Mr. Osita Okechukwu is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON). In this interview, he says the defection of eminent political leaders and PDP stalwarts in the South-East to APC is a strategic political move for the 2023 presidential aspiration of Ndigbo. Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports
RECENTLY, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governors Orji Uzor Kalu and Jim Nwobodo joined APC and there are signs that others will follow soon. Critics say there is mad rush to APC in the zone. What do you make of the development?
It is not a mad rush. It is a positive surge on the recognition that there is a foundation being laid by President Muhammadu Buhari. The recognition of the fact that these were eminent Igbo sons and daughters, who had been in the PDP from the foundation, like His Excellency, Chief Jim Nwobodo, was one of the foundation members of the PDP. These are eminent people.
He was in the PDP for over 16 years. And while he was there; the entire federal roads in the South-East decayed and became almost un-motorable. Some remained the way they were the last time the PTF (Petroleum Special Trust Fund) touched them. They were there, the Enugu coal remained moribund. They were there, the Ugwuoba gas, Onitsha dry port, the second Niger Bridge, development of Aba as a city, or even Aba-Abakiliki roads and Nigercem went awry.
So, they looked back and said, barely two years of APC coming to power, the bulldozers are back on the roads. Contractors that have never been paid over the years have been paid, no matter how small. Hope was restored. So, basically you don’t blame them; our people are very appreciative; they even celebrate a governor that dug borehole at N2m. So, when you see them coming to the APC, they are coming because of the serious efforts at revamping the infrastructure of South-East and Nigeria in general that President Muhammadu Buhari has initiated.
Secondly, some of them believe in our position, that this is a golden opportunity for Ndigbo to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023. Because if we support President Muhammadu Buhari and he governs for eight years, the convention since 1999 would play out. The northern political elite in 1999, out of patriotic interest, said power should go back to the south, by then, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the candidate of PDP that he was never part of. I recall in Jos when Alhaji Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory was persuaded not to run for the primary election. It was the same thing also in Kaduna when Dr. Olusola Saraki of blessed memory was also persuaded not to run with others. All elements from the north were barred from contesting for the presidency in 1999; why? Because the agitation in the south called for realignment, a conventional zoning and as God would have it, it happened, the South-West had eight years run.
Now after those eight years, it went back to the north. Unfortunately, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua could not live through the segment; accidentally it became President Goodluck Jonathan. The north came back to argue that this is their turn, but everybody said leave the young man to complete four years. And that happened. When Jonathan now insisted on continuing, the whole north went back to obey the zoning convention and voted President Muhammadu Buhari. And we are saying that in eight years, that convention will prevail and that Nd’Igbo stands a better chance of appealing to our brothers in the north, our brothers in the south and we would tell our brothers in South-West that you have had eight years since 1999.
We are not talking about 1960, when we never actually had it except the six months’ stint of General Aguiyi Ironsi. We will then be in the position to tell the north to give us support. We are then in a position to tell the South-West, you have had eight years. And for the South-West, the South-East voted for the PDP in the election that produced President Obasanjo for two terms. In fact, they voted him in 1999 when the South-West did not vote for the then president, in spite of the fact that our son was more or less, holding the short end of the primary election in Jos. For the South-South, we also voted for them, even when everybody was saying Dr. Jonathan will not be, the South-East said South-South must have it. Even in 2015, South-East also voted for the same South-South.
Now does it make sense again to oppose President Muhammadu Buhari? So our people are looking at it from that perspective and the best we can do is to also support him so that any of our girls or boys that suits Nigerians would now lay claim in 2023 going by the convention of North-South rotation. It is a convention, because it is not written anywhere except in PDP constitution. It is not written in our constitution, the APC or the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But in political discourse, it has been said that there are two planks, the law-with its legal teeth, and the other, convention, with its moral weight. On this side, are the legal teeth; on the other side is the moral weight that the convention goes with. And moral weight is backed up by persuasion. So, this is what the Igbo are saying, that Mr. President is doing well. He had even told our people to go back to land, that agriculture is the main hub. And he is giving support.
Even on the $30b loan being borrowed, some people do not know that about $400m is what would be used to get the national transmission line into what is called super transmission line that can collect any electricity generated anywhere. It is for the country. The axis of the social investment programme in that $30b loan is also for the whole country. The 3,500 mega watts that would be generated at Mambilla is also going to be evacuated into that national grid. It is not going to be kept in Taraba; it is for the whole country.
The provision for agriculture in that loan is also for the whole country. This is what the Igbo elite have seen and decided to support this change. Also, they are aware that this is a president that will not ask any contractor or consultant for a kobo to get into his pocket. These are the motivations why the leaders are crossing over and looking ahead, strategically, for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
Is eight years for Buhari cast on stone? What of the possibility that some other person from the north could come on board and desire a different time line of presidency?
I cannot actually dispute what you say; it is not cast in stone. But we are trying to overcome probabilities, because it is about the future. Don’t forget that I have been with President Muhammadu Buhari for over 30 years. In the days of ANPP, the first presidential election he contested in 2003, he had 12 million votes. Leave the one (Prof. Maurice) Iwu manipulated in 2007, because we were still collating when Iwu walked out and announced the result from his piece of paper. But in 2011, with our small Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), he also repeated the 12 million votes tally; the only thing lacking for his victory was that he did not go down south. In 2015, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a tactician and strategist, saw the reason. During the primaries, in a meeting, he said he would give President Muhammadu Buhari support. He gave his support and President Buhari won the primary election. In 2015 he had 15.4 million, so he added about plus two million to his 12m.
He had 22 percent of his votes in the southern states, 16 percent from the old western region and five percent from old eastern region. So, if Igbo join APC as some prominent people have done in the South-South, it means Mr. President might have 40 percent from the south. When you bring in the votes in South-South, South-East and South-West, he will have 40 percent and 60 percent in the north. So, that is the only way it is near cast in stone. On probability ratio, his victory is 70-30.
Given the situation in the southeast where leaders and the led do not always play together you know perception means a lot in politics-do you think the manner some of these leaders are joining APC will bring a synergy between the voters or the leaders and the led in the APC?
I think so. Let me clarify one thing. Like I said earlier, every election is a referendum on Mr. President or Mr. Governor. And Buhari has never depended on the elite per se. His votes have always been masses-based. Buhari has a strong commitment to the welfare of the people. All his policies are aligned towards the people. So, I don’t see how the man that has commitment to the people will fall short.
That is for Buhari, but the tendency in the South-East is for leaders to take followers for granted, you heard Senator Jim Nwobodo say he knows how to talk to the people, not that he has consulted with the people…
What Jim Nwobodo said was that the people know him; that if he has moved out of PDP, they know there is a reason for the movement to APC. Don’t forget that he was a Zikist. And one of the tendencies of the people in Igbo land is the Zikist approach: that Nigeria must be one! That we cannot secede, that we don’t have anything to do with secession. That Igbo are accepted throughout the whole country, otherwise we could not have had two federal legislative seats from Lagos State. It would not be the population we have in Abuja or Kano, a recognizable proportion of the population, especially in Kano, one of the biggest cities in the country, if we are not accepted. We would not have Sabon Gari in Kano.
The point of the matter is that the majority of the Igbo I know do not want to secede.
Is it possible for the new comers in APC to aspire for elections into the party’s National Working Committee during the midterm convention?
Why not? Don’t forget there was a convention we held, one of the last conventions before the last election. That convention was to insert in the constitution of APC that even if you come an hour before any election, you can contest. So, to that extent, we are even afraid that some of them that looted in PDP and crossing over with their loot could begin to dictate the pace. That is the danger. That is also the downside of the crossover; those who participated in unbridled corruption are carrying their loot and joining the APC. That is one of the fears!Source: The Nation