- ‘ASUU strike disheartering, worrisome’
The completion of the party primaries has been greeted by numerous issues which impact on the nation’s journey towards the 2023 elections. Osita Okechukwu is the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, (BON). In this interview with GEOFERY EKENNA, he gives this a historical elucidation and examines President Muhammadu Buhari’s achievements
Your people in the South-East felt disappointed by the failure to have a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction.
How do you see this?
Simpliciter. His Excellency Atiku Abubukar and by extension the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) betrayed the South-East. It’s very painful that an in-law should deploy Machiavellian tactics to betray his in-laws. His argument on rotation of the President from North to South is incongruous and ambiguous. He wants us to agree that because he failed in the 2019 presidential election, his party the PDP is not part of the rotation convention.
Accordingly, it follows by his canvas that if he loses in 2023, PDP will not adhere to rotation convention. I will elucidate in the course of this interview.
Why are you personalising the disappointment of the South-East to Atiku and PDP? For God’s sake what of your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
I am not personalising or restricting to His Excellency Atiku Abubukar and PDP for fun or envy, No. Permit me to ply the history lane. For most times our leaders behave as if Nigerians have no memory. Recall that as a son of the South-East, His Excellency, Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of blessed memory was the founder, first chairman and one of the presidential aspirants of the PDP in 1999.
He was betrayed at the Jos presidential primary convention, which he was geared to win. And despite the betrayal the South-East and by extension voted overwhelmingly for PDP, an election Atiku was one of the prime beneficiaries as Vice President. The election was very remarkable as a transition election which some people wanted to truncate, but for the patriotism of Ekwueme.
I was present at Railways Camp in Jos, headquarters of Ekwueme campaign, when after the PDP’s presidential primary was shifted from Saturday to Sunday, he had the option to head to court. In the midst of the confusion, whether to agree or disagree, some people came and whispered to elder statesman Adamu Ciroma, and Dr Emeka Enejere, both kingpins in Ekwueme camp, that the postponement is meant to rig Ekwueme.
That as a matter of urgency we should head to court. It was clear that if the primary election was held on Saturday that Ekwueme would defeat Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Co.
They argued that the suit against shift is valid because no change can be made on the date of the primary convention without PDP’s convention which is the highest organ of the party, which scheduled dates for such important elections.
As valid as the canvas to go to court and the danger of allowing them time to restrategise to rig was advanced, Adama Ciroma made it clear that Ekwueme was the last person to decide. Ekwueme there and then proclaimed that he will not go to court, for it may truncate the return to democracy in Nigeria.
People like Senator Onyeabo Obi cried out loud, that they will rig Ekwueme, but he said whether they rig him or not presidential primary election should go on. That’s how Ekwueme at personal expense cushioned our democracy and protected and preserved our fledgling democracy.
Some people are also of the view that APC betrayed the South-East as well. What’s your take?
If you don’t mind, let me briefly state how Atiku and PDP are the culprits in the betrayal of the entire South. Most Southerners out of patriotism genuinely believe that the rotation convention of the president from South to North and North to South is the bond which consolidates the harmonious and corporate existence of our dear country. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in spite of his cordial relationship with His Excellency, Peter Odili, stopped him in 2007 from running for President and insisted that it was the turn of the North.
This is also the position of most Northerners except the ilk of Waziri Adamawa. It was aptly demonstrated by APC’s Northern Governors Forum, when 12 of them publicly pronounced their adherence to the rotation convention. I will come back to this. In 2018, PDP’s presidential primary election in Port Harcourt all Southerners observed the rotation convention and didn’t contest the presidential primary, even Governor Nyesom Wike who hosted the event.
Atiku was the prime beneficiary and in 2022, he paid the South back with bad coins. He made a ridiculous defense of the rotation convention being predicated on a political party basis and not on geo-regional basis.
One cannot fail to mention briefly how in the eve of 2003 PDP’s presidential primary election how His Excellences Orji Uzo Kalu, James Ibori, Depreye Alameisghia and Co vehemently supported Atiku against Obasanjo. They all paid dearly for it, by a vengeful Obasanjo.
Or do I forget how Hon. Dubem Onyia lost Enugu State governorship due to his support for Atiku against Obasanjo’s bait that he either chose the governorship or Atiku? For noblesse oblige it is given that an in-law could have reciprocated these good gestures.
Back to APC?
I am happy to pronounce that courtesy, benevolence and patriotism of the leadership of our great party, especially the Northern Governors Forum of APC adhered to the rotation convention in our 2022 presidential primary election. PDP didn’t.
That’s the first baseline. The second is why not the South- East? Sincerely, we cannot blame APC for not going South-East because in the history of liberal democracy there are always alliances.
Therefore, prior to 2019 presidential election, South-East has wittingly or unwittingly abandoned the ancient Zikist alliance between Eastern and Northern regions. They have taken the opposition position of the Western region.
One recalls with nostalgia how Rt.Hon. Chuba Okadigbo, popularly called Oyi, in response to One-Party State paradigm Chief Obasanjo was plotting, as a counterforce moved to rekindle the Zikist model by moving some of us from PDP to the defunct ANPP in 2002.
Oyi then predicted that Buhari’s entry into partisan politics will shatter the One-Party System being packaged then by Obasanjo. He was happy that Buhari joined the defunct ANPP, that as Spartan character he will not be wooed or poached by Federal Might, until he becomes president. He was vindicated.
As events unfolded he was nominated as vice presidential candidate for the 2003 presidential election with Buhari. We traversed all the nooks and crannies of Eastern region in an effort to rebuild the Eastern and Northern alliance.
We preached and pleaded that Ndigbo should vote for Buhari and failed. In 2007, as a result of Oyi’s demise, Chief Edwin Umezoke was also nominated from our region as vice presidential candidate of the ANPP with Buhari. Regrettably, neither the entire Eastern region nor Ndigbo in particular voted for us. They stuck to their PDP gun.
In sum it stands to reason that this was why we moved to the South-West. Our movement therefore, was out of exigency. The consolidation with the South-West no doubt was courtesy of the ingenuity of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Accordingly, none of us can divorce our victory in 2015 from the alliance packaged by Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, Bukola Saraki and other camps. Indeed, that’s the pay back and why the majority of Northern Governors Forum supported Asiwaju in the 2022 presidential election primary. It was kind of payback time.
Is this why we should exonerate the APC, for denying the South-East the presidential candidature?
In politics, one good turn deserves another and you reap from where you invested. This is the primary reason why one, without being immodest, accuses Atiku and by extension the PDP of the betrayal of not only the South but in particular the South- East.
Imagine what could have happened if Atiku, out enlightened self-interest, statesmanship and patriotism had endorsed Peter Obi? Obi’s chances could have been better assured, albeit Atiku has now placed the PDP in a cliff-hang, as a result of betrayal.
You mentioned Peter Obi, what are his chances?
I am saying that if Atiku has shown good faith, and endorsed Obi, who ran a joint ticket with him and indeed contributed to his bid in 2019. That Obi’s chances couldhave been brighter, than it is now. Asiwaju has better chances than Obi, while Obi has better chances than Atiku. I’m not saying this because I am committed to the victory of Asiwaju and by extension my great party. Atiku will lose South, especially South-South and South-East which are the strongholds of PDP and we will battle him to the ground in the North.
Are you one of those who canvas that Obi has no structures and cannot win?
Far from it. My own assessment is that the battle in the fullness of time is between Tinubu and Obi. We must appreciate Obi for capturing the imagination of Nigerian youths and transferring it into Nigerian project. He will be the greatest beneficiary of the longest time one has witnessed between primary election and main election. That’s why pundits are watching him closely.
For some it is a bizarre assessment. They will tell you that it is between Tinubu and Atiku, that Obi is a social media creation. What’s your take?
One insists that the battle is between Tinubu and Obi. For one, people of good conscience who are in the majority in the over 80 million electorate distribution graphs are of the candid view that power must shift to the South. Don’t forget that more than 60 per cent of the electorate are non-partisan.
Two, Atiku has not only betrayed the South, most of who may pay him in bad coins. Thirdly, the majority of the electorate in the North knows he has no concrete solutions to the SAP Pandemic. They will not easily forget the less than transparent privatisation exercise he chaired. Nor will they lose sight of his testimonial in Obasanjo’s book, My Watch. Luckily Atiku has neither refuted the rebuke nor gone to contest it in court, which more or less affirmed the allegations.
They know their son. Fourthly, he mismanaged his presidential primary election victory by sharing the cake before he won the main presidential election. He counted his chicken before the egg was hatched. Fifthly, Obi’s youth brigade is a potent electoral arsenal stockpiled in PDP’s stronghold nationwide.
I am more interested in the fourth point, that Atiku counted his chickens before they are hatched. Kindly expatiate?
Please, it is one egg, the vice presidential slot, which he made a costly mistake in choosing. As an experienced and veteran politician, Atiku who had tested the best and bitter pill times of the Vice President under Obasanjo, one had expected him to choose Governor Nyesom Wike for strategic reasons, for he has the right as president to sideline him if he becomes heady and unruly.
Wike could have energised his campaign more than Okowa. The doubt he created is avoidable and he couldn’t have been casting the stones he successfully had casted. Yes, one agrees that Okowa will be more pliable, and subservient, but methinks his major choice is winning the election, not subservience. He will pay dearly for this less than strategic choice, especially when Okowa hasn’t even got a state to deliver. As Okowa’s Delta State is fractured by the same mistake of sharing the antelope meat before it is killed.
Otherwise, how can someone who has an eye on a vice presidential candidate rupture his base by annoying a guru-godfather, like His Excellency, James Ibori?
Okowa’s entanglement with PDP’s Delta gubernatorial race is not only a major distraction, but vote reduction and costly. We are witnessing the erosion of Atiku’s vote, consequent upon many unforced errors like one between a godfather and a wayward godson.
The outcome of your primaries and consequent emergence of same faith ticket seem to be polarizing the country. How do you see this?
Please let’s play down this fault lines given the circumstances which threw it up. It is important we play it down, because it is delicate, conscience prickly, emotional and sentimental. There are two uncomfortable breaches, one same faith and geopolitical breach. If the Northern PDP Governors Forum had been as patriotic and considerate as Northern APC’s Governors Forum, this scenario couldn’t have occurred. Our blame should go to His Excellences Atiku, Tambuwal, Okowa, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu et al who jettisoned the main glue which binds our fledgling democracy and engender natural justice, good conscience and equity in our dear country.
Accordingly, note that Tinubu’s choice was not a straightforward matter as most people presume. One, Northern Governors made his victory possible. If they had supported Amechi, Osinbajo or Lawan, the person could have won. And in realpolitik, if you have such support you must hearken to their opinion in choosing a running mate. For instance, if tomorrow a Northern Christian wins presidential primary election, do you think it is strategic for him to choose a Southern Muslim? Capital No! This is akin to the sordid scenario which governed Asiwaju’s choice of Shettima.
How do you view the fact that despite the explanation given by your party, the APC, the choice has been described as a display of insensitivity to the ethno-religious diversity of the country?
As stated above let’s play down this matter, for a northern Christian in religious scale of measurement is a minority, so is a southern Muslim. It is realpolitik not insensitivity. Asiwaju and Shettima are moderate Muslims and will not Islamise anyone. If Asiwaju like my nephew Alhaji Sulieman Onyeama of blessed memory cannot Islamise his wife, then the fear of Islamisation is unfounded. A lot of us do not know that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Dubai are not in the strict sense of the word run as Islamic States.
The approval rating of your party seems to be sinking by the day, how would you compare this with APC’s electoral promises about four years ago?
Yes and no, for in liberal democracy throughout history election is a referendum of the performance of the incumbent. Yes, because APC is the incumbent being assessed. No, because pundits tend to sweep under the carpet sterling and laudable achievements made under Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) Pandemic – physical and social infrastructure and Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution.
What do you mean by Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) Pandemic? Or is it a new lexicon in our political domain?
The SAP pandemic is the unintended consequence of the nebulous economic programme introduced in Nigeria in 1986. It simply states that the government has no business in business. It was promulgated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the Western universities, popularly dubbed Chicago/Washington School of thought. It was heavily criticised by scholars of the left in Nigeria – Claude Ake, Bode Onimode, Ikenna Nzemiro, Bala Usman, Patrick Wilmort, Okwudiba Nnoli etc.
They had then in several papers posited that SAP will lead to extreme poverty, gross unemployment, insecurity and hopelessness, because our private sector is not only in infancy, but none existence to withstand the shock in the medium and long run. They rhetorically stated that our so-called captains of industry have no factories, albeit mere petrol dollar marketers. Regrettably, they were vindicated as Nigeria paradoxically became World Poverty Capital and on the other hand produced the richest African.
What would you describe as the highest achievements of this administration as its winds down in the next few months?
For once, we have more infrastructure- roads, rails, dams, electricity of renewable bent and Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution. Unfortunately, general insecurity has dampened this sterling performance. Nobody remembers that Buhari has settled the state government’s salary and pension arrears with over N2 trillion. Nobody remembers that he didn’t invent TSA, IPPS, and PIA, nor how much was saved from his uncommon political will.
What is your view on the level of insecurity in the country and its effect on food security and poverty? Why has the military not been able to address the issue?
Palpable and worrisome, however, Mr, President is making sure that all hands are on deck, that by the close of the year, it will be contained.
How justifiable is the recent FG’s donation of N1.5 billion worth of vehicles to Niger Republic in the face of hunger in Nigeria?
There is a local parlance in my village that you must invite neighbours to eat, whether your food is enough, will remain or not. The local parlance maintains that you dare not tell neighbours to wait until your tummy is full. This is applicable to Nigeria and her neighbours. We are the big brother in this region and must play our ordained role as Big Bros. Don’t forget that if Niger builds a dam along the River Niger that our Kainji Dam will collapse. There are exchanges in the diplomatic arena.
How do you see the disclosure last weekend that the current security travails of the country have international complicity or conspiracy?
It is common knowledge, for when you hear that the world today is a global village; it extends to the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly side is cross-border insecurity when Mr. President most times talks of influx of insurgents and small arms from Libya and other countries in the Sahel.
As the VON DG, how would convince investors that the country is safe for Foreign Direct Investments?
Investors keep on coming even in countries in worse security situations than ours. The truth of the matter is that there is an economic crisis across the globe.
What is your message to Nigerian parents, ASUU and indeed entire Nigerians on this lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities?
It is disheartening and worrisome. The good news is that immediate solution is being found.
How do you see the recent disclosure that Federal Government has borrowed N20 trillion from the CBN, which the PDP described as a euphemism that CBN is printing money for the government?
The good news is that the Federal Government of Nigeria in line with Mr. President’s transparent policy is open. Open in the sense that the Federal Minister of Finance, Hajia Zainab S. Ahmed has told our dear countrymen that we are in economic dire straits. And she has gone ahead to x-ray her policies and solutions of how to come out of the economic crisis. And in her submission one didn’t hear of printing.
Don’t you think the current insecurity and inflation in the country will impact negatively on the chances of your party in the 2023 elections?
Don’t think so. Nobody has better solutions than what is going on now.
Remember the common slogan – Changing and changing yet there is no change. Among which is develop infrastructure to ginger economic development, investment in agriculture to feed our teeming masses and procure sophisticated military hardware like Super Tucano jets to contain insecurity. In this season of election which some define as festival of democracy, you are bound to hear all manners of stories and pledges, but they will not be far-fetched from what Mr. President is doing.