Thank you for granting us audience. Let’s meet you sir!
Dr. Ben Nwoye is my name, Chairman, All Progressive Congress (APC) Enugu State. I was born in Port Harcourt, grew up in Port Harcourt, and went to school there. I studied Journalism at IMT Enugu before traveling to the United States where I studied Criminal Justice. I practiced Law (Civil Rights Law) which most people here call Human Rights Law. I worked with a Lawyer that at the time of my practice was considered the best trial Lawyer alive, Attorney Johnnie Cochran. His famous case was OJ Simpson. His famous statement is ‘“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. I was once considered to be amongst the brain behind the man, because great Lawyers have other great Lawyers around him. That’s what makes a great Lawyer. There’s no great lawyer that works alone. What make you a great lawyer are sometimes greater brains around you. Those are people who are not seen (they’re behind the scene). What we did then was more like “Big Show”. You don’t see what it takes to make it a big show. It’s the people behind that make the big show. So, I was lucky to be accepted in the Chicago Law firm of Johnny Corkran. The famous cases include Dovs v. City of Chicago; African-American Slave Descendants’ Litigation; Monica Chukwu v. Air France. These are landmark cases that are very relevant in the United States and people are still studying it.
I put up my own firm, worked, first with the Partnership Nwoye Menoza, then Nwoye Farm. I am married and blessed with lots of children (seven children). I have grandchild and expecting one more grandkid. And I came back to Nigeria in 2010.
I want to know more about your practice in USA
I practiced almost in the same building with Barrack Obama, the former President of the United States, before he went to Illinois Senate then to United States Senate. We did civil rights cases on discrimination. This thing you see now about George Floyd we would have been doing it if Attorney Johnny Corkran had been alive. Now it’s Benjamin Lloyd Crump handling it.
So, we did things on the colour issues on ancestral origin, gender and any other factors especially in 1983 to ’85. So, when Obama became President, we thought that what we were doing was less meaningful. But again I was a radical Lawyer. We did things people didn’t want to do. We take difficult cases and fund cases. We hit government, corporations and we use our money to do it. We only collect money if we win. We say we always win because we do these things to change the society, to re-engineer the society. If we sue you for not hiring a person because of their race, whether we win or lose, we know that you will change your policy because we discovered things in your company/organization. If we sue you because you use excessive force to kill or arrest or injure a black kid, whether we win or lose in the court, we win because you are going to train your staff or police officers how to properly use weapons. We change policies. But when President Obama happened it was a fluke. We thought everything is over. We helped to achieve Martin Luther King Junior’s dream.
Tell us about your home coming
So looking back, one now said: “can’t we go home now and help?”. That was why I mustered all my resources and I came back to Nigeria in 2010; purposefully to serve my country. I want to run for Senate and I joined Action Congress (AC). At that time AC has only one State, Lagos State. By that same 2010 Court gave them Ekiti and Osun States. And by 2011 it was changed to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). So, I ran for Senate under ACN. I did well in terms of sending my message but people thought it was different. I had the idea of “tufiakwa”. So, I started doing things my own way because these present kind of media was not in existence then. I employed a young man who did a research on Constituency Projects and they began to lift what each and every one of these people did with the Constituency projects. What the Constituency Project amounted to were in Billions. So, I printed it and shared it thinking it was to inspire people and to show them, because it was about service to the people. Of course, they enjoyed the entertainment part, (I was sharing broom), they enjoyed the smooth talking part and to them it was entertainment. I’m not stupid; I knew they were just enjoying the entertainment part of it, because they will even tell you. When you go to talk to the elites amongst them, the traditional Rulers elites, the religious elites or the political elites, they would say ‘I like you but you’re in a wrong party’. That’s why the Electoral Act Amendment does well for Nigeria. If you are not in PDP you can’t win. But I took it a level further. As the party was going on and the country was evolving into almost a two party system I was lucky to be among those within the State who were chosen among the leaders and people forming the All Progressive Congress (APC) because I was a Senatorial candidate.
Your take on the zoning of gubernatorial in Enugu State
In fact, when I was a Senatorial candidate I was told by the leadership of the party that: “Ben you’re doing everything. You gave them office, you gave them computers, you gave them vehicle and you’re sponsoring them. Run for Governor”. And I said, No! It’s not our turn. Meaning, not this zone (Enugu East Senatorial). That I’m from the wrong zone. Even my mother will not vote for me. I told that to Otumba Henry Ajayemi, then the chairman of ACN Lagos State. He was a very close associate of Tinubu. That’s how I made my link. So, I was convinced that it was the turn of people from the West to finish their own turn. And I used the term ‘my mother will not vote for me because it’s not our turn. So, I helped to build the then ACN and even encouraged a man, Chief Val Nnaedozie from the West, from Achi precisely, to run on the platform of CAN. We gave him ticket to run, long after we formed the party, just to maintain that balance of power.
Forward to the ACN, after the formation I was literally begged to become the chairman of APC in Enugu State. The begged me, persuaded me and I said No! I want to run for Senate again, this was 2013. Again, I needed to put my business in order. I just came back from the United States and I had to protect my family as well. We’re trying to set up a farm in Port Harcourt and Warri. We’re doing these things to kick-start a process, but I want to run for senate. I want to serve my people. Then, by 2014, they approached PDP stalwarts who were my close friends; Onyemauche Nnamani was told to persuade me to become the chairman. The person who said it must be me or no other was Chief Barrister Okezie. And I told Ideke that I don’t want to and secondly, I have invested all my money in a business and I need to watch the business in Port Harcourt. They then said they needed a strong person that would become the face of the party. Chief Onyemauche Nnamani was member of the PDP. Chief Egbo the outgoing chairman Nkanu West was begged to call me. I was summoned in a hotel and we sat down and discussed and I told them point blank that I don’t want to be APC chairman or chairman of any party. After much talk, Chief Nwabeze Nnamani, Mayor of Nkanu West then said, ‘Ben! You want to be a Senator, right? Because you want to serve your people”. I said yes! Your people are now asking you, for now they have zoned chairmanship to Nkanu. These are Nkanu people, not party people. The Umu-Nkanu people are now telling you to serve them in the capacity of APC chairman. Are you going to say No? If you say No, it is not service you want to do for them. That was a superior argument. I’m a Lawyer and I believe in a superior argument. I was convinced. I said okay you win. That argument was superior because he brought it down to what it is. It’s not about what I want but it’s about what my people want me to do for them.
Mr. Chairman, what are your success and failure stories as APC chairman? Again, I will like you to talked more about zoning because you believed there was zoning. And now there are sections of the State who are saying there was never such an arrangement.
Now let’s talk about the failure part because the bad news is more interesting. You see, I’m a man of average intelligence and average intelligence teaches me right from wrong. You don’t need to be too wise to know what is good and what is bad. So, I spent most of my life in the United States. So being a man of average intelligence I can see right from wrong. But the people want to push the wrong thing and I said No! And I stand by my No! So I made enemies. And because I just came back, I don’t have any relative(s) who is/are in any political party. Let me not use the word godfather, I never went through any rope, I didn’t hold any bag for anybody, nobody gave me money, it was my own money. So, I’m independent. It was a problem for people who want you to do the bad thing. You can’t buy me, I don’t need anything and everything I need God has given to me and I live a very simple life. And living a simple life it’s very difficult for you to influence me. If you say you won’t give me food I can stay without food. So, I confronted some people who helped to put me there. I didn’t know they were looking for stooges who they will say: “be a chairman and we can use you”. Almost immediately there were clashes of interests. Still on the bad story, I’m a trained Civil rights Lawyer and we just work on the Just; we see things two ways. It’s either just or injustice. So, if you are trained that way and you live your life that way, you stand your ground and offend many people. People offend you and run helter skater and my name is always on the air. We don’t run because you will push us back. We’re used to fighting, by the nature of my practice, the court training I got, we proud ourselves as giant killers.
But you had two factions in APC during your tenure as chairman.
That’s what I’m saying. It was a situation of those who cannot control you, want to replace you. And they said: “Ben will run away soon”. The disruption is because “Ben refused to run away”. Remember many people have come from the US and they say: ‘give him two months and he will go back’. Remember that I started this story by telling you that our society is growing but in a reverse growth. People who have average intelligence don’t recruit people of equal intelligence. They recruit people of lesser intelligence because they don’t want to be matched with wits and know-how. The people who have been recruited and who are of lesser exposure, intelligence and wherewithal will in turn recruit people who are lower than them. So we’re growing but the growth is going downwards, a reverse growth. They made a mistake of recruiting someone of average intelligence. It’s their own mistake and I told them in many meetings. “You’ve made a mistake; you’ve made me a chairman. So, allow me to be a chairman”. Remember I was the first and the only consensus candidate chairman and nobody has ever been made a consensus chairman in Enugu. On the start, nobody contested with me or against me and we came out of the congress day about 2014, they said: ‘anyone who wanted to contest, even if he didn’t buy form come out.’ Nobody showed up. All the leaders lined behind me. It was a “yah or nay vote” according to our constitution. There were about eight people that bought form but I didn’t buy form until that day because I was begged. There was a man that said he went on the mountain for 21 days and God told him he’s going to be the next APC chairman. On that day God reversed His speech. In doing that, those who supported me, many of them had in mind a puppet. I can’t be a puppet, you can’t afford me. If are looking for somebody to buy to do something, everyman has a prize. You can’t pay my prize and you can’t name my prize for me. If you make me the chairman you must allow me. What you now see is buyers’ remorse. Buyers’ remorse is because I stood with the people and I stood with the just and the truth. And so there came one allegation after the other. There comes one petition too many. Every single petition ever written by anyone in APC against me I responded to it. I get a copy I respond to it, from 2014 until present day. Every single Law suit filed against me by anybody I responded to it. Not because I had a special gift but I stand by the truth. Some have even threatened to sue me on libel grounds that I made libelous statements and I dare them to sue me. At least one person has even written a letter giving me pre-action notice. I said okay, I’m not shaking on my boots. I’m waiting for 21 days to expire so I can retract. I never retracted because the statement he termed to be libelous was truth. So we live by the truth.
From 2014 till now APC have not won any election in Enugu State. Can you term that as success story in your leadership?
It’s not correct. APC has won elections in Enugu State. We’re the one that elected President Muhammadu Buhari. Yes! Yes! You are doing argumentative. You asked me a question and I’ve answered you. APC won election in Enugu State. Let me tell you something, that’s among the success story. The success story is that we gave Enugu State alternative that they never had before. Before my arrival they never had alternative. People like Prince Mburubu would have no place to go to argue his case, to go to tell his people he wants to serve if we did not build APC to become a viable party. There are other parties but he couldn’t. We’re talking about viable party. By the time he came in we have won at the national; we’ve made Buhari the President of this country. Enugu State is one of the States he campaigned. I was the first chairman that prepared an opposition party to get an opposition President to take over Okpara Square and spoke about opposition party and that was 2015 and that’s a success. We mobilized thousands of Enugu citizens to welcome President Muhammadu Buhari at Okpara Square, next door to the Government House. It’s unheard of, that in a PDP State with Sullivan Chime being the Governor. We convinced Governor Sullivan Chime to give us Okpara Square. And you know why he gave us the place? He said, ‘so we can shame ourselves, there’s no APC in Enugu State’. And 2014 he wasn’t a President. 2015 he was candidate Buhari, not yet a President. The then Governor Sullivan Chime told his associates let’s give it to them, they can’t fill it. Let them disgrace themselves. And we shutdown Okpara Square, we shut down the traffic. We have the videos and pictures. We have the news to show for it. That is what opposition does.
I started by telling you my practice, even when you lose in the court, you look at your victories. You can sit here and say we didn’t win election but we won souls. There are people who couldn’t go to vote when it was just PDP, they were now going to vote because there was APC, that’s huge victory. Democracy comes incrementally. Do you know that we have over 200 political parties in the United States. There are people who don’t vote because nobody represents their interest. We changed that. That’s why I mentioned Prince Mburubu. By 2018 APC have now taken over. The immediate past Governor of Enugu State Sullivan Chime joined APC. It’s a victory and a good story. The 6th Senate President joined. The former Governor of old Anambra State joined the party. Do you know what we created just by me coming home and leading the party? Alternative, real alternative. We did this where it became attractive. I was leading the party taking a bloom revolution from village to village, ward to ward registering people. A party that we started with less than 25,000 members, by 2017 we registered 63,000. Fast forward, by 2021 we registered over 180,000 members. How many votes do you think they use in winning Governor of Enugu State? There is no political party in Enugu State with more or equal amount of registered members. People just assume that everybody in Enugu State is a PDP member. PDP had never had a membership drive. The entire time I have been here none of the chairman of PDP had engaged in the type of massive membership drive that I did. I engage in membership drive. If the party was not made a sellable party they wouldn’t join, after all, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah of Anambra State went on with YPP and won. He is in the senate. They were coming in because it was attractive and they kept coming. But then, why are we not winning at the poll? They don’t hold real councillorship election in Enugu State, we know that. They write results. I’ve challenged them; I’ve videos of my own ward. They don’t bring result sheets at the ward level and this the new Electoral Act has addressed this. They are aware of this anomaly.
In 2023, what is APC agenda, talking about the Governorship zoning?
Maybe you don’t know. As a chairman, I presided over the zoning of the Governorship to Enugu East Senatorial District for 2023 and I got attacked by few people. That is one of the attacks. They went and gave people and some of my executives’ money to pass a vote of impeachment against me.
….because you were protecting Nkanu agenda?
No! It’s not Nkanu Agenda. It is a fair agenda, it is justifiable agenda, it’s equitable agenda.
So you believe in zoning?
It’s not a belief thing. A belief is a personal thing. If you ask about my belief as a person, it’s different from what the political norm and situation are. But a belief is personal. If you come into a political relationship, you study it for what it is. If you ask belief, I will begin to talk to you about political scientific things. Things that are right.
So, Dr. has your party narrowed it down to any particular local government or even constituency?
Our party did zoning and that zoning is Enugu East. At the rally I also spoke and when they started attacking me I didn’t see anybody defending me even you guys at the media. I was so disappointed because when I started getting attacks I didn’t see anybody in the media defend me. I’m your son, we have great writers in the mainstream media and social media and not one single person took a pen and say, let’s defend this guy. Let me tell you what they said. They said I am PDP. I did what I did for Nkanu. And when they were doing those attacks all of you kept quiet and I was left to do my defense alone. I’m trained to defend myself all through my life. I’m not afraid of attack. It was so wrong because many of you were there; you knew that what I said in that place other people that spoke did not have that courage to say that. PDP chairman was there, he didn’t have the courage to say that and I spoke for Nkanu without fear. I purposely dressed the way I dressed that day. I’m a Prince. I was born in a place that Ngwa-ike nna di na banyi, everything di na banyi. We still have scores of warriors, we’re warriors. So, I dressed that way. They found out it’s entertaining. They took my pictures all the way to the Villa, and all those Odarije flags they took it. If I had known that they will bring PDP flag I would have had my people carry APC flag. But as I was speaking they had PDP flags.
As a major stakeholder in Nkanu politics, is Isiuzor part of Nkanu?
You don’t have Nkanu Senatorial District. We need to come out from that idea. You guys are pulling things that you know it’s wrong, and you’re projecting it and you know it’s terrible, because you guys have four and half (or maybe four and three quarter) local government, you begin to play domineering role. I read all these nonsense that has been projected, I’m also a writer but because of my position I chose not to comment. I could sponsor things also, I chose not to sponsor. But it is terribly wrong when we try to suppress any segment, whether it is the smallest population of people in Enugu East Senatorial District. It’s the Ngwo but they belong to Enugu East. And I see a focus and sometimes unwarranted attack on Isiuzor. I call it unwarranted because when they say they zoned, remember zoning is just a recommendation. Nobody constitutionally will prevent anybody from running. Anybody including those who are not even from Enugu State by birth who are residents of Enugu State, if they can muster the muscle and get people to vote for them, they can become Governors of Enugu State. I see intelligent writers and people stuck on zoning. They move from Isiuzor, some of the fights are between Nkanu East and West. What nonsense! These are young people and I know some of these guys. And I say, why would any human being devote their God-given talents, the person you are rooting for whether Nkanu East or Nkanu West who told you that the people of Enugu State may vote for that person? Who told them that even if they vote for that person that he has the well withal to win?
We heard from different quarters that you are interested in becoming the next Governor of Enugu State. We don’t know if that is true. We have also heard that you have gone to the national to consult and that is why you have agreed to step down as the chairman of APC Enugu State even when it was alleged that there was no proper congress.
Listen! I told you that I came home to serve and when we come to serve we have ideas that we think things should be done this way. I also started by telling you the things I confronted. And I’ve come to hear, see and witness the problems. So, the bottom line is this, anyone that comes to serve and had the opportunity like me becoming the chairman of Enugu State APC for eight (8) years, in fact, they might even say nine (9) because in 2013 I became the chairman of APC Enugu State Local Government Election Committee. The reason was that we did election without having Exco and since then I’ve been a chairman. And I’ve come to have a scope of things statewide. I’ve seen Enugu from the wider scope by virtue of being a chairman; an active chairman who goes to recruit people with the broom from one ward to the other. I’ve moved into every nooks and crannies of Enugu State with the broom and I’ve seen their needs. And so, if the issue is that I’m consulting to be a Governor or to serve in any capacity, I’m a politician and I’m entitled to aspire. I can’t tell you that I’m aspiring. The issue is, are you consulting? Every human being aspires. I aspire to be the President of this country. Are you consulting sir? Absolutely, but it has not made me to, contrary to the question of why I stepped down or accept any alleged statements.
Peradventure you become the Governor of Enugu State, what do you think you want to address?
You start with basic things like education. And education should be purposeful. We shouldn’t just build Universities and put people there. Universities are not baby-sitting homes for adult children. We should make Universities that would be correspondent to produce workers, produce talents that would re-engineer the society. If you are building schools it has to be equivalent with what we have outside. It is not having graduates that can raise their shoulders above sea level. It is having jobs for them. We’re saying they can’t produce smart things. They are concentrating on First Class. Have seen what First Class do after graduation? Have seen what Second Class Upper do? I have seen some. Have seen what happened to the best? I’ve seen some. And I’ve been privileged to live outside the world where the big schools are and the small schools are as well. The 7th Economy of the world is California and 98% of it comes from Silicon Valley. The remainder is split between Hollywood and other industries. If you go to northern California you are dealing with the Silicon Valley. If you go to southern California you are dealing with Hollywood. People are going to school whether it’s applied animation you are studying, the next day you are making money, the next day you’re employing people from school. The professors are researching and producing, the next day it’s becoming something concrete. So we need to go back and take a look at our educational sector. Education is everything. I’m only looking at Enugu; you can extend it to other States. What we have now are Universities that are adult day care. That’s what we have. If I have nowhere to go to, I go to the University. I’m not trying to practice anything I’m studying because there’s no room to practice it but I want to occupy my time for the next four years so that I don’t become a nuisance.
Apart from education, which other sector do think we have issues if given the opportunity to become the Governor?
You look at healthcare. We have everything it takes both by strategic location of the State and the already pre-existing infrastructure. And you talked about the brain. We have everything it takes to turn things around healthcare-wise. We need people with the mental acumen to connect with the rest of the world…just a connection. These things are not just money, you need the contact and make the connection. You have institutions that have been known to be producing great medical and healthcare personnel and allied healthcare. Every year, believe it or not, hundreds of students produced in institutions located in Enugu State are distributed around the world, UK, USA including Saudi Arabia, that is, Middle East, Asia. Why distribute them there? When the rich need help they go there and the same people treat them, people you exported. So, if we look at it and connect it to the main grid and make it what it is supposed to be, you can generate funds and you can keep these people. Go to the school and see what they are planting out. In fact, my police officer got shot when they tried to kill me and we rushed him to Park Lane, they didn’t accept him. Why didn’t they accept him? They said they don’t have bandage. He was bleeding and that is a University Teaching Hospital. They may have lied to us because they didn’t want to accept him. They didn’t have what it takes to handle the trauma at that time. But the best trauma unit is located in public institutions all over the world, because that is where you bring accident victims, gunshot victims. It’s not for the smaller hospitals. The best brains are located there. So, we need to look at those things that made the society. We just need to manage it better. This whole idea of everybody should go into agriculture is very naïve.
One issue confronting Enugu is water. Do you have any idea on how to solve that problem?
When you have a vision water should be treated as a mundane, not as a vision. If anybody is aspiring to be a Governor and you say ‘I will solve Enugu water problem’, to me, that is again lowering the bar. My grandmother knows that she needs water. My great grandfather migrated to places they can find water. Maybe we need to relocate Enugu to someplace else. That water problem is a mundane issue that ought to be addressed as a natural progression of things. It shouldn’t happen in modern times.
You are a friend to the Governor and an illustrious son of Enugu State. Now you are coming from a disadvantaged party and you have these great ideas. Have you put it in black and white and presented as road mark proposal to the government of Enugu State for implementation?
The ideas I have which are many, I just told you two, we’ve not talked about tourism because tourism is there. We have one of the best international Airports now. The way our terrain is you can make a Disney world here. You can go to Ogwu and you see a valley where you can put wonderful amusement park. Go to somewhere like Nsukka. You can just move around and you see things. I went to certain place in Ugbowka area, there was a piece of property we’re prospecting for a major estate. We went in there and you will be shocked the type of animals that were there, primate habitat, huge primate habitat. This is a land that has never been touched; all manners of majestic trees. You see reptiles and things you never knew you have. There is a huge dependency on monthly allocation and it is not enough to form committees. Committee is good (laugh) because they take allowance. Being a friend of the Governor, I am not his Adviser. I’m his friend but not his political or any other adviser. And he has his own dream when he aspired to be Enugu State Governor. I too believed that to the best of his ability he is pursuing those dreams. And some of his dreams he might not been able to realize it. And many a times your dream is also based on your own output. Some of the things I’m saying is being said from my own output, I’ve never been a Governor. You can get in there and you find out that those things are not quite doable, I have to be realistic. But you must aspire, you must have goals. It is not those so-called four point agenda. Remember this thing is collective. Let me tell you something,one man cannot do it alone. It’s not about the Governor. It’s also about the team. Governance is a team work. You must have a team of leaders that are visionary leaders.
It is believed that you come from a politically disadvantaged party. Is that correct sir?
Are you a PDP apologist (laughs). Let me tell you, the PDP apologists would sit in their homes and say that there is no opposition in Enugu State. They are PDP apologists. I’m telling you that I have a record of over 180,000 human beings that came out to register with APC with their pictures. But an apologist will sit in his home and say there is no APC. Right now we have Electoral Act. Things will change, the people have opportunity; and they are bribing people at the Central Bank and they are taking result sheets and writing. You all know these things. And when the result doesn’t come well they go to Agbani for Nkanu West and lock the door and start writing results. Let us not pretend. Is that democracy? Is it that PDP is so heavy and so tough? If they are tough they should be bringing out at the ward level result sheets. In 2017 we faced them and they did not bring out one result sheet. In my own ward and my own unit they were using sheet of paper. If we don’t have opposition in Enugu State bring out result sheets then also appoint independent people, not your political party stalwarts. Every ward we all are part of this system. Go to your own ward who is the returning officer? He is a card-carrying member of PDP. The chairman of ENSIEC, a former Commissioner under PDP! Go and check, all the Commissioners are card-carrying members of PDP.
Sir, we still have other persons aspiring, would you say you are the best amongst them?
Like I told you mine is consultation. I don’t know about others and I see things being written by different people. Unfortunately there is no real discussion. I’m happy that you guys probably started the discussion with me. I don’t know if you guys have done the discussion with others, but I’ve not seen it. But I’m not seeing any interaction. What I’m saying is that in your system if we have people talking about somebody then we know who is consulting and who is running. I don’t know of anybody who has declared to be running for me to be comparing. I’ve not declared to be running. I told you that I’m consulting. So when it comes in terms of comparison everybody you ask to mark themselves will mark themselves higher than the next person. So, if you ask me am I better than any other person? You know what the answer would be.
You have spent over eight years as APC chairman. What are those legacies you think you have left behind to be remembered?
The establishment of a formidable opposition in Enugu State. That’s a legacy. The alternative choice for Enugu State people.
Do you think the people would be happy voting APC back at the Federal level?
I don’t think they would be voting party. The people will vote for the best candidate. With the new Electoral Act the issue will not be about party. The issue will be about candidates. So anybody running around and driving through one party or the other I think will be making mistake. You go with a platform but the issue will be candidate. If they present good candidate he will be voted for. But if they present a candidate that is a weakling the people are not stupid, they are smart, and if you have good programmes they would vote for you.