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Interview

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Some people say we are in new era. Are we truly in a new era?
Sure. I will agree that we are in a new era in the sense that there is a new dawn. The Jonathan era was an era and the Buhari era is a new one.

Some people say we are in new era. Are we truly in a new era?
Sure. I will agree that we are in a new era in the sense that there is a new dawn. The Jonathan era was an era and the Buhari era is a new one.

It has begun. There's a big difference both in terms of the character of the leaders, the one that has gone and the one that is just beginning. There is a difference in terms of general expectations. The mood of the country is not the same as it was in 2011. So, we expect something new, not too much of magic, but something new in every aspect of our national life. And the leader, the principal arrowhead in the person of the new President, can by his sheer strength of character, redirect things. I say this because of what happened a few days ago. Just recently, one of my brothers in-law, who travelled a week before and came back within the same week, called me and asked whether there was any matching order. I said no. He said that he saw very polite, hardworking people, who were no longer beggarly as he came back, that it was not the same people that he saw a few days earlier. I said, well, it is the fear of Buhari. If Buhari does not sustain his image of a no-nonsense leader who will not tolerate corruption, then things will go back to business as usual. But right now, things are changing just because of one man. And so, that's what I mean, that by his sheer strength of character, public officers are getting more cautious. And when a few things starts happening and a few examples are being shown, nothing will remain the same again.
Is there any part of his inaugural speech that touched you?
Well, it was a very short inaugural speech, but a powerful one. What he said about belonging to everyone and belonging to no one is a very profound statement that is loaded with a lot of very reassuring meanings. Implicit in that statement is that there are no strings attached to his emergence and that he holds no obligation to any clique. Nigeria being what it is, it is a reassuring statement for which people want to see how it will play out. That is one. The statement he made about corruption and going down to focus on local governments to say; yes, there are constitutional limitations but that he will not oversee a situation where allocations made to organs of government, local governments are not allowed to get to them by any kind of guise. That is another statement that if fully implemented, will open up the rural areas. Nigeria has 774 local governments that have remained largely redundant and several billions of naira is allocated to them every month and they are stopped by state governors in the name of operating joint accounts. So, all of those things that local governments are known to do  building culverts, rural electrification, opening up farm roads and so on, ceased to exist and the movement of people from rural to urban centered was heightened as a result. So, once this third tier of government becomes functional again, you will see gradual return of people from the urban areas where they are homeless and jobless back to the rural areas. This will take time, but it is a trend that once started will begin to impact more positively.
Saying that he will look into the energy sector is another area that many Nigerians are concerned, because it is very critical to our national development, economic development, healthcare and so on. And the way he put it was nice, because he realized that there has been series of tampering with the structure of power supply. We have moved to all manner of names, from NEPA to PHCN and now to privatization, where such psychedelic terms as Disco and Genco are being bandied about and mindboggling amount of money invested in the industry; according to his speech, about 20 billion dollars since 1999, to generate 4,000 megawatts and to supply much less than that shows that he knows where the pain is on the populace.
On the security situation, he took a decision like the General that he is to say that the command and control centre should be moved from Abuja to the theatre of the war. That is with regards to Boko Haram. He also reassured the people of the Niger Delta that he will continue with ongoing projects to develop the area. That's also reassuring because we need peace in that area if the revenue from oil will continue to flow.
Having mentioned those areas, I also have to mention the minus in the speech. The minus is that whoever wrote that speech or the hurry with which he read it, did not take into account the sensibilities of the Igbo people. You see, the moment he started recognizing the contributions of our heroes past and he had mentioned the contributions of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay, and of course Alhaji Tafawa Belewa and moved down to begin to recognise regional leaders, it was at that point he would have brought in Dr. M.I. Okpara; because if he mentioned Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and even went further to mention Eyo Ita, Akintola, Aminu Kano and Joseph Tarka, without mentioning M.I. Okpala, it would be an omission that would send a very wrong and negative signal. This is because there has always been this fear that the Igbo people will have very rough times in his government and all of us who seemed to vouch for him, have been given the assurance that it won't be like that. But for a very critical speech like that, a presidential inaugural speech to make that blunder is not well thought-out. If it was done deliberately, it was a mischief that didn't give him much credit. If it was an omission inadvertently done, he should take steps to find opportunities and other fora to redress it.  I say this again because if you looked at the areas of control and influences in the First Republic, Sir Ahmadu Bello presided over 14 provinces in the North, Dr. M.I. Okpara presided over 12 provinces in the Eastern Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo presided over seven provinces and Sir Dennis Osadebey, presided over two provinces. So in the area of influence it's Ahmadu Bello, M.I Okpara, Awolowo and Osadebey. Then, the others didn't control any area  well Akintola was Premier. But Eyo Ita, Joseph Tarka and Aminu Kano, were far, far behind Dr. M.I. Okpara in terms of control of political equation of that time.
Another aspect was when he was talking about what will be done to bring back peace to the North East and how the peace in the Niger Delta would be sustained, I thought he would have made, even in a passing comment on the people of the South East geo-political zone, who have cried out since the end of the civil war in 1970 about neglect  absence of federal presence. During his campaigns, he would have toured the entire nation and would have seen that there is no place in Nigeria that has as much dilapidated road infrastructure and lack of federal presence as in the South East. And so, a statement that areas that have suffered neglects over time, that steps will be taken to give them a sense of belonging, even if it requires a special presidential intervention, would have made everybody happy. I don't think any side of Nigeria will be unhappy if that kind of reassurance is given to us. After all, we are not unhappy about whatever plans he made to make the North East a better place, we are not unhappy when Jonathan was building those Almajeri Schools to take those beggars out of the street, we are not unhappy about the attention to the Niger Delta; in fact Niger Delta deserves more. But why is it that paying attention to the South East is almost a different thing  like it is an area that no Nigerian leader is prepared to touch? So, it is an omission.
Don't you think it is a function of the voting pattern in the last election?
Well, if that influenced it, then his statement about belonging to everybody and belonging to nobody would have been immediately countered. I want to give him the benefit of doubt that it was an oversight. But it is a very costly oversight that needs to be redressed. His government has just begun. And don't forget, I promised him constructive engagement. And part of it is to bring out issues like this so that he can have a better and more holistic view like this. If I don't bring these things up, then the issue of constructive engagement would not have been put in a practical way. Now, coming to the voting pattern, I think the South East  Igbo people, let me not limit it to the South East, paved the way for his victory. Many people have not done the proper analysis. In Igboland, there are 7.2million registered voters. Outside Igboland, you have three times that number in the rest of the country, who share the same sentiments and emotions with those at home. And when some of us saw through the deceit in some of our people who were drumming up support for Jonathan without telling us what Jonathan did with the support earlier given to him, we came out with the position that there should be no endorsement without negotiation. The first one was given to him unconditionally and he took the people for granted. Initially, it was like a one man protest by me. I took it to the World Igbo Congress and changed the course of the resolution there, where they wanted to endorse Jonathan. I took it to the Igbo Day at Awka, organised by Ohanaeze and halted the endorsement there. People like Ngige and others joined me, because they now wanted to ask the question, what actually did Jonathan do for us? Of course it wasn't an easy battle. Of course I was branded with some names. Some people called me spoiler, even for daring to run for president instead of surrendering to Jonathan. I bore it, because if you are fighting for your people, you must be prepared to bear the heat. It got to a point where Dr. Alex Ekwueme granted an interview to Sun Newspaper and from what he saw and felt, he said Jonathan wouldn't get the type of support he got from the Igbo people in 2011; but it would not mean that the support he didn't get would go to Buhari; that what he was seeing was that many people would not have the enthusiasm to vote. And he captured it, because that was exactly what happened.
So, if you look at the voting pattern therefore, you will be looking at approximately three million votes cast in the South for Jonathan in the South East, whereas six million votes or even one million short of the number of registered voters, would have written off Buhari's margin. Buhari's margin was just 2.5million. And if Igbo people living outside had gone all out for Jonathan, it would have increased the chances of dusting APC and Buhari in that presidential election. So, by not coming all out to give him the type of support they gave him in 2011, they simply paved the way for Buhari's victory. So, it would be wrong for Buhari, who has become a little more politically sagacious not to have his eyes on the future and be relying on the figures that he got in this election and also not taking into consideration the ones that didn't appear in figures that did not go to Jonathan.
Secondly, if Igbo people had reason for which they voted for Jonathan or supporting him all the way from 2011, a good politician would want to break into that and see what he will do to win the confidence and support of such block votes. Anybody that is guaranteed the Igbo block votes at any general election will win the presidency of this country. Because all you need is to do is add it to the one you get elsewhere and you win.            
The President has taken a few steps that seem to foretell where he is likely to go. One of them is the manner he declared his assets. He had promised during his campaign to declare it publicly, but he has not done that. Some people say this is about the morning foretelling the day. Is that how you see it?
I'm also an advocate of public declaration of assets. I emphasised it during my campaigns. And I didn't stop there. I said, every public officer from the position of a director to the President of Nigeria, should do so annually for as long as he is still in office. That was how radical I went in favour of public and compulsory declaration of assets; so that the public will be monitoring the growth of your assets to see whether it is commensurate with the funds accruing to you from your new office. And he supported at least public declaration and canvassed that during his campaign, and now he hasn't done that. But, I have also heard some people; some of his defenders have said that within 100 days, he will declare his assets or that it was a matter of time for him to do so. I don't know whether there is a legal constraint or any other constraint that has made him not to go ahead with his asset declaration. But now he has media aides, this is where he has to act fast and clear the air with Nigerians, because it will be a bad beginning if he reneges on a major aspect that everybody is looking forward to. Many people have made references to the austere life that he has lived. Some say that he has a bungalow in Kaduna and another one in Daura as the only buildings. But nobody is talking about stocks and all that. But only he knows his true worth. And if he brings out his true worth, it will help to clear a few things, either confirm the speculations or at least state what the true picture is. And because of his lifestyle, I do not think that this is a man who would not make meaning with what accrues to him as President. He will even cut down on what he may consider as excess remuneration. And so, I don't see any constraint he may be having in fulfilling that aspect of his promise. So, as soon as possible, it shouldn't be more than a week from now, he should clear the air for us to know what has held him back or he should just authorise the Code of Conduct Bureau to release the asset he has declared secretly.
What is your reaction to the recent focus on the personality and family of the President himself? I ask this question against the backdrop of the hullabaloo of his wife's alleged N10million wristwatch. Do you think it is healthy?   
Well, I will put it this way, once you have attained this visibility in the life of a nation, there is no way you can take public attention away from yourself and your family. But the one I'm against is the wristwatch issue. I find that one about the value of his wristwatch very, very mischievous. I find it funny and I don't think that it will be the best way to encourage our leaders to lead selflessly. How could anybody from watching the television on an inauguration day be able to know what category of Cartier wristwatch she is wearing, because there are so many categories of Cartier wristwatches. How could anyone know the value like that? That's one. Two, as wife of General Buhari, who had run for the presidency on three or four occasions, you don't rule out the fact that there could be many Nigerians in his party or even businessmen, during election time or no election time, who could travel and give the woman some gift. For instance, I have a watch that was given to me as a gift. I never knew its value. But I liked it and I was wearing it until somebody saw me wearing it and by the time he mentioned the value of the wristwatch, I became conscious of what I was wearing. It was a gift. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have walked into any shop and parted with that kind of money just for a wristwatch, because to me a wristwatch is just a timepiece; just like a telephone set, I don't see it as a thing I buy for fashion or to show off. So, I think a woman can receive gifts from friends of the husband or family friends and may not even be able to know the value. You don't go asking somebody who has given you a gift what is the value.
I give you a funny one which was told to me by a very senior air force officer, who once headed the air force. He said when he was a Flight Captain in one of the states; somebody came and gave him a bottle of champagne. He didn't know it was champagne. He thought it was Lucozade. He told me the story himself. He thought it was Lucozade because Cristal Champagne has wrappings similar to Lucozade. So, he kept it out of politeness that it was a gift, but still wondered how somebody could give him Lucozade. But he kept it all the same and never took it. So, one day he went to the market to buy some drinks; of course, champagne being one of them, he went to the counter looking for champagne; his normal champagne was Moet, which was N5,000 at that time. And then he saw that thing that looked like Lucozade at N120,000 a bottle. That was the cost of Cristal Champagne. So, he called his orderly and asked him to take a critical look at the drink and the price again to know whether he was seeing 12 or 120 and he said it was N120,000. He called the shop attendant, who confirmed that it was N120,000 and he left, having asked the orderly to take a good look as he was going to show him something. Immediately they got home, he brought out the drink and the orderly said that's the same thing we saw at the shop. It was only at that time that he knew that he had a bottle of wine that cost N120,000, whereas he was used to drinking that of N5,000 and he valued that more, because he had already branded that one Lucozade.
So, these things happen to us every day about gifts. So, to now use it to begin to project the wife of the President in bad light is mischievous. The other side of it is that if she had such expensive jewellery, it simply shows that she had them before coming into office. But I don't think the President is expected to declare her assets; to begin to tell us the value of her jewelleries. This is where we have to appeal to the social media operators to help us to make the social media a more responsible news outlet. That was not a right one. No formal media organization will publish that story the way it was published.
Now, how do you marry opposition party leadership with constructive engagement that you talked about?    
Well, come to think of it, what is trending in most stable democracies in the world is government of national unity. Until the Conservative Party recently had a more comfortable lead, it was a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Party; in Germany, the CDU, the Christian Democratic Union, which is the dominant party, is leading a coalition of parties. It is also like that in Israel. Likud may be winning, but at the formation of government, it is always coalition of parties. It is only in the US, where you have a clear-cut two parties that control the government including the congress that you have almost a winner-takes-all situation. But even in that situation, you still see a President taking a very efficient technocrat, who has been serving a previous government of opposite party back to his government; we have seen it in America. And when there is a matter of national importance, there is a unification of the parties to confront a national issue. Their politics has gotten to a level where they are able to draw a line between party interests and national interests, especially if the interest of America is threatened.
Now, for a growing democracy like ours, we will enrich the quality of governance if we criticise constructively. Criticizing constructively means saying that the policy of government is not good, but at the same time saying that this policy option will be better. Government knowing that it is coming from a friendly political party will look more at the message instead of the messenger; which is what has been our problem. The type of opposition we have been carrying out, if you say something that ought to be considered, the fact that it is coming from a hostile messenger, the quality of that message is swept aside. So, we want to improve on that. Another aspect is that PDP that is now coming into opposition for the first time and is behaving like a possessed political party, because of what we has befallen it, has been threatening fire and brimstone. The other day, Femi Fani-Kayode, who has been gunning for the re-organization of the PDP to face the job of opposition, said unequivocally that they are preparing for a war of attrition. He used such strong words. War of attrition in their opposition! We in the opposition will want to act as a gadfly to moderate such an excessive and extreme opposition that will not add any value except to heat up the system. If you heat the system, you cause unnecessary digression and you also cause instability where there should none.
Even when I led APGA, the NUJ in Abuja in 2004 gave me an award of Credible Leader of Opposition; not because I dined with the PDP, but that any opposition I presented was always grounded on sound logic. And so, this is what we intend to offer. But if the person you are talking to is hard of hearing, then of course, you will be able to talk to him through the public media, so that others will know that yes, you are observing and not approving of everything.
The President ran his campaign on two major planks  security and anti-corruption. While it may be too early to start talking about anti-corruption, what would you say about the increased tempo of the insurgency that has greeted the nation since his inauguration?
I will say that the Boko Haram people are trying to send a signal, to make a bold face, to say they are still around. But the President made the statement not more than a few weeks from now. And he has directed the military command to move to the theatre of war. And they said they were coming back to him to present the logistics requirements for doing that. It is not just like boarding the next Ekene Dili Chukwu bus to land in Maiduguri. They have to be equipped. It is significant that his first tour out of the country after inauguration was to go to the neighbouring countries, Chad and Niger, because of the significant role they would play or they have been playing in fighting the insurgency. He has taken some bold steps that show seriousness that he is prepared to walk the talk. So, we are hoping that given at least one month, there is no way Boko Haram will not see some extra aggression that will pursue them from virtually every hole in that area. I'm confident that he will be able to deal with it expeditiously?
So, what kind of country do you wish to see at the end of the day by the time President Buhari makes the rounds? 
Well, I'm an optimist, sometimes an incurable optimist. I expect Buhari will succeed with the co-operation of all of us, so that Nigeria will be better places, social services will be more efficient, corrupt tendencies and behaviours will be much reduced and illegitimate acquisition of wealth will be unattractive. These are what I expect will be brought to bear to make for an improved polity. I expect that the economy will come out of the doldrums and be made to grow. But our democracy must be given more impetus if all these are to be sustained. You can see that there is no litigation in the tribunal against the presidential election. But on the other hand, there are multiple litigations at the other levels of the election. This can be reduced to the level of what we have seen at the presidential election if the President can embark on taking the electoral reform to another level. It was part of the three demands UPP made on him when we went to visit him. And two days after, 48 hours after, he made a statement that he was going to improve on the electoral reform. He admitted that it was the card readers that more or less assured his victory and so he was going to go technological. These were his words. And if he does not listen to those who will tell him to slow down on empowering the electorate to decide on who stays and who doesn't stay, then we will see a better government, because the moment people know that whoever is their President, went there on a popular mandate, the issue of whether he is Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo or whether he is a Christian or Muslim, will be far reduced; and once that suspicion that tends to make many people feel that they are not part of the system is removed, Nigeria will be able to benefit from the many potentialities that exist.
How would UPP look in the next four years?   
We are going to continue on the progressive ideological angle and our opposition will be very robust and vibrant. We are going to restructure and reorganize our various structures from the ward level to the national level. Perhaps in the next one year, we will be able to fund a major national convention that will draw from congresses at those other levels, so that we build a better party stronger to face elections. We are encouraged by the fact that local government elections may be more transparent if INEC is allowed to organize it. That is where you begin to strengthen, because they say every politics is local. We have fine strategies to win elections at the local level across the country. It means you won't be totally idle waiting for another four years before you come back for politicking; because some of these local government elections are coming in-between the general elections. We are further encouraged that the 2015 election was conducted under the 1999 constitution. Otherwise we would have had a problem of survival, because there is a provision that says that if you fail to win anything, you will be deleted. And we didn't win anything. But that amendment has not been done. It was not done before the election and it has not been done till now, because it was part of the constitutional amendment. So, the judgment given to the National Conscience Party when INEC wanted to delete it, that there was no such provision in the constitution, subsists. It is that constitution of 1999 that was used in conducting the 2015 election. So, we are not afraid now, we are not faced with possible de-registration. That has given us the courage to now get certain things right, especially given the fact that we are now more understood than before. We went into the election just two years old and with me as the founder of this political party, was also coming from the background of being maligned and viciously accused of all manner of things by those who snatched APGA from my control or from the control of my leadership. So, we couldn't say that everybody had seen the truth until that election. And one of the things that brought out my qualities that were not too glaring, was the presidential debate, where I was matched with a serving President and a few others. That was when people began to imagine that if this person had been given a mandate, he had quite some visions that needed to be promoted and pursued. And so, we then got votes, even though we didn't win the presidency in the arears where we never even campaigned because of the paucity of funds to carry the campaign to their doorsteps. Nigerians saw us getting votes in thousands across the country. And it was done only by those appearances on the television and the media, where we got pass mark. So, after the election, more people are now coming to say we are ready to follow, that is to join the UPP. Other parties that may not survive another four years just watching, are now making approaches to join us, because they know that we have the steam to go through the period of the next election. So, the future looks bright.
Now that you have mentioned APGA, what if there was a kind of truce that seeks to bring you back into APGA to play a major role in restoring the spirit of APGA, which you claim is no longer in existence by your departure, what would you do? Would you accept a position for the purpose of reconstructing the party? In other words, would you mind embracing APGA again?
No, I wouldn't mind at all. You see, the issue of APGA remains a touching one where I am concerned. I'm passionate about it, because when APGA was founded, it was for a very good reason and we made very, very strong statement in our first outing. Without APGA, there wouldn't have been an Ikemba running for the president in his lifetime in this country. And it gave the people of the South East a very strong sense of belonging. We had prospects, just like we have prospects now. We had already mapped out a roadmap that would see us launching out to the rest of the country in 2007, which was the next general election. But in 2004, these people came. And APGA also became a national security issue, based of what the then President Obasanjo, told me himself  that the fact that I brought Ikemba to run  and when I say I, it was me single-handedly that brought Ikemba and made him a presidential candidate. I just raised his hand and our party joined and supported. There was no casting of votes at our convention at the Old Parade Ground in Abuja. But President Obasanjo said the moment I made Ikemba the presidential candidate, that APGA became a national security issue. So, we became a target. Most of the manipulations at that time were targeted to make sure that we didn't consolidate in our take off base. What he said to me was that the feeling within the military circle, including those like them who had retired, the same people that fought on the other side of the battle, was that if Ikemba had any foothold politically in Igboland, that he was going to re-enact the struggle. So, that suspicion was what made APGA to become a target. After the election, they saw that we were continuing. So, it was necessary to get Ikemba and I to quarrel in order to tear APGA down. And so, they sat down at the Presidential Villa, plotted it and found a weak point in Victor Umeh and invited him over. I know who invited him and I know how much he was given at the initial time to go and launch this offensive against me. And before you knew it, they got Ikemba and I to part ways politically. And that gave them the opportunity they were looking for. And that's why it has not grown beyond Anambra State ever since.
So, in anger, when I was leaving, I said I was leaving with the soul and spirit of the party, and leaving for them the carcass. God gave effect to that statement, because I don't have the powers to take away any soul or any spirit. But God gave efficacy to that statement and APGA is yet to find its bearing not withstanding that they have a government in Anambra State. And as we speak, they are still in the Supreme Court to determine which leadership of APGA that the law will recognise, between Umeh and Maxi Okwu. Now, there have been overtures. When Peter Obi brought Maxi Okwu leadership to take control, the first thing Maxi Okwu did was to lead his Executive Committee to come to me to apologise. It was widely published and I received them well. The arrangement then was if things stabilised, UPP and APGA would find a meeting point, so that we would be able to continue with the vision that was truncated. But Peter Obi, in his usual game of being unreliable, dropped Maxi Okwu like hot potato and switched back to Umeh and that entire macabre dance continued till today. Now, the Okwu group is still willing to work with us, but not until the Supreme Court matter is resolved one way or the other. And there have been overtures also, not from Umeh, but from his own side. The government there especially is interested, because they are now beginning to know the truth about what happened. The government in Anambra today was not part of the struggle or the crisis; and especially the governor has come to hear from well-meaning people some of the things he was never privileged to know, because of the circumstances of his emergence. I understand, he hasn't talked to me directly, but I understand that he is very much receptive to the idea of reuniting the political front in the South East.
What type of Nigeria would you want to see in the next four years of the Buhari Presidency?   An equitable country in which everybody feels that he is an equal stakeholder, But I will also like to see Buhari, in spite of his party not participating in the National Conference, to adopt and implement the resolutions of that conference. If that is done, Nigeria's federalism will be enhanced and better defined. It won't take us to where we are looking, but it will be a major step forward in widening the space for everybody to have a better breathing space. What we have now is some sections have excess of space and others being suffocated. And that can't bring out the patriotic zest in you to do the best both for your country and yourself. That is why many people or sections have come up with all manner of demands of true federalism or Sovereign National Conference, all aimed at liberalizing the system. So, that National Conference did quite a lot, since most of the decisions and recommendations were arrived at by consensus. It would give Buhari a good political mileage and credit if he picks that document and implement it. I'm happy that President Jonathan made that recommendation that he shouldn't jettison it. I join him in making that recommendation.   
 

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