A stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Athanasius Achonu has accused the All Progressives Congress of riding roughshod over the people and failing to keep its promises to them. He spoke with Adedayo Adejobi who presents the excerpts:
What is your view of President Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s decision to receive treatment in the United Kingdom?
Itâ€™s not his fault that heâ€™s sick, besides heâ€™s not a young man anymore. The only thing I have against it is that Nigeria can afford to bring the best equipment money can buy and doctors to the villa, to take care of the president. The president was held hostage by doctors abroad. There is no country on earth who can allow their President to be held hostage by medical doctors abroad. Not even soldiers. He wasnâ€™t under house arrest. Doctors can be hired from all over the world to take care of him. Heâ€™s a human being, and can fall sick. The system couldnâ€™t crumble because heâ€™s sick. Nigeria didnâ€™t grind to a halt thanks to the Vice President. The constitution took care of such eventualities because it allows him to do that. But in other countries, I donâ€™t think he can do that.
The National Assembly and the politics of Buhariâ€™s Absence?
I donâ€™t think they played any politics with Buhariâ€™s absence. Itâ€™s the imagination of the media.
The president’s state of health has obviously affected his ability to deliver on his election campaign.
Nobody is holding All Progressives Congress (APC) accountable. They havenâ€™t kept any promise they made. They donâ€™t keep promises. The whole country knows. Everything they say theyâ€™ll do, they havenâ€™t done anything.
The Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP) is struggling to reposition itself. How difficult is this going to be?
A lot has been said about PDP, the last government, corruption-wise. Nigeria is a very corrupt society. Most of the corrupt people in PDP have run to APC, and so they are being protected. Who is deceiving who? As for politics, the PDP is going to reposition itself by making sure all those undemocratic processes used to elect people are abandoned. I donâ€™t want to expose what we are planning. When we come about after the next congress, you will see democracy in action, because APC is going to implode very soon, so we donâ€™t want to expose what we are going to do. As you can see, weâ€™re keeping things under wraps. Nigerians should expect PDP in the villa, and in Douglas house in Imo State.
What is your view on the declaration of the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose to cotest the presidential election in 2019?
Fayose, like everyone else who wants to run for president can run for the position. He has an ambition but that doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s the presidential candidate of the partyâ€™. As a card carrying member of PDP, he has a right to run for president.
And you think that wouldnâ€™t cause any disaffection in the party?
Even though itâ€™s been zoned to the north, every time you zone other people who aspire can contest at the primaries. With everyone buying forms to run for president, it would geerate a lot of money for the party. However, we know who we want in the party. Itâ€™s a very democratic party. If I continue, Iâ€™ll give away our secret, so letâ€™s leave it at that. After the November convention, then a new leadership would emerge, and Makarfi is the authentic person who would conduct the congress. PDP is a united party. In Imo state, there are some rabble-rousers, failed and failing politicians who are making noise. Nobody is giving them attention, as they are on their way to political oblivion.
What is your view on the agitation for the country to be restructured?
Nigeria would go up in flames if matters are not handled very carefully. Nigeriaâ€™s present constitution was written by a few soldiers, and it governs this country. The constitution should be a collective effort from the grassroots. But thatâ€™s not what is happening. Nigerians must come together and decide how theyâ€™ll live together. That would be the only solution. Any other thing is cosmetic.
Your views on Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra?
Nnamdi Kanu is an activist. He protested on the streets of London for the victims of Boko Haram. Nobody said anything. Heâ€™s now protesting on behalf of his fellow Igbos, they are now trying to kill him. That is wrong. He has a right to his own opinion, and heâ€™s not speaking for the Igbo. Heâ€™s an Igbo who feels marginalised. Look at the killing of Igbos on Niger Bridge. There is freedom of speech; so long they are not violent. They have right. Itâ€™s when they are violent or disrupt public peace, that it becomes a problem. The Igbos are completely marginalised, so you wonâ€™t be surprised when an Igbo says that. But we donâ€™t want Biafra. We donâ€™t want secession. We want a united country where everybody has equal rights. And that is what I look forward to as a Nigerian.
There is a projection that APC may lose at least seven states. Do you see PDP winning those states?
There is nothing like APC. They have disappointed Nigerians. You are even talking of seven states; PDP is taking Nigeria by storm in 2019. We are using broom to sweep APC away from the political landscape. We are taking the whole country. It would be a massive victory in 2019.
You sound so confident. What is the basis for this?
I am confident. Like I said, there is something we have in the bag. When we let it out, you will see a new PDP. There will be freedom of choice and equal opportunity, and then everybody would come to the party. Look at APC, how can Buhari and Tinubu have a true marriage? Itâ€™s not possible. Magu, EFCC Chairman, the DSS of the same government presented him, the same government petitioned against him. The same government is in control of the National Assembly. So tell me, is that a political party or a workable arrangement. Letâ€™s not deceive ourselves there is no party called APC. It doesnâ€™t exist as far as Iâ€™m concerned.
There is a push to make it lawful for youths to seek elective offices. Do you think itâ€™s workable, and would politicians and government make it work?
The youths are the owners of this country. They own the voting population. They should use their heads and work together. The problem is that our youths have misplaced priorities. The foundation laid by the political class, places emphasis on stealing and acquiring wealth by all means. Itâ€™s led the youths astray. If it was in the olden days when student unionism was a factor in making the political class do the right thing, I would say yes. But not anymore. If youths become more patriotic, theyâ€™ll have a chance at leadership. The youths should be the change agents.
All things being equal, do you see hope for the youths?
Iâ€™ve always believed and still believe in the human spirit, the ability of the human spirit to overcome challenges. I think that Buhari was God-sent. Many of the things he has done have made Nigerians sit up. The APC government brought hunger. In their bid to fight corruption, they chased away investments. And hunger made Nigerians sit up and begin to look inwards. People are going into farming and manufacturing. This is what we should have been doing all along. I hope it takes us to the promise land.
I agree our government was very corrupt. There was corruption in Nigeria and the APC is also very corrupt. The political class is totally corrupt. So it started from the military and it became a culture. Until itâ€™s eradicated. I have hopes the good people will come to politics, try to change things and engender development. We are one of the richest countries on the face of the planet, and we have no business being poor.
If you look at politicians, they donâ€™t leave government position because they donâ€™t really have where to go after that. And even when they leave, they become useless to themselves because they have no skills or pedigree prior to coming into government. What career path can you prescribe for people who enter politics so that the younger generation can thrive?
In Nigeria, they come into politics for the wrong reasons. In other climes, they come into government to make money for the government; here they come in to steal from the government. Either theyâ€™ve failed in their business or donâ€™t even have any at all. The criterion should be that they have excelled in their private life or businesses before they vie for political office. Politics is supposed to be about service, value creation and performance. But here, they buy votes, write election results.
You seem to have so much faith in the system?
I am a Nigerian. I believe in myself and I believe there are good judges, INEC officials and credible Nigerians. The source of my confidence is that the right people would someday get into the right places and things would get better. There will be a lot of improvement in 2019 when PDP takes over power. Weâ€™ll try to change the country so that there will be improvement.
Donâ€™t you think that would be a tall task for the PDP, especially with the perception that it messed up the country while in power for 16 years?
I agree, but there is new blood in PDP now. You are trying to make me give up our secret. I will not. Just wait and watch out after the November congress, you will see.
Why do you really believe in PDP?
Why I believe in PDP is because itâ€™s the only party that nobody owns. If you have good intentions for the country and you join this party, you make your voice heard; you can influence it for the better. When more good people come into the party, they will change and re-structure it. Unlike APCâ€™s Tinubu â€“Buhari who own the party and dictate what happens there. But in PDP you are chairman; you are in in charge just as Makarfi is. Thatâ€™s why I believe in it and joined it, so I can be one of the change agents to bring progress and development to this country.
APC used the change mantra, and PDP seems to tow that same line. Shouldnâ€™t Nigerian be weary?
PDP is coming to change the change.
Donâ€™t you think there would be a backlash, especially using he same mantra?
Itâ€™s not a mantra. Itâ€™s a reality. They said they were bringing change and Nigerians have tasted the bitter change. Nigerians expect PDP to come and change the change..
Your colleagues in the National Assembly seem to have turned a blind eye to their responsibilities.
That was why my first bill as a Senator is that you canâ€™t export any mineral resources without adding value by processing it. That way, you acquire technology, create jobs and wealth. Till we do that we are not going anywhere. I like to think that my colleagues in the National Assembly would carry on and pass my bills, so it goes through second reading. If you know the exploitation on-going in the solid minerals industry, how can Nigeria be importing Petrol Motor Spirit after all these years. Even when in Biafra we could build refineries and produce Petrol Motor Spirit. How can we be importing toothpicks. We should start exporting our processed mineral resources. Many Nigerian professors have invented things that can be produced in Nigeria. Government is not focusing on industrial development. Instead it is supporting importation. Nigeria has become a dumping ground for everybody. Itâ€™s a shame. I trust the Senate President and the National Assembly and I hope they can make and implement the relevant laws. I have confident that Nigeria will get there no matter how long it takes.