Osita Okechukwu is Director-general of Voice of Nigeria and a chieftain of All Progressives Congress. Okechukwu says the new leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo headed by its president-general, Chief John Nwodo (junior), presents a unique opportunity to douse agitations by IPOB and MASSOB, and make the dream of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction come true. The former spokesman of APC in the South-east also talks about the President Muhammadu Buhari government, in this interview with Onyebuchi Ezigbo. Excerpts:
What is your take on the emergence of a new leadership for Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Chief John Nwodo?
I am one of those who did his little best to campaign for the newly elected president-general of Ohanaeze, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, (Ike Ukehe) who has apparently now become Ike Ndigbo and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide. So I am one of those who supported him and one of those who believe that it is high time the Igbo branch out of rhetoric and do an introspection, count our blessing and losses in Nigeria, put them side by side like the old Igbo proverb that says if you don’t know when the rain started beating you, you might not know when it ends but if you are aware when it started it might help you.
Just like the chairman of the electoral committee, Prof. Osai said before the commencement of voting in his opening remarks, it is high time the Igbo ask themselves that before the civil war there was a conflict between the Western Region and the North not between Western Region and the east and not between the North and the East, how come the war ended up in our own quarters? These are issues we have to review at this strategic point in time.
The little I can say is that I am one of those who believe sincerely that Igbos are welcomed all over Nigeria and that our hard work, our industrious enterprising hard work is welcoming and that is why we are investing in every corner of Nigeria. I can say that by my little assessment when you count each of the major towns in the country, if you say the indigenes of the place should step aside, the next indigenes in line would be Igbos to the extent that we go to the federal houses in Lagos State. If we organise we can get a seat in Abuja, if we organise we can get a seat in Kano either in the House of Assembly or the federal house. So that is our level of acceptability.
What is your reaction to the agitations by groups like the Independent People of Biafra and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra?
I said the Ohaneze should find a way to tame the agitation because it isn’t getting us anywhere. When you look back and if you can assess the position of Ndigbo during the 1996 Abacha constitutional conference, different parts of the country voted against region and even the Jonathan’s constitutional conference in 2014 different parts of the country voted against region. Enugu and Ebonyi states voted against region. So if that is a yardstick, unless there is any other person that finds a way of measuring the opinion of the people, it means that people are saying let us have more states than regions, which means the unity of the country becomes paramount than the agitation, though it might not be as noisy as those that are saying let’s go.
So I would have preferred Ohaneze to project towards that way and there are advantages if we look at the collective because since we returned to democracy in 1999, there have been a position taken in terms of and in contention with the rotation of presidency between North and South. In 1999 the northern elite said for us to stop all the problem, let’s insist that the president should come from the South and I am a witness to when Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory insisted on contesting under the PDP platform and they stopped him. His name didn’t appear on the ballot. The same thing happened to Olusola Saraki of blessed memory in the ANPP/AD ticket.
That was why Obasanjo did eight years and in spite of the unfortunate death of President Yar’dua, the North said Jonathan’s one term should be and you can’t come back again. They went and united themselves and I say the best our people could do is to support President Muhammadu Buhari for eight years tenure after which we can persuade them on how best we can harness the zoning during the convention, because in the pubic discourse, there are two paradigms; the law which is legal and the second is convention which is moral weight and most of the time we have everything in the convention to favour us in the rotation of the presidency. If Buhari finishes his tenure, it is going South and if it is going South, we can tell the North that we have supported them.
Even when the Yoruba didn’t support Obasanjo we voted for him in the second term. When it came to Jonathan we voted for him in the first term and we even voted for him in the one he lost. Then the only thing that can deny us that persuasion is if we are opposed to President Buhari. When we supported Obasanjo, we also supported Jonathan why can’t we support this man? More so when all the federal roads that were abandoned, with the little resources on his table he is trying to revamp them and trying to perform more than those who actually led when Nigeria was awash with the dollars. My own position is that Ohaneze should be strategic in thinking not going to the press to castigate Mr. President which won’t take us anywhere.
Don’t you think the MASSOB and IPOB agitations have become so popular that Ohanaeze would have no option than to warm to those behind the agitations?
It is very easy to call the mob out but it is also difficult to tame them. The fact is that the boys should be told the truth that across the board if the resources we had were well deployed, there won’t be hunger in the land. Nigeria has fertile lands. If you say under democratic rule the agitation in the east is for more states not for balkanisation that is the majority opinion. The boys should be told the truth. If you say you want to go to war, please, show us the logistics. Where are the trucks that would supply water and medicals? Where are the tankers and armoured tanks because it is very easy for Nnamdi to come from abroad and call Nigeria his home and say he wants to remove Igbos from there. He should be told the truth that we like the major ethnic groups in Nigeria and the minority, that this is our own country, that we are not different even from the United Kingdom he is coming from, which accommodates different tribes, different races.
We are not as great as the United States but they manage to accommodate themselves because they are all focusing on the development of the public place. Yes, we are marginalised I agree. Between now and 2023 if we should support President Buhari, we stand a good chance in goodness and equity, justice and fairness that we will get the presidency. Since 1999 that power came to the South, in three geopolitical zones in the South it has gone to our two brothers, it hasn’t come to us.
The unemployment of youths is across the board; it is the same thing in Kano, in Lagos, in Enugu, it is the same thing in Owerri, in Aba it is across the board. The infant mortality spread, the low quality of education is spread, all development defects are spread equally across the board. So nobody should take it that because he is unemployed that it is peculiar in the region.
It is not true. That is my assessment. If you are saying President Buhari didn’t do a fair appointment, let’s say it is a fact. But there is also the other arm. There was a time we were serving in government; our brother, Senator Pius Anyim, was serving in government as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, our dear sister Ngozi Okonji Iweala was Minister of Finance and coordinating the whole economy, our brother Senator Ike Ekweremadu is the Deputy Senate president, our brother Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, was Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and we were chairing the works committee in the House and the Senate but what did we take away? Nothing! Did we agitate that time? So why wasn’t there an IPOB then? We voted for Jonathan in 2011 and supported him, there wasn’t any IPOB and nothing was done. That is the truth of the matter. We supported Obasanjo in 1999, he didn’t do anything, he didn’t develop Enugu coal, he didn’t do second Niger Bridge, he didn’t improve universities in Nigeria and there wasn’t any IPOB. The MASSOB that came then was more moderate than IPOB so when did Buhari step into the shoes?