Joe Igbokwe is the Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Lagos State. In this interview, Igbokwe speaks on the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2019, among other issues of national importance.
What is your assessment of the APC FG-led administration in the last two years?
We have recorded monumental achievements. Though, people want to see achievements in terms of money or food on their table, we have embarked on laying a very important foundation to transform Nigeria from a corrupt nation to a progressive one. If one does not have the third eye, he or she may not see it. We all know that corruption is a hydra-headed monster in this country.
And the President has declared war against things that affect the development of the country. This is because we have lost several years without nothing being done and that is why we have infrastructural decay. For over 16 years, we battled to make available 10,000 megawatts of electricity in spite of the huge funds allocated to the sector annually. And it is pathetic that yearly, we are regaled with the same story from the administrators of the sector.
The present administration has decided to address the issues and make the country great again. For instance, the man at the head of the administration, President Muhammadu Buhari, went into the judicial system and exposed the corruption within the third tier of government. And this is one area that many never dared to put their searchlight on.
Meanwhile, people who don’t want this country to move forward following the war declared against corruption are fighting back and some people are wishing the President dead. I remember that before the 2015 elections, I prophesied that APC will win but events thereafter will not be rosy. And that corrupt elements will fight back after accumulating resources over the years.
Don’t forget that it took the progressives about 30 years to come to power. I remember that the journey for the progressives started in 1985.
Between that time and 1993, we had M.K.O Abiola but they killed in 1998. Despite winning the election that was free and fair, they could not accept the man’s presidency. Many Yoruba leaders were jailed while others were chased out of the country.
Others killed at that time include Suliat Adedeji, Kudirat Abiola. Those killed were big guns in South-West. The loss suffered by the region led to the emergence of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. The North couldn’t provide any presidential candidate as the South-West produced the two presidential candidates.
We (progressives) were robbed in 1999 because Obasanjo wasn’t the South-West candidate. It was Chief Olu Falae.
It was those forces against the progressives that ensured Obasanjo emerged as President. And one can’t go far before understanding the reasons Obasanjo’s region didn’t vote for him even in his ward, council, state and the entire South-West.
And when OBJ was asked before the elections, Villa, he responded that he didn’t forget anything in the seat of power. It was strange to him that some forces wanted him in power. Obasanjo was almost dead in jail. If you ask Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, he will tell you OBJ did nothing for the South-West for eight years. This is because he wasn’t prepared for the post. He didn’t know what to do after assuming office. It was after two years that he got his bearing.
After 1999, we struggled again to get a progressive into power. It started with Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Lagos State and, today, we have a progressive in power at the federal level. Two years after we assumed power, Nigerians have started complaining that they haven’t seen the change promised by the administration. But I want to urge them to look deeper. They should open their eyes and see the plans the administration has for this country.
First, the Buhari-led administration has started the diversification of the country’s source of income. Before this administration, we could not achieve our oil quota because militants threatened that if former President Goodluck Jonathan did not win, they will cripple the economy. And we have seen it. They have blown up gas pipelines and other facilities in the Niger-Delta region. And that is why we could not achieve stability in power supply. Also, the price of crude oil dropped.
That is why the Buhari administration has decided to look towards agriculture, especially rice production, on which huge money was spent yearly on its importation. And Lagos, Kebbi and others have taken the lead. I know that before the end of 2018, the country would have achieved so much.
What gives you that confidence that Nigeria will achieve great things by the end of 2018?
First is the President because the buck stops on his table. We are not praying for the demise of Mr. President but, if anything happens to him today, government will continue. He has a competent Vice President that will take over the affairs of government. The President is human like the over 170 million Nigerians, who can fall sick.
This is the only President that has allowed his vice to run the affairs of the country. Obasanjo didn’t do that for Atiku and the late Musa Yar Adua didn’t do it for Jonathan. Those leaders who didn’t sign-off to allow their vice run government affairs took us 30 years behind civilization.
After the bombing of the World Trade Centre in the United States, do you know how many years it took the government to clear the ground?
If I am to bomb Lagos, it would not take one more than 25 minutes to bring the state to a standstill. And don’t forget that it took several years before Lagos could achieve all it has at present. To return the state after the act would require years. Building this country is not a tea-party.
Nigeria is like a broken city, a city after war. When one examines the system, one will realize that in the oil sector, there isn’t enough money; infrastructure, we don’t have. And having infrastructure could help make the country a destination for tourists just like Dubai in United Arab Emirate (UAE).
We need to build and it requires time to build a broken city. Aside time, you need huge funds and there is no money currently at the disposal of this government. So it requires the government to look inward. And looking inward, the government introduced TSA and shut about 20,000 accounts. No government before Buhari aimed to build Nigeria. The building of Nigeria has just started.
It is pathetic that previous governments, whenever they visited foreign countries, didn’t copy what they saw to improve Nigeria.
For eight years, former Governor Babatunde Fashola begged the Federal Government to handover the Airport Road to him, the PDP-led government refused. I know what it took the government before it could secure the release of Ikorodu Road to allow the construction of the BRT lane. I understand the struggle because when we gave telecom operators the permission to lay fibre optic cables, we were challenged by the Federal Ministry of Works; claiming that the road belongs to the central government and that the state did not have the right to give anyone the road to lay cable. I approached Fashola, who gave me the papers signed by ex-President Obasanjo which indicated that the road had been handed over to the state government.
I remember that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu wanted to build a power station that would have improved power supply in the state but the Federal Government kicked against the project because they knew that immediately Lagos is removed from the sector, it would be reduced to nothing.
In order to prevent the plan, the then administration kept on saying that the power sector was an Exclusive List. That is why Fashola decided to build six small power stations to provide electriity for government offices, hospitals and other government projects.
What is your view on the claim that your party does not have the blueprint to move Nigeria forward?
Don’t forget that Buhari was a minister, head of state and he had contested for the presidency thrice before winning in 2015. And if anyone says he didn’t have blueprint for the country, then the person doesn’t know what he is saying.
Nigerians are also saying that Buhari’s policies are anti-people, especially with the ban placed on the importation of some items.What do you say to this?
I remember that when India banned the importation of textiles, the citizens of that country wondererd what will they wear? And they were asked to go Unclad. But, today, the country has one of the largest textile industries in the world. And the policy banning rice importation has started yielding result. One of the results is LAKE rice. For years, I have been hearing about Abakaliki rice and they have not moved it beyond the primitive stage. If we fail to close the door, we will not achieve anything.
What do you think can bring unity between the Yoruba and Igbo?
Until the Igbo wake up from their slumber, they will not realise the need for cooperation. The 1993 presidential election provided the Igbo the opportunity to cement their relationship with the South-West because we needed to bridge that gap. The North was able to actualize the annulment of that election because the Igbo failed to stand with the Yoruba. It was only a few of us who stood with Abiola – myself, Ndubuisi Kanu, Payne Jackson – among others. When we put the issue before our people, they claimed that the Igbo had fought their own civil war and that it was the turn of the Yoruba to fight their own. I like the ruggedness of the Yoruba. While the Yoruba were confronting their issues, the Igbo were busy clapping and that is why we warned them that if with the sophistication of Yoruba leaders and this was happening to them, the Igbo weren’t safe. I wrote in my book that I didn’t know that I was a slave in Nigeria until Abiola won the 1993 presidential election. If Abiola with his calibre could be treated that way, it baffled me then.
Kudirat Abiola was killed to provoke the Yoruba to war. And the aim was to destroy Lagos. But Bola Ige said no. If it was the Igbo that were provoked like the Yoruba, there could have been another war. But the Yoruba resisted the North’s temptation and they decided to use their pens and newspapers to fight the war.
Why are Igbo always divided on the issues affecting the country?
They don’t understand Nigerian politics. And that is my problem with them. Nigerian politics is not business. After the demise of Yar Adua, what I expected the Igbo to do was to ask Jonathan to finish the four years of Yar Adua and allow the North to have their eight years. And by 2015, the President would have come to the South-East. They (Igbo) were cajoled with the belief that no one could defeat the incumbent.
But Jonathan appointed some Igbo in his cabinet The question you should ask is, what value did the appointments add to the South-East?
And what did Obasanjo’s eight years give to South-West? We had six ministers from the South-East in Jonathan’s cabinet. And did they add any value to the South-East. People must begin to understand that once they assume any position, it isn’t for their friends and families, rather it is for everyone.
One man had the opportunity to build the Onitsha airport while serving as Obasanjo’s close aide but declined, arguing that he would start the job when he became the governor of the state. But fortune didn’t favour him because two weeks after he was sworn-in as governor, he was sacked. It is pathetic that my people don’t know how to play politics.
When do you think it will be ripe for the Igbo to vie to be President?
It is simple. The time for the South-East is 2023.
But Obasanjo said that 2019 should be the year.
The ex-President is about creating another crisis for the South-East. The North will spend their eight years. I want the Igbo to understand that they must support others before they can also receive support. The North hasn’t finished their eight years. What the late Yar’Adua did wasn’t up to eight years. We want them to finish their two terms before we step in. If this is done, there will be no complaint from northerners that they have been short-changed. There is a caveat for the Igbo to get power and that is pitching their tent with APC.
Do you see APC ruling Nigeria for eight years with the state of the country and the economy?
APC will rule Nigerian for many years to come.
Do you see Bola Tinubu, national leader of your party, leaving to form a mega party?
I can assure you that Asiwaju can never leave APC.One cannot build a house and destroy it overnight. It is our duty to make APC succeed. Mega party is a figment of imagination of some people. If we leave the APC, how do you want Nigerians to take us serious? Don’t forget where we were coming from- AD, AC, ACN. Asiwaju is done with forming new parties.
I can assure you that Buhari will rule this country for eight years. And those complaining now will come to eat the humble pie. What President Buhari planned for Nigeria was what Singaporean ex-President, Lee Kuan Yew, did for his country. It is sad that people don’t believe in foundation and it is that foundation that determines the longevity of the structure.