Until December 21, 2015, when the Appeal Court sitting in Owerri, Imo State capital upturned his election at the instance of candidate of the Accord Party that the party’s logo was not included in the ballot papers used for the 2015 National Assembly election, Senator Athan Achonu represented Imo North Senatorial District at the National Assembly, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. His bid to return to the Senate through the court-ordered rerun poll was thwarted following the declaration of his opponent and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Benjamin Uwajumogu as winner. He is now at the Appeal Court to reclaim his mandate. In this interview, he speaks on the election and other burning national issues.
Penultimate week, you addressed a press conference where you demanded explanation for the disbandment of the election petition tribunal handling your case with Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu. Have you been briefed on developments that led to that decision?
The President of the Court of Appeal replied my lawyer and said that the tribunal has been set up and that they will soon start sitting. But that is not my concern, my concern is that I would want to know what the other two members of that tribunal did that made them to disband the tribunal.
If they are corrupt, we will like to know and we will like the whole world to know if the All Progressives Congress, APC bribed that tribunal because the impunity of APC is making me really very uncomfortable.
Sen. Athan Achonu
Have you been informed of the composition of the new panel?
We have not been informed but there have been clandestine movements. There was one person who flew in from Port Harcourt because he didn’t want to fly in from Owerri Airport so that he would not be identified but very soon, we will identify him and expose him. He will tell us what a man of his calibre is doing in my opponent’s house.
Do you have faith in the new panel?
I have faith in the judiciary. Even though they ruled against me in the last election, when there was no exclusion and they said they was exclusion.
Candidate’s party logo
But I have left it for the National Judicial Council, NJC to sort out because they know the judgements that are wrong and the judgements that are correct. Luckily, the Chairman of the Appeal Panel was removed for corruption, thus vindicating me. That shows everybody that contrary to his ruling that a candidate’s party logo was removed, nothing of such happened.
That thing only took place in Mbano and INEC knew before they distributed those ballot papers and for this, they replaced it with that of Owerri zone and said that it’s administrative in nature, that it has the right to do that. But suddenly, they said there was exclusion in an election that I won free and fair.
Some few days again, INEC election materials for Rivers National Assembly rerun election were discovered in Port Harcourt, would you say such strategy was deployed in the Imo rerun election you are challenging?
Yes, that is what they have been doing and they are not ready for any election. And President Muhammadu Buhari is distancing himself from the bribe allegation against his party. What about this one happening now, what action has he taken? Is he going to take any action? We are waiting for Buhari’s action on the huge discovery of the election papers in Rivers State. Everybody says that Buhari is good but surrounded by criminal elements. Let us use this Rivers case now to known whether Buhari is involved or not.
I believe so much in the judiciary and I can tell you that there are many judges who are men and women of integrity. That is why when I was in the Senate, I was championing financial autonomy for the judiciary, local governments and the legislature before the court nullified my election. I have been championing it for years because I believe that when there is true financial autonomy for all these arms of government, the Chief Justice of Nigeria can wield influence, the President of the Court of Appeal can wield influence and the state Chief Judge can wield influence and control the judiciary and make sure that there is discipline among the rank and file.
On President Buhari’s anti-graft war style
Everybody is not corrupt in Nigeria but I can tell you that there is corruption in the legislature, executive and the judiciary. So, we need to identify those who are corrupt. Even businessmen are corrupt. So, of Nigerians are corrupt, so we need to identify those who are corrupt and weed them out gradually. I is a gradual process but like I said also, the APC government is particularising this corruption. They are after only corrupt PDP members. But it is also good, let them weed out all the PDP men who are corrupt and when the PDP returns in 2019,they will face all APC men who are corrupt. So in a way, I support how the corruption war is going.
What is your relationship with your state governor, Rochas Okorocha like?
I don’t have any relationship with my state governor, Rochas Okorocha. I can tell you that as soon as he came into office, he clamped down on all my businesses. I was building an 158 -room hotel that was almost completed and I acquired Imo Hotel and was trying to build a mega mall and another hotel but he clamped down on them for no cause. He disobeyed the court order that said that I owned 60 percent of Imo Hotel and he can’t do anything there without my consent.
But the state governor said he did not demolish anybody’s structure except shanties…
He gave the stop-work order and built a road in the middle of Imo Hotel that I co-owned with the state government. I owned 60 percent and government owns 40 percent. So, he went in there and built a road in the middle and completed some buildings that were erected there and gave them out.
Do you intend to take this matter to court?
We are in court already. We are asking for justice.
On his achievements in the National Assembly during the over six months he was there
I introduced four bills that went through first reading. The first bill was on the need for diaspora votes.
I introduced another one called competition bill which one other senator has taken up now and I think itis into second reading. I introduced another one which was aimed at stopping subsidy and make sure that petroleum is available at the same price everywhere. I also introduced bill that sought to stop exportation of solid minerals without processing them to create employment and wealth.
Looking at the National Assembly from outside here, do you think it is living up to expectation?
Yes, the leadership of the National Assembly is challenged. This APC government doesn’t want a vibrant National Assembly that would oversight them. Almost everyday, Saraki is in court and Ekweremadu too. So, the leadership is not concentrating. But in spite of that, they are doing a wonderful job.
Influence of national affairs
Honestly, I hail my colleagues in the National Assembly, that in spite of distractions from the executive, they are doing a wonderful job there.
The 2019 general election is fast approaching and there are rumours out there that your party, the PDP has begun moves aimed at merging into a different party platform, do you think PDP is on the right path with this?
I have always said it that I foresaw the implosion of APC long ago. I have always said that the APC is not a political party. See what is happening to Tinubu in APC today. You can’t disregard Tinubu in Nigeria’s politics, especially the South West politics. The problem with Tinubu is that he tried to leave the South West and influence national affairs. That was a very big mistake for him. I think that he should have first of all consolidated in the South West. And he was wielding so much power, you distribute power, you allow people to wield power as well, those under you. You can’t be a dictator. You can’t put someone in power and not allow him to wield the power.
When you give somebody power, allow him to wield the power, that is how you control power. That is the biggest mistake Tinubu is making. But he’s a seasoned politician and you can’t wish him away. So, the APC is making the biggest mistake of their life. And most of the people the party is depending on don’t have any political value. Look at Imo State for example, look at Rochas Okorocha, Senator Ifeanyi Chukwu Ararume, these people can’t win you any vote. They don’t have any followers. Go to Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi states and see the calibre of men they have there, these men can’t win a single votes. Look at South South too and then the strong man which they have in the South West, look at how they are treating him! That shows that if you work for the APC, you will not be rewarded. So, it would not make APC to break up and all the PDP members who left for APC will come come back and the good people in PDP Will move for a realignment of forces. We have known those who are corrupt.
There are reports that fee Makarfi led faction of the PDP has set up a committee towards actualising the merger talk…. [cuts in)
I read it the same way you did, I was not part of that movement
How do you see it
Well, it’s politics. The crisis is getting out of hand. So, since they cannot agree, the best thing is to go their separate ways. I don’t have anything against it and don’t have anything against realignment in Nigerian politics. In fact, that is the only thing that can save our democracy a-realignment in Nigerian politics.
Those good men in APC should come out and good men in PDP should come out, good men in APGA should come and form a formidable political party to wrestle power from these people because they don’t know what to do. Buhari is not the problem, this problem was created by the military. It’s the military cartel that has finished this country. The moment they came in right from Gowon till now, true federalism disappeared. That was when Nigeria got into trouble, that’s where our problem started, when they started the unitary system of government. This was when development died, groundnut pyramid disappeared, Palm oil disappeared and agriculture died. Instead, they started drinking oil and got drunk with the oil.
There was no investment are they were just burning money. The soldiers ended up building ranches and became billionaires. Tell me, why should a serving soldier become a billionaire, he’s not a businessman, how much is his salary supposed to be? So, we should go back to the basis. So, Buhari is innocent of what the country is going through now,his only problem is that his government doesn’t have the right economic team. His economic team doesn’t know what it’s doing.
This is the opportunity for Nigeria to go back to the drawing board, to go back to the basis and come out with a master-plan that will relaunch this country. Nigeria is a virgin market place, the country has over 100 million people and there is no solid minerals that we don’t have, so why should we be poor? It’s just because there’s no leadership to put us in a right direction. So, a new party would emerge, a party of men who know what they are doing, to take this country to where it’s supposed to be. I will support that.
How do you see the economic policy of the federal administration?
First, let’s look at it from here. The Presidency sent a proposal to the National Assembly asking for billions of dollars without any details, without any explanation, so do you think that Buhari has competent hands who are working for him? Again, look at what happened to the 2016 Budget, look at the story around the budget and look at the story around this coming one, do you think Buhari has competent people working for him? So, if I were in Buhari’s shoes and I believe that I have the best interest of this country and Nigeria is in recession, I would select a very powerful economic team, no matter which party they come from. I believe that once you are elected, you are serving Nigeria and not a political party.