The News Chronicle had an exclusive interview with the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, in which he spoke about his Senatorial ambition, 2019 elections, the President Buhari-led government, agitations in Southeastern Nigeria and other issues. Patrick Ofikwu, Seyi Anjorin and Sussan Opata report.
Good afternoon Sir and how is work?
Good afternoon and welcome. Work is fine.
Sir, we learnt that you vied to pick the ticket for Enugu-West Senatorial District and has filed a petition to the APC Primaries’ Committee over the outcome of the primaries election. Please, can you tell us more?
I am a foundation member of the party and when they called for purchase of nomination forms, I rallied around friends to be able to get it and I was given the form. We went for the screening at The Transcorp Hilton Hotel; we were cleared and went for the elections. Luckily, being a foundation member of the party and being in the mainstream caucus of the party as well, the membership of the party gave me their support. In fact, in a particular local government, I had over 7,000 votes. So they went out on their own and allocated the winner 5,000 votes; a lady that did not actually participate because she belongs to the fringe faction of the party in the state; a faction that lost the congress and did not participate in the November local government election of last year. When they announced the results, people wanted to fight but I told them that at my age and with my level of experience in politics, I knew there are processes, so I came back and filed a petition to the appeal panel led by Professor Osunbor. We are still waiting for the panel to look into the matter.
Do you think the declared winner can win the senatorial seat?
Unless you are going to use armoured tank to shoot her to victory, because the party membership in Enugu went to court up to five times and we are still in court with her; she took us to court through her Personal Assistant in Abuja. We finished that one and came back for another one in Enugu and that case is still subsisting. So, the membership of the party cannot give her their support, not to talk of the public that knew that what she has is a stolen mandate.
How were you able to get a good margin of votes in the primaries?
It was not a delegate election. By executive fiat, the national chairman said that it should be a direct election which it was and I had ward agents that covered the 81 wards in Enugu West and that was why I told them in my petition that the signatories in the papers I returned could be verified through forensic test. So, if they decide to conduct a test, between the chairman of the panel and some of the people that influenced it, it is very easy to call up all the activities during the period of the election. It was midway into the elections at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, when he got a call from Abuja that he should stop and he stopped after conducting elections into four local government areas out of 17.
Do you have the hope of getting your mandate back?
There is a substitution period; I have tried to exhaust the party mechanisms to reclaim my mandate. If I fail at the end of the day, I will also head to the court which is one of the processes. Without being modest, you know some people in Enugu particularly the Enugu West Senatorial district, the manipulation of the result cannot be distanced from the influence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The winner that was declared by the All Progressives Congress (APC) supported the PDP during the local government elections. Luckily, the chairman of our local government then is from her village but she still went ahead and told her supporters to vote against him.
Sir, you have been quoted as saying that Igbos would be major beneficiaries if President Buhari is re-elected in 2019. Tell us how they are going to benefit
What President Muhammadu Buhari is doing that will make the Igbos one of the greatest beneficiaries is what I call the devotion to critical infrastructure. The plan Mr President has is called the RRAP projects which include 5,000 kilometres of Federal Roads; 5,000 kilometres of standard railway gauge line; additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity and what I call the agricultural revolution that he started in Kebbi. So, if he is given more years, you will see the agricultural revolution.
What does the zoning of the PDP Vice Presidential slot to the South East portend for the APC?
I recently told my people that not all that glitters is not gold. The PDP Presidential aspirant has made so many promises including restructuring, and his plan to rule the country for just four years instead of eight. All these glitter but guess what? Restructuring of the Nigerian Federation cannot be done by fiat or an executive order; it goes back to the 1999 Constitution and we were taught in Political Science and even in the elementary class of government that there are two types of constitution: one is flexible and the other is rigid.
My understanding of the Nigerian Constitution going by the Section 9 is that it is a rigid one; it requires two third votes of members of the National Assembly, including the Senate and the House of Representatives. It also requires the resolution of the two third of all the State Houses of Assembly. So, how can someone do that in six months or four years.
We are not opposed to restructuring but my own school of reasoning is that restructuring, that is the real restructuring, is what President Muhammadu Buhari is doing. If he is re-elected and he advances the agricultural revolution for instance, the people will get what they can from the land. The man in Kebbi who is making some millions that he did not make before, when you talk about restructuring, he will listen to you better than the man in Enugu who actually did not get the leverage.
If you add 5,000 megawatts to the already existing 8,000 megawatts, the man whose business has flourished because of improved electricity will listen to you better about restructuring. Many people are against restructuring because they think, ‘if we leave you with all the proceeds of your oil, where do we benefit?’ and that is why they depend on federal allocation. So, it is a gradual run of getting the vulnerable groups to agree that everybody can man his own business, that is when it is easy to bring up restructuring. You cannot restructure when everybody is dependent on a mono-economy.
A good number of Igbos believe in the agitation for Biafra but you have been quoted as saying that its actualisation is not feasible. Do you think Southeasterners are ready to hear that?
It is not a fair assessment to say that it is every Igbo man that believes that there should be Biafra; it is not every Igbo man that believes in that agitation. In fact, if there is a referendum tomorrow, there are some people that will come out to say no. We have finished with that chapter of our history because when you go to Lagos, outside the Lagosian, the Igbo man will be the next beneficiary. If it is good in Kano, when you remove the indigene, the Igbo man comes next. It is tha same across other geo-political zones of the country because those states, except for four states plus five where we come from; when you minus 9 from 36, for the remaining 27 states, we are second in population to the original indigenes of the place. So, if it is good in Jigawa, Adamawa and Akwa Ibom, we are not a loser, same everywhere. It is only for those who do not know the matrix of the Igbos. we have two schools of thoughts in Igboland, and I belong to one of them, and that is the Zik’s school of thoughts, I do not belong to the Ikemba school of thought.
What is your take on the style of chairmanship of Adams Oshiomhole?
The point of the matter is that, Adams Oshiomhole got some of the nexus wrong. I think he acted more on his spur of events, he did not act within the law, on that subject. When we took up the primary election, I was one of those he called before he stopped the election and I told him there was initial peace and I told him to call the Commissioner of Police who was there and the Director of the Department of State Service (DSS) and I asked him where he was getting his information from because these are relevant security agencies in the state. I do not think that the Commissioner of Police and the Director of DSS are partisan, so that was why I said that before Oshiomhole had known, I do not know what happened.
Do you not think the Presidency has hand in his style of leadership?
I do not know what you call the Presidency, but if it is the President Buhari that I know, I do not think he has a hand in it, just count him out, otherwise, if you say he has a hand, I will say it is not the president that I know because some of us who are his people are also complaining. The likes of Governor Amosun, Akeredolu and others, that is the essence of democracy; that there should be division of labour, so that the party handles the party matters.
The Deputy Senate President is from your Senatorial District. How easy do you think it will be to win him in 2019?
We are the sons, we were born there; Ekweremadu is my brother, the people know his peculiarities and they know my character traits. The cardinal programmes I have are better than his, he has spent 15 years there but he did not advance to transform his local government. There are two local governments under the senatorial zone. Those are rice belts. I have a programme for them and whether I win or not, I will execute it.
On the other side of the district is a major river, I am planning a cassava belt in that area because that is what the soil is known for. There is the coal field and I am going to develop the zone. I am going to do integrated rice and cassava farms, I am going to revamp the Enugu Coal; fifteen years of Ekweremadu, he never did anything about the coal fields or even the cassava and rice farms, he did not believe in what the President is doing because he has been busy fighting him in the papers. So, the people know I am only going there to help the youths get more jobs; it is not about me but the people themselves.
Don’t you think that the conflicts from the primaries portend a danger for the APC in the 2019 polls?