Theodore Ekechi is the member representing Southeast in the Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) and former commissioner for information and strategy under the administration of Senator Rochas Okorocha in Imo State. In this interview, the Convener of Restoration Coalition said that the Igbo should forget “it is our turn” slogan and but forward its best 11 in the 2023 presidential race.
He said that Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu has all it takes to emerge as the next president of Nigeria, but warned Igbo to reach out to other geo-political zones and desist from the belief that the position is allocated or zoned to the Southeast.
He also spokes about the new government in Imo State, the challenge before Governor Hope Uzodinma and other issues.
After suspending Senator Okorocha by the ruling APC, why did your party lift the suspension; and not quite long after you people reconciled?
Lifting of the suspension on Okorocha? Why not? Suspension is not expulsion. Okorocha was suspended under the then prevailing circumstances of his defiant, anti-party activities that grossly undermined and embarrassed the leadership of APC both in Imo State and nationally. At the level he operated and given his history with the party, it would have been foolhardy to expect an expulsion or a further delay in lifting of the suspension. However, while I may not consider “reconciled” as very appropriate to describe the current mood and relationship, it suffices to note that the conditions that generated the altercations and fights leading to the consequential suspension are reasonably controlled. Currently, the party is quietly watching how he comports himself as the various factions and camps of the party in Imo State undergo the healing and reconciliation process. As such, as members of one big APC family we are bound to cooperate and work together for the good of the party.
The Supreme Court judgment that ousted Emeka Ihedioha has been described as a coup against democracy by many. Are you not surprised that Senator Hope Uzodinma who came 4th was declared the winner of the governorship election?
I have long stopped commenting on this matter because the media space has been saturated with commentaries by people who are grossly ignorant of the ramifications of the case and the consequential judgment either because they are intellectually lazy or hollow or simply because they are or wish to be mischievous.
Imo State chapter of APC has witnessed a harvest of deaths with the demise of Senator Ben Uwajumogu few weeks ago. The AA candidate for Imo North senatorial election in 2019, Ndubuisi Emenike was shot dead by his orderly and he was among political bigwigs in the state that switched from AA to APC. How would you describe the sudden death of your party men in quick secession?
As sad and painful as it is, the loss which is a big dent to the democratic strength and firmament of Imo State, nay, Nigeria is yet another proof that life is all vanity; vanity upon vanity. You may call their deaths a coincidence of accidents. All lives belong to God who giveth and taketh in ways and manners that are only explicable to Him and Him alone.
You were one of those who are bent on power must shift to Owerri Zone in 2019, having vehemently opposed to another Orlu man succeeding Okorocha. But as it stands now Hope Uzodunma from Orlu Zone has just been sworn in as governor of Imo State, are you disappointed over the outcome of event in Imo?
As the convener of the Restoration Coalition, I will advise you to take another look at the ‘Imerienwe Declaration,’ which encapsulates the resolutions and philosophy of the Coalition’s opposition against Rochas Okorocha. The main theme is the rejection of reckless impunity, resistance to the assault to our dignity and affront to our republican ego. While we noted the unattractiveness of another Orlu man coming in as governor, it was not really our fight to conclude; it was the people of Imo State responsibility to conclude. Indeed, from the perspective of a party member, Hope’s nomination was a product of due process, due consultations and respect of human dignity even if the process was not perfect. Whatever we stood for as a group, the people’s decision is paramount.
The general perception in Imo is that Uzodinma will fail, do you share the same view, if not do you have confidence in the administrative capacity of Uzodinma?
You will recall that it was the manner of election and attempted removal of Chris Ngige that emboldened him to take the government to the people of Anambra State for acceptance and protection. By the time Peter Obi was put on the saddle by the (Supreme) court, he was literally compelled to surpass Ngige’s sterling performance to prevent cognitive dissonance of a weary Anambra people. Obiano, for the most of his first term struggled to establish himself outside the shadows of Peter Obi’s enviable legacies. On his second term Obiano redoubled his efforts to imprint his own legacies. The circumstance of Hope Uzodinma’s emergence will leave him with no option than to perform to the expectations if not beyond the expectations of the people of Imo State, home and abroad. Given where we are coming from – the criticisms and vilifications that trailed the Rochas Okorocha’s administration, the protests and avalanche of court cases that accosted the Emeka Ihedioha’s stay in office and now the Supreme Court pronouncement of Uzodinma as the true and proper elected governor, we are inadvertently positioned to reap bountifully the dividends of democracy. Apparently to justify the confidence reposed in him and the rejection of Rochas protégé, Emeka Ihedioha, in my personal opinion did very well by laying the foundation for due process, accountability, civil service reform and confidence building – all these to the love and applause of his people. He was very conscious of the people’s grouse against his predecessor. Given my recent post inauguration encounter with Hope Uzodinma, I am convinced that he is going to shock a lot of people with an unprecedented people-oriented administration. I am so pleased that he does not seem to wish to dismantle working structures and processes put in place by Ihedioha. I am particularly pleased that he has embraced the concept of government as a continuum by retaining contractors engaged by his predecessor, as well as extending the life span and activities of notable, inherited committees and panels. So, you can see that he is not a man interested in playing to the gallery. As a fast learner, he will avoid all the power-intoxicating concoctions that destroyed the administration of Rochas Okorocha. Eight months was a short stint for Ihedioha, yet some Imolites rightly or wrongly still found reasons to raise some questions about his tenure. All these are lessons for the new governor. He is a smart man with a lot of native intelligence; he will learn from them.
Worried by the upsurge in terrorist attack across the country, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan has called for restructuring of the country’s security architecture. Isn’t it like putting the cart before the horse for the Northeast Development Commission to engage in reconstruction while Boko Haram is bombarding the area?
Let me say that for this question I speak as a statesman and not as a spokesman of Northeast Development Commission. The problem of the Northeast Nigeria has been multi-faceted, as you know, as a result of the activities of Boko Haram in the region. These problems manifest in the deplorable human conditions, poverty, illiteracy, decay and destruction of both human and physical infrastructure, health system collapse and mind wrenching hunger. The war in the Northeast region is an unusual war where the aggressors do not recognize nor respect human rights. This further complicates the human challenges for the government. These consequential human challenges are certainly outside the mandate of any military at war. The Northeast Development Commission is not set up to engage in “reconstruction” activities only in the region. All the above listed problems arising from the Boko Haram war are also all within the mandate of the commission. So, would you rather the government waited till the war was over before embarking on life-saving interventions which the NEDC is all about? Certainly not. Therefore, the NEDC is not a cart before the horse commission.
Why is President Buhari not willing to restructure the nation’s security architecture even when the tenure of the Service Chiefs is over?
To question the president’s position on restructuring or reappointing new security chiefs is to question his commitment to resolving the security situation in the country. He is the Commander-in-Chief and, therefore, knows more than any of us where the shoe pinches. He should be supported and encouraged to exercise that power dutifully. But if I can hazard a guess, I would think that appointing new Service Chiefs at this point in time will entail another learning period for the new ones. This is not a time for any experiment. Rather, the accumulated experience of the Service Chiefs should be harnessed to continue the curtailment and defeat of Boko Haram.
With the acceptance to formalize the security outfit in Southwest, Amotekun, many have expressed fear that the outfit may abuse the privilege, what is your take?
It’s relieving that this issue has finally been resolved between the governments of the Southwest region and the Federal Government. I must opine that the Amotekun “innovation” was actually beaten out of proportion as a new security arrangement. There is hardly any state in Nigeria which till date does not have or sponsor any security or quasi-security outfit to support the conventional Nigeria police in their state. Perhaps the confusion comes in the novel idea of coming together to pool resources and intelligence by the states of the Southwest. The fears of abuse in my opinion are unfounded –even if there is any of such likelihood, the benefits of a secured people and region certainly outweigh any drawbacks. However, one should note that the nation has inadvertently embraced formally, the concept of community policing.
The chances of the Igbo producing the next president are further deemed by the entry of Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the race. Do you foresee an Igbo succeeding President Buhari?
Alleged entry into the race, you should say? Frankly, I am not aware that the leader of the party has formally declared to run for the presidency in 2023. But whether he has or has not, we must be fair to concede that given all his political engagements, political sacrifices and political investments there is nothing morally or politically wrong in Tinubu aspiring to be president of Nigeria. In fact, given his wealth of experience, far reaching contacts and network, and of course, his deep pockets, he is probably one of the most qualified Nigerians to aspire to be president. However, as a deft and smart politician he will always weigh his options against the mood of the nation vis a vis fairness, equity and natural justice (as he has always done) in taking the final step. Ironically, you speak as if the Northern politicians have formally conceded the presidency to the South even in the All Progressives Congress, APC. Well, if you are one of those with this fixated notion, then you may be in for surprises. However, let me reiterate my position that the chance of any Igbo becoming president of Nigeria is not necessarily dependent on whether Tinubu will run or the North refusing to run. Of course, we should all always bear witness to the fact that from independence till date the contests for Nigeria’s presidency have always been an open race for all clans. 2023 by my estimation will not be different. The chance of an Igbo man becoming president is directly related to the quality, national acceptability, experience, courage and commitment of the personality. It is wishful thinking to calculate that 2023 presidency will be “allocated” or “zoned” to the Southeast. You can take it to the bank that it will not happen. Any of my brothers or sisters who desire to be president should arise, take up the gauntlet and fire the political cylinders in full throttle for national acceptability and endorsements. Those Igbo brothers who are sitting in the comfort of their political cocoons hoping to be “discovered” like Obasanjo did for Goodluck Jonathan and endorsed him for president are surely out of tune with the new times. National sentiments and current mood will, however, favour any Igbo candidate who can demonstrate capacity and capability beyond the pedestal bickering of “it is our turn”. My brother, there is no turn!
What about Senator Rochas Okorocha? It is strongly believed that he is preparing to run for the presidency under your party. Given that you opposed him fiercely during the last days of his regime; will you support him to become Nigerian president?
My opposition to Rochas Okorocha is never personal, but based on conviction and conscience. I opposed him for specific reasons. He is not my enemy. I don’t think he considers me as one. He still enjoys my respect, especially as my former boss. I know his capacity and capability. I have also come to know his weaknesses and frailties. However, if there is demonstrable good faith and redress on those principles that instigated the opposition, why not? I will support him.