Okechukwu: Why S’East Leaders Endorsed Buhari for Second Term

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The Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu explains the political calculations behind the endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari for another four years by the leaders of the All Progressives Congress from the South-east. He spoke to Onyebuchi Ezigbo. Excerpts:

You and other leaders from the South-east geopolitical zone recently visited President Muhammadu Buhari and endorsed him for a second term. Isn’t this hasty from a region that is perceived to be neglected by this administration?

Permit me on one, two or three grounds, to state emphatically the raison d’etre for our endorsement. It is positive because we sat back and we did deep reflection and introspection, about what is the utmost interest of Ndigbo? Because in democracy like in any other venture you must think of your group and think of the larger nation before you endorse an incumbent for 2nd Term. Therefore, we put the interest of the South-east, Ndigbo and the entire Nigeria in a bigger picture. We scaled it and said firstly, that the critical projects President Buhari started executing in two to three years of his regime are what the PDP didn’t do in 16 years of its reign. What are those projects dear to the heart of the APC members in the South East? First is the road infrastructure.

President Buhari with little or no money went round the world, knocked at every door and borrowed N100 billion, from what is called the Sukuk soft loan and N16.7 billion was assigned to the South East to choose our priority roads and we chose Enugu/Onitsha and Enugu/Port Harcourt dual carriage way. The two projects are going on now. Also on the 2nd Niger bridge, President Buhari without prejudice to the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), that former President Jonathan contrived without paying a dime. Buhari had paid in N14 billion to the contractor and has N7 billion in 2017 budget. When I asked the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, His Excellency Babatunde Fashola he told me ‘let’s start work first, whenever the PPP arrangement is ready, they should either refund the federal government of Nigeria or make the current expenditures part of whatever is the percentage contribution of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Don’t forget that the 2nd Niger bridge PPP arrangement is the brainchild and was born out of the intellectual acumen of Obi of Onitsha, Obi Alfred Achebe, who embarrassingly reminded Jonathan in February 2014 of the campaign promise he made in 2011. It was when Jonathan went to Owerri to receive those who decamped to PDP from APC. The then governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi advised Jonathan that they should go to Anambra state and the first place they landed was the palace of the Obi of Onitsha and the Obi being an intellectual and former bureaucrat reminded Jonathan there and then “that four years ago, you came here and promised the people that the first Niger bridge was constructed by 1st Azikiwe and the second Niger bridge will be done by 2nd Azikiwe “. Guess what, Jonathan did not drop a kobo on ground. He ran back to Abuja and quickly arranged a PPP of N117 billion and not a dime was paid to start the process. Ironically, the Buhari that we didn’t vote for started that process. On his table today, there is the issue of revamping the Enugu coal. There is also on his table the issue of network of gas pipeline in Igboland. The issue of Geometric Electric Company that was stalled in Aba, he is the one that resolved it. So when we checked on Buhari’s collective and massive critical infrastructure plan, across the length and breadth of the country, inclusive of the South-east, we have no option but to endorse him. There is federal character in his projects location.

We also checked the 5,000 kilometres federal road network which he has; the Aba and Abakaliki township roads are on the bouquet of the N29.9 billion loan, so is the Enugu water scheme AFDB loan. We cannot forget the Mabilla Hydro-power plant, which will generate over 3,000 megawatts.

Before even our visit we got Mr President to add the eastern corridor – Port Harcourt/Maiduguri standard gauge rail line, which will connect all the states, and the commercial capitals along the rail line. Which means that it will link Port Harcourt – Aba – Umuahia – Enugu, – Awka – Owerri – Abakaliki, same features in the North and West.
Compare it with when we had Secretary to Government of the Federation, Chief of Army Staff and all manner of ministers and dilapidated infrastructure. Yes, we agree that we were shut out in security apparatus, that no Igbo man is Chief of Army staff, Chief of Defence Staff, Director General of the SSS, Inspector General of police; etc, we agree on that. We agree that South-east has no member in the NNPC board but we said while we dialogue with Mr. President for an inclusive model, let secure critical infrastructure for the hardworking, talented, entrepreneurial Igbos and other Nigerians in our midst. We reason that in the fullness of time these infrastructures will bring investment back to Igboland.

The second factor of our endorsement is the truism that Buhari’s 2nd term is the fastest route to enthronement of Nigeria president of Igbo extraction. Any other northerner elected will do 8 years, but Mr President going by the constitution has only four years left. Therefore, we looked at the fact that there is a zoning convention that the northern elite in the enlightened patriotic interest bestowed on the Nigerian 4th republic. We were there when the north persuaded the late Abubakar Rimi not to run under the platform of the PDP in Jos presidential primary in 1999. They also persuaded Dr Olusola Saraki of blessed memory who could have won the APP ticket not to run in Kaduna. That was the beginning of the zoning or rotation convention journey. The first lot fell on the South-west and incidentally we voted for the South-west candidate – former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We voted for him in spite of the fact that the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme our son was shoved aside. In fact we voted for his two tenures; in 1999 and 2003.

This is payback time, because my people even neglected Buhari who had our own brother the late Oyi of Oyi, Rt.Hon. Dr Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate in 2003. In 2007, 2011 and 2015 we didn’t vote for Buhari. In spite of the fact that we didn’t vote for Mr. President he still included us in his broad base critical infrastructural development of Nigeria. As I said before, if you look at the politics as well, zoning confirms the fact that Buhari is the only northerner in 2019 who will do only four years. All we are saying is that if we vote for him it enhances our chances of appealing to our brothers in the South-west who have had eight years and South-south five years plus, since we entered the fourth republic. Equity and justice is on our side.

We are not talking from the 1960s because if we recount our only six months span of General Aguiyi Ironsi, our equity and justice canvas resonates. Our primary duty is vote for Buhari and appeal to our South west and South-south brothers, especially because we voted ex-presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan massively. We also voted for them massively in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. In real politics out of the three regions of the south; two of them have had a taste of the presidency, so we have a moral force on our side, we have justice on our side, we have equity on our side and if you allow any other northerner to have the presidency in 2019 outside Buhari it then means you are talking of God knows when. We cannot afford unforced error, as tennis players will admonish. So why don’t we fasten the journey more so when we have something handy; the critical infrastructure in our bosom? These are part of the points we are making, that those who want to bite the big apple must also align in the mainstream of the Nigerian politics. The best option is to endorse Buhari and vote for him accordingly.

Thirdly, we endorsed him because we want to send clear message to our brothers and sisters from the South-east that collectively we owe it to ourselves to position ourselves better than others. For we don’t care who Nigerians will choose, but let it be from our kindred for equity and justice to prevail. Our simple appeal is to our brothers and sisters who are not members of APC to join us in this effort to get President Buhari elected. That’s why I get worried when I see our big brother, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, with all his intellectual acumen negotiating with a fringe faction of the Yoruba. The Afenifere flag they fly today is not the same Afenifere of the past. The majority of the Yoruba people are ed by our leader in the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They have all the governors in the South-west, they have all the councillors so why is Ohaneze partying with a group that is peripheral, doing so wittingly or unwittingly may scuttle our chances so we are pleading. We appeal that we shelve the old hatred and shove stereotype aside. Firstly let’s participate in the critical infrastructure revolution and let us also quicken our way to become for once an elected executive president of the country.

There are complaints that South-east is not in the mainstream of the Buhari administration and you are saying that he has done very well for the zone. Don’t you see a contradiction here?

There is no contradiction. My father and the old English proverb agree that, ‘if the journey you are embarking on is very important, you must set forth at dawn’. Now why do we set forth at dawn? If we had voted for President Buhari when he has chosen our son late Okadigbo in 2003 or had voted for him when he chose our second son late Chief Edwin Emezoke in 2007 it could have been an old romance. If you had rejected a lady sometime ago and you still want to befriend her, the earlier you set off and let her know that you mean business, the better. There is nothing lost by setting forth at dawn. It is very important and for those that are saying there is nothing going on for God’s sake the much that had been done on Onitsha/Enugu; you see most of these people don’t go home. As far back as six months ago the Buhari Support Organisation Enugu Chapter went and showcased to the world the construction going on.

Buhari has received broad swipes from many of our brothers, especially the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who the other day cajoled Mr President, admonishing him to pledge to hand over in the event of losing. He won’t lose, so we better come to that reality.

This is the Deputy Senate President who presided over the dilapidation of federal roads in the South-east, except the one passing through his village. So those are the people who are speaking. If their grandfather didn’t tell them to set forth at dawn my grand father told me. We have to set forth at dawn, we are looking at the presidency of this country that will shape the country. The president we will offer Nigeria will bring our hard work, enterprise and ingenuity to govern public affairs. He will consolidate the solid foundation being laid by President Buhari. We are talented, we are hard working. An Igbo president will change the face of the country, it will help to transform the face of the country through the foundation that President Buhari is laying more than any other group. I am not trying to be immodest. On the letters written by our ex-presidents, I am not actually moved by the hype, because their letters are not remarkably different from that of Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari’s letter. I don’t want to talk about Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, he is an elder statesman and let’s not open the can of worms. When he awarded the Chinese $8.3 billion for about 1,400 kilometres old gauge rail line under PPP arrangement; the Chinese almost at the same period awarded Golmud/Lhasa standard gauge rail line of 1,142 kilometres at $4.2 billion. Golmud is between Lhasa and Beijing. Golmud to Lhasa standard gauge rail line is located in higher altitude more than any altitude found in Nigeria rail line, even the Jos plateau. For corruption, he would have awarded the Lagos/Kano and Port Harcourt/ Maiduguri at that 8.3 billion dollars. Today Buhari is borrowing $1.5 billion to standardize Lagos/Kano route which brings it to $9.8 billion. Accordingly, let’s not talk about it because in our tradition we were told not to talk bad of the elder.

Why is the federal government not bearing the full cost of the secomd Niger bridge?

The Igbos have another saying that the cock they killed on Christmas day went to the pot to bend its neck instead of bending its neck to the knife that killed it. As I said earlier it was His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikwe Jonathan who was the one that packaged it with our sister Dr Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, the then coordinator of the economy and finance minister. Nobody raised voice then except few of us. Buhari is constructing it without prejudice to the PPP. If Buhari cancels the PPP arrangement you people will start crying foul, insinuating that he hates Ndigbo. He doesn’t want to do anything to incur your wrath. What is very important to note, which I keep on reminding ourselves is let us imitate the Japanese, and let us imitate the Germans. At the end of the Second World War, the Japanese, in spite of the fact that the Americans not only bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bomb and had a wrong policy on the Japanese; the Japanese cast the past aside and moved on with the Americans. The Germans did exactly the same. Today their greatest ally is the Americans. So please let’s leave the war behind us, what has happened has happened and there is nothing we can do about it. It is a painful experience; it is agonizing but do we continue agonizing and forget the future? Let’s imitate the Japanese otherwise even the Yorubas that the Ohanaeze are romancing with were they not part of the war effort? Please, I don’t want us to get drawn back, let’s look at the future. Consequently, let’s leave lamentation. Those who are preoccupied with building small kingdoms should save our future generations. What they are doing is like when we went for an election in Anambra, I told APGA that the existence of the party is antithetical to the development of Igboland. For there is nothing we can do in a pond, a small pond for that matter because we are very brilliant people. We should think out of the box.

Do you think Nigerians should trust the APC with its restructuring report?

Your question is very genuine. I have heard that kind of distrust from some PDP leadership. They spew all manner of propaganda to discredit any policy of our great party. The same PDP, if I understand them are disappointed, they are highly worried and desperate and why are they desperate? They thought that the APC will oppose restructuring, forgetting that it’s embedded in our manifesto. Whatever we promised, they will counter it. When Mr President proclaimed that he will halt food importation, they doubted him. What happened? Reduction on food importation, e.g. rice by 70%.

They are disappointed that, even Malam El Rufai was the one that headed the committee which broke the camel’s back. Camel’s back in the sense that APC committee’s recommendation cut even the much hyped 2014 Jonathan conference to size.

You don’t blame them if they are disappointed because it was one of the political shining armour that they were going to use for the election which has been demolished by the APC committee. The committee went ahead to give fine details with draft bills for those items which would go to the National Assembly. These are the same people that told the world that Buhari will Islamize the country. They’re not happy that there is no plan to Islamise the country. PDP is sucking and in search of political goof to nail us. Is it not a paradox that after squandering the riches of the country they will tell you not to talk about the past? Forgetting that yesterday is today’s architecture.

Are you still going to blame the previous administration for the inability of this administration to fix the two refineries three years in office?

How has the APC- government managed the money it inherited?

Very cogent question. As I noted, when we came in, oil was below $30 and we inherited less than $4 billion. And I remember one day in a meeting with Mr. president he said can you see this file and we said what is in the file? He said some states didn’t pay salaries and pensions for 18 months and we said sir forget them and let’s move ahead and he said no. I remember cracking a joke and I said sir you know those civil servants that you said they have not paid are not up to 10 percent of the population? He said what of the barbers that barb their hair that they owe? What of the electricians they owe? The carpenters they owe? What of the school fees? More than 27 states were owing, ranging from 18 months to 3 months and Mr President was angry.

That gave birth to the bail out funds and Paris Club refunds to the states. Today more than N1 trillion has been paid to states. Ask any mathematician a trillion that he gave to the states going by N50m per kilometre would have constructed 2,000 federal roads. You know we can’t come to the market and start saying everything we discussed with Mr. President because he is thinking about how good he wants the country to be but I am assuring you that he has laid the foundation for the economic development of this country. No country will develop without electricity, without modern rail lines, without motorable roads and this is what he has set out to do and on the side also is food self sufficiency. I understand from the minister of agriculture that he is also now going to set up cattle ranch so he can stop the cattle from going to the farms.