By Daniel Kanu
General Obi Umahi (rtd) is the former Chairman, South-East Security Committee. A former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division, Nigerian Army; Commanding Officer, 72 Airborne Battalion; Commander Army Task Group (Operation Restore Hope), with two tours of active service in ECOMOG Operations, among other high military positions, now leads the Ndigbo-Lagos in Lagos State.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the retired General speaks on his fears for 2023 elections, the Muslim-Muslim ticket challenge, failure of government to properly address insecurity, and the Peter Obi emergence as Labour Party presidential candidate, among other sensitive issues. Excerpt:
As the 2023 elections are drawing near are you worried about the developments in the country so far, particularly in the area of security challenge?
There is much to worry about, much to fear, to ponder about and a cause for concern not only on insecurity which is quite disturbing. What of those who have done their voter registration and have not gotten their PVC? Even those that did their registration before the extension of date have not received and you can also see in the social media PVCs that are littered in many places, some even on the highways, some were found littered by the road side, dumped at different places, different sites. Is INEC saying anything about those PVCs? INEC has not responded to all those PVCs that have been wasted. Who owns them? What is the assurance that those who just registered will get their PVCs and on time to enable them vote?
What of the issue of thugs, the use of thugs to cause trouble during the voting exercise? We are commending the outcome of the Osun election, but we should remember it was an off-season election like the Edo State election. What of when the election will be in almost all parts of the country, can the security agencies contain it? Can they assure of maximum security, the safety of voters? There were also reports that the INEC server was hacked or tampered with during the last elections. If that could happen, it means it could be used to manipulate figures in the 2023 elections. Even as we speak, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) are already alleging of a plot to hack the INEC server. These are some of the issues to worry about. These are sensitive issues that must be interrogated because if we do not clear these issues, I wonder why there should not be fear.
One of the fears you raised is that of insecurity in the land which does not seem to be abetting despite claims by the government that it is subsiding. As a General, what do you think is wrong as this insecurity has defied solution?
The truth is that we are not ready yet to fight insecurity. When Nigeria is ready to fight insecurity we will know. This insecurity can be tackled with ease if we are serious. You have a terrorist negotiator that you cannot hold down in Nigeria from travelling, only to go to Egypt to intercept him, outside the country. You have a presidential candidate they are linking with terrorism and all that and you are keeping a blind eye. How many interrogations are we getting? How effective have they been? How are we gathering intelligence? It is not only through kinetic means that you do something. What is the confidence in intelligence gathering? How many persons of interest in your watchlist and how sincere are you in handling the issues? Until you use the right approach, until we are serious about stopping the mess, until you stop treating security issues with kid gloves, but aggressive on it with sincerity, we will continue to walk in circles, getting what we bargained for.
Are you saying security issue has been politicised ?
I do not want to use the word politicised. It is just that we know what to do, but we are not doing it. As I said, this security challenge is not a big deal, it can be tackled, it is easy to tackle it if we do what we are expected to do. When they are serious about tackling it, it won’t take time and it will become history.
There is also emerging allegation that INEC is under pressure to dump the use of BVAS in the coming 2023 elections?
It is not possible because if they do that they will be setting this country on fire. Nigerians are beginning to have confidence that their vote will count come 2023 with the use of BVAS if properly secured. We saw what happened in the Osun State election due to the use of BVAS. It is a strong allegation and I do not expect INEC to keep quiet over things as this. Immediately Nigerians start suspecting that their votes will not count in the 2023 election, then we have lost it. It is a challenge before the INEC and I hope they will rise up to the occasion to close all loopholes.
How would you react to the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has continued to generate so much controversy. Some say itit’s a recipe for Islamization of Nigeria. Is the outcry that it has generated worth it?
Muslim-Muslim ticket is a no brainer, just like in this country, if you say Christain-Christain ticket, Christian as president, Christian as vice president; can people accept that in all sincerity? Can we accept it as a possibility in Nigeria in view of the sensitive nature of religion and ethnic sentiment in the country today? Some places would have started to burn by now if it has been a Christain-Christain ticket. It insults the sensibility of Christians. You cannot be insensitive about the critical nature of religion and ethnicity in the politics of this nation, except we just want to pretend and deceive ourselves. Those who are pushing the agenda today will not take it if it had happened the other way round. They will bring down thunder and brimstone, but today they are pretending that there is no danger. They can only deceive themselves. Are you saying that there are no competent Christians in the North? What you cannot take, why force it on another, applying unnecessary logic to suit you. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. It should not be a matter of when it suits you then you support, no.
How do you see the threat to peace in the Southeast, the emerging terror in the region, for instance, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah would have been wasted if not for his bulletproof car?
Of course, no where is safe in the country, but the insecurity in the Southeast is easy to tackle. We do not have a lot of bushes in the Southeast, so it’s easy to ransack the bush and round up whoever that is using the bush as cover. When we are serious about tackling insecurity those nonsense will be a thing of the past, but are we serious and sincere given the approach employed in tackling it?
The Southeast appears to be hostile with the APC government, but the APC leadership claimed it has put much infrastructure in the zone. Is it not true?
The truth is that in terms of infrastructure, the All Progressives Congress ( APC ) government in their seven-year tenure so far has done much more than the PDP government in their 16 years in office. But all is not about infrastructure, it is beyond just the provision of infrastructure.
Then why is it that the Southeast is critical about the APC leadership. What do they want?
It is because there is this perception that inclusiveness does not affect Southeast in the present administration. In terms of appointment and other patronages the Southeast is excluded. There is this lopsidedness in appointment and in the distribution of other privileges that excluded the Southeast. There is this dangerous political scheming whereby they schemed the Southeast out. Some say it’s hatred, but I see it as a masterminded political scheming that ensured that the Southeast is out. When there is no justice, fairness and no level playing ground, when you are partial and treat some areas with disdain, you create a problem for yourself. You can see the deep discrimination that abound, you can see a desperate effort to keep that geo-political zone down.
Some critics are saying that the Southeast cannot be insisting that they want to become the Nigeria president while they are also pushing for the Republic of Biafra. Is that not a contradiction?
There are people who are asking for Biafra in the Southeast and that does not mean that all Southeasterners or the entire Igbo want Biafra. No. In the Southwest, for instance, people are also asking for Oduduwa Republic, even in the North, Middle Belt, they are having such agitations. So, why should you use it against Southeast and not use it against Southwest and other zones?
Both the PDP and APC refused to zone their presidential slot to the Southeast. How do you feel?
They have simply shown that the Southeast does not matter to them. It is then left for the Southeast to know what to do. I have said it before and I am repeating it here that Nigeria is at war with itself and unless a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction emerges, unless the Igbo take the position of the president, the country may likely continue to be at war. Where is the justice? When injustice is projected into the political system you will definitely have a problem. Give the Southeast the opportunity to lead Nigeria as the president, you will witness an unprecedented turnaround. Nigeria is at war with itself and it is in our hands to make Nigeria work. Some have sworn that the Southeast must remain down, neglected, rejected, insulted etc, but that is where the solution to salvage this country is hidden. You cannot neglect the Igbo and doing that will be at a huge cost. They have sacrificed so much, including their blood for Nigeria. There is urgent need for justice for the people because you cannot have genuine peace in the midst of deepening injustice.
At last, Peter Obi has emerged as the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate. How do you feel looking at the other rival contestants?
Peter Obi has no rival there. He stands tall given his antecedents. He is not going to be president for Ndigbo. No. There are those making frantic effort to give his candidacy Igbo colouration, no, he is not. His acceptance across the country is huge and massive. He is eminently qualified for that position and he will, no doubt, make a good president of Nigeria. If you want me to rate them, I will say: First, Peter Obi, second, Peter Obi, third, Peter Obi. There is no argument about Peter Obi because he will deliver.
But are you not worried that he (Peter Obi) has no structure to deliver for him?
Some people talk about structure as if it is an abstract thing. What is structure if not the people? We have banked on some big names as the structure and what did we get? There structure failed Nigerians. Nigerians are wiser today. You saw the enthusiasm that greeted the voters registration exercise and you think that was for nothing? If there is no sabotage of the BVAS, no interruption with the INEC server etc, Nigerians will make a statement with their vote in 2023. As we speak, Peter Obi is leading in the latest poll research result. Obi has all it takes to fix this country.