By Dickson Okafor
Former Chief Whip, Anambra State House of Assembly, Uchenna Okonkwo Okom, has called on the ruling APC to pick its presidential candidate from the South-East to give the Igbo a sense of belonging in Nigeria.
As a candidate of APC in the House of Representative for Orumba North and South Federal Constituency in 2015 and 2019, Okom expressed the fear that if the South-East zone is denied the presidency in 2023, more people from the region may join the separation movement.
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He spoke on various issues
Do you think the APC would do well in 2023 in view of the challenges facing the nation?
For clarity sake, let me remind Nigerians the role we played that gave birth to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2015. I was former Chief Whip, Anambra State House of Assembly and Deputy Director General in charge of (Operations), Dozie Nwankwo Campaign Organisation for the last governorship election in Anambra State. Therefore, let me first explain how strong the APC is in the South-East. The ruling party is indeed as strong as any National party even in the South-East. However, the issue is that there have been some circumstances militating against the translation of the party’s presence and strength in South-East. This is against translating it into electoral results and since 2015, we have seen it all. But at this point, the ruling party will retain the presidency as we approach 2023. The people will begin to see the actual strength of the ruling APC in electoral prominence.
Many will disagree with you on the APC’s strength even in the South-East considering its poor performance at the last governorship election in Anambra State; many believe that APC has lost its popularity because of poor performance
Anybody who looked at the party through the process of campaign, it was tipped to carry the day in all the elections and this has been the case. In the case of the last gubernatorial election in Anambra State, yes, APC was feared by the opposition party and was equipped to carry the day during the last governorship election. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The truth is that the APC vehicle had an accident on the primary election day in Anambra in 2021; as it happens to human beings and also to institutions and organizations because the Anambra State Chairman of APC faulted some aspirants through inordinate means to allow an aspirant emerge illegally as the candidate of the party irrespective of acceptability and popularity. He insisted that the aspirant must emerge as the candidate of the party by hook or crook through foul means. At the end of the day, the court declared that APC did not hold governorship primary election in Anambra State because members of the party complained and approached the court and the court gave judgment that there was no primary. As a lawyer and politician who know and follow political events, especially legal procedures in Nigeria, I know that if a political party fails to conduct transparent primary, it won’t take part in an election. And if you refused and participate in that election, someone else from another party will take it. So, the thing militated and discouraged members of APC because it was obvious that the party did not conduct governorship primary. In that sense, APC went to the gubernatorial battle with failed strength and without determination and courage. So, if you do not conduct primary, there is no way you can win an election. It was clear that the turnout at the day of the election was the worst APC governorship election outing compared to 2017 and 2021. If you look at the build up to the primary, so many people joined the party and added value to the party through the membership registration exercise which was massive as people queued to get registered just to identify with APC. But at the end of the day, with the large number of members of APC, the whole exercise was truncated. If you listened to President Muhammadu Buhari’s address to the National Executive Committee of the party, he was specific and emphatic that leaders of the party should not impose candidates on the members of the party and that if they do so, they will lose the election. He highlighted the consequences of such act in some subsequent elections across the country. He was emphatic about that and when I was reading i, I knew it was Anambra case he was referring to.
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You are among those clamouring for President of Igbo extraction, but the National Chairman of APC, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu said the party has not zoned the Presidency ticket, isn’t that a sign that Igbo may not actualise this vision in 2023?
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In any country, the leaders are always mindful of the appropriate things, just and right things to do to support nation building, cohesion and to promote unity. The present leaders in APC have started well by insisting that the presidency should go to the Southern part of Nigeria. The recent statement credited to our National Chairman, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu that the Presidency has not been zoned is surprising. However, what the people of the South-East are demanding from the leaders is to go a bit further and micro zone the Presidency to South-East because that will show good faith, unity of purpose, equity and fair treatment for all corporate parts of the federation. The data, the statistics and history are there from 1999 till date. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was the President from 1999 to 2007 and he is from the South West. Thereafter, because of national understanding, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took over as President of Nigeria from the Northern part of the country. Unfortunately, may his soul rest in peace, he died in the office and his then vice, Goodluck Jonathan took over and completed Yar’Adua’s tenure of one term. Again, we reasoned that a vice president that tasted power for two years in such a sweet position that it won’t be fair toÅ ask him to go, hence it was agreed he takes one more tenure in 2011 and he had six years, so that it could go back to the North whose turn it was. So, in 2015 the Presidency went back to the North. Now, President Muhammadu Buhari from the same state with Yar’Adua, Katsina is about to complete eight years as President of Nigeria. The ruling party has agreed that the Presidency should go to the South. Ordinarily, where will it go if it comes to South now? South-South has taken six years, South West has taken eight years and the North has taken 10 years, but South-East has not tasted the Presidency in Nigeria. Therefore, we are as important as any other zone in this country. We can boast of doing more in terms of nation building when compared with what we have done in any place we found ourselves in the country.
The natural attitude of Igbo makes him/her a very important member of this nation, being a people that can be found everywhere doing their businesses and relaxing and settling where they are and developing the environment where they stay and giving back to society where they are; building and contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the area and the nation in general. In commerce, sports, entertainment, politics and every profession, Igbo people are playing leading roles.
So, why won’t we have our turn? It is commonsensical and logical for APC to zone the Presidency to the South which is fair in accordance with good conscience. We know that as a party that wants to retain power, they may be afraid to zone the Presidency to South-East because the people of South-East may not vote massively for APC. So, they may say, won’t we lose; let’s choose to go where we will get the numbers? South-East has good numbers hence, if you treat them well, you will see their numbers. Former Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan, they saw the numbers of Igbo when they were elected Presidents. If you treat South-East well, you will see their numbers. Not just South-East, if you treat people from the other geo political zones very well, you will see their numbers. This is so because justice for one is justice for all. Don’t forget that the South West rejected Obasanjo in 1999, but people in the other zones felt that it is just and fair to vote for Obasanjo. After Chief M.K .O Abiola’s death, many felt the South West should produce the President in 1999. Obasanjo won after losing in his polling unit in Owoh. So, if they do just that to South-East, the whole Nigeria will applaud them. It is the sign of forging a united nation. Therefore, it won’t be proper to deny South-East the Presidency in 2023 because if it is done, many Igbo may join those clamouring for secession.
You made mention of how Southwest voted for Chief Olu Falae instead of Olusegun Obasanjo, but this was because they had a strong political party, Alliance for Democracy (AD), but in the case of South-East, there is no strong political party even at this moment in the zone; don’t you think that APC may decide to compensate South West with the Presidency for voting for President Buhari twice in 2015 and 2019?
I will recommend the advice and admonition of Pa Ayo Adebanjo and Afenifere that the people who think like this according to Igbo saying should not eat all the parts of the meat because there are certain things you remove from the meat before you eat it. Meat is a very tasty food, very sweet, but you and I, we have our tongues in our mouth, but we have not cut them to eat. We know meat can be sweet, but we kept our tongue for other purposes. You don’t do everything because you can do it. When Obasanjo won the Presidency, South West did not support him, but South-East did. We didn’t; they said let us take our own share and their own share? We worked for Obasanjo and he became the first President based on South-East votes and other votes from the other zones. So, that the South-East did not vote for Buhari as expected does not mean that the South West will cut their tongue and eat it because it is a sweet meat. They have to remove certain things from the meat before they eat it and that thing they must remove is to concede power to the South-East in the name of God, by the way of charity and by the way of fair play and equity. Also, in accordance with the principle of nation building and solidarity, the nitty gritty of the posturing of some people in South West today will be better discussed in another perspective not necessarily on this platform. However, to that extent, we make those who feel they have given Buhari the Presidency to take everything in Nigeria. Therefore, I recommend to them the advice of Pa Adebanjo and Sir Edwin Clarke. Leadership of other zones has reasons to say if you can take it, we will take it, but don’t take it; that is how to build individual trust that sustains any country. So, I still insist that they take the advice of these elder statesmen. Even in the North, there are people who are interested to contest for the Presidency and that was what necessitated the shifting of the presidency to South by APC. And when it comes to people who will serve this country, it is the Igbo man; if you like him or hate him, that is the reality. It has to do with exposure, the orientation, the attitude or call it running a country like business or running the country with open mind; the Igbo men bring their ingenuity to bear on international trade, agriculture and productivity. This Igbo man and Nigerians know. And because Nigerians are not satisfied with the state of affairs in this country having tried the Northerner, the Southwesterner and the South-Southerner yet, they are still not satisfied with the affairs in the country. Is it not sensible for us to say let’s try the other zone we have not tried before.
Before now South-East were only placing a demand on the Presidency, why is there no synergy to bring politicians from the zone together to pursue the Presidential ambition?
It is not true that South-East does not have a strong platform to pursue our presidential ambition. It is about justice all the time. It was the South-East man that formed the PDP in the person of late Dr. Alex Ekwueme. And when APC was formed, South-East came in a a bloc with the faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) apart from the strong personalities that were already in the parties like Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Progressive Party(ANPP). If you want me to give you names, I will start with people like Sen. Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, a giant politician of such national clout came from South-East at the foundation level of APC. Is it the kind of person you dismiss that APC does not have strong Igbo men in it? Ngige was the Secretary of the party’s first National Convention where the permanent officers were elected. He presided over the equitable allotment and share of positions of party to ensure that Buhari, Atiku, Tinubu were not edged out. He was the one who fashioned and extended the balance and gave the APC the structure that led it to victory in 2015. It was Ngige that structured the Executive Committee Officers of Chief John Odigie Oyegun that birthed APC victory that we are in. There are ingenious things Ngige did a night to the convention. For example, President Buhari came to the convention at about 2:am because he had already pulled out. People did not know that at that convention, the APC alliance was crumbling until after a telephone conversation with Chris Ngige that made Buhari to dress up and came back to the convention. That was how Mai Mala Buni became the National Secretary. Buhari arrived the venue close to 1:30 and 2: am. So, somebody like that is in this race and was there from the beginning and made all the sacrifices and intellectual and urgent contributions and instilled the balance that kept APC going. So, when you are talking about who will give Nigeria a new beginning, I think with Ngige, you have the answer to your question.