ChiefApopularly known as Ojeozi Ndigbo, was the presidential candidate of the United Progressives Party, UPP, in the 2015 presidential election. He was the founding national Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and founder/national chairman of the UPP. In this interview, he discusses topical national issues including the National Assembly/Presidency squabbles, Igbo situation in Nigeria, Nnamadi Kanu and the Biafra agitation, the south east political integration, the sudden influx of Ndigbo into APC, the chances of the UPP in the 2019 general elections and the two political parties that he founded, among other issues.
What are the chances of UPP in 2019 elections?
Our Party, the United Progressives Party, UPP, is going to be the surprise of Nigerians; we are going to cause major upset in the 2019 general elections. We are going to be the miracle party of that general election and it’s not based on mere wishful thinking. The litmus test is the Anambra 2017 general elections; that is where we will prove that we are ready for 2019. UPP has always clamoured for electronic voting system since 2012 just to let people’s votes count and to checkmate result manipulations and INEC to a large extent has addressed that which they said will commence with the Anambra general election. UPP is a grassroots based party and what we are offering Nigerians cannot be copied by any other party and that is offering Nigerians self -determination. It is in our reviewed manifesto that will be ratified in April during our national convention. We are also offering restructuring of the Nigeria polity for all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, not just Igbo people. We are offering Nigerians true federalism, fiscal federalism, citizenship right, state police, community policing. We are bringing back the 660 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference to the front burner. President Muhammadu Buhari said the report belongs to the archives but a committee we set up led by Prof Francis Dike, SAN, was mandated to make the recommendations in a manifesto format and that is what we are presenting.
So the 2017 and 2019 elections will be a referendum where Nigerians will have to decide either to remain with the status quo, if they are comfortable with it, or vote for radical positive change that is rooted in our ideology that is registered with the INEC. We are also offering an exit clause where any nationality can exist from Nigeria if it so wishes. It maybe revolutionary but that is the situation in countries like Ethiopia today. To exit means that there will be plebiscite or what we now call referendum. Nigeria is a nation of over 300 ethnic nationalities with one or two dominating and so the others are looking for fresh air. All the pro-Biafra groups have endorsed our party because of our self- determination slant. It also made them join the UPP as their party.
How do you feel about the way you were treated in APGA?
I feel sad and disappointed but I am sadder for Ndigbo than for myself. What happened in APGA set Ndigbo back politically? So, Igbo people are more of the losers than Chekwas Okorie. They thought it was a personal battle until I proceeded to register another party and people began to say that there must be a motivation. I wanted to register the United Peoples Grand Alliance, UPGA, with the rising sun as its symbol but Victor Umeh wrote a petition to INEC saying the rising sun was a Biafran symbol. So we were denied registration because they said the rising sun belongs to Biafra. Everybody knows that a rising sun is celestial body and could not have belonged to any part of this world. It rises from the east and there is east everywhere. The rising sun is the symbol of the ruling party in Sierra Leone today. It’s the symbol of the ruling party in Angola today. It is the symbol that Channels television uses in its morning rise programme but in the case of UPGA, it suddenly became a Biafran thing. However it is sad that it was an Igbo man that deprived his people of getting a sense of certain massage that would have made them say this is our party. I did not stop there but went ahead to register the United Progressives Party, UPP, with a symbol of the Tiger head. Again the same people wrote to INEC that the head of Tiger is in the coat of arm of Biafra but INEC said, it was too much; why are you afraid of this man? What they were trying to avoid in the rising sun is now our selling point with the tiger. I felt bad but they made me become one of the four Nigerians that founded two political parties in their life time. The other three were Chief Obafemi Awolowo who founded both Action Group and Unity Party of Nigeia; Waziri Ibrahim who founded the Nigeria People’s Party and Great Nigeria People’s Party and Malam Aminu Kano who founded both NEPU and the People’s Redemption Party, PRP. All these people are now dead because of the generational gap but I am still alive.
Does it bother you that presently the Igbo has no leader as a rallying point?
Frankly, Igbo people are republicans in nature; they have never been the types that build their future or progress around single leadership. Even Dr. Alex Ekwueme as Vice President is not the type that will call a meeting and all the Igbo will assemble. We had Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu who became a rallying point as a result of the war and when he came back from exile at a point the people that came around him reduced to just only me, even in Nnewi his country home. It got to a point that not many people knew that he was still there. What brought him back to political limelight was APGA. The moment he was given a presidential flag bearer, he shone like a thousand stars. So the Igbo don’t have that type of political leadership like the Yoruba or Hausa. Zik was a rallying point because he was the leader of NCNC and later NPP. Ojukwu would have remained much of a rallying point but the crisis in APGA reduced the chances. Because of the crisis that the Igbo people have found themselves in, Ralph Uwazuruike used the slogan of Biafra which rallied much of the youth around him. Then Nnamdi Kanu emerged with Radio Biafra and began to speak the language the very frustrated youths would want to hear. In a situation where almost all the elite have developed cold feet to stand for their people, the youths rallied around him but unfortunately he exposed himself to the people he was supposed to be leading struggles against and why they put him under lock and key is because they know it will be a matter of time. So if we get our politics right, a central leader will emerge. I had called a meeting to that effect but achieved nothing, then I suggested a political party as a rallying point which led to the formation of APGA and when we brought Ikemba (Ojukwu) who was our last resort, he shone like a thousand stars. If he had managed it well, he would have brought the entire south east under one umbrella but now we are back to the drawing table.
Who were the initial choices as APGA Presidential flag bearers before Ojukwu was considered?
Late Dr Chuba Okadigbo was number one, he declined after a while. We went to Major General Ike Nwachukwu, rtd, but he declined. We went to Jim Nwobodo and he also, declined. We went to Chukwuemeka Ezeife and he declined; we went to Kalu Idika Kalu he declined and we went to Nnia Nwodo and he declined. We went to Rochas Okorocha; that was the last one before we went to Ikemba but Okorocha declined and in each of the trips I was not alone. Ikemba was the last one. People thought that because I was close to Ikemba that he had a hand in the formation of APGA but he didn’t. What he wanted was to be made Chairman Board of Trustees. It was on December 22 2002 that I went to Justice Eze Ozobu, then president – general of Ohanaeze and asked him to talk to the Igbo people and he said why not talk to Ikemba and I said come and bring him out so that it will be President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo that nominated him. Eze Ozobu agreed and on December 24, we met at Ikemba’s residence at 4 Isiuzo Street, Independence layout, Enugu. Ezeife was to accompany us but he left for Abuja. The Secretary General of Ohanaeze, Dr Joe Nworgu was there; HBC Ogboko who was the publicity secretary of Ohanaeze was there, Richard Ozobu was there, Onwuka Ukwa was there with Odi Nwosu who later became an Ambassador. At Ojukwu’s house, Justice Eze Ozobu took Ikemba’s hand and put in my own hand and said go and make him presidential candidate. Then, two days later on December 26, I called a press conference at Zodiac Hotel Enugu, where I proposed Ikemba. It was there that I made some quotable statements. Then it was clear that Buhari would emerge in ANPP and Obasanjo was going for a second term in PDP. So I said that three Army Generals would lock horns; a general from the West that was Obasanjo, a general from the North that was Buhari and a wise general from the East that was Ikemba. On January 10, 2013 at Old Parade Ground, Abuja, I raised Ikemba’s hands and gave him the APGA flag. That was how he became the Presidential candidate of APGA.
Is it correct to say that former Governor Peter Obi did more harm to you politically than Victor Umeh, the then national chairman of APGA in this regard?
If you say that, what do you expect me to say about Ikemba? The thing is that you don’t know who gave Judas the bribe for him to forsake Jesus but what we know is that it was Judas the Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ.
How do you view the recent influx of Ndigbo into the ruling APC?
Well, the Igbo people have become so timid, so politically naïve; so cowardly that they don’t believe in themselves; the Igbo pseudo-political leaders I mean.
The idea of moving to APC is just because a ruling party has power of manipulations to influence an election. That is the idea behind this shameful somersault they are making. Some of these people moving into APC now took very strong positions against President Buhari and the APC. Some went out of their way to campaign very vigorously against Buhari using unprintable words and these are people who have just changed camp overnight. I want our people not to be discouraged at all because it had happened before. In Second Republic Zik returned to politics from voluntary retirement when he saw our people rushing to be running mates in other parties. He couldn’t bear the fact that Igbo people who played major roles in achieving Independence for Nigeria were then becoming happy with playing the second fiddle. He chose NPP, a minority party and the press asked him why a minority party? He said his people were better off being majority in a minority party where their voice would be heard than being minority in majority party where they will be assimilated. What Zik said then remains germane up till date. It was only Chief RBK Okafor that stood by Zik. Jim Nwobodo was just an enterprising young man only known as Chairman of Rangers Football Club then. Chief Sam Mbakwe was a courageous lawyer known for championing the abandoned property saga in Port Harcourt. It was not that they had any political pedigree but they were the ones that Zik chose and they swept the polls in NPP. Even a candidate for the House of Representatives for Ohaozara federal constituency died a week to the election but he won the election under NPP. So this time is even going to be worse, all these people will be retired from politics because INEC has addressed the fears we had over the years to have electronic voting system.
What is your reaction to the epistle published against the APC by Governor El Rufai of Kaduna State who is a member of the party?
Well, I read it. There is nothing spectacular about it except that it was written by El Rufai and if you look at it, it was a memo written in September last year and if it leaked now it points to the fact that probably the author felt frustrated that it was not looked at and he decided that the world should know he did not keep quiet when things were going wrong. Before El Rufai’s own there was President Buhari’s wife’s outburst which was also along the same line. It tells you of what is happening in Buhari’s presidency. Magu, of the EFCC and the DSS exchanges and all the things we hear. It shows a government that has totally mismanaged its victory and a government with a party that is in disarray. It’s unfortunate for one to have reasons to cite PDP as a good example but you have to give it to PDP that in 16 years any time they had anything that looked like a major skirmish that would take the party to the brink, they would enter the Presidential Villa, hold a meeting and tell you it’s a family affair. But here in APC the president gives the impression he doesn’t want to meddle into the affairs of the party but he is the de-facto leader of the party. APC seems to be like a party without a shepherd.
What about Bola Tinubu as leader of APC?
That looks like a nickname now because if there is an accredited meeting of the party, Tinubu will not be there because he is not a member of NEC and this is APC that is almost three years old but does not have a Board of Trustees, BOT, because it couldn’t constitute one for fear of internal squabbles. It’s a shame the party cannot organize itself well. BOT is about a group of elders that are put together to become the conscience of the party; which intervenes in time of crisis such as this. There is unity now among the PDP senators and don’t be surprised if one day they decide to target the president. I can predict that APC will not go for a second term because it will not win the Presidential election again and PDP will not come back because people will not be that gullible to forget that PDP laid the foundation for the mess of today. They used 16 years to loot our treasury dry. With all the monies being discovered in people’s homes and bank accounts which took place under PDP watch, nobody will give them a second chance. Before 2019, there will be serious alignment of political forces.
(Laughs) Everybody has his own way of contributing to a cause. The visiting of Nnamdi Kanu turned into public show. Let it be known that even before people knew that Nnamdi was arrested I was the first to ask the President to release him unconditionally and I have made many public statements in that regard. There are things I cannot tell you here. What Nnamdi has is a political problem and can only be solved politically. The court cannot solve it because the government owns the court, the government owns the judges, the government is the accuser and so you can use political solutions to let the government withdraw the charges. I was doing that when some people abroad made publications that hurt me and I withdrew a little bit before my good intentions are misunderstood. Many people don’t know that Nnamdi Kanu snd I have come a long way. I appointed him first chairman of APGA in UK in 2002 and throughout the crisis of APGA, Nnamdi stood by me up to 2011. It was in 2012 that he went full blast on Radio Biafra. I was one Igbo leader that Nnamdi Kanu never said anything against on Radio Biafra to the extent that some people thought I had a hand in funding Radio Biafra. The father-in-law of Nnamdi Kanu is chairman of UPP in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State, so we have more relationship than anybody outside can imagine. So going to visit Nnamdi Kanu in prison is no more than a public show especially if you go and come out to take photographs. The best way to give him solidarity is to go and sit with him in the court, I did it for Ralph Uwazuruike, for MASSOB, I did it severally and I played a role in mobilizing south east senators to move a motion in the Senate for the release of Uwazuruike to go and bury his mother and he is enjoying that bail till today. Let me tell you that I had got Nnamdi released from DSS twice. They arrested him at the airport with some MASSOB literature when he was still working with Uwazuruike and twice they arrested him and I secured his releases, I am saying this for the first time and his relations know about it. UPP already has in its manifesto the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as priority.
Do you think that Igbo Presidency will assuage the agitation for Biafra?
No. David Cameron the British Prime Minister is a Scottish man and rather than stop the agitation for political freedom from United Kingdom he facilitated the referendum that took place before the Brexit. People misunderstand the issue of Igbo presidency. I said that what we need is a rallying point, how do you feel that there is an election and the Igbo people are in the other side clapping? There is honour in participation than non-participation. You cannot say because you are excluded, therefore you will not participate in an election. We used zoning to give Ikemba nomination and they sponsored somebody to come and contest the ticket with Ikemba and we disqualified the candidate because they would have told the northern delegation at the convention to vote for that person of theirs and the story would have been that Ikemba was defeated in a supposedly Igbo dominated party. It is not about becoming Igbo President but the other bigger picture.
What is your view on the NASS/Executive taking into account the issues involving the Comptroller General of Customs and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF?
That of retired Col Hameed Ali is more embarrassing and scandalous to the Nigerian people. The best thing for a person who says he has worn enough uniforms, that he will not wear another, is to toe the path of honour and resign. All the arguments about specific laws that say you must wear uniforms are not necessary.
There is what is called convention. The Comptroller -General of Customs is a rank and has epaulettes to show that position and to say you won’t wear it, yet you earn salaries, enjoying all the pecks of office, is unacceptable. To say that the President knows about it shows the President has given tacit support to his bad behaviour. He shouldn’t have said that, it is the Presidency that appointed him that ought to have come to his defence. For him to have dropped the name of the President like that shows a confused national leadership that we talk about. As for the SGF, this Senate sometimes gets involved in matters of the executive to my discomfort and to the discomfort of so many well- meaning Nigerians. If the Senate can deploy such energy in passing the budget; in popular legislation, to say to the President that he has failed the federal character test in his appointments, then the patriotism in them will be more appreciated. But they have seen all these lop-lopsidedness, the alienation of the Igbo people in critical arms of government but they are not saying anything about it. What they pursue is not altruistic and bothers on selfishness but the case of Ali is quite different. However the Senate is causing the presidency unnecessary distractions. These people, the SGF, Chief of Staff are personal aides of Mr. President, the meddlesomeness is not helpful.
Are you satisfied with the output of the south east governors?
Individual governors may make claims to what they inherited but the UPP as an opposition party has not taken out time to understudy what they have done, what they inherited.
So an assessment may not be objectively done but what I can say generally is that it is sad that we have five states controlled by three different political parties, APGA, APC and PDP.
In the North West there are seven states controlled by one political party, the APC. It makes for some synergy, some cooperation and you have common manifesto to implement. The south east is not a large geographical area and if there is an understanding, an economic blueprint for the zone is very easily implementable such as power that could trigger off development and employment.
That is what we can gain if we are under one umbrella. That is what the west is now saying; that it was wrong for the west to have gone into the APC.