybody. If we negotiate well, 15 years will give us presidency. Remember that all the presidents that have come and gone were mutually agreed. If you check out President Obasanjo; you check out President Yar’Adua, President Goodluck Jonathan, and even our last president, President Buhari, there was a mutual agreement among all major tribes. So, our own case will not be different. It will not be different if we toe that path of negotiation so that these people will not say that when an Igbo man becomes president, something unpleasant will happen to them.

Like I said before, the South East does not have the numbers. Registered voters in the South East is low compared to other geopolitical zones. When you check out the number of registered voters in other zones, you will see why I am telling you that we need to negotiate power. We can’t fight. We have to work with President Tinubu for us to be in the queue for the presidency.

What would be your focus now?

My focus is the consolidation of APC in South East and in Nigeria generally. It is time for our Igbo brothers, young Igbo politicians and all to come out and work hard with the leaders of the party to project the President and to ensure that he wins election in the South East, for us to be better reckoned with in the party. That is my focus.

What will you advise Nigerian youths as leaders of tomorrow?

Nigerian youths need to be more politically aware and pay more attention to politics. You cannot get what you are not part of. They must be part of politics, to get political power.

Also, the youths must be well prepared for leadership; get the right education, be mentally alert, responsible, and sensible.

What’s your relationship with the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Benjamin Kalu and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who are from Abia State and who joined APC a long time ago?

Senator Orji Kalu was my boss, and he is still our boss, having served as governor and having been instrumental to my father being governor. I know where the quarrel in the past came from, and I am not interested in all those things that led to that. What people don’t know is that I worked with Senator Kalu before, and we are in the same party now. We are working together.

The Deputy Speaker, Hon Benjamin Kalu, is a friend and a brother who is doing very well as a legislator. He had served there before as the spokesperson of the House, and now, he is the Deputy Speaker.

My relationship with them is very, very cordial, and I am happy with them, and they are happy with me. Our common objective is to work for our people, to get more dividends of democracy for them.

The government is almost one year in office. How will you assess the APC government at the centre?

The Tinubu government has done well. Even though Nigerians are not finding it easy, the government has done well to take the country out of the woods. What is currently going on in Nigeria is the effect of adjustments. We are having adjustments for the better tomorrow. Somebody has to solve the problem. Unfortunately for Mr. President, he finds himself in that position where he has to solve the problem. Before that problem is solved, he is going to take a lot of pain. No problem is solved without some discomfort.

Measures are being put in place to make Nigeria better. Good things are already happening. Look at what is going on in Abuja. You can see massive construction and infrastructure renewal. Security is being restored nationally, unlike before. Efforts are being made to stabilise the economy. With what is on the ground, by the mid-term of this government, things would get much better.

How would you assess what is happening in Abia State?

Well, Abians elected a new governor who happens to belong to the Labour Party. He came in with his socio economic agenda and policies. It is incumbent on him and his team to implement those policies for the betterment of Abians.

What’s APC plan to occupy Abia Government House?

As a member of APC, I will work in tandem with leaders, stakeholders and members of the party to realise that, though it’s not wise to state all here.

What advice will you give South East people in relation to future elections?

The South East should join national politics. The South East should work with other zones in Nigeria. The South East should learn the art of negotiation. The South East should be focused on politics. The South East should take part in voter registration when the time comes. I will advise them to return home to register or transfer their voters cards to South East so that they will vote there. They have to be part of the decision in picking their senators, House of Representatives members, governors, and the president. Their voting strength should be shored up and seen to be high and strong. Like I said earlier, politics is a game of numbers.

VERIFIED: Nigerians (home & diaspora) can now be paid in US Dollars. Earn up to $17,000 (₦27 million) with premium domains. Click here to start