Director General of Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Osita Okechukwu
The Director-General, Voice of Nigeria, Mr Osita Okechukwu, who is a foundation member of the All Progressives Congress, shares with TUNDE AJAJA his views on the 2023 elections and the recent declarations of interest in the presidency
At an event in December 2021, you urged the National Leader of your party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to jettison his presidential ambition and back a younger candidate from the South-East, how did his eventual declaration come to you; were you disappointed?
No, I wasn’t disappointed. My submission was advisory and not in any way compulsive. At any rate, who am I to dictate to the great Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Jagaban of Borgu. As I said in my many statements, being a Buharist, I cannot underrate or undermine the critical supplement eminent Asiwaju and others like Mr Rotimi Amaechi and Dr Bukola Saraki injected into our campaign which made President (Muhammadu) Buhari’s victory possible in 2015. Don’t forget that Mr President had his 10 to 12 million vote bank, but we Buharists alone couldn’t win any geopolitical zone in the south without the Asiwaju critical supplement. I’m a Christian and we are admonished to remain grateful. I didn’t get this appointment until the APC won the presidential election. Therefore, one remains grateful for those who contributed immensely to our victory after our failed attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
You advised him to remain a kingmaker, but he has said a kingmaker can also be a king. Since he had it relatively easy ‘installing’ kings, do you think this race would be much easier for him, since he would be selling himself to the party and the voters if he wins the primary?
Mine is simply persuasion. Please deeply examine the huge solidarity that would be generated in the south and by extension the entire country if Asiwaju had said let me go by the Hadith Golden Rule and support any south-easterner of choice. That could have resonated and carved his name in gold. I wish him the best of luck. At any rate, our great party, the APC, is not averse to zoning. In fact, zoning was one of the factors which enhanced our victory in 2015. I have lived in the north for 33 years and I know Nigeria sufficiently well that every geopolitical zone has eminently qualified persons to preside over the country. Therefore, none should be denied the opportunity to preside over the country. I also know that it is not the region that produces the president that benefits more. So, it is a soothing balm in nation building.
Some people have advocated that competence should supersede zoning, don’t you think your insistence on the seat being zoned to the South-East could be viewed as whipping up ethnic sentiment?
I’m a nationalist and not a tribalist, but whatever brand or label, my major concern is the peace, unity and prosperity of our dear fatherland. In the political domain, there is the law with its legal teeth and the convention with its moral weight. Both play eminent roles in the annals of all countries at one point or the other. The Fourth Republic milieu convention was at play in 1999 and 2007, where two Yoruba sons and two Hausa were contestants respectively. Don’t forget that it was based on this premise that patriots like Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President, Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Umaru Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma, Dr Olusola Saraki of blessed memory and a host of other patriots shelved their interest and adopted the zoning convention which saved our dear country. I think we need the zoning convention to further stabilise the country.
You also mentioned that Tinubu ‘should use his abundant Almighty God’s endowment to unite the APC, the South and by extension our beloved country by backing a candidate from the south- East.’ Does it mean his intention to run could one way or the other divide your party, the south and the country?
No division meant at all, but as the scripture says, there is time for everything. This time is for our big brother to uplift and unite the south and by extension our dear country. Asiwaju’s support for anybody from the South-East will forever unite the two brethren, and that will be a huge milestone. If I am Asiwaju and Ndigbo had been president for eight years and now vice president for almost eight years, I will canvas for the Yoruba. In the tribal contest scenario we found ourselves in since the election in the defunct Western Region Parliament, where NCNC members defected to the Action Group and denied the great Zik (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe) the leadership of the parliament, the best in this circumstance is to adhere to the Golden Rule, which will automatically heal and cement such ancient grudge. For me, Ndigbo and Yoruba are not enemies but competitors who naturally look beyond each other’s shoulders. This gesture could have minimised such rivalry.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has faulted Tinubu’s expression of interest in the presidency, saying it’s a project dead on arrival because it’s not rooted in justice and equity. What do you make of Ohanaeze’s position?
My understanding is that Ohanaeze Ndigbo is also appealing to Asiwaju to give us support, the language syntax notwithstanding. That he should obey the Golden Rule and do unto others as was done to them.
The Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, has said he might consider contesting the presidency if the APC zones the ticket to the South-East, are you optimistic the party would zone it to the region?
We are all on this same page lobbying the leadership and membership of our great party to honour Ndigbo with Nigeria’s President of Igbo extraction. It will be the end of the civil war and end of IPOB (the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra). Indeed, Nigeria’s President of Igbo extraction will be broadminded and continue the physical and agrarian infrastructural revolution of President Buhari. We have been involved in the development of everywhere in the country and this tempo will definitely accelerate if given the golden opportunity. We are true patriots who reside and invest wherever we live. Everywhere is our home and it is incumbent on us to develop wherever we live.
There seems to be a lot of conflict in your party, especially at the state level, resulting in factions across many states. Could that be the reason the party is yet to hold its convention and zone offices both for the convention and the presidential primary?
Permit me to state that conflict is natural in human affairs, especially when prosperity is in sight. In most parts of the country, it is abundantly clear that if you control the structure of APC, your chances of nominating candidates is very high, complemented by the high probability of victory for your candidate. APC, our great party, is that party of first choice, liberal and progressive with spread across the country. The Reconciliation Committee led by Distinguished Senator Abdullahi Adamu is working on the onerous task of reconciliation in the states. On the upcoming convention, the Secretary of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, John Akpan Udo-Edehe, who is the manager of our party’s secretariat, already gave the position of the party when he said dates for party activities such as meetings, primaries, congresses and national conventions are communicated through well-known official channels and not through sources. He also noted that the caretaker committee under the leadership of Governor Mai Mala Buni would not be distracted by self-serving antics of the sponsors of fake news and it is embarking on nationwide consultations with party stakeholders to prepare the ground for a rancour-free national convention. The secretary has equally pointed out that the sub-committee on budgeting and other substructures would be set up in due course.
Do you agree with those who say the zoning should be done quickly because further delay would make more candidates across the zones show interest, and by the time the zoning is done, there would be many people to be persuaded to drop their ambition?
As quoted above, I think the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee will not disappoint us the rank and file of the party. For me, the more the merrier; let all the flowers blossom. That’s the spice of democracy, where the members have options to choose from. Don’t forget that the APC’s Constitution has expressly stated in Article 20 that, “All party posts prescribed or implied by this constitution shall be filled by democratically conducted elections at a respective national convention or congress subject, where possible, to consensus. Where a candidate has emerged by consensus for an elective position, a vote of “yes” or “no” by ballot or voice shall be called to ensure that it was not an imposition which could breed discontent and crisis.”
If the party zones the presidential ticket to the south and aspirants in the entire south have to fight for the ticket, how do you think that would turn out?
It will be a welcome development and it can actually be dubbed victory round one. I said round one of victory in the sense that APC has prioritised the collective interest of the corporate existence of our dear country. For me, any move that engenders national loyalty and sense of belonging is welcome. This move in a plural society like ours is the best in building national unity and national loyalty.
The Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, declared his intention to contest the presidency the day after Tinubu did, do you think all interested persons in the South-East should come out now or they should bide their time?
Yes, they should come out. I had at several fora maintained that the more the merrier and let the flowers blossom on two grounds: let the people’s choice be as wide as possible. Two, the people are the sovereign and therefore should take their destiny in their hands. This is the freedom we enjoy in a democracy as opposed to authoritarianism in some countries. If you have been to totalitarian countries like Cameroun, you will appreciate the freedom we breathe like air.
Some people have advised that aspirants from the South-East should come together and present strong aspirants, do you agree with that option?
To be frank, one won’t oppose that. In fact, I will be the happiest if Ndigbo in APC and PDP present one candidate each. It falls within the best model with regards to 1999, when Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo slugged it out and in 2007, when two Fulani slugged it out. The reality is that when Alhaji Shehu Shagari contested in 1979, he was not the only northerner; there were Aminu Kano and Waziri Ibrahim. When President Buhari contested in the 2014 presidential primary election, there were four other northerners too.
The name of former President Goodluck Jonathan has been mentioned repeatedly as a possible candidate of your party, is the APC truly making efforts to woo him and is it true that there are people who want him to be your party’s candidate?
To be frank, his bid has remained speculative. Therefore, one would wait for his statement in the affirmative before commenting. It is safer and more civil to wait until he declares openly.
Former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, and Chief Ckuwuemeka Ezeife said in December that the South-East was ready to beg to get parties’ tickets for the 2023 election, do you agree with that approach, if that would make other zones to concede?
I agree with the approach of lobbying, methinks that was what they meant. Politics is horse-trading which entails lobbying, persuasion and cajoling. This is what I understand my elder brothers did.
In December, you joined the Highly Respected Igbo Greats, led by Chief Mbazulike Amechi, to call for the release of Nnamdi Kanu and the President promised to consider their request. But during his recent interview, the President said Kanu should go and defend himself in court. How did that come to you, and does that mark an end to the solicitation for Kanu’s release?
I still plead for his release or political solution on the condition that IPOB changes gear. I am worried over this insecurity. It breeds economic stagnation and diminishes democratic growth. I am not a supporter of IPOB’s tactics and strategies.
Your party has been recruiting bigwigs from the PDP, the party that your party and the government it leads consistently described as a failure. Why are you inviting supposed failures, in an aggressive manner, to join you?
On this matter, one will opine that a political party is like a church, where you cannot stop new adherents of your beliefs, otherwise you go to heaven to recruit members. The party as a living organ must continue to recruit new members, especially the bigwigs to entrench its hold in many constituencies because the more the hold a party has per electoral constituency the better its chances of victory.