Former Governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa has expressed surprise that the governors of the South East are yet to form the region’s security outfit. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
The problem of insecurity is yet to abate with all manner of killings still ongoing in several parts of the country, particularly the North; what are your reflections on the state of the nation?
The insecurity situation in the country is really getting out of hand. It started on a low scale from the Boko Haram sect but today, we have a lot of insecurity in different forms. We still have the Boko Haram issue not abated yet. Their activities are still continuing and escalating. At the same time, we now have other insecurity issues like herdsmen carrying weapons, harassing communities in different parts of the country. These are things that are very worrisome and if these continue, I doubt the stability and continuation of this country as an entity. Many of us have made some suggestions in the past but they have not been taken; we are just watching but the situation is getting out of hand.
The South West has set the pace for regional security arrangement and the South South is already making arrangement for one unlike the South East. What do you think is the reason why the South East is still dilly-dalling?
I think if the central security system is not able to guarantee the safety of lives and property of the people, the governors have a right to agree on regional security outfits. I praise the South West for blazing the trail and I also praise the South South for following suit. What I don’t know is why the South East is still dilly-dallying. At the last Ohanaeze meeting, the Imeobi, which is the supreme organ of Ohanaeze which I attended, agreed on a regional security outfit. Fortunately, I was part of the delegation that went to meet with the governors because they were also meeting that day. We told them our minds. We told them that Ohanaeze have opted for a regional security outfit and to my biggest surprise, a few days after that, I heard of the visit of the Inspector General of Police to the South East and they now agreed on community policing. I do not understand what they are calling community policing. With what we are having today and seeing the role the Nigerian police is playing, I don’t believe that community policing under the aegis of the Nigerian Police can remedy the situation and guarantee the security of lives and property of Nigerians. To me, the conclusion would be that we should all adopt regional security outfits. I praise the South West for the courage to say enough is enough. The regional security outfit is for the protection of lives and property of the people. It has nothing to do with territory but people keep mixing up territory and security. They are not talking about securing the lives and property of people of Western states but those within that region. So, what I am saying is that there is no conflict at all. By the constitution, the governors are the Chief Security officers of their states which have been a point of disagreement over the years. The governor is the Chief Security officer of his state while the Police Commissioner does not take instructions from him but from the IGP. It is a contradiction. Like I said, the regional security outfits are not about territory but everyone within the place; So, I expect the governors of the South East to follow suit and establish the security outfit for the region. Ohanaeze had already proposed that to them. It just requires Ohanaeze and the governors working in tandem to see the establishment of the outfit through.
What is your take on the proposed bill for an agency for de-radicalised Boko Haram members? Proponents of the bill say it would help in containing the insurgents but some say it would worsen the situation.
Of course, it is going to bring a lot of problems. It also begins to call to question, who are the backers of these Boko Haram insurgents. What is the Boko Haram sect all about? You cannot tell me that the repented Boko Haram members, no matter how repented they are, are now being rehabilitated to the extent of being even sent abroad for studies and all that. Sending them abroad to where? We do not know whether they are going back to ISIS for further training. We should never imagine the so-called rehabilitated Boko Haram members going to join our armed forces. That does not happen anywhere. It then means that we have not really understood who are these Boko Haram members, those behind them and what are their aims. I have not understood that yet. So, such a bill should be thrown out completely. Such a bill should not see the light of the day.
How have the recent Supreme Court judgements come to you? The two most recent that come to mind are the sacking of Emeka Ihedioha in Imo and David Lyon in Bayelsa.
I am a politician and you know I belong to the PDP, so anything I say may be viewed from my partisanship. But the two cases are not the same at all. One is about the disqualification of the deputy governor of Bayelsa. The truth is that if you did not have the qualification, then you did not have the qualification. If you were seen to have forged certificates or presented different names in the certificates you presented, that is a different and simple case. It is either a case of impersonation or not being qualified for the particular position of which the Supreme Court was right to do that. Let us not try to mix up the two cases. The case of Imo is very clear and if you read the minority of Justice Nweze, he captured the situation aptly. There is no way you could compare the two cases. Here is a mysterious 366 cases or sometimes they say 388 but I do not know the figures from a number of booths where no other candidate scored anything except the APC. They just gave the PDP two or three votes here and there. What of the votes of the other candidates. If you were involved in the election, even where those candidates did not have any representatives, you would still see some of our illiterate voters voting for them in error. Imo had 70 governorship candidates in the last election but in the two booths in question, only two candidates contested. You even had more votes than the accredited voters. There are too many issues. Be that as it may, I completely agree with the ruling of the Supreme Court. I am a law abiding citizen and I cannot say that the Supreme Court, after their judgement and review, that their pronouncement would not hold. I accept it completely but I do not agree with it.
The Senate just approved a loan of over $20 billion for President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration; are you not scared of the growing debt profile of the country?
Let me say that if you are in government and you are addressing infrastructural issues like power, road and so on, there is nothing wrong with borrowing but at the same time, you must be very careful with borrowing. Once you enter that death trap, it is difficult to come out of it. We had the issue of debt in Nigeria where a lot was borrowed. You recall the Paris Club borrowing and all that. At the end, it took us a lot of time to come out of it. Then I was the governor of Imo and the state was one of the most highly indebted states in Nigeria then. A lot was borrowed in the past but I refused to borrow one kobo while I was governor because I knew that you must pay for it in the future. So, we must be very careful about what we are borrowing for. I do not see why we should borrow at this point when our economy is dwindling and our industries not working. When you are borrowing more, how do you expect to repay the debt? You have heard the situation where China is seizing a lot of assets in some of the East African countries. Their own is not a question of rescheduling; theirs is, you either pay or they seize your assets. Can we afford that? Nigeria should not borrow more. You are borrowing for what reasons. Are we sure of what we are borrowing for? I heard Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe saying on the floor of the Senate that they should be given time to study the reasons for the loan. But he was ruled out by the Senate President, saying that the committee had already done the work. We are not even sure of what the borrowing is all about and where the money would be applied. What is the mechanism the Senate is going to set up to monitor the utilisation of this money. All together, I am against further borrowing of money by this country. The country is very highly indebted that our future income cannot sustain the debt that we have.
As a stakeholder from the South East region, how do you feel about the permutations surrounding which zone the 2023 presidency will go to?
To be honest with you, I am not too keen on the 2023 presidency. Rightly, it should come to the South East. In 1999, late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme was favoured to become the president of Nigeria yet some top military officers from the North at the time brought out President Olusegun Obasanjo to contest. They backed him and did everything to ensure he won. In fact, the bulk of the money for his election came from the North because they said they did not want an Igbo man to ever be president. It has come again and people are shouting that it is the turn of the Igbo and I know that this time will never come to be. I do not believe in it. I pray that we are talking of an Igbo president in a restructured Nigeria. I am more interested in the restructuring of this country than Igbo presidency. I do not see what the Igbo would gain out of it. For those who want the Igbo presidency, good luck to you but I do not know what you want to do with an Igbo presidency in the present structure of Nigeria; unless we restructure the country, the presidency has no meaning to me. Let every part of this country have enough powers in the constitution to take care of itself and contribute to the upkeep of this country. I am not excited about whether the presidency is coming to the East or not.