Chinedu Okpalanma, Engineer and business mogul from Nkpologwu in Aguata Local Government Area, Anambra State speaks with Ferdinand Ekechukwu, about November gubernatorial poll in Anambra
Has the APC government met your expectations?
That is a generic open-ended question being that you are referring to governance, which is not static, and also bearing in mind that the government has a four-year mandate of which they have only spent two. What am I then saying? I am saying that if you put into perspective what the APC government met as a new system that took over from a hegemony that had instilled a way of life on a people for 16 years, the time it must have taken them to study & sort through that maze of data coupled with the psychological warfare of resetting a mindset of millions of people to a new way of doing things, the fact that today accountability is a major discuss and questions can be openly asked whereas it was not so before, then I will say my expectations have been met. That said, I will also point out that the way the economy has been handled which has affected a lot of things today especially the purchasing power of the common man is where I think things could have been done better so in that aspect, my expectations have not been met.
You are one of those who have been vocal in your support for President Muhammadu Buhari. Do you still stand with him today?
Of course, I still stand with President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration. You must understand that this is one individual in whom millions of Nigerians can openly vouch for his integrity, even those who come out to make all forms of spurious claims to the contrary. The same can also be said about his deputy and current Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo. These are the mold of leaders we must seek for, because character defines perception both locally and globally. Nobody is perfect but a leader must be perceived to have the moral disposition to live above board and also seen to be selfless so that he or she represents that which the people look up to. Every other thing falls into place naturally after that, but if you do not get this part right, everything else becomes nothing but a sham. Buhari is synonymous with undisputed intolerance to impunity and corrupt practices. Even children in primary school today will tell you same, and he has lived all his life in a way to show that he does not just talk the talk, but he walks it. You cannot pin one blemish or vice to his character as an individual from his period of service in the army until he retired. Does that not instill confidence in knowing you have someone who at his age cannot be compromised now in anyway against these ideologies he has stood for all his life?
But people from your region have created the impression Buhari hates Igbos
Very erroneous impression. How do you define hate? Someone cannot hate you and still work with you. Is this not the same Buhari that ran on one ticket for president with Chuba Okadigbo? Are the Igbos not working with him today in his cabinet? It is one thing to seek increased federal presence or recognition in the South-east using strategic arguments on political realignment and another thing altogether creating an impression of spite and division, which only alienates us more at the centre. We must begin to strategically reposition ourselves by ensuring we have leaders who have what it takes to collectively lead us if we are serious about leading this country one day, honestly. We must learn from the past or we are doomed.
Who should champion the cause of the Igbo: Nnamdi Kanu or John Nwodo?
Chief John Nwodo, of course. Before now, Ohaneze Ndigbo had become perceived as a tool for personal gratification from the center and a lot of us had written them off, but you can see that the organisation has started living up to it’s expected role since Nwodo took over. Chief Nwodo is someone I have had the privilege of working with during my engagement as a principal consultant to Enugu State Government in project development, when he was Chairman of the Enugu Centenary Committee. He has also been a former minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, someone I look up to as a worthy mentor, so I am not at all surprised at the application of his intellect, experience & capacity to champion an Igbo cause. Nwodo preaches recognition and inclusiveness while Kanu preaches hate and division.
So you do not believe in the call for Biafra and secession?
I think we must put things in their proper perspective before I can answer that question. First and foremost, Biafra today is an ideology and not a geographical location. The concept of Biafra as a geographical location died with the end of the Nigerian civil war. It remains an ideology and utopian identity of the mind for a people because it basically connotes Igbo struggle, but outside that, in my opinion, it is not a destination. Most of the people who lived and witnessed that war, like my parents, understood what it stood for then. They also understand why that struggle to make it a geographical location failed. How do you then just wake up one day and begin to agitate for a geographical zone to be called Biafra and demand to secede with nothing to show you understand the concept of that ideology? Who also gave you the mandate to do that for the Igbo? There is a reason we are Nigerians today and I completely subscribe to being a Nigerian. I do not support the agitation for Biafra or the call to secede.
What then is the cause you are fighting for?
The argument by the Biafran agitators is that with secession and having Biafra as a country, there will be peace and harmony with accelerated economic growth, and I say that is the biggest lie of all. The problem has always been leadership and nothing more. Once we get our leadership right, our region will thrive, but for it to truly thrive we are better served as Nigerians. Anything outside that is just being economical with the truth or an agenda pursued for selfish intent.
Yes, it is true that a lot that should have been done to fully reintegrate Igbo into Nigeria and give them a sense of belonging after the civil war, including zoning the presidency of Nigeria to the region. So if you come up with such a demand say for 2023 and refer to it as a Biafran struggle for inclusion, or agitate for more states, regional autonomy or such related issues under one Nigeria, then I will gladly support that campaign as long as it is people oriented.
Recently, Kanu and IPOB called for the boycott of Anambra governorship elections in November. What is your take on that?
It shows to a large extent that the agitators are running in circles and have no understanding of the politics of self-determination. I also think they are not properly advised by their sponsors. When you boycott an election, who loses? Are you going to create a vacuum in governance in Anambra State? Anambra State is a state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and governed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you succeed in boycotting the election in November, you simply derail democracy in the state and expose the people to anarchy. The federal government simply declares a state of emergency and imposes a military dictator from any part of the country as an administrator, and until such a time that normalcy is returned and elections held, democracy is suspended in the state.
As a stakeholder in Anambra State, I will not sit back and allow my state to be subjected to such anarchy. We are fully mobilized through the various youth organizations I sponsor in the state as we speak, educating and sensitizing people on the need to vote and the consequences of boycotting the elections. I am also happy from the feedbacks I am getting that people are rejecting that call for boycott and are registering en masse to vote.
What is your assessment of Governor Obiano’s first term in office?
I will say average. Well, for starters you can never say that a government did not achieve anything. Governor Obiano has achieved a couple of things while in office, but to be honest I do not think we can say that a lot has been achieved by his administration.
Do you believe we need to restructure Nigeria?
I have listened to those who think restructuring will solve our problems overnight and those who feel the call for restructuring has no merits. In my opinion, some things need to change anyway you look at it, but I do not think we need a complete overhaul of our constitution as presently canvassed by most in the forefront of the restructuring campaign. I think the primary problem with Nigeria today is simply that of leadership. If we put selfless and honest leaders in place, things will work. It is not rocket science. The people who have ruled us before now created a system outside our constitution that has made individuals bigger than institutions, and it is that simple anomaly that has made it impossible for things to work. We have to find a way to destroy that system and do away with impunity in public service. It’s the major root on which corruption thrives. We must make examples with some people. Public service must be made to reflect the need for selfless application with accountability and probity the watchwords, where people must uphold our laws and statutes. The first places to sanitize are the legislature and judiciary.
Regards areas I would advocate for changes; one is ensuring power is given back to the local government areas where they are truly independent with full autonomy. They are the tier of government that really touches the grass roots so they should be made to work for the people without interference from governors. Before that, a proper national census must be carried out which tells us exactly how many we are and the true representation of number of people that live in each locality. That is where proper restructuring must start. This should be the basis on which allocations must be made, using statistics of people, not land mass. Secondly, I think we should reorganize the Nigeria Police Force where there is a federal policing unit which will be more specialized, and different state or regional policing systems under supervision of the federal unit. I know a lot of people are scared about state governors controlling the police as they might use them as tools of oppression against those who oppose them, but I do not think so if there is proper legislation in place. Lastly, I would like the total overhaul of our National Assembly. I think the size as currently constituted is bloated, I will scrap the senate and have only the House of Representatives with one representative per local government area. They should also receive allowances per sitting. Only people who have the passion to represent their people and the qualifications to make laws should be in the National Assembly.
What is your message to Nigerian youths?
That power is not given, it is taken. They cannot remain docile forever, doing the same thing every four years and expecting different results. The people in position of leadership have no plans of vacating, so you must ask yourselves pertinent questions about your future and the direction you would love things to go if you want a better society for you and your children.