By Dickson Okafor
Chief Johny Ucheaga is a long time political associate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He is one of the founding members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He said former President Obasanjo’s craving for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction was not a recent development. He also spoke on the need for Ndigbo to come together to actualize the dream.
Why do we still have pro biafra agitations in the South-East?
IPOB is a splinter group of Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) founded by Ralph Uwazurike. This is a season of anomie where strange things happen. You see people with high intellectual prowess, but because they are minority in the environment where such things are happening, they don’t want to be isolated. So, they give indirect approval, even though, in their mind they are not part of it, because they know that the agitation is not going anywhere. º
In 1994 during the National Conference convened by former Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, to quell agitations, we were officially invited to be part of the team that would be at the conference. In the beginning, MASSOB was taken seriously because we had just done Chief M.K.O Abiola’s campaign, which I was part of, and when the aftermath was not what we expected, several groups emerged. The South-West had Afenifere and other groups were working in all parts of the country to actualize Abiola’s presidential mandate. So, we encouraged MASSOB to, at least, have something similar to Afenifere in the South-East and that was how Ohaneze came about.
Don’t forget that then we were still negotiating with the military government to end the transition so that they could go back to the barracks. Dr. Alex Ekwueme was appointed leader of the South-East delegation to the conference, so I, Obasanjo, Fasawe and Prof. Obumselu met with some Igbo leaders and told them: the president we say must come to the South-East had now been zoned to the South and we are yet to sort out ourselves, shouldn’t we from the east settle for Ekwueme, having realized how much he contributed to the development of the country as former Vice President twice, his nature, his educational prowess, his economic independence and experience? So, Obasanjo said it wouldn’t be good for Ekwueme to be the one that would talk about Aburi Accord at the conference.
Rather, let them look for another person to present Igbo view. All these were happening in 1994 before Obasanjo became president. Our group, including Obasanjo was working for an Igbo man to become president. So, we went to Ekwueme’s house on Independence Layout, Enugu.
Ekwueme trusted Obasanjo because he knew Obasanjo brought him and Alhaji Shehu Shagari into office in 1979. If Obasanjo hadn’t accepted the mathematics of 122/3, he won’t have left office, but he was determined to go. So, he had a good standing with the man and they spoke. But Obasanjo was unable to dissuade Ekwueme from going to be the spokesperson or the one to deliver the Aburi talk. And that was how Ekwueme’s presidency went. Nobody would have been able to dissuade Ekwueme, and that is my problem with Igbo. If you try a method and it didn’t work, try another because the world is dynamic.
If Obasanjo supported the Ekwueme presidency then, how come the same Obasanjo stopped Ekwueme from being president in 1999 and 2003 considering the arrangement by the PDP that Obasanjo will do just one term, then Ekwueme takes over in 2003?
No, there was no such arrangement. What happened was that the G-7 (which later graduated to G-14 and later metamorphosed into G-34 and later PDP) made up of people from seven states which included the former Jigawa state governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Balarabe Musa and a few others, were fed up with the Abacha regime, and they went to Chief Bola Ige and asked him to be their chairman. I’m telling you what Bola Ige told me. He wanted to be chairman of the association and not what become of the party. So, he told them to go to Ekwueme (I don’t know whether Ekwueme knows about it). They rose and went to Ekwueme, and because Ekwueme is a man of means, he welcomed it.
In the meantime, some people came into the fold, then it rose to G-34 and they made Ekwueme their leader. Within that time, the few who make people president, who were still alive, decided that the person who could succeed and do what was needed to be done and pass the relay baton, was Obasanjo. That was how Obasanjo was selected instead of Ekwueme. Bear in mind that Obasanjo never wanted to run for the presidency when he came out of prison until he saw that he had no choice. He asked, how many presidents they wanted to make out of him. But when he saw what was on ground he called Ekwueme privately and explained to him why he had to run. He did not block Ekwueme from being president and Obasanjo did everything to compensate Ekwueme. He wanted to make Ekwueme Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), but the Igbo people asked what the number was? They said they wanted the Senate President and Obasanjo wanted to offer it to Ekwueme, but he (Ekwueme) declined on the grounds that he had been number two citizen of the country and cannot be number three because people would say he was too much after power. The only position Ekwueme would have taken was the chairmanship of the Petroleum Trust Fund.
So what do you make of Obasanjo’s call for Igbo presidency in 2109?
I have never seen him say something he never meant and he does talk carelessly. Let Igbo people quickly get one of us, the person must not be rich or a professor, but a person with unquestionable character and unblemished record.