Senator Sonni Ogbuoji
Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation, represents Ebonyi South senatorial district. In this interview with, Jeff Amaechi, he spoke out on certain national issues. Excerpts:
The chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, recently proposed automatic tickets for the President and governors. In your opinion, do you think this is best for the country?
We don’t agree that there should be automatic tickets. The report in the paper said what the Chairman of PDP and BoT requested was automatic ticket for President and Governors. Remember National Assembly was not included in the proposed automatic tickets. So, we believe that there should be internal democracy because that is the only way our people will continue to have opportunity to determine who represents us. It is only when after a certain period of time, that an individual who was elected will have to come back and face the same people he faced before. That is the only way our democracy can develop.
The demand for additional state for the South-east zone seems to have hit a brick wall as it was not part of the draft of the constitution amendment submitted to the National Assembly. What are the Senators from the zone doing in this regard?
It has been a turning problem for the Igbos that we are marginalised. We have only five states when the minimum in other geopolitical zones are six states. Well, I will want you to appreciate the fact that at the end of the day, there is no senator from the Igbo extraction, who will end up staying back in Abuja. We will all have to come back and we are going to be confronted on what did we do? We will go back to what the constitution says.
For any state to be created, those who want that state to be created must meet certain basic constitutional requirements and the request of state creation from all the states of the federation, not only because it is unworthy request but none met the constitutionally requirement. Not even one, because you will agree with me that when the Igbos started agitating for states, people were so sectional and parochial in the constitution.
Some of us belong to the committee set up by South-east governors to look into the possibility as far as this amendment is concerned. After our preliminary investigations, we came up with the fact that it was not possible for the Igbos to get additional state that they are asking for as long as we are still operating as splinter groups. The only state that did not request for additional state in Igbo land is Ebonyi. Enugu requested for one state, Anambra requested for three, Imo requested for three, Abia requested for additional two.
To narrow it down became a big problem because each one felt very justified, that they are just the best not the other. But this is a battle we are not just fighting within the Igbo race. We are fighting a battle that concerns the other five geopolitical zones that rightly or wrongly claim to be more in numbers than the Igbos. I say that because I know that there is no part of this country you go without seeing a huge colony of Igbos. So the issue of population is a different matter.
Be it as it may, at the end, it was not possible for the governors to agree because what we thought was that it was very difficult to manage it, we now set the real committee that will decide which state ultimately will be created, let the five governors in the south east go and come up with one state. The final report we got was just in April, but that report even was like, well let’s go and try. Two governors did not sign that document. So you cannot really say that they are in agreement. That is why the Igbos did not get additional state- none compliance to the constitutional requirement.
An elder statesman from the South-east has advocated for a zonal structure. Do you think Ebonyi state will be better if that call is something to go by?
Well, if you were in the old East-central states as an Igbo man and you were in the old Anambra and Imo States as an Igbo man, you are in the current Abia and Enugu as an Igbo man and you finally landed in Ebonyi State still as an Igbo man, I think you should be able to answer that question whether there is not a world of difference between what we call self-determination and lumping together. I don’t think there is any right thinking Ebonyi man who will agree that we should have zonal structure because zonal structure will bring us back to East Central state of 1967 until 1996 when Ebonyi was created.
This place you call Abakaliki, never saw what you call tarred road. What we used to have was one kind of dust they used to say was Abakaliki powder. So, we will not like to have that structure. If there are people who will want that structure, they may be doing it without Ebonyi people. The majority of Ebonyi people will not support that structure because we are comfortable the way we are. This is definitely miles ahead of what we have had since the colonial masters of old Ogoja province and old Abakaliki province. I don’t think that the suggestion by the elder statesman will apply today.
What is the position of the senate on local government autonomy?
The position of the senate is that there should be financial autonomy to the local government areas. The senate once abolished the joint state and local government account because they see it as getting the local government tied to the apron strings of the state and making it very difficult for local governments to operate freely.
Can you access the administration of Governor Elechi since 2007?
You toured the length and breadth of Ebonyi State with Governor Elechi during the good governance visit. I should even ask you and you are asking me, who is far away from Ebonyi State. Please, you should tell me, is Chief Martin Elechi doing well or not? Not asking me to answer a question that whenever I come, I see an improvement; any time I come, I see something that was no there before. What do you want me to say? Let me tell the people of our beloved state, Ebonyi is the least in the federal allocated revenue. This is open to any body. Ebonyi is the least.
If you want to go to the internet, you check. Ekiti and Zamfara are among but Ebonyi is the least. And if you check what Chief Martin Elechi is doing in the state, naira for naira, kobo for kobo, he is unmatched by most of his colleagues in the federation. It is not a surprise that when people finally come to Ebonyi, the impression they go with is different from what they heard before coming. And I make bold to say that in spite of the fact that we have this revenue in terms of share from the federation, Ebonyi is one of the few states that has a savings account in the federation.
So, we may not really know what we have until Martin Elechi leaves office. That is when people will begin to appreciate that truly the advent of Chief Martin Elechi in the governance of Ebonyi State is like giving an artist to interpret his work to the public.
Will run for governorship in 2015?
That is what most people want to hear. Is Ogbuoji going to run for governorship if it is zoned to the south? Why do people want to cross the bridge before they get there? No, truly speaking, it amazes me. Since I went to the senate in 2011, almost all the questions that people ask me is, I hear the governor says that the governorship will go to Ebonyi south, you are an eligible candidate, are you going to run? I told them in the senate, I don’t really know the routes of the offices that get into the senate and you are talking of leaving the senate to go the state.
I think it is too early. Seriously speaking, not long ago, I granted a press interview and I said that those who are looking for governorship in 2011, 2012 and even this 2013, their intensions should be weighed- whether they really mean well for Ebonyi State? It is too early for anybody to begin to talk of 2015. Anybody who is a politician knows that it only by the time we get into 2015 proper, that you know who is going to be the candidate. You know this fact to be true. All the speculations can go on. Maneuver can go on. But who finally becomes the real candidate will only be known as we get into the 2015 not earlier than that.