By Fred Itua
Former Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu, has decried the state of affairs in the country and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to pull Nigeria back from the brink. He spoke on various issues including the November 6 Anambra governorship election in this interview.
There was a report that was released recently by the Bala Mohammed-led committee and it said PDP will leave its gates open and that there would be no place for zoning. Where does that leave the Southeast if that should happen?
My answer is that the appropriate organs of the PDP have not considered and taken a decision on the Bala Mohammed committee’s recommendation. The Bala Mohammed committee should have read the founding principles of PDP because most of them are new comers into the PDP. Those of us who sat at the night meetings that gave rise to the PDP who were there from the beginning, know that the PDP was founded on certain principles. The Bala Mohammed committee can be excused for violating one of the principles on which the PDP was founded, which is power rotation between the North and the South.
The first pillar of PDP was to get politicians of all shades united, so that there would be no entry point for military rule. The second was power shift to the South. That was why the North sat down, persuaded and bullied Abubakar Rimi not to run in 1999. That was why in 2007, President Obasanjo bullied Dr. Peter Odili into not running. It is a basic principle in the PDP. The third pillar was that the PDP would run a private sector-led economy. It is on that basis that privatisation was done within the first four years of President Obasanjo’s regime under Mallam El-Rufai. The fourth was that citizens of Nigeria must have some benefits from their loyalty to government. That was why we coined the phrase democracy dividends. President Obasanjo believed that the citizens of Nigeria must have what they can touch and these are the benefits of democracy. So, when Bala Mohammed committee hacked down a pillar, it is because it is ignorant of the argument that led to the erection of that pillar. If that becomes the final decision of the PDP as a party, I predict that it will lead to serious upheavals in the party. If such a decision is taken, I also predict that PDP as it is will be completely disrupted.
There is an argument that out of the 16 years that the PDP held sway at the centre, the South had 13 years and the North had only three years. They also argued that it is only fair for the North to have its own fair share despite the fact that President Buhari is from the North. Do they have a case?
This is a very pedestrian argument. When you form a company and you have articles of association, you don’t violate those articles because it was on the basis of those articles and understandings that the company was registered. All these pedestrian arguments were adjustments to political situations that happened. Nobody expected that President Yar’ Adua will die in office. So, the fact that he died in office created a political situation and I must praise the Senate and others, who designed the doctrine of necessity which was nowhere in the constitution. So, anybody who says that the South was there for this number of years and the North for that number of years, I ignore him. He is a joker. He is not serious. I remember that the constitution that was arrived at by the 1995 Abacha conference, which was to be promulgated before Abacha died, was specific that the presidency shall rotate between the North and South. There was no ambiguity in that provision. I have a copy of the conference report and the proposed constitution as signed by late Justice Karibi-Whyte.
You said the Bala Mohammed committee is oblivious of the founding principles. PDP was founded about 23 years ago. Some things may have changed and whatever was done then was not cast in stone. Are you saying that the North should not go for the presidency in 2023?
When you form an association or a political party based on certain principles, you can change those principles by only following due process. You change a principle first and make recommendations thereafter. Your recommendations don’t take precedence over the principles on which the party was founded. The PDP has kept faith so far with its founding principle of rotation of the presidency between the North and the South. The accident of President Yar’Adua’s death, which produced President Jonathan was so as not to disrupt the polity. President Jonathan should not have run in 2015 except that some leading members of PDP goaded him on. And his 2015 mandate was negotiated. That was why some governors said he signed an agreement to run for only one term. Most people believe this. And I personally believe that if President Jonathan did not run in 2015, it would have been a different story now.
You think it was a mistake for Jonathan to have run in 2015?
Definitely it was a mistake. So, in 2015 you saw a “Northern rebellion” which proved that the founders of PDP were correct and if you look at the founders of the PDP, they were men of integrity who founded Nigeria. Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the interim chairman, Mallam Ciroma was there, Chief Bola Ige was there. So, these were the leaders of Nigeria that were there. So, they founded the PDP not just to get power but based on principles of fairness, justice, equity and good governance of Nigeria. In 2019, therefore, it was the turn of the North to run and there was no dispute about it in the PDP. In 2023, the PDP as a political party should look at the Bala Mohammed Committee’s recommendation on the rotation of the presidency in the context of settled political issues in Nigeria. There are no senior and junior Nigerians and there can never be senior and junior Nigerians. When politicians consider their ambition to be president of Nigeria, they don’t consider fairness and equity and that is the basic problem that Nigeria has today. Majority or minority, there are no first class and no second class citizens in Nigeria. And until this fact is well appreciated, there will always be disequilibrium.
Those gearing up for the position from the North, do you think it would not be fair for them to still vie?
Speaking for myself, I would urge those Northerners who are preparing to run for the presidency of Nigeria not to do so; it would breach the fundamental principles and one of the pillars on which the PDP was founded. The PDP would then become shaky as one of the pillars is broken and where it goes from there cannot be predicted.
In 2019, President Mohammadu Buhari, three times, refused to sign the electoral amendment bill into law, citing closeness to elections. If the electoral amended bill is not signed, do you foresee a case where Nigerians’ vote will not count?
For me, the signing of that electoral amended act is critical, not just for a credible election in 2023, but for the survival of Nigeria. Democracy is predicated on the sanctity and credibility of elections. This derives from the saying that no one is good enough to preside over a fellow man unless with his consent. The signing or not signing of the amended electoral act is a test on the APC and the president whether they are sincere or not. It is also a test of their integrity. If you have given a reason that it is too close to the elections in 2019, it means there is nothing wrong basically with that amended bill. Two years after 2019 elections, everybody is still monkeying around with that all-important bill, ditto with the issue of restructuring. So, I will urge both the national assembly and the presidency to deal with the amended electoral act soonest. People should advice the ruling party that history will not judge them kindly if they don’t sign this amended electoral act.
People from other parts of Southern Nigeria are advocating for a president from the South East. Do you think both political parties, the APC and the PDP, as a sign of good faith, should zone the presidency to the South East in 2023?
I am not keen on the word zoning. I prefer the phrase we used as the founding fathers of PDP, that rotation of the presidency between the North and South. In 2023 therefore, there should be power shift to the South. We get confused with ethnic groups and geopolitical zones. I know the history of geopolitical zones. I was the chairman of the organizing committee for Mkpoko Igbo that was the platform for Dr. Ekwueme as keynote speaker to present to Nigeria and the world his well-articulated paper on six geopolitical zones. I still have the original of that manuscript. In those six geopolitical zones, the major ethnic groups had three zones, the minor ethnic groups had three zones. This is because, sometimes, we forget that the smaller ethnic groups are protected by Nigeria incorporating large and small, but on the basis of equality and justice. Ekwueme had proposed the six geopolitical zones and the rotation of presidency between North and South and had actually moved the motion for rotational presidency at the 1995 constitutional conference where all members were elected. He published it in his autobiography.
Ekwueme’s paper was looked at indepth at the 1995 Abacha conference. That conference would have broken on three occasions. The first was when Gen. Yar’Adua proposed that the military must leave in a year. The second was on rotational presidency, and the third was on resource control. That 1995 conference had a bridge-building team headed by Dr. Olusola Saraki and I know how many times he and Ojukwu and others met to smoothen things out and the conference continued. So, there are settled political issues regarding Nigeria’s unity. One of them is 10 percent addition to resource control to bring it to a minimum of 13 percent. On rotational presidency, when Dr. Ekwueme stood up to move his motion at the International Conference Centre, it was like warfare. I recall the drama involving Ojukwu because I was there. Ditto for resource control where the South East gave the South South 1000 percent support and stood by them shoulder to shoulder. This is just to remind those who don’t know about how these positions were arrived at to try and revise them now because of personal ambition. As a current governor said, rotation of the presidency between the North and South is a covenant; resource control is also a covenant but the correct percentage is yet to be arrived at as 13 percent is only a minimum. So, for those revisionists who think that they are in a position to change national agreements to what suites their personal ambition, I will urge them to think twice that Nigeria is bigger than their personal ambitions.
As one of the leaders from the South East, are there moves currently by your compatriots to reach out to those key leaders from other geopolitical zones ahead of 2023?
The focus is that the presidency shall move to the South. Then the second part is that the South shall reason within itself and realise that it cannot do otherwise than let it go to the South East zone. Anybody who is talking of Igbo presidency is mixing terms. What I am talking is that, when it comes to the South, it will come to the South East zone. These are the two terms that have become accepted, one by law, the other by convention. By law, the presidency shall rotate between the North and South. By convention, there are six geopolitical zones; three in the South and three in the North. If it comes to the South, two zones have produced presidents of Nigeria. It remains only the South East. And this is where, in my opinion, the Bala Mohammed committee tripped over itself by bringing in the North East to obfuscate matters. They should have taken it sequentially; North and South rotation and subsequently, zones in the South and zones in the North. I recall in 1999 that power shift to the South was first decided upon by the PDP. All eyes were on Dr. Ekwueme and PDP had a rule that if you didn’t win in your polling booth, your local government and your state, you would not be eligible to run. And then the June 12 argument appeared and the South East lost the argument. Even then, Abubakar Rimi refused to step down but was prevailed upon to let power shift be, and PDP rules about eligibility being dependent on ability to win local government and state was changed permitting the eligibility of President Obasanjo to run against Olu Falae. And after President Obasanjo won the PDP primaries, he and the Chairman, Solomon Lar went to the Hill Station Hotel, Jos where Dr. Ekwueme was staying to offer him Presidency of Senate. That was the PDP at its finest; inclusivity. That is Solomon Lar, Chairman, Obasanjo, President, and Ekwueme, Senate President. Dr. Ekwueme, having been Vice President, considered it improper to become Senate President but PDP and President Obasanjo ensured that Senate President remained in the South East that first term.
On the South East presidency, there is always this selection and elimination processes where you look at your best and put them forward. That process of selecting those that will be accepted by the wider Nigeria to be the next president, has it started?
I can assure you, Nigeria is making a very big mistake by its fears of the Igbo man. Nigeria is making the biggest mistake by imagining that the Igbo man is the problem. The Igbo man is the solution. We expect Nigerians to see that the future of Nigeria depends on the decision they will take in 2023, because the Igbo man is a nation builder, by nature and by his DNA. Anywhere he settles is his home. It is even an Igbo adage that where a man lives is where he builds and because the Igbo man lives everywhere in Nigeria, he makes everywhere his home. The Igbo man, therefore, feels very much insulted when you think he can’t be trusted with Nigeria and with the unity of Nigeria where he has invested heavily. The world view of Azikiwe was Nigeria; actually pan-African. Ndigbo hold it against him when he should have focused on Eastern region. Dr. M.I. Okpara was regarded as the authentic Igbo man. So, the Igbo man has not given Nigeria any reason whatsoever to doubt him.
Even the Civil War?
I won’t go into the civil war because I know that it was not January 15th, nor July 29th, 1966 that provoked the civil war. It was May 29, 1966, that is the pogrom that gave the Igbo man the biggest trauma of his life, including me. I was a second-year undergraduate at the University of Ibadan pursuing a three-year Degree programme. All of us including the Vice Chancellor, Professor Kenneth Dike, the academic registrar, including Ken Saro Wiwa fled for the East. I and the others couldn’t complete our studies because the Nigeria – Biafra war had broken out and most of us decided to join the Biafra Army. I was shocked when Dr. Obadia Mailafia stated that the civil war was as a result of personality difference between Ojukwu and Gowon. I rebutted that it was very wrong. That I nearly lost my life because of personality problem between Ojukwu and Gowon, that many Ndigbo died because of personality problem between Ojukwu and Gowon? Anybody who thinks like Mailafia does not know Ndigbo at all. Ndigbo are not like that. If Ojukwu had been doing something against Igbo interest, they would have got rid of him. Ndigbo do not hero-worship anybody unless he is doing exactly what they want. Biafra was a collective desire and effort because of the situation we found ourselves in Nigeria at the time.
We are again on the brink. As John Campbell described us so many years ago, we are again dancing on the brink. This is very dangerous. The presidency and the government must pull Nigeria back from the brink. It is not healthy for the unity and wellbeing of Nigeria. The current level of insecurity, the state of the economy especially the debt burden, youth employment, the distrust and disconnect between government and the people didn’t happen under Obasanjo, under Yar’Adua and under Jonathan and this is the truth. Those who tell the president differently are benefiting from this government. Most Nigerians know that there is suffering in the land. As Nobel laureate and folk-singer, Bob Dylan sang, “How many deaths must it take to know that too many people have died”; “How many ears must one man have to hear people cry”; “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky”; “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, The answer is blowing in the wind”. Nigerians hope that they are not blowing in the wind.
In Anambra, there is this issue of zoning and repeatedly, you have advocated that it should be on the basis of competence. Why is that coming from someone like you sir?
I come from Nnewi which is in the South. Nnewi itself is thinking of producing a governor. I am giving you this background so that you can see why I have taken my position. There was never a time that PDP sat down and zoned governorship from 1998 to now. In 1998, ten of us ran for governorship of Anambra State after PDP won 19 out of 21 local governments. Two of us, Dr. Mbadinuju and myself ran from the South, six aspirants came from Central zone. The people who ran from the central zone were Pharm. Samuel Okechukwu, Abel Akwanya (Dilika Motors), Ossy Ezenwa, Chief Guy Ikoku and two others, and two from the North, Arc. Umenyiora and Chief Frank Oramulu. If it was zoned to the South in 1998, how could six people have been running from the Central and only two from that South to which it had been zoned?
In 2003, Governor Mbadinuju was denied a ticket by the PDP. That PDP ticket was given to Dr. Chris Ngige from the Central zone and Dr. Mbadinuju ran under AD and lost to Dr. Chris Ngige. Eventually, the court declared that Mr. Peter Obi of APGA had won the election. In 2007, the PDP gave Andy Uba from the South zone the ticket. That is three elections and the PDP ticket had gone to the South twice. Governor Andy Uba was on seat for 19 days before the court ruled that Mr. Obi of APGA had not completed his tenure. In 2010, Governor Peter Obi was up for reelection. PDP gave its ticket to Professor Charles Soludo from the South again. He lost and Mr Peter Obi was reelected because he was considered by Ndi Anambra to be a good governor. Secondly, there was this enveloping influence of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Governor Peter Obi used his influence to shift the APGA to Obiano from the North and PDP gave its ticket to Mr. Tony Nwoye from the North. Mr. Obiano of the APGA won. In 2017, I became Chairman of Caretaker Committee of PDP, Anambra State and the ticket was given to Mr. Oseloka Obaze from the Northern zone. Mr. Peter Obi had then joined the PDP but we all in the PDP lost again to APGA. So, we have had the situation in Anambra where the PDP won in 1999 but have lost ever since whilst retaining the majority members in the National Assembly. So, in summary PDP with Ekwueme that won 19 out of 21 local governments in 1999 has produced just one governor for four years while APGA has produced two governors in 16 years. So, what is important to me is for Anambra to get back to the PDP so as to rejoin the national grid politically. Right now, Anambra in APGA stands alone in the entire country. If we want to go now for the presidency, where does Anambra fit in. If you have a governor and he comes from the platform of APGA, Ndi Anambra should accept that it is only the PDP or the APC that has the kind of coverage that can win the presidency. The PDP should also know that it is capability of the candidate that wins the governorship seat. Mr. Peter Obi in APGA has proved it and these are my thoughts why I am not going for an aspirant from the South or from the Central or North that ends up being a PDP candidate only and fails governorship election. I want an aspirant that will not only become PDP candidate but a PDP governor-elect. It is as simple as that.
Is that your final position as a member of PDP Board of Trustees from Anambra State?
Yes. My position, if I must repeat myself, is that I want an aspirant who can win the PDP ticket and proceed from there to regain the governorship of Anambra State for PDP. Such a governor can subsequently correct matters of equity where they exist. You can see from those who have been screened, people who are not capable but are being propped up by godfathers and those who are being sponsored to ensure that PDP produced a weak candidate that will be easily beaten by the other two contending parties. This is the reason why we are looking at capability not just me. Simply put we are looking for that aspirant who has the ability to remove APGA from Government House Awka. We in Anambra PDP believe that APGA has served its purpose. It was a protest party and APGA as a protest party has served its purpose. It is now time to join national politics
Some leaders claimed that your support for someone outside your senatorial district is as a result of certain educational qualifications of some of the candidates. Is that true sir?
No, it is not true. I didn’t rule out anybody even though educational qualification is very important in a state like Anambra. What we are doing is to evaluate the aspirants based on the six indices, which in our opinion, the aspirant should have in order to preside over the government of a state. Education, Vision must be there. To me, the job of a governor is not just to build a road. It is not just to build these ridiculous markets all over the place. It is important to a person like me that a governor must have a dream. If I listen to governorship aspirants now, I want to see those who have the dream of old Onitsha market before the civil war, the old STEM schools which produced the thinkers and innovators of Nigeria’s tomorrow. Schools that produced the Kenneth Dikes, Pius Okigbos, the Chukwudifu Oputas, the Emeka Anyaokus, the Emeagwalis and these are important. For example, it won’t take more than four years, that is a term of governance, to produce specialists, experts of all kinds with PHD Degrees to replace the poorly qualified teachers who are currently in our universities, etc. I need dreamers who can dream of Silicon Valley in Anambra, all these are from people’s minds. So, we should educate people now who can create powerful technology-based companies like Apple and others. They came out of people’s dreams. Governor Peter Obi was a very good doer but he was a very conscious dreamer. Dreamers say that non dreamers believe that things cannot be done until it is done. In Anambra, we are looking for someone who has the capacity, we are not looking for aspirants who will have sponsors left right and centre. We are not looking for people who have no dream of a new Anambra. We are also looking for somebody who listens.
There are in my opinion three top aspirants for governorship of Anambra State in the PDP and I will give my support after evaluating the capability of these top aspirants to win the Anambra governorship election for PDP.
PDP has been out of governorship position in Anambra since 2006 when Chris Ngige was sacked by the court. What is the assurance that this time it will be different?
Let me refresh your memory. The INEC-announced governorship results for Dr. Mbadinuju was the largest in the country. Ngige was also announced winner under PDP until he was sacked by the court. So, legally you can’t say Ngige was a governor and the court said so. Anambra PDP by consistently having more than one Senator and a greater majority of National Assembly members in Anambra State at all elections up till the last one shows that it is clearly a PDP state. For example, in 2017, PDP was said to have lost election in 21 out of 21 local governments and APGA won in 21 out of 21 local governments and yet APGA won no Senate seat, while PDP won two and 70 percent of members of the National Assembly. So, we are determined to show that those in the National Assembly won their elections properly and if you add all these, there is no way we cannot win the governorship seat. What happened in the past were gang-ups and anti-party activities, which the party is determined to protect itself from this time. First, Ndi-Anambra are dissatisfied with the level of governance they have had in the last eight years especially the last four. Secondly, Peter Obi has left APGA for PDP and we are expecting him to play a role in PDP victory because he will quickly become suspect if he was a winner in APGA and become a loser in PDP. Then something is wrong. Some of us are prepared to help correct this by ensuring free and fair primary election to bring out a candidate who can win elections and is acceptable to Anambra people. Thirdly, it is also our expectation that when the right candidate has emerged that the party at the national level and the INEC shall not thwart the efforts of the people. Finally, the PDP which exists in every ward will do its utmost to ensure that the election shall not become cash and carry.