By Dickson Okafor
Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu represents Imo North Senatorial district on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The lawmaker, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, speaks on the return of President Muhammadu Buhari and other issues.
The Arewa youths have withdrawn their quit notice to Igbo living in the north and the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu has also withdrawn the ‘no referendum no election’ order in Anambra, what is your take?
It is a good step in the right direction. Meanwhile, I don’t see what the struggle of Biafra Republic has to do with Anambra election, just as Arewa youths have no right to issue a quit notice to their fellow Nigerians to leave the North. Also, it is not only IPOB that has made such pronouncement, even some leaders from the Yoruba extraction in recent times said without restructuring, there will be no election in 2019.
So, I see these pronouncements as some of those words we hear when election is around the corner. We in the National Assembly had debated the matter and agreed that we all should go to our constituencies and join the governors to calm fraying nerves. The result is what we are witnessing now. Also, the Vice President was quick to condemn the act and read the riot act that those making hate speeches and promoting disunity would be treated as terrorists. Meanwhile, the Vice President has presented a bill to the National Assembly to take care of the matter. You cannot rule out the fact that people must take advantage of the economic recession in the country to ferment trouble. So, I’m not surprised. Igbo must recognize that because of our economic and entrepreneurial prowess, we will grow better in a big country like Nigeria. Even the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and creator of Biafra just as President Buhari noted, said the Biafra of today was not the Biafra of 1967 which was physical Biafra but Biafra of today is of the mind.
When you talk of Biafra of the mind, you are talking about the dominion spirit of an Igbo man which is to conquer new grounds and to go to places where nobody has gone. We are known to chart a new course and lead the way. That is the new Biafra of the mind. That does not mean that IPOB is not fighting a just course. Agitation for Biafra is as a result of the marginalisation of the Igbo and this can be corrected if the country is restructured. No doubt South-East is marginalised and this we hope to correct through legislation as those calling for division are retracing their steps.
The order to the security chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari to go after agitators and those making hate speeches seems to have douse tension, is that the best approach to end agitation in the country?
Whether we accept it or not we are gradually descending to a nation where people make careless speeches that tend to divide the country. A country where some people condemn an entire race or tribe is wrong. Nigeria cannot survive another civil war.
Hate speeches and careless statements are some of the things that cause war. The President took the right decision by ordering the security agencies to fish out those making inciting statements. People should know that even though they have freedom of speech, where their rights stop another person’s freedom begins. Those who gave other Nigerians living in other parts of the country quit notice have withdrawn it because they realised the importance of the presidential order. Kanu, Arewa, Oduduwa and Niger Delta youths have heeded the advice of their leaders by withdrawing whatever threat or quit notices they issued while the President was away. Leaders and stakeholders should mind their speeches because whatever they say carry a lot of weight.
What is your relationship with Governor Rochas Okorocha because it was alleged that you were among politicians who planned to organize a 2million man- march against the governor recently?
My relationship with my amiable governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is cordial. I’m surprised to hear that some politicians tried to organize a march against the government in Imo State. I’m not aware of such plan and I will never be involved in any action that will undermine the peace and smooth running of governance in my state. No doubt, there is no perfect state in Nigeria and there will always be people who may not see anything good in whatever any government they are not part of, does. As we approach 2019, a lot of people are jostling for space and they will say all kinds of words just to discredit one occupying the position they are eyeing.
Owerri zone is agitating for power shift in 2019, will you party zone the governorship to the zone?
I’m aware that there is what is called ‘Imo Charter of Equity,’ I’m also aware that Okigwe zone is laying claim to the governorship position in 2019, just as a lot of people from Owerri and Orlu zones want to run. This issue won’t have arisen if not for the interruption that stopped Chief Ikedi Ohakim from completing his second term of eight years which is the reason Okigwe is pushing for the completion of the remaining four years which the zone was not allowed to complete. But if zoning must be restored in Imo State, Okigwe should be allowed to complete it tenure in 2019. After which it will be the turn of Owerri in 2023.
It is alleged that Okorocha is scheming for his son in-law, Uche Nwosu from Orlu zone to succeed him, is there any such plan?
It is a mere speculation because the governor has not told me that. If it is true by now people like me would have been informed by the governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. However, since we don’t have any information to that effect, it is a rumour.
Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with the failure of APC led government to restructure the country being one of the promises they made during their campaign. How do you react to this?
The major plan of APC which we promised Nigerians during our campaign in 2015 was to overhaul the economy of the country, tackle corruption and bring about social justice and these three agenda are ongoing. Yes, there is need to restructure the country so that both the majority and minority can see justice in the system. It is very important and should be done as soon as possible.
President Buhari in his broadcast did not rule out restructuring but advised those calling for it to do so within the ambit of the law and should not go about restructuring in such a way that will undermine national unity. Remember APC has set up a panel to work out ways the nation could be restructured and the panel is headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam El-Rufai. They are to advise government on the best way to restructure the country. This is the first and only party that has done this. To that extent, I believe we are leading by example. I believe we have not failed Nigerians and APC will never fail to deliver on it electoral promises.
Since most of your colleagues are proponents of restructuring, why did devolution of power fail at the senate?
There are 109 Senators and these senators represent different senatorial districts and states and they will vote in line with the interests of their states. What happened was that simple majority voted against devolution of power with 2/3 majority during the recent constitution amendment. But the issue of devolution of power is not foreclosed as the matter will be revisited. Don’t forget that there are a lot of issues relating to power devolution that will be treated and it requires consultation among the ethnic groups and tribes.
Many have faulted the presidential system saying it is expensive and suggested we go back to parliamentary system, what is your take?
Democracy all over the world is expensive. There is a reason Nigeria settled for bicameral legislature which consist of 364 members of the House of Representatives and 109 Senators. Some states have eight councils and every state has three senators which guarantee equal representation and balance of power within the senate.
We chose the American presidential system to ensure that the people’s interests are protected. I’m one of those people who believe one cannot wish away the National Assembly as it is constituted in the country because for a country like Nigeria with her population and diversity, there must be equal representation of different tribes and ethnic groups.
One of the reasons for Biafra agitation is inequality in state structure in the country, why haven’t the South-East caucus in the National Assembly taken up the issue?
If you remember, the issue was raised in the 7th Senate when there was attempt to amend the constitution and almost 18 states were demanded to be created out of the existing ones. So, it is no longer a South-East issue, but a national challenge. The moment you bring up the issue of state creation, you will find out that every tribe or ethnic group wants a state. Even in the South-East, we have not been able to pin-point a particular area in the zone the new state will come from. So, first and foremost, the people of South-East must decide from which state or states the new one can be calved out from. We are not only less by a state, the South-East also has 43 members in the House of Representatives in a nation where Kano and Kaduna states have more members than the entire South-East.
The major opposition party, PDP, has suddenly bounced back, following the recent Supreme Court judgment; do you think the APC should have any cause to worry?
We can’t be threatened or worry over one faction of PDP coming together. PDP is still divided because the other faction led by Sen. Modu Sheriff is not part of the just concluded non- elective convention held recently by the Sen. Ahmed Makarfi faction in Abuja. However, APC can only worry when the two factions come together. We have also learnt through the pitfalls of the PDP as a party because there was a time PDP was indomitable. Today, we have seen what happened to the former ruling party and I believe our leaders will do well to avoid such mistake.