SKC Ogbonnia is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ololade Bamidele, he speaks on his chances, the raging crisis in the party, the Buhari presidency and other issues. Excerpts:
PT: In the run up to and for a while after the 2015 Presidential Election, you were a staunch supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and it was even said that you supported his last campaign financially, so what informs your newspaper decision to contest against him in the forthcoming APC presidential election primary? Could it be anger at his purported non-performance or frustration with being left out of the government, like many party stalwarts have complained about?
Ogbonnia: Let me set the record straight. I have said several times that God answered our prayers in 2015 by using Muhammadu Buhari to demonstrate that there are consequences for bad governance in Nigeria, especially at the presidential level. Having accomplished that feat, Buhari ought to simply emulate Nelson Mandela and exit with any sense of dignity. President Muhammadu Buhari has to come to terms with the reality that he no longer has what it takes to cope with the 21st Century Nigeria. Government job? First of all, does my style sound like someone begging for handouts or a government job? Of course not! So, I am not angry for being left out of government. If I really wanted to play big role in any government, I would have lobbied and gotten one or even capitalised on other opportunities that came my way under the Buhari administration. But I chose not to.
PT: What other reasons would you regard as informing the loss of the massive goodwill that the present government at the federal level came into power with? And what would you consider to have deepened the seeming climate of widespread disenchantment with the APC government at the centre?
Ogbonnia: President Buhari squandered the enormous goodwill because he came to power without the prerequisite knowledge about Nigerian leadership. The problem was exposed when he alienated the brains behind his victory and replaced them with primitive loyalists whose visions appear to belong to the stone age. This lack of knowledge was evident in his lopsided appointments and the critical confusions on how the rule of law and separation of power work in the presidential system. It is unfortunate but you can sum it up this way: Muhammadu Buhari has become a dictator without power. True. The president is no longer in charge, no longer has the influence. Notice that he can’t even influence security agents, let alone the Nigerian people. Yet PMB is attempting to dictate. It is instructive that the legislature (controlled by Saraki of all people, a renegade Senate president from the ruling party) can impeach the president today with minimal lobby. And Mr. Buhari is being pumped up to seek second term? Mbaaa, not when I am in the race!
As for the crisis within the APC, it is unfortunate. But, the truth be told, Buhari is the main problem. Of course, most of the big wigs in APC are aware that the president is very weak and unpopular and thus do not want him to seek second term. Even some of these guys now grandstanding as PMB 2019 promoters, particularly the likes of El-Rufai, Rochas Okorocha, and Bola Tinubu, wish Buhari could step aside so they can take a shot at the presidency. The R-APC people, such as Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and Tambuwal also want to be president in 2019. Unfortunately, these APC leaders do not seem to have the audacity to mute such ambition within the APC. Why? Your guess is as good as mine…
PT: Would there be any area in which you consider the Buhari administration to have performed creditably well, say in terms of whittling down the Boko Haram insurgency or in terms of the husbandry of the economy or possibly containing corruption, as the administration would want people to believe it has made such progress?
Ogbonnia: Yes, the Buhari regime made good progress in area of the Boko Haram insurgence, agriculture, containing the economic recession, and vocalising the war against corruption. At least, unlike under President Goodluck Jonathan, corruption is now being drummed as stealing, and the importation of food has gone down dramatically. Truly, Buhari has performed far better than the PDP regimes of the past. But, by commission or omission, PMB has lost control of Nigeria. Moreover, we have candidates in the race better equipped to take Nigeria to the next level. So, even if Buhari fulfils all his promises, Nigerian masses will care less. The president has lost his leadership voice and needs to go. In short, even if Muhammadu Buhari recruits Barack Obama as a spokesman, the message won’t stick. The damage is already done.
PT: Do you think it is possible for you to defeat Buhari in the APC presidential primary, within the context of the fact that his preferred candidate, Adams Oshiomhole, has emerged as the party’s national chairman?
Ogbonnia: Good question! I will defeat President Buhari in a free and fair APC presidential primary. I was at the convention and mingled. The masses within APC do not like Buhari anymore, and I hope that their voices will be heard when the time comes. I am confident that APC will soon begin to see me as a better alternative. I have what it takes to make Nigeria an envy of the world. The international community, of course, trusts me more than President Buhari. I have no connection with any corrupt cabal. Best of all, I am determined to succeed where others have failed. So, how can the Nigerian masses be denied the opportunity of having me as their next president? Just compare me and Buhari and be the judge. Where do we begin? Again, I challenge PMB to a two-hour debate on our respective visions for our beloved country. As for Adams Oshiomhole, I still respect the comrade. In fact, I had ensured that APC delegates loyal to our campaign voted for him at the convention. But I am afraid he is starting on the wrong foot. Someone has to whisper to the comrade that party leadership is far from trade union activism. Party leadership thrives with dialogue—not sentimental protests. He was elected to be an unbiased umpire—chairman for all, not APC chairman for Muhammadu Buhari. Rather, Oshiomhole has been going around, alienating members and deepening the crisis in the party. Recall that a couple of weeks ago, instead of seeking peace, he was attempting to marginalise the R-APC group. Before then, the same Oshiomhole was in Imo State, promoting unpopular candidates of the party in Muhammadu Buhari (for president) and the son-in-law of the governor of Imo State (for governor). This past week alone, he attempted to discount the other APC presidential aspirants who are expressing their democratic rights to challenge President Buhari for the party’s primary. To Mr. Oshiomhole, Mr. President should not be challenged within APC, as if Buhari has suddenly become the Shah of Iran. C’mon…
PT: Since yours appears as the rhetoric of a loyal party man – unlike the characteristic flip-flopping of the political class – what informs your seeming allegiance to the APC within a context that has been described as one devoid of the politics of ideology?
Ogbonnia: In APC, I still dream of a party that can give hope to the younger generation of Nigerians, a party where we can maximise the strengths of our diversity and resources towards a greater nation. Things are not going exactly as planned, but there is hope. The APC, our great party, remains a beacon of hope for our democratic future. So, instead of flip-flopping like your typical politicians, the situation calls for true leadership to reposition the party to its original ideals. And I see myself among the very few in the party that can profess the truth without minding whose ox is gored. That truth is that, although President Buhari means well, his style has become an impediment to the visions of APC.
PT: What happens if you lose the primary contest? Would you remain in the party or seek the use of another platform to realise your ambition?
Ogbonnia: Does APC want to lose to PDP in 2019? So, I do not see how APC can fall into the temptation of denying me the presidential ticket. Nigerians yearned for a figure to sack PDP and its corrupt empire in 2015, and Buhari was the answer. Today, the masses are fervently praying for a dynamic leader with the capacity to make Nigeria truly great. And I am that leader. But if the party chooses the unpatriotic path and denies me; God forbid, but PDP could come back under strange circumstances. That portends a troubling future. That is why I said after the convention that nominating Buhari ahead of me is worse than the annulment of June 12. Let me then address the part two of your question. No, I will never leave the party—win or lose. I will stay and help grow the party in line with the founding visions. I will also not solicit nor accept appointment from any government. I will dedicate my resources to growing the party without boundaries.
PT: In terms of the fact that all politics is local in a fundamental sense, do you consider yourself has having the required following and structure at the local level that could be built up on in contesting national office? There are a few people who have wondered why you are not thinking of starting your political career at a more local – possibly the state – level before going straight to the centre?
Ogbonnia: Let’s face the truth. Nigeria’s major problem does not reside at the local or the state government level. It is at the centre. That problem is also not the lack of resources nor the policies. The problem is squarely the lack of the political will and the capacity to implement the policies to the admiration of the Nigerian masses. It requires a wholistic approach. For instance, I know, for sure, that I have the bullet-proof solutions for Nigeria on corruption, power supply, NNPC, education, healthcare, and youth employment, among others. Do you then prefer that I focus only on Enugu State or take on the entire country? I am listening…
PT: Are you also an American citizen or just a legal resident in the USA? How do you intend to negotiate this duality of your identity in relation to seeking the highest office in Nigeria? And did that have anything to do with the flagging off of your presidential aspiration with a declaration in the United States a while ago, and not in Nigeria? What sort of weight did you expect this to carry, considering that those in the Diaspora are still unable vote in their foreign bases at the moment?
Ogbonnia: I am a full-fledged Nigerian citizen with just legal residence in the State of Texas, USA. The event in the USA was to intimate the Nigerian Diaspora community of my intent to seek the office of the presidency, and they expressed support. Nigerians do not vote yet while abroad, quite alright, but the Diaspora community matters. People who remit the equivalence of Nigeria’s annual budget matter. That money goes to their relations or organisations of influence in Nigeria. But I will make a ‘formal’ declaration in Abuja after President Buhari does his.
PT: If the present administration sought – at the outset – to essentially focus on the three-pronged concerns of enhancing the economy, national security and tackling the monster of corruption, what would be the critical issues of your political contest? And, how do you seek to achieve these in practical terms?
Ogbonnia: Well, even if President Buhari scores one million percent in all areas, I will still oppose him at the APC primary for the 2019 election. So, the critical issue of my political context is that I am by far better, better equipped, better for Nigeria and the humankind than President Buhari at this point in history.
PT: Nigerians often say politicians are the same, could this be true or what’s the essential difference of your own value proposition?
Ogbonnia: Do I sound like a typical politician? Of course, not! President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama cannot be said to be the same in terms of promises and fulfilment. So, I am different, uniquely different. I will do exactly what I say I will do—good things. And every Nigerian will be proud again. Instead of our youth and professionals trooping away from Nigeria, the youth and professionals from other countries will be begging for the Nigerian visa.
PT: At this juncture, if we were to speak hypothetically: Supposing you lost your power bid, would you be willing to support any of the younger outliers of our political scene, such as Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters; Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party; ‘Tope Fasua of ANRP; Ahmed Buhari, or Ahmed Baba Datti, etc.?
Ogbonnia: Well, I am more familiar with Omoyele Sowore and ‘Tope Fasua. At least, they are bold progressives. I know where they stood when it mattered most in 2015. I respect them, but I do not believe in a multiplicity of parties. A multiplicity of parties weaken opposition and can lead to bad leadership by consequence. So, I wish both Sowore and Fasua can come over to APC so we can join hands and defeat Buhari. The cases of Kingsley Moghalu and Ahmed Baba Datti are particularly interesting, though. They are brilliant scholars, quite alright, but they are applying for the wrong job. The point is that Moghalu and Baba Ahmed are basically old-school conservatives with the knack for quaint romanticisation of policies. The brothers have to recognise that the Nigeria’s real problem has never been lack of policies but the will to implement the policies. That requires a charisma, true charisma, which none of the two possesses.
PT: It’s been observed that the NNPC has been at the heart of corruption in Nigeria over the decades and even into the present administration, which has actually done very little to entrench a regime of transparency and accountability in the affairs of the Corporation. As a prominent oil sector actor, how would you practically seek to sanitise the NNPC if in the position to do so?
Ogbonnia: I have always said that when there are no consequences for bad behaviour, the bad behaviour typically worsens. That is the problem with Nigeria (and) that is the problem with NNPC. See, I am proven. I know exactly what to do to regain the trust of the international community in the Nigerian oil industry, to get our refineries working within six months of gaining power, to eradicate corruption within NNPC. I know exactly what to do to maximise our oil and gas resources towards the greater good. Watch…
PT: Your party, the APC, appears to be in turmoil as some party members are threatening to pull out. Besides, with a record in office that’s being constantly criticised across the country, do you think that Nigerians will give your party another chance at the presidency in 2019?
Ogbonnia: APC is in crisis, no doubt, but there is hope. As noted earlier, Buhari’s second term aspiration is the problem. Nigerians will vote for APC if we can produce a younger, dynamic, visionary, and detribalised candidate for the presidency. Nigerians want ABBB: Any Body But Buhari. It is imperative, therefore, that we replace him within the APC ranks.
PT: Some are of the view that it is time to give a South-Easterner a chance to lead Nigeria. What’s your attitude to this?
Ogbonnia: I am not into zoning. I am running because I know I am the best person to lead Nigeria today. I pity those from the South-East who believe zoning is the only path to presidency of Igbo extraction. They are not the true Igbo, though. The true Igbo do not cling to excuses to fail. As my father, Chief Ilogebe Ogbonnia, would always say, a habit of excuses is the best friend of failure.
PT: If elected, would you heed the call for a referendum to test the prolonged agitation for the Republic of Biafra?
Ogbonnia: I am probably the only candidate that can discuss issue of Biafra without fear or favour. So, when elected, I will surely deal with issue of Biafra once and for all. It begins with the truth. That is the only way to quench the agitation for good. President Buhari blew a golden opportunity through the Biafran agitation to win the hearts of the Eastern region. Neither Buhari nor the governors from the Biafran territory of the South-East and South-South were honest in their approaches. I wrote extensively on the topic of Biafra during that time. Scan the Internet for these. I made it clear how PDP and APC created the new Biafran agitations, and how Buhari and Nnamdi Kanu are fighting the wrong enemies, among others.
PT: The clamour for Biafra has subsided since the sudden disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra; what was your own attitude to Kanu’s methods in his call for the creation of a newer Republic of Biafra?
Ogbonnia: Buhari’s crude approach on IPOP will create more problem in the future than solution. Nnamdi Kanu did a great job in highlighting the problems of neglect of the Biafran area, but his strategy is flawed. Again, like President Buhari, Mr. Kanu is fighting the wrong enemy. The people who underdeveloped the Eastern Nigeria of my generation are not Hausa/Fulani or Yoruba but the Easterners themselves. Didn’t we have someone from the defunct Biafra as president in Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan? Didn’t we have other powerful functionaries from the same area at the same time Jonathan was president, for example, Pius Anyim (SSG); Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (‘de facto Prime Minister’); Godwin Emefiele (CBN); Diezani Madueke (Petroleum); Chinedu Nebo (Power); Stella Oduah (Aviation); Ike Ekweremadu (Deputy Senate President); Emeka Ihedioha (Deputy House Speaker); Ayogu Eze (Chair Senate Committee on Works); Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi (Chair House Committee on Works); Hope Uzodinma (Chair Senate Committee on Aviation), and the leadership of the various Niger Delta commissions, to name a few. Yet, the region remains grossly underdeveloped; no credible international airport or seaport in midst of the worst network of roads in the country? Therefore, instead of overheating the polity, Nnamdi Kanu and Muhammadu Buhari should have dialogued and then focus their energy on those South-East and South-South leaders who colluded with contractors to loot the development projects in the Biafran area, particularly during the reign of Brother Jonathan.
PT: What do you think of the calls for the restructuring of Nigeria, and what practical approach would you take to address this issue if elected president?
Ogbonnia: Leadership is a dynamic process. A good life is the product of a dynamic process. Good countries are dynamic. Restructuring is a dynamic process; it is all about positive change. But it appears we are over-drumming the restructuring of Nigeria as if it is the sole panacea to our myriad of problems. Of course, there is the urgent need to correct the inequitable creation of local governments and states by the military. There is also a great need to scrap the Nigerian Senate, because there is nothing the Senate can do that the Federal House cannot do, except duplication of corrupt loopholes. Yet, the whole idea of restructuring is not the main problem. A restructuring with bad leaders is like attempting to fetch water with a basket. What Nigeria direly needs is a visionary, detribalised, and charismatic leader, who has the will and capacity to unleash the abundant potential of Nigeria to greatness. And Nigeria is blessed with that leader. With benevolent commitment to the human kind and the posterity, I make bold to say that I am that leader. Now is the time. For we are set to succeed where others have failed.