Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Okwukwu has faulted the recent endorsement of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar by the leadership of the apex-Igbo group, describing it as a nullity because it did not follow the due process. The activist lawyer said the adoption was not in the best interest of Ndigbo and accused the President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo of betraying the trust of Igbo leaders. He also hinted that the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation may not recover from that decision. He explained this and more in this interview conducted by MAGNUS EZE. Interestingly, 24 hours after Okwukwu granted Saturday Sun this interview, he was suspended by the leadership of the Pan Igbo body.
You said that Ohanaeze never endorsed Atiku Abubakar at the Imeobi meeting; what actually happened?
The Imeobi Ohanaeze Ndigbo never endorsed Atiku. What actually happened was that the Imeobi was fixed for January 24th by 10am and Governor David Umahi who is the Chairman of South East Governors’ Forum called the President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo and pleaded with him to put the meeting off, the PG refused; he told him the best thing to do is to fix the meeting for 7pm and by that time, President Muhammadu Buhari would have left the south east because the President was a guest of the south east governors as he came to commission Zik’s Mausoleum. Zik was one of the greatest Igbo that ever lived. The President General informed Imeobi that they agreed for 6pm; Senator Chris Ngige also called him and they agreed for 6pm. Later, I got information that he was planning to do the Imeobi at about 3:30-4:00pm and I rushed to the venue. At about 4:00pm; few persons gathered and he said whether the meeting should take place at that time or be shifted to the time these gentlemen had agreed with him. Of course, he had arranged people who would say that the meeting must go on. But you cannot hold an Imeobi meeting without any governor present; he went ahead and within 30minutes; the Imeobi was over which never happened in Imeobi, the least it would take place was five to seven hours. One item agenda-endorsement of Atiku and then he left; he didn’t even take the dinner. I looked for him but I didn’t see him; tried to reach him on phone and that was not possible. The next thing I heard that evening was that a communiqué had been issued. It is a procedural error. If you want to draft a communiqué, a communiqué drafting committee has to be set up from among those present at the meeting. They will present a communiqué that will be subject to debate and ratification. I must say as the Secretary General that I sign the communiqué with the President General, that one never took place; I never saw any communiqué, in fact no communiqué was drafted. And that’s why I said that the purported endorsement of Atiku is invalid. Beyond that, it’s not even in the interest of Ndigbo to adopt anybody. That’s why I said that Buhari has not offended the Igbo, that the Igbo don’t have any grudges against him. When we are ready to have proper discussion, we will discuss it and every stakeholder will be there. Imagine an Imeobi that was held in Igboland and no serving governor was present, no member of the National Assembly was present, no member of any State House of Assembly was there, no local government chairman or councillor was present. As he was concluding the meeting, the representative of Anambra state Governor arrived, the Speaker came, Ngige, Ogbonnaya Onu and Ebonyi deputy governor representing Governor Umahi arrived only to be told that the Imeobi had concluded their meeting. He betrayed the trust those leaders reposed on him. So, I cannot endorse that level of illegality and rascality.
Is it true that the Imeobi is not the highest decision-making organ of the Ohanaeze?
In a serious matter of this nature, it’s subject to the general assembly. The general assembly is like a meeting that encompasses the NEC, Imeobi and Ndigbo that are interested to attend because when you are talking about adopting a candidate, you’re talking about your destiny; a man that will run your life for the next four to eight years. It’s a serious issue, you are putting your life in the hands of a man because the chief executive can determine how you will die or how you’ll live.
We learnt that the strategy and planning committee of Ohanaeze made recommendations on this issue. What did they prescribe?
What they recommended the PG never made it available to anybody. In the NEC, the President of Abia state chapter of Ohanaeze, Justice Ajuzieogwu demanded that the report of the committee be made available to members of the NEC so that we can read and know the content, Nwodo refused on the floor of the NEC. Two, from what he read to the NEC, the Prof Soludo-led committee recommended neutrality on the part of Ohanaeze or in the alternative, endorsement of a candidate. They never recommended a candidate; so it will require a robust debate to arrive at such a decision by the Igbo. Even you as a journalist, you should be interested in who should rule or govern you as an Igbo man and there’s something at stake. I’ve said this time without number, Buhari will leave office statutorily by 2023; if Atiku wins, statutorily he will stay in office for the next eight years. If the Igbo want to have a bite of the cheery in Nigeria, 50 years after the civil war we’ve never been very close to power at the Presidency. So, is it not reasonable that the Igbo should support the Fulani man that will do four years instead of supporting the Fulani man that will stay for eight years because two of them are Fulani and Muslims, so, it’s just making a choice between two brothers.
The communiqué stated that the Imeobi ratified what NEC had decided at its January 22 meeting. Was there anything like that?
I would want you to find out from the President General what had been my position in the NEC. You don’t take a voice vote to arrive at a decision, so that as people vote, you will know how many members that voted for or against. A sensitive matter like that, you don’t just say ‘aye’; ‘nil’; it’s dangerous. It doesn’t just come that way and of course you saw the reactions even from the governors who are major stakeholders, some of them are equally members of the PDP. Is Umahi, Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum not from the PDP? Is Peter Obi, the PDP vice presidential candidate not from Anambra where Obiano hails from? You must do proper consultation; the Igbo are democratic, Ndigbo believes in persuasion.
Was it right for the Imeobi to ratify a decision of the NEC?
Imeobi does not ratify what NEC agreed.
But the communiqué said Imeobi ratified NEC decision
I told you that I’ve not read the communiqué even as the secretary. In the last two NEC meetings that we had, as secretary general, I signed the communiqués. Let’s assume that there is no communiqué drafting committee, is it not the secretary that will draft the communiqué? How did Nwodo arrive at the communiqué that he is distributing, did you see my signature on the communiqué? So, how can a communiqué be issued in a meeting that I participated in without me reading and signing it?
Do we take it that the adoption of Atiku by Ohanaeze is authentication of his endorsement by some Igbo leaders in the same Nike Lake Hotel on November 14, 2018?
Ask the President General, immediately he was elected, he paid a visit to Atiku. The day the elders met, he was with them when a communiqué was issued. What opportunity have they given to Buhari to be heard? The Ohanaeze youths just wrote to President Buhari and he replied them leading to their visit at Aso Rock Villa and the leader of the group, the Deputy President as the President had not been sworn in then, was sanctioned and made to write apology. The point I am making is that if the youths could meet Buhari so easily; we have not even written to him despite the fact that he congratulated us when we were elected. The only time any member of NEC met with the President was the President General himself meeting with him alone without taking any member of NEC with him. What impunity is that?
Do you agree with the thinking in some quarters that it was some dishonour for Zik holding Imeobi on a day the President was commissioning his mausoleum?
For Umahi to call him and say ‘postpone the Imeobi, we are governors of the South East, this man is coming to honour Nnamdi Azikiwe’s memory, all of us are coming to Enugu and take him to Onitsha and we can’t leave him until he leaves the South East because he came to honour Zik’. Onitsha is not the state capital, but he went to Onitsha to honour Zik. Was that not enough for the Imeobi to be postponed even for one day?
Ngige at a press conference said that those who met at Nike Lake Hotel was PDP Ohanaeze, are you now for the APC Ohanaeze?
I am not speaking for Ngige, I take responsibility for whatever I say. There is no doubt that Ohanaeze is now divided. If you have Imeobi and no governor was there, it shows that the house is divided.
Don’t you think that those who saw you speak at Aba during President Buhari’s visit might take it that you’re already leading the faction that Ngige talked about?
No. I was the State President for Rivers; besides, the Abia state chapter President of Ohanaeze was there too. Moreover, I went there because Buhari was inaugurating the Independent Power Plant in Aba to power the Ariaria market and I was invited. Ariaria is very important to the economy of Abia state and the Igbo man and the President General ought to be there if we are doing the right thing. A man came to commission an independent power plant to power Ariaria, is that not development for Igbo people? I went because I was invited, the governors of Abia and Imo were there.
Since the mistake may have been made by not giving Buhari opportunity to be heard as you said, will the Ohanaeze consider giving him an opportunity?
Well, Nnia Nwodo has shut the door. He doesn’t want to give him opportunity. If the PG has signed a document endorsing Atiku; what opportunity are you giving Buhari again? It’s like two persons are in Class 5 and you set an exam and one passed, then after you ask the other one to come so that you set exam for him. Don’t you know that the standard would be different? So, what would Buhari come to listen to from him? Nothing stops any Igbo group or a section of Ohanaeze itself endorsing Buhari; nothing stops people visiting Buhari. They would have taken the opportunity when they met with Atiku November last year to invite Buhari to ask him questions, because if Atiku says restructuring; his own idea of restructuring may be different from Buhari’s idea of governing Nigeria. Restructuring is just a form of justice and this same Buhari that you’re condemning had already asked Ndigbo to give him a state that he will present it as an executive bill to the National Assembly and it will be created to give us six states. Ohanaeze NEC recommended a state and till date Nwodo frustrated it by not submitting it to the President.
At what meeting did the President ask Ohanaeze to submit a state to be created?
You can call the President General and ask him this. When he met with Buhari, the President said ‘I believe in this your restructuring; let us start with one item that we can achieve quickly. Let’s create an additional state in the south east, that one I believe can put the Igbo at par with other regions of the country’. We debated it at NEC; constituted a committee of the whole house and passed a resolution that Aba state should be created because it was the most viable and he did not agree because he wanted us to pass a resolution adopting Adada state. We said that Adada was not viable compared to Aba state. What I am telling you was the decision of the committee of the whole house. It’s not everything that I will say because I took oath of office and oath of allegiance not to divulge official secret but when you go ahead blackmailing somebody, it’s unfair. It’s simple blackmail.
There have been allegations of money flying here and there. Was there anything like that?
I didn’t receive any money. What I’ve said is that there was no valid communiqué and by my training as a lawyer; I insist that the steps to arrive at a communiqué must be followed in every meeting. Even if I am alone, you can be alone in what you feel is right, you don’t need the whole world to be with you.
Did you hear the President General say that Afenifere, PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum will all meet to collectively adopt Atiku?
But Afenifere too has adopted Buhari. And why must the Igbo man be the first to do adoption? Who are you bringing from PANDEF, who are you bringing from the other group? You can arrange anybody and bring. Who are the Afenifere? Are they in charge of Yoruba land? Afenifere supported PDP in Osun state, did they win? The Igbo are likely going back to the precipice; that’s where Nwodo is pushing us, then, we continue talking about marginalisation for the next twelve years.
What do you think is the way forward now?
Well, the election is barely two weeks away, so, let us wait for the pudding because the taste is in the eating. He has adopted Atiku; let’s be patient and see whether Atiku will win, whether he’s right, whether he has clear political understanding of Nigeria. For me, I’ve said time without number that it’s in the interest of Ndigbo to support Buhari; that his tenure will end in 2023.
There is this twist that the tenure of Nwodo leadership has elapsed. Is it true?
Some people have called that Nwodo should resign while others called for suspension, but mine is to comment on the issue of the moment. The tenure has not ended; it will end in 2021, unless those saying that are saying that the constitution that brought us has not been ratified by Ndigbo; that they are using the old constitution which stipulated two years. I think the constitution that we are using gives us four years.