The immediate past governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha believes that all is not well with his party, All Progressives Congress (APC). He cautions that efforts should be made to address the internal problems bedevilling the party before the 2023 general elections to avoid embarrassment at the polls. The former Chairman of the APC Governors Forum spoke to a select number of journalists in Kano. Daily Sun was represented at the session and reproduces here the details of the interaction.
The first question will take off obviously with an inquiry as why you are in Kano?
I am in Kano to see the Governor of Kano State, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who is a friend of mine and a one time colleague and we both attended a wedding at the Emir’s palace and that also gave us the opportunity to meet with the Emir of Kano, Malam Muhammadu Sanusi.
The year 2023 is not far away; what do you make of the call by some people for an Igbo Presidency at the end of the Buhari tenure?
I don’t think that there is anything called Igbo Presidency in Nigeria. We don’t have any of such nomenclature as Igbo Presidency. What you have is a Nigerian Presidency or Nigerian President. What you will be asking would be what do you make of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. I think that is the question you are asking. That is the question. Absolutely, democracy is about the people and the South East is not on its own. It is part and parcel of this country. And it is possible. But it is possible with supports of other states and other ethnic groups. There is nothing wrong with any one contesting elections for the office of the President, Republic of Nigeria. But we have come to a very crucial moment in our nation’s political history to say that sentiments of where you come from should not determine the position you hold in this country. Rather, we should start looking for people that have something upstairs and who can afford to bring about development and the dividends of democracy in this country. You have a lot of them in Igbo land. There are many of them who can do that. So, you cannot just be a president because you want to be a president. If you want to be a president because you can guarantee security in this country, you can bring about harmonious co-relationship among the various ethnic groups in this country; and then you can put food on the table for the common man and create jobs for the youth of this country. This is what should be the criteria for the Nigerian President and not where you come from. Over the years, we have been in this tradition of where you come from as a determinant of what position you hold and that has not given us the best results. And so, we must grow above that and begin to think of people who have the capacity, the capability to handle the affairs of this nation and make it a giant of Africa that it should be. If it is on that note, I agree with everybody that we need a Nigerian President, but he is and should be for all Nigerians. The other challenge is that most of the time, we have allowed our primordial sentiments to control the political atmosphere of this country and that has not yielded the positive results. I must say at this point in time, let us look for credible people, let us look for somebody, at whatever level. Be it at the local government level, senatorial or be it at the governorship level. Let the people that have the capacity and can create jobs, handle the affairs of this country. That is what I believe in.
Let us look at APC as a political party; with the conflicts in the party and the one, for example, going on between the National Chairman and the Edo State Governor, what do you make of the future of your party?
A political party should be a group of people who share common political interests and beliefs and who pursue a common goal and common objective for the good of the common man. That would be my understanding of a political party. But where a political party is full of internal crisis, it is no longer a political party in the real sense of a political party. This idea of crisis or idea of commotion is a reflection that the said party does not have a common ideology. If the ideology is one and you believe in one thing, there shouldn’t be reason for disagreement at that level. We may have minor disagreements, but when it comes to the issue of “do and let’s die”, then it is no longer a political party. And this is what we must do in this country. We have to redefine what we mean by internal democracy. This is why people have options, this is why we don’t believe in one party system. We must have different political parties and you must identify the one that is in line with your vision, the one that is line with your political beliefs. What has been our challenge in Nigeria is that we don’t even have a common vision for our political parties; we don’t have a common ideology. It is just what you call, “Agidi and Gworo complexion.” People of all different beliefs meet in one place and form a political party. So, until we have such a political party that is like a family in their belief, then we are still growing our democracy. Talking about what is happening in Edo State, it is unfortunate. A true political party cannot work against itself. I want to advise that they should reconcile and relax their differences for the future of the party. Because a party divided against itself can never, never stand.
There is this popular view that there is a need for leadership change within the APC and secondly, many have argued that in the absence of President Buhari in 2023, the APC is on a journey to disintegration. Looking at these two questions, what is your take?
I have said this earlier, that APC is a party that we hurriedly put together when we were governors because we felt that the government of the day was not living up to expectation and we wanted to make sure we brought about change at that time and that brought us from different political parties. We came together to form the APC; we ensured that the party got power in 2015. That was our dream then and we achieved that. But right now, I thought we should have continued with the same spirit that we started with the 2015 elections. But that does not seem to be the case. Again, President Muhammadu Buhari gave character to APC; he brought his integrity to bear on the party and he made it what it is in the Northern part of the country, especially with the masses of the North who saw him as a true leader. So, we all rode on that to achieve that victory. But after the credibility of Buhari into this party, there seems to be nothing; there seems to be no alternative force in the same manner that would drag the party to 2023 victory and that is why I have expressed my concern that if we are not very careful, APC might go with Buhari in 2023. And that would not be a very great news for the founding fathers of this great party. The party needs to show leadership now, show character, show colour and purposeful leadership.
The country is faced with different forms of security challenges from insurgency to armed banditry and kidnapping. What is your take?
What started like a mere security challenge has taken a different dimension. It is unfortunate that we are getting deeper and deeper into the problem which ought not to be. There are many factors that could have led to the present insecurity situation in the country. Most people argue that poverty and insecurity are twin brothers. That is a major contributory factor. Illiteracy also plays its role in people not understanding the environment and what they need to do. That is also problem. But Nigeria is not the only country in this mess. I am not making excuses. But it seems to be a global issue nowadays that insecurity is almost all over and in every part of the world. Everything in life, whether politics or security is local, it is local. The only thing left for us is to change our style because it seems that we have adopted the same method of fight crimes for these numbers of years and it is giving us results in an arithmetical progression. We need to change the style to the one that will give us results in a geometrical progression so that we can end this insurgency as quickly as possible. So, it is a matter of change of style because I believe that if you keep doing the things in the same old ways, you will keep getting the same old results. If you keep trying the same set of style over and over again and you are not getting results, then you change. So, the time has come for us to bring about new ideas, changes, to ensure that we try something new in covering the criminal activities in the country.
Recently, the Federal Government initiated a new policy closing Nigeria’s borders. There have been mixed responses to the decisions. May we know your stand on the raging issue?
The border closure has become an issue. But what I do not know is whether we are achieving the results of the intention of the border closure or not….because we have more than 3000 entry points into this country. If you close Benin route, what have you done with other bushes that are around Cotonou and Cameroun and across the vast North that people bring in goods from. I look at the present border closure from the point of an awareness campaign for us to begin to think inward and produce things that we can use to feed our people, rather than depending on others to feed our people for us . I see it as more of a campaign for the people to understand that the time has come that we should look inward and develop the agricultural sector of the economy. And by creating that kind of atmosphere, our people would now begin to adjust and say listen, let us go and look at our farms. Agriculture constituted over 75 percent of our foreign earnings in the time past and over 70 percent of the employment opportunities. But it is no more! All these are gone. Now, we depend on things coming from other countries. What that means is that anytime we eat a bag of rice produced in China, we have created jobs for some youths in China while we are here as a consuming nation. Very painfully, whether we want to face this now or never, we must pay this price either by this generation or the one to come. To say so means that there is nothing wrong in encouraging local production to start taking place now. Let me tell you, what I consider absurd is that if you travel from Sokoto to Kano and to Owerri and you go all the way to Lagos, Ogun and Ondo and you see any smoke coming out of the roof, that smoke is not a smoke of production; it is a smoke of consumption. It is either for pepper soup or smoke for fried fish or smoke for Jollof rice. But you cannot see a smoke for production, smoke to create jobs.That is our problem. This nation has remained for too long a consuming nation, not a production nation. And that has made our independence a nonsense- it says that we are not economically independent. We depend on other countries on virtually everything that we eat or do. And that is not good for our youths or for the generation yet unborn. Border closure, I see it as an awareness for us to begin to think of an alternative, but I don’t know how effective that would be for now because of the openings that are here and there. We should take a more practical approach in ensuring that we encourage our youths to be productive.