Magnus Eze, Enugu
Former Information and state Orientation Commissioner in Ebonyi State, Chief Abia Onyike has warned the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of the dangers of excluding the South East from the politics at the centre. The erstwhile Deputy National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for a determined effort to reintegrate the Igbo beginning with the ceding of the Senate President slot to the region. He also set agenda for President Muhammadu Buhari in his second tenure.
How can the APC gain grounds in the South East?
The thing is that the policy of the government at the centre must be seen to be favourable to the people of the South East but when the policies are perceived to be anti-Igbo consistently, then that very tendency would always be there for the people to suspect that political organisation. It’s not a very difficult thing; there should be a determined effort on the part of the APC leadership at the centre to woo the Igbo people into the main stream of Nigerian politics. So, it should happen in many diverse ways, through, one; a gradual, and determined process of political recruitment and allocation of values in terms of resources, in terms of developmental projects to the South East so that they will be able to build a strong political base that will oust the PDP or at least give it a serious political contention. Our people are in search of any political model that will enable them attain genuine development, so, continuing to stay with the PDP even when there is much evidence that the party has been used as instrument for perpetuating atrocities within the region is not the way to go. And the whole idea that if you give power to people from South East by allowing somebody to emerge as a governor under APC, that the person will become a major instrument to contest against others from other blocks of the country, such thought should be jettisoned because if Igbo are not allowed to see APC as their own and if they’re not allowed by whatever marginalisation to produce top profile political leaders including governors; then they’ll continue to reject the APC. But if they’re allowed to attain high political accomplishment either by way of political appointment or election, then of course, you will see that there’s a gradual effort to plant and germinate a new political direction to make sure that APC is accommodated within the region. So, it’s something that requires committed, calculated, careful approach.
So, what’s your take on the party excluding the South East in the sharing of the two key National Assembly positions; Senate President and Speaker?
It shouldn’t be so; that’s why we’re wondering why the position of Vice President and Speaker should go to the western region alone. I mean, it’s perplexing they’re going to the western region alone because that’s only one geopolitical zone; that of the North could be understandable because in the North, we have three geopolitical zones. So, if you say the president is coming from the North West and Senate President from the North East that’ll be understandable but one geopolitical zone; the South West having the vice president and the speakership while the other two geopolitical zones-the South East and the South South are left barren; that will not be politically acceptable in a balanced situation.
Can you set agenda for the president in his second tenure?
I think the first problem he has to contend with is how to rebuild the Nigerian economy; he has to create a viable economic environment, let there be a very fast recovery approach that will make Nigerians experience economic prosperity. How he does that should be left to the experts and if I were to be him, I’ll try as much as possible to bring somebody like Oby Ezekwesili to the Finance Ministry and such other very bright economic experts to revive the entire Nigerian economy and give it a very new orientation otherwise if we’re going to live the way we live from 2015, it’s going to be very terrible.
People say that there is nothing for the South East in the APC government; do you believe that?
I think the Igbo man has a lot to gain in the impact of the developmental process at the centre and that’s what is being part of the APC is all about, our people don’t have the capacity to play opposition politics, they’re not really activists by nature. The only agenda that has tried to push them you know to the opposition is the Biafran agenda within the contest of one Nigeria. We’re not pro-activism as such and normally in the presidential system of government there’s little left for the opposition, it’s a zero-sum game where the winners take all, so, I would have thought that in spite of what transpired in the last election that our people in the APC can come together and work out an appropriate agenda to reach out to the presidency and make sure that they get a fair share of what they should get for their people within the Nigerian politics. Ordinarily, I would have thought that the six geopolitical zones should be taken into consideration in sharing the key positions in the government knowing the nature of Nigerian politics and therefore, if the presidency is in the North and the vice presidency is in the South West, then, normally, the senate presidency should go to the South East and then speakership should go to any other zone but because of the way we are looking at it and what the leadership of the party is saying; it would appear that our expectations may not be met by the trajectory they have already set up because from the way it is, it’s like the presidency is from the North West and the same north, North East is trying to produce the Senate President while the South West that already has the vice president is also angling to go for the speakership thereby leaving out the entire South East and South South, that doesn’t make a balanced situation. Be that as it may, if the South East cannot get the senate presidency let them settle for the deputy senate presidency then we can work out on other issues, as time goes on.
Don’t you think that Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s adoption of PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar is now hunting the South East?
I think the reason they did that was because of the presence of Peter Obi who was the PDP vice presidential candidate; that was actually the reason but you know that there was a split in Ohanaeze and of course, the Secretary General of the organisation did not agree to what was being said by the President General, so he towed a different path. I’m talking about Uche Okwukwu; he opted out and supported the Buhari presidential aspiration, so, in that case, I think it was almost 50/50. So, you cannot blame the Ohanaeze as a whole for not supporting Buhari.
With what is happening in the APC, is there still hope of President of Igbo extraction on the party’s platform in 2023?
It depends on so many factors. Left for me, I think the best way to reintegrate the South East into the mainstream of Nigerian politics is to allow it to go for the presidency because since after the war; it would appear that there was a major conspiracy to ensure that the Igbo people remain a conquered area; that they were not allowed to aspire to certain positions in the government of Nigeria. So, in that case, if you want to kill the Biafran agitations; then you allow them produce the president but if you’re just paying leap service to Nigeria’s unity, then you can go ahead with all kinds of arrangements. But in whatever we do, let’s take note that Nigeria is a very difficult nation state to govern-almost ungovernable. We’ve just tried as much as possible to remain as one country, so, I should have thought that we have decided to move as one nation and therefore that there should be a special treatment for the South East especially the Igbo people to finally reintegrate them into the Nigerian federation. Otherwise, I am afraid by the time you deny them presidency again in 2023, some of them will say goodbye to one Nigeria and then that’s how fermentation of the self-determination struggle which revolves around Biafran agitation will continue to gather momentum. So, it depends on how you look at the issues and what you want to achieve.
What actually led to the abysmal performance of the APC in Ebonyi; particularly in the governorship?
We did our best and we have a genuine case, and we really wanted a change of governance in Ebonyi because the present governor in the person of Chief David Umahi is a fine gentleman in all ramifications but he’s not a democrat. He’s so authoritarian and so dictatorial up to a point of being lawless. So, some of us who’re well-grounded democrats believed that, that’s not the way to go especially when some of us staked our lives and fought for the creation of the state. We didn’t anticipate a situation where things will go the way it is going and that was the reason we decided that we should support Senator Sonni Ogbuoji. Of course, he had a lot of followership, a lot of mass backing but at the end of the day, we saw a level of electoral manipulation that was never witnessed in the history of Nigerian politics; the level of vote buying, billions of naira spent by the PDP government to buy voters because of course, at a stage, Umahi knew that he was to lose and he became jittery. So, many things, known and unknown happened but this is not the platform for delving deeply into those things. Though Umahi has been pronounced the winner of that governorship election and Ogbuoji has gone to the electoral tribunal to challenge it, some of us are hopeful that at the end of the day; that governorship election will not be allowed to stand. It’s not a hopeless situation because the people of Ebonyi came out in their teeming numbers with enthusiasm wanting to change the governor that has proven to be anti-people, anti-workers, anti-artisans, anti-traders and they decided that enough was enough that there was need for a change, that this man wasn’t qualified for a second tenure but the way the things came out, we saw it, some people have even called out INEC to be probed in Ebonyi State; yes, they called for INEC to be probed because of the way the electoral management body decided to go into alliance with politicians especially the PDP to execute a very terrible electoral malpractice which now pronounced the PDP candidate winner. As far as we’re concerned, let us see what happens at the tribunal but I’m sure that the governorship election is going to be cancelled; I can tell you that authoritatively.