Director General, Voice of Nigeria, Mr Osita Okechukwu has alleged that the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and the national chairman of the All progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole ruined the fortunes of the ruling party in the South East zone of the country. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, he spoke on various issues.
The general belief, and thinking among some Nigerians is that power will return to the South in 2023 after President Muhammadu Buhari would have spent 8 years but some individuals, and groups in the North including the Miyetti Allah are saying that the North will not relinquish power in 2023,what’s your reaction?
Let me state clearly that it is not just general belief, but national consensus governing the 4th Republic Nigeria that the pre-eminent post of president rotates between the Northern belt to the Southern belt. It started in 1999 from the South to the North in 2007. It is a national consensus in the sense that rotation or zoning convention more than any other ligament instills faith in the unity of our dear country. The history of the world is that every nation looks for some instruments to weld its unity, peace and progress.
Those who are challenging this convention are more or less on the fringe of the broader spectrum of our political space. They tend to forget how the rotation convention forged national unity after the imbroglio following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election. Nigeria comes first before any of us, for without a country, there will be no government and no matter how small a country is, there will still be contending forces to be managed. This is where the art of compromise comes in.
Do you still stand by your well known expressed views that the Presidency should rotate to the South –East in 2023 in the spirit of fairness, equity, and justice, and what is your justification for that?
I sincerely stand on rotation convention and sincerely hold the view that majority of the political actors hold the same view. This is because of a shared view that it is the ligament which holds our dear country together. Neither APC nor PDP leadership will take the gamble of reversing the rotation convention in the near future.
Yes, 2023 is in actual fact the turn of the South East going by equity, natural justice and good conscience. South East is the only geopolitical zone in the Southern belt that has not presided over Nigeria since our commenced rotation of presidency in 1999.
Why are you particular about only APC and PDP? What of other political parties?
I know full well that we have over 90 registered political parties and the law allows the registration of more; however, under the multiparty democracy, two parties normally dominate. This is the case in Nigeria, like in all more mature democracies like US, UK, India, Indonesia, Brazil and a host of others. Please note that it is only in 1999 that PDP and APP/AD presented Southerners, after that, only two main parties obeyed the rotation convention. The year PDP breached it was in 2015 and they paid dearly for it.
Some Nigerians have expressed fears that with the current internal crisis rocking APC that the party may cease to exist by 2023,do you harbor such fear?
I think APC will be stronger and more formidable, crisis or no crisis, post 2023, for by then, we will proudly display the 5,000 kilometers of federal roads, 5,000 kilometers of standard gauge rail lines, additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity and agrarian revolution. Take it or leave, President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on the most massive critical infrastructural development by any one regime since independence. This is the legacy we are constructing and by then, the doubtful Thomases will agree that a regime with prudent management of public finance as its bedrock means well.
Don’t bother about the fissures or intra-party crisis presently in APC, for one does not know any political party without tendencies or factions, no matter how concealed. We will overcome the intra-party crisis which arose from our mangled party primaries.
On the issue of the election of principal officers for the in-coming National Assembly, some stakeholders have been clamouring that the South –East should not be marginalized in the exercise. They expressed fears that the zone may be persecuted because majority of the people from the zone voted for the rival PDP during the last general elections, what’s your view on that?
As I have said in several fora, APC has not to the best of my knowledge taken the final position on the 6 or 8 principal offices of the National Assembly. Until then, the option is that we have majority leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives prior to the 2019 general elections; naturally and going by convention, the slot is theirs. Secondly, there are other principal offices in the National Assembly like, Deputies, majority leaders etc. Thirdly, there are other strategic offices outside the National Assembly and given the pledge of Mr President to be inclusive, one does not see how my geopolitical zone, the South East, will be marginalised. Inclusion is the name of the game.
I am one of those who subscribe to the idea that since we are not running a one party system, as narrated above, there is no way all the six geopolitical zones will be the stronghold of one political party. Therefore, because we are operating a multiparty system, with two dominant parties – APC and PDP – one naturally harbours some geopolitical zones as its sphere of influence and the other, the other geopolitical zones. At times one or two geopolitical zones are mix-bag or swing zones.
Are you saying that South East geopolitical zone is PDP stronghold?
Yes. South East geopolitical zone like the South South has been a PDP stronghold since 1999, just like North West and North East are to the APC. This was a big mistake His Excellency Atiku Abubakar and his supporters made during the campaign. They could have marketed Atiku as a Pan-Nigerian, but PDP leaders in cohort with Ohaneze Ndigbo, PANDEF, Afenifere and Middle Belt Forum adopted Atiku as their consensus candidate, without the consent of his kinsmen, hence alienating him. To consolidate the adoption, they mounted the rostrum and pledged restructuring and even Atiku pledged to sell the NNPC to friends. The North was frightened. This maybe why he got low votes in some states in the North.
What is the update on your suspension by the APC? Have contentious issues surrounding your suspension been resolved?
I wouldn’t want to over-flog this matter, for one was never suspended going by the tenets of the Constitution of the APC, clearly stipulated in Section 21. However, most importantly, our great party has moved on since we won the golden trophy. What do I mean by the golden trophy? It is the presidential election which by the grace of God and the uncommon integrity quotient of Mr President, we won in spite of our mangled primaries and its unintended consequences of recklessly losing some states.
What’s your reaction to the current travails of Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha especially the refusal of INEC to release his Certificate of Return?
My big brother, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha should instead of blaming INEC or anybody for that matter, should blame himself. He should stop the blame game and do an introspection and indeed deep reflection to actually gather his thoughts together. He still has age on his side, for yesterday is gone; if he is sincere in his reflection, tomorrow is open. He is the architect of his decline, for I was one of those who pleaded with him when he rode on the dark alley, playing God; many then predicted his nemesis.
Can you elaborate on that?
I frown at recounting this sordid experience, but for posterity, one would recap that Okorocha is the architect of his own misfortunes and by extension that of Ndigbo in APC. The genesis goes in summary that sometimes in 2014, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Pa Bisi Akande, on behalf of the Yoruba members of the APC came to our defunct CPC camp and pledged solidarity and alliance with President Buhari, then an aspirant. They promised that their over 1,000 delegates will vote for Buhari in the presidential primaries slated for December that year and on the other hand presented their wishlist. They told us to adopt Buhari as a consensus candidate, that it is better to conduct a direct open primary where as many contestants from the North will contest. With their proposal we were reassured because we know Buhari will get the backing of more than half of northern delegates to the convention.
As one who rates the Yorubas as brother competitor of Ndigbo in the Southern belt and not enemy, I alerted APC caucus of Ndigbo of the imperative of offering our solidarity and alliance to Buhari, just as the Yoruba did. But the caucus was divided, some were of the opinion that Okorocha should contest the presidential primary election, while some of us cautioned that it will be suicidal as going by the rotation convention it was the turn of the North to produce the presidential candidate. I even told him that I am older than him and that age is on his side, that we should support Buhari. I however added that he can go to the Senate and at the fullness of time in 2023 that he can run for president. But Okorocha threw away this my pragmatic option. This is his nemesis today. Okorocha in his usual grandiosity narrated how prepared he was for the contest having procured 200 vehicles, built network across the country and ended up saying that rotation or zoning is not in the APC Constitution.
What eventually happened?
I vehemently opposed his grandstanding, reminded him and posed the question, how come the APC Governors Forum, which he is the chairman zoned the chairmanship of the party to either South South or South East, if there was no zoning?He brushed this aside and called for votes, saying that if we vote him out, he will not contest. To be candid, we voted by raising our hands and he got 20 votes, 7 abstentions and I was the only one who voted against him. He jokingly told me to join the winning team and I cautioned that not going into solidarity and alliance with Buhari is not politically correct. He contested in Lagos, came distant fourth and didn’t honestly campaign for Buhari in 2015. That was the beginning of what happened to him and us the South East today in APC’s government.
How do you feel by the APC’s loss of Imo and other states in the South-East during the last general election? what do you think is responsible?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole,the party’s national chairman should be held responsible for the loss of Imo State. Oshiomhole did not listen to the genuine advice I gave him on July 12, 2018. We came to Central Rail Station Abuja to commission the Airport Rail line and while we were waiting for Mr President, I went across to greet him and discussion ensued about Okorocha’s imbroglio in Imo APC. There and then, I pleaded that the structure of the party should not be handed back to Okorocha. I narrated the genesis of how Okorocha wittingly or unwittingly squandered the golden opportunity of the APC in Imo and South East in general and how luckily the Senator Osita Izunaso-led faction rescued the structure out of Okorocha ’s hand in May-June party congress shortly before Oshiomhole was elected as the party’s national chairman
But Oshiomhole disagreed with me, telling me that Okorocha was the first governor that supported his bid for chairman, that he cannot be excluded. I reminded him that if victory is the main goal, then with Okorocha on the driving seat, APC will lose, because he has alienated the Catholic Church and the Imo people. Oshiomhole rebuffed my candid advice and dissolved the Chief Hillary Eke-led executive of APC in Imo State. It was like Oshiomhole came with a mindset that all that his kinsman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the party’s former national chairman did were evil, which is false and bad assumption.
I’m glad that Oshiomhole now seems more sober and careful in his tantrums and narcissism. Otherwise, APC could have retained Imo State if Oshiomhole had allowed Okorocha to sail with his Action Alliance. People like Senators Osita Izunaso and Ifeanyi Ararume couldn’t have defected to APGA Emeka Ihedioha is the beneficiary of Okorocha and Oshiomhole’s misadventures.