Sen. Athen Nneji Achonu was representing Imo north senatorial district in the Nigerian senate before his electoral mandate was nullified by the court. In this interview with Ruth Choji, he spoke on wide range of issues including ongoing war on corruption.
How did you feel when the tribunal ruled in favor of your rival?
It is the most laughable ruling I have ever heard of in my life. We had a good case. There was enough proof and a certified copy of result given to us by INEC. So how the judgment came out like that was a shock to me.
What is your next move?
We have appealed the judgment at the appeal court.
What has been the impact of this judgment on your senatorial zone?
It is like a grave yard. In my rival compound, even in his village, there was no celebration. When you win such an election, the whole place was supposed to be agog with celebration. But this was a man I defeated in his polling unit. I had fifty four while he had forty seven in his own booth. I also beat another former senator who regards himself as a strong man at his own polling booth that they had to cancel the election in that place. Even when they called for the rerun, I still beat them hands down. This is an election that I didn’t even share pure water unlike my competitor that was sharing wrappers and rice. I didn’t give anybody a kobo, yet the people voted for me enmass. INEC result showed that I won in all the polling booths. On that day, there were no ward collation agents on ground. We were calling the REC, asking him of his people, but he kept telling us that he was coming. We didn’t realize they were writing the result elsewhere. We have the result booth by booth because we followed it through. But if you add the result with the one they brought, you will know that, it doesn’t add up. You will realize that, they are not the same results. The result is in the polling booth, not in the wards. So we are looking forward to the appeal. We still believe in the judiciary. We believe that with this new chief justice, he will justified the whole yearning of Nigerians to show that he deserved that position. Nigerians rallied round him before he was finally confirm. So he should make Nigerians happy by being fair and just.
Some have pointed accusing fingers at your governor, Rochas Okorocha as being the brain behind your electoral travails, is this true?
The moment Rochas came to office; he put a stop to my hotel construction. I am building the biggest hotel in eastern region. I won’t comment further on it because the case is in court. But this is a hotel that would have created massive employment. I was supposed to build a bottling water company, Toilet Paper Roll Company and other things that will be supplying things to the hotel. Rochas stopped the work. I owned 60% of the state own Imo hotel while the state owns 40% of the shares. Rochas just came and built a road in-between the building. He even converted a house I was building to a ministry. They moved my generator, cold storage facility and over eight thousand blocks from the site, till today, I don’t know where they took these things to. He is on the seat today as governor and because he has immunity, he thinks he can do anything he likes. He doesn’t know that one day, he will leave that seat.
There seem to be no love lost between you and the governor. What is the genesis of your faceoff?
Don’t worry, very soon, I am going to call a press conference and tell the world who Rochas truly is. So I won’t talk about it now, there is a lot of water under the bridge.
Your governor and his Anambra counterpart had an altercation recently. Is this healthy for a zone that is complaining of marginalization?
I don’t want to talk about that because it has no effect on the South-east. It will not develop the South-east in anyway.
Were you happy when Obasanjo said he will support an Igbo Presidency?
Obasanjo is my boss. He is my hero. I have not heard him say that he will support an Igbo presidency. Until I hear it from his mouth, I cannot comment.
But is it possible for an Igbo man to emerged president of Nigeria
Of course it is possible…
What has been the hindrance all these years?
To be honest with you, the Igbos have been throwing up mediocres in leadership. Only recently did they start churning out credible leadership. We have not been putting up our best. Those who place the Igbo nation before their personal interest are beginning to emerge. We are looking to the future and hoping that credible people will come out and run for elections. There is one senator from my place who served for eight years. He collected constituency funds for eight years yet never put one electric pole in his zone. Today he is in the APC and that is my problem with Buhari, People who contribute to the mess Nigeria find itself run to the APC and the ruling party is frolicking with them. Yet they claim they are fighting corruption. How can you fight corruption when corrupt people jump to the APC and you shield them? There is one particular senator from a particular zone who is involved in everything bad that has happen in NDDC but now, he is in the APC, winning and dinning with them.
Do you believe in Biafra?
That is a very good question. The marginalization of the Igbos has given rise to this sentiment echoed everywhere. For me, Nigeria as it is, big, strong and united with a common purposed is a better option. If we can’t have that, then Biafra is just a better option. We have a right to choose the kind of life we want to live. In a country where herdsmen with arms will enter people’s farms and destroy their farm and when the people complain, they are killed is no longer an option. The cattle belong to some people. They will bring the herds into a farm that is somebody’s investment, destroy it and nobody says anything. Biafra is all about injustice. Since Buhari came, what post has he given Igbos? Look at the ministries they gave them. Look at the security positions, there is no single Igbo manning any security position. So whenever they are discussing the security of this country, no Igbo man is listening or be there to give an Igbo opinion. It means we are not Nigerians. When Obasanjo was there, there were more Igbos and Hausas than Yorubas, Which is why he is my hero any day. But this administration is marginalizing the Igbos, even in the north, they are discriminating against others. So Buhari is an honest man and that is why he was voted. But his problem is that, if he trusts you, then it is absolute, even if you are a criminal, he will remain with you. Nigeria is a big market place that we can interact with each other. They should allow the region to grow at their own pace. No region should drag the other down. They should go back to that national confab and look at the recommendations.
Does the state of the economy bother you?
Nigeria is one of the richest countries on the face of the planet. There is no justification for poverty, unemployment and hunger we have in the land. But when PDP gets back in 2019, we will get it right.
How will you assess the Buhari Administration?
I said recently that the EFCC chairman should be confirmed. He has made more arrest than any EFCC chairman. He has exposed more criminals than any chairman before him, even though he is only exposing PDP. They should confirm him so that when another person comes, he will exposed APC too. So far, he is doing a good job even though he is only targeting members of my party, while those who ran to APC are protected. Let them allow him clear all the bad eggs so that the PDP will be left with only good people, those who are left standing will be respected worldwide. We will now take power and we will have our own EFCC chairman who will also clean the APC.
Are you eyeing the gubernatorial seat of Imo State?
I have been asked to to contest in the governorship election several times and I refused. I can’t be a governor when I have my many businesses because if I am governor, I won’t do anything except to concentrate on governance. Another reason is the issue of security vote. Security vote is not salary and until they give LG autonomy, being a governor is not interesting. Do you know how much governors take as security votes? Yet they still hijack funds meant for LG. How many state governors have conducted LG elections recently? I think Buhari should focus on that because democracy is all about empowering the people. Buhari must also focus on rule of law. Even if the judges are corrupt, prosecute them according to the law.
What is your reaction to the President’s health challenge?
If Buhari is very sick, he should get better. I have been agitating for Nigeria to have a comprehensive medical facility that will take care of all ailments. Our president is not supposed to be in a foreign country. This has shown you the state of our health facilities.