By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Mr Osita Okechukwu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is the director general of the Voice of Nigeria (VON).
In this interview, he shared his passion and sentiment on some of the goings-on in the Southeast, especially the aspiration for president of Igbo extraction in the 2023 general elections, warning Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB group to learn from lessons of history.
What’s your take on the statement of Nnamdi Kanu and by extension IPOB that the Southeast governors cannot speak on behalf of Ndigbo?
As an elder my simple advice to Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is that we share some of his complaints, but our strategy differs. One, I believe that in democracy time heals wounds; accordingly, those elected should be accorded due respect. Secondly, we Ndigbo should learn a lot from the Germans and Japanese. For like Ndigbo, the Germans and Japanese were defeated, humiliated, and cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki were razed down during the 2nd World War. The Germans and Japanese instead of grumbling, mourning, and gnashing their teeth eternally, put on their thinking cap and decided to forget, if not forgive the Americans and indeed the allied countries. The outcome of this noble decision is that today Germany is the most prosperous country in Europe with huge investments in the United States of America. Ditto Japan advanced industrially and remained the foremost ally of the US in Asia. Both countries are members of the G-7 that just wound up meeting at Cornwall in the UK. Toyota, for instance, wouldn’t have attained the status of number one car manufacturer in the world if Japan had cultivated bitterness like Mazi Kanu and his captive audience. We should learn from others who had suffered defeat like us. That’s my candid advice to Mazi Kanu and co, if actually, they are sincere.
How would you also react to the assertion that the Southeast governors are infinitesimal and do not command the loyalty of Ndigbo?
That’s the question one is trying above to address. Truly, methinks their hallucination has taken the wind out of our agitation for Nigeria president of Igbo extraction. Our factual position that taken cognizance of the zoning or rotation convention which heralded the 4th Republic; that it is our turn was gaining traction until the Mazi Kanu abrasion that you can get Biafra on sentiments. He forgot that we are in a democracy and the people validly elected the governors, therefore, they are true representatives of Ndigbo. That’s the position of fact and law, whether anyone likes it or not. That’s why sometimes one views Mazi Kanu as one who needs the advice of psychologists. If you listen and carefully analyse his songs and address you notice some elements of delusion.
You seem to disagree with IPOB on every point even the dot in a circle comment by Mr. President?
Without absolving Mr. President you must carefully listen to the inciting jibes of Mazi Kanu, you might assume that all Ndigbo are behind him and ready for war again. But a majority of us Ndigbo agrees that we are marginalized and that we should be better accommodated, without secession. We must appreciate that even my town Eke is polarised over one issue or the other and that we are passing a phase of hunger and anger.
Why do the non-state actors seem to command more acceptability within the populace than the state governors?
It is because of the despondency, despair, and hopelessness in the land. A hunger and anger shared in common from Enugu to Katsina, from Ogoja to Dutse and from Akure to Bama. It is more or less a class war than ethnic or religious. The bandits in the Northwest are attacking the elite and kidnappers are kidnapping the rich to raise money. Yes, we are not president today; does that mean that we cannot be president tomorrow? This is the lesson Mazi Kanu and his captive audience should learn.
Has the Southeast been fairly treated in terms of appointments and infrastructure by the Buhari administration?
As I said before in one of the fora, it will be unethical for me because one has been appointed and reappointed; to pretend that all is well when no Southeast person is heading any of the security agencies, even the civil defense. However, for me, appointments are transient, whilst infrastructure projects like the 2nd Niger Bridge are substantial and more enduring. And we must not forget that at a certain point we were Chief of Army Staff, IGP, Minister of Finance and Co. And yet our infrastructure decayed and the material conditions of today’s poverty cultivated via planlessness and squandermania. To the extent that while we were partying in the regimes which offered juicy appointments our social and physical infrastructure collapsed. This is the task which President Buhari has embarked upon, but in spite of this solid foundation he is laying for prosperity, many do not appreciate it because of sentiments. I pray that one day, appointments in Nigeria will be like the national football team of France.
What is your take on the resolution of the 17 Southern governors on the ban of open grazing?
One only disagreed with Southern governors on one point, their kind of withdrawal from participation in ranching. There seems to be a paradox here. On one breadth, they banned open grazing and on the other hand failed to either mention ranching or offer land for ranching as a concrete solution to open grazing. That’s my point of departure with our 17 governors, especially when they were signatories to the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
They seem to be scared of Fulani domination? Don’t you share their fears?
I don’t share such sentiments for the NLTP offers two distinct options. One, a governor may embark on pig, goat or sheep ranching, and secondly may embark on cattle ranching without a Fulani person in the ranching new city. Those holding this view are still fixated with the ancient propaganda they bandied when we took off with Mr. President in 2002, that Buhari will convert us to Muslims. That was the fad then, but Rt.Hon.Chuba Okadigbo, Oyi of Oyi of blessed memory, had a ready- made answer. He would jokingly quip that how can Buhari convert Oyi who sometimes does not attend Sunday mass to Islam and make Oyi stop drinking alcohol? Is it possible?
How has Nigeria faired in the last six years of the APC-led administration?
It could have been worse under PDP’s share-the-money government. If PDP had constructed the three Greenfield Refineries they awarded to the Chinese at $23 billion in 2010, Buhari could have extra money to make us happy. A lot of people forgot where the rain of poverty, hunger, and joblessness started beating us. The PDP on our return to democracy instead of embarking on an agrarian revolution as Buhari is doing now continued to enjoy the abundant oil revenue without a serious commitment to diversification. They continued the nebulous economic policy of the Structural Adjustment Programme that government has no business in business, without proper evaluation of the status of our so-called private sector. Little did they know or appreciate that majority of our captains of industry has no one factory, not even pure water factory, but marketers of petrol-dollar. Therefore, when the international oil prices go down we get cold.
Do you see the party coming out unscathed after its coming convention?
Permit me to borrow PDP’s mantra – no shaking. Yes, one or two factions must lose like in every party primaries, however, to me we have the capacity to reconcile immediately. Just like His Excellency M.M.Buni and his Caretaker Extraordinary are doing in the last months.
And do you think the party has done enough to deserve another chance to rule the country?
Yes! Especially, when you remember where we are coming from, that made our mandate the job of rehabilitation and reconstruction. It may surprise you to note that in thousands of federal roads being reconstructed by Buhari’s regime that over 90 per cent were contracts awarded by the PDP. Mr. President refused to cancel the contracts when he discovered that some contractors were not paid for over four years despite the humongous oil revenue which accrued to the PDP when oil was sold at an average of $100 per barrel. Buhari was not lucky to inherit the locust years, as oil price nosedived below 40 per cent when he came to power in May 2015.
Ultimately, where do expect power to shift to in 2023?
It could have naturally come to Southeast or Ndigbo, given the rotation convention; but Mazi Kanu and Co seem to have fouled the air with discordant vibrating tunes. We are still engaged in recovery mission, canvassing that the rotation convention favours the Southeast, as the North has done eight years and it should go South. And if it goes South, the Southeast is the only geopolitical zone that has not presided over Nigeria since 1999 when the rotation convention was born. Our brothers in the Southwest had eight years under H.E. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and South-south had five years plus under H.E. Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
With the emergence of Prof. Charles Soludo as the governorship candidate of the APGA, what are your expectations of the coming elections?
Permit me to abstain from this matter, for I understand that APGA out of recklessness shot itself in the foot. The possibility of APGA being on the ballot is in contention. It was an unforced error by APGA. On this, my empathy goes to my fellow lion, Prof C.C.Soludo, Soludo for Solution, his slogan when he campaigned for Students Union seat at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, our alma mater.