Dr. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu is the Leader of the Enugu State House of Assembly, a Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, and founder of Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, Foundation. In this interview, he bared his thoughts on the forthcoming general polls, topical national issues and the activities of his Foundation.
What is your take on the 2023 elections?
It is an opportunity for us to participate and be part of electing those who will be in charge of the affairs of our country and states for the next four years. Good enough, we have been given assurances that our votes will count, having been severally told by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that the Bimodal Voters Accredit System, BVAS, will be deployed in the 2023 elections.
Recently, the President said that people should go to their respective localities to elect persons of their choice from whatever political party, and that nobody will be allowed to intimidate another person with thugs. We, therefore, have the opportunity to elect people of integrity, people that can be held accountable, irrespective of their political parties.
So, the election is an opportunity for us to do the right thing for the betterment of our country and, by extension, the populace. According to Prof Patrick Lumumba, ‘We should not be surprised to find our goat missing when we give the goat to a lion to watch over for us.’
What is your take on the unhealthy partisan politics being played in Nigeria, and how do you think Nigeria can address this issue?
The way some of our political actors are behaving leaves much to be desired. One should think that our politics should be issue-based, people should tell us what they have for the country and the states, not attacking themselves here and there. We are not interested in all those name-callings, accusations, and counter-accusations. Such charges should at best be addressed in the courts of law. We are interested in what those seeking our votes will bring to the table.
Another aspect of it is that the informed persons in our society should endeavor to educate the less or the uninformed ones about the need for peace, before, during, and after the elections. This is important because, without peace, nobody can achieve anything, whether you are in the private or public sector. We need an atmosphere of peace to carry on with our life activities irrespective of whether we are in partisan politics or not.
How would you rate the preparation of INEC for the 2023 election?
INEC has been doing well, and like I have been telling people, we need to encourage and trust those given responsibilities to deliver on their responsibilities. This kind of apathy and premature conclusion in some quarters that the BVAs will not function well is unnecessary. They used BVAS in the last election, I think in Osun, we only need to leverage the experiences from that to ensure that the 2023 election will be the first of its kind since 1999.
People should endeavour to perform their civic responsibility.
It is an opportunity for people to play their own part because registering to vote is one thing, collecting the PVC is another thing, and going to vote is yet another thing. The bottom line is that we should all endeavour to vote because angels will not come from heaven to cast votes on the day of elections on our behalf. God helps those who help themselves.
Looking at the 2023 elections, do you see your party winning?
I am not a Nostradamus. Nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow correctly, and I am glad that votes will count this time, so it will even make it more difficult for anybody to predict anything. The interesting thing about it is that as I am discussing with you now and assuming tomorrow is the election and you say you are going to vote for me, I am not even sure that you will vote for me. When you get to the polling booth, you may vote for someone else. So, nobody is sure of anything until the votes are counted.
How do you feel stepping aside from partisan politics in order to focus on your humanitarian activities?
I feel fulfilled. With all due humility, I tell people that politics is not a profession. Before you go into politics, you should have a second address. You have to have something to bring to the table. When some people don’t have any experience, they want to go to the legislature for instance, what are you going to do there? It baffles me that when it comes to politics, people are not interested in merit and when it comes to employing people in their private businesses even if it is a one-man business, they will carry out interviews and do their due diligence because they need results. But when it comes to politics, anything goes. What a shame.
Until we change the way we are doing certain things in Nigeria, we won’t see absolute change. Of course, you can’t plant corn and expect to harvest tubers of yam, and that is what we are doing in politics. We are just putting things upside down and expecting positive results. We are only deceiving ourselves. We have to change the way we think and the way we do things because without changing our modus operandi, this idea of going about looking for foreign investors is just a waste of time and resources. See the kind of insecurity everywhere. No genuine investor will go to an environment where his or her investment will be at risk.
Create an enabling environment, and the investors will be rushing to our country because they are interested in making money. You don’t need to convince investors; they convince themselves after carrying out studies of the investment environment. No amount of radio jingles or CNN adverts will convince an investor if the things on the ground are saying otherwise.
I feel fulfilled having contributed my quota to the legislature for a period of 12 years by June this year. Eight years of which I am the Leader of the House.
Some factions are agitating for Igbo Presidency. What is your take on that?
The fact is that there is nothing like Igbo, Hausa, or Yoruba President. Until we change our way of thinking, we are merely beating about the bush. We are interested in a person who will change our lives. Unemployment does not care whether you are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba, or any other tribe for that matter. So also insecurity, hunger, high fuel price, and all other indices of the good life.
Just recently, undergraduates were at home for almost eight months. Did somebody from one tribe go to school while others were at home? The tribe the President is from is not important. Let the best person win, it is as simple as that. The important thing is, who will do the right thing. If the person that is there as the President does the right things by being sincere to us, fair-minded, and nationalistic, you will find out that virtually all these restiveness happening in the country will naturally fizzle out without anybody addressing them.
They will naturally address themselves as they were brought about in the first place by years of accumulated frustration and anger brought about by insensitive leadership. We are all guilty, one way or the other, as we are all leaders at various levels.
Conscience is an open wound, and only truth can heal it, according to Usman Dan Fodio. People are just pretending and until we stop pretending, we will just be in motion without movement.
Some politicians are desperate to lead Nigeria, what will be your advice to those who will be winning during the 2023 elections?
You cannot start advising somebody who has not yet won an election. Even some people who are in authority do not take advice. I can only say that Nigeria has changed completely for the better with regard to our voting system, and I am glad about it. What goes around comes around. Anybody who is elected and who fails to do well will be voted out in the next four years. It is as good as that.
The good thing again is this idea of money politics being dealt with through the CBN change of currency and the cashless policy. They are very good innovations, especially coming at this time. You know, this idea of carrying cash around is very primitive and shameful, especially during electioneering in order to buy people over because of hunger.
What Nigerians are saying now is that they have had enough of it, give them the money, and they will vote for whoever they like. You don’t even have any guarantee for your money. Remember also that it is an electoral offense to buy votes.
Over the years, your Foundation has offered scholarships to Nigerians and most especially the youths of Enugu State. What motivated you to do so?
I will tell you that without being educated, I wonder if I would be where I am today. Education is very important for us to have a productive and sane society. During my primary election in 2010, I had a social contract with my people. I told them to vote for me, not because of the pecuniary things you will get from me immediately. I wasn’t going to give anybody money, you vote for me, trusting that when I get there, I will carry out my functions of representation, law making and oversight to the best of my knowledge.
What if I should buy my way through, coming from the private sector, naturally I will have to recoup my money and I wouldn’t want to do that. If I am to recoup it, it must be five times whatever I have given you because of the time value of money. Also, you should not accuse me of not picking up your calls after I have won because I have paid you off.
I told them that with all humility, I have come to change the narrative, as God will have it, I got elected. In 2013, I decided to establish a scholarship program for intelligent but underprivileged undergraduates as a reward for my people’s trust and confidence in me. I selected two persons per ward, through the then Vice Chancellor, Academic, UNN, Prof Malachy Okwueze, and Rev Fr Ushi. My constituency has 10 wards, making it 20 undergraduates at every point.
If someone graduates from ward A, for instance, another person will be selected from that same ward to replace the person who has graduated.
By December last year, by the grace of God, the Foundation had produced 21 graduates, one of them a medical doctor and as we speak the medical doctor has been offered a partial scholarship by Kaplan Medicals, USA, for his residency. Kaplan will pay 50 percent of the fees and other costs, and my Foundation has accepted and already paid the remaining 50 percent. So, he has paid his school fees and is now processing his visa to travel to the USA for his residency.
During my 10th anniversary on so, more so when INEC expanded the window for people to go and collect theirs and also when they have ensured that the collection of PVCs has been decentralized to the wards and after the wards, the local government headquarters November 24, 2022, I extended the scholarship program to the five states of the South-East, and I am looking forward to extending it to the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Even if it is one person per state, the intention is to remind us that irrespective of our tribe or religion, we are one people from one God. Let us be our brothers’ keepers.
I remember during my primary school days, there was this line in our Nigerian national anthem, which says that, “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.” So that is just the idea. Again, I have decided that, come May 2023, I will say goodbye to partisan politics for now, having by then put in 12 years. I will focus my attention fully on Ikechukwu Ezeugwu Foundation because if you go to Section 14 (2) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 as amended, it says that the primary purpose of government is the welfare and security of the people.
Through my NGO, I will be contributing directly to the welfare of the people and indirectly to security. As it happened on the day of Pentecost, the disciples spoke in different tongues and still understood themselves. Even though they were speaking in different tongues, they were propelled by the same spirit. Even if I would be out of my government position in June, my Foundation and the government would be doing the same thing for society.
What are we looking out for from your Foundation after June, 2023 in the aspect of scholarships and other things?
As I am carrying out my humanitarian activities while still in government to this extent, by the time I am done with being in government, I will devote all my time and effort to the Foundation.
The tendency is that you will be seeing more activities and very impactful projects. I’m looking forward to even going beyond Nigeria to West Africa, Africa, and the world in general. It is not rocket science; people have been doing it, and one can even do it better because extending a helping hand to the needy runs in my vein.