Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu has appealed to his colleagues to toe the path of rule of law by respecting the decision of the court with regards to President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill which seeks to among other things re-order election sequence as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He said whichever election comes first; President Buhari must win the 2019 presidential election.
Former deputy governor of Imo State, Jude Agbaso accused you of leaving your legislative function as Speaker for personal business while reacting to your comment in the last interview you granted this paper saying you had no regret in your involvement in his impeachment, what is your take?
I insist that I have no regret over the role I played in the impeachment of the former deputy governor, Jude Agbaso. He was not only the deputy governor; he was also the commissioner for Works. We followed due process and as the Speaker I entrusted him with the award of contract and I never influenced any contract with my position. The government constituted a probe to find out if contractors gave me money to award contract to them but no single person accused me of collecting a kobo from him. However, I won’t join issues with Agbaso on the matter. I only did my job as required by the constitution.
Also, Prof. Obiageli accused you of poor representation, saying it was the reason he wants to replace you?
I’m not going to contest against Obiageli in 2019 but against Governor Rochas Okorocha. Obiageli is a commissioner in Okorocha’s administration and he has not declared interest to run for Imo North Senatorial seat in 2019. So, if I’m running against anybody, I’m running against Okorocha. This has become the signature tune of Governor Okorocha and his ‘Rescue Mission’ government which has always disparages me because I’m against his plan for his son in-law to succeed him. Within the one year and three months I have being in the senate, I have a couple of bills and motions to my credit. I belong to several committees and that is where the job is. I have attracted more than 34 projects to my constituency, some of which are ongoing while others are nearing completion. For example, there is erosion control project going on in Obowo and Ihitte Uboma councils at the cost of over N160 million. There is an ongoing water project in Obowo which gulped over N125 million. Electricity project is going on in some communities in Okigwe including in Obiageli’s community in conjunction with NIPP which is worth over N125 billion. I have road construction under Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) in Okigwe, over 10 classroom blocks, cortege hospitals are being built in Amuzari, Isiala Mbano council. As I speak to you I have donated transformers to several communities including Umuoma Nzerem, we have ongoing massive agro revolution. The agricultural project will benefit Nzerem 50 billion Euro which I attracted from the European Union. I have also done solar power borehole in Ehime Mbano and street lights in Ikperechere, Ihitte Uboma and in Alike Obowo. I have instructed my office to publish these projects so that the likes of Obiageli will know that I have done much for my people without advertising them. Our agricultural project in Nzerem will create over 2 million jobs in the area.
Away from Imo politics, what does President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill portend for our nascent democracy?
President Muhammadu Buhari gave reasons for declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill and the court has restrained the National Assembly from further action pending the determination of the suit and until then the leadership of the senate has to wait.
The Senate has written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria over the court decision, what do we expect?
Like I said earlier, we are waiting for the outcome of the court decision, and then the letter.
You were among the senators that staged a walk out when your colleagues passed the bill, what happened?
Yes, I was among those that walked out because we had different view on the sequencing of the elections.
As the senate engaged the presidency on the matter, on whose side are you?
I remain committed to my party, the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) and by extension, I’m loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari who is also leader of APC. I’m of the firm belief that the election timetable should be left the way it was and that is my position.
What would you say warranted the lawmakers’ decision to want to re-order the election sequence?
Members of the House of Representatives came up with the idea. I don’t know what informed their decision. However, the senate took it up and set up a Harmonization Committee that came up with sequencing and now that the president has declined assent to the bill, we just have to wait for the outcome of court decision. To me, whichever election that comes first, President Buhari must win by the grace of God
Can you confirm the recent speculation that you have been appointed Director General of Buhari/Osinbajo Presidential Campaign Organisation 2019 for South-East?
No, I was not appointed or recommended to lead Buhari/Osinbajo Presidential Campaign Organisation for next year’s election in the south-east; rather, I have just been appointed the coordinator for Senatorial elections for South-East in the 2019 general elections. So to that extent, I’m duly appointed and recognised by the President.
What is the assurance that members of the APC in the National Assembly will support Buhari for a second-term?
There are different ways of agitation and most of the issues in APC are domicile in the states as the agitators are not against the president but against various groups which culminated into what is seen as crisis. I can assure you that virtually all APC legislators in the National Assembly especially Senators are behind Buhari’s second-term bid. And you will agree with me that there is no political party in the world that does not witness internal crisis, it is the ability to overcome such internal disputes that matters. No doubt, we always witness increase in internal crisis in political parties during election year and it is not peculiar to APC. I assure you very soon it will be a thing of the past.
Many see the APC Reconciliation Committee, led by Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu as a mere formality because while the committee was yet to commence work, the tenure of the National Chairman, John Oyegun and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) were elongated, what is your view?
I don’t see the connection between reconciliation of warring members and the extension of the tenure of Oyegun and NWC members. You will agree with me that there is no way we can conduct congresses at all levels without creating discontent among members. Also, no party can go through a hectic election and go ahead to conduct congresses when a general election is not far away. So, we decided to reconcile members before we conduct our congresses. And that was what gave rise to the extension of the tenure of the party executives which included the national chairman and NWC members. When this is done, we can then conduct ward and state congresses and then national convention where the party presidential candidate will be selected. Therefore, a huge party like APC cannot go through all these without having crisis and in order to avoid further internal dispute, we have no option than to extend the tenure of the party leadership.
Are you not bothered that the Tinubu camp is against the tenure elongation?
They may have issues with the tenure elongation but one thing is clear, majority will have their way while minority will have their say. The issue is being resolved.
The Amnesty International recently rated Nigeria among the most corrupt nations of the world. How do you feel being a member of the ruling party?
If you listened to the clarification, the international corruption index has certain aspect of official corruption which shows that President Buhari has received global approval on anti-graft war. It is worthy to note that no government can wipe out corruption completely, not even the United States of America. But whole lots have been done by Buhari to eradicate corruption. It is no longer business as usual. We know what the system used to be but today, it is no longer so. Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) do not remit money as at when due to the Federation Account and if they do, it is just a meager but now they are doing so. For instance, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) that has been remitting N50 million as its annual generated revenue remitted N7.3 billion in 2017 into Federation Account. All I can say is that the fight against corruption is a work in progress.
What is delaying the passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill?
I believe that there is a faceoff between the presidency and the legislature that must be resolved for the budget to be passed on time.
Many are of the view that mass defection will hit APC if Buhari picks the party’s presidential ticket as those who intend to leave have resurrected the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Is that correct?
Let me make it clear, in 2019 the presidential candidate of APC will be Buhari and in May 29, Buhari will be sworn-in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the second time. Those who are against Buhari’s second- term will have themselves to blame. I laugh when you talk about the resurrection of a dead party like SDP. How can they form a party within eight months and take over power from the ruling party? Such plan is dead on arrival. It won’t fly because it requires a lot of resources to execute such a plan.