“I’d have preferred a Third Force. I’d have preferred Obi being a presidential candidate of a Third Force instead of him being the vice president of PDP”
Apart from his apparent austere style of life, General Ishola Williams (retd) is also known for objectivity and non-partisanship. In his usual firebrand commentary on the state of affairs of the nation, he chastised some state actors for their reckless political bravado, and urged the Southeast to take advantage of the coming election to negotiate for the 2023 Igbo presidency project.
He also suggested the need to give a woman a chance to rule.
Campaign for the next general election has begun in earnest. Both President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger in the PDP have unfolded their agenda. The agenda for the former is encapsulated in a document tagged the Next Level, while that of Atiku is making Nigeria work again. Which of these do you consider as a better option for the electorate?
I wish it were possible for Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 25 to think seriously about the future of Nigeria, especially now that we have another opportunity to change not only the leadership, but also the style of leadership and the context within which the leadership must operate. Three and a half years ago, the All Progressive Congress (APC) promised to bring a change and they published an ambitious manifesto, which spoke about restructuring, improved security system, anti-corruption and economy.
But when I look at those three areas, my assessment of the government is zero. They promised us to restructure Nigeria, but the president has ruled out restructuring. Initially, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and the el-Rufai-led panel set up by the APC gave us the impression that they were for restructuring.
The panel came up with a report supporting restructuring. But the APC threw the paper into the dustbin and the vice president went to the United States, saying we don’t need restructuring. But recently again, he changed his tune, supporting state police and devolution of powers to the states. So, we don’t know where he stands though we know the president’s position. APC as a party has kept quiet. We don’t know where the so-called national leader too stands. They keep quiet when it comes to restructuring. As far as APC is concerned, they cannot take us to the Promised Land. On the issue of security, everyday you read in newspapers, Al-Jazeera and co about what is happening in the Northeast. It is sad news every day. I don’t think they can deal with security issue in the next six months. They’ve completely run out of ideas from what I have seen. They further created a bad precedence when the Service Chiefs went to the launching of campaign of a political party only for them to run out of the event later. What were they doing there in the first place? Didn’t they read the letter of invitation about what was going to happen there? In other climes, they will be forced to resign. Because of the great role of the armed forces in the security of the country, they should not be seen anywhere near such an event. On the other hand, we have the PDP presenting a man who has spent eight years in government as vice president. His boss had accused him of corruption. But here is the APC government saying they are not going to take any former president or vice president to court for corruption. I will say because of Peter Obi as vice presidential candidate, people should look at PDP. It is not that Obi is clean, but he spent two terms in Anambra and he was able to show that he can govern. He set a foundation, which Obiano is following. But really, I would have preferred a Third Force. In fact, I would have preferred Obi being a presidential candidate of a Third Force instead of him being the vice president of PDP. I don’t think Atiku will have the courage to make a change that is necessary, especially on this issue of restructuring. If we restructure, it will reduce corruption at the federal level. Whether people like it or not, that restructuring most take place. We cannot continue like this. Now, the government is accusing Atiku of corruption. How can you turn around and accuse him of corruption? I kept telling people, you cannot be a millionaire by being a Sunday school teacher. Every businessman in one way or another is a small crook. Accusing Atiku of corruption is bullshit because there is no past president, either military or civilian, that can swear that his hands are clean. I wish all other jokers can come together and say let us give a woman a chance. For example, they can choose Dr. Oby Ezekwesili because she is the most prominent among the women who want to contest. That will give us three clear choices: two old men and one middle-aged woman, who has governmental experience as a former minister of education and at one time in charge of procurement. I think all other mushroom parties should come together and create a Third Force, which Obasanjo and co were trying to create before. In short, Nigeria needs a Third Force.
And it is not too late to create that Third Force. But to do that, we need someone who understands how government runs and who does not have any scandal in the past. And there are a few of them like Dr. Kingsley Moghalu, who was a former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. So, why can’t they just get together and create a Third Force. If they can do that, they have a good chance of winning. That is a strategic approach, if we want a new leadership.
And you think a Third Force can garner enough numerical strength to win the election?
The whole essence of a Third Force is to create a surprise. There are enough people in this country who have enough money to back up a Third Force.
Why do you think Obasanjo’s idea of a Third Force failed?
There are several people who have plenty of money who could have helped to create a Third Force if they were selfless. But again, Obasanjo himself is not different from Atiku he accused of corruption.
Do you see INEC conducting a free and fair election in 2019?
To me, INEC is just like a referee in a football match. For now, INEC is a very expensive referee for Nigeria. And it is not INEC’s fault; it is because Nigerian voters are irresponsible. There are two sets of elections in the country: the primary and the secondary elections. Right from the primary, money counts, not merit. And because money counts, people are ready to use money to disrupt the process by way of using thugs to snatch ballot boxes. They did the same thing in the recent bye-election in Kwara. Though we did not hear any evidence of money being distributed, there were cases of ballot snatching because APC was bent on winning. That is irresponsibility on the part of the voters. What can INEC do about that? Again, there is issue of security. INEC is now asking for huge amount of money running into billions of naira for us to be able to vote. So, voting now has become an expensive venture in Nigeria. Every time there is election, there has always been increase in demand for money both for security and election. And that increases the danger those who are conducting elections are exposing themselves to.
Sometimes you can blame a referee in a match if the players are responsible. But in our own case, the players are irrespirable.
Nigeria is now having the highest number of presidential candidates ever in the history of the present democratic dispensation. Do you see the hands of the two leading political parties in the emergence of these mushroom parties?
We all know that they create different political parties before the election. But there are some serious ones among these political parties. Some candidates have genuinely come out to contest the election to bring about a change. I thought that those serious ones would come together and settle for a common candidate.
Next Level is now the slogan of APC. I want to ask, Next Level to where?
Nigerians are not talking of Next Level; it is the APC that is talking of Next Level. They don’t even understand which level they are now. Next level can be either down or up. If you understand the level you are in, you either go up or go down. So, I don’t understand what they meant by next level because I am not a member of APC. They should define what they mean by next level. They are the people who can determine the next level they want to go to. But as far as I am concerned, let them make the level they are now better. Recently, Fashola was urging the electorate in the Southwest to vote for APC so that Yoruba can be president in 2023. Is he sensitive to ethno-politics of this country? Is he saying that Nigeria was created for the Yoruba alone? Somebody needs to call him to order. It doesn’t make sense at all for you to make that as part of your campaigns. What you are telling the Igbo is that they don’t matter in the ethno-politics of Nigeria.
And do you see the Igbo playing the right politics to get what they want?
Fairness and equity demand that an Igbo man should become the president in 2023. And I will be happy if Peter Obi can become president. Peter Obi, to me, can be compared to Lateef Jakande. We will never have a person like Jakande again in Lagos. It will take another century to have another person of his kind. But people don’t talk about him. Igbo should give Atiku the condition that Peter Obi must be president in 2023. And if he doesn’t agree, Peter Obi should stay put as vice president. But in 2023, he should be ready to create a Third Force. If PDP fools around with him, he will use the Third Force to be the President of Nigeria.