Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu believes that Igbo presidency will be possible in 2023 if people of the South East take the right steps. In this interview, he spoke on the crises rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) and many other issues.
Did it come to you as a surprise when President Buhari announced that he will not be going for a third term?
It did not at all because for over 10 years of following President Buhari, the much I could discern of him is that he is a systems person. He is a man who believes that since the constitution has set limits, he wouldn’t want to upset the system. He doesn’t take prisoners; he makes his strong conviction known.
He cannot proclaim publicly that age and constitution made it impossible for him to broach third term, if he doesn’t mean it. Don’t forget that he stood on the Holy Koran, while rejecting the ignoble offer. He hates to disturb the system as it is especially when it is crystal clear to him that the zoning convention was meant for peace and harmony of our great country.
There was no way he could have run for third term and I never bothered myself when there were speculations that he is going to run for third term because I know that he will not like to disrupt the unity of this country. He won’t like to go out of his way to cause disaffection that might throw the country into turmoil.
As I said earlier, he is a rule-based person and he knows what the constitution says and what it takes to get the constitution amended especially a rigid constitution like ours. Even if you convince the president that he has powers and muscles to amend the constitution to his favour, he is not the type.
He knows full well that there is no need to dissipate energy on something that will distort the critical foundation of this country he is laying, like the agrarian revolution, the standard gauge railway lines and other critical infrastructure that occupy his mind. From day one, I knew he was not going to contest third term.
I am not even surprised by the request from some Nigerians for him to contest and it is understandable because there are those who see his remaining in power as their means of survival. They did the same to Gowon, Shagari, Obasanjo among others. These kind of persons will always be there. It is done all over the world and in every clime but the point remains that Buhari will not give in to that because he would not like to do anything to throw the country into harms way.
Do you share the sentiment that political tension in the country died after the announcement?
Of course to a certain extent and for bad seeds planted in the recently conducted Kogi State election. One feels bad when I notice avoidable mayhem, especially the gruesome murder of Mrs Salome Abuh, after the election.
One firmly stands with the zoning convention, please one is not saying that the rotation or zoning convention is the best in the horizon in terms of idealist nature of the growth of democracy in our society, but in our peculiar circumstance in Nigeria, it is the ligament that holds the various tendencies together.
It was well perfected in 1999, with the Falae/Obasanjo Model and since then, the president has rotated between the South and North. We could recall when Olusola Saraki, Abubakar Rimi, Umaru Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma, Dr Alex Ekwueme of blessed memory and a host of other Northerners and Southerners like Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu were persuaded not to run. These eminently qualified personalities were prevailed upon by Nigerian patriots to sacrifice their presidential ambitions for unity, peace and justice, hence the start of the zoning convention. They were convinced that zoning will bring peace and unity in the country and surely it did. The good side of zoning is that there is no geopolitical zone without quality candidates.
They insisted that for us to be a democratic nation, no section of the country should feel marginalised. That in the interest of peace, justice, equity and good conscience, the Northerners should not contest. To finetune it, they insisted that it must come from the South West and that was why we had Falae/Obasanjo Model.
This is my canvas that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, so we should use this veritable tool of zoning to produce Nigeria president of Igbo extraction. More so, when Ndigbo are the only geopolitical zone in the South, which has not presided over Nigeria since the advent of the zoning convention in 1999 4th Republic.
What do you think is the implication of Buhari denouncing third term to Ndigbo 2023 presidency aspiration?
That the field is now open for Ndigbo, all we need do is to adopt persuasion as a key tool in appealing to our brothers and sisters in other geopolitical zones as Professor Chinedu Nebo and Co, did penultimate week. We shall pay special attention to the elite leaderships both from the PDP and APC; they should come to reason and engage in rational thinking that 2023 should be the turn of the South East or the Igbo as an ethnic group.
If you give any Igbo, be the person from Delta, Rivers Igbo or those from any of the five South East zones, it will be the final reconciliation of the Igbo to the Nigeria project. This will be the final healing balm after the civil war. It will be one of the great legacy of Mr President.
It will be the final end of the civil war and all these ethnic agitators like IPOB and the ilk will disappear and die a natural death. I had maintained that every geopolitical zone has an inalienable right to preside over our dear country. It is still rooted in the original concept of zoning or rotation convention. It has everything to do with harmony, equity, justice and good conscience. Personally, I don’t care who APC or PDP will choose, male or female, after all, the entire South West didn’t vote for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
I had repeatedly dismissed the impression that the Igbo are not in the APC because there is no bloc in the country that the two major parties have no members. There are some of us who from day one, converged on Tom Ikimi’s house on February 5, 2013 from the platform of defunct political parties like ANPP, ACN, CPC, and factions APGA and DPP and civil society organizations to form the amalgam called the APC. In all major liberal democracies, two major political parties normally dominate the political terrain and each has its stronghold
unless anyone wants to gloss over the fact of harmony and unity which the zoning convention was meant for. There are two elements in the political domain; one is called convention with its moral weight while the other is the law with its legal teeth.
Politically, most countries of the world are using convention and that is why in UK, they will tell you that they do not have a written constitution because they are relying on conventions. We have to ask ourselves, what is it that works for us? What is it that unites the United Kingdom because there are also tribes or races in UK like in Nigeria.
What has led them over the years is the convention. My agitation for president of Igbo extraction is not because I am Igbo but because it will be the final end of the civil war.
How can Igbo president be actualised when most chieftains of the APC, including the governor of Kaduna State do not believe in zoning arrangement?
It is not about what they believe but the collective patriotic thoughts. As I said earlier, if the elite leadership of the APC and PDP agreed that within our ranks, they should look for an Igbo person to bid final farewell to this unnecessary agitation for the sake of unity of Nigeria, it will work out well. We have capable hands, in quantum.
The benefit of Igbo president is that he will fast forward the critical infrastructure that President Buhari has started. Without being immodest, nobody can doubt the hard work, industry, entrepreneurship of the Igbo. And I am sure that no president of Igbo extraction will discriminate in appointment of critical officers; no, the wife and relatives will insist on equity. We are the foremost patriots who invest in all nooks and crannies of our dear country.
For the avoidance of doubt, the critical infrastructure like standard gauge rail line Buhari is currently undertaking to parts of the country, and agricultural revolution, which is now the highest employer of labour, will be advanced, as nobody can deny the fact of the dexterity of Nigeria president of Igbo extraction.
For the sake of equity, there is nobody that can claim that an Igbo president can go out of his way to be sectional. It is not possible because he knows that building a road in the most interior part of this country, his people will benefit from it. The Igbo are truly patriotic and we are the foremost group that live and invest and fraternize as well in every corner of our dear fatherland.
Everywhere is home for the Igbo. Some are even organising their traditional marriages in the cities and villages outside Igboland. I challenge other tribes to tell me what they have invested in Igbo land and we will count what we have invested in their domain. I don’t support the claim of some people that there is nobody in the leadership of this APC government; we are inside with less noise.
If the leadership of the PDP and APC decides to support two persona from the Igbo stock for president, it is very easy to package them seamlessly for the responsibility. It is not only big names that lead a country; fresh faces can be raised. I want to appeal to certain persons especially in the opposition, not to gamble with the chances of the Igbo presidency in 2023.
Considering the volume of crisis in the APC, do you see the ruling party retaining power beyond 2023?
Yes, there is no political party on earth that is crisis-free. Even the Republican Party in the USA that looks united on the surface, hanging around President Donald Trump, they are not united. The apparent division in the APC is not as bad and strong as it is being touted.
The only thing is that some of us felt that the party primaries for the 2019 general elections, was kind of cash and carry. The truth is that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole mismanaged the primaries. Unluckily, the bad seeds he sowed are manifesting negatively from the crisis now rocking between him and Governor Godwin Obaseki.
We noticed a warped scenario of Oshiomhole kind of declaring that those marginalised in Edo should enjoy the harvest of conducting the 2019 APC primaries in many states. Edo State indigenes got over nine Panel Chairmen in many states, while many state didn’t chair any panel. One panel conducted primaries for state House of Assembly, Federal House, Senate and Governorship, instead of three panels per state. The question then is where are the billions we paid for the primaries?
We contributed billions of Naira and if Oshiomhole was not on a mission to financially help his brothers, what he would have done was to mobilise the APC members across the country. When his panel rigged me out in Enugu West Senatorial district, I rushed to Oshiomhole’s private office in Aso Drive but he ran into his car, instead of giving me audience.
I moved to the present Minister of Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, who was the Deputy National chairman of APC then; he directed me to wait for Professor O. Osunbor, who was the chairman of the Appeal Panel. I put a call across to him but he told me he was in Kebbi as the chairman of Kebbi Panel. When I called him on a given night and he graciously invited me over to his house, I explained my woes of how I was rigged out and gave him my petition; he directed me to submit the other copy at the national secretariat.
But shockingly, when I submitted, they refused to acknowledge my petition because according to them, they were directed not to acknowledge any copy. I told them that my first job was messenger in 1976 and the old time practice is to acknowledge letters. I was shocked over the refusal to acknowledge my petition; the bigger shock came when I was not even invited to appear before the Appeal Panel to defend my petition.