From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON) Mr. Osita Okechukwu is a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC). He has been outspoken on issues that concern the government and the activities of main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this chat he examines some developments in the polity, and declared that PDP can’t challenge APC in 2019.
Few happenings have continued to give impetus to many to believe that APC government is yet to deliver on its promises. With next general elections lurking in the corner, are you not afraid that your party may find itself in a tight corner?
I have heard a lot of people say that the party has not delivered. But according to Mr. President and the manifesto of the party, we talked of fighting corruption, insecurity and revamping the economy. When we came in, you will agree with me that not only did the oil price, which none of us determined plummeted from about $110 to less than $30 per barrel. And insecurity in the north-east was also at a top gear. There was also armed robbery everywhere. Herdsmen and farmers were at loggerheads. To worsen the matter, the Excess Crude Account had depleted so much. It had cushioned the previous administration. As at May, 6, 2010, when President Jonathan became substantive president he inherited over $17 billion in excess crude account. President Buhari did not inherit up to $4b. So what we have in the oil boom era was battered. We took off on financially shaky and skimpy note. But in spite of that we also managed prudently the little resources in our coffers. We started working on abandoned federal roads, electricity and water projects across the country where the previous regime spent over $16 billion. We have delivered. Yes some people will say that you don’t talk of the past. But yesterday is today’s architecture. Because of Mr. President’s integrity quotient and the zeal he has to change things, he has been able to mark up the rating of Nigeria globally. Even those who refused to deal with Nigeria economically both in ammunition procurement and information sources are now working with us. The Chinese renewed hope in our system. We have revived the coastal rail lines. We have borrowed $1.5 billion to fix Lagos and Kano which the previous regime awarded under Private, Public sector arrangement at $8.3 billion for about 1000km. We have borrowed $500m to complete the east-west roads that the previous administration spent over $20 billion on. We have borrowed about $5 billion for the Mambilla power plants that is expected to generate over 1000 mega watts. We have started the 2nd Niger Bridge abandoned by the previous regime. So I don’t know why people would say we have not met our promises.
The argument is that this administration has dwelt more on blame game. Why are government officials and APC leaders spending so much time talking about the past?
We are not spending time talking about the past. The President got files showing that some governors did not pay salaries and pensions ranging from two to 18 months and the man was not happy about it. That is why he released bailout and Paris funds to the states. He did that not considering the party the governors belong to. If you calculate the amount spent it is over N3trillion. The money would have been used to fix kilometers of roads but the President is more concerned with the welfare of Nigerians. The totality of the civil servants is not up to 20percent of the population of the country. Some people asked why the President would spend such amount when he can use it to fix critical infrastructure that would be very easy for the ordinary Nigerian to see. Do you know what Mr. President said? He said that throughout his life he has been a public servant, that it pains him to notice that those who are working are not been paid for months . Ordinarily if you look at it on the wider spectrum, you will notice that the average worker’s salary is less than 10percent. But what of those who are linked up to their activities like the petty trader who sells items to them on credit hoping to get their money at the end of the month? And on the pension he told us that for him, if you say you are fighting the war against corruption you must pay pensioners otherwise you are telling those who are working to resort to self help. So some of these things should be identified by deep thinkers like journalists, it is not abstract.
The bailout money was not given for free. It is money that belongs to the states. It came out from NLG which ordinarily states should have accessed to. Why are you sounding as if the President gave the governors’ money for free?
What we are saying is that Mr. President had two choices. A trillion Naira can fix long kilometres of road. He could have focused on spending the money on infrastructure and leave the workers and several Nigerians to wallow. But he chose to assist them live. Even with the money given to governors to pay arrears of salaries the APC government has done a lot in the area of fixing infrastructure. We have constructed about 1000 kilometres of roads across the country. Those other ones that you know like the Enugu /Onitsha is over 100km so when you join what Mr President has done you will notice that Mr. President is working.
Nobody working under the federal government is being owed. And that critical infrastructure, for us is going to lead to industrialisation which Mr. President is focusing on. He has said that he wants to return Nigeria to where she should be. He is using the social investment fund to do a lot of things. Look at rice importation for instance; Nigeria has knocked down rice importation by 30perecent. In the few years if he is voted in 2019, the issue of rice will be all over the country. And so when some people say that it is not an achievement I begin to wonder.
From the low rating of the administration, many feel that in 2019 APC will not have it easy. What is your take?
There is no rating. It is just like CNN and FOX channels in the United States of America. If you are coming from the FOX you will not say that President Trump is rated low. When Mr. President visited Abakaliki and Kano , were the people hired? The entire Chiefs came to Abakaliki and coronated him and called him the ‘General that lives among the people’. They did that because they know that he is trying to get the people back to life. He is diversifying the economy; he does not want us to depend on oil. Those Chiefs who came out in their numbers are not clowns. They have subjects. So they know when a person is working. Mr. President is giving hope. He is doing a lot in the south east in terms of road construction and other projects that the last administration failed to do.
Are you not exaggerating APC’s performance and electoral influence in the south-east? Don’t you think that the defeat of the party in the Anambra governorship election and that of local government poll in Enugu as well as its dwindling popularity in Imo state are clear signs that it is yet to be accepted in the zone?
I am happy you talked about Imo State. We have said it several times that while Nigerian democracy is advancing at the center, with robust and vibrant National Assembly challenging the executive, it is unfortunate and regrettable that at the state level democracy is being stunted, almost killed. Have you heard of any State Assembly who is making noise like Senator Dino Melaye? Is there any state where local government election is free and fair? No. If you ask the government of Enugu they will tell you that the process was transparent. And in the case of Anambra we did approval rating vis-a-vis other contestants. We came second and you say it is not a good result. You wanted Mr. President to rig the election in Anambra? Even at the last grand finale of APC campaign in Anambra he was there. In fact it was at the grand finale that he ordered the security personnel of Governor Obiano to be restored. If he had wanted to rig the election, he would have left the governor in fears. And if he had done that the governor would have scampered for safety and his supporters would have known that he has gone into hiding. But he didn’t want to do that. Mr. President is advancing the cause of democracy. He never wanted to use force and I expect journalists like you to tell people that democracy is not growing in any state of the federation. Governors have become emperors. They don’t allow any member of the house of assembly to raise his voice like Senator Dino Melaye and Shehu Sani are doing.
But we have also seen in the south-east where even APC has been fighting itself. For instance, in Enugu and Ebonyi there are factions, in Imo people are complaining. Isn’t that heartrending for you chieftains of the party in the zone?
Don’t forget that we are in a democracy. The governor of Imo was elected. Don’t forget that it was democracy that was used to elect Adolf Hitler. So leave the down side of democracy. The problem in Imo is not about APC, it is about the governor and some of his uncanny and orthodox policies. The people know the real APC.
But is he not making the party unpopular?
If it is about dwindling fame it is the governor himself that is unpopular. What people need to know is that APC will not allow him to choose his successor or impose a candidate for the party in 2019. That is the only thing we will deny him. So separate APC from the unorthodox policies of Governor Rochas Okorocha. Sometimes when someone goes astray you don’t blame the party. Before the APC primary that produced President Buhari, when a meeting was held which he presided as the Chairman of APC Governors’ Forum in Imo lodge, the governors collectively said that the chairman of the party will emerge from the south-south or south-east. He came out and declared that he would run for President despite advice not to do so. He was told that the office had been zoned to the north. It is not a law but the resolution of the party’s convention. I asked him why he didn’t object initially. Why did he tell them to hold the meeting in his lodge? Despite the advice he ignored everybody. We had agreed with the delegates to visit Buhari and informed him of our resolution to support him, just like the South-west under the strategic leadership of Bola Tinubu. The same governor Rochas Okorocha refused.
Don’t you think such controversy will play out in 2019 since he still has the ambition?
The little we can do as a party is to truncate his plans of nominating his son-in-law for governorship race. We will tell Igbo people that our party does not encourage nepotism. The party will find its feet when the time comes. So please don’t use his approval rating to judge the APC rating in Imo or South- East. (The Sun)