Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji, is the celebrated Executive Director of the US-based African Writers Endowment (AWE). A leading authority on the Nigerian Diaspora, Dr. Ugorji has also been a Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo State since 2015. In early 2015 he served as the Director General of the Chekwas Okorie Presidential Campaign Organization. He served as the Global Coordinator of the Buhari International Group (BIG) in 2019 and conceptualized the seminal GoBigNigeria.com campaign for President Buhari’s reelection. In this interview with our correspondent, Dr. Ugorji addresses the recent judgement by the Nigerian Supreme Court that awarded the 2019 governorship election to APC’s Hope Uzodinma.
How do you feel about the recent judgement by the Supreme Court wherein Senator Hope Uzodinma of your party was declared the real winner of the 2019 governorship election?
At this stage in my life I make efforts to be authentic in my reactions and views about events that concern all of us. Like many Nigerians and Imonites, I was shocked about the Supreme Court ruling. As a democrat and a rule of law kind of guy, I defer to the wisdom of the Justices. The chances of judicial removal of a man or woman who has been sworn in as governor in Nigeria is very slim, hence the shock. However, the possibility of this happening could not have been lost on the political players in the state. You never know for sure what will happen in court and that’s why ethical lawyers cannot give you any guarantees. If anyone was at slumber regarding the possibilities, Rev. EjikeMbaka woke us all up ahead of the judgement.
After the shock, what do you see as the implications of the ruling?
In this case there are several dimensions to my reaction.There are the personal, the parochial, the partisan, and the public policy and governance aspects. On the personal and parochial dimensions, full disclosure demands that I remind you that I am from Mbaise in Imo East Senatorial Zone of Imo State. The history of governance in Imo State suggests that quite a number of highly qualified men and women from Imo East who had ran for governor of the state over the years, have lost out due to one intrigue or another. So to see another Mbaisepolitician lose out again raises mixed emotions. On the partisan dimension, I am a committed and loyal APC member and Senator Hope Uzodinma was indeed my governorship candidate. After the presidential election in 2019, I came down from Abuja to work with Uzodinma in Imo for two weeks. I attended events with him, including attending Mass with him in his town in Orlu the Sunday before the governorship election. So, of course, I am thrilled that my party is back in the saddle in Imo State, but I am also human. While I whole-heartedly congratulate the now Governor Uzodinma, I feel the pain and disappointment of EmekaIhedioha and my Mbaise people.
What are the public policy and governance implications you alluded to?
In public policy and statecraft, it is important who the governor of a state is, but what is more important is the actual governance of the state and the policies and values that drive a particular government. The Supreme Court has spoken. What is important now is what Governor Uzodinma does with his opportunity to govern. And statecraft demands that we all do what Ihedioha admonished us to do – give to Uzodinma the same support and cooperation he (Ihedioha) had enjoyed in the seven months he was on the seat. It is already difficult to govern a highly sophisticated state such as Imo State. Governor Uzodinma will face a particularly difficult term because of how he emerged. Most important to the Imo person, however, is the quality of governance. Governor Uzodinma has an opportunity to diffuse the hard feelings surrounding his emergence by how quickly, how inclusively, and how transparently he moves to deliver on key indices of good governance. The quality of his appointees will matter – the team he puts together and how quickly he puts it together – will send either the right signals or worrisome signals. The beleaguered fabulous people of Imo deserve not just good governance, we deserve great governance.
What are the areas you think he must address quickly?
The team is job number one. There can be no overstating that point. Politics is a team sport and Uzodinma comes across as strong willed, and yet as someone comfortable with competent people around him. The very structure of government is another issue of great importance. Frankly, the last APC government in Imo State appeared to deliberately disband or diminish all institutional structures of governance in the state. There can’t be any meaningful governance without revitalizing these institutions and structures, including the civil service cadre of the state. The roads are another – Owerriand Imo State have become shadows of themselves in roads and environmental upkeep. Governor Uzodinma should, as quickly as possible, enable continuity of governance by allowing the current road contracts to proceed, even as reviews of the contracts he has ordered are taking place. Further, the security of lives and property in the region must be addressed. Education, which is perhaps our greatest thing of pride in Imo State, must be rejuvenated with dispatch. In a campaign billboard that Hope Uzodinma put up in Owerri back in 2003 (or was it 2007) when he first ran for governor, he said “Every worker deserves his pay.” It’s time for him to deliver. And above all, Governor Uzodinma should be the “Jobs Governor” for the brilliant and vigorous youth of Imo. Every creative measure must be explored to provide dignified job and entrepreneurial opportunities for our young men and women.
Are you interested in serving in his government?
I am confident that Governor Uzodinma already has a group of competent and experienced professionals and politicians from which to tap to help him run the government. I just want him to do our state and our party proud with the most positively impactful government the state would have seen. APC needs redemption in Imo State and in the region of the sunrise. With no known political godfather, Governor Uzodinma has a unique opportunity to provide that redemption. Let a new Earth rise!
We noted that you recently hosted Governor KayodeFayemi of Ekiti State at the 2019 event of the African Writers Endowment (AWE). How did that go?
UGORJI: I am humbled and honored by Governor Fayemi’s attendance of the event. In fact, we got two-in-one with him – his very impressive writer wife, EreluBisiFayemi, thrilled us with a tribute to the late writer Toni Morrison and a signing of her own books at the event. The event was a continuation of our efforts at the AWE to bring attention to quality leadership and consequential writing on the African continent. The governor was the second Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum we have hosted – the first was the then Governor ChibuikeAmaechi of Rivers State.We’ve had presidents, vice presidents, governors, human rights activists, Nobel laureates, and writers of fiction and nonfiction come break bread with us at AWE for twenty (20) years. Whatever our challenges on the continent are, we at AWE believe that our best years are ahead of us.
What should the APC do with respect to the party’s presidential ticket in 2023?
That question is an important one. Those of us at Go-Big-Nigeria plan to unveil a project I tentatively refer to as the Initiative for Justice and Equity (IJE) for the presidency in 2023. I believe that 2023, after President Buhari’s deserved second term, will give us the clearest opportunity to heal the amputated spirit of the country. The question is whether the nation will rise to the occasion or squander another opportunity for a great leap forward. Incidentally, the emergence of Hope Uzodinma as the only APC governor in the East will have a great impact in the IJEpush for the presidency within the APC. We hope the same push takes place in the PDP, UPP and other parties in the country.
Please be specific and a little clearer about what you mean by the Equity and Justice Initiative as it relates to the presidential election in 2023.
It is probably better that I remain vague and subtle at this time. While power is not given, it can certainly be negotiated. Among the reasons why Go-Big-Nigeria supported the reelection of President Buhari in 2019 was the fact that after his second and final term, our nation will have a date with destiny in 2023. I believe that 2023 should see the return of the missing leg of the tripod in Nigeria’s national leadership. And we want to achieve that by a semblance of peaceful national consensus in 2023.If we as a nation accomplish that in 2023, we would be on our way to being the world power that the universe has long expected of us.