A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu has warned the party that the principle of zoning should not be discarded ahead of preparations for 2023 general elections.
In an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Okechukwu said the President should naturally be zoned to the South-East in 2023 to promote national unity and cohesion. But he warned that the South must be united to have the president zoned to the area. He also on Nigeria’s security challenges and other national issues.
What is your reaction to the spate of insecurity in the country?
I’m reluctant to discuss the security challenges confronting our dear country, especially when the Nigeria Defence Academy, an elite and foremost military institution, was a victim of a one day, one security crisis. It is like piercing dagger at heart of our security architecture. It is worrisome and that’s why Mr President has given orders to newly appointed security chiefs to shape up or shape out. Contrary to the cacophony of voices, nobody is happy that our country has gone so low in handling the security challenges. I recalled one time when I confronted my friend, Aminu Masari, the governor of Katsina State on why he was settling bandits, and then in a subdued voice, he told me how helpless he was. Not long after, he publicly proclaimed that he is no more paying ransom. And lastly, out of desperation, he called for self-defence. It captured the deadly scenario we are in. I’m one of those who sympathised with Masari than attack him. His worry is our worry; his pain is our pain. He is the metaphor of our predicament.
How will you assess steps being taken by the Federal Government to tackle the challenge?
The danger of the security situation we found ourselves in is escalated when we play blame games. This is not the time for blame games but time for solutions to be proffered by those who are vested in the intricacies of security networks.
The National Assembly is currently in the process of amending the 1999 constitution. How will you advise it on the exercise?
The modality of alteration or amendment of the 1999 constitution is expressly stated and as I said before, our task is to ditch the culture of impunity and imbibe the fine tenets of democracy. The fine tenets of democracy have similarities with the Koran, the Bible and indeed all scriptures. Therefore, the first leg is imbibing the ethos of democracy.
For instance, in the much-vilified 1999 Constitution in Chapter 2, the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy is one chapter one admires. It should be strengthened and made to be justiciable. Is it not a paradox that in taking oath of office, president, governors, legislators and the judiciary all swear to preserve this all important chapter that protects our security and welfare? But at the same time, it is not justiciable. This is an anomaly, and the necessary adjustments have to be done.
For example, a region like the South-East should have one additional state to make up with other five geo-political zones. It is an axiom that when you treat a child like others she feels happy.
The southern governors recently said the next president must come from the south. What is your take on this?
I’m on the same page with the southern governors on the premise that rotation or zoning convention engenders national unity, national loyalty, equity, natural justice and good justice. This is the bedrock of the Fourth Republic, which commenced with rotation of president to the south.
I recall when prominent northerners like Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Umaru Shinkafi, Dr Olusola Saraki, Adamu Ciroma and others were persuaded to drop their ambition for the enlightened collective interest of our dear nation. We need rotation to sustain national unity and national loyalty, that’s the truth of the matter. This is encouraged by the prebendal politics we play in Nigeria.
My further take on this issue is that if one is asked which zone will I pick if power rotate to the South, one will choose the South-East. Not because I’m from the zone, but because since the inception of the rotation convention in 1999, our brothers in the southern zone had presided over our dear country. The South-West started in 1999 and had eight years and the South-South had it for five years plus between 2010 and 2015. Naturally, it should be the turn of the South-East. One prays that our southern brothers will support our cause. There has also been this claim by some people that APC seems not disposed towards rotation of the president to the south. But to the best of my knowledge, the leadership of our great party has not taken a decision on the rotation of the president. So it is not correct to say that we are not disposed to power rotating to the south. Until such decision is taken, one can only make hunches.
To me, the two obstacles to rotation of the president to South or South-East is one, lack of unity among the three geo-political zones within the two leading political parties. I’m one of those who think that the rotation is more dependent on the leadership of both political parties, than on the leadership of vociferous ethno-socio-cultural organisations. Secondly, APC’s approval rating is very low in the south, especially in the South-East and South-South. This obstacle is confounded by the PDP’s Governor Bala Mohammed Committee’s report on zoning, that threw the battlefield open. It more or less breached PDP’s constitution and kind of send dangerous signal to the APC that going south might wittingly or unwittingly dangle President Buhari’s 12 million vote-bank in favour of the PDP especially when Mr President will not be on the ballot in 2023. These are scenarios any ruling party like APC must zoom on before the final decision is taking.
Are you saying that the South or South-East in particular should forget 2023 given the worrisome scenarios you portrayed?
As Americans say, it is not over until it is over. So, not to worry. When we get to the bridge, we’ll cross it. But my advice is that we need unity among the south, between states and within states. The North, for instance, has the knack to unite whenever it comes to pitching with southern geopolitical zones. We should learn, instead of sabotaging ourselves.
Your party, the APC is currently embroiled in a crisis as to whether Governor Mai Mala Buni should continue as the caretaker national chairman or not. What is your position on this?
Let me start by saying that His Excellency M M Buni led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) did tremendously well given the authoritarian leadership it came to couple together ,the havoc they had done to the progressive soul of the APC, a party we founded as a change agent. Therefore, one cannot decipher why, especially after the Supreme Court judgement, where most people seem skewed in favour of the minority judgment instead of the majority judgment. Since the judgment, it has been Buni must go, but one can understand that, for we are on the eve of a major 2023 general elections. Few critics view him as the obstacle to their ambitions destination, which I don’t think he is. They forget that one tree doesn’t make a forest. Otherwise, the reasons they stated mostly lacked merit. For it is trite law that no sane lawyer will quote minority judgment, no matter how cerebral. more so when he has the vote of confidence of not only his colleagues governors, albeit majority of us. In fact, the CECPC is upholding our great party’s constitution; except hitches arising from the recent ward congresses.
But what’s your assessment of the ward congresses all over the country because there have been controversies and mixed reactions?
We set off with good intentions by adopting consensus model, so as to minimise cost and rancour. In my own assessment, the exercise is more than 70 per cent successful, especially in wards where the concept of consensus was applied as expressly stated in APC’s constitution.
Although there has been outcry of murder and manipulation of the ward congresses especially in some southern states like Enugu, Abia, Osun, Ekiti, Rivers, Imo States, but without being immodest, I’m not used to exaggeration, so a thorough assessment will not be different from my 70 per cent threshold of success which I made earlier. This is because, for instance a state like Kebbi, where I presided, out of 21 local governments, hitches were only in three LGAs. Can you include this in your failure score card? Definitely no. I agree that most hitches were found in the southern states, and this can be attributed to all manners of reasons, one of which is the inordinate ambition of those who defected from the PDP to hijack the party structure from some of us the foundation members of APC.
Do you have any such case in mind ?
As a member of the merger committee which midwifed the birth of the APC from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and faction of APGA, DPP and Civil Society Organisations (CSO), one cannot here call out names, and more so the appeal committees have not delivered their results. Therefore, it will be undemocratic for one to open up before the outcome of the appeal panels. One will talk when the result is out. Suffice to say that there are those who were in the comfort zone of the PDP, , calling us all manner of unprintable names, who today want to hijack our party structures by force. They are used to selection, and not the consensus envisaged by APC’s constitution. Most of them have no electoral value, otherwise our 2019 presidential election results in the South-East, especially could have been exemplary.
How would you rate the chance of APC in the 2023 general elections?
I will rate our chance 85 per cent. The 15 per cent left is not because of PDP’s intra-party crisis, but because unfortunately as Professor Attahiru Jega said, most Nigerians view both political parties as same. It is becoming difficult to distinguish the fact that we are truly progressive because of defectors. Secondly, the 15 per cent is hanging because I’m aware that in liberal democracy, every election is a referendum on the incumbent. Some PDP fans have been bandying the false narrative that Nigerians should forget their locust years and blame the APC-led Federal Government for every ill bedevilling the country. For them, there is no need tracing where the rain started, for backward never forward ever is their suitable slogan.
If you mention the massive infrastructural and agricultural revolution of Mr President, they will shut their ears and claim those were their programmes, which they never executed but which we are executing.
What’s your take on the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, the Monday sit at home order by IPOB, and the present security situation in the South-East?
On the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, I join Ohaneze Ndigbo in calling for fair hearing and fair trial. On the sit-at-home order, I plead with them to stop it, because the loser is the inhabitants of the zone they claim to be protecting. It is a double jeopardy on those they claim to defend. I’m a nationalist and believe that what we need most importantly is shared prosperity. Without shared prosperity, we are wasting away, as hunger fuels anger and despair. The IPOB agitators some times cut of Ndigbo nose in an attempt to spite President Buhari’s face. That’s wrong, for the old adage maintains that it is foolhardy to cut your nose by spiting someone.
On the crisis rocking PDP, especially….
Ordinarily, one wishes our great party the APC victory at all times, given the harm’s way the PDP had placed our dear country in their 16 years of squandermania and planlessness. This is the sordid scenario and material conditions, which have paralysed the country, leading today to despair, despondency and palpable insecurity. For yesterday is the architecture of today, that no matter how we bury how PDP led our democracy to recession, it is unpardonable. Some do not agree, but the truism is that most crisis in APC is an offshoot of defectors from the PDP, despite their so called critical input.
This crisis rocking PDP notwithstanding, I however earnestly hold the firm belief in having two dominant political parties in a multiparty system democracy. That’s the most successful model in advanced democracies like India, United States, United Kingdom, and a host of others. Therefore, it is in our enlightened collective interest that PDP recovers and takes its rightful place as the guardian of our democracy.
We are human beings, if there is no strong opposition, we slide dangerously into hostile dictatorship. God forbid, as some elements in our great party are almost romancing dictatorship devoid of internal democracy, which regrettably, led to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s decline.