It’s Ndigbo’s Turn To Produce President In 2023 – Okechukwusay

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Mr. Osita Okechukwu

Osita Okechukwu is the Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON) and an ardent supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview session with journalists in Enugu, he spoke on next month’s presidential elections in the country and related issues. EMMA NZOMIWU brings the excerpts:

You have been insistent that President Muhammadu Buhari will defeat former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in next month’s presidential election. What makes you sound so confident?

My position is based on many parameters that President Buhari is going to win this election. One, on the day that PDP finished their primaries in Port Harcourt, I was one of those that celebrated Atiku’s victory because if they had for instance nominated or voted for the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, we could have been in a bigger problem. Atiku has a huge baggage and integrity deficit, huge as well. And one, he is representing a party that degraded Nigerian democracy, created unemployment, squandered our commonwealth. He was in charge in the first four years of PDP. So, if there is any probe of the 16 years of PDP, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo should be held culpable because in that 16 years we are bemoaning, they were the principal actors.

While the then President Olusegun Obasanjo was junketing around the world, trying to rehabilitate himself, Atiku was in charge for four years. He was also the chairman of National Council on Privatization (NCP) that sold state owned assets, that if today we look back; it failed the paradigm or intendment of the privatization. It was highly controversial, less than transparent process. The Nigerian people did not get back their money; neither did they get back service, as witnessed in the electricity sector. They talk of communication as if the privatization of Nitel gave birth to MTN. No, there is no linkage. In fact, the killing of Nitel was what gave birth to MTN, Globacom and the Rest. If Nitel had existed or functioned effectively, it could have been a measure of whether MTN is friendly to the country or whether Globacom has social responsibility. So, that is why I am saying that Atiku has no choice-wall to block Mr. President from getting a second term.

Are you writing Atiku off just on your perception of his integrity?

He is Hausa-Fulani like Mr. President. So, ethnicity and religious cards are cancelled. And going by the Igbo parlance, the fact that they are of the same age grade bracket, in the sense that as at the last count, Atiku is 72, Mr. President is 76; so they fell within the same age grade bracket. So, there is no differential. Because election is a referendum on the incumbent, even those who actually have enough grouse against Mr. President, sincerely, they cannot say that Atiku is the Prime-Alternative. That is why I am saying he has no choice wall to block Mr. President. On the age bracket, he cannot say he is a youth. On ethnicity, he cannot say he is not a Fulani. On religion, he cannot say he is not a Muslim. That is nothing he (Atiku) could do differently. And one of the trump cards, he could have used, which is restructuring, he has been unable to define it and it is difficult to define as well. Let us be honest as well, it is difficult. Those who are trying to define it behind him were trying to throw away the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, which is both impracticable, if not impossible.

What makes you think it is impossible to do away with the 1999 constitution and have a new one?

It is impracticable unless you are calling for anarchy. Because if you want to throw away the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, or even Section 9 of that constitution that talks of amendment or alteration, it then means that you are saying that the councilor in your local ward should not be councilor anymore. The man who represents your House of Assembly constituency should not be there. Your Governor should not be there and your Federal House Representative should not be there. Your senators should not be there and the President should not be there. Because from the councillorship to House of Assembly, to the Federal House of Representatives, to the Senate, to Governor, to the President, they are based on the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended. That is why they say the constitution is the ground norm. so, if you are going to do serious restructuring, fundamental restructuring, you must look at Section 9 of the 1999 constitution that talks of the conditions and provisions to make amendments.

What does this section say?

In simplicity, it says that you must have 24 State Houses of Assembly behind you. You must have two thirds of the National Assembly. That is 2/3 of 109 of the senators, not quorum of those present. 2/3 of 360 of the Federal House of Representatives, not quorum of those present. If you have two thirds of the National Assembly and two thirds (i.e) 24 State House of Assemblies behind you, before God and man, any fundamental restructuring requires that. So, Atiku and those who are canvassing for him had not been able to explain it. Because what they told us in primary government or political science class 101 is that there are two types of constitution. One is flexible. One is rigid. And the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is on the rigid side. So, for us who want restructuring, we need consensus. We need the art of compromise from the different sections of the country and Atiku had not built that. On the integrity quotient, he has integrity deficit and consensus platform in the country, he has not built any. On the message, he has no message. I asked Yinka Odumakin and my friends in the South West who are talking vehemently about restructuring under Atiku to explain it to us. They were unable, except to talk glibly about administrative restructuring, which is today being gradually addressed under Buhari.

If their will were horses, they would want to distance restructuring from Section 9 of the 1999 constitution, a constitution they claim was not made by Nigerians. They said the Constitution was made by the military, not the peoples constitution but they forgot that 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pulled its weight from the 1979 constitution, which was people based and other amendments. And if you look back to America where we copied our model, what they tell you is first amendment. It took years before the second amendment. It took years before the third amendment. So, it is not done in a pool. So, when they came with restructuring as an agenda, it fell in flat in their face. Restructuring did gather the traction they envisaged. And on the issue of integrity quotient deficit, we challenge Atiku to go to the United States of America. He cannot. Forget about excuses over PDP’s 16 years discrepancies, if it is better looked into, if not that Buhari is President Muhammadu Buhari, who did not want to spill the beans, he could have probed the eight years of Obasanjo regime. And you will see the genesis of the mess where we are in, the collapsed infrastructure. A lot of people will say, don’t talk about the past, fix it. But yesterday is today’s architecture. We have lesser funds than we had in 16 years and eight of it was the foundation for Nigeria’s democracy and it was crashed by Atiku and Obasanjo. If it was Governor Tambuwal or any of the other aspirants in the PDP, they could have distanced themselves easier from that sordid past. Not those who auctioned Nigeria without commensurate returns, so that is why I said so.

Are you saying that Atiku stands no chance against Buhari?

I have tremendous respect for His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar. We know each other very well. I am very close to him, but he has no choice-wall to block President Muhammadu Buhari. No matter what anybody says, he has been unable to build a coalition. You cannot win election in Nigeria without a coalition. He has been unable to build a coalition because he suffers from integrity quotient deficit, which nobody can wish away. They will tell you he is soon going to America. We are not saying he should not go to America. Let him go. So, these are the three factors. He inherited a party that injured the people of Nigeria. On personal ground, he lacks integrity quotient. On the other side, he cannot build the coalition to win the presidency of the country. He can’t get major PDP stakeholders behind him as predicted.

You talked about PDP’s 16 years as a mess. If you look at what the opposition, PDP, is saying, citing recent indices from very reputable international organisations, it appears that under this government the country is not faring better than it did in the past, going by worsening unemployment and poverty now. So, are we seeing a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

Let us be honest. I subscribe to the old paradigm that the incumbent had to bear the brunt. Yes, we are not distancing from it. All we are saying is that the rot was inflicted on the country by the ancient PDP regime. When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory lamented about missing 16 billion dollars, let us say it was not up to that, but actually the return on investment made in electricity was not commensurate to the money busted. And somebody will tell you, don’t talk about that. And that same person is on the other hand talking about 1963 constitution, that we should adopt it. You talked about unemployment. Going by the World and NBS records, we had 228 .76 billion dollars 3 years to 2012 collectively. This time around, in three years to 2018, we had $92.2 billion. And we are talking about unemployment we had 112 million in 2012 and 88 million in 2018, a difference of 66% versus 46% – World Bank and NBS sources. You now ask yourself, if you got smaller money, how on earth can you produce more jobs when the Federal Roads are dilapidated; all of them. It was like we stopped where PTF ended. In 2004, oil sold about 145 dollars per barrel. Between 2009 and 2014, it was above 100 dollars per barrel. President Muhammadu Buhari came, it was below 40 dollars. It later rose to 60 and 70. Today, the price of oil is below 60 dollars per barrel. Please can you count them? When you measured that fund being worked on and what has been achieved, you will rate Buhari higher.

Today, there is no doubt that there is evidently appreciable improvement in power supply. We did Christmas, and for the first time in the past years, there was no fuel scarcity. We are now trying to leverage on standard gauge rail line. The Lagos-Kano will soon be completed. By late last year, the Federal Ministry of Transportation under Rotimi Amechi advertised for the Eastern Corridor Rail line. Six other water supply projects of $50 million each were also advertised last year that will come into fruition. So, when we talk about unemployment, it was an outcome of the rot of the past years. Nobody, even a magician can fix a rot of 16 years in three years. Cast your mind back.

Why dwell so much in the past?

We must not forget, where and when the rain started beating us. For instance Jonathan took over the affairs of the country as Executive President on May 6, 2010. The next few days, he awarded Green Field Refinery for 23 billion dollars. The then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala announced it and we were jubilating in our corner. The three Green Field Refineries awarded for 23 billion dollars were to be located in Bayelsa, Kogi State and Lagos State and had a three year span for completion. That contract was awarded in 2010. We did not see the refinery. We did not see the money. If those three Green Field refineries were completed, by now the Nigerian state won’t be expending humongous funds to buy refined products instead of refining it. When Mr. President went to China and tried to reopen it, the Chinese were cold on that.

Why?

What was their anger? That they even came back to tell Nigerians to bring 20 percent counterpart funding and that was not the case. By then we had a Foreign Reserve of over 46 billion dollars. We had more than 20 billion dollars in Excess Crude Account. The three Green Field Refineries that could have stopped importation of refined petroleum products from our accounts, subsidy or whatever you call it, was bungled. Because that is the greatest drain on us and we are running a mono economy. On one hand, you sell crude. On the other hand you buy the refined products from your co-producers. We are talking about not only the PMS, but diesel, kerosene, industrial products like LPFO and HPFO. That is part of the problem that we are in. On our own side, we kept asking, Mr. President, why can’t you probe this people? And he said no. Don’t call it weakness. He is looking at the back and looking at the front. If he dares probe Obasanjo or Atiku, they will all go to jail. But they were all there, 8.3 billion dollars standard gauge railway line from Lagos to Kano. At that time the Chinese Government awarded Golmond. Golmond is a town in China to Lassa, the capital of Tibet, about 1140 kilometres standard gauge lines for 4.2 billion dollars. It has been completed. Now, President Muhammadu Buhari is borrowing back to the same tract that we do not know what they did. If it wasn’t repeating, it could have been in other tracts. It could have been in the Eastern Corridor Rail lines. It could have been in the coastal rail lines if it was completed.

And why are we talking about modern transportation and electricity? So, if President Muhammadu Buhari had met enough funds, he could have done better. The only problem we had is because no foreign government will dissociate you from the past of your country. We are even happy that because of his integrity quotient, the international community is listening to us. That is why he was able to source abut $2 billion dollars for super grid highway, so that those who are generating power through renewable energy, solar, wind, mini-hydro plants, can have their power evacuated. What we have is narrow transmission line. Look at the Mambilla Hydro power plant. It has been on the drawing board since 1973. He is the first person that started the project. The Second Niger Bridge had been on the drawing board since 1970. He is the first President that brought the first bag of cement, the first shovel of gravel, the first shovel of sand and the first set of rods to start the foundation. That is where we are.

What would you say about the worsening insecurity in the country?

That was one of the things that APC used to campaign when they were coming to power. Then it was Boko Haram. Now, we have armed bandits and herdsmen. What is your take on this?

That is why we are praying that the insecurity should abate. But the Igbos as I said before in our local parlance, if the rain is beating you and you want the rain to stop, the first solution the Igbos proffered is that you should know where the rain started beating you. When you had 23 billion dollars to do refineries and to stop importation of refined products and you did not stop, this is one of the consequences. When you have rail line to finish in a jiffy and you didn’t, that is the consequence. When you suddenly sold all the federal houses; if you appoint a Minister, you now pay huge bills for him to rent house in Abuja. These are the consequences. You appoint a DG, you now pay up to N5 million for him to rent a house. These are the consequences. You threw away the baby and the bath water. That is the PDP records. To fix it, we are saying, we have started by laying the foundation of critical infrastructure. That is the solution.

Source: independent.ng