Hon. Ray Nnaji is a Former National Auditor of the Nigeria Ruling Party, Peoples’ Democratic Party, a radical lawyer and a four times commissioner in Enugu state, Nigeria. In this interview with our correspondent Raphael Ede, he expresses dismay over the alleged mopping up of newspapers that has uncomplimentary reports by Enugu State government through her agent’s in-order to block the masses access to such information. Describing the act as wicked, Nnaji said that it is against the principle of freedom of information, adding that it has never happened, even during the military era in Nigeria.
There’s an allegation that Enugu state government through their agents have been mopping up news materials especially newspapers that have written stories that affect them negatively. What’s your reaction?
Yes, this thing has been giving me nightmare for a long time because of the fact that many newspapers have been mopped up in the past and most recently, Guardian, Vanguard and the Sun newspapers that published certain things that were perceived to be against the government of the state were alleged to have been criminally mopped by His Excellency, Gov Sullivan Chime and his chief of staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo for reasons best known to them and thereby depriving the citizens and indigenes of the state the right to information which is against the policies and principles of freedom of information act. As a result of that I have been contemplating and I have been researching on how I am going to bring an action against some newspaper houses and their distributors who allow that criminal mopping of newspapers in the name of selling them to those people on bulk purchase. It is wrong, it is not allowed, it has never happened, even during the military era, when we served under them, such thing had never happened. I have never seen that type of thing; it is a dastardly and wicked act perpetrated by some people against their own indigenes; preventing them to know exactly the other side of the coin. It is not proper that every moment, it is only what is positive and what is palatable to the leaders that should be made known to the public. If there are certain things that are truth that is not properly done, even if it affects the government, they should allow the public to know. During the time of military when Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were imprisoned, myself was in detention to face that decree four as at then, for what I published against A.A Madueke (rtd) who was then the Gov of Enugu state. It was condemned and that was why decree 4 did not see the light of the day after the imprisonment of Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson. Such a thing is no longer in existence and that is the reason why the National Assembly brought the freedom of information unhindered. The mare fact that some persons are contemplating of going to the senate to represent us, Sullivan Chime is interested in going to the senate from the west, while Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobobo is also interested in going to the senate for Enugu East, what are they going there to do if they from now start mopping up things that are not in favour of them especially because they didn’t want the people to know the truth. It is uncalled for, it is bad and it made me to go to the extent of calling the editor of vanguard in one the times the mopping took place and I told the man what is happening in Enugu. When I told him, he expressed surprise that such a thing is happening. I also told him to not be surprised if I drag some of them to court because they are the people aiding the government and her agencies to do that. You can tell the government, I am not selling bulk purchase knowing them intention or what they are trying to do (the government). Nobody is against bulk purchase but a situation whereby they make sure that none of the newspapers that have reported negatively against them is not in the news stand. It is bad and highly condemnable. In democracy, I have never seen a thing like that.
As a member of the save group, what are the plans of the group to further save or to ensure that the existing draconian policies in Enugu will not thrive against the masses, for instance, the illegal arrest and detention of citizens as a result of inconsistence laws?
Let me be frank with you, the issue of arrest and detention, one who has committed an offence is held but within a certain limit. That limit is based on the fact that if you see somebody committing a crime, or committing an offence, as an individual, you can arrest the person but you must hand him over to the police within a stipulated period of time. I was meant to understand that within a short while, these people will face the court (mobile court) in cases of environmental default and the necessary punishment will be given. If they have exceeded the period given to them, that is where it turns out to be an offence that is where it is draconian but if it is within certain limits, I don’t see anything wrong with it but the issue concerning whether the Enugu state sanitation law is in conflict with the federal law with respect to environmental law is not something I can authoritatively discuss because I have not been able to juxtapose the two laws to know exactly to what extent they are in conflict. But the issue of arresting and detention, when it is beyond certain limits, that is where the problem lies. That is the way I see it but as a member of the “save Enugu group” I am not talking on their behalf, because of the fact that in recent times we have not been able to have a very solid meeting in respect to some of the things that are happening in Enugu, but I must have to tell you as an individual that some of those things you don’t even need to have the group support before you can speak against it. I am saying that some of these things happening are not in tandem with the principles of democracy. That is one thing you should understand.
The governor of Enugu state told all the serving members of the National assembly from the state to shelve there ambition of seeking re-election in 2015 as if he is the person who has the ultimate power to ask people to contest. Is there any known law or democratic principle that promotes the governor’s position?
This is one of the reasons why I decided to reopen my case in the court because His Excellency Govovernor Sullivan Chime and his chief of staff Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo are bent on destroying the party (PDP) in the state with reason being that they are not foundation members of the party, they don’t know the principles behind the formation of that party and they don’t know why that party is ruling and should be allowed to lead while others follows. A situation whereby you can destroy the tenets of democracy often the democratic principles is not allowed. You don’t tell people not to contest, the only thing you could do; even during the time of Chimaroke Nnamani, he never told those aspirants that. What he does is to make it impossible for anybody to have access to the structure, even if you want to see the structure for the purpose of trying to make use of them to garner your own vote, it will be very elusive. What kind of practice of politics is this? We are not saying that it is not good for consensus candidate to be arranged or be allowed to emerge. It helps to solve a lot of problems but it must be with the consent and the acceptance of the generality of the members of the party and not a situation whereby you get few “kitchen Cabinet” and decide that they should take decisions that will lord it over and above others. Noooh! When Chime was selected in the primaries at the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium, I, Uche Anioke and the rest of them were happy. I was commissioner for sports, we arranged things, it was an open primaries done by everybody, Okey Itanyi contested and that is how things are done, not a situation you come and arrange and say “this is the person you have endorsed” it is not done. Even the president who has not even accepted his endorsement by the party, you see how everybody was carried along starting from the Caucus, the governors, NEC and by the same way the national convention way will ratify. Do you know that these people went and amended our constitution; that is 2012 PDP constitution and removed some members that are supposed to be structures from the wards to the state and continued doing what they like telling me that the constitution has been amended. But they do not know that the constitution has procedures of amendment and not until it is ratified by the National convention, there is no new constitution that will be in place. So the 2012 is current constitution of the party. But they claimed to have amended it removing some people from attending meetings of the party. And this was done by the chief of staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo and Governor Sullivan Chime and Vita Abba and these are the things that are getting me angry. Is this what we discussed? Is this the principles that made the party to be winning elections? It is not done! These people are so determined to destroy the party in the state and not until the National chairman of the party with his national working committee comes to the aid of this party in the state, things will be going out of hands. I have continued to sound this as a warning “things are going out of hand. You find out that he is thinking as the governor, even if he manipulated the list of candidates and get it to INEC, the day of election is coming. People will speak! The idea of trying to rig elections is not going to be possible. And then you will find out that the party will be having serious problems at the general elections. That is why we are saying that it is not proper now, it is better we speak out and correct this anomaly that is on ground than allowing it to destroy our fortune in the general election. It is not going to be good. Everybody will be a loser.
Do you envisage a situation where the governor will finally sponsor a consensus candidate; an adopted candidate he feels that will covered his tracks when he is out of office?
No! No, let me tell you, if you are thinking on that pedestal, then you seem to have forgotten what happened to Chimaroke Nnamani when he was picking Sullivan thinking that Sullivan is a novice; somebody who was harmless, without knowing that he was ready to bite but he (Sullivan) hid those teeth till he got power. If that is what is in his mind, he’s making a very big mistake. If you have committed atrocities believing that somebody coming will cover it, there will be agitation, criticism and pressure to the extent that the person’s hands will be tied and then he would have no option but to say “let’s look into this problem, he finds out that the problem is too big and that will anger him and then they will start having problem. So if Sullivan Chime believes that he is bringing people that will cover his atrocities “if at all he has”; because I have not known in details, but by the time he leaves office, we will now know what he has done. I know a lot of debt has been created, I know that the governor’s successor will face serious tremendous debt and I don’t think Chimaroke left any debt that was handed over to him.
He did not leave any debt, rather he gave him assets. He gave him some amount of money left in the bank. The state is in serious debts. I am not talking authoritatively, but I want to tell you, he couldn’t have been doing all those things without entering into credit facilities. By the time he would be out of office, more will be heard and if you are trying to say that he is going to cover all those things, it’s not possible, we have been in executive positions. We know how it looks like; it’s not going to be possible! This is because he treated everything in secrecy and by the time he leaves office some of these things will come to the open, and that is why they continue to mop up newspapers that writes anything. How long will you do that? By this time next year Sullivan Chime is “ex” Ifeoma Nwobodo is “ex” even if they have new positions, they are “ex”. No matter the positions she found herself (Mr Ifeoma). She finds herself in the office of the deputy governor, she’s under the governor, she finds herself in the senate, she is a first timer senator. There is nothing I don’t think, she has even wielded more power than Ejiofor but where is he now?
I met him the other day in the bank, he was finding it difficult to even start his vehicle, so this is life; you know by the time the woman gets out of office, she will know what she has done to herself. By the time Sullivan gets out of office, he will know what he has done to himself. It is very unfortunate! All of us had positions and we are out of office. So this is why they are trying to go to the senate to hide there, not to contribute but to hide and they have a window period to face the kind of barrage of probe that will come their way because there will be a lot of probes.
So what do you think could be the panacea for the Enugu problem?
The panacea for the Enugu problem is to make sure that the right people that have the right orientation, that have interest of the people and that are determine to do holistic development of the state. It is not a situation where such persons concentrate on infrastructural development, neglecting human development and the rest of them; where by a lot of people are angry, more people are dying.
I read in a paper where they were saying” Enugu State workers are the least paid in Africa” it is terrible and you said you are developing infrastructure? What are you developing? Is it the leader that will be going on the road? Are they not human beings that will be going on the road? That is what I said; there is more debt in this government than any government in the past. That is not what PDP as a ruling party stands for. These people are strangers to the party and fortunately because of one reason or the other, they have found themselves where they didn’t dream in the past and they have started misbehaving. As it is said in Igbo parlance ‘one who did not know that he will be an ‘Ozo’ title holder, will start wearing the beads beyond his ankle. That is the point. That is what is happening to those people, it is terrible and very unfortunate. You know we have founding fathers of these party in the state but unfortunately some of these people kept quiet, I don’t know why they kept quite. Ken Nnamani though wasn’t a founding father, he joined us but he was initially a member of ANPP but he is a leader of the party [PDP] in the state now. Senator Jim Nwobodo, Dr Okweziueze Nwodo who I know he is still nursing the wound of his bad treatment by his Excellency Sullivan Chime who never forgives anybody. And now his trying to draw Nwodo close because probably he felt he would like to use him but I know Nwodo too well; he is just waiting for his own opportunity, that is the point. I must have to tell you that some of these people who are founding members of this party kept quiet and are dancing to tune of the man. I don’t know how much they have been paid, if they have been paid, let me tell you, there are certain times you go inwards, even if you collect the money, you speak the truth, without even hurting anybody, you speak the truth because nobody is against you saying the truth. So even if you are given the money, you come out and say the truth, but it is very unfortunate. These are people that kept quiet; history will never forgive them because they kept quiet in the face of tyranny and oppression.
Some people say you are agitating probably because you are not in government and therefore no longer partaking in largesse and could have not been be talking the way you are talking now if you are part of the loot?
No! No!! look at what you should understand, nothing stops me from going to governor Sullivan Chime and lie down, nothing stops me to go to Mrs Nwobodo and lie down for them to give me peanuts so I will keep quite if at all that is my basis, I didn’t depend on all those things, I am a practicing lawyer and I go to court everyday and I am satisfied with the little I am getting.
The issue is that we have an arrangement which we know quite well that before 2011elections, Sullivan chime would have been into terrible mess. It’s not because he came to me and pleaded with me, he nearly knelt down to plead with me. He wanted to come to the office and see me to know how desperate he was but along the line he started begging that I should please come to the government house, I know how serious that matter was, I know how difficult it was for him that time but you know quite well. One of the reasons like I said that made me to listen to him was because of the facts that prince Sam Ojiofor who was dragged out of life as at then would have been one of the major beneficiaries of that my struggle and he has not contributed anything to that struggle, because When Chimaroke had problems, everybody ran away I was the only person that came to stand defending him even when I had no course to do that but for reasons best known to him and myself, because I was not well treated during his own time, and I have told him that even this year, but because of the facts that I felt he shouldn’t be rubbished on the facts that somebody he made governor suddenly decide to develop teeth which nobody knew he had and started eating everybody and everybody started running dancing to his tune.
I must have to tell you, so anybody who is saying that I am doing this because of the facts that I was not settled, have failed to understand that I am not the kind that normally carry plates, begging anybody for things, I don’t do that. I have benefitted nothing from Chime’s government and I was asking them for seven years, you were in government and I have not gotten anything. Do I look like a hungry man? Is it one year that I cannot survive? Is it only about one year that remains? So what makes one to think ….because some people told me that I should have apologized and I said apologize to who? It was to the governor that I said “if you are feeling bad about what you said I have signed, that I am sorry about that, though I did it in good fate but as a friend you claim you are, you could have called my attention to that then, but you did not”. It was on the27thApril. “So because I came to your domain, red carpet lounge to tell you that you owe me and you brought the issue of “Save Enugu group”. It is an arranged meeting they thought I would come there and be bamboozled into pleading to Joe Mmamel and Jide Chime. Who are those people? Joe Mmamel, I have been local government chairman before him, I have been former commissioner before him, Jide, what was he? He was nobody, He was non-quantity if not because his brother is a governor, He was nobody before now. In this state, we know how many we are who are the foundation members of this party and like I said nobody will chase me out of this party that I had served in its highest position as former National Auditor, so there is nobody that can chase me out. So you cannot bamboozled me, I have been attending red carpet before Sullivan Chime if not because of Chimaroke that came into power in 1999 when Sullivan Chime started attending the red carpet for the first time in 1997 when I was the local government Chairman under late Col. Sule Ahman (rtd). I was then attending meetings in the red carpet so you cannot bring me to red carpet and believe you will bamboozle me into accepting what I am not prepared to accept.
People that are saying I am doing all these because I was not settled; it’s not true, but I found out that things were going wrong. Even if they settle me and there are certain meetings that I am supposed to attend and I don’t attend them on the claims that the constitution of PDP 2012 had been amended without me knowing, as a member of the ex-national working committee, ex-NEC member and member for life of National convention where any new constitution is ratified. I have already written to the National Secretary asking him which constitution is taking precedent in Enugu, which constitution we are using because what is happening in Enugu is not suppose to be happening whereby meetings are held and some group of people that are supposed to be part and parcel of that meeting will be excluded and somebody is telling me things are going well. Is that how the party should face other parties in the general elections? It’s going to be very difficult except certain things are rectified before then and that is why I am calling the National leadership of the party to act very fast because I have seen something happening; that is going to cause the party the 2015 election in Enugu State.
It is president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that is sure of his election in Enugu state but the problem lies on other positions in the state because Sullivan Chime has not done well for the party, no matter he is fanning his ember saying he has done this and that but the party members are suffering and these are the people that will help him deliver the state.