Continuation of interview with ex-Gov Elechi…
Recently the Immediate former governor of Ebonyi state, Chief Martin N. Elechi went for a thanksgiving church service in appreciation of God’s kindness to him and his family, especially after eight years in office. The event which was organized by members of his former executive council, was proceeded with a press conference in which the former governor, for the first time after leaving office since May last year bared his mind on so many unanswered questions.
He said he opposed his former deputy to succeed him because he lacked certain qualities that we held very high and very dear in governance – the spirit of accommodation.
247ureports.com was there.
After the 2015 general elections some notable politicians in the country resigned from active politics while some moved from one party to another. I actually want to know the direction you are going? Secondly, you spent eight years as governor of Ebonyi state; of course you left a mark, I want to know what you consider your greatest challenge in office?
Thank you very much. What you said is not peculiar to this era, it has been the trend in the history of the country and history of other countries; after one general election, different people feel differently, some have reasons to remain with a particular political party, and others have reasons to change to a new political party. So if you have observed that happening after the 2015 elections, it is not peculiar either to Ebonyi state or to Nigeria, it is the normal happening. For me at my age, I think I have navigated enough to find it necessary to look for an anchor harbor, therefore; I’m in all political parties, so to speak, without wearing the badge of any. Because I should be counseling the younger generation, I should be advising the younger generation. But don’t forget that when PDP which was my party started having problem, I said openly in a town hall that my position was that of a taxi driver. Where ever the car broke down, my passenger should join okada or keke NAPEP to get to their destination. It was my duty as their driver, to fix the vehicle and follow them later. Having allowed them to go, I’m still mending the car; PDP has been battered but whether you like it or not, one thing is certain; that life moves in a dialectical form. No one party is absolutely good or absolutely bad. Each of the major political parties has something good to offer and some areas to redress, and so what should bother us is not which party we belong to but how we influence the affairs of the nation to bring stability and development in the interest of our citizens. And that is my concern now. If it is the PDP that will do it, it’s all well and good, if it’s the APC that will do it, so be it. But in the interest of the country, in the interest of our people I will not have such a fixed dividing line as to say I have nothing to do with this group or that; I must have a flexible mind to do things that will be in the interest of our people. Our people are older than those parties, our people are more important than those parties. Our shared values are more important than particularized personal interest. That’s my response to that.
Then going to the greatest challenge in my eight years of stewardship, I do not see any particular thing as my greatest challenge because life is not a bed of roses. It may be sunny in the morning, before noon you have dark clouds of rain, in the evening it is thunder and lightning. So it is with the life of a state, the life of a country. But I must recall that what happened in 2008, May and February 2010 in Ezillo were totally unexpected. It’s like Boko Haram invasion of Nigeria subsequently; because we were in a peaceful environment and all of a sudden, its blood and iron and you can’t say why or how it started. That was the major challenge, but then as I said life is not a bed of roses; it has gone, it may occur again somewhere else, we pray God not to allow it happen because it brings such animosity and such distrust among our people that they take a long time to heal, the wound that emerged from it can last very long but ultimately, its healable.
Our economic challenges are to be expected, ups and downs of resources, and distortion of planned programme of the state. Again as I said that is to be expected. I know your mind must have been going to the last chapter of the book, the last nine months. We were taken aback the way we lost grip of ourselves as a united body in a political party, PDP. What happened to us then and how suddenly we got divided and polarized to the extent that during the election, PDP versus former PDP members became a more decisive battle than PDP versus other political parties. And I feel sorry for our people and that is why the elites of the society must not fold their arms waiting and say in our road side expression, “which one concern me”. For the enlightened group of the society to remain unconcerned in moment of crisis is a disservice to the country. It is better you act in accordance with your belief than to fold your arms and wait for others to do the battle. I have no apologies to anybody or to any group of people for what happened. I still stick to my conscience and my belief that what I did in that circumstance is what I should do; namely, to stick to the principle that the party’s rules and regulations and constitution should be respected. Secondly, that the president of the country and by implication the leader of the ruling party have a voice that must be obeyed. Under no condition or circumstance should the president’s directive be disobeyed. That was our stand in Ebonyi state, but that turned out to be our doom, and I don’t regret it, I’m proud of the position we took. In appropriate circumstances, we shall elaborate on that.
The story was told that a former governor who used to receive calls during his reign as the governor, but on leaving office, he waited for those calls, they never came again and he wondered whether his phone was alright or faulty. I want to know sir, do you still receive such calls that you used to receive when you were the governor? Secondly sir, you are going on a thanks giving, and we thank God for that, I don’t know whether you have forgiven those that might have wronged you during that sour period you just talked about now?
Calls, whether the calls are by telephone or by knocking on the doors at the gate or by physical movement to my quarters, I still receive callsof definitely, and if I tell you that during festive occasions such as we had a few days ago, Easter, I was unable to read all the text messages expressing goodwill, felicitations and things like that. I still receive them. And whether you believe it or not I still receive request for assistance by people who believe I have the wherewithal. So very little has changed because I believe people think we are in a position to continue to play important role to the society. Definitely not in the same proportion as was the case when I was in office. For instance no contractor will phone me now to pay his unpaid certificate. That you can take for granted.
Yes I’m going to church, thanksgiving; your principal question is whether I have forgiven those that injured me? Take this from me as the Gospel truth; I do not feel that anybody has injured me. I credit myself with peculiar gift; Christ said ”while you are in the world live above the world”. I believe in some manner of analysis I’m living in a higher pedestal of life than most of those I interact with. That I must not forget. Our reasoning faculty is different from theirs and you must make allowance for that. They were doing it as what was necessary, not in disdain of my personality. They were doing whatever they did believing it was the right cause of action, to that extent; they were not doing anything wrong because they firmly believe they were doing what they should do. I, on the other hand, even when I’m criticized I stick to my belief contending that what I’m doing represents the conscience that I have, and it is not bound to be the same with the reasoning of someone else. So in conclusion, it is for those who did what they did to examine their conscience and if they think they did the wrong thing, if they think they were doing it out of annoyance or out of vengeance, they ask for forgiveness. For me I take it that whoever did what he did was obeying his conscience doing what he believed in. And that is why we talk of dialogue so that I look into your reasoning, you examine my own point of view and we strike a compromise. Then I must remind you that in this part of the world or country, government is the key thing in terms of survival. The economic status of most of our people does not give them room for self reliance. And so anything they can do to survive today; they want to do it, even by hurting their conscience. So they have seen the way the drama was moving, that here I was alone so to speak, except with the support of some of my cabinet members, some of the people on the street. On the other side it was the federal government, federal might that we were facing. So it was predictable which side should win. The elections that we went through were no elections, you know that. But people had to cave to the side that would offer them daily bread, and that’s what happened. There is no room for forgiving or not forgiving, I’m free with my conscience and I urge everyone else to be so free with his own conscience.
Along that line your Excellency, may we know the relationship between you and your former deputy, now the governor of the state, I mean Engr Dave Umahi? Secondly, do you have any regrets, after eight years in office are there things you would have done differently? Thirdly, you are talking about thanksgiving, are there specific things God has done to you and your family that you want people to know of?
The relationship between me and my former deputy again has to be looked at from different levels. Going back to what I talked of, living in the world and living above the world. I make allowance for age difference, I make allowance for differences in exposure in public office, then if I remember right, I was already in secondary school when he was born. By the time he was born I had been in government, many governments; military and civil government before I knew him. And when we were students, we who were in the humanities used to pride ourselves that we were real humans, whereas those in natural science, technologies, we looked at them as animals. They didn’t have human touch, that was in those days but it turned out that even in the present life, that is also the trend but with exception. Yes, I made my point clear to him (Umahi) as early as September 2014 that I wouldn’t support him because my observation showed me that he lacked certain qualities that we held very high and very dear in governance – the spirit of accommodation. That whether you are in opposition or in government, you have a right to be protected; you have a right to say your mind. And (that) somebody who opposed you was not necessarily your enemy or your opponent. Simply put, everybody has a right to differ and if you don’t accommodate peoples’ quest to differ, it’s a major minus for you in governance. But having said so, your destiny is your destiny, I have no control over your destiny; if it is God’s wish that you become governor, then you will be. That is my position but whether that is appreciated or not, that it is a statement of fact, it is a statement of sincerity, I do not know. If you have a child who says I want to be a doctor, and you look at his school record and you think he can’t do it, you advise him to read law instead. And that was my analysis, it does not mean you hate him, he may think you are depriving him of his ambition or you are frustrating his talent; and if he refuses your advice and goes to read medicine, the school result will show. So in this case, for you to know whether my advice was genuine, is fair or mistaken from what you are seeing… but again I say if you do something out of your true belief that it is your right, what you are doing, you stand by it. I don’t quarrel, I have a right to differ, you have a right to differ. So if Ebonyi people can’t understand that, I’m sorry, I have no better way of putting it, I have a right to differ and stand by that difference, just as somebody else has his own right to differ and stand by it.
Any regret in the eight years I was on the saddle? I believe I was sufficiently prepared for it before I came having regard to my years in public service. I was a civil servant but before I became a civil servant I was teaching without being a qualified or a trained teacher, but I thought well all the same. My students tell me that. Then I became a civil servant for a while, then became a commissioner for 62 months. All that exposed me to the different aspect of human behaviours , treachery and things like that. And then we went into full blown partisan politics in the Second Republic. All these equipped me to know the way human beings behave in different set ups and people tell me today “oh you made many mistakes but the things you did well outnumber the mistake”. I said very good. Can you please mention one of those mistakes, not two I just want to hear one. And they look at me blank. They are not able to tell you one mistake. But they said you made many mistakes. Tell me one of them so that I may learn even in my old age, that I shouldn’t have done that. Nobody tells you any of those mistakes. In order wards people are propagating gospels that they neither believed nor know about. They are remarks made by others without bothering to know the truth of those remarks. However I was never an angel, I was a mere mortal and no mortal is perfect. But as Mbakwe said, I always quote him; “ndi kwe ndi ekweghi”, that is his definition of democracy and he translates it in his pigin English by saying “some gree some no gree”. Take the topical example of granting pardon to condemned persons. Yes the law says if you commit murder you should stand, you have been arrested by the police, charged with murder, proved by witnesses and the court of competent jurisdiction condemns you to death. No question about it. But then you ask yourself, signing the death sentence, does it bring back dead person who died in the first place, no. We are merely decimating the population. But in order to teach people that they should not kill, you have to kill those who kill. Such arguments came up several times and I remember one spiritual father, I won’t call his name; who always pestered my life saying I was delaying, and that is the key word, delaying the granting of pardon to somebody on death row. And I asked him, are you with your senses? Have you forgotten that that relation of yours who you want to be granted pardon eliminated the life of someone else? Do you think the man who died had no relations or that they are not feeling the pain? So in public life, again it is dialectic. Some gree, some no gree. “Ndi kwe, ndi ekweghi”. Therefore what you may regret, others may not feel so. In my own case, you may say I’m hardening my conscience, but I don’t remember really what actions of mine I should regret. I always said that if those circumstances come again I will repeat exactly what I did. If my knowledge, if my knowledge of the facts remain what they were at that time, I would do exactly what I did because I pride myself with one thing- I did not do anything out of bitterness, out of hatred but as a matter of clear conscience which is what should be done.