From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, means many things to many people, but what may be incontrovertible is that he is a controversial politician.
Speaking to a select group of journalists in Abuja, the senator representing Imo West Senatorial District explained more about the political realignments ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
He also admitted that he will still contest the 2023 presidential poll, arguing that the political elite have failed and fooled the Nigeria masses for too long, just as he described Nigeria’s democracy as a product of highest bidder.
Okorocha noted that though he is not a proponent of zoning since it cannot guarantee good governance, however, since the North, Southwest and South-south have all taken shots at the presidency, the Southeast should be allowed to produce president in 2023 for purpose of equity and fairness.
In Rivers State recently, you hinted of an alliance from good APC and PDP members to rescue Nigeria, who are those good Nigerians behind the third force?
You will agree with me that there are lots of silent agitations coming from different quarters in our present political arrangements. There are so many complaints indicating that people are not satisfied with what we have today in terms of political activities in Nigeria. It is the same stroke whether in the APC or PDP. What it means is that something is fundamentally wrong. I have come to realise that we have various classes of politicians in Nigeria. There are politicians who only worry about how to win election, but not how to address the challenges of our nation. Their own is just to win election at all costs. We have another group of politicians who are tribalistic and myopic and only think about what comes to them as a region or themselves not caring about the nation called Nigeria. Left for them, they want to divide this nation as quickly as possible for selfish reasons. There are another set of politicians that are constantly master of complaints and agitations. For them, no government is ever good and nothing is ever good unless the ones they are in charge. There are majority of other politicians that don’t even know the excess of politics, governance or administration. All they want is the economic benefit. For them, it is a business like, calculating how much do they put in and how much they get out of it. Since democracy has become the best form of governance that we must go through elections to get the leaders, we really have to come again and realise why people come into politics in the first place. However, there are this group of politicians whose concern is to serve their nation and mankind. They can give without counting the losses. Their major concern is how to make Nigeria better and feel hurt when Nigeria is not doing well. They are not concerned about the present day Nigeria and the challenges we have and they wished what can be done to better the lot of Nigerians. That is why I classified them as the good and the bad without mentioning the ugly ones in Nigerian politics. The moment we are able to classify these people and make them have different political parties, the better it is for us as a nation. And let me say emphatically here that Nigeria’s democracy is going for the highest bidders among those that control the means of production, the finances and the people who get elected against the wishes of the masses. This is why the system has bastardised our tiers of government like the legislature, the executive and the judiciary by this same group of people who are highest bidders in all form. We must check these people if we really want to have this new Nigeria of our dream. Our political party system must change because it is the source that feeds the leadership of this country.
Will the third force mean an end to all the chances of reviving the APC?
I said that what is happening in the APC is also happening in the PDP if not worse. We don’t really have a true political system with people who share common vision. What we have is highest bidder who must have inflow back into his pocket not highest visionary ready to deliver the dividend of democracy. We are practising a different kind of democracy in Nigeria. We need the regrouping so that these people, who mean well for this country, care about poor people and this nation, those pained by the negative happenings in the country to come together from the APC or PDP. They must come together and rescue this nation not necessarily because the man has the money but Nigerians will understand when they tell their true story and support them to build this new Nigeria we are talking about. We are looking forward to a new Nigeria. Even if you have the best of leadership if you don’t have good people around you, that leadership is bound to fail woefully. We know ourselves and will harken to my Port Harcourt call for regrouping.
What is the assurance that what happened to other political parties will not repeat itself in the new coalition?
When you talk about progressives, APC is a hurried arrangement to get the then government in power out of office. We felt at that time that the government was not doing well. In hurry, we were all determined that whatever it takes, the government must go. In hurry, we brought people from different parties to see if we can give this nation a new lease of life. APC would have been better managed, but the interference and the fact that all those that came for congratulation hijacked the party. Instead of going back, they stayed behind to become the elders and leaders of the party. Those who didn’t understand the party and who are not the key players became the lords to determine what happens in governance. It boils down to the fact that this nation requires political reengineering and rearrangement.
What are the measures in place to ensure that bad people will not infiltrate the third force?
There is something funny that happens in governance in Nigeria. It is only when a leader has the wisdom that he can curtail such occurrence. If political leaders mean well to truly serve the people in this country, there are people whose duty it is to disconnect them from the system. It has been happening in the Villa since the creation of Nigeria. Good people are usually kept outside the Villa and corridors of power for so many reasons especially the fact that those manipulators would want to keep the system in check. It takes courage to go beyond them even in all the government houses in the country. If a leader is not careful, people around him might not allow him to see beyond his table, making him think that the whole Nigeria or state starts and ends with them. They decide your friends and enemies. People who ordinarily would help the system are kept outside and before you know it, criminals and rogues will take over the system. It happens to every administrator. The bad people have a way of buying themselves in and they take time to study your weaknesses, your likes, giving you whisky if it’s what you like, organising party if you are the clubbing type, gossiping to you, ensuring you hate people, and providing to you whatever you enjoy against the wishes of the people. Administrators don’t usually have the right people to help them in decision making. In most cases, the governors and president are helpless and the moment you finish and fail, you don’t see them anymore and they will even be the first to accuse you of ineptitude while in office. It boils down to the good and bad people. We must try to get the bad eggs out from our political system. They can form their own political party.
Can we say that PDP, APC have failed Nigerians?
No, what we will rather say is that the bad people in APC and the bad people in PDP have failed Nigerians.
Will the new arrangement accommodate power rotation and will the South be considered to take the first shot?
We should know that political party is just a vehicle. APC cannot provide leadership for the people; it takes people in the APC to provide leadership. PDP cannot also provide leadership because it is a mere word that does not determine the character of the people there. We are being fooled to think that once PDP or APC is being called, they denote excellence, but it is not true. The name APC or PDP is just a container bearing the content that produces the taste. Let us forget about political parties in Nigeria because they don’t have any ideology and even if they have, the ideologies are the same whether APGA, PDP, APC, among others.
Is there any ongoing consultation and what is the timeline for the emergence of this third force?
Talking about consultation, it is a natural thing and will happen naturally. I have told you that so many Nigerians are concerned just like me about ensuring that good people come to office. How do we elect good people into office because Nigerians can no longer be fooled. Nigerian politicians have fooled the masses too long. We have taken advantage of the poverty situation in the country to further fool and leave the masses in abject poverty. We must as concerned citizens show our credentials out there. We cannot be fooled any longer because the unity of Nigeria is very key to us. What effort have we made individually and collectively? Who can Nigerians trust today that can actually ensure unity of purpose in this country be it Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Efik or other tribes. If you want to be a president and all you have done is just for you and your family or your tribe, it cannot make you a president. Other tribes cannot feel you. We need a president who have compassion for the downtrodden, the oppressed and who will open his door for people to work in and say a word of comfort to them. It is not about locking your doors, winding up your glasses and blowing your siren. We need to face the realities and ask these questions in deciding who leads us.
Will you run for 2023 presidential election?
I think they have asked me that question repeatedly and I have explained that I have run for presidency of this country in 2003 which was where I made my mark in politics. I ran again in 2007 with the like of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and about 18 others and I came second. The third one was in 2015 when I was a governor, but it was just to make a statement and bring the Igbo into the mainstream politics of APC. That was how we were able to have the APC in the Southeast. I brought the Igbo into the APC and the records are there. So, asking me now whether I will run for president of Nigeria, is surprising. If I don’t, what will I then run for? However, it is not about running because if it is so and if you ask me, I will say that I will be more comfortable not running for any more position in Nigeria. I will just enjoy the best of time God has given to me on earth. What makes me run is because things are not going well. You run when you think that you can save the situation. If I must run, it is because I feel that I can contribute to the wellbeing of this country come 2023. I have the vision to run not the ambition to run.
Can you confirm if there is any zoning arrangement in the APC?
I don’t know of any zoning arrangement in the APC, but there is this natural unwritten understanding between the North and South that has existed in our presidential election for so many years now. But even at that, I am not a proponent of zoning because zoning will not guarantee good governance. What we are saying bothers on fairness and equity which is a common phenomenon in life. For me, most importantly, I see it as a competition and who can be better in the race. Southwest, South-south and the North have all taken their shots; let’s give Southeast to see what government will look like. It is more of a healthy competition. Having seen the style of other regions, let us see what the Southeast can do. It is like a football match competitive spirit.
What do you think can be done to safe the country with the spate of insecurity and other challenges in the country?
If there is going to be any war or battle in Nigeria, it will not be a religious one, tribal battle, but the battle between the haves and have nots. That is the poor and the rich. This is where the problem is not the colouration of political divide between APC and PDP or Christianity and Islam, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. Those are just ideas to divide the people, the real battle is between those eating and those starving. The hungry man in Zamfara, is the same hungry man in Imo, my state. The poor share things in common. They don’t have power, water; children school fees, hunger, joblessness and these are the common denominators. But, you know that politicians are always very smart to divide us along ethnic and religious lines, but the real division is in the poverty and affluence. The rich is getting richer in Nigeria while the poor is getting poorer by the day. The major classes either fall into rich or poor category, but the majority are falling into poor category. The moment we address these issues, things will change naturally. If President Muhammadu Buhari has all the good people we are talking about, these complaints will not be coming. He needs good people around him to be able to deliver. People complain about Buhari, but I have asked how much does he have.
Will you apologise to Nigerians you told to persevere under President Buhari almost seven years after?
What I will say is that the rich, political elite and bourgeoisies should apologise to Nigerians. They should come out one day, take a bow and say we are sorry, forgive all our sins. They should reassure people of building a new Nigeria. Let the bad politicians come out and apologize to Nigerians.
Do you share the concern that the greatest challenge you will face pursuing your presidential ambition will come from your home state?
I have also heard that comment from certain quarters, but it does not reflect the practical realities. The best way to answer the question is to say that if you want to ask about my wellbeing, don’t ask my enemy because he will not give you a good answer. He will even say that I am dead. A neutral person should be asked to be able to get the answer that reflects the reality. I am a proud Igbo man with both parents from Igbo, I grew up in the North which gave me my life while the west gave me my business life. That I was able to build a house today and buy a car is because of my relationship with the West. If I become the president of Nigeria, how will I bite the finger that fed me or hate my origin? I am a citizen of humanity and if anybody from the Southeast is thinking that the only way I can be the president is to box the northerner or westerner, the person is making a mistake.
What are your fears regarding your presidential ambition?
I really don’t have any fear and if I should have one, it should really be the quantum of sacrifice I will make. Sometimes when I sit down to realise the sacrifice I will make as the president just as I did in Imo, then I ask myself whether it is worth it. For example as Imo State governor, I was not looking as healthy as I am looking now. I hardly sleep. I sleep by 12 midnight and wake up by 4:00 a.m. Sleeping, three or four hours every day for eight years, running across the state to actualise my promises of providing infrastructure, free education and doing lots of other things for my people was challenging. It was a lot of sacrifice that I sometimes ask if this cup will pass by me. That is the only thing I have mix feelings otherwise by now, I should have been sitting comfortably, living in the best house anywhere I found myself, run my foundation, travel wherever I want, take my family on holiday, enjoy the best part of this life especially now that we are approaching 60-year mark.
What is your assessment of what is happening in your state?
I think I should only laugh and it will answer the question. I really have nothing to say at this point other than to say that it is rather unfortunate.