Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Dr Ezekiel Izuogu is a member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview he praised President Muhammadu Buhari for recoganising and honouring the acclaimed winner of June 12,1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, describing the move as a great decision. However, he urged the president to focus attention on addressing killings in the country.
He also subscribed to the position of former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole that the APC has derailed on its vision. Excerpts:
President Buhari last Tuesday recognised and honoured Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12,1993 presidential election. Some, especially the opposition, have continued to argue that the move is politically induced. How do you feel being part of the struggle and as a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
To be honest with you, anybody who sees something good about June 12, means well. That is my own opinion. Anybody who has seen some goodness in June 12, an election won by MKO Abiola, I think the person means well. The move by the government may be politics as claimed by the opposition, but from what the eyes can see, recognizing June 12 is very good. All of us that were in the struggle, beyond politics, are elated. I am surprised that somebody like me was not invited. I was very close to Abiola. I did everything with Abiola. Abiola learnt of my political activities in South-East and he went into his plane, came down to Owerri to see me so that I could help mobilize the Igbo for him. I was the first person he saw in the South-East. I had to go and consult (Chief Sam) Mbakwe and other leaders. Mbakwe had some reservations, but I later convinced him to work for him. He said, “Ok Ezekiel, we shall do what you have said” go and invite Chief MKO. I invited MKO, he came to the village to see Mbakwe. I did everything for MKO. He was like a senior brother to me. I loved him, I liked his attitude. MKO was very progressive. This was what moved me. If the APC is calling for celebration of MKO I should be there. APC is trying to live up to her progressive credentials. When this party was about being formed I called the Progressive Movement of Nigeria and said, let us team up with other groups and see how to form APC. That is how I came into APC. I didn’t come into APC from APGA or ACN or from CPC. We went to the then APC chairmanship aspirant who used to be APP Chairman from Edo State to give us our allocation as Progressive Movement. That allocation was never given and up till now as I am talking to you, there is no recognition for the Progressive Movement of Nigeria in APC. I was moving with Buhari during the campaign from state to state, but not even a single appointment has been offered to me, let me reject it. But I am a progressive. So, if they are calling a meeting to recognize June 12, oh! My God! That is fantastic. I love it.
The opposition in picking holes in the recognition based their stand on the fact that the president at no point, spoke in favour of June 12; what do you make of that?
The opposition and even journalists have the right to be skeptical about what the APC government has done. That is the joy of life. You have the right to be skeptical. Anybody has the right to be skeptical. Any human being would have thought the same way. But our people have a proverb in Igbo land, “Osita di mma, Odị bara gboo,” meaning let it begin now to be good. If the man who has always seen negative news sees positive, okay, let us go with the positive. That is the agreement. No problem.
Would you say that what the president has done is enough, or are there other things you feel he still needs to do to truly honour MKO?
MKO deserves many things. Above everything else, MKO needed to have lived and enjoyed the Presidency. It pained me that MKO had to die. We were so close. When it was clear he had won the election, I flew down to his house in Ikeja and the place was filled with people. I took him to a room and said, “Oga, you are now the President-elect, you must leave Ikeja. We must go to Abuja so that you claim your mandate.” When he mentioned it to the people around, they said no, no, no, Izuogu don’t come with that idea, the man is the president and there is nothing anybody can do about it. I said, “Oga, I’ve been in this politics for some time, you can win election today and tomorrow, you can’t win it again.” I wish he is alive to listen to me; because he quoted me later on. He said Izuogu has been justified. If only we had listened to Izuogu, this thing would not have happened. If MKO had come to Abuja, they wouldn’t have stopped announcing the result. They stopped announcing at state 14. He had won virtually all of them. They stopped writing the results on the notice board at INEC. That was when the pressure was overwhelming on NEC. I pity Prof Humphrey Nwosu, he was just 47 and he was enduring all the brickbats and pressures from above.
How much involved were you in the struggle for the annulment of the June 12?
I was deeply involved. I was not just close to MKO, I was close to the family. When Abiola escaped and went to London, to stay away for peace, I was the one that went to London to persuade him to come back. Kudirat agreed with me. I had to go to London at my expense, on a British Airways. I spent three days in London discussing with MKO on why he should come back and claim June 12. At first, it was not easy convincing him. Finally, he agreed to come back. I did better than most of the people they listed in the newspapers for the celebration. But in this country, if you don’t make noise, people don’t recognize you; it’s a pity.
How much of impact do you think the move by the president on June 12 will make on APC’s re-election campaign next year?
Every Nigerian knows that the president has done the right thing, he has taken the right step. However, anytime I am asked a question like this in the last few days my mind goes to the issue of security. I was very close to Buhari during the campaigns. I believed in his capacity to change the ugly situation Nigeria found herself in the hands of the PDP. Go and look at our photograph during the campaigns. I have always said ‘Mr President, you have done fairly well fighting corruption, but the issue of security is bothering many people.’ Why is it that Nigerians are dying? You have to do something to stop it. It affects the mind of the people irrespective of party affiliation. All well-meaning Nigerians are worried that so many people are missing, so many people are being killed.
The president should do something about it. If he is the President of Nigeria, it means he has something he can do to stop the killings. Incidentally, these people go by the name of Fulani herdsmen and he himself is Fulani. So, I think he can do something to stop it. That’s my humble opinion; and I mean well for Nigeria.
Are you saying that security is likely to determine the voting pattern in 2019 election?
Yes. It will be a major campaign issue. I am talking to you as a progressive who has been the national chairman of many progressives’ parties. Security is very important, it is something that must be treated with all seriousness. Nobody should play politics with security because you have to be alive to play politics. Whatever argument I am making at the moment is because I am alive. Security is basic. That is where I stand. You can’t joke with it. If you say you are going to do well for my people, but have not done well for me as an individual, to make me stay alive, how can I believe you? So, security is key. And I leave it to Buhari as my key intelligent advice. I advise him, Mr President, please do everything to fix the security challenge staring our nation in the face. I advise him, please call your security chiefs; any of them who cannot secure his place is not worthy to be a security chief. All the security chiefs should secure their places on the directives of the president.
Do you agree with some people who believe that the government has run out of ideas on how to stop the killings in some states?
I don’t think anybody saying that is fair to our government. All he needs to do is to retune his strategies. The problem is the herdsmen/farmers’ clashes that are resulting to daily killing of innocent people. I am neither a military man nor an expert in the area of security, but I can only say what I know; what I am sure of. It is not good for some people to use security to play politics by accusing Mr President of all manner of things. What I want him to do is to find a strategy that can end the current killings in Nigeria.
What do you make of former President Olusegun Obasanjo alleging that there are plans to frame him up?
It worries me that Obasanjo is saying such a thing. Obasanjo should be respected. Obasanjo has been with the Nigeria Republic for some time. He became military head of state when he was 36 years old. Later on, he was elected president for eight years. Obasanjo is an elder statesman. I will advise Mr President to please accord him that respect. There should be no threat of arresting Obasanjo. Obasanjo has gone beyond that era.
But has he actually done well with his consistent campaign against President Buhari?
Well, you know issues of politics are ideological issues. It is only when you go into somebody’s ideology and why he holds the views that he holds, that you can jump into such conclusions. I have not discussed with Obasanjo for some time. We used to be very close. When he was president, he used to invite me to the Government House and I gave him candid advice on some issues which he valued. He valued my opinion and that helped him to succeed. But for some time now, because I am so busy; he also is a big man, you have to go to him, we have not been seeing for some time.
But I have a good opinion about Obasanjo. I think Obasanjo means well, and I don’t think he wants to undermine President Buhari. He campaigned vigorously for Buhari to be president. Obasanjo wanted Jonathan out by all means, that made him support Buhari. How can he now be at the helm of pulling down Buhari? I feel the two big men need to sit down together as big men and discuss in their language.
Ahead of the National Convention of your party, one of the front runners, Oshiomhole, said recently that the party has deviated from the original vision. Do you agree with him?
I agree with Oshiomhole, 100 per cent. Oshiomhole is 100 per cent right. The APC has deviated from its progressive credentials, very, very much, and Oyegun is a friend of mine. Time past, I put it to him, but he doesn’t seem to quite understand, either because of the pressure he himself is under. But if I were to become the chairman of APC, I would set it aright. I will not disgrace anybody while setting the party aright. So, I don’t doubt Oshiomhole. I have tried to form a party (the PMP) with Oshiomhole in the past, when he was the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress. We tried to form it together. I was the national chairman. I know a lot about Oshiomhole and I know he can set the APC aright.
Among all the other contestants, you say that he is the best?
Yes! There is no doubt about it.
Even in your own state (Imo). Your own state has been in the news. Has the APC actually treated the governor of the state, who is supposed to be the leader of the party well?
Has the governor treated himself well? He as the governor, has he treated himself well? He as the governor, took the party and put in his pocket. And the climax of pocketing the party is to bring his son-in-law to be governor of the state. If you were a member of the party, would you be happy with him? I am Okorocha’s elder by 13 years, 13 whole years. I played politics. Has he ever called me as an elder to say “Izuogu, this is what I want to do, do you think it is fine with the people” in confidence? Just in confidence. Maybe he will say “this boy is a good boy. He is my good son-in law. I would want him to take over from me. How do you think?” But he never did it. He believes that whatever he wants to do as a governor is right. But you know it’s not the case. You are responsible to the people who elected you. You much find out what is likely to be their opinion. They may respect and worship you, but one day you may do something and they would gather and say instead let somebody die in his place. That’s the common decision and when they take that decision, against your own decision, it would not be good for you. You would be put in a position where you feel you have to kill all the people just to get your ideas to pass. Is it good? No, it is not good.
Is it really actually true like some people say that Okorocha has ruined APC in the South-East?
Well, people are entitled to their own opinion. Those who are very good with the grassroots will be able to tell us what the grassroots is thinking. If it is a general thought that APC is bad, then they cannot win election in the state. In fact, it is becoming late. If you produce the best candidate now, it is already becoming late for APC to win. I am being honest to you as a leader of the APC, because a lot of bad opinions have come around about APC. To correct it will take at least nine months and we don’t have nine months before the elections. So, other parties are taking advantage of that. APGA is taking advantage; PDP is taking advantage. Remember it is not a monopoly. If the APC was the only party, it can do what it likes, but there are other contestants and other parties that are praying that this APC nonsense continues so they can win the election against you. They are praying; so, you shouldn’t spoil the pot. If you are the captain of the ship, you don’t destroy it.
With the way things are, is it actually better now to exclude him in the arrangement? Will the party be better off without him?
No, I will not say yes. But this kind of thing requires a strategy for amendment. If he brings me in to strategise the amendment, I will strategise it and he will be happy as the leader of the party. During the campaign, he would come and speak as a leader, but he will not dictate who would be the candidate because that is what is annoying the people. Our people are educated people. We have people who went to school. You can credit our people for that. They don’t want you dictating to them even with the credentials for being a governor or president. You cannot dictate to the Igbo man on what he should do. You have to reason with him. Those of us who have led Igbo have learnt the secret of leading them. If you want to lead the Igbo man, follow him. What do I mean by that? If I am the governor of a state, or chairman of a local government and I want a road to move in this direction, I will not go and start tarring the road, I will instead call all the big goons together and say “gentlemen, some people think that if a road is made here it would be good for everybody.” You allow them to speak. Each person would come and speak and by the time they speak round, you will make your road. It is no longer your decision, it becomes the decision of the people.