Former Senate President and presidential aspirant, Anyim Pius Anyim, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete, Nosike Ogbuenyi and Samson Adenekan, speaks on his chances, his tenure as Senate President, the nation’s security challenges, the Biafra agitation, corruption allegations and other issues: Excerpts:
PT: The day you were leaving the Senate in 2003, you said you were quitting politics, but now you are contesting again. What informed your decision to return to politics?
Anyim: Since I left the Senate I contested for the office of the national chairman of my party, which I think is political enough. Since I left the Senate when there was an impasse about President Yar’Adua being sick and not transmitting a letter to his vice to run the country in his absence I led a delegation of 40 eminent Nigerians to intervene at the National Assembly, which I think is political enough. Since I left the Senate, I have been appointed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which I also think is political enough. Since I left office as President of the Senate, because of insecurity at one point, I also intervened by writing an open letter to the President, which I think is also political enough.
Now to your question, straight and direct, I did say that I was not going to seek a re-election. One, I believe that the country was in transition and I said I was not going to seek re-election, I was not going to participate in the next election for a number of reasons. We were in transition and we should not insist on two terms so that every segment of society should have a feel that they are part of the country.
Two, I also needed to make a statement that you don’t have to be in an office to serve your people. You can be out of the office and still be of great service. Some of the activities I mentioned earlier were activities I undertook while I was out of office.
Three, there was a lot of turbulence there and I did not see why after I had been the chairman of the National Assembly, then I would return there by chance, then I would struggle to remain as the Senate chairman or sit at the floor. That would be hungry for power, not for service. These were the reasons why I was not going to participate in the 2003.
PT: But a lot of people felt that your issues with the then President (Olusegun Obasanjo) prompted your decision, is that true?
Anyim: It is an open issue, we had disagreement over a few things and it was not personal. It was between the National Assembly and the Executive, so there was nothing too personal about it. There was a critical step the NASS took then which was not acceptable to him and it degenerated to a little rancour between the legislator and executive but not too personal.
PT: We remember the speculation that you were not going to run because you were afraid that the president has the party in his pocket and he may block your chances at getting the ticket.
Anyim: No. No. There was nothing like that. Such speculations are grossly unfounded because I returned to contest the chairmanship position of the party and if I was afraid, I would not have run for the seat. Yar’Adua was the sitting president then but Obasanjo was in control of the party. He was very influential. He was the chairman of the Board of Trustees at that time. It was not any fear of anybody. Of course if you follow my record, particularly when I was in the Senate, I was younger and quite articulate and I was simply committed to doing the right thing.
PT: Looking back at what you did then in the Senate, would you say that was youthful exuberance or something?
Anyim: There was nothing like that. There was nothing I did in the Senate then that if circumstances place back I won’t do the same now. Sometimes we overplay the issue of age. Lee Kuan Yew (former Prime Minister of Singapore) was 35 years old when he turned his country around and he is a clear success story that people are vibrant, more active and ready to go at younger age then at old age.
So, I support young people aspiring to lead or occupy leadership positions but not because you are young but because you have been able to put a lot of things in yourself. It demands a lot of hard work, demands a lot of commitment and sacrifice. If you have prepared yourself for leadership, why not?
PT: You were one of the strong supporters of former Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, while in the Senate but all of a sudden he was ousted and you took his place. What exactly happened?
Anyim: Well, it was not all of a sudden. He didn’t leave the Senate all of a sudden. But let me take you back so that you get it right. I was one of the strongest supporters of Okadigbo. And they did election for the President of the Senate and I’ll give you the report. The day the election was to be held, we were already sure that Okadigbo would lose because the executive had moved fully. And I’ll give you two instances of events that happened.
One, prior to the time the election was to be held, it was so clear that Evans Enwerem was going to win but I stood my ground. I say, if for anything, the last thing I must do is to vote for Chuba (Okadigbo). You can go check our Hansard. We that stood our grounds were extremely few. My problem with Chuba started after he reshuffled the committees and moved me from Vice-Chairman Petroleum Committee which I said he should leave me, to Vice-Chairman Sports. That was our parting point.
You also remember that at the floor of the Senate, we have (had) challenged each other. There was a day I raised my hand and he refused to recognise me and I stood up and I said I have a right to take the floor. And it was widely reported.
So we parted for a long time. And I was not part of his problem. His problem was the executive and the executive fought to stop him at the first time. Then he fought the executive to remove Enwerem the second time and returned himself and Obasanjo said he cannot be president if Chuba is Senate President, and the fight continued.
I think you need to get it right. It’s really not me and I want people to get this right. Chuba’s crisis continued for a long time. It was not all of a sudden…until we got to a point where there was an issue of contract awarded out of process, more particularly the streetlights leading to the NASS. It became a crisis point before the Senate and one of his strongest supporters moved that you cannot accuse him of something without giving him a fair hearing. And the Senate resolved to set up a committee to investigate and give him a fair hearing on the contract matter. Idris Kuta was the chairman of that committee.
The Idris Kuta committee met and produced a report. On the day the report was to be considered, the Senate was very hot. Many said he (Chuba) cannot be a judge in his own case. And Chuba had to step down and Senator Azuta Mbata was appointed to preside over the report. The report was examined, discussed and reviewed, he was found culpable. When he was found culpable, Mbata continued as president pro-tempore because Chuba wasn’t just removed, it took about one month then before his team realised that it was over and they started looking for a replacement.
All those who were interested went for an interview in Senator Udoma’s house. Jim Nwobodo went. Ike Nwachukwu went. (Adolphus) Wabara went and I went. I want you to know that when the party came to conduct a mock election to see whom the party would present, I won because Chuba’s group supported me.
When Chuba’s group had looked at all the candidates, the group said that I would be their best person on the job. It was their support that made me win the mock election before the Senate’s election. So what is my own fault in this process?
PT: Now, why do you want to be the President of Nigeria?
Anyim: Because I have something to bring to the table. I have said it clearly that I am that one Nigerian that can build the consensus required to generate the necessary indeed, the required patriotism to drive the country forward.
PT: We have had presidents since 1999 – Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and now Buhari, what is it that you are bringing to the table that is different from what these people have offered?
Anyim: Well, let me also follow your question the way you presented. Obasanjo came into the leadership of the country for the second time as a civilian president at a time we thought that the military had run down the country. And everybody was committed that the military must leave and we were heavily indebted and Obasanjo did his bit wonderfully. He was a president and a president indeed and I respect him for it.
Obasanjo left, Yar’Adua came, one way or another, his tenure was short-lived. Goodluck (Jonathan) came and Goodluck, of course, followed due processes, laid standards, democratically led the country, and we were regaining our position, you know, as a forward looking country – economically, politically and socially.
Then after Goodluck, now, this president of course. I know you are living in this country today. And you can tell me, if you care, that everybody feels that there should be a change, a change of attitude, a change of approach. Some others feel the need to rescue their country from drifting many spheres, we are at the precipice and all that.
One, if for whatever reason, it is clear that something must be done to set the country right. Two, what am I bringing to the table at a time like this? And I said, what I have experienced from the various administrations from Obasanjo in 1999 to Buhari, 2023 so to say, I have seen what were their programmes, their weaknesses, their strengths. And I was observing them or working with them from a very vantage position. And I can say that I have experience and competence. I have the capacity to put my knowledge together to make a difference and build consensus that will generate a new spirit that guarantees a national rebirth so that we can progress as a nation.
PT: You were central to Jonathan’s tenure as the Secretary to the Federation. A lot of people would wonder if you have something tangible and reformatory, why didn’t you bring it to the table before your party was voted out in 2015?
Anyim: Let’s also be honest. The same people who shouted “crucify Jonathan” are they not the same people begging him to come back? If you have anything to accuse Jonathan administration of, it is definitely not lack of ideas, reforms or standardising processes. If there is anything that Nigerians are missing today, those are the main issues. Under Jonathan, the economy boomed. Under Jonathan we have fair political stability. Under Jonathan, you can drive your car from Abuja to Kaduna. Can you try it today? I can say with all confidence that the difference between Jonathan’s time and today is not hidden and you can also attest to that.
If you asked me, I want to tell you that most Nigerians would say we are coming to bring back what we had during Jonathan, but I want to do more. And I’m in a position to do more. Whether you like it or not, the fourth industrial revolution is here. In the next few years we will not live the way we live today. In the next two years we will not work the way we work today. In the next few years, everything that comes as consensus will not be as it is. Today, we are complaining about the collapse of the little industrial gains we made in the 80s for reasons of lack of infrastructure and inconsistent policy and all that.
But tomorrow, automation will take over all that anybody would seek to do in industries. So you may have industries without employment. It will be my responsibility as the president of Nigeria at this time to prepare Nigeria to fit into the fourth industrial revolution. That is the most important thing. The unemployment we’re talking about today is not going to be the same in the future. The oil we are dependent on today is not going to be the same in the near future. You are not going to have a ‘deaf president’ who will sit and will not be able to work. We need to prepare the country for the future, otherwise our children will not have a place to call their own.
PT: I believe you read statements from the State House, Lai Mohammed (Information Minister), saying they have done well, pushing the country forward, and better that your administration handed over to them.
Anyim: As an independent person, what is your assessment of Nigeria today? You should know…
PT: You have made mention of the state of insecurity in the country. Without letting the cat out of the bag, what would you have done differently? What is your solution?
Anyim: Before I say more, did you read my open letter to the president on insecurity? I would say that my position has been made public through that. And I was clear that military action alone cannot stem the tide. I gave my suggestions with background.
There was a situation like this at the eve of independence where the minority tribes across the country said they won’t go into this independence because they will be dominated by the majority tribes. The colonial masters didn’t take it for granted. They set up a commission and after extensive consultation, the Willinks Commission recommended that we entrench a fundamental human rights provision in the constitution to protect everyone. And that is the origin of fundamental human rights in the constitution.
We need to spice this up. Governance is not about sitting in Villa. I have said this in most of my interviews. When you just sit and throw a policy at people, it may not work if they are not buying into it.
We need to understand the dimensions of this insecurity. There is ordinary criminality, banditry, armed robbery and all that. What we’re saying is that they are agitations that are civil and there are agitations that are with arms. They are not the same as bandits, they are not the same as armed robbery. They are agitations. And I gave you instances which you know. Boko Haram didn’t start as an armed agitation. It started as a religious group. And they were just stubbornly pursuing their religious goals until the government of the day came in. Of course, in an effort to clamp down on them, Mohammed Yusuf was killed. It has now moved from civil agitations to whatever we have today which is taking about 20 per cent of our national revenue. You have a series of other democratic platforms to have the perspectives of every other segment of the society, put it together, create understanding, improve the social and economic environment and become more.
Once you can draw the line between criminal elements which you can handle under the law and the non-criminal agitations which you can’t handle under the force of arm, strike a balance and the country moves forward. So, for me, I am clear and I have an idea of what the challenges are and I have clarity of what the solution could be. But if you think you can use military action, which you have tried for many years and it never worked. I will send the letter (to the president on insecurity) to you, you will read and we can talk more, that should be the foundation.
PT: We thought that since 1999 that we’ve settled the issue of rotation, even though it’s not enshrined in the constitution, but there is a gentleman’s agreement that the presidency will rotate between the south and the north. As it is, we are debating whether the ticket should go to the south or to the north. Does that not bother you?
Anyim: No. It is not a thing of concern. But let me clear this out. In the PDP constitution, this is probably a fundamental issue in Section 7 (3c). It is clearly written that there should be rotation of all elective offices between the north and south. It is also not completely true. It is also not completely true to say that it’s not in our laws, because the fundamental issue has been addressed in Chapter 3 of the constitution. Section 13 is there, it says in any issue of governance, every department must enforce federal character. I think it is very clear. Chapter 2 of the constitution is not enforceable by law, it is a fundamental issue of state policy which binds us together and if you don’t do it, it means you don’t love the country.
Zoning is usually the last thing before an election, it is not the first thing. You keep the party together and close to the election, you now zone. Take for instance, when we had our convention last year. The zoning of the national offices was done one week before the convention. It was not done at the beginning of the whole process, I believe, I am not speaking for the party that we will still get to the time when the people will zone. I’m not speaking for the party but I want to state clearly that it is in the PDP constitution.
PT: You have also said zoning or no zoning, you will contest.
Anyim: Yes, because if you zone, it will go to the South-east, so I am comfortable. If you don’t zone, which means everybody can run, I’m still qualified to run. So, you cannot zone it to the North, you can only zone it to the South or you don’t zone. Whichever way, I’m comfortable.
PT: You are a lawyer, if your party zones the ticket to the North? Are you going to sue?
Anyim: That will be against the constitution. We have a constitution and it should be respected. I will not sue the party. All I know is that I will run and you will support me.
PT: When the PDP was in power, it used to be very, very clear, as we have run elections since 1999, and easy for us to predict where the next candidate will come from. That seems more difficult now.
Anyim: No. Remember that we are trying to reposition the party and we are trying to make sure that our party becomes what…We lost power. Don’t lose sight of the fact that we lost power. And when we had power, we had clear leadership but now we have lost power, and we are grappling with a few things which keep us on our feet. We have to do things slowly. We can’t do things like we are in power, we have to do it gradually. We just elected a new national working committee. We need to give them time to settle down and refocus the party and then we take things from there.
PT: If you are elected the candidate of the PDP, will that answer the question of Igbo presidency?
Anyim: Well, I have said before that I am from the South-east and I am in this race because I have something to offer. And of course if I am elected, I am from the South-east and that won’t take me away from the South-east. I will be the president of Nigeria to serve Nigerians.
PT: You are a friend of Atiku (Abubakar) and of course a loyalist, and he is running for the same seat.
Anyim: I don’t know what you mean by loyalist. I was the president of the Senate when he was the vice president. So, there is nothing wrong with the two of us running for the same seat.
PT: I want to paint a scenario – I know that your state governor (Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State) has also declared interest in this position. If he emerges on the platform of the APC and you emerge on the platform of the PDP, what will that look like?
Anyim: What will it look like? What do you want it to look like? It will just be like APC presenting its candidate, PDP presenting its candidate too. People will be the beneficiaries. I will be the next president of Nigeria, full stop.
PT: A lot of people see PDP as a party governed by corrupt people, won’t this affect your chances even if you emerge as your party’s choice?
Anyim: I think you need to put that into perspective. When Obasanjo and his team left, it was the same perception. In fact, two governors under that administration are in prison now. Obasanjo, even during his time, also sacked a minister. I do not think it is a matter of my administration because all the ones before me faced the same fate. This is a journey we all need to travel through before corruption is rooted out of Nigeria. It is really not an issue.
PT: Elections, especially the presidency and others, are capital intensive, do you have the deep pockets for the journey you want to embark on?
Anyim: I don’t know how deep my pocket is but if I add your own to mine, it will be deep enough. That aside, it was not deep pockets that made Buhari president. It was not deep pockets that made Jonathan president. It was not deep pockets that made Yar’Adua president. It was not deep pockets that made Obasanjo president. I don’t know why having a deep pocket is a factor now but I am not poor or rich. I am just a Nigerian. I have enough goodwill that will command the goodwill of people to vote and support me.
PT: There were some issues with the PDP administrations but Nigerians seem to be facing more in the current administration. Now that your party is staging a comeback, why should Nigerians trust you?
Anyim: You have partly answered the question. Nigerians will trust us when they compare our past administrations with the current one. That is why I’m running now. I am running now to ensure that the experiences I have gathered along the line will be deployed for the best.
PT: You are from the South-east. For the past seven years, the agitation for Biafra has begun to increase. We have seen a group come up very forcefully. What do you think is responsible for this in the past six or seven years?
Anyim: Well, I don’t know why you want me to answer this one because you didn’t put it together with agitation from the South-west led by Sunday Igboho for the actualisation of Oduduwa state. You also did not combine it with Boko Haram in the North-east for the actualisation of Islamic State. So if you put it all together, then you can discuss that.
But I think that the country is challenged and that is the point I am trying to make. And that is what I answered when you asked me a question on insecurity and I said that there are agitations too. I did tell you that apart from the criminality, there were agitations and we need to draw the line between criminality and agitation.
Again, I refer you to that letter (one he wrote to Buhari). When you read it, you will get the background. I think the country is challenged and this is a national issue, not a regional issue. I will not answer it as a regional issue, I will approach it as a national issue.
If I become president, I will put it on the table as a national issue and address it across the country – set the same parameters, follow the same pitch, and extinguish them. Let me also say, it is not as if these things are here today. The first militancy we experienced was from Niger Delta and the militancy in the Niger Delta was so terrible that it was going to cripple the economy, peace of the country. Obasanjo handled it. That is leadership. Yar’Adua continued from where Obasanjo stopped, extinguished it. That was also leadership.
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Boko Haram went out of control and has escalated. It is a national question. It will be treated as a national question. All of them will be put on the table and handled as a national challenge. I believe we know how to address all of them and guarantee the lives and properties of Nigerians.
PT: So, in clear terms, you are not for IPOB? It seems to be popular among the people because they obey the sit-at-home order it gives.
Anyim: Why would I be for IPOB? If I am running to Nigeria, why would you be talking about agitations. Popular among who? So, you would have gone out for people to kill you, that is when you know you are opposing them? People are armed and you expect armless people to confront them? It is not the responsibility of ordinary citizens that have no arms to go and face armed people. Is it not the responsibility of security people to protect citizens?
PT: In as much as you want us to look at all these things holistically, there are still some distinctions. In the North, Boko Haram is religious because of extremism, how it started…
Anyim: I think you are taking this thing out of space. The thing is, Boko Haram’s target is to create an Islamist State. I don’t want to take it too far. Even El-Zakzaky is saying that he is not subject to this constitution. Why are you making this an issue? Boko Haram, his commitment is to set up an Islamic State. They have even acquired something. Where they conquer, they put up a flag, even up to Niger State. What distinction are you making again? They have said that they are setting up an Islamic State. The Taliban have a sovereign mandate. So, it does not matter if you use your religion to rule. The question is – are you subject to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or not. So I think that is the issue.
PT: Your friend, Raymond Dokpesi, has advised those of you aspiring under the party to allow Atiku to contest for the next four years, then after, the ticket can be zoned to the South-east. Is that not something for you to consider?
Anyim: Well, tell him to ask Atiku to speak for himself. I don’t know on whose authority he is speaking. Is he speaking on behalf of Atiku’s empire or they own Nigeria and he has been appointed to share it, and decide who will take this and that. Is he a political party? Tell him to speak for himself.
PT: If he does, will you step down?
Anyim: Till then.
PT: Knowing that there are so many other aspirants currently under your party, and many more to come. How do you intend to overwhelm these heavy weights?
Anyim: Primaries will take care of that. That is the same process the party will use to select its candidate. I don’t need to overwhelm them in any other way except through popularity. Every sentiment favours me and I know that if you are part of that primaries, you will vote for me. I’m certain that I will command a majority of the votes.
PT: We were going to ask you about your case with the EFCC. You were detained recently by the Commission. I hope it is not going to affect you in this race?
Anyim: I don’t have any case with the EFCC. There are times you people (media) abuse this whole thing. That the EFCC invited you, does that put a case on you? If they have a case against you, they charge you to court. I don’t have any charges with any anti-corruption agency or any court.
If you invite me, who in Jonathan’s government has not been invited? Namadi Sambo, the vice-president’s house, has been searched twice. The president’s wife, Patience Jonathan, is in battle with the EFCC. Ministers, (a) former Attorney General, (these) have also been dramatised all over the world.
If the EFCC invites me as the head of that administration, why won’t I go to offer my explanation there? So, what is wrong about that? I have no charges anywhere.
PT: Some people were talking about the Centenary Project.
Anyim: Centenary is one of the projects that has been investigated. In fact, there is no department in EFCC that has not investigated it. In summary, I have no charges in any anti-corruption agency. If they invite me tomorrow, I will still go.
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