Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, in this interview dismissed claims by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that the last election was not free and fair. He argued that President Muhammadu Buhari would always win key sates in the North at any election.
He also believes that the Senate Presidency in the 9th National Assembly should be zoned to the Southeast. According to him, the zone contributed immensely to the victory of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last general elections. Excerpts:
The elections have come and gone, but there is still this debate about the nature of victory of the APC. The opposition believes that what the APC claimed to have won is not a reflection of the election? What is your take?
I don’t know why the PDP has decided to live on assumptions that they could have won the presidential election. President Muhammadu Buhari since his entry into partisan politics and his first election in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, had always established a vote bank of 12 million voters in all the elections. If he were to answer in the Igbo Language, the Igbo will say Ekwomibe, which means that his supporters have great confidence in him and he relies on them.
The argument of the opposition is that last election was a different challenge because some people feel the government has not met their expectations and voted against the ruling party. Have you not since seen sense in the argument?
There are divided opinions on that. One of the major groups whose expectations were not met was nostalgic of freebies – share the money. They came from the culture of PDP’s share the money. We had similar cases as students. Suddenly, you come to power and you don’t give us bursary, we get angry. Yes, he wasn’t sharing the money. That’s the most potent anger of a lot of those who wanted his back. But they did not know that in today’s Nigeria, it costs a minimum of N50 million to do a kilometer of federal road and he has embarked on one of the most massive infrastructural developments of the country – five thousand kilometers of federal roads, five thousand kilometers of standard rail gauge lines, five thousand additional megawatts of electricity. If he had brought those monies he is investing in these projects, maybe they could have been happy. But he is looking at the future development of the country; that the country’s gross unemployment cannot abate if you do not have critical infrastructure.
The argument again is that in the last election, we saw a president who contested on a party that was torn apart by intra-party wrangling. Are you saying that those disagreements over primaries didn’t impact on his candidacy?
Nobody can deny the fact that the way Comrade Adams Oshiomhole handled the primaries had an effect on the outcome of the election of Mr President. But what we are saying is that if President Muhammadu Buhari is not a man of sterner stuff, he could have been bruised. So, the bruising he had is less than what could have happened to a lesser mortal. You can imagine where the president was fixed in muddled primaries. Take Imo, for instance, where Oshiomhole had the greatest blame for what happened. By the end of the Congress, between May 2018 and June, the mainstream led by Senator Osita Izunaso, Ararume and others recovered the apparatus of the APC from His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. I happened to have the opportunity on 12th of July at the launching of the railway that was going to the airport from the capital city. We were waiting for Mr President and he (Oshiomhole) was sitting by the side with the Secretary to the Government and after everything, we started discussing. I pleaded with him and said, don’t hand over the apparatus of the APC back to His Excellency, Owele Rochas Okorocha because it had been recovered from him; that if you do so, you would have killed APC in Imo and it will also affect the Southeast because that’s the only place we have the governorship. He said he’s going to do so, but that Owelle Rochas Okorocha supported his chairmanship bid. I said please, don’t do that. He said Osita what do you have against him and I said how can a man be asking to be a Senator and his son-in-law the governor. Comrade Oshiomhole said Osita, what I’m going to ask him to do is to take one. I said he won’t allow that because he is a narcissist. But Mr President was able to navigate out of it. That is what the people misunderstood about Mr President. At the end of the day, he had over 140,000 votes in Imo. He met the 25 per cent, which he couldn’t do in 2015. What Mr President had in Imo in 2015 was 18 per cent. That’s what I’m saying about a man of sterner stuff because he was able to overcome those mangled primaries. He was aware that if he didn’t keep his head high, there would be problems. But he survived and we should lay claim to that. In his strongholds, he still got the 12 million votes he used to bring to the table. He had one point something million in Kano. He had nine hundred thousand in Kaduna and in Katsina, one point two million. In those strongholds, he still made a good outing. When you compare it to a sitting Governor in Kano, he’s battling to reach one million votes. But Mr President got one 1.4 million.
What do you make of those who are doubting the authenticity of the votes he got in Kano?
He represents the Aminu Kano school of thought in the North. The people know him. Even his enemies do not doubt his integrity. He had been president for getting to four years. Go and check the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGS), he has not collected a plot of land, nor did he build any house here, nor did he invest anywhere. He has not taken a dollar out of the country. The people know him. That’s why they call him Mai Gaskiya. So, he represents Aminu Kano’s prudency in the North. Those who believe in honesty and integrity across the federation, especially in the North are always with him. He got more votes than Masari in Katsina. He almost ran at par with Malam el-Rufai in Kaduna. Those are his strongholds. He got more votes than the governor of Bauchi in Bauchi and Borno. He was running neck and neck with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in Kaduna State. In Oyo where we lost the governorship, Atiku crossed him with one thousand and something votes. So, it wasn’t a major deviation. In the Southeast where he did poorly in 2015, he had 198,000 votes. But in this election, he had 403,000 votes and met the threshold of 25 per cent in Ebonyi, in Imo and Abia. Out of five States, he met threshold of 25 per cent which he didn’t do in 2015. In the South-south, he made over a million votes which he didn’t do in 2015. So, when you look at the spread as well, you could also know that showed who he is and the belief Nigerian people have on his integrity and the support in his critical infrastructure. Like us in the Southeast and South-south, we are looking at the eastern corridor rail line that was advertised in July that his coming back means it will be real. We didn’t want to gamble with the man who said he will sell the NNPC. That’s the truth of the matter.
Do you share the views of those who feel that the party should zone the leadership of the Senate to the Southeast?
I subscribe to that idea. You know Mr President promised inclusiveness. In two statements he made post-election, he talked of inclusiveness. I think Mr President’s mind is also being addressed by the chessboard, that the carrots have to be shared well. From the little I know about the mobile decade, it’s not the time that he will say what he didn’t believe in. if he talks inclusiveness two times in a speech, it means he’s actually convinced about that. He doesn’t take prisoners. After all, he’s no more going for an election. His own is concluded. The only thing now we have to ask ourselves is the overall distributing angles. Is it the National Assembly that we feel is more important to us? Is it the security apparatus? Is it key ministries because there are lots of juice on the table. But if it is about the Senate, I’m saying that we are qualified. If it is about the Speaker of the House of Reps, we are qualified as well, unlike what happened in 2015. That’s why I said Mr President had made inroad in the South and the people appreciated. In Enugu for instance, he had 14,000 votes in 2015. This year, he has 54,000. In Ebonyi, he had about 17,000. This year, he has over 80,000. In Imo, he had 18 per cent in total votes in 2015. Today, he has more than 25 per cent. In Abia, he had more than 25 per cent. But in 2015, he had only three per cent.
So, what we are saying is that we are happy that Mr President, because of his sterner quality, was able to succeed out of the avoidable…field that was created by Comrade Oshiomhole because of his ‘I know it all’ attitude; he never listens to contrary opinion.
So you agree with those who feel that it is time for the president to sign the amended Electoral Act, which he declined to assent to before the polls?
The president I know will do all within his powers to get Nigeria on the course of free and fair elections and he has started. That’s why I’m pleading with everybody that as a social scientist, my little knowledge about the conflict in the land is because we have only one source of social mobility that is political power and we cannot deviate from that without diversifying our economy. In certain countries of the world, election is going on and the factor is working. There is no public holiday. You walk in and vote. Some people even start voting few days before the election. Why is that so? That is what we should do. It is so because there is near adequate electricity supply that allows individuals to open factories. There is modern transportation and other critical infrastructure and that is what Mr President is gradually getting to. I hope when the new National Assembly comes, they will cooperate with him and help him on those critical areas of critical infrastructure, so that we will come to a stage where somebody will be begged to come to federal house and he will say I won’t leave my business to go to the federal house.
Even though APC won the presidential election the party is still struggling with the fallout of last primaries; some chieftains including you have been suspended. Why is the president not intervening in the situation in the party?
That is human nature. On one side, when the then President Obasanjo captured the PDP and pocketed it and was suspending people left right and centre, impeaching governors left, right and centre, we also had an outcry. And now comes a system, a person who says let the system carry its cycle and now we are also doing an outcry. He knows that the organs of the party are there. If Oshiomhole decides to breach the constitution of the APC – Section 2(1) which clearly spells out what to do and what not to do before you suspend a member and goes to his working committee that he runs like a fiefdom and dishes out statements, is that what Mr President will dash into? Mr President is a member of the National Executive Committee of the party. When the matter comes there, Mr President is a democrat. He can’t act like Obasanjo was acting dictatorially. Democracy has its standard rule of law, which is constitutionalism. There are basic tenets stipulated in the APC constitution that was adopted by the National Convention of the APC in 2013 and little amendments that was also adopted by the National Convention of the APC. It’s the grand norm of the APC.
Are you going to court even before the NEC meets?
What am I going to court for? I’ve not been suspended because the provisions of the constitution of the APC had not been followed, just like Oshiomhole muddled the primaries. He had over 10 chairmen from Edo State only that held the primaries across the country, when it’s supposed to be one chairman from one state because I do not believe that there is any state in the federation that is not qualified to have a chairman. In Southeast alone, Edo State man headed Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia. I do not know anybody from Enugu State that headed any panel in the Oshiomhole primaries. If there is anybody who did anti-party activities, it’s Oshiomhole. One, he made a public advert and asked each state to choose whether they should go for direct or indirect primaries and even made a provision for consensus which is also in the APC Constitution. Each state wrote back; Enugu, for instance, wrote back and said we are for indirect primaries. On 1st October, we had started indirect primaries and covered about four local government areas for the gubernatorial when a call came from him. He said is Osita Okechukwu there and they said yes and I ran. He said what is going on? I said, sir the thing is working well, we’ve covered 11 local government areas. We are entering the next one. He said where is Juliet Ibekaku. I said Juliet is not a delegate in this election. She is a candidate for the Senatorial, but she is not a candidate for the gubernatorial that was being done that night. This is Enugu Campus Stadium that I spent two days working to get for the party to be opened because when I met the VC, he said you must go back to Abuja and meet the Minister. If the Minister doesn’t say we should open the gate for you people, we won’t open the stadium. I now came back here and met the Minister and the Minister now called the VC. The VC called the Deputy VC in charge of Enugu Campus. I had to go back to Enugu and the woman said okay, now that there is order, you people can have the stadium and we entered the stadium for indirect primaries.
Comrade Oshiomhole talked to a lot of people and called my attention. I said sir, it’s working well and even the Commissioner of Police is here with me, will you talk with him. He said no. I said even the Director of SS is here. He said where is Juliet Ibekaku. I said Juliet Ibekaku is not a delegate and today is not the one she is running for. He said where is the Minister Jeffrey Onyeama. I said his Excellency, Jeffrey Omyeama is in the UN. There was a General Assembly of the UN. I said don’t cancel this primary, it’s going on well. The next morning, he canceled the primary and said we should revert to indirect primaries. Is that not dictatorship? This is what I’m telling you that we are lucky that President Muhammadu Buhari being who he is, a lesser mortal could have been consumed by the inferno Oshiomhole set up across the country. Can you imagine a chairman that could not manage party primaries that made us to be in trouble in Rivers? You know what they call antithesis; he set up an antithesis in APC that is raging. But we are lucky that, as the Igbo would say, in going for the hunting, we got the head and that is the presidential election. We must thank God for that and it takes a man of Buhari’s caliber for us to survive the inferno.