AT 74 UME-EZEOKE BOASTS: I AM STILL VERY ACTIVE, YOU CAN ASK MY FANTASTIC WIFE
At over 74 Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke belongs to the septuagenarian club whose members, on account of old age, might not be as active as they used to be when younger. But far from that. The National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) said he is as active at home as he is in public, in fact much more at home than in the public. He said his wife is in the best position to assess his prowess.
'I have not changed, though old; but I am young at heart. Oh, I am still very active, my wife knows. No! No!! No!!!. I am still very active and my wife is a fantastic woman, she looks younger every day,' Ume-Ezoke said in response to a question on how old age must have slowed him down.
'In fact people think she is my daughter anytime we go out together. I remember an occasion in London when someone who recognized me called and greeted me. As he greeted me he was greeting my wife as my daughter, you can see. I love her so much; we still do everything we did as young couple now that we are old. And he referred to my wife as my daughter, I laughed,' he added.
An enigma of sort's, Ume-Ezeoke, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the defunct Second Republic, surely knows what he wants at any point in time, even if the opinions of others do not favour his move. He is not known to be a reactionary in politics. Instead, he is seen largely as a pro-establishment politician, whose actions or inactions as a party chairman, many believe, have helped the ruling party to muzzle the opposition in the country.
Indeed since his assumption of office as the National Chairman of the ANPP, Ume-Ezeoke has left no one in doubt about his own style of politics, insisting that a politician has no permanent stand. For instance, he did not give a hoot when he stood as a running mate to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) as presidential candidate of the ANPP even while maintaining his position as the National Chairman of the party. When the party went to court to challenge the election of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Ume-Ezeoke abandoned his candidate in the court by withdrawing from the petition at the President Election Appeal Tribunal.
As the disagreement between him and Buhari deepened, he did not hesitate to tell the retired Army general to leave the party if he was not satisfied with its decision. Public opinion notwithstanding, Ume-Ezeoke nominated his son for appointment in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, a government his party was opposed to, in a contraption called Government of National Unity (GNU).
In all these, in spite of a chorus of public disapproval of his decisions, Ume-Ezeoke maintained that everything he had done is in the larger interest of the nation. He stated that he had always been very conscious of his actions. 'I am an old man, what else do I want that I will not be able to say my mind the way I see it? As a National Chairman, I have done everything I did in the interest of my party members and overall interest of the nation,' he says.
On the exit of Buhari and its likely effect on the party, Ezeoke was quick to add that his exit was even a relief to the party. He said the former Head of State did not add any value to the party while he was a member. As a person, he said, Buhari is a very good man, adding that it was those around him that were misleading him. 'As a former Head of State, I give him his respect, but I dare say that he had no electoral worth in ANPP. He is the only one who has left, I am still here, I was his vice-presidential candidate and all those who nominated him and worked for his candidature are still in the party. All the ANPP top notchers are still in the party. We are not missing him at all,' he said.
Ume-Ezeoke was elected Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives in 1979, and served till 1983. He was presidential aspirant of the ANPP in 2003, before his election as the party's national chairman. Many have wondered how comfortable he is, superintending over a party that produced 14 governors in 2003 elections, the number was reduced to nine at the beginning of the 2007, and only for the party to lose six of the nine to the ruling party in less than two years.
He defended himself by saying that the development was just a confirmation of how democratic the leadership of the ANPP is. 'Unless you don't want to practise a genuine democracy…in any democratic setting, people must be allowed to make their choice. That is the beauty of democracy. You wait and see, all those who left the party will come back. Even those who were not with us before will join. The question should have been when Gen. Buhari was our presidential candidate, we had nine governors, now we have three, what impact has his presence had on the party? He met us with nine governors and left us with three, he should be asked; not me.
On how to reconcile his role as the ANPP National Chairman while he nominated his son to serve in the PDP government, Ume-Ezeoke argued that there was nothing wrong in it: 'That is democracy for you. The ANPP decided at a very critical time to do something to halt the national drift. At the end of the 2007 elections, there were moves for mass action to cause confusion, but we said no, we don't want that. That is where our trouble started with Gen. Buhari.
'He wanted mass action and we said we didn't. In the process, President Yar'Adua moved for the Government of National Unity (GNU) and we saw that it was a better alternative to embarking on mass action. We went into it. Whether my son holds a position or not is just a consequence of our decision. He has nothing to do with GNU arrangement. He can decide to leave the government at any time; nobody will force him to remain there.
'What I am saying in essence is that we went into the GNU for the safety and security of this country and we are happy we took that decision and today we have peace in the land and everybody can move around unmolested. Look at countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, you know what happened in these countries. They eventually came to a round table and opted for GNU after so many people had been killed through the same mass action that we rejected.
'Why then waste all the lives and properties in mass action. So we thought it is wise in order not to have another Rwanda or Congo here in Nigeria, we went into GNU to keep the country together. It doesn't mean that because you didn't win in election, the country has to be destroyed, that is not democracy. In any case there will always be another time for another election. We took the decision as a party.'