Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Dr. Theodore Ekechi is a member representing the Southeast on the North East Development Commission (NEDC). In this interview, he pointed out that the Igbo are desirous of producing the president in 2023, but lack the knowledge of the political game to achieve that.
People have began the political game ahead of 2023. Many have started to clamour for merit instead of zoning in the presidential election. What’s your take?
I am sure you asked the question because a lot of Igbo brothers and sisters have been clamouring for Igbo presidency. While I support and agree that the Igbo deserve to rule this country like other parts of the country, I want to differ from them a little bit in this perspective. There’s never a best time for an Igboman to be president. Every time is the best time. The earlier we realized that the better for us as Igbo people and as Nigerians. We have got to a point where some people talk about the presidency as if it’s given, as if unless we beg, we will not get it, as if it’s a position we have been deliberately denied from achieving, as if there’s an orchestrated force that denied the Igboman the opportunity to become president. Presidency is not given in Ochanja market, nor in the beer parlor in Owerri. It’s neither shared in Enugu nor decided by Ohanaeze Ndigbo for which they decide who is best qualified for it. So, there’s a need for us to change our mentality about the whole thing.
You mean we don’t have qualified people for the position and also not playing our game well?
We have enough people who are qualified in every aspect to rule Nigeria. However, there should be a personality of Igbo extraction who will rise above parochial sentiment, above clannish sentiment, community sentiment, zonal considerations to challenge others in the contest. We are talking about a Nigerian president and not about a Southeast president. You can’t become Nigerian president except you have the support of other parts of the country. Abiola became “president-elect”, not because he was a Yoruba man, but because he scored more votes than his opponents even in the North. He achieved that because he was cosmopolitan. He was a national character and he did not build it on the year of the election. It was a consistent, planned build up that spanned over a period of not less than 10 years. Whether you like it or not, Buhari became president because he consistently and pesistently strived to become president, contesting the presidency for many times and losing even against the Southerner. Which of our brothers have made 10 per cent of such sacrifices. You can’t become president of Nigeria without making such sacrifices or without being supported by some people who have made sacrifices.
But we have billionaires who can make such sacrifices?
Where are the billionaires? We may have them, but do they have to wait until the last hours of the election before they enter the ring? Do they wait by the side, identify the man that is likely going to win, they go to him in the dead of the night and drop for him about N2 billion or N100 billion, with a promise that when the person becomes president, they will nominate the ministers, and perhaps, begin to influence who becomes governor in their own states? That is bad politics. The huge money and other resources spent in Anambra and Imo states during governorship elections were a waste. If you give me that kind of money, I will cover all the surfaces of the states in this country. I will be able to make a little bit of impact. If you give that kind of money to someone like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she will literally be able to cover the cost of logistics to convince Nigerians that she is capable of becoming president. Give that kind of money to Prof. Charles Soludo, you will see the impact. We are not investing in that direction. I ask again, which president had emerged through allocation? This is the time for our men, particularly those who want to be president to begin the campaign. They should stop clamouring for presidency from the motor parks, Ariaria market, the beer parlour in Owerri, or Ochanja market in Anambra State. Come down to Abuja, meet people from other clans in this country, discuss the ambition on merit and secure their support. That’s the way to go.
Are you implying that Igbo are not prepared to take the presidency, perhaps because of the disunity among the people?
There is no part of this country where you don’t have disunity amongst people. But one thing I find very common within the Igbo clan is our failure to see the presidency as a very huge investment. The investment is costly in terms of time and financial resources. It also comes with lots of risk. If Buhari had lost in 2015 attempt to be president, perhaps he would have become bankrupt because everything he had earned all his life might have gone into the search for presidency. Those who think they are capable of becoming president should quickly jump into the political field and begin to convince Nigerians why they should queue behind them. It will come with a cost which may be that, the mansion you have in your village may be the only property left at the end of the day. You may be forced to sell the ones in Abuja, Enugu and even abroad to prosecute the search for presidency. How many of our people can do that? So, it’s an attitudenal problem. Suddenly, Igbo are beginning to behave as if they are the ones that have complex and not the other way round. If I have the resources, I will give the presidency a shot. I am already thinking about that. Let those who have the resources come. You must also have integrity and the character because it’s not enough to have the resources. Sometimes you have the resources, but you don’t have the integrity and character. Look for those of us who have the integrity and the character and back us.
There are some of our brothers who distanced themselves from the Igbo cause claiming not to be Igbo. Will it be wise to drum support for people at this stage?
My argument is this, because someone come from state outside the five Southeast states does not in anyway automatically disqualify him or her from being Igbo. You can first of all admit that somebody is Igbo, then you can now argue that he is not a patriot. That is why you have the word patriotism. It doesn’t mean that somebody who is not patriotic is not a Nigerian. So, the argument should not be that he is not or he is because he is. But if you have other arguments, you can put forward to convince us that such person has not shown solidarity, then you can do that. But that doesn’t disqualify such a person from being part of an area of consideration, assuming that is the basis of consideration. After all, I have read a literature where the Great ZIk was once quoted as saying that he was not Igbo. Did that stop Zik from being referred to as an Igbo man? Never. But there’s a literature on this, sometimes between 1937 and 1945. That doesn’t make Zik even in his death a non-Igbo.
What would you suggest that Igbo should do in case major political parties fail to present Igbo candidates at their primaries?
What we will do is exactly what we did in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, when the two major political parties failed to nominate an Igbo man as candidate. The time to do what we want to do is now, so that an Igboman will emerge flag bearer of the political parties. I can assure you that nothing will happen if otherwise happens. This is the time to work the talk. Politics is defined in Igbo language as “Ndorondoro ochichi” and not “nyerenyere ochichi”. It means that politics is contest for power and not allocation of power. I can assure that nothing will happen in 2023 if an Igboman is not elected president. I tell you the first coordinators that would be announced if the candidates of the two major political parties emerge are going to be Igbo men, and all the prominent Igbo men that I know, including serving ministers, are already positioning themselves as coordinators of the people who are contesting. So, why do you want to fight for such people? We must put our positions, our challenges in proper perspectives. This is the time to fight. I will be happy to see Igbo man become the president of this nation, but somethings need to be done first to achieve that goal.
Obviously, zoning principle adopted by some political parties was not to ethnic groups. Should someone like Rotimi AmaechI who is from South-south become president, has he not deprived the Southeast the opportunity of having a shot at the presidency?
I am not aware that the presidency has been on rotation. The presidency has always been a product of political struggle, sometimes influenced in context by the circumstances of the time. If we create that circumstances, it will become an enabling environment to make Nigerians act in a particular way and manner. The late Abiola rose above political considerations, ethnic jingoism and clannish sentiments. He moved as a Nigerian. It’s possible to get an Igboman of such a nature. When Abiola was reigning as a millionaire, probably, he didn’t have the quantum of money that some Igbo brothers have now. What are they doing with the money? Probably buying exotic cars for traditional rulers who were queried by their governor. That money can drive a presidential candidacy. That money for SUV Lexus Jeep can drive a presidential candidacy. Give me 20 per cent of that money, by the end of next month, I will become a household name in Nigeria. I will become a household name in Nigeria. So, please we need to be more careful as we discuss this issue of Nigeria presidency. Throw these questions to our senior Igbomen particularly those who are serving in government who come in the night to talk about Igbo presidency, but in the day, they don’t have the courage to shout it in the Villa. They don’t have the courage to say it before the party. In all, 2023 is going to produce a big surprise. Most of the motion we are seeing now are without movement. The real movement is on its way and when it comes, there will be surprises, there will be a political shocker and when it happens in the context of the Nigeria’s situation now, Nigerians will buy into the good message of liberation.
Some of the presidential aspirants are likely to become stooge of the North. Would it be proper to elect a president indirectly being controlled by external influence?
Let me assume you are correct. We have more politicians from the southeast who wine and dine with people from the North. Why can’t they become stooges so that directly or indirectly one of them can become Nigerian president? Why will they allow a man from South-south to transform himself to a stooge in order to become president? There’s no legal steps taken to become Nigerian president that is bad. It’s also part of the struggle for power. Let someone from the Southeast states become a stooge to become president, get the power first and after taking the power, we do as we are doing in Edo, Imo, Lagos states and other places. Take the power first and other things will follow.
You are a member representing Southeast in the North East Development Commission (NEDC). With what is happening in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), do you think government’s intention of establishing the Commissions is being achieved?
If you look at the philisophy of setting up Commissions or setting up government agencies, there is no doubt whatsoever, that they were set on the foundation of both political and managerial philosophy, to bring development to the places where the Commissions are set up in a way and manner that would not be bogged down by government bureaucracy.That’s actually the real intention, otherwise it would have been enough to do whatever you want to do for the South-south people through the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry or through the Ministry of Works. But government wanted to ensure that they bring a specialised agency that would not be weighed down by bureaucracy so that things can be done faster, easier and more efficiently. That’s the idea. But human factor sabortages such noble intentions, then the system that set it up or the human beings that run the place down should be blamed. In NEDC, I can beat my chest to say that we are doing a good job, perhaps because we are new and we have not been contaminated or corrupted. I pray that we remain steadfast in the way we are going. If such transparency and accountability is replicated in all other government agencies, Nigeria will be better for it. As for what is happening to the South East Development Commission bill, I will refer you to our brothers and sisters in the National Assembly, because NEDC and NDDC are creations of the National Assembly.