What is your opinion on the Imo State High Court’s recent rejection of an appeal for extension of tenure by the PDP council chairmen in the state?
There is nothing anybody can do in a democracy that would be justified if it falls outside the ambit of the law. Initially, we had asked the PDP to submit themselves to the rule of law since they were the first to go to court. There was nothing they could have done to usurp the powers of the court in trying to ventilate whatever grievances they had. I want to really commend the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, and, indeed, the state government for remaining calm despite the provocation. We knew very much that the PDP wanted to drag the state government into responding to their antics and that would have escalated the matter. Imo State is calm now and we are very optimistic that development will continue. Okorocha is performing marvellously well. Without an atmosphere of friendship and cordiality, you would retard development. Because of that simple matter, there have been unnecessary problems in the state, but now that the court has delivered its judgement, we are hopeful that there would be brighter days ahead for the state and, indeed, the APGA.
Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and some Igbo leaders recently endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term in 2015 election. Don’t you think that has foreclosed the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2015?
I’ve just returned from England. I was not there when it was made. People are entitled to their individual opinions in a democracy. The only thing that is important is that statements being made on behalf of any group of persons must be discussed. We are not against anybody being president but our people must distil the issues before arriving at any decision. There is no need to be hasty. Parties have their own decisions to make. When people go about discussing issues that concern political parties, they must also know that those parties have opportunities of taking decisions about the electorate. It is the party that would come up with decisions concerning candidates before the electorate would be allowed to make their choice. I know that the yearning of our people is for them to produce the president of the country, but if there is any reason why producing the president by 2015 would be difficult, it is not by jumping the gun or making endorsements. If we have the opportunity in 2015, we shall take it. As APGA chairman, I’ve said it repeatedly that any registered political party should always aspire to produce candidates at the highest level. If any party is existing just to contest local government election or governorship election, then the future of such party is very bleak.
It is our desire that we shall contest all the elections in Nigeria in 2015 from presidency to councillorship at the councils. Once elections are called, it is our desire to contest those elections. We are there to contest election. It is our desire to give Nigeria the change they have been yearning for and so help us God.
Jonathan recently announced that the construction of a second Niger bridge will commence by March next year. What is your take on this?
It is cheering news that construction work at the second Niger bridge will commence in March 2013. But I was very worried that the second Niger bridge will be concessioned to an international development consortium that will construct it. What this means is that the company will bring the funds and it will be expected to recover its funds. What that means is that the federal government is not part of the financing plan for the construction and that is why I am worried. It means that after the construction, toll gates will be mounted on Onitsha-Asaba Onitsha-Owerri roads and maybe Ontisha-Enugu road ends, and our people will be paying for it.
I also see a twin issue where the minister for finance was quoted to have said that about $450 million loan has been negotiated for fighting erosion in the South-east. She said it will have a 10-year moratorium when there will be no retirement, it will be interest free, and then the loan will be repaid within 40 years. What this means is that the federal government will bring the money for the South-east to fight erosion but what is not clear is if it is the federal government or the states in the South-east that will pay back this money.
What would be the implication of the repayment of the erosion control loan by South-east states?
If the states in the South-east will pay this loan, I am afraid to say that these two issues are very worrisome. If our people will pay the cost of these services, it means that we have not got anything from the federal government. One would have expected to get a clear commitment from the federal government to undertake this second Niger bridge and finance by itself. We don’t have money in the South-east because of the paltry money we get from the Federal Allocation. Who will be saddled with the responsibility of paying for these services? It means that our people will continue to suffer.
Just this year alone, the federal government has released N20 billion to the contractors constructing bridges in Benue State, and that is the type of thing I want to hear the federal government is doing in the South-east.
At the Enugu Airport, we are still waiting for the construction of the terminal building and putting in place things that would make the place an international airport. Let the president talk in very concrete manner. The Enugu-Onishta road has failed, Enugu-Port Harcourt road is no longer a road, we expect concrete actions being taken towards solving some of these problems. We learnt government has approved N18 billion for the construction of Enugu-Onitsha expressway. Approval means nothing in contract administration until something is released. The road is in a pitiable situation, contractors have always been there but nothing is on ground. We must have the basis for talking about anything.
Do you, then, mean the foregoing issues are some of the things Igbos should bring to the table before the endorsement or otherwise of a presidential candidate?
I feel that our people should have a proper sense of measurement of issues. Endorsement for presidential election of 2015 is too early for people to talk about. No doubt, we gave him absolute support in 2011 and we are not regretting it because it was a consensus decision by all the stakeholders in South-east, including APGA as a political party. One would have expected that less than two years into the endorsements, we shouldn’t be talking about endorsement because it’s too early. Let’s behave like people who have a sense of measurement. Nobody would deny that Igbos made it possible for him to become president in 2011 and if he wants to run in 2015, I don’t think Igbos should be talking about endorsement in 2012. When we get there, we’ll see how things have fared and we must have to take stock; the interest of the Igbos would not be reduced to personal interest of individuals.
It’s important that the Igbo people should begin to understand what is the collective interest of the people, not the interest of individuals. We understand that in a democracy, people are free to express themselves but the caution there is that nobody should be speaking for the Igbo people now on such important sensitive issue. If there is anything, this is the period of harvest for the support we have given and when the time comes we will check our harvest. For now, people who have spoken have merely expressed their personal opinions and when the time comes, political parties will take their decisions too.
Will APGA present a presidential candidate in 2015?
If in 2015 APGA has a good presidential candidate, we will give it a shot. We are very hopeful that APGA has something to offer Nigeria and if we have a presidential candidate that will win that election, that will be the best thing to do and that candidate will be the candidate that would compete effectively with presidential candidates of other political parties. If at the end of the day no party wins, we will be better off in a coalition government where we will be part of the decision making process in governance. Without condemning anybody, I consider the issue being canvassed in 2012 for an election that will take place in 2015 as being premature. I will plead with my Igbo brethren who are involved in this to exercise restraint. Let’s not allow sentiments and emotion to overtake our sense of judgement on such an important issue. When we get to the river, we’ll know how to cross it; whether with a canoe or with a bridge.
Is there any likelihood that Governor Rochas Okorocha may be the presidential candidate of your party in 2015, as he appears to be the one whose name has been severally mentioned?
Rochas is presently the governor of Imo State, whatever he will do will be his personal decision. APGA will not conscript anybody into any election. Our members are at liberty to aspire to any position. But, let them know that we must find ways of helping ourselves first before endorsing anybody else. As an Igboman, I think of what will promote the interest of the Igbo people first because I was first an Igboman before being a Nigerian. But because politics is very dynamic, you cannot foreclose anything.
But, its important that one is guided by cautionary steps; you don’t have to be saying things because of emotions, sentiments or personal relationship. In 2015 all of us will meet in the field to know our individual worth. It’s only when you are in the field that you can be reckoned with; if you are not there, nobody is going to hold discussions with you. If you go to the stadium as a spectator, after a football match, you don’t get any medal but those who play and win the game will get the medal. Spectators don’t win medals and it would be very unfair if we reduce Igbo people to mere spectators in any match. We should be active players so that in the course of playing the game, we’ll know the tackles to throw so that our opponents will realise our weight. So we cannot submit ourselves to discretion. Things that should be done to the Igbo people should not be left to discretion; there are things that must be properly articulated. Once we are sure we can’t get it at any particular time, whatever position we are going to take must be reduced to writing. The agreements must be concrete.
Did APGA or the Igbo in general enter into any pact with Jonathan before supporting him in 2011?
These things have been written in the papers. Recently, the Ohanaeze secretary, Nduka Eya, said there was no agreement with Jonathan by the Igbos as basis for supporting the president. In our party also, there was no agreement, too, even though I wished there was such an agreement as chairman of the party but circumstances at that time could not allow us push for that agreement. We supported him and that is why I am saying that things of this nature should not be left to discretion because if you do and you do not get what you are entitled to, you do not complain. In 2011, there were negotiations between the South-west and Mr. President before the election and when you say, let me leave my fate to a discretion, if it is not exercised to your favour, you lose right of complain.
Those who are key players in Igboland today must know that they constitute less than 1 per cent of Igbo population and so you are carrying the fate of about 60 million people in Nigeria and if you allow their fate to be determined by discretion, it is a failure of leadership for the people being represented. That is why I am not in support of any ad-hoc statement on issues concerning the presidential election in Nigeria in 2015 because it is very critical. I have done that arithmetic: in 2011 President Jonathan got 22 million votes to win and Buhari got 12 million votes to come second. In that election the South-east gave five million votes to president Jonathan and if through negotiation they had given that five million votes to Buhari, Buhari would have got over 17 million votes and Jonathan would have gone from 22 million to about the same 17 million votes, who would have won? It would have been uncertain. So you see how the Igbo used their votes to swing an emphatic victory for the president. So those who are talking today must realise that the support we have given, our people are expecting so much from it. And let them not jump the gun now before they cause confusion in Igbo land.
Early this year you emphasised the need for the South-east to produce the next president, but you do not seem to sound emphatic on the idea any longer…
As the chairman of APGA, you know I am being hunted and hounded by this statement I made early in the year that we shall produce a presidential candidate. Despite what those who are attacking me have said today, it is now open and that is what I am suffering today. It’s not something I can, for the sake of fighting for my personal comfort, begin to say a different thing. Whatever I am saying is out of conviction and we cannot change it. Let them come and fix our infrastructure; its very disheartening that at this stage where we are, all the problems we have carried on with in Igbo land have not been addressed. I don’t know who will construct Enugu-Port Harcourt road that is now impassable.
When I see people saying that Igbos have been given good appointments, I get irritated with such arguments in the papers. People being appointed ministers in government do not influence government policies. Unless you are in a position to influence government policies, you cannot help your people. Look at the Enugu-Abakaliki highway, that road is very deplorable. They said they have awarded it to contractors and we expect the contractors to be on site and do the road. All our roads have collapsed. If you want to go to Umuahia now from Okigwe, at Okigwe, you make a detour to Owerri before going to Umuahia because if you want to use that road, you will remain on the road till evening. These are the concrete things our people who are talking are expected to know. By their statements, they are demoralising our people, no matter their convictions. We must work towards reality and not just on projection.
Are you worried that Jonathan’s interest in a second term may seriously impede the chances of the South-east in terms of producing the next president?
Some people have come out to say that the greatest challenge Igbos will get in 2015 is if the president is running for a second term. Some of these statements must have to be properly weighed before they are made by our people. Our leaderships must have respect. Such statements can affect us negatively because some of the people who make them have held positions in the past and when they talk, those who want us to remain perpetually backward would begin to make reference to them. They only succeed in causing confusion. I don’t see how the interest of any Nigerian will be in conflict with the interest of an Igbo man to aspire for the presidency in 2015. That point must be properly taken.
We can go to an election and get defeated, we must keep trying. After all, Abraham Lincoln tried several times and still got it at a time. Igbos are not saying we must win in 2015 but we want to contest if we have a candidate that can meet the needs of Nigerians in 2015; anybody who wins is ok. If we don’t have a candidate that can do that and it becomes a matter that the Igbos don’t have a candidate to go the whole hog, it will be an entirely different thing and it is at that time, the dexterity of thoughts of the Igbo people can be brought o bear on the position the Igbos will take. That’s the way we are looking at it. So those of us who are young, we believe we still have so much stake in the future of this country and the future of the Igbo nation and we need to be properly mobilised in thoughts to know what to do. Anybody can be the president’s friend, it is a good thing but let that friendship not be used to undermine the collective interest of the people. If we begin to do that, then we don’t have any hope.
Will APGA be involved in the opposition alliance arrangements that are currently being discussed?
Contrary to what some members of my party accused me of early in the year, APGA has not been involved in any discussion with any political party with the view to galvanising alliance or merger ahead of the 2015 election. What will concern APGA primarily now is to build strength ahead of 2015. Let us do everything to build the strength of our party across the country. It is only after that that we will know how to go it in 2015. Presently, we are not involved in any discussion. If an alliance discussion is necessary in 2015, APGA will pursue it through the relevant organs of the party. Our constitution allows that such discussion will be undertaken by the national caucus. Come to think about it, in 2011 APGA supported President Jonathan of the PDP. If we had entered into an agreement, it would have been an alliance instead of a donation of support. In 2015, I know that alliance discussions will take place because the presidential election in Nigeria is a very serious election. Any party that wants to be part of it is free to discuss with others. The only thing is that in scheming, APGA will scheme to produce the presidential candidate in such an alliance discussion. So we will be willing to participate but for now the dust is yet to settle in our party based on some of the issues that have been raised by some people. We want to build our strength first, before we get involved in any alliance discussion.