Former Imo State governor, Chief Achike Udenwa has said only a political solution could resolve the IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu issue, noting that legal options wouldn’t go anywhere.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the former Minister of Commerce and Industry said Northern elders were being confrontational over its position on power rotation in 2023.
You have always harped on power rotation between the North and the South, as a way of ensuring peaceful coexistence in the country. However, within the week, some Northern elders said the region should continue after President Buhari. What is your reaction on this?
Though power rotation is not constitutional, but it is conventional. We have done it all the time, to rotate power between the North and the South since 1999 till now. First, it was Obasanjo from the South; then to Yar’Adua, from the North; to Jonathan from the South and now Buhari, from the North. So, morally, anybody serious with One Nigeria, united Nigeria, should not be suggesting that power remains in the North. It was credited to Hakeem, I hope he is not stating the opinion of Northern Elders Forum because that will be vey confrontational and will not be good for our polity. Power should rotate.
Even your party, PDP that has rotation principle, its body language suggests that the party may zone the presidency to the North. What is your view on this?
I don’t know where you got the body language thing. I haven’t seen the body language. What PDP has done so far is to set up zoning committee, which has representatives from all the zones in the country. This committee has just started working. So, I don’t know where you got the body language, maybe from what people are saying. Everybody has his opinion and his wishes. Not even opinion, some people may wish it remains in the North and some people will wish it comes down to the South. So, you hear all sorts of thing. Until that committee finishes its work, considers all the variables and comes out with a zoning formulae, and tells the party what they recommended. It is left for the National Executive Committee of the party to accept or reject their recommendations. What the NEC finally approves is what we consider as the opinion of PDP, not anybody’s personal opinion. Let us not speculate until we have finally heard from the committee and NEC of the party.
However, if they decide that it goes to the North, what will be your position?
They will give enough reasons to justify that, and we will also look at the reasons. The recommendation of the zoning committee is not final; it is still subject to the NEC approval. We will look at whatever reasons they would give and see how tenable such reasons are. I cannot begin to preempt what will happen or what will not happen. Until we go through the entire processes, we are still at the preliminary, which is for the committee to meet and consider everything. They will go deep before they come out with recommendation, then the NEC will look at it and debate it. NEC is not a one-man body; it is made up of eminent members of the party – governors, NASS members, National Working Committee members, Board of Trustee members. By the time these people sit to consider the report of the zoning committee, they will come out with a position which will be the stand of the party. Today, PDP hasn’t taken any stand.
In the event that PDP NEC takes a stand and zones it to the North, saying the party is interested in winning the election and the ruling APC does the same, what position should the South that has insisted on power rotation take?
It is too early for me to say what the South will do because NEC has not taken that decision. For NEC to take that decision there must be some fundamental issues involved. It is too early for me to speculate what the South will do. You know NEC is made up of both North and South; it is not made up of only Northerners or Southerners. So, Southerners will be part of the NEC that will take this final decision. If NEC takes that final decision, it means there was a very genuine reason for that.
The South-East is asphyxiating following the sit-at –home by IPOB that is affecting the economic activities of the region. How can peace be brought back to that zone?
IPOB has come out to say that there should be no more sit-at-home. The problem you have when you have this type of situation is that while IPOB may be saying one thing, their operatives in the locality are doing another. We must come to a point where sanity will prevail and there will be an understanding by all parties involved because we may not be able to survive having this sit-at-home indefinitely all the time. It is positive that IPOB has come out to officially say, no more sit-at-home. We take it that as its official position. It is left for them to pass it down to their own local level so that we don’t have ugly incidents of people acting on IPOB’s statement and getting into trouble with its local operatives. People are beginning to see that the economy of the South-East is suffering.
Is it not failure of leadership in Igbo land, where IPOB is dictating what happens in the region? One would have expected that the elders should shout at the young ones to stop what they were doing and they would obey?
I don’t think you are right when you say nobody has come out to tell them to stop what they are doing. A lot of people have come out in the social media to tell them the implications of the sit-at-home; its negative impacts on our economy, the society. It is not right to say nobody has come out to say anything. On the other hand, you should know that IPOB is not a body that is constituted by law. It is part of the failure of not just the leadership but of the society. It is easy to start up a mob action, but difficult to control. That is why you must be very careful before you start any mob action. Once a mob action has taken off, it is difficult to arrest; it is not a question of failure of leadership. Which leadership are we talking about? The state governors in the South-East cannot order IPOB to stop. It is not failure of leadership. People keep on pointing out the implications of what is happening and appealing to IPOB.
It is out of the appeal by the leadership; their calls and the analysis of what is happening that IPOB has come out to say there is no more sit-at-home every Monday.
How do we tackle this Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon because it is what gave birth to this sit-at-home and other things happening in the South-East. What should the Igbo leadership do?
Just as people have already suggested, a political solution has to be found. If we continue following a legal process to it, it will have no end because the mere fact that you jail Nnamdi Kanu, or even kill him, thinking that the problem is over, another Nnamdi Kanu would come up. There has to be a political solution; there has to be a dialogue. The government of the day has to dialogue not just with the leadership of the Southeast, but in such a dialogue, the youths should also be involved because there are the main people who carry out the action, not the elders. But the leadership can ensure that there is a dialogue. In that dialogue, the issue will be tabled and every side presents its own position. But if it is resolved on the conference table, it is better than a legal solution that will not end it because Nnamdi Kanu is not alone; he has a lot of followers, he has a lot of deputies. If you imprison him today, someone else jumps up.
A dialogue is important. Even though I was not there when President Buhari visited Imo State, he had discussions with South-East leaders. I don’t know what they discussed, but there is no discussion the president or anybody will have with South-East leaders that won’t include the present impasse. Let’s hope that they mentioned it and try to find a way out. I’m sure that would have happen.
Southern Governors Forum has been meeting and they have come up with resolutions that would reposition the region, the issue of anti open grazing, presidency from the South in 2023, fiscal federalism, VAT collection, etc. Curiously, South-East governors are behind, while South-West and South-South are the ones driving it. What does this portend and what would you have done if it were during your time?
I’m very much surprised that some of our governors are not attending at all; some are sending their deputies, while one sent the Secretary to the State Government. It doesn’t show seriousness on our path. I don’t believe the coincidence of fixing such a meeting was such that no South-East governor was chanced, except the host, Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State; the other ones didn’t have chance at all. It shows our governors are not taking this issue seriously, or they are not representing our interests.
In our time, I was one of those who started the meeting; I hosted it, Rivers State hosted it, Lagos State hosted it first. Enugu also hosted it. We went to many states. It was such a forum where we talked of things, irrespective of your political leaning. We talked of the things concerning our region, not whether you were PDP, AD or ANPP. By then, PDP was in government, but all the other parties attended, and nobody absented. I don’t now know why our governors are not forthcoming. These are things that are fundamental to our own existence, to the survival of this country. The issues involved – security, open grazing, fiscal federalism. These are basic issues, so why our governors don’t want to get involved is what I cannot say. I’m surprised, I’m shocked because it is a forum where you go, even if you don’t agree, you say it there. The highest thing is that you would refuse to sign the communiqué, but you have aired your views. But in a situation where you boycotted the meeting is what I don’t understand. By the time you start sending your deputy, it means you are not serious. It is only when you are unavoidably absent that your deputy can represent you. We even have cases of one or two of the governors who have not even attended it for the first time. They have held three meetings and we have South-East governors who have not attended any. I don’t understand this; it never happened at our time that a state in the South boycotted meetings. Maybe, one was outside the country and his deputy represented them, but in a situation where it has been held three times and you have not attended, it is a serious issue. It shows that some people don’t appreciate what we are going through right now in the country. It is very serious issue, I cannot offer any apologies, and I don’t know what is behind it.