BY IDOWU BANKOLE
‘I used my pension to start AC’ General Joseph Okonkwo Okoloagu (ret.) is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Enugu State. In 2015, Okoloagu contested the senatorial election to represent Enugu North on the platform of the party. In this interview, he speaks on the security challenges facing the nation, his expectations from the Buhari administration and the desire of the Igbo to lead the nation in 2023.
Buhari We have had 20 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria. How far do you think we have gone in our quest for infrastructural development?
Even though this year my party didn’t progress and we also had low key inauguration of the President, I believe we have every cause to celebrate and thank God.
I must confess that there have been ups and downs since 1999 but like former President Olusegun Obasanjo used to say, democracy is better than military regime. l concur even though I am a military man. We have not gotten it right but it is better than ‘militocracy’ because in ‘militocracy’, you don’t have checks and balances where, sometimes, you have to fight and agree to disagree.
l don’t want to sound partisan but there was a time you walk along the streets and picked gold but you didn’t invest. Now, no matter how we criticize Muhammad Buhari, it seems he is giving us a direction. Nigeria now has a direction to achieve her objectives. If you have a vision, there is no way you can accomplish the vision without a mission. We seem to be having a mission now even though it’s not enough. One thing that has become a problem is insecurity. We had 16 years under PDP during which we had petrol dollars in abundance. But it was a period of reckless thievery. I like to refer to two cases in the South-East where road infrastructure and the Second Niger Bridge have been campaign promises since 1999. But whether this administration completes the Second Niger Bridge project or not, the project is gradually becoming a reality.
Meanwhile, road infrastructure is crucial to any form of economic development because if you produce something and you don’t have the road infrastructure to transport it, it’s even better if you have not produced anything.
But if the present government continues the way they are doing on power and road infrastructure, l think we have a direction. And l can tell you that the insecurity we are grappling with is consequent upon the large scale youth unemployment.
What are your expectations from the second term of the Buhari administration?
Naturally, we expect him to build on the foundation he has laid in his first term. I have talked about power and road among other infrastructures. The one I am passionate about as an lgbo man is the Second Niger Bridge. This is a project on which promises have been made by politicians since 1999 and nothing happened. But now the Buhari regime is doing it.
I don’t want to go into the political aspect of it but if there is any Nigerian leader who has been kind to lgbo, it is President Buhari. I can say that without any apologies.
You are a retired general. How do you think we can resolve the insecurity bedevilling the nation?
Honestly speaking, it boils down to the issue l raised about the joblessness of the majority of our youths who are hungry and must eat whether they have to do armed robbery or kidnapping or insurgency. That is why l said there was a time in this country when you walked on the streets and you picked gold and that gold you picked was not invested. Now we are criticising. I believe that in the second coming of Buhari, he has to improve on the security architecture. We must not forget the fact that the boys who have been there for the past four years have been wonderful. l don’t want to sound selfish but l personally want to praise the Chief of the Army Staff under whose watch Nigeria was able to recover 14 local governments from Boko Haram. It is just unfortunate that in the military you can’t go when the ovation is high; it is left for the government that puts you there to decide. So the young man has tried. There are so many young people in the military and the Buhari administration has to tinker with the security architecture. Look for capable people to appoint and even in advanced countries, when you have this kind of humiliating situation, you bring back the people who have played in the system before. Some of us were in the military, keeping peace before. We have been solving other people’s problems and we can’t solve our own. It doesn’t look good at all.
How feasible is lgbo presidency in 2023?
January 2018 was the last time l met with President Buhari when the caucus of South-East APC went to Aso Rock to see him and extract commitment and support for lgbo presidency in 2023 and, in fairness to him, he was open. Why not? He has always admitted that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. And he doesn’t see why an lgbo man cannot be President in 2023. Now, having said that, let’s talk about the reality. Those of us who moved from AC to ACN and now to APC know that it is not that l hated the popular party of my kinsmen but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, and that’s why we have not been able to get it right. If the lgbo want a party of their own, they should invest in a particular party and let it control most of the states where we have influence, just like the Yoruba did. But you can say APGA today, tomorrow we are in PDP. There is no direction and you and l are talking about lgbo presidency in 2023. Even sickness has period of gestation.
I have looked at it politically, maturely, militarily and what have you, it’s very doubtful but democracy is a game of numbers. You don’t do ethnic politics like the Yoruba have done, the Hausa have done.
So if the Igbo feel they are strong in the PDP, let them give us an lgbo PDP candidate just like we the lgbo in APC are going to request. If we get it, good but what is even the guarantee that we will make it at the end of the day? Are we going to have the support of the people because some people carry PDP as if it’s a birth right and that has not helped us? One of the things that pain me in election happened in 2015 when l made it clear to my people that if we don’t get into the Senate and the House of Representatives, you have to lobby for appointment and that appointment is of no use because you are appointed at the pleasure of the man who appointed you. But if l, Gen. Okoloagu, is a senator today and l stand on the red carpet, the floor of the Senate and say ‘this is what l want’, l must pursue it. You cannot as an appointee get up and tell the man who appointed you that you want transformer for your people. Are you the one that appointed him or he that appointed you? So, our people are getting it completely wrong, and that is the tragedy of lgbo politics. 2023, l don’t know but all of us in APC are interested in Igbo presidency. If at the primaries we are able to present Igbo candidate, it’s not only the Igbo in APC that will vote for him while the rest will lobby.
And those of them who came from the PDP to APC, l thought they were coming to build the party if they had brought their followers, unless they don’t have followers, because l know the heavy weights that defected from PDP to APC.
The structure of Accord Party, AC, was my personal effort. I used my pension to start AC (in Enugu) and sustained it from AC to ACN and from ACN to APC. I thought my relief had come. But did we fare better in 2019 than we did 2015 when we didn’t have them? It is not as if l don’t want lgbo presidency in 2023 but one thing l know is that the Constitution makes democracy a game of numbers. So we must fight for it. I would love to see lgbo president in my lifetime. But you cannot desire something without working for it. All I am telling the lgbo is to work for it and we will get it.
What is your take on restructuring?
We don’t have a choice over restructuring. This country must be restructured. And restructuring has commenced. Now you can see fiscal independence of local governments’ autonomy which is one of the key legs of restructuring. APC is for restructuring which has started but what Nigerians should not ask from APC is the military form of restructuring. State police? I am for it. With time we will get there. There was a time l used to disagree with people on the killings in the North where they said Christians were being killed. How many Christians are there? All I am saying is that state police must be established.
Your kinsman Governor lfeanyi Ugwuanyi was inaugurated for the second time on May 29. What is your advice to him?
Hon. lfeanyi Ugwuanyi should continue whatever thing he is doing that he considers good for his people and those things he has not addressed his mind to which his people want. He should take road infrastructure. Okoloagu Street at Independence Layout, it was former Governor Chime that graded it but erosion has taken over now. These are some of the things we want the state government to do for us because we pay tax. (Vanguard)
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