In the second part of this interview, Osita Chidoka speaks on ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s ‘third term’ bid. He also speaks on his aspiration to govern Anambra and other political matters.
Read the first part of the interviewhere.
PT: Was that the reason why you didn’t consider APC when you were defecting from PDP?
Chidoka: Yes, it was an ideological issue. The Buhari led APC and I are not on the same ideological wavelength.
PT: You recently spoke of a cabal within the Yar’Adua government that almost ruined your career because they saw you with Nasir El-Rufai in London. What really happened?
Chidoka: Succession planning is a major thing in Nigeria. I think that the choice of President Obasanjo’s successor again failed to observe the principle of ideological coherence. He was not ideologically on the same page with Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua’s world view tendencies, aspirations, mindset were totally antithetical to what Obasanjo represented. So, Obasanjo fell back to maybe family relationship with the Yar’Adua’s, loyalty of Umaru Yar’Adua to him, without underscoring that Obasanjo government was a fundamentally ideological government. That got into the Washington consensus and modified it to suit Nigerian environment. So, whether you talked about the privatisation programme they pursued vehemently, the monetisation process, civil service reforms, the public sector reforms, banking consolidation, insurance, the pension commission and all that, the robust sense of our national history, our national trajectory in foreign relations, the way he engaged African states, the western world, G8…… Obasanjo became the African leader to go to. Whenever there was a crisis in Africa, people came back to Nigeria. I knew that he was bringing in somebody who did not share those ideological world views with Obasanjo? And I argued this with him. So, it was a matter of weeks when he took over power that the problem started. It was instant because there were fundamental decisions that he needed to take and he pushed back on them. The privatisation of the refineries, the moment he assumed office, he cut it; removal of the toll gate and the inclusion of the five per cent charge, increase of the fuel price, to put the road tax on it, he removed it. The Lagos-Kano railway line, he said it was overpriced and all that, ok negotiate it down, review the contract but he backed out from it. And this was a time Nigeria had almost $60 billion in foreign reserve. So, Nigeria could dream big dreams. The Lagos-Kano rail line would have unleashed so much energy in the economy. It would have reduced the numbers of tankers in our highway. I knew that Yar’Adua was not ideologically on the same page with President Obasanjo.
Sadly, whether President Obasanjo agrees with this or not, his fundamental mistake in Nigeria has been his own ability to identify his ideological soul mate and stay with them despite personal differences. He allows his personal differences with people to block his mind on the issue of the fundamental philosophy of Nigeria. How do we want Nigeria to run? That is the major issue in Nigeria. Where do people stand on the issue pertaining to Nigeria? So, this is what is creating the problem. Whether you say that the solution to Nigeria is anti-corruption, the solution to Nigeria is rule of law like Yar’Adua came up with, the fundamental question is how do we unlock the potentials of Nigeria? What economic model should we pursue? What social policy should we pursue to ensure inclusion, inclusiveness and the growth of a Nigeria nation where no man is oppressed?
PT: So, you were pushing Obasanjo mindset in the Yar’Adua government, was that why they came after you?
Chidoka: I am sure they knew that I fundamentally opposed to the choice of Yar’Adua as president; not because it mattered. But I argued that this person seems not to be in line with all the plans and thinking and the thoughts we had with Obasanjo about the future of Nigeria. I thought he was choosing the wrong person to lead that dream. Because Obasanjo was leaving Nigeria in a strong place, a robust national economy in terms of foreign reserves. Debt profile was at its lowest point in Nigeria. We had gotten the Paris debt written off, we had gotten our foreign reserves, excess crude account, fiscal responsibility bill had been passed, all kinds of measures had been put in place. The pension issue that was a major elephant issue in Nigeria was attacked and the process in place to replace it with the contributory pension scheme. So, I thought what Nigeria needed was another person who thought like Obasanjo, who was a person driven by markets fundamental economics and more importantly by a sense of national inclusion to lead Nigeria to the next level.
PT: You were very close to Obasanjo and it is believed that you were among some of his boys he used for the third term campaign. What really happened? What role did you play and why did it crumble?
Chidoka: As much as I know, I never had any conversation with Obasanjo about the third term agenda. As much as I know.
PT: But El-Rufai said you were in several committees?
Chidoka: The committees were to reform the PDP. The committees were to provide a new, to document the intellectual trajectory of the government. I never had any conversation with Obasanjo on third term. I can say it on oath, Obasanjo never told me and never discussed with me about third term. In fact, the closest we came to having that conversation was the day the constitution amendment failed in the Senate. Obasanjo called me from Paris, he was in Paris on that day. He called in from Paris that afternoon and said that we should speed up the work on the reform of the PDP and that we should get ready for the conventions, and all that. The manifesto, he called me to find out that afternoon after the thing had failed in the Senate. I was not privy to any plan for Obasanjo to continue his stay in office because there were two things why I thought that was not possible. I didn’t think a constitution can be amended retroactively and even if the constitution was amended, I don’t think that Obasanjo was going to benefit from it. So, I didn’t see how the constitution will be amended to allow a president to run a third term and Obasanjo will be qualified for that.
PT: Let’s return to your ambition to rule Anambra State. Of course, you have analysed the point that a party is as popular as its opponent can make it to be nowadays. APGA would have been in power in Anambra for 12 years by the time the incumbent governor finishes his tenure. And it is quite a popular party there than the UPP. How do you want to dislodge such a party with a long history?
Chidoka: APGA was a party founded in 2003. If you remember in 2003 the atmosphere in the country was such that ethnic tension arose – the Niger Delta people protesting the northerners talking about Sharia, and all kinds of issues, Igbos talking about Biafra, MASSOB etc. It was at that time that APGA was born. And APGA was supposed to be a political engagement strategy of Igbos to engage the country, to organise Igbo land and divert the ethnic tensions into the election. What has happened is that in its course to rise to power, it failed in that mission. First of all, they had Ojukwu as a presidential candidate in 2003. In 2007, I believe, Ojukwu ran as a presidential candidate and then in 2011 APGA said they will not field any presidential candidate and that they were going with PDP. In 2015, they did not present a presidential candidate. So, APGA got soaked in and remained only in Anambra state and was not able to become the aggregator of the Igbo voice and Igbo tension and the channel that Igbo people have been looking for. APGA failed to aggregate, to even have a world view, to even express a position on what has today become the agitations from Igbo land. If it had been successful, in aggregating Igbo views and expressing it and engaging the country, there would have been no IPOB today. In fact, all the people in IPOB, and I can say this…. even Nnamdi Kanu, wanted to run for House of Representatives under APGA. All of them were supporters of APGA at that time, 2007 and 2011 back then. So, it was the failure of APGA to aggregate this world view that led to this groups becoming more radical and becoming the darling of the younger generation.
Because, every Igbo man feels there is need for the Igbos to engage the country to open up opportunities for them. We are asking for equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. This is because once there are equal opportunities, the mission has to have a benchmark. For instance, if you have a federal government college exam, and the benchmark is that everybody must score at least 50 per cent to get an admission into the school, it won’t matter whether a state has 51 per cent as their cut off mark and another state has 90 per cent. But when the cut off mark is reduced below the pass mark to accommodate people, then that’s no more federal character. That is now enthronement of mediocrity. So, people that scored 120 in exam, for instance in Anambra, can’t get in because cut off mark is 128 and somebody that scores 90 from another state can get in. So, these are the issues that the Igbos would have loved to see APGA represent. As we speak today, APGA has no position on the issue of Biafra, on the issue of agitation, on the issue of restructuring. They have not expressed any view to the country because when I looked at the letter that Nasir El-Rufai wrote to President Buhari telling him to expand his government, to be more inclusive, to pursue reforms and all that, I thought that letter should have been written by an Igbo governor. I thought the governors have an opportunity to sit down with the president and say ‘president, you are in violation of our federal character laws in your appointment. It is not a wish it is not about five per cent and 95 per cent, it is the law and you are on oath as the president not to ill-treat anybody or treat with favouritism, you swore to an oath to treat every Nigerian equally, once you become president your partisan view, your personal world view must give way to the job of president of Nigeria.’ I thought it was an Igbo governor that should be reminding the president of that. So, that is why the Igbo young people feel alienated; they feel that their political elite have not spoken out for them. What I want the government of Anambra to represent is that we need to engage the country peacefully, but engage constructively, to argue about those things we think. We should engage the National Assembly in passing their laws. We should engage the judiciary in interpreting the laws on some of these issues that people consider are against a particular group or not. Now if you go to the court you may even get a judgment that resolves some of these issues. For instance, the Supreme Court ruled on the Niger Delta issue of onshore/offshore dichotomy. Obasanjo put in a political settlement and passed a law that allows the onshore to be recognised as part of the states, hence Akwa Ibom became the state getting the highest revenue in oil industry today.
The country has had history of resolving matters, politically. I remember the various lectures the then the Akwa Ibom governor, Victor Attah, gave; arguing how the people will not accept offshore/onshore dichotomy. This is what we demand of government and I think that what is going on in Igbo land is the absence of governments that aggregate the Igbo world view and expresses it to Nigeria. Because that way the people will feel okay. We resolve the Niger Delta problem by an amnesty put in place by Yar’Adua. The Niger Delta agitation starting from Ken Saro-Wiwa was resolved by a 13 per cent derivation principle. The June 12 scandal was resolved by allowing two Yoruba candidates to emerge from the two political parties in 1999. The political leadership must aggregate those views and express them in political terms to government in power. That is the failure of APGA. I think every Igbo man is tired of APGA. And I think that APGA with its vicious ideology has become a story of the past. Like in everything 12 years of sitting in power, I think the voters have run out of patience.
PT: What are your chances of winning the election. And if eventually you succeed what is it that you are bringing to the table in terms of governance that will be different from the normal rhetoric?
Chidoka: My chances are quite bright in the election and the reason is simple.
PT: Even when your party has no councillor, no local government chairman?
Chidoka: Yes, just like APGA in 2003, they had none of those when they won, just like Labour party in Ondo when they won; like Adams Oshiomhole winning when the whole PDP was in power in Edo State. He had no councillor. So, the country is replete with the experiences of people.
For the past one year, I have been in Anambra, I spent more of my time in Anambra and I have gone for setting up structures in every local government, in every ward in Anambra state, opening offices in the local governments, having volunteers turn up to me, working with me. So, the message I have is going down to the grassroots. And what am I offering them?Number one, I am offering them that their voice will be heard again in Nigeria that they can build bridges of knowledge and not of ignorance and fear.
Number two, I am offering them that we can modernise governance in Anambra. What it used to cost government to do certain things in the past is no more necessary. For instance, I am saying that in constructing roads in Anambra, in this year’s budget the governor had N24 billion out of the N50 billion in capital votes. N24 billion was for road construction understandably. But there was only about a billion naira for ICT and about N3 billion for education. And I thought that that’s a misnomer. In building the roads of the future, I will tie it together by digging up those roads, by laying fibre cables to bring down internet bandwidth to the people. The new highway we need is not just the physical roads but the internet bandwidth. That is what will unlock the potentials of Anambra who come first in WAEC every year, who has the highest number of people admitted to the university, who has the highest number of people studying engineering sciences in the Nigerian universities, So, what I want to do is to bring those attributes together, to bring a pot where these ingredients are brought together to unlock the value, and that value is being able to expose Anambra to the super highway that Anambra should be the home of programmers and coders, the home where people can sit in and work for companies across the world without leaving the state.
The election is a referendum on our future, not on our past. We are not going to be talking about the government of the day. We are going to be presenting Anambra a choice for the future. Choose you this day whom you shall serve.
PT: IPOB said there should be no election and you are preparing. What is your take? Are you still going ahead?
Chidoka: I believe that IPOB can direct its members not to vote. But people who are not IPOB members will definitely go to vote. I don’t think that IPOB will reverse itself. I don’t think that boycotting the election in any form solves the problem of IPOB. Rather, I think IPOB has an opportunity to express their views at the ballot box of the type of leadership they want to see in Igbo land.