Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Senator Roland Stephen Owie was the Chief Whip at the Fourth Senate. He was in the House of Representatives between 1979 and 1983 on the ticket of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria. Currently a key party leader of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Owie in this interview shared his thoughts on a number of issues, including jostling for leadership slots in the 9th Assembly, APC government and Obasanjo’s many sins against democracy. Excerpts:
You expressed dissatisfaction with the way the country is going before the elections. With the exercise over are you pleased with the turn of events?
I must confess that we are not better than what we were before the elections. What is keeping this country today, particularly are the children that are born daily with no sin. If not, virtually all the adults have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But Nigeria is being saved because of these young babies that are born daily.
You mean both politicians and non-politicians have erred?
Let’s face it, before campaigns kicked off we saw the way ordinary market women were complaining and condemning the state of affairs in the country. One had thought that they would reject politicians who were providing the desired service and dividends of democracy. I had thought they would reject them, only for N500 recharge card to now sway the same people to vote against their own conscience. I asked myself, where is this country going? In my village, before 2015, a family could buy a bag of rice. But since the APC government, it’s four or five families gathering to buy a bag of rice. That is retrogression, and yet some people were collecting N500 recharge card to vote against their conscience and sell their children’s future. But certainly, my happiness is that, from what has happened across the nation, all that is required is to pass into law the amended electoral bill. I don’t know whether it is late now for our colleagues in the National Assembly to do anything because they have few days left for them to do that. Whatever they can do with the Electoral Bill that Buhari refused to sign, so that results can be transmitted from the polling units electronically will help the country.
You mean APC wouldn’t have won?
There is no way APC would have won. In a place like Borno where it is even difficult for healthy people to live well now, how do you find that type of result? Let’s ask ourselves a question of this nature. One day, we will all appear before the King of glory for judgment. Let’s search our conscience, either INEC official, the police or the army or Buhari himself, or APC, or PDP. Let’s ask ourselves the question, how can that type of results come from Borno State where even healthy people find it difficult to move around? Why are we deceiving ourselves? How can that type of vote come from Zamfara where even the governor was campaigning and people were coming out and using water to wash his feet away from tarred road? It was on the television. It is just that we are deceiving ourselves in this country. But certainly, we cannot deceive God. When God says yes, nobody can say no. We are getting to it. But I think that whatever that the National Assembly can still do to override the President’s veto on the electoral bill and all that, it will be better for this country.
Would you say the president is against the bill when the excuse he gave for not signing it was that it was close to the election, that the electorate might be confused?
If he can’t sign now, our people should override it. Both chambers should know that it is a legacy they are going to leave behind. If they don’t do this because of partisan interest, they themselves will suffer it. They have seen what happened to Onnoghen. If you recall, When the Code of Conduct Bureau had some problems over two chairmen sitting there was the challenge to decide whether the panel can sit without the third person, they ruled that it can sit. If you don’t fill the asset form, it’s not corruption. You can see what has happened. So, I urge my colleagues in the National Assembly now, it’s not too late; you can raise a bill today, first reading and second reading can be done even in the same day and pass it into law.
Are you suggesting that the CCB judgment was manipulated by the executive?
Certainly. If not why was the Presidency hailing the ruling? The petition came within seven days. How many petitions have been in this country on various former governors, on various party officials? What has he done about it? What did he do with Maina? Maina came and was promoted after what happened. What has he done with the Ikoyi-gate? Then you are hailing CCB. The president should know that tomorrow is another day. The CCB is an instrument in the hands of the executive and the National Assembly should do something urgently to get the CCB law that established it and transfer it properly to the judiciary, not the executive arm. If not, they will create more problems for this country.
What is your take on the signing of new minimum wage bill into law by the president?
What is minimum wage of N30,000? How much do I pay my personal driver? How many of his state governors have paid salaries in the last eight months? We are talking about devolution of power, not minimum wage. It is just that ex-President Jonathan missed it all. A constitutional conference was called, it was done and settled by everybody. He had about two years more and it would have been effected. Unfortunately, that government behaved like a Eunoch who was given a wife and when it was night he decided to come to the veranda. He said it was too hot, even when there is AC in the room. If the Jonathan’s administration had effected the national conference’s decision, this country would have been better off. Until there is devolution of power in this nation, we will be where we are.
But this current administration is pushing for the autonomy of the local governments and the independence of the state legislature. Is that not the restructuring you are harping on?
The state legislature like my own state, Edo, has vehemently voted against the independence of the local government and even their own independence. Edo State legislature was one of those that voted against their own independence, voted against the independence of the judiciary and voted against the independence of councils. All those who were in the Edo State House of Assembly who voted against autonomy ought not to have returned as legislators. But unfortunately, the masses the people try to protect don’t protect themselves. You need 24 out of 36 states to vote for it.
The president has assured that the war on corruption will be reinvigorated during his second term, are you moved by the assurance?
There is no war on corruption. He has not been fighting any war on corruption. What of ministers in his cabinet who were former governors who have been found guilty by competent courts of law? What has he done with them? What has he done with the Ikoyi-gate? What has he done with Maina and the pension brouhaha? Yes, he will say a few governors have been jailed, but if the speed with which CCB and the presidency handled Onnoghen’s matter had been applied on various corruption cases, Nigeria will not be what it is. Is it only other political parties that you find corrupt people? What is happening in APC? Look at the governor of Kano (Abdullahi Ganduje), look at the video. The same president who was fighting corruption went to Kano and campaigned for that governor. Why are we deceiving ourselves? He is not fighting any corruption at all.
You were alleged to have joined forces with APC during the election, what was the motivation? Secondly, do you think APC is right in endorsing some lawmakers for the leadership of the 9th Assembly?
No, I was not part of the APC. The party supremacy that I know and grew up with was the UPN, where even a governor who is the chairman of the party, in our constitution, dare not hold a party meeting in the Government House. It was held in the party headquarters and party supremacy was carried out. Ebenezer Babatope was director of organisation. I was a member of the House of Reps, by the 25th of every month, five per cent had been deducted from our salaries and paid straight to the party. Every month, you find that local farmers are paying their dues. When at EXCO meeting, the budget going to the assembly, the governor who is chairman of the party will bring the budget to the party headquarters and the party EXCO will look at the budget for about two or three days with the legislators of our party in attendance. It has to be finished before the governor will go and read the budget because it’s a party government, not independent government. When PDP came on board, the rules were clear. Zoning had come up. A motion was moved by the late Ekwueme and conditions were given for a candidate to emerge because we did council elections before governorship nomination and our guideline was clear. For anybody running governorship on our party, he should have won his unit and won his ward. For anybody running presidency on the platform of the PDP, he should have won his unit, won his war, won his local government and won his state. Ekwueme was vying, Jim Nwobodo was vying, Obasanjo was vying. Ordinarily, our nomination would not have been given to Obasanjo. He lost his unit, lost his ward, lost his local government, he lost his state and lost his zone. But some of our brothers who wanted to placate the Southwest over June 12 felt there was need to take a president from the zone. He became presidential candidate of the party and won election. As soon as the election was won, positions were zoned by the party. Senate President went to Southeast. Deputy Senate President went to North-central because the president had come from Southwest and the Vice President from Northeast. So, it now remains Northwest, South-south and Southeast. We said no National Assembly principal position should go to those places where the president and the vice president came from. Southwest and Northeast were ruled out. So, Senate President went to Southeast. The Speaker went to the Northwest. Deputy Senate President went to North-central and the Deputy Speaker went South-south. The good intentions of the founding fathers of the PDP, the late Awoniyi, the late Ekwueme, the late Adamu Ciroma and our father EK Clarke and co, put a party in place that will stand the test of time. But their efforts were destroyed by Obasanjo as soon as he came into government. Senators and House of Reps met in Agura and decided the zones where these positions were zoned to should elect their people. Northwest elected their Speaker, Bwari. The Southeast elected their own and the late Chuba Okadigbo won at the party caucus with all the Senators and House of Reps members present. When such a thing is done, all that is required is that the members will now go to the open hall at the assembly to implement party decision. But that was not to be because Obasanjo did not believe in party supremacy and as soon as the votes were taken and Chuba won, he decided to use APP and AD legislators in the Senate to get Enwerem elected against the wish of the party, against the wish of the people.
Is that not what APC is trying to do, ensuring that the party’s decision on the zoning formula in the leadership of NASS is supreme?
When you are talking about party supremacy, you don’t do it on individuals. APC has a presidential candidate from the Northwest. Northwest is now out of the four principal positions of the Senate and House of Reps. APC has Vice President from Southwest and Southwest should be ruled out, if justice is to be maintained. The other four zones, South-south, Southeast, North-central and Northeast ought to share the remaining four positions. So, if APC is saying that they have zoned Senate Presidency to the Northeast, fine. You don’t zone to individuals; as many people from there can contest. But if the party decides to hold a parliamentary council where all members of the party are present with party EXCO and they now decide to run mock election for those people who are interested in running from that zone, whoever emerges in that scenario becomes the party’s candidate when they get to the Senate or the floor of the House of Representatives. But if the party just sits down and do the zoning to various zones and decide that what we’ve zoned to Southeast is for only Mr A, it’s wrong because that destroys democracy. But if all the party’s elected legislators are in that meeting and the party says look, we have zoned this position to this zone, all those who are interested, the party will give you one week to move around, we will call a caucus again next Saturday. Then everybody moves around and they come next Saturday, they put boxes there and vote, whoever emerges in that party caucus is the one that the party has now chosen. That is the reason it is always better for a party in government to ensure that they put their home in order so that they can’t say because we had an antagonistic legislature, that’s why we didn’t perform.
The Presidency has complained that it could not achieve what it set out to achieve because of the non-cooperation of the Saraki-led National Assembly, what do you make out of the claim?
I will still emphasize on this zoning issue before addressing your question. APC should call their entire elected new lawmakers into a hall where they have zoned the key positions to. Only four zones are now entitled to these positions. Southwest is out, Northwest is out. Any of the principal positions going to these two places is injustice and anybody trying to encourage it will be disobeying God. So, they should forget those two zones.The other four zones, Northeast, Southeast, North-central, South-south, they should now decide to zone those positions among these zones. The leadership of the party should take a date, invite the entire members of the Senate to say all those of you who are interested in the Deputy Senate President whatever zone it has been zoned to should fill your papers. We give you a week to make contact and come back. Whoever emerges from that zone is now the party’s candidate so that they can’t complain. By the time they get to the House of Representatives or Senate and voting is on they will do as agreed. Any party member at that stage that votes against the choice of their party is anti-party because if you can’t obey the rules, don’t be part of it. There is nobody who is an independent candidate. That is why the old Action Group, what they did was to sign undated resignation letter. That’s the way the Action Group brought discipline into its fold. The UPN did not do that. But certainly, On Sunday 4:00 p.m every week, all members of the House of Reps in the UPN were in Barclays, Obafemi Awolowo’s house because the order paper will be ready on Saturday. The principal officers collect the order paper. We sit down in Barclays, wherever you are in Nigeria and you are member of UPN, you must arrive in Lagos not later than 12:00 O’clock on Sunday. We will look at the paper and the party takes position on the various items on the order paper. We even go to the extent of who will lead the debate. That is the way UPN operated.
From your experience in the past and what is on ground at the moment, is the country moving forward democratically?
We are not moving forward. Democracy was destroyed by the attitude of the former military Head of State who later became civilian president, that is Chief Obasanjo. He refused to listen to his party. The party was formed when he was in prison. He didn’t contribute to the building of the party. The late Bola Ige – may his soul rest in peace – left the PDP because of some faces he saw to form AD. As soon as the PDP became a strong party, these people were now the ones in charge, making pronouncements like no vacancy in Government House, no vacancy in the presidency. Have you heard of such a thing in a democracy? Apart from the 1999 election and to some extent 2015 election, no election in Nigeria has been free and fair. The 2003 election was openly rigged; 2007 was bad. Obasanjo went to AD governors, discussed with them, vote for me, I vote for you. Those ones, Osoba and co, they agreed. As soon as the presidential election was done, he rigged them out.
You hold this strong opinion about Obasanjo, but you supported him in his election, you dumped Ekwueme that you were initially backing and threw your weight behind Obasanjo, what went wrong between two of you?
You are correct. I was Ekwueme’s coordinator in Edo State. I was running election myself in that 1999 to go to the Senate. General Ibrahim Babangida, night or day, is one person I respect. He has a compassionate heart. He is a man that hardly says no even to his enemies.
He is also seen as one of the persons that destroyed democracy in Nigeria?
He is one of those Nigerians that are compassionate. He can hardly say no, even to his enemies. During one of his birthdays, I put up an advert to say that your compassion is such that you are not even able to say no to your enemies. His compassion got to a level of forgiving virtually a murderer. He would say, let it go, this world is vanity.The issue of June 12 was very close to his heart. It was later we knew and I knew that the issue of annulment of June 12, he had to take responsibility because the bulk stops on his table. It was later we knew that some young Brigadier Generals, young Colonels who never wanted Abiola to be president of Nigeria were behind what happened. Though people reap what they sow. MKO Abiola was the one, as we were campaigning in 1979 that brought evil strategy they used against Obafemi Awolowo all to create a problem for him. MKO was NPN. That’s why up till today, when they say June 12, I used to ask them and I still ask now, before anybody can pity anybody about June 12, Nigerians should ask the following questions; who were those persons that encouraged the military to expunge the provision for Electoral College in 1978 electoral decree for the transition? Who was that or those set of people that encouraged the military to take over power after they lost primaries in Kano for the NPN? So, when you destroy other people at their point of breakthrough, at your own point of success, that person will get destruction. Let Nigerians find out who were those persons that encouraged the military to expunge that Electoral College. We were already getting ready for the Electoral College, NPP, GNPP, PRP and UPN. The four parties were going to vote for Obafemi Awolowo. If they didn’t expunge it, Awolowo would have won that presidency and he would have been president of Nigeria in 1979 and today, Nigeria would have been better than Japan in development. This is a man that ran the Western Region. Salaries were being paid as when due. Education became free. Health became free. The Western Region became a unique region in the whole of Africa. Yet, he wasn’t allowed to rule at the centre. Who was that person or that group of persons that ensured that the Electoral College was expunged? So, when the idea came to placate the Southwest for June 12, a man that was in prison, who was not even in our party, PDP, was chosen and a party’s card was sent to him after he returned. He didn’t have a dime in his bank account. His election was bankrolled and he won the election. The first statement he made was that all those who contributed to his election should not expect any reward, that what they should know was that they contributed to the development of democracy. That’s what came out of the mouth of Obasanjo. When in year 2000 at Eagle Square, our party primary was going on and the election between Gemade and Awoniyi for National Chairman of PDP, Obasanjo sat down and was watching and was supporting rigging openly. It was the time I called the late Chuba Okadigbo and told him, Oyi this matter is over. This party is done. The late Adamu Ciroma moved to Obasanjo and told him, what is happening is a sham, this is not election. Myself and Chuba went to him and said well, he has already done election and Gemade became national chairman of the party, defeating Awoniyi. If Awoniyi had been chairman of PDP in 2000, the PDP would not have derailed. But Gemade came and derailed the party. In PDP, the other chairmen that did their best were Solomon Lar, Audu Ogbeh, Nwodo and briefly Mohammed Bello. But the evil forces in PDP, led by the impunity contractor, who will say no vacancy in Government House, no vacancy in Presidency, did not allow Bello to do it. So, PDP died as a result.
From your own account, you see Obasanjo as an enemy of democracy?
Certainly, he is an enemy of democracy. He’s not a friend of democracy.
Would you say the incumbent president has a better democratic credential than him?
If it were Obasanjo that was president when the APC came and the National Assembly member were going to elect their principal officers, opposition would have got Deputy Senate President. No way. He is ruthless when he wants to fight. President Buhari, from all indications, maybe because of his level of exposure politically, was more tolerant. Do you know that Obasanjo turned the National Assembly, particularly the presidency of the Senate, into pepper soup? Unfortunately, my in-laws and brothers in the Southeast gave themselves as instruments of destabilization.
But Obasanjo has openly said that the problem of Nigeria’s democracy is the National Assembly. Is not possible that you are tackling him because of his views about the National Assembly?
He is the problem of our democracy. He created the problems. If he had allowed the National Assembly in 1999 to move the way it should without interference, we would not have been where we are.
But he feels that corruption is at the centre of the problem of the National Assembly…?
The corruption that you are seeing in the country, Obasanjo started it. Let Obasanjo tell us what he did with Alaja that he sold. It was privatized under his tenure. What did he do with Ajaokuta? What did he do with NITEL? What did he do with the Nigerian Airways? Under normal circumstances, today, Obasanjo should have been in prison. Of late, I sent him text when he was talking and trying to support those he has destroyed before. I sent him a text; ‘whatever you have done in your past, what you are doing now looks good. Let people listen to you not as a person, but the message’. The problem we are having today was caused by Obasanjo. He destroyed democracy in Nigeria.
Did you see any sense in the letters he wrote to President Buhari criticizing his handling of some issues?
He was playing to the gallery. Did he not know Buhari in the military? Did he not know that Buhari was a former military president of this country in 1983 and jailed people 400, 300 years? Was he not one of the greatest supporters of Buhari in 2015? Was he not the person that supported Yar’Adua? Was he not the same person that turned around and said Yar’Adua should get out, that he is sick. Was he not the one that supported Jonathan and when Jonathan did not play to his game, he started fighting Jonathan. If Buhari had been listening to him, he wouldn’t have written any letter. He thinks that he knows it all.
Do you see the next four years of this administration likely to be better than the first term?
As a Christian, I know that there is no time that you want to change that you cannot change and say father forgive my sins. If Buhari, as a Muslim goes into the mosque and say my God, whatever I have done in the last four years, ensuring that only my own tribe benefits from this country in terms of major appointments, major positions in the military and everywhere, all that I have done to create dichotomy in this nation, father forgive me, I want to turn a new leaf, give me the spirit and the energy to turn a new leaf and do what is right, the merciful God will bless him. He has opportunity now to build legacies. This four years remaining is an opportunity given to him to turn around from his sins. The other day, I read that the contract for the Second Niger Bridge had been signed. I tried to find out from some people and I was told that no contract had been signed since the other administrations were there. So, why have we been talking about Second Niger Bridge? Obasanjo talked about Second Niger Bridge for eight years, but no formal contract was signed. So, Buhari can change if he wants to change. He can change if he can get out of the cocoon that has held him hostage. If those around him don’t find anything wrong with the way he treated Maina, compared with the way he is treating Onnoghen, even when Appeal Court gave judgment things will remain the way they are.