•Says Nigeria moving from democracy to dictato rial rule
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Former Political Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu, has expressed worry that the democracy Nigerians fought hard to gain is fast sliding into dictatorial rule. According to the chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the country is now in a state of ‘unfreedom.’ In this interview with Sunday Sun he, therefore, picked holes in some polices and programmes of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, insisting that the next president of the country must be one who should embrace restructuring. He also spoke on the defection of some prominent PDP members to the Social Democratic Party, and the crises that trailed the congresses of All Progressives Congress (APC).
How worried are you over the growing defection of prominent PDP members to SDP in recent times?
I am not worried about defections from one party to the other. In any political party there are two kinds of people – those who are there because of the founding principles of the party and those who are there to use the party as a platform to get into political power and positions. So, these movements will occur, especially among the latter group as every election approaches as politicians look for tickets to contest. What worries me is what these movements portend for democracy and the future of Nigeria. Eventually, the movements will settle and you find out that there will be only two large political parties in Nigeria and perhaps a third trailing behind. Nigerians know the two largest political parties and they know the ones that have a chance of coming up. It is like Britain where you have Labour and Conservative political parties. They also have the Social Democrats and the UK Independent Party. This is what may ultimately happen in Nigeria. In the end, it I’ll always be the two largest parties that are the alternatives. It is the same in America between the Democrats and the Republicans. It is difficult for a third party to emerge within a short time, set up structures and mobilize nationwide to win elections and effect change. I am not saying it cannot be done. I am only saying it is a more difficult route. The easier route is to become part of one of the two largest groups.
Are you not more worried about what the movements portend for the PDP, especially as the party has been boasting about the plans to wrest power from APC government?
I am more worried about democracy than the ranks of PDP being depleted by those who see PDP as just a platform to gain a ticket and gain position. I have never changed party from 1998 to now because I was part of the founding members of the PDP and I believe in the inclusiveness it preaches. I believe in rotational presidency, which the party advocates; I believe in freedom and democracy, which the party brought back to the polity. So, in that context I am only worried about two people, Prof Jerry Gana, Prof Tunde Adeniran because they were there when PDP was formed. In fact, it was in Jerry Gana’s house that most of the thinking was done by the elders. The PDP since 2017 has become more flexible. PDP is not a closed door that it used to be. There is currently a committee looking at partnerships, mergers and whatever with other political parties. Let’s see how far that goes.
Why are you then worried about democracy?
I said I am worried about democracy because I see Nigerians, with their opened eyes, leaving democracy, which they fought hard to get in 1998 from the Abacha regime through the vehicle G34 and entering now a state of ‘unfreedom.’ This word “unfreedom’ is not original to me. Prof. Timothy Snyder of Yale University has just written a new bestseller titled ‘Road to Unfreedom.’ It is about how people can with their eyes wide open move from democracy to dictatorship. It worries me that Nigerians have forgotten how brave men like Pa Adesanya, Dr Alex Ekwueme, Chief Solomon Lar, Dr Abubakar Rimi and others, through All Politicians Summit and G34 effectively battled through the Abacha dictatorship to reinstall democracy in the polity.
Are you saying that Nigeria under the incumbent administration is moving from freedom to unfreedom?
Definitely yes; let me give you two examples. Those of us who live in Abuja pass through Unity Fountain regularly. We passed there under the administrations of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. The Unity Fountain was where most people assembled to protest against the governments of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. I remember when the fuel subsidy issue first came up, the then labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, led his people to protest there and even got beyond Supreme Court in the Avila enclave. I was sent with Chief Ogbulafor to address them. Eventually, what came out of that protest was the setting up of PPPRA. That is positive result from citizens exercising their democratic rights to protest. Freedom and peaceful protest against a government are, therefore, part of democracy. I also recall an industrial strike by health workers nationwide. My friend and the labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, threatened me that if anybody dies again he would carry the corpse and deposit it in front of my gate. I knew he was a very serious person. We did not relent in the Ministry of Health until we stopped that strike. And we have remained friends. I also recall that BBOG were meeting everyday at Unity Fountain regarding the abducted Chibok girls under President Jonathan. Nobody molested them because sittings are part of their democratic rights. But pass through the Unity Fountain now and see what the security has turned the place into; armoured cars, police horses, etc are all that you will see. That is not what freedom and democracy are all about.
Don’t you think that the current security situation in the country may have given rise to the new turn of event at the Unity Fountain?
Yes certainly. But we also had a security situation that was very bad under President Jonathan. The Independence Day bombing in Eagles Square and the Boko Haram in the North East. The abduction of Chibok girls internationalized, even Mrs Obama and the UN Secretary General wore BBOG tags. But nobody harassed the leaders of BBOG and their fellow campaigners. Compare the situation to the current situation BBOG leaders were sprawling on the ground to the full view of TV cameras. One of the leaders is a former Minister of the Federal Republic. Before that, under President Yar’Adua there was Niger Delta insurgency. It was stopped, Ministry of Niger Delta and the amnesty programme were established and oil production bounced back. The summary is that it is not right to deprive citizens of the right to peaceful protest in a democracy. And if it is not right it is not right. When PDP lost presidential election in 2015, I was a keynote speaker at a PDP summit. I said to the party that members jumping into APC should go, but I said that the conspiracy of silence in not protecting the people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy was wrong. I reminded everybody of the famous quote from the German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller who said, “first they came for the Catholics I did not speak because I was not a Catholic, then they came for the trade unionists I did not speak because I was not a trade unionist, then they came for the Jews I did not speak because I was not a Jew, then they came for me. And by that time there was nobody left to speak for me. That is the danger in keeping quiet or sitting on the fence when something is not right. As I said before, if it is not right it is not right. We must be careful about moving to ‘Unfreedom’ as warned by Prof Timothy Snyder because it will be like one voting oneself into slavery.
President Buhari recently gave his government a pat on the back on the administration of the country. Do you agree with him that his government has recorded some achievements, especially in the area of fighting corruption and restoring the confidence of the international community in Nigeria?
Let me be kind in my evaluation and give government the benefit of the doubt that it means well. But the facts on the ground don’t show the change that Nigerians yearned for. And I am not saying this because I belong to a different political party. It is simply my honest view because when a doctor treats you for an ailment and the treatment is not working, you should be honest and say that it is not working. The patient would be a fool to accept that he has been cured when he has not been cured. All of us are Nigerians and we are in a position to know whether the situation in the country has become better or not.
Even on the issue of corruption?
On the fight against corruption, there is a lot of propaganda. Many Nigerians are not corrupt, but very many are, especially on institutionalized corruption. And this is well documented by Transparency International. In fact, our corruption index has not improved according to Transparency International since 2015. I also agree with the Speaker of House of Representatives (Dogara) who said that it is not only one human being who is not corrupt in Nigeria. There are many people who have served Nigeria that are not corrupt. Let me not take a modern political leader. I know Dr M.I. Okpara, Premier of old Eastern Region who was 39 years old when he became Premier. Every Igbo person knows that Dr M.I. Okpara had only one landed property, his house at Umuahia, which he handed over to Biafra. It was Ndigbo that built his house where he was buried in his village in Umuahia. Yet he allocated the land in GRA, Enugu. He didn’t get any. It was when I was Commissioner for Health under Governor Emeka Omeruah that members of government contributed money and paid for an allocation and gave the C of O posthumously to his family. So, Nigeria has had a good share of non-corrupt Nigerians from independence. What Nigeria needs now are very effective laws and implementing agencies to fight institutionalized corruption, especially from source, robust and thorough investigation to effectively prosecute and jail corrupt officials according to the laws of Nigeria. The facts of corruption are there. Let me clarify that it was PDP that established the ground rules and set up the existing agencies, ICPC and EFCC for fighting corruption. PDP didn’t require eight years to do so. On May 29,1999 President Obasanjo had a draft ICPC bill which I saw. EFCC also got set up in Obasanjo’s first term before 2003. Under the PDP government, almost all PDP and non-PDP governors were under investigation by EFCC under Ribadu and one or two were prosecuted and jailed. Currently, which APC and non-APC governors are under EFCC investigation and prosecution? Even high profile APC public officials relieved of their appointments because of corruption allegations are not being diligently and robustly prosecuted. Therefore, it is clear that the fight against corruption was begun by the same political party that is being branded as corrupt. That is not 100 per cent correct because the other political party and public officials are also corrupt and Nigerians know this. No amount of propaganda and media hype will cleanse corrupt people from corruption. Only comprehensive non-partisan investigation and robust prosecution will free the Nigerian public service system and society from corruption. Nigerians will know and hail a political party and political leaders who want to rid the society of corruption and not merely to use corruption as a tool for attaining political power and position.
But the argument is that yes, they set up ICPC and EFCC, but they never allowed the agencies to function effectively. Could you respond to that?
It was under the same PDP government that many high profile people including governors were prosecuted. The first Chairman of ICPC was the incorruptible retired Appeal Court Justice, Mustapha Akanbi and the first Chairman of EFCC was Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. I believe that these two appointments compared to what we have now speak for themselves. Again the number of prosecutions and convictions of PDP high officials under PDP government speaks for itself. Compare this with the current situation where the celebrated grass-cutting former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the elusive Maina and Executive Secretary Health Insurance etc, are yet to have their day in court, not to talk of the mind-boggling Ikoyigate millions of dollars, millions of naira at Kaduna Airport etc, which appear to have gone cold. The PDP is involved in a detailed examination of all these, including the strategy for fighting corruption and will in due time proffer new insight on how to effectively and comprehensively tackle corruption in Nigeria in a non-partisan manner. Corruption is a serious problem and should be treated as such in Nigeria. If it is tackled in a partisan manner we will lose the point.
Members of your party have been accusing the government of being selective in the corruption war, but they have not denied being guilty of the allegation(s) raised against them by the EFCC. Is the opposition not playing to the gallery?
I don’t think there is anybody who is saying that the government should not investigate and prosecute people for corruption. What we are saying is that the fight against corruption should not be a mere political tool for access to political power and positions in Nigeria. It must be an honest fight.
Is it not ironical that the likes of President Donald Trump is thumbing up for President Buhari on his achievements in the fight against corruption, but back home, the opposition believes the whole thing is a charade?
What would you expect Donald Trump to say? What would one tell his guest? Let’s leave those endorsements, including those by Dr Martin Luther King Foundation. The people who should be hailing you should be Nigerians you are fighting for, not foreigners.
Arewa youths recently asked both President Buhari and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar not to run for president in 2019 on the account of their age, what do you make of such counsel?
They are entitled to give advice. However, they need to be told that what we are talking of is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which includes all of us. For many Nigerians, especially those of us from the South-East, it is important that the incoming president should be open to restructuring ideas, have an inclusive approach to governance and should not seek to do more than a four-year tenure otherwise the South-East shall feel shortchanged. The Arewa youths in giving their advice should also open themselves to the feelings and fears of other sections of Nigeria.
How do you feel when people, including critics of APC say Buhari will win in 2919 because they do not see PDP presenting a candidate that can defeat him?
I don’t get bothered because the facts are there. When the APC arrived, it arrived late, the coalition was made and they chose Buhari as the most likely person who could win. They didn’t choose Buhari because he was the youngest. They didn’t choose him because he was the most competent or most intelligent. They chose him because, to them, he had a cult following that would enable him get a large chunk of votes that can make him win the presidency. And that was what happened. Looking at the above, I don’t get bothered. The important thing is getting a proper candidate who does not frighten the North, West, East, Central and South with either his body language or his pronouncements. We must have a candidate who is acceptable to all Nigerians and who all Nigerians are comfortable with no matter their religion and ethnic extractions. We must get a candidate who understands exactly what to do about restructuring and is open to it. We must have a candidate who knows exactly what to do to restore back the fraternal feelings of Nigerians and stop further disharmony and bloodshed.
What is your assessment of the Summit by the South-East on restructuring? Do you think resolutions reached at the conference are implementable before the 2019 elections as demanded?
Nothing is impossible when you make up your mind to do it. But it should not come as an ultimatum. The key thing for me is that I am in complete agreement with everything the South-East has said at Ekwueme Square in Awka. The President Ohanaeze Ndigbo has my complete support. I excused myself from the conference because I had doctor’s appointment that I had to keep. Anybody who loves Nigeria and wants Nigeria to progress should look at those resolutions. They are the same, in broad framework, with the el-Rufai Report for APC on devolution of powers. They are the same, in broad framework, with the demands of South-South on Resource Control; they are the same with the South-West, Middle Belt. They are the same with what the entire nation agreed in 2014 National Conference. What is required is the political will to change Nigeria. The fear of the unknown and the desire to cling to temporary personal gains instead of lasting benefits to the country is what is holding us down. The proposal by the South-West, Middle Belt, South-East and National Conference is beneficial to the entire country. The wastage and corruption in Nigeria are largely at the centre, that is the federal level. Has anybody heard, apart from governors being accused, that commissioners stole billions of naira? Where will commissioners see such money? All the money has been pocketed by the centre. When you unbundle, when you have devolution of powers to the federating units you will get action at the state and regional levels. I endorse restructuring completely.
Were you surprised that the congresses by APC were trailed by crises or do you see it as politicians – be them members of APC or PDP, have learnt nothing?
It is not in my nature to gloat at anybody’s misfortune, but what has happened is simple Karma. This karma thing is exactly what we saw playing back in Dapchi. In Chibok, young girls were abducted. So much political capital was made of it. It was discussed, hash-tagged, internationalized. Then Dapchi happened and people were barred from commenting on it as comments would amount to making political capital out of the tragic situation. Dapchi didn’t happen under PDP. It merely served to show there can be an accident when driver A is driving a car and there can also be an accident when driver B is driving a car. And the different injuries may be there. The situation may be different, but nobody is above accident. That is karma. The APC congresses are karma pure and simple. All I did was to watch on the television the faces of those who had left PDP for APC because they thought there would be no impunity, violence and imposition in their new abode.
We hear that what is happening in the party may force the governor to decamp to another party, is that true?
Not at all, quote me the group you see very soon will run and leave the party, you can not talk about APC in Imo State without Owelle Rochas Okorocha, you can’t even talk about APC in the South-east without Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Remember in 2015 when Owelle brought APC to Imo State, the same people like Araraume and others called him Okorohausa, they called him ‘Alhaji in Government House,’ they said he has come to Islamise Imo State with APC, they said he has aligned with President Mohammadu Buhari to Islamise South-east, they sold the message to some churches and they were criticising and abusing Owelle, the same group of people today who say Owelle has come to Islamise Imo, so they have joined Owelle also to Islamise the state, that is the question I want to ask them, there is no APC in Imo State without Owelle and they know that very well, Owelle cannot leave APC rather they should leave and join any other party, they should humble themselves and join Owelle, we are the founding members of the party, so they must humble themselves and join the queue.
The members of the Coalition seemed to be saying that the only condition to work with Owelle again is for him to drop you. How do you see their demand?
And we are saying too that our condition to them is that they should drop their ambitions because they are politicians that have no value to Imolites, all of them that want to run for governor, it is not all about dropping my ambition, but what can they do for Imolites, if they are having headache that I said I’m going to be governor, then when I become governor, they would have migraine, so my ambition is an ordained ambition and God has made it, there is nothing you can do about it, it is only God that maketh a king ,it is not man, so if God has made it that one day, I, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, will be governor, there is nothing man can do that can stop it except you want to stop what God has said would be and when you try to stop what God has said would be, you are either playing with God or playing with fire, so I don’t think that is true, even Owelle knows that there is a divine hand of God in it, it is not all about Ugwumba becoming the governor, but what He has destined for him.
Some political analysts are worried about what is happening in APC, are you not worried too?
I believe APC is going to come out stronger, political interests and intrigues are everywhere, I believe every political party has internal intra-party problems, at the end everybody will come back together, but they should humble themselves, being a member of APC does not allow you to come in and destroy APC, at the end the party will come back stronger because Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a man that has tolerated a lot from these men that are playing dirty politics, being the leader of the party in the state, Owelle I know will call them and the party will move forward.
Is it true that the governor is passing through all these because of his open endorsement for you?
It is not true, the conspiracy is just between two people, the National Organising Secretary and the National Chairman of the party and the conspiracy is because Owelle has asked that the issue of tenure elongation be stopped and let’s go to congresses. In APC constitution, there is no space for tenure elongation, and what he simply said is that, if we admit this tenure elongation, after we have won the primaries and we become candidates, from House of Assembly, federal House of Reps, senators, governors and the president and somebody from somewhere, PDP or APGA takes this matter to court and you do not have provision for tenure elongation in our constitution referring also to the Nigerian constitution which the APC constitution will bow to and you give tenure elongation and at the end from House of Assembly, House of Reps, senators, governors and their president, the court will now tell us that everything we did is in nullity, you can see PDP or APGA taking over what we have laboured for and the president understood that and after the second NEC meeting he ordered that there should be congresses, so those of them who are afraid of congress wanted the tenure elongation so that they can remain in office, it was a bad omen for them, so they started fighting, I don’t think Owelle from the onset has any problem with the national chairman, it was Owelle that nominated Izunaso as the national organising secretary, if you remember vividly. Owelle came from the APGA extraction that joined the coalition that made up APC, he was asked to bring the national organising secretary, deputy national woman leader and the rest from the South-east , and it was only Rochas Okorocha that it lied on his shoulder to produce all these, Izunaso should be happy that Owelle made him the organising secretary.
The governor said he was betrayed during the congresses. Given your fragile disposition and age, are you not frightened by the gang up?
Let me start with the first one about conspiracy and traitors, in every 12 disciples, there must be a Judas, so, if you are a politician for you to be a political guru you have to ask God to let you know the end from the beginning and when I say this, what I mean is that in politics you do not give your 100 per cent to anybody because politics is all about interest, probably anybody who decides to go to anybody might have an interest, but remember that out of 12 disciples, it was only one that left, so that is not a problem, you can decide to pitch your tent where you think it’s going to be okay for you, you had it in 2015 and Owelle still won. The issue of political giants, in 2011, Arthur Nzeribe was not with us, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu was not with us, Ifeanyi Araraume was not with us, Ikedi Ohakim was not with us, Hope Uzodinma was not with us, Emeka Ihedioha was not with us, Kema Chikwe, count them, they were not with us, but we came out victorious. In 2015, we had a sitting President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Armed Forces included the Army, Air Force, and Navy, they were not with us in the state, all the political gladiators, including Araraume that came at the dying minute, including Ihedioha, of course, you know the story of Ihedioha that came into the state with three power bikes in a state where you have the governor, at least this would have intimidated the governor, most of them were not with us and we won in 2015. Power does not come by displaying your muscle or affluence, power comes from God, I, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, and the governor, we are not even seeing any of them that can defeat the smallest among us, so there is no cause for alarm.
If the governor asks you not to go ahead with your governorship ambition, will you obey him?
Of course, he is my leader, if my leader says don’t continue, which I know he will not say, the governor I know has made up his mind because it is a divine mandate, that will mean him going back. Owelle I know believes in prayers, he has consulted with his God already before coming out openly to say that it is Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, so the issue of Owelle coming to say I don’t want you to continue with your ambition, that will never arise.
How do you see the candidacy of Oshiomhole for the national chairmanship of APC?
Adams Oshiomhole, the former governor of Edo State is a comrade, a vibrant leader, I was privileged to have something to do with Adams Oshiomhole when I was the National Mobilisation Officer of NANS, when Philip Shuaibu was the national president, I remember one certain time that we visited him when he was the chairman of NLC, I heard him speak and I saw the man that has the interest of the masses, one particular thing I like about Adams Oshiomhole is carrying the masses while protecting the interest of the few rich, the only problem we have in this country is when we forget the masses and go to those who have more, leaving the masses who are more in number, that is the greatest problem we have with our politicians, but somebody like Adams Oshiomhole is different, if he becomes the national chairman of our party, he will do well.