Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Osita Okechukwu has given reasons an aspirant from the South-East didn’t become the standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the just concluded presidential party primary.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the APC chieftain called on the Igbo to re-strategize for the future.
What is your take on the outcome of the of the APC presidential primary?
It was marvelous and an excellent outcome. Indeed, APC did not implode as predicted by our traducers. Rather, we have hoisted national unity flag in the presidential primary convention. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won as a pan-Nigerian candidate not sectional as was the case of our sister political party, the PDP.
Indeed, it is one of the best one had witnessed in my over 40 years of political career. The presidential primary was exciting, peaceful, transparent and unlike the PDP’s. It was clean election with neither ethno-religious nor sectional backdrop.
In this, all glory and commendation go to Northern governors and political stakeholders, who in their collective wisdom obeyed the rotation convention; which glues the bond of our national unity. The rotation convention though is not engraved in the APC’s constitution but we honoured it in the interest of corporate existence of our dear country.
You have been an apostle of power shift to the Southeast, but it couldn’t be realised, are you disappointed?
To be honest, am not disappointed in the true sense of the word, for my baseline was in defense of rotation convention from north to south and my preference in the agitation for rotation was that it should be zoned to Ndigbo because our brothers and sisters in Yoruba, or Southwest and South-South had presided over Nigeria since the real commencement of the rotation convention in 1999. And when you go back memory history lane to our independent date in 1960, the preference for Southeast or Ndigbo becomes more compelling. This is the basis of our agitation and one thinks that we have done our best as members of political parties to realise this elusive goal.
However, am not disappointed for I came from a school of thought, which posits that, if you’re aiming at the sky and you land in between that all you do is to thank Almighty God. For me Yoruba are not our enemies, as we are both in the southern belt, but our rugged competitors, for they know what we know and we know what they know.
Secondly, as a Buharist, one cannot forget the critical supplement Asiwaju in league with Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Bukola Saraki and co brought to the table in the great merger of the defunct ACN, ANPP, CPC and factions of APGA and DPP and subsequent victory of President Buhari in 2015.
Thirdly, if Nigerians continue the rotation convention it will one day get to the entire six geopolitical zones. For in liberal democracy, all major advancement made was more or less on evolutionary basis and not revolutionary standpoint.
Talking about justice and equity, can you say APC was fair to the Southeast?
First and foremost, PDP is in actual fact the party that betrayed Ndigbo, because they invested heavily in PDP’s fortunes from inception to date. Therefore, one cannot in all honesty group our great party, the APC, as one persona, who deliberately out of mischief or callousness denied the Southeast or Ndigbo of equity and justice. For politics has many definitions or variants by different scholars. I think it was Harold Laswell, who defined it as who gets what, when and how? Others coached it as allocation of resources and when you talk of allocation of resources, taking into account that as human beings we are by nature selfish. Given this premise, Ndigbo or Southeast has enviable position in APC, which requires only strategic engagement.
As a foundation member of APC, are you by any means insinuating that Southeast elements or Ndigbo were not strategic?
Please, one will not like to recount how we bungled our opportunity in APC by being more or less than strategic. Methinks, in this instance it is better for one to adopt the Trade Union’s ancient maxim – forward ever backward never.
Don’t you think that for the sake of our children and other politicians from Southeast that some peep into the past no matter how scanty will help those to be involved in future partisan engagements?
I’m reticent in calling names especially when the events happened sometimes decades ago. Recall that what Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and by extension the Southwest are harvesting today was first offered to the Southeast. Rt. Hons Chuba Okadigbo and Edwin Umezoke of blessed memory were the vice presidential candidates of Buhari in 2003 and 2007 respectively. All calls we made then that Ndigbo should not keep all their eggs in one PDP’s basket fell on deaf ears. We warned then that it was very unimaginable and inconceivable that an enlightened group like Ndigbo will shun a man with cult fellowship of about 12 million votes. That all Buhari needed then was critical supplement, which Tinubu in-cohorts with others readily provided in the 2015 presidential election.
You have always defended the APC and how it was going to give the Igbo man the presidency , how are you going to stand before the people you had told the good intentions of APC for the region.
I never talked of giving power to Ndigbo for it is not in my breast pocket and there is the old axiom which posits that power is not served ala carte. As stated above, all we need is to strategise for future engagement for according to Fleetwood Mark, yesterday is gone and yesterday is gone.
There was an interview where you were quoted of blaming Rochas Okorocha for bungling the position of Ndigbo at the early stages of constructing the APC. Was the incident one of the missteps?
Please, spare me the hassles of reopening old wounds, as it is very difficult to generate any remedy from doing so.
It is still imperative that as a foundation member you offer some insight on how Ndigbo lost out in the APC and PDP after the primaries?
Suffice it to inform that Ndigbo took off soundly at the formative stage of APC. I remember vividly how in our first meeting on February 5, 2013, at Sir Tom Ikimi’s house, Maitama, where it was resolved by the defunct ACN and CPC delegation that we should allow other political parties like ANPP to join the merger talks. It was there and then that Chris Ngige told us that he wanted to invite Okorocha then governor of Imo State, who was sited having meeting with other progressive governors that later transformed into Progressives Governors Forum at Lagos. With the entry of Okorocha’s faction of APGA, Southeast team became a formidable force and formed the Southeast leadership caucus. We held several meetings and Dr Ogbonaya Onu was nominated as chairman. Luckily, to boost our caucus, Okorocha was elected as chairman, Progressives Governors Forum (PGF). In sum, we missed out when Southeast caucus failed to go into alliance with Buhari when Asiwaju led ACN entered into alliance with Buhari in 2014.
What actually transpired?
To cut the story short, I was present when in compliance with rotation convention raging then in favour of the north. Asiwaju’s ACN group brilliantly entered into alliance with Buhari to support his bid to become the presidential candidate of APC. As events were swiftly taken shape, the PGF with background knowledge that the vice president was zoned to the Southwest, zoned the chairmanship to either South-South or Southeast. It was consequent upon that one started canvassing for Dr Ogbonaya Onu for chairmanship, and he told me to present the matter in our meeting. This I did when the Southeast meeting convened and opinion was divided when Okorocha announced that he was running for president. All pleas we made that he should shelve the presidential bid as rotation convention favours the north failed. To be honest, Okorocha subjected the decision or whether he runs or not to vote and won with 20 votes, 7 abstention and my 1 vote against his bid. He won in our caucus and went ahead to Lagos presidential primary with Southeast delegates vote. This in brief is partly how the Southeast missed out. Imagine if our caucus had made the pragmatic decision to support Onu for chairmanship instead of sentimentally swimming against the tide of rotation convention. With Onu as chairman, we could have been part of the kitchen cabinet of Mr. President for both have cordial relationship. This Iberibism was where the rain started beating us APC. One cannot talk of our fate in PDP.
During the electioneering campaigns for the general elections what will APC be telling the Southeast?
Critical infrastructure, federal roads, Second Niger Bridge, Adada River Dam, Enugu Urban Water Scheme, federal university, polytechnic, technical and science college and various shades of federal appointments. Plus Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution, which revived Abakiliki rice and uncountable peasant farmers that benefitted from Anchor Borrowers Programme.
What are your suggestions on how APC will assuage the feelings of other aspirants that lost out?
Throughout liberal democracy, there exists lobbying, horse trading and what in ordinary parlance is dubbed give and take. This is what has already commenced and Asiwaju and his team are formidable and experienced in such matters. A careful perusal of Asiwaju Build A New Nigeria (ABANN) manifesto; showcases goodies for every geopolitical zone. At any rate, paradoxically the north benefitted more under Obasanjo and Jonathan and south benefitted more infrastructure wise more than the north.
For the PDP, its convention was very simple, but for your party, it almost took three days, even after INEC extension.
We cannot imitate the PDP, which breached the rotation convention in its constitution, its own ground rules and fundamental basis of existence.