By Fred Itua, Abuja
DR. Promise Onyewuchim is a political scientist and a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja. He is also a chieftain of the pan-Igbo group, Ohanaeze Nd’igbo. In this interview, Onyewuchim spoke on the forthcoming rerun election in Abia North Senatorial District and why the Igbo will benefit more from Orji Uzor Kalu’s rich experience in the Senate. Excerpts:
What are the chances of the different candidates in Abia North Senatorial rerun election?
Placing the PDP candidate and OUK side by side is not possible. They are parallel lines that can never meet. One made the other. Mao became what he is today because of OUK. It was OUK that gave him the ticket to go to the House of Representatives. Mao is qualified to contest but when you have two children going for the same thing, you choose the one that is more capable. That is the case in Abia North. OUK is the most qualified and experienced candidate. He does not have any rival.
With the vacuum created in Igbo leadership, following the exit of Odumegwu Ojukwu, people sometimes refer to OUK as the de facto Igbo leader. They have also argued that having him in the Senate will be in the best interest of the Igbo. Do you share this sentiment?
When Odumegwu Ojukwu was alive, he raised the hands of OUK. He did this because of the traits he saw in Kalu. OUK is brave, courageous, fearless and outspoken. These are the qualities that Ojukwu had. Sometimes in the early 1990s, an Igbo man was killed. Nobody spoke. Then OUK came out. Then he was not a governor. He went there and met the military administrator. He met the emir and pacified everyone. Otherwise, the casualties would have been unimagined. But the presence of OUK calmed everything. When this Boko Haram issue started, shortly after OUK left office as governor, they killed the Igbo in Gombe. They were stranded and camped in a primary school. They reached out to Ohanaeze Nd’igbo. I placed a call to OUK who was not even in the country then. I told him what was happening. From outside the country, he made an arrangement and provided vehicles. Meanwhile, we had state governors. They could not do anything. A king is born and not made. OUK started playing leadership roles long before he became a governor. This is a role he had been playing over the years. It is only OUK that can go to Onitsha and traders will close their shops to welcome him. The same OUK will go to Aba market and everywhere will close. People are saying he did not work in Aba. Do not mind them. The masses and the ordinary people see OUK as their hero. The problem he has is with the elite who feel threatened by his presence. They are envious.
What do you think Igbo people stand to gain having OUK as a Senator?
If you look at the present membership of the Senate, who can speak for the South-East? I do not know if you have been to the region and saw the bad roads? We have had representatives at the National Assembly. No one could confront the presidency to fix the roads. The present challenge facing the Igbo will not be resolved through confrontation. It is something that needs one-on-one dialogue. Among all the current Senators, how many of them have this kind of reach? Can they influence their colleagues from other regions? What I am saying is that, with the presence of OUK, the Igbo have a better deal at the Senate. OUK does not need your money. He is rich and comfortable. The other lawmakers will be more concerned with what they will get but OUK will speak for the people. He is a lion and fearless. His presence in the Senate will make an effective change in the politics of Igbo land.
We gathered that the Ohanaeze Nd’igbo in principle has adopted OUK as an active member, how true is this claim?
It is 100 per cent true. Ohanaeze in principle and in consensus, adopted OUK. But because of the problem of leadership in the body, they felt OUK should find time and see them. Why should OUK go and see them? They know the truth. They know who will speak and people will listen. They know who can say to hell with your money. When the news broke out that Ohanaeze had endorsed OUK, a certain governor felt uncomfortable and started making calls. He even gave them money to put up a refutal.
Do you think the platform, PPA will be a problem for OUK?
My brother, PPA is just a platform. I was in a meeting where OUK was advised to pick a ticket from one of the parties. Having considered the implication, he said he would rather contest under PPA. If anybody tells you that PPA is unpopular, it is a lie. This was a party formed less than six months to the elections and it produced two governors and lawmakers. Who said it is not popular?
Do you think people will vote based on party affiliations?
Before OUK declared publicly, there was feasibility study carried out by people. It happened that people wanted him to run on that platform. People are no longer voting based on party lines. It is now based on the personality of the person. I followed OUK to a place for a rally and there was an old woman. She came down and insisted that she wanted to see OUK. She brought out an old Vaseline and said OUK gave it to her in 2003. People are naturally in love with him. All the roads he built in the state are still unrivalled.
Some people sometimes allege that he did not develop Aba. How true is this claim?
Honestly speaking, OUK remains the best governor Abia State has ever had since its creation. Remember that former president Olusegun Obasanjo once called him action governor. People always talk about this Aba issue and how he did not develop it. When I confronted him one time, he said before he came into office, Aba was impassable during the raining season. He started with the controlling of erosion and fought it to a standstill. He channelled all the resources into doing that. He spent the state’s money to fix federal roads to the extent that his opponents became envious of him. H gave people free education and healthcare. He empowered the youth. He created jobs. Enemies are the ones spreading falsehood. I wish journalists like you can just go down to Abia State. He does not like to blow his trumpet. In terms of security, the state was safe during his time as governor.
Based on everything you have said, are you convinced that Abia North people will overwhelmingly vote for him?
He won the last election. He entered the race in less than three months. If the man they declared winner then tells himself the truth, he knew very well that he lost that election. OUK was robbed. If they conduct that election 10 times, OUK will win. That is why we are asking for a level playing field. OUK has the political magic wand to do this. All he needs is a level playing field. He will win again. What gives us hope is that the machinery they used against him is no longer available. They are no longer in control of the Army of the security agencies. President Muhammadu Buhari has assured that the votes will count.
Do you support the claim that the Igbo are being marginalized by the current leadership and who do you think can change that?
Ohanaeze leadership and few greedy Igbo elders have turned the socio-cultural organisation into a platform of exploitation, thus endangering the general interest of Ndigbo as well as making the organisation lose its respect. The present leadership has outlived its usefulness. Ohanaeze ideally is supposed to be apolitical, but at last election, they not only supported a particular party, but came out openly to campaign for it even when many prominent Igbo sons and daughters belonged to other parties.
I am really surprised that Governor Rochas Okorocha accepted to host and reconcile them despite all they did to him, including derogatory names just because he and the other Igbo belonged to opposition then.
In any case, we are watching them, but I want to use this medium to warn Chief Ralph Obioha to hands off completely the day-to-day running of the organisation. Yes, I have no apology or regret supporting OUK. He has all it takes to represent Igbo interest in the Senate. OUK will not be in the Senate and keep quiet over the dilapidated roads/infrastructure in the South-East. He will raise the alarm. I agree that Ndigbo are marginalised to the extent of infrastructural development, but not in the Federal Executive Council. Just few months ago, we had all the juicy positions in the country yet nothing tangible happened in the whole South-East. All our federal roads are but death traps.
So, is it not better for them to take away their juicy portfolios from us as long as they will develop Igbo land for us?
Our elders and Ohanaeze leaders remained mute because the people in these juicy offices settled them. Unemployment is highest in the South-East. So, who is deceiving who? Develop the South-East for us, recognise Ndigbo as stakeholders in this entity of Nigeria, create a level playing ground or enabling environment. That is what a typical Igbo person needs to survive, so to that extent, I will accept marginalization.
Even before former President Goodluck Jonathan declared his intention to contest, Igbo leaders/elders were at war with one another over who will coordinate his campaign in the South-East. A certain governor then boasted that Ndigbo will vote 100 per cent plus for him, yet the man has not yet declared.
Do you now see why Ohanaeze must be reorganized? Our elders should honourably retire from active politics. We still need their wisdom, experience and knowledge, but they should be advising and directing the younger ones. We have many respectable elders and leaders that are very contented. They do not hustle and their opinions and words are well respected. They do not speak to seek for attention and when they talk, their words are respected and carry weight. It is only the elite that are against OUK and it’s just mere envy and jealousy because he does not support their greedy and gluttonous politics. I have so much to say, but I do not want to rock the boat and we were brought up to respect our elders.