Magnus Eze, Enugu
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southeast and Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, has picked holes in some issues raised by the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, in his recent exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, saying that some of the comments of the Igbo leader are purely partisan propaganda.
He gave reasons President Muhammadu Buhari could not get 25 per cent votes in Enugu State. He also talked about June 12 and the role played by the governors of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). Excerpts:
You have picked holes in the recent interview of Chief Nnia Nwodo; which aspects are you disputing or is it the whole thing he said?
One cannot in honesty dispute the entire interview granted by our big brother and President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo. Definitely no way, some are excellent and brilliant; however, some are purely partisan propaganda meant to paint the 2019 general election black. The 2019 general election is not in any inch as black as they paint it, far from it. For Chief Nwodo, the 2019 general elections are shambolic; one disagrees vehemently with this position. I think in the course of this interview, one will enumerate the flip-flop of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) which they deliberately hid from public domain.
But which aspect of the interview in your view deserves interrogation?
My objective is basically to embark on clarification as regards the 2019 general elections in particular; the presidential election. I’m yet to read in both social and traditional media, or heard on radio or television any PDP member or supporter who has the conscience as Chief Nwodo admonished to acknowledge the truism that President Muhammadu Buhari has a vote-bank of 12 million voters which was first displayed in 2003, second in 2007, third in 2011, fourth in 2015 and fifth in 2019. Secondly, there’s the paradox which is important to unravel, for in one breadth the PDP’s pundits and spin doctors will hail the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting transparent election in Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo, Oyo and Zamfara, where they won. But the same INEC rigged the presidential election; for me this is doublespeak.
Their argument is that the Buhari vote-bank has been depleted. What’s your take on this?
Buhari’s vote-bank has a historical origin in the northern region dating back to Alhaji Aminu Kano of blessed memory’s sojourn in the defunct Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) to Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). It is ideological, predicated on mass or talakawa appeal. In Political Science parlance, it is called cult followership which most of the time, cannot easily erode. The northern masses had followed Buhari’s trajectory in public service and found out that he placed public interest above self-interest. He had been Petroleum Minister, Head of State, Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund etc, without enriching himself. They did so with Aminu Kano and stuck with him, so even if the election is repeated, Buhari will flaw His Excellency Atiku Abubakar in the North.
That interview also highlighted the controversy surrounding the INEC server, do you have contrary view?
Before we come to the issue of INEC server, methinks it is pertinent as well to remind Nigerians that the PDP contrary to Chief Nwodo’s skewed narrative, either the Chief forgot or deliberately ignored the fact that Atiku Abubakar after his victory at the Port Harcourt presidential primary election made the greatest mistake with his caucus by alienating the Southeast PDP governors and other stakeholders like the former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu in nominating Obi. The crisis generated by the solo choice of His Excellency Peter Obi as the vice presidential candidate negatively dovetailed into the main election and eroded the millions of votes which the Southeast normally gave the PDP. If Governors Ikpeazu of Abia, Umahi of Ebonyi, Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Ekweremadu were consulted fully, it would have been more difficult for us to successfully solicit their support for Mr President.
Can you in all honesty submit that the PDP governors of the Southeast did not support Atiku with the massive votes he got; for instance, in your state Enugu, Atiku trounced Buhari, he got 355,000 to Buhari’s 54,000?
My take is that in multi-party system, every political party has its stronghold and Southeast has remained the stronghold of the PDP. Therefore, if you check the PDP result in the Southeast geopolitical zone in 2007, 2011 and 2015, for instance, and compare it with 2019 presidential election result, you will agree with me that non-APC governors were our allies. Buhari got the threshold 25 per cent in Abia, Ebonyi and Imo, which was never the case. Even Imo which was APC before the election, Buhari got 18 per cent in 2015. For me, that was a major upset, especially when the ethnic and religious merchants in our zone had already concluded on the Facebook and Tweeter that Buhari will lose. I remember warning Chief Nwodo and his Ohanaeze leadership not to repeat the mistake of 2015, by railroading Igbo votes into one basket. That’s why I’m appalled that he could read the lines and notice how our brothers of the Southwest geopolitical zone put their votes into the two baskets of Atiku and Buhari. In spite of all their political gains from the Buhari’s regime, they considered the collective interest of their region.
But why didn’t Buhari make 25% in Enugu?
Enugu and Anambra in the tiny grouping in the Southeast tended to see eye to eye. They rated Peter Obi’s victory as very important and easily fell into the bigotry mounted by the PDP. If there was betting; more people could have staked that Atiku will win. When we told them that Yobe, Katsina, Kano, Borno et al, voters were not in the radar mounted by the PDP spin doctors, they didn’t listen. Take an example, when I finished voting; I went to lobby my parish priest to come out and vote for Buhari, he said Osita we are friends, but I won’t vote for your man and I asked why, he said they had already decided to vote for Atiku. Asked why; he cited herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, which one answered was receiving serious attention and at any rate that Atiku is also Fulani. He answered that Atiku is more moderate and that his two wives are from the South. When I asked him, what of the uncommon integrity quotient of Mr President, he gave him a pass mark and admonished me to pressure Atiku when he gets to power to be transparent. I am aware that His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi did his best within the circumstances to support Mr President, but bigotry played its part. My happiness is that if the non-APC governors had given their support to Atiku; the difference of about four million votes between Buhari and Atiku could have narrowed down to less than two million. Then, the debate over the INEC server could have been more meaningful. They neither added nor subtracted votes, for this, I remain grateful to Ikpeazu, Obiano, Umahi and Ugwuanyi. When I learnt the ugly lesson of making mistakes in choosing a running mate, incidentally it’s ironically with Atiku and MKO Abiola of blessed memory.
Why are you comparing Obi’s choice and that of MKO?
In summary, one will narrate that as one of MKO’s supporters, I recall how the first presidential primary of our party, the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) ended in Jos inconclusive -MKO first, Babagana Kingibe second and Atiku third. Immediately after the inconclusive presidential primary, we went to a meeting at Alhaji Yahaya Kwande’s place, and it was resolved that for General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory to support Abiola, he will nominate Atiku as his running mate. One evening, Chris Mamah, one of Atiku’s media gurus invited few us to Kaduna to write acceptance speech. We holed in at Durbar Hotel Kaduna brainstorming on nice acceptance speech for Atiku. Suddenly news filtered in that the governors of the SDP had threatened MKO that if he didn’t choose Kingibe as his running mate that he should forget their support. Yar’Adua left Kaduna for Lagos and came back with Abiola the following morning and attended our rally without raising Atiku’s hand for nomination as vice presidential candidate. It was like hell was let loose and we were all depressed and sad. To cut the story short, the election held and MKO won, but when the presidential election result was annulled by then military President, General Ibraham Babangida, a meeting of the SDP was summoned at the National Secretariat; now housing the National Defence College in Abuja, indeed to the best of my knowledge, it was the last meeting of the party. The agenda for that meeting was to take a decisive decision on how to recover the stolen Abiola/Kingibe mandate. There and then, Yar’Adua was non-committal to push for the recovery of the mandate. The result was the exit of a major political bloc which had made the June 12 more pan-Nigerian. That’s why when eminent personalities like His Excellency, Aremo Segun Osoba wrote a nice memoir – his Battles, one was looking out for where he acknowledged or apologised for the mistake they made as governors of the SDP to erode the national and broad support base of the agitation for the revalidation of June 12 or for Abiola’s life. For with hindsight; they are culpable for the misadventure, because Yar’Adua was one pillar more than any other Abiola needed at those crucial hours to confront his former military colleagues. The rest they say is history.
Aside the 2019 general elections; you seem to have other misgivings with Nwodo’s interview?
Not misgivings but clarification or at best disagreement. My second disagreement was his loose statement that the General Secretary of Ohanaeze, Barister Uche Okwukwu is inconsequential, which is blatant lie. To be exact, the other issue is his lackadaisical comment on president of Nigeria of Igbo extraction in 2023. Recall that when you reminded him that 2023 beckons and that all the other geopolitical zones are strategising to corner the presidency and how does he want Ndigbo to approach 2023, he irrationally and non-statesmanlikely quipped: “I expect the Southeast to boycott the 2023 general elections if they are conducted on the basis of this false constitution that was imposed on us by the military. We have to go back to the constitution agreed to by our forefathers when Nigeria was created as a country. If there is no restructuring, there is no basis for participation in an election which will elect another tribal bigot and which will function on a system that is likely to make our country poorer, and poorer and poorer…I’m not interested in people being president in skewed federation.” Is this an appropriate answer from the leader of one of the leading ethnic groups in a competitive political environment? Without sounding like a broken record, one thinks that a president of Nigeria of Igbo extraction will be the best balm to heal the wounds of the Nigeria civil war. It will return the faith of the Igbo like Chief Nwodo back to Nigeria like the election of Obama demonstrated that everyone can preside over the affairs of our dear country. And may I repeat that the zoning convention was founded on the premise of peace, equity, and natural justice. The zoning convention started from South to North and is going back South and in the southern zone; Southeast is the only geopolitical zone which has not presided over Nigeria since the advent of the convention in 1999. This is what one thought a good leader should focus on as more pragmatic than boycott. Second which Constitution is a lawyer of his standing denigrating? And what is wrong in working towards lobbying on behalf of those tendencies in your ethnic group who fully subscribe to the truism that with democracy Nigeria will prosper?
But what’s wrong with a leader whose people are being marginalized shouting to the roof top?
My answer to his agitation against marginalisation is that his strategy will further marginalize our people. There’s an ancient axiom which says that when you’re in a hole, it is better you don’t dig deeper; otherwise you won’t come out of the hole. Similarly, Ndigbo have a storyline which depicts a rodent which was in a hole over the years and when help came to open the hole, it started shouting that the heat is killing; it should quickly be dug out. Therefore, the question: is the Ohanaeze PG’s approach the best in giving Ndigbo a sense of belonging in the Nigerian family or not? Methinks his approach is not and is never geared towards consensus upon which the amendment of a rigid constitution is anchored? As a lawyer, I had thought that he is aware that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria falls into the rigid paradigm. Which means it can only be amended or altered via Section 9 of the said Constitution.
Which means you agree entirely with the 1999 Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria?
No, I don’t agree with all the sections, for going through the Exclusive Legislative List, I am of the opinion that some items like mining of minerals should go to the Concurrent Legislative List. All one is saying is that this kind of amendment requires consensus, otherwise, one is thrown into a quandary when one recalls that Chief Nwodo served under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, when ministers can degree whatever they fancy without going through the rigid course of amendment in democracy. Can one safely submit that he was subsumed with sundry matters that he forgot that Ndigbo were marginalized then as at date?