Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Osita Okechukwu, in this interview, speaks on the crisis of confidence rocking the ruling party at the national and state levels.
He says the party is “working to mend fences and soothe frayed nerves”, adding that in the Middle Belt region, the people are gradually coming to terms with the fact that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor the leadership of the APC are happy over the bloodletting in the area and its unintended consequences. He maintains that the APC is not losing sleep over threats from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), noting that its has been confined to the South-south and South-east zones.
The PDP is said to be working hard to give the APC a good fight in 2019 especially in states where the ruling party is enmeshed in crisis. You have always wished away their chances in 2019 but your party isn’t helping matters with the way things are going. Do you still maintain your position or you have started nursing fears like some other chieftains of your party have openly done?
Let me restate that our sister political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is now a regional party, confined to the South-south and South-east. Forget the sound and furry, it is even losing in the South-east, where a lot of people are coming to the reality that the zoning convention gave Ndigbo the fastest route to the presidency with President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory. Ndigbo are saying that constitutionally, Buhari is the only northerner who has only four years left in his tenure, that if another northerner wins, he will naturally clamour for eight good years. This is real politick. Yes, our great party, the APC and by extension our government, has made some mistakes and some unforced errors; there is no doubt about that. I can’t come here and say all is roses; that will be arrant nonsense.
Then how can the APC win in 2019 without rigging? Some PDP stalwarts and governors have been accusing INEC of the likelihood of backing the APC?
In my 40 years of sojourn in the political arena, I have come to know when an incumbent government has enough firewood to get an election food done. I know as well that election is a referendum of the incumbent. The APC-led Federal Government has more upsides than downsides; I have re-echoed this in several fora. I understand the propaganda of governors Wike and Fayoses of this world. They are saying what we expect them to say in such political quagmire they found themselves. They are desperate and a desperate man makes unguarded statements.
The APC has serious problems to contend with in the Middle Belt region and the PDP is working hard to reap from the crisis there. Do you still consider the region as APC’s stronghold?
Middle Belt is not yet out of our control. Yes, the herdsmen/farmers clash has lowered our general perception now. But mark you that the people of Benue State and the entire Middle Belt are coming to terms on the truism that neither President Buhari nor the leadership of the APC are happy over the bloodletting and its unintended consequences. Therefore, before the 2019 general elections, the reality will govern the perception of the people.
But many pundits are of the view that President Buhari and the APC may not recover those who are highly dissatisfied with the sordid policies of the President and his party?
Yes, there is discontent in the land. Yet, the little one can say is that President Buhari has his 12 million vote-bank intact any day. All he needs is critical supplement to win the presidential election. More so when his RRAP projects are gaining traction around the country.
RRAP projects are Roads, Rails, Agric and Power projects — the most single ambitious and massive infrastructure plan in the annals of Nigeria’s history. It entails 5,000 kilometers of federal roads, 5,000 kilometers of standard gauge rail lines, agricultural revolution and 5,000 additional megawatts.
Well, we have heard that from you a number of times and it sounds sweet. But how and when will the RRAP come to fruition?
Thank you very much for this germane question. The truth is that Nigerians had been raped, defrauded and maligned by previous administrations such that it’s difficult and hard to believe any government. But Nigerians should please excuse President Buhari in his quest to bequeath and lay a solid foundation for the industrialisation and prosperity of the country. He is a man of his words; the infrastructure revolution is nationwide, no discrimination.
The general feeling in the country is that this government has not delivered on its promises. How do you expect Nigerians to excuse President Buhari when they are yet to see or feel even the impact of the RRAP projects you are talking about?
Please, I am not talking about fantasy; RRAP projects are real and have a project completion cycle of three to five years and the money is down. I’m not talking of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s $23 billion three Greenfield Refineries, which disappeared after the fanfare that greeted the award of the contract; or former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Agege-Otta-Abeokuta and other federal road projects that are incomplete till date. The Kebbi Rice model farm is spreading. This has drastically reduced importation of rice from Thailand. The record of 70 per cent reduction in rice import is common knowledge. When Buhari said that Nigerians are going to produce the food they eat, doubting Thomases didn’t believe him.
You say the money for these projects is down and some of them have three years completion cycle. So why the delay; this administration has been in power for close to three years?
A lot of people erroneously think that democracy is a revolution, far from it. Most developments, which took place under democracy, were incremental; that’s a gradual process. President Buhari first submitted a bouquet of $29.9 billion of foreign loans to the National Assembly over a year ago, some has been approved and some are yet to be approved. These were soft loans given primarily because of his integrity quotient. If it were during Buhari’s first missionary journey as military Head of State, he could have within few days signed the loans and moved to project sites. In democracy, there is due process and rule of law that must be followed before Mr. President will sign any Sovereign Guarantee. For instance, before the N100 billion SUKUK bond was signed, it went round the three arms of government. This is to get all the arms to buy into the projects and by extension the loans. That’s democracy in action. It’s also the cost of corruption we pay on a daily basis because of untoward acts of our heroes past.
The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), told Nigerians that his ministry mapped out 25 most important federal roads across the six geo-political zones and awarded the contracts with the SUKUK bond fund. Most zones got N16.7 billion worth of projects. The South-east zone, for instance, got N16.7 billion, which the ministry deployed for Enugu-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Onitsha dual carriage expressways.
But the zone was totally excluded in the rail and power projects?
The 5,000 kilometers standard rail lines are the Eastern Corridor-Port Harcourt-Maiduguri; Coastal rail line, Calabar-Lagos; and upgrade to standard gauge of Lagos-Kano rail line. All are to spur to state capitals and major towns not on the main rail lines. Let me once again throw more light on the Lagos-Kano rail line, which was initiated by the Obasanjo administration. What the Obasanjo administration did was the old gauge. The administration under a Private-Public-Partnership arrangement awarded the about 1,400 kilometers for $8.3 billion. Buhari is investing $1.5 billion to upgrade it to standard gauge, making it $9.8 billion. It is one of the biggest scam in the history of our dear country. For around the same time the $8.3 billion contract was awarded, the Chinese awarded Golmud-Lhasa standard gauge rail line of 1,142 kilometers for $4.2 billion.
Back to the issue of the standing of your party ahead of the 2019 election, how do you hope to succeed in states like Benue, Zamfara, Plateau, Kogi, Kano, Kaduna and others where herdsmen’s menace and internal party wrangling have painted the APC in bad light?
As I said before, time will heal all the wounds. Thomas Paine said that whatever reason cannot resolve, time will resolve it. And our elders said that it’s only the tree, which when told it will be cut down, remained still. We are working to mend fences and soothe frayed nerves.
How would you react to claims in some quarters that high profile defections would hit the APC at a strategic time when it would have been completely decimated and too late to salvage anything, which is said to be part of the game plan of the opposition PDP?
I have heard such defection stories many times, but the truth is that the scenario of defection of 2014 is different from the scenario today. Take for instance a governor or senator from the North who is planning to defect from the APC to PDP. He is probably aware of the risk of such defection because he may end up defecting with only a handful of his family members. Don’t you think that those farmers who are beneficiaries of Buhari’s back to land programme will find it difficult to defect with professional politicians? Or are you disregarding the possible outcome of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s reconciliation committee?
Well, pundits are of the view that Tinubu’s committee is dead on arrival, especially with the extension of the tenure of the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and the entire National Working Committee (NWC) members at the NEC meeting last Tuesday. What’s your take?
I don’t want to doubt pundits, whosoever they are. However, Asiwaju as a veteran knows the bolts and nuts to fix. He knows how important it is to persuade those aggrieved to remain and which carrots or sticks to dangle. And he has Mr. President’s support. Here is what Mr President said: “Nevertheless, I am not asking us to relax and take things easy. As we all know, elections are looming on the horizon; we must therefore get our act together. Accordingly, I implore all members of the party to give the Asiwaju Committee full cooperation to resolve differences existing amongst our members in the states affected. This is a mandate from the President, which most of us will adhere to.