by Segun Odeleye
Festus Odimegwu is the current chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC). In 2007, he contested for the Imo governorship seat and lost but he was widely commended for his brilliant job as boss of Nigeria Breweries although he stained his image then by his devious antics in support of the third term move by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
In a recent interview which Odimegwu gave to The Sun, he made some revelations. The most striking was what he said about the former INEC boss, Maurice Iwu, and Iwu’s role in motivating him to run for the Imo governorship seat.
He said that before he declared his ambition, and when there were talks that he won’t be supported because he came from the same Orlu region as the then governor, Achike Udenwa, he did two things. First he placed a call to Obasanjo, who said, “what is zoning? Your quality is good.” Then he called Maurice Iwu who said, “Ah, with Eze’s quality, there is nothing like zoning. Let him run, I will support him.”
So he declared.
It’s not like Nigerians needed any more evidence to show that Maurice Iwu was arguably the most partial and corrupt electoral commission boss this country has ever known, but this is a good confirmation from the mouth of a key player, who indirectly indicted himself as well. It’s shocking that Odimegwu did not see any issues with stating that the electoral commissio chairman promised to support him. Why did a candidate call the electoral commission boss on whether he should go ahead and contest or not?
Anyway, things didn’t go Odimegwu’s way. He pulled out of the race 24 hours to the PDP primaries, due to reasons he explained below (of course, this is his version), and as a reward for his efforts, he said he “went back to Lagos, bought two Rolls Royce phantoms to reward myself for trying and then started enjoying myself.”
Here are excerpts from that interview:
Somebody who saw me one day and said, “Eze, I had a dream that one day, you should really go and be Governor of Imo State and help your State.” The whole idea started from him. He took it to Baba, (Obasanjo), then they started calling me: “Come and be governor.”
I called the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Pius Anyim, because he is my friend and my brother. He is the one who recommended me for this job before the President approved it. He is like my political mentor. I have a lot of respect for him. I called him and I called former governor Achike Udenwa, and I said: “This is what they are telling me. Three of you should go and have a meeting with Baba, whether he really means these things he is saying. Or when I come, he will begin to mess me up.”
Three of them went to have meeting with Obasanjo, four times in the Villa and I refused to be present in those meetings. Baba told them: “Yes, Festus should go and help his state. What he did for Nigerian Breweries, let him go and do it for his state. Let’s really have a governor that is performing.”
Three of them came and told me: “He said you should run.” I said: “Achike, but you know I am not a politician. I do not have a structure.” Achike said he would give me his structure, but that he had his reservations, as to whether the zoning arrangement in Imo State would allow me to run because he is my brother. That he wasn’t sure whether Imo people would allow, after an Orlu man has run, it is another Orlu man. I said ok ask.
I told Baba that zoning doesn’t favour me. He said what is zoning? “Your quality is good.” I called Maurice Iwu who said, “Ah, with Eze’s quality, there is nothing like zoning. Let him run, I will support him.” And then I declared.
After spending money, trying to run to convince the people. Taking over the two radio stations, doing 2,000 billboards, moving to win on my own merit, that the people approved me. Twenty four hours to the primaries, I was asked to stop. I said, “What happened”? They said someone (name witheld) said the chiefs in his village said they would kill him if another Orlu man emerged to take over from Achike. That he was saying he was sorry,
I should stop. And because I wasn’t doing it for personal reasons, it is for service, I immediately stopped.
People said: “Run.” I said, “run for what? It is not necessary. I do not want to win against the wishes of the President of Nigeria who is my friend who told me to run. I don’t want to win and put Imo State in problem that another Orlu man left, Orlu man is coming.”
Even some of my friends from Owerri zone started making trouble with me. So, it was good for me to just stop. I went back to Lagos, bought two Rolls Royce phantoms to reward myself for trying and then started enjoying myself. I am not going to run for governorship again because now I am in Federal level, let us help Nigerians.
It is not about the job we have done or the job you are doing. It is about, have you impacted positively on the lives of Nigerians? Let me finish this population I am doing, to help my country to have accurate Demographic Data. That is my chart now and that is where I am.
In fact, later Baba told me, the best thing is that I shouldn’t run for election again. That I am a technocrat, intelligent, a professional. That I should help Nigeria in this type of job I am doing. I know Obasanjo should know because he has been in the field for a long time. I have taken his advice, I am not running again.