Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa, is highly disturbed. His worries stemmed from the turn of events in the country. He, therefore, hopes that the Sudan uprising does not happen in Nigeria.
The former Minister of Commerce and Industry lamented the economic situation in the country since the advent of the Buhari administration, saying that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, who would have taken Nigeria out of the woods, got his mandate trapped.
Udenwa said: “We’ve seen what has happened in the past four years and if we can project from what has happened, you will see that we have no chances, we have no hope. The economy is down. It continues to be down. Nothing is moving. The country is even disintegrating on a daily basis. Udenwa, however, said that the only solution towards resolving the myriads of problems plaguing the country is through the restructuring of the country. Excerpts:
You were governor of Imo State and later became the Minister of Commerce and Industry. What have you been doing since you left office as minister?
Since I left office as a minister, I have been running a small outfit. We deal with property and investments. That is what I have been doing since then, though things have been very rough.
In terms of what?
In terms of the economic situation in the country. It has affected every sector of the economy.
Is it since the beginning of the current administration or prior to the administration?
The present administration, the APC government, has put us in the mess we are in now. The whole economy is almost grounded and nothing seems to be happening. Business has been tough.
In that wise, people expected notable politicians like you to have sent this government packing. But you were not able to do that. What happened?
I am sure we sent the government packing. We really did across the country. If you look at the results across the country, you will agree with me that this government should not have been there at all. We are still at the tribunal; we are hoping to have the best out of it.
Specifically, what is your impression about the last election, more importantly Atiku claiming that he won the election?
Yeah, he is not just claiming. I am sure it is very clear to all of us, Nigerians that Atiku won the election because all over the country, they voted for him. But you can see what INEC and the APC did. What they did was that in Atiku’s strongholds, they tried to suppress the votes and then, in Buhari’s strongholds, they inflated the votes. So, that is what has put us where we are today.
What do you make of the claim by the APC that Atiku is a Cameroonian?
It is neither here nor there. You and I are aware of that fact that Adamawa State and parts of Taraba State were once in Cameroon. It was after the Plebiscite that they opted to join Nigeria. So, what APC is trying to say is that at the time Atiku was born, he was a Cameroonian. And he was vice president for eight years…
For eight years. And they didn’t remember he was a Cameroonian. Now, that is what they are trying to say. You and I know that if an area completely through a plebiscite belongs to one side, it means that whoever is in that place is automatically a citizen of the country. They know the correct thing.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration?
We’ve seen what has happened in the past four years and if we can project from what has happened in the last four years, you will see that we have no chances, we have no hope. The economy is down. It continues to be down. Nothing is moving. The country is even disintegrating on a daily basis.
Do you see the Sudan experience happening here?
Well, I just wish it doesn’t happen here because I don’t want a return of military again in this country. Definitely, I will never advocate for a military takeover.
Not military takeover, but like that kind of uprising, people rising against the government?
Yeah. But the result of it was that the military came in. That is what I am trying to say that we don’t want a military takeover. But there is a limit to people’s suffering. We will get to a point where it becomes unbearable. Now, you are in a country, you are not secured. That is one thing. You are not secured, you are not free to move around, and even the issue of citizenship doesn’t matter any longer. And then, at the same time, the economy is very bad. You really need to go down, even to the rural areas to notice to what extent the country has gone. That is probably why we preferred Atiku. In the last general election, Atiku made some specific promises to this country. One was to carry out restructuring of the country in the form of government. To me, in this present time, that is the most important thing that can happen to this country. I am not even interested whether the presidency is going to the East or is not going to the East. Well, I might be interested, but it is not a priority. To me, the priority should be first, let us restructure this country so that everybody, every section of this country feels accommodated. The only problem is that some people have tried to misrepresent what restructuring stands for. Most of the states in the North don’t know that they will gain from restructuring. It is not just a question of oil revenue. That cannot sustain this country. But the North has a lot. The North leads in agriculture, the North leads in solid minerals. Are you not surprised that the other day, they were showing films of illegal gold mining in Zamfara? Supposing that aspect of our economy, we pay attention to it, don’t you know that Zamfara State will be one of the richest states in this country? So, these are the benefits of restructuring. Let us restructure. It is a win-win situation as far as I am concerned.
How can we get it right?
How we can get it right is what Atiku has proposed. I was a member of the National Conference in 2014 and we made it clear there. Our report is still there. Assuming that report is not the ideal thing we want, we could still set up a small committee to study that report and come out with something that will be very, very acceptable to every part of this country. If we don’t restructure, we will not move. We can never move under the present system.
What do you think is responsible for the resistance to the restructuring of the country?
The main reason for resistance is that they don’t really explain to the people, the real benefits of restructuring. What they are talking about is that oh, by restructuring, the South will be richer, we will have oil revenue. It is not every state in the South that has oil. In fact, if you ask me, there are only four major states that have major oil production in this country: Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta. The other ones are in the periphery. Only four of them! But we cannot depend on oil forever. If we restructure, people will identify their own resources, people will also identify their own development priorities and follow it. I still believe that restructuring is at the background of the future of this country. So, Atiku has that programme. He has a programme for employment, he has a programme for national security, he has a programme for growing the economy and these are the major issues in this country today. If you tackle them with a lot of zeal and people who are knowledgeable enough contributing, if you tackle these, you would have tackled the country’s problems. Look at the security problem we have in this country. Up till now, you have the Boko Haram, you have the herdsmen attack. Now, the herdsmen have just resumed. Before the election, they went on break and have just resumed. You have heard what they have started doing again in this country, unchecked.
So, only restructuring can solve all these problems?
Only restructuring will save this country from collapse.
Is the Southeast where you come from getting its due share in the Nigerian State in terms of appointments and other leadership positions?
No. It is very obvious to everybody in this country that the Southeast has been completely marginalised since the last four years. And the president doesn’t hide it either. He says it – those who gave him five per cent and those who gave him 97 per cent. So, it has played out in all his appointments. If you can imagine that in this country, a whole Security Council has nobody from the Southeast. And so is it. Look at all the parastatals – Customs, Immigration, name it.
But there are those who believe that the Igbo are marginalising themselves by not always making the right political calculations; that they always make the wrong calculation by pitching their tent with the wrong party. What is your take on this?
That is not true. The Igbo are republicans. They are known to hold their own views. You cannot say because I want a share in government, you go and identify yourself with a very unpopular government, with a government you don’t have confidence in. You follow where you think you have confidence in. Look at the Atiku candidacy, the Atiku candidacy received such a very big support from all parts of this country. It is not just only the Igbo; from all parts of this country. Look at the inroads; that Buhari didn’t win in any of the Southeast and South-south states. Did he win in the Southeast or South-south? Even in your own Edo State, did he win? He didn’t win. In the Southwest, Buhari lost about two or three states. The other ones he won marginally. Look at the Middle Belt. In the Middle Belt, Atiku won convincingly in Benue, in Plateau, in Taraba. So, when you look at it, you will see that here is somebody who actually is ruling, but doesn’t have the majority following of the blocs. Even go to the North.
Do you see the Igbo getting the Senate Presidency it is clamouring for in the 9th National Assembly?
I don’t see the Igbo getting it, to be honest with you. I don’t see the Igbo getting it.
What can the Igbo do to get it?
What I think the Igbo can do is to do the correct alignment and see what they can get. But under the APC, I don’t see the Igbo getting the Senate Presidency.
How about the 2023 presidency? Is it something feasible for the Southeast?
I am not even sure that if the APC government survives till 2023, the presidency will come to the South. I am not even confident about that.
What is giving you this impression?
What is giving me the impression is that if you see the way things are going, if you see the way appointments are made, if you see the way development projects are sited and all that, I don’t see people voluntarily adhering to the North-South rotation. So, I don’t see it to be honest with you.
Imo politics has been hot since you handed over to Ikedim Ohakim. The PDP has lost Imo till now. How do you feel about the development?
It was very painful, it was regrettable that in 2011, we lost power to the then APGA. From APGA, our governor changed to APC and for eight years, we were under APGA and APC. Fortunately, we just regained it in 2019.
You are from Orlu zone. After you, Ohakim came from Okigwe zone, did one term and again, power returned to your kinsman from Orlu for another eight years and now, it is the turn of Owerri zone. How do you assess the eight years of Governor Rochas Okorocha who has said that he has done more than all his predecessors put together?
That is only in his imagination. It doesn’t really matter. If you set an exam and you answer the questions you set, you will get distinctions. So, that is what has happened in that case. I think the biggest judges are the Imo people.
The Imo people will tell you that the eight years of Okorocha was a disaster and they still see it as a disaster today. Not me seeing it as a disaster, but the Imo people see it as a disaster. So, no matter what claims he has been able to make, that doesn’t really matter. If you are in government, what is important is the feeling of the people, not your own feeling.
It seems Imo people are always agitating for a new government. Are you confident that Ihedioha will be different?
I believe Ihedioha will be different. Definitely, without being immodest, when I was leaving, Imo people were not clamouring for the next government. So, that will tell you that we are satisfied with my own government. When my successor came in, he knows better why at the end of his first four years, the Imo people wanted a change. It was not a question of Okorocha at the time; it was a question of wanting a change. Whoever that change was, it was acceptable to them. That was why you saw it that way. With the eight years of Okorocha, it became a disaster, complete disaster. And they wanted yet another change.
Disaster in terms of what?
Oh! Disaster in terms of even his own human relations; disaster in terms of development projects, disaster in terms of lifting the economic situation of the state, disaster in not even being able to pay salaries regularly or to pay pensions at all. So, it was a complete disaster as far as the people are concerned. But he might feel he has done his best. Of course, he won’t do more than his capacity. Maybe he has gotten to the level of his own capacity and he feels he has done wonders.