Senator Ben Obi is a former presidential adviser on Inter -Party Affairs and immediate past National Secretary, Caretaker Committee of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In this interview with Iheanacho Nwosu, he examines happenings in the country, especially the activities of herdsmen. He claimed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) led -government has disappointed Nigerians on all fronts.
Would you say the Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of which you were part delivered on its mandate?
From all intent and purposes, we did justice to the responsibility that was given to us by the party. The assignment was supposed to be for three months, but it lingered more than expected due to legal issues. But at last, we were able to conduct a convention that produced credible elected officials. That was what we promised Nigerians and that we fulfilled. There is no party convention all over the world that will be 100 percent perfect and satisfy the interests of all party members. But in our case, we achieved a great success judging by the responses and feedback we got from our members and supporters in Nigeria and Diaspora. In a nutshell, we are glad that the convention produced credible leaders who are capable of propelling the party to victory in subsequent elections.
But the convention was almost overshadowed by complaints and other controversies. Some party members even went to court to challenge its outcome. Isn’t that a big minus?
It justifies my earlier statement that no political party convention is perfect. But more importantly is that our reconciliation committee is doing great job in pacifying those who are aggrieved with the system. I am sure they will be convinced to drop their anger and embrace other options provided by the party. Nevertheless, some other persons are seeking unnecessary political relevance, because they ordinarily did not belong to any organ of the party before the convention. They were unknown entities that wanted to test their popularity. The opponents are also responsible for all these disagreements. They are daily strategizing on better ways to weaken the wings of our party, knowing that our strength pose a great threat and challenge to them at the polls.
Are you not worried that a particular group has even threatened to factionalize the party?
Of course, these are the set of people I was talking about. But unfortunately, they have failed woefully to realise their plans. This is because the Supreme Court judgement last year stated clearly that decisions and resolutions taken at party convention remain binding on all. But the party leaders in their wisdom set post convention reconciliation committee in anticipation of this kind of situation. Their mandate is to pacify and reunite any aggrieved member so we could be a stronger party and collectively go into the 2019 elections.
Realistically speaking, is PDP really in a good shape to regain power in 2019?
We are very much ready to do that and Nigerians are solidly behind us, because they have tasted APC and confirmed that it was built on propaganda and deceit. Nigerians are tired of suffering and hardship APC through its policies has inflicted on them. It is unfortunate and shameful that APC cannot lay claim to any achievement since it assumed office in 2015. If you look back, you will see that the achievements of 16 years of PDP leadership in Nigeria are still there for all to see. It will take APC 32 years to match PDP 16 years achievements. Nigerians seem to have gone from frying pan to fire. But I must emphasize that politics or leadership is about experience and competence. World over, people are gifted with different talents and leadership skills. But regrettably, APC is good as opposition party and not in governance because they do not possess the qualities and competence required for effective governance.
In which area precisely do you think APC has failed?
In all ramifications and the negative effect is there for all to see. People are stagnated. Unemployment and crime are on the high side. Economy is in its poorest state ever. Nigerian governance system has moved from bad to worse. Security architecture has collapsed. From the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents to Niger Delta Avengers. IPOB raised its head briefly and Federal Government declared them terrorist group and treated them like one, with military power. And now the deadly Fulani herdsmen who have continued to visit pains and anguish on local communities unabated are left to continue. The President’s ill health further opened the door for some people to hijack governance system. The wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, was forced to fire the first shot, raising the attention of Nigerians to the activities of people whom she described as “Jackals and Hyenas” that have hijacked the system.
Has his (Buhari) return from medical vacation not made any difference?
Unfortunately, no change has been witnessed months after his return and I, and many of my likes are not expecting any. There is no doubt that his poor state of health might have weakened his influence and negatively affected his performances but you don’t expect much from over 70 years old man like Buhari. Buhari himself confessed that he had never been this sick in his entire lifetime. Nigeria is a big and complicated country that requires a healthy and intellectual fellow to manage. If a young man with youthful energy is given Nigeria to manage, his doctors must be around him every minute of the day, not to talk of older man like Buhari in his 70s. We however thanked God that he has recovered. Nigeria needs someone who is ready to work for not less than 18 hours. Nigeria needs someone with vision and capacity to drive the governance system.
In the wake of the recent killings in Benue, Chief Paul Unongo has threatened that Benue State State may be compelled to raise its own army to protect its people from the activities of Fulani herdsmen. What does it say of Nigeria?
The primary responsibility of any government is the security of its people. But otherwise seems to be the case going by what it is happening everywhere in Nigeria. It is an indication that Nigeria has failed its citizens. It is most unfortunate that the activities of Fulani herdsmen have led to the death of hundreds of innocent people and relevant authorities lack the approach to end the menace. Federal government was quick to declare IPOB a terrorist group but Fulani herdsmen that have committed more atrocities are seen to still enjoy freedom and protection of the government. That is unfair and we insist on justice for peace to reign. However, I totally disagree with the thought of some Benue people to raise its own army. That might result in a bigger security issue. They should challenge some senior military officials from the state to act fast. However, I suggest that the local vigilante system must be strengthened to complement the effort of the state security systems. This will enable them protect themselves and their communities from being murdered like chicken.
What is your take on open accusation by Plateau State governors that his Benue state counterpart was responsible for the crisis?
I was extremely disappointed with such verbal attack. I have served as a federal legislator and I know what it takes to make a law. Plateau governor, Simon Lalong, was said to be once a state legislator and even rose to be the Speaker of the state assembly. He ought to be aware of the dignity of state law and respect that. It was unacceptable and irresponsible to hear him speak in such manner to a fellow governor particularly when over 70 souls that died as a result of Fulani herdsmen attacks were being buried. Even if Governor Ortom had done something wrong or right, that was not the right way and time to tell him. Bible advises that we mourn with those that mourn. But I was taken aback when I saw seven governors championing the rerun agenda of President Buhari at the time their colleague was going through the anguish. These seven governors were busy loitering around the presidency seeking unnecessary political relevance. They told Journalists that their states are in full support of Buhari to go for second term. That was totally unnecessary particularly when one of their own was mourning the death of his people. They obviously want to use Buhari to get second tenure. But they should know that Buhari will not be a vehicle to deliver any governor. In fact, he will be struggling to deliver himself if he chooses to participate in the election.
Does that implies that his popularity has dropped significantly?
That is left for him. But I know he will fight for his own victory. It is a waste of time for anyone to think that he or she will climb the wings of Buhari to victory, as was the case in 2015. Such person will be wasting his or her time because that will not happen. Nigerians are wiser now and they will resist any attempt to impose incompetent leaders on them. They will critically judge everyone by his or her activities or performance. Days of landslide victory are gone.
Federal Government did not send delegation to the burial. Does that send any message?
That is the height of disrespect and insult on the governor and entire Benue people. But you must know that when purposes of governance was not known, then the abuse will be inevitable. What we see nowadays is outright abuse of governance. There is no way that kind of burial, considering its circumstances, will take place without a good representation of the Federal Government. It speaks volumes. Late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu described it as “sense of measure”. It means when somebody is not standing for something, it simply means he or she is falling for something. That is the horrible situation we have found ourselves in Nigeria. Unfortunately, our governors and legislators are after ventures that would guarantee their second term in Office, at the detriment of other Nigerians. That is the bane of our development. Nigerians have to rise up, take the bull by the horn and stop this rascality.
Are you impressed with the approach and determination of this administration in the fight against corruption as well as other national issues?
No, I am not. If you remove President Buhari and his name attached to anti-corruption war, then nothing is left of the anti-corruption war. What has been the result of many people accused of corruption and possibly tried on the pages of newspapers. There is need for accurate statistics and comprehensive list of those who have been prosecuted to know where they belong. Also, those, especially the ones in government who have petitions against them to know if they have been arrested. Corruption fight should not be partial, but must be a holistic fight that will not consider ethnic, political and social differences.
But some APC members are being prosecuted too.
Yes! But in totality, people in the opposition are the worst hit. I have had the privilege of serving in government and I know how we fought corruption squarely. There was no sacred cow during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. His targets were mostly PDP governors, not minding that they were in the same political party. Today, the case is different. During Obasanjo and other successive administrations, people knew there was onslaught on corruption and the result was there for all to see. However, that was Obasanjo’s style and it worked for him. But the style being adopted by Buhari has forced people to ask questions and that is why they have lost high profile cases in court. I am particularly not one of those that are carried away by number of arrests or trial on pages of newspapers. But I am interested in the number of convictions in the court. That is what counts.
There has been fragile peace and stability in PDP, but people are still moving out of the party especially in the South East and the National Assembly. Are you not worried?
People are free to move to where they feel they can realize their political ambition. The constitution allows that. But while they are moving many people have approached us, secretly and openly, and requested a window to join PDP. But we have to be tactical and strategic about it, because certain discussions must be concrete before we finalise the agreement.
It takes time to mature, but the bottom line is that there are discussions ongoing and it will be made public at the right time. Few people, notable figures have jumped out of PDP since 2015 when we lost election. In fact former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, was among the first to join APC 2015, shortly after we lost election. He first resigned from the party and waited for couple of months before joining APC.
Thereafter, they gave him national assignment and he delivered to the best of his ability. But his absence made no impact on the party in the South East region. It did not change the way the zone perceives APC. Remember that shortly after our national convention, people proceeded on Christmas and New Year break. Political activities were halted too. But be sure that very soon, political activities will start and that is when you will know how active we are. So it is too early to know who will be where.
There are insinuations that some PDP governors like Ebonyi and Abia states are trying to move to APC. Is that not a threat to the chances of PDP in the South East?
None of our governors is considering a defection. All of them have been active in participating and contributing financially and otherwise to the continuous growth and development of the party. Their presence and contributions were very conspicuous at the just concluded national convention. It was an indication that they are committed members of the party. But you can’t rule out utterances from some of them or other party members that might be misinterpreted by either the media or other people. Regarding the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, I believe he is a sound politician who knows what is best for him and his people. He might be making some unexpected utterances, but that is part of the politicking. Umahi is a great party man. I have worked with him closely and I can attest to his commitment to the good of his people. On the other side, Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, had several challenges in early days of his administration. He was in court for a long time and the opposition tried as much as they could to unseat him but that did not work. That made him to fight hard and mingle with some unexpected people to protect his mandate. That might have also informed the misinterpretation of his body language.
Why did some of your members work for APGA in the last Anambra governorship election?
It was a case of minor disagreement and dissatisfaction with the candidate that was elected at the congress. First, we surrendered the party back to the people who are the original owners of the party. We set up caretaker committee under the chairmanship of Prof. ABC Nwosu and other credible persons including Senator Joy Emordi. It was a formidable team that worked assiduously to reconcile our party members and also conducted the congress. But unfortunately, the congress produced Oseloka Obaze and that was not acceptable to some members and they opted out and moved their support to other party. We tried to resolve the matter before the election, but weren’t successful. They saw Obaze as Peter Obi’s protégé. We convinced them as much as we could, but they refused and chose to work against the party. PDP, undoubtedly, is on ground in Anambra, but has never been able to win governorship election. But now the elections are over, we will begin underground work to reconcile all aggrieved members ahead of 2019 election.
Anambra central senatorial election further divided the party in the state …
The Anambra Central Senatorial dispute was resolved by court decision. I benefitted from court judgment. One becomes worried when court decides to delay judgment. But no matter how long it lasts, all concerned must wait. I am a respecter of the judiciary, because it is said to be the last hope of the common man.
There are fears of more trouble for PDP ahead of 2019. There are predictions that it may court more trouble as it works to nominate its candidate . Do you entertain such fear?
I obviously don’t, because we promote justice, equity, transparency and most importantly, we follow the constitution in our dealings. Such steps will convince others and reduce trouble and possible litigation for the party. It is only when you want to impose candidate on people that you face such strong resistance from other party members. The issue of “unity list” that cropped up during our national convention last year was not new to politics. But in Nigeria and elsewhere. The reason is that any leader will like to identify and support whom he or she will like to work with.
Why have you not shown interest in Anambra State governorship seat?
It was my personal decision not to run for the office. In fact, I have always been under pressure to contest for that seat and I have consistently said no to the offer. It caused little misunderstanding between me and late Ojukwu because he pleaded in the 80s for me to contest the election. In 2003, myself and Chris Ngige were asked to choose between ourselves who will be governor and senator. I choose to go to senate because I was more comfortable there. My reason was that I started my politics from the center and over time, I became so committed to the legislature. I saw my interest at the center. I had mingled so much with all the zones of the federation. There is no language of any zone of nation that I do not speak. I think I have constituted myself into some sort of bridge between my zone and other zones and I don’t want to cut it off. My encounter with Peter Obi was in year 2000 when he went to late Ojukwu and requested of his support to run for the seat of the governor. Late Ojukwu referred him to me then in my residence in Awka. He asked him to confirm from me if I was interested in the seat, otherwise he will support him. I told him I was not interested and that was how he went ahead and became governor. So from onset, I deliberately chose not to become governor.
Will you be disposed to be running mate if nominated by your party in 2019 ?
When people say they are lobbying to be running mate I get confused. It is the man who is the candidate that can decide who will fly the flag with him. I concluded my moves to return to the Senate when I was nominated by Atiku Abubakar to be his running mate in 2007 elections. I normally wrap up my plans at the palace of Igwe of Mbaukwu. It was shortly before that, that I got a call that I had been nominated a running mate to Atiku. But two days before, we had concluded a meeting where we agreed that no one from the South East should run for the office of vice president even when former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, was interested. That prompted another emergency meeting to deliberate on that. They reviewed their decision and gave me their support.
Do you support the recommendation by the Minister of Agriculture for the creation of cattle colony as a way of addressing the herdsmen /farmers clashes?
That should not be the Federal Government’s first response to the activities of Fulani herdsmen. What I support is for us to do the right thing. There have been movements of cattle and herdsmen from one part of Nigeria to another for decades. Never at a time have they been going with AK 47 as we see in our local communities today. What is the cause? The Federal Government should answer that.
There have been cases of these marauding herdsmen killing people in their local communities and raping their women with reckless abandon. But in spite of public outcry, no concrete step has been taken by government to address that.
IPOB never bore arms but the government was quick to declare them a terrorist organizations. It has to declare these Fulani herdsmen terrorist organization and deal with them decisively as terrorists. Government must be sincere in addressing the issues before talking about colonies.