Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Osita Okechukwu, is not bothered by threats by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to reclaim power from APC in 2019. In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, he says such threats are constant in political engagement, describing them as empty boasts. He also speaks on the persistent call for restructuring the country and the rise in separatist agitations, warning those fanning the embers of disunity in the country that “they are playing with fire.” Okechukwu also bares his mind on several burning issues in the polity. Excerpts:
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is seriously rebuilding from every indication and threatened to sack your party from Aso Rock in 2019 at its non-elective convention held in Abuja last week. What is your reaction to that?
I am one of those who were happy with the Supreme Court judgment, which endorsed the Senator Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP. The faction’s endowment falls into one of the core ingredients of multi-party system in liberal democracy, a scenario where two political parties dominate. It shows that our democracy is coming of age. The judgment is a victory for democracy and has set the stage for the electorate to choose between APC and PDP.
What I’m saying is that our fledgling democracy requires a strong political party to square up with our great party, the APC, in 2019 general elections and beyond.
On their threat, it is normal in our system; it gives hope to the people and puts the incumbent on toes. Challenge is the name and we are used to it; we don’t want a one party state, for no matter how benevolent you are, Lord Acton in his timeless statement said that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
President Buhari and Acting President Osinbajo have done well that deserve another term.
So, their threat to sack APC-led Federal Government and win more states does not bother you?
Threat is constant in political engagement especially for a political party, which hallucinated serially years back of ruling Nigeria for 60 years uninterrupted. One can understand the beating of chest and empty boast of the PDP. It is sound without fury; their assumption is that Nigerians have very short and transient memory that our people will forget how the PDP wrecked our lives because of sheer greed, lack of planning and squandermania. Methinks that Jonathan and his cohorts assume that many of us will easily forget how on May 13, 2010, his regime announced publicly with joy the award of $23 billion contract for the erection of three Greenfield refineries, one in Bayelsa, one in Kogi and one in Lagos. Today, neither did we see the refineries nor the billions of dollars and Nigeria’s Excess Crude Accounts hovered around $17 billion then. The refineries could have saved Nigeria over $200 billion expended on importation of refined petroleum products till date. I shall come back to the tragedy of PDP’s 16 years misrule and misgovernace as we speak on.
There has been obvious inactivity in you party and even the Senate President came out recently to urge focus on the part of the leadership. Don’t you see the lull within your fold working against the interest of the party in future elections?
There is no lull in APC because I’m aware of party activities nationwide. We are in government at the centre and more states than any other political party, so you don’t expect us to shout. We are expected to work more because to whom much is given much is expected. Remember that every election is a referendum on the incumbent.
As I said, the only thing is that we are more preoccupied with how best to pick the pieces and fix the country battered by soulless looters who ran a nebulous economic policy, which produced the richest African and the greatest number of poor people in the continent. Can you locate the large scale inequality which PDP bequeathed on our people in the midst of unprecedented oil and gas revenue and abundant human and mineral resources? PDP didn’t share the prosperity to the people; it classified the country into super rich and super poor. This is the root cause of insecurity, poverty, gross unemployment and other ills of our dear country.
When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on May 29, 2015, he was aware that PDP’s trademark is corruption, but little did he or even pundits know that our national treasury was almost empty, that workers and pensioners were being owed for several months, obligations of the state to creditors left unattended to and both physical and social infrastructure on parlous and deficit state.
That’s why I said the PDP ran a nebulous economic policy. A nebulous economic policy is one that doesn’t in real terms suit the environment where it is superimposed or foisted. In the case of Nigeria, it negated the truism that we have a primitive economy and not a capitalist economy where it is more adaptable. One of its primary slogans is that the private sector will drive the economy. In other words, its focal point is that the public sector is lazy, clueless and corrupt; therefore it should give way to the instruments of the capitalist mode of production. It was foisted on us specifically during the Structural Adjustment Programme. The irony is that since 1986 when it was foisted or hoisted on us, a cursory analysis shows that more Nigerians have gone under the poverty line, more jobless and in a situation of uncertainty.
But two and a half years down the line, why has the APC been unable to alter the status quo and fix the country as promised?
It is said that Rome, as beautiful as it is, was not built in one day, especially when as I said before the PDP deliberately looted our commonwealth. They left almost an empty treasury; they emptied the Excess Crude Account, which had $17 billion balance on May 6, 2010, when ex-president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan assumed office. For example, do you believe that PDP was unable for 16 good years, when oil sometimes sold for $145 per barrel, to complete any federal road? Please if find one federal road PDP completed, draw my attention, one needs to be contradicted. Is it Agege-Otta-Abeokuta, Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Benin, Maiduguri-Kano, Kano-Kaduna, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Enugu-Onitsha, Benin-Lokoja, Lokoja-Abuja to name but a few.
The Federal Government under the PDP played politics with the construction of the Second Niger Bridge for 16 years. Under former president Jonathan, the government awarded the construction of the bridge at the cost of N117 billion under a PPP arrangement with the government providing 30 per cent of the funds. Jonathan, who packaged the contract, never paid a dime in spite of unprecedented oil revenues and the fact that Ndigbo placed all their eggs in his basket. But Buhari has paid N14 billion so far as part of the Federal Government’s contribution. These are some of the things those saying Buhari has done nothing in two years don’t know. APC is committed to transforming this country, but it’s a gradual process given what they met on ground.
But the APC too has virtually done nothing in two and a half years in office?
That is not true. Please don’t allow yourself as a professional to be blinded by the cacophony of propaganda being banded by the PDP. Take a look at the record of government’s oil earning from 2010 to date: Jonathan era — 2010 – $70.7 billion; 2011 – $100.1 billion; 2012 – $96.9 billion; 2013 – $86.9 billion; 2014 – $77.9 billion; 2015 – $21 billion (Jan-May); compared to Buhari era: 2015 (June-Dec) – $16 billion; 2016 – $26 billion; 2017 (Jan-July) – $16 billion. The information is sourced from OPEC Revenue Data Sheet so it’s verifiable. Bear this record in mind and do an assessment of what APC did with meager revenue and what PDP did with humongous revenue. With little, we did more jobs and returned construction workers back to job. This is the height of demonstration of continuity in governance. Let me tell one story; there was a day we had a meeting with President Buhari early in the regime and we asked him what’s next when months down the line he had not appointed ministers and major functionaries. He quipped and took time to tell us how over 20 states owed workers and pensioners, from three months to 18 months; he ended up saying that it bled his heart. I was one of those who told him to use the scant resources he inherited to construct roads and other deficit infrastructure, as the number of civil servants among federal, state and local councils do not make up to more than 10 to 20 per cent of our population. We had reasoned that construction of roads would earn more political capital. But he hissed and told us that it is not only the 10 or 20 per cent civil servants that the bailout fund would service. He asked what of the tailors, the provision store traders, the carpenters and other neighbours being owed by the unpaid civil servants and pensioners. On pensioners, he told us that if he does not take care of pensioners, his war against corruption would be in vain. This was unlike PDP that squandered billions of pension funds. He has since then doled out billions of naira on bailout funds and Paris Club refund. A self-serving president could have abandoned the workers and pensioners, but that’s not for a pro-people Buhari.
President Buhari’s illness has no doubt taken a toll on the leadership/cohesion of your party and the country as a whole. Does that not justify the ongoing protests for his return or resignation?
What I know fully well at 62 years on this earth is that most adults, both male and female, are all carrying one or two packets of drug in their pockets. So, man is by nature prone to illness and it takes its own toll. Accordingly, I agree with you. The Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is doing well; yes, he is doing well. But if our dear President was on his feet, there is no way the National Assembly will be sitting on the $30 billion loan approval request for over one year. The loans were procured because of the trust the international community has on Buhari, yet some patriots are sitting on it.
What has the loan got to do with his illness?
Courtesy of Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari, wife of Mr President, if the lion was in the house, the loans could have been long approved. It demonstrates the lack of urgency on the part of the National Assembly. After all the trillion Naira squandered on power supply by the PDP, we are still below 4,000MW, yet there is a loan of $4.8 billion for Mambilla Hyde-Power Plant, low hanging fruit, which can generate 3,000MW but our dear compatriots are playing toy with it. Buhari could have fought hard to get the National Assembly to do the needful. That’s the greatest downside of Mr President’s absence.
What impact has the illness of the President had on the cohesion of your party? I understand there is crisis in your state, Enugu, and many others?
The crisis in some state chapters of our great party, especially in Enugu State, reminds me of my days in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Enugu State. I was the governorship candidate and we had few members and there was little or no serious faction. Therefore, Buhari’s illness has nothing to do with the party; one, he is not a party apparatchik; secondly, the sage says that when the number of people in the market increases there is bound to be more noise. In political science, it is said that people are like moths, they migrate to wherever there is light because moths survive only under hot circuit. The mass exodus from PDP to APC nationwide is unimaginable and quiet encouraging. We will prevail at the end.
The harassment of the anti-Buhari protesters by the Police recently drew the ire of many Nigerians who felt that the country was sliding into dictatorship. The explanation given by the police was that miscreants had hijacked the protest. But couldn’t the police have separated the miscreants from the genuine non-violent protesters instead of descending on all of them together. Is the country really not losing the democratic gains of past PDP administrations under this present government?
Methinks the Police has heeded to the outrage of the people as demonstrated by the civil handling of the unnecessary entry into Wuse market by Charly Boy and his cohorts. Let nobody celebrate the illness of Mr President, as all of us are prone to one ailment or the other.
But the President has been hosting visitors in London and that has given rise to speculations that he would soon return home but that is not happening. For how long would Nigerians continue to wait? Besides, don’t you think that Nigerians really deserve to know what has been wrong with the President’s health all these while? Recall that even the President himself demanded same in late president Umaru Yar’Adua’s case?
The President has done the needful as prescribed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. And most importantly, he said he would abide by the orders of his doctors. Is it not better we rely on his doctors who are professionals?
On the issue of Buhari said this or that during ex-president Yar’Adua’s ailment, I challenge anybody to publish where Buhari said Yar’Adua should resign or anything of that sort. Propaganda must have boundaries. Freedom of speech and indeed all the five freedoms have a cliff limit; so, Buhari is not the talking type.
The rejection of the Devolution of Powers Bill in the National Assembly has heightened separatist agitations in the country given the recent threat by a Yoruba group, the Yoruba Liberation Movement, to declare Oduduwa Republic. Also, a group of Niger Delta militants, the Adaka Boro Avengers recently said they would declare a Niger Delta Republic on October 1, this year. This is in addition to the persistent quest for Biafra by IPOB and MASSOB. What do you make of the entire situation?
The whole agitation is better analysed dispassionately in the interest of our beloved country. One, why now should be the first question. The second question should be, is APC against restructuring or why didn’t PDP in its 16 years in power restructure the country.
To start with, the leadership of the APC is not opposed to restructuring otherwise you wouldn’t find it in the constitution of the APC. All we are saying is let us first restructure the deficit infrastructure we inherited from PDP’s misrule. Is it not better we fix electricity, roads, railways and other physical and social infrastructure before we go into the second phase. This is what I term restructuring the sub-structure before the super-structure. Then, we return to the valid question why now. The PDP and their co-protagonists of super-structure restructuring are less than patriotic in their agitation, otherwise why didn’t they restructure Nigeria in their 16 golden years? Rather, what ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo devoted his energy in his second term in office was the infamous Third Term agenda. His 2005 constitutional conference like Abacha and Jonathan’s constitutional conferences rejected regionalism, one of their pet items. The agitation is more or less to divert the attention of Nigerians from further probe of their sordid years.
Imagine the negative reactions one received when I gave an innocent answer on Jonathan’s era recently thus: “My own sincere assessment is that our dear ex-president, His Excellency Dr Goodluck Jonathan rather than plug loopholes of corruption, opened it wide. He should apologise to Nigerians whom he betrayed for being less than transparent. I was outraged when I heard him proclaim that PDP will return to power in 2019 because of the hunger and poverty ravaging the country.” I was greeted with tantrums of different hues.
Some people have predicted that the country would break up if not restructured before the end of this year. Do you see that happening?
Which country? Nigeria? No way! My only appeal is to the National Assembly to approve the $30 billion loan request so as to return our youths to work. Imagine millions that will be directly and indirectly employed if the Coastal Railways, Mambilla, Enugu, Kano and other water and agricultural schemes commence. This is why I opine that those blocking the loans either don’t sense the palpable danger hunger and poverty pose to the survival of our dear country or they just do not want Buhari to shine and succeed. The easiest time to restructure the super-structure is when the people are happy and there is shared prosperity. History of fault lines of ethnicity and skewed development indices can be fingered in the opposition to devolution of power and other tentacles of the yet to be defined super-structure restructuring. I stand to be corrected.
IPOB and MASSOB have continued to call for the return of Igbos living in northern parts of the country following the debut of an anti-Igbo song amid reconciliation moves by the Federal Government after the earlier quit notice to Igbos to leave the North on or before October 1, this year, by a coalition of Arewa youths. Don’t you think the situation is really getting out of hand?
Whereas they are entitled to freedom of expression and the other five freedoms, they should not lose sight of the standard beacons in self-determination, one of which is consultation. I have lived 28 years in the North; sooner or later one will spend more years in the North than in the South-east. Is it not fair to consult people like me in the North? Or you just bundle us direct to the East. Methinks we need to be consulted before some young brothers of ours will compel us to do so. They are playing with fire.
The November 18 Anambra gubernatorial election is fast approaching and Nnamdi Kanu has been boasting that the election will no hold unless a referendum is conducted to determine the fate of Igbos in Nigeria. How concerned are you about such threats given the success of the sit at home order issued by IPOB in May, this year?
Give me a break, in the sense that Nnamdi Kanu seems to be missing his abode in detention, if not why is he stoking another arrest? I do not blame a young man who has no fixed address in England only to come here to be feted by our big brothers like Messers Soludo, Utomi, Chidioka, Agu and co. It is very easy to fan ethnic and religious hatred in this country today; any buffoon can harvest on the hunger and poverty PDP’s misgovernace dropped on our table.
What are the chances of your party in the election given the strong anti-APC/Buhari stand in the South-east coupled with the power of incumbency factor, which will definitely benefit Governor Willie Obiano?
Definitely we shall prevail. I’m happy to say that my sojourn for over 12 years with Buhari has taught me useful lessons one couldn’t pick in the political science class. When the late Oyi of Oyi, Dr Chuba Okadigbo of blessed memory told us that Buhari is the only Nigerian who can stop the one party state then being brewed by Obasanjo, he gave a caveat that it is going to be a marathon race, as PDP would do all to stop Buhari. Oyi did not live to learn, as we did, that no one ethnic group or religious group in the country can win the presidency without other groups. Buhari didn’t win in 2003, 2007 and 2011; minus the PDP rigging machine is the fact that he couldn’t win any of the three geopolitical zones in the South, except in 2015. I am convinced that with all the projects going on across the country and the ones en route, we shall win in Anambra.