Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, opens up on the agitation for self-determination by some groups in the South-East and the face-off between the presidency and the Senate on the anti-graft war. He spoke with JOHN SILAS.
What do you make of the frosty relationship between the presidency and the Senate, which unfortunately, are controlled by your party – All Progressives Congress (APC)?
The party might not announce what it is doing, but I think that the leadership is trying to harmonise the two poles. There is no gridlock; the little you have seen is about contending powers that are not essentially party based. But I know that President Muhammadu Buhari and the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun are working behind the scene towards addressing the differentials.
Is time not running out for the party given the fact that it is yet put its house together almost two years in its four-year tenure?
Besides the political side, the question Nigerians should ask is: Given the little resources on the ground, is the party performing? I think so because in area of infrastructure, you will notice that roads are not what they used to be as. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Enugu-Onitsha and Maidugiri-Kano, among others have witnessed a major facelift. Rehabilitation of major roads across the country is going on as well as other physical infrastructure and nobody can doubt that.
On the Ibrahim Magu affair, the Senate to me, ran into an over-drive in the sense that they told the world that why they are fighting him is because of the phobia they have for him. The Senate did not hide in letting the world to know that they are afraid of Magu, but most people I have talked to, believe that Magu has performed above average. Yes, there is no parliament anywhere in the world that doesn’t enter into a gridlock, but this gridlock is not going to be enduring because it is not a big one. It is just because of the Senate’s phobia that if Magu is allowed, there are a high number of senators, who have one bad spot or the other.
So, naturally they are trying to fence off Magu by insisting that the President Buhari should nominate another person as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). If they had returned Magu’s nomination to the President in December last year, and by January, the President re-forwarded his name to them; whatever reports before them makes no meaning because nobody will doubt that the President has more information than any other person. He has the same Department of State Service (DSS) in an every local government. He has the police in every ward and he has the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency and the Nigerian Security Civil Defence Corps. He is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
So, if the Senate had not intended to go on over-drive, it should have heeded to the President’s request, when Magu’s name was re-forwarded to it. Of course, there was no new report. What they just said was that the DSS referred them to the same report. If not for fear, they should have gone ahead to confirm Magu as Mr. President has looked into the report and found that there was no substance in it.
Some people are saying that the DSS report shows that there is inter-agency rivalry between the various departments of government and that there are factions even within the President’s kitchen cabinet. What is your take on that?
Inter-agency rivalry is a normal thing, but the issue is that there is a commander-in-chief and every patriot looks into the eyes of the commander-in-chief, especially when he is sincerely committed to the anti-graft war. You will recall that the Nigerian people voted for President Buhari because of his integrity quotient. So if he looks into a report and dismisses it, any other person, who is sincere with his administration should have as well dismissed it and confirm the man he nominated as the chairman of the anti-graft agency.
Do you see President Buhari dropping Magu as the EFCC chairman?
Why should he drop him? Is it because some senators said Magu is terrorizing them? If you are Mr. President, will you remove a successful army general from the battle front?
What happens if the Senate insists that Magu must go?
He can act for nine years. There is no law that says that somebody cannot act. We are in an anti-graft war emergency, so somebody has to act.
Would you say that Buhari’s integrity quotient, which you referred to, has impacted positively on Nigerians given the issues raised by the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasri el-Rufai, who is a member of your party in his memo to the President that was recently leaked to the media?
Governor El-Rufai did not fault the President’s integrity, but said that there were some appointees, who are not performing up to the level expected. That had nothing to with the President’s integrity quotient.
A former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, recently called for President Buhari’s resignation over his health status. What do you make of the call?
I could sympathise with Jibrin because when you go the fringe, there are a lot of expectations about how things work. But, if they don’t go that way, you can say certain things in anger. I am not sure that he passed through the medical school. So for him to say that somebody should resign on health grounds, the question is: Did he see his medical report?
The resignation call is also at a time the President is being endorsed in some quarters for a second term. Do you think he should take another shot at the position in 2019?
Why not! Take for instance, where I come from (South-East), we loathed him, we despised him, we denigrated him; some even insisted that immediately he becomes president, he will Islamize Nigeria. There was nothing that we did not do to beg that it was not a fact. But, two years down the line, has he Islamized Nigeria? Did we vote for him? The Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo that we voted for, did they do Enugu-Onitsha road? Did they do Enugu-Port Harcourt, Ikot Ekpen-Umuahia and Owerri-Port Harcourt roads? Did the build the Second Niger Bridge? Did they upgrade federal universities in the South-East?
But the man who they despised has started those roads even with little money available to the government. Don’t forget that there was a time between 2009 and 2014, when we had the highest accruals from crude oil sales, but nothing was done with it. Even the three green refineries that the Jonathan administration made public pronouncement of at $22 bllion, did we see it happen. They normally go out of their way to say that we keep referring to the past; we are referring to yesterday because it is today’s architecture. If those three green refineries were built, we won’t be as dry as we are today. If you know how much we spend on buying refined petroleum products, you will shudder. But, as we talk, there is little money but more jobs being done.
So, invariably you are saying that the South-East has benefited more under the Buhari administration than they did during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governments?
Some people in their beer parlour arguments will tell you that President Buhari didn’t appoint an Igbo man as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), but I do tell them that there was a time when he had this position as well as minister of Finance, Senate deputy president and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, but the question is: How did we fare as a people then?
I saw some of our brothers the other day insisting that Nnamdi Kanu (leader of Indigenous People of Biafra – IPOB) must be released. I will be happy if he is released, but there is no state that will joke with someone, who went on radio to cause disaffection, to call Nigeria a zoo and that he wants to evacuate some people out of the zoo. This is a boy, who is living in United Kingdom and has little or nothing do to with us here. If he is being tried, has the Supreme Court said he should be released?
To me, the Igbos are highly accepted in this country. Forget about the civil war because most countries also passed through the same road, even the United States. So, we must we must forget about the past and move ahead. If you look at it democratically, the Igbos has never at a time said they want to leave Nigeria. Between 1995 and 1996, the Igbos set up a secretariat for the Constitutional Conference organized by the General Sani Abacha regime. Our elder statesman and former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, coordinated that secretariat and we came up with the idea of six regions, but at the conference proper, some Igbos voted against it. States in the South-South, Lagos and Ogun states as well as majority of Northern states also voted against it. If someone did not vote for regionalism, are you saying that the same person will vote for secession?
The same thing happened in the 2005 Political Reform Conference orgainsed by then President Obasanjo. Along the line, they voted against regionalism. In the 2014 National Conference convoked by Jonathan, whom those of in the opposition at the time shunned because it was ill timed and not properly composed, those who are supporting IPOB today went there and voted against regionalism. They said what they wanted was an additional state to bring the South-East at par with other geo-political zones of the country. This means that those, who are saying that they want to go, are in the minority.
And I keep telling our people that there is a power rotational convention, which we can harvest from rather than this agitation for secession. If we did not vote for President Buhari in 2015, all we need to do now is to vote for him en mass in 2019, instead of the six per cent he had in the whole the former Eastern region. If we do so and God keeping us alive, the Nigerian people will back an Igbo man to become president in 2023.
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