“Igbo Presidency 2023 Is Arrant Nonsense” – Ex-Gov, Achike Udenwa
Former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa has expressed worries over the spate of violence in the country. He believes that the All Progressives Congress(APC) has no solutions to the situation. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on various issues including the determination of people of Imo State to resist the imposition of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s son in-law, Mr Uche Nwosu on the state.
How do you feel about the state of affairs in the country today especially with the spate of violence and wanton killings in Nigeria ahead of the 2019 general elections?
The state of the nation is nothing to write home about. There is so much suffering in the land. A lot of people are not employed. The prices of goods are rising so much and the people are earning so little. In the country today, everybody is crying. I think that is because of the government’s inability to grasp with the situation. The government seems not to know exactly what to do. All these culminate in the level of violence you witness in the country. If youths are unemployed, they could easily engage in all sorts of crimes. If the youth are gainfully employed, we would not have the level of insecurity that we have in the country today. That is the situation we have on our hands and it is very unfortunate.
But even with all these happening under the All Progressives Congress(APC), do you think Nigerians would be ready to go back to your party, PDP in the next general elections?
I think Nigerians would go back to the PDP because just compare what happened when the PDP was in power to what is happening now. I am not saying we are perfect but we did not have the level of suffering that we are having in the country today. It is not that the PDP was perfect but whatever was our own shortcoming, I believe by now, we have learnt our lessons and we would be ready to make amends. The sufferings cannot continue as it is today. We cannot vote for the APC forever. By the time the APC was coming in, they promised heaven on earth. They promised for instance that electricity would improve substantially. They promised improved infrastructure, employment and even security. And three years after, we have seen today that all the promises have come to nothing. Not even one of the sectors they made promises on has improved. They have not improved employment, supply of electricity, infrastructure, security, prices of commodities and so on. So we have not witnessed improvement anywhere. The worst thing that is happening to us in this country today is the issue of insecurity of lives and properties of the people. Insecurity is on the increase on a daily basis. It is astonishing that everyday, you hear that 20 people have been killed here, and 30 people have been killed there, and so on. It is as if we do not value the lives of human beings again. It is not pardonable for a nation to even lose one person carelessly and not to talk about losing 100 people. I do not know where Nigeria is heading. So, with the situation on ground, Nigerians can no longer leave their country for the APC. If we do that, we are all doomed.
With your vantage position after eight years experience as governor, one area I would like you to talk about is on the fragile national unity that we are experiencing since President Muhammadu Buhari came on board. Nigerians have never been this divided since after the civil war. What in you view is the problem?
The answer is very simple; if we leave Nigeria the way she is today, with all the ethnic and religious divisions, I can tell you that we are heading to a disaster. It is not a situation we should joke with. But I am sure that if the PDP comes back to power, we would not allow this to continue. We cannot definitely allow this level of ethnic and religious divisions to continue. The PDP was in power from 1999 to 2015, but there was no time that we had this kind of ethnic and religious division. We know exactly that in Nigeria, we have several tribes and different religions. There are even some other religions but all of these existed side by side without problems. But what is happening in the country today emphasizes our religious and tribal differences. That is not how to build a nation; that is not the way to go and that would not lead us anywhere. It can only lead us to chaos. So, if the PDP comes to power in 2019, I am sure we would check that drift. I do not think that anybody in his right senses should be a religious bigot or a tribal chauvinist. Your tribe and your religion to the PDP do not matter because they are personal to you. Your religion is between you and God. But the way we have emphasised our religion and tribal differences in the current administration has never happened in Nigeria before. Today, watch the appointments when they are made, you would see that the bulk of the appointments comes from one side. The other time, somebody was analyzing it in the media, when the security council of the country is sitting, no person from the South East, a whole region would be there. I think the South South has one person and the South West has one other person. The rest are from the North. This has never happened before. It should not be allowed to continue. I am not saying that people from the North should not be there but in terms of competence, I do not believe that the other zones from the country do not have competent people to be there. In terms of ethnic balancing, the whole country should be represented. These are ways of dousing tension. Now, we talk about federal character. We should not only talk about federal character when it is only convenient for a particular section of the country. We should talk of federal character in a holistic manner. There are federal appointments that you want to make, even if all the competent people are from one region, as long as we are practising the federal character principle, everybody should be carried along. These are very simple issues to deal with. It is just that those who are in power today do not want to deal with them.
You are sounding optimistic that the PDP may bounce back to power in 2019 but what do you make of the defections of some key members of your party to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), APC and other parties? I am talking about names like Prof Jerry Ghana, Prof Adeniran among others.
Defections are happening right, left and centre. While some are defecting from the PDP to other parties, some are also leaving other parties to the PDP. So, the defections do not worry us at all. Prof Gana and Prof Adeniran that you just mentioned, these are my two very good friends and the reasons that they are giving come from the last national convention of the party. But while they are not satisfied with what happened within the party during the convention but the party leadership has also tried to talk to them not to be angry but help in putting the party together. Even with that, for reasons best known to them, they left. But I can tell you that as they are going, other people are also coming into the PDP. I can tell you that the level of defections out of the PDP is not as much as the level of those coming into the PDP. So, at the end of the day, I do not think that it would drastically affect the fortunes of the PDP. But I must say that the two of them are eminent members of the party. At the same time, that does not mean that if they defect to other parties that the PDP cannot move forward. So many are coming into the PDP, and not the APC. The ruling party, the APC is in shambles. Despite the fact that they are in government, the party is in shambles. And if you watch their own defections, in the next two to three months, their defections would be much more than whatever happened in the PDP. I think that despite the setbacks that we are having, the PDP is getting stronger and stronger. We have passed our worst period. We can only but go up again.
What is your take on the reordering of election schedule by the National Assembly? Do you agree with those who hold the view that the move is targeted at the President?
I do not think that the move to reorder the election is personal. It is not targeted at the president. In 1999 when we contested elections, the order of elections as far as I can remember was just like what the National Assembly is saying now. It was changed somewhere along the line. The important thing is that the National Assembly has the powers to do that. If they have the powers to reorder the elections, I do not see how it is targeted at anybody.
What is your take on the position by some people that restructuring of the nation should be carried out before the general elections?
I feel that restructuring should be done before the 2019 general elections but now it is clear that the APC government does not want to restructure the country. It would have been the ideal thing to restructure the country before the election. I can assure you that when the PDP takes over government, to restructure the country would be our first assignment. The APC manifesto with which they won the 2015 presidential election talked about restructuring and they sold this manifesto to Nigerians and Nigerians voted for them based on their own manifesto. But you can see that the way they have treated the issue of restructuring up till now tells you that the APC is not a serious party. The APC is not a party you can trust. With the problems Nigeria is having, you cannot trust the party because they cannot come up with solutions to our problems. Look at all the promises they made before the elections; tell me which one they have fulfilled; none. I can assure you that the PDP is firm on restructuring and it is paramount to the party. But if they fail to do that, we cannot say there would not be election without restructuring. I do not support that but the thing is that it is ideal to have restructuring before the elections. But if they want to have the elections without restructuring, we leave it to when the PDP comes to power. I was a member of the 2014 National Conference and in all the recommendations, the restructuring was on the front burner. We all agreed that it is the only way we can move forward in this country. But the APC is not ready for restructuring, so I do not see how we can entrust the governance of this country in the hands of the APC any more. They cannot be trusted. At the National Conference, people gathered from all walks of life and if you know the basis of selecting the delegates of the conference, you would know that every part of this country was represented. All classes of people including market women were represented. The civil society was very well represented. The traditional institution was well represented. We made very serious deliberations to arrive at the report that we have but unfortunately, this government has said no to restructuring. They came with a cosmetic report the other time and said it was the APC programme on restructuring. Do you think that they are serious on restructuring? After how many days, you are bringing out a wishy-washy report on restructuring; what are you going to restructure? That tells you that these people do not want to restructure but we believe that Nigeria must be restructured. That is what all sections of Nigeria are saying.
As one of the leaders in the South East zone, what type of politics should the Igbo play ahead of next year’s general elections? Do you agree with those who argue that voting for Buhari is the easiest way for the South East to produce the president of this country?
Saying that voting for Buhari is the easiest way for the Igbo to produce the president of this country is arrant nonsense. If you like, give Buhari 100 per cent vote, it would not improve your chances of producing the president of this country. These are all gimmicks. The Igbo should vote for a party that believes in restructuring, a party that generally believes in Nigeria’s unity, a party that genuinely believes that every Nigerian is equal, a party that believes that every Nigerian irrespective of where you come from have equal rights. That is what the Igbo should vote for and not be talking about voting for the APC because you want to be president in 2023. That does not hold anywhere and those who are saying it know that they are not serious. Even our brothers who are saying it know that they are not serious. Go and ask our brothers who went to the APC about their fate in the party. They have no place there. They are not usually there when decisions are being taken. They are not consulted when decisions are made no matter how highly placed they may be.
In view of the tension and the state of affairs in the country, what are your worst fears about Nigeria?
My worst fears about the country is that if we do not take time, and these killings continue unchecked, it could result to an insurrection that would be worse than the last civil war in Nigeria. Anybody who fought the last civil war would never wish that it could come to Nigeria again. The last civil war even had boundaries; the worst would be when we would not have boundaries and everywhere would become a battlefield. Nobody will be safe. That is my worst fear. I pray that all of us should put our differences and selfishness aside and look at Nigeria as our country. We should try and carry everybody along. Once we have equity, justice and fair play, the tension in the country would come down. But as long as people feel completely neglected and marginalized with some places becoming permanent battlefield, there would not be peace. In the country now, everywhere you hear of Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs). In Plateau, Adamawa, Borno, Benue, Nasarrawa, Yobe, Taraba and so on, the story is the same of the IDPs. And what are IDPs? They are what we used to call the refugee camps during the civil war. But IDP is a new baptism for refugees. These things should not exist in our country. The more we have these features, the more bleak our future will be. Let us remove ethnicity and religion in our politics and build our own country. Nigeria can be a great country. I was one of those who thought that with Buhari coming in, there would be discipline in the country. I must say that he has got discipline but with what is happening now in the country, I do not know whether he is in charge. I thought that with his discipline, Nigeria would be taken to the next level but instead, the country is moving backwards. We are retrogressing. Let every Nigerian not think of his tribe or religion but the nation unless we want to go our own ways, which I do not support. I still believe in Nigeria but I believe in a restructured Nigeria. I believe in a Nigeria with equal opportunities for her citizens. I believe in a Nigeria where everybody would put his best.
You were governor of Imo for eight years and your state has been in the news for many controversial reasons. The most recent controversy is the endorsement of the Imo Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, by Governor Rochas Okorocha. As a son in-law to the governor, his candidacy is generating furore, are you comfortable with the development?
It boils down to the fact that our governor has no direction. His son in-law, Uche Nwosu, I must concede to him is a Nigerian, an Imo indigene and he is constitutionally qualified to contest for any position he wants but the issue of the governor trying to impose him, that is neither here nor there. I can assure you it would not happen in Imo State. If you listened to the media when the governor was sharing positions, you would know how naïve he is. He said his son in-law, Uche Nwosu would become the governor, he would be the Senator for Orlu zone, and he has appointed the Senator for Owerri, he has appointed House of Representatives member for part of Okigwe and so on. He was distributing democratically elective positions. Does it ever happen anywhere? Under which platform is he standing to distribute elective positions? He is not even talking of those people being the candidates of his party. He is talking about the person that would become governor, the person that would go to the Senate and so on. Is it done anywhere? It tells you the level of madness we are having in that state but Imo people are not fools. I can tell you that Imo people would stand against it and I can assure you that it cannot happen in Imo. If it happens in Imo, then it means that there is nobody there again. The young man is qualified to contest as governor of Imo State but for Okorocha to say it must be him is the height of foolhardiness.