Chief Achike Udenwa, the former governor of Imo State, recently fielded some questioin his office in Abuja where he spoke about state of the nation, chances of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Igboland, 2015 and the possibility of Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. Below are excerpts:
We’ve had almost 14 years of civilian rule, are we moving forward in these few years of democracy?
I would say we’re moving forward but it depends on which direction. We’re moving forward and you would know that there’s a learning process.
A lot has happened; a new leadership has emerged. The only problem is that we’re not as committed as – the Ziks, the Awolowos, the Aminu Kanoes, the Sardaunas, etc. At the time, they were so committed the fight was different.
The fight was against the whiteman and the aim was to gain independence for Nigeria, which they achieved for us. But unfortunately, we’ve not been able to manage ourselves well thereafter. And this comes because after the whiteman has left we’re now fighting ourselves.
It becomes internal. The struggle for power has been raging since that time till now.
Raging amongst ethnic groups, raging amongst Political Parties; raging amongst Religious bodies, etc. so that has been the confusion at the scene and the ordinary Nigerian is the worst for it.
What is the way out?
Even if the elite, even if they want to transform this country under whatever name you give it, you must carry the people along. Now the ordinary people, their wants are not so many – basic wants – have three square meals a day; send their children to school; be able to attend hospital when sick; after the children have come out of school, to secure jobs, etc. So, you see, these are the basic needs of the ordinary man.
And no matter what you’re transforming and you don’t carry them along and you don’t try to meet with these needs, you will never succeed. Then it means you’re doing an elitist transformation where only the elite gain. So, let us see how we can look very seriously downwards and see what the man in the street wants. We have enough resources to meet these wants.
Recently you raised the flag of APC in Imo State. What do you think are the chances of APC in Igboland?
I see very bright chances for APC. The South-east has followed PDP from the beginning till now and has nothing to show for it. The orchestral Igbo Presidency, there’s no plan.
In 2011 we had a body called Igbo Political Forum and we were working seriously towards having an Igbo president elected and our target then was 2019. Our ambition then was that latest by 2019 the Igbo Presidency would be a reality. But we scuttled it,
Yes, 2019, latest by then we would be having Igbo president. But we messed it up because of selfish needs. Some people at the last minute jettisoned the organisation and then worked for themselves and not for the Igbo.
And today as far as PDP is concerned there is no plan. At APC 1 think we have an opportunity and I tell the Igbo that if they work hard under APC; if they support APC and work hard under it, my projection is that by the year 2023, an Igbo man would be president.
Yes. We’ve got to be realistic. I said latest. It’s possible we get the Igbo Presidency in 2015 but my own projection is that latest by 2023 we will get it.
After who and who might have ruled?
The way things are going whoever rules from this 2015 by 2023 latest an Igbo man will get it.
Even if Jonathan comes back, are we taking it as an assumption that an Igbo man will become president after him?
No, I’ve never believed that the next president after Jonathan will be an Igbo man. That has never been part of my planning. Knowing Nigeria the way I do, I don’t want to be over optimistic and then promise our people what cannot happen. I don’t see President Jonathan, handing over to an Igbo man.
Why are you saying that, why is an Igbo leader like you talking this way?
It’s not possible. We know the trend. Even when I was in PDP I was part of the extended caucus that signed the minutes of that meeting we had in the Villa where we agreed that after Obasanjo a Northerner will rule. And after that it comes to the south .
So, within PDP, there is no hope that after Jonathan another Southerner or Igboman will move straight into the Presidency. This was the calculation we had in 2011 and we told our people then that we had an option that was the time we met with the Northern group under Adamu Ciroma. And we had an agreement. It was in the papers; it was published and we signed.
Do you actually realise the Social implication of what you’re saying?
What is it?
You were telling Igbos that…(cutting me off)?
I haven’t said anything other than that I said latest. The meaning of latest here is that they can equally have it earlier if they work hard. I want to be on the safe side and I say if we work hard, latest by 2023 an Igbo President would emerge.
Yes, it may be shocking to you but that’s the truth of the matter. What of those who promised us 2015; where are they? (Laughter) The same people who promised us 2015 are the people telling us today that Jonathan is entitled to a second term. So, did they not know in 2011 that he would be entitled to a second term?
So, when you people were pursuing the Northern President issue 2015 wasn’t even in the agenda?
Yes! What realistically we were thinking at that time was 2019.
They promised us 2015 but realistically we knew that was 2019.
I know you are shocked. You will be shocked you want me to say we will have Igbo president tomorrow. You can’t have it without working for it. What’s the organization on the ground? What contacts have you made? Or is it that by 2015 an Igbo man will be president?
Be realistic we lost 2015 in 2011. If we had followed the programme in 2011 probably we would have had it in 2015 or 2019 latest. This is the truth. I will never believe that a South-South president will hand over to a South-east president. I said then and I’m still saying it today. I said it obviously then and I made it clear that it would be impossible in the Nigeria context.
So why not work for something that is possible? There was an interview Chief Edwin Clark gave in June; I think it was in June. I saw that his interview as being frank.
What did he say?
He said that the Igbo are not yet prepared for the presidency; that they have not started any move to run for the Presidency of this country. He said that the South-South started in 2003 and he concluded by saying that when Igbos are ready that they would help the Igbos.
So getting prepared to run for a Nigerian President has now been turned into an ethnic affair and becoming violent. That’s the preparation I’ve seen that the North is making. The same tactics the west and south-south applied?
No matter the method they used in their own case, what we’re asking ourselves is what is the method the Igbos are using now
Do you know what I want to tell you when you ask about the method the Igbo are using now?
You said the other ones are violent. So, what is the Igbos using now?
You might not be comfortable with what I want to say?
Ok, go ahead, go ahead.
It’s an indictment on people like you?
Because you are an Igbo leader?
Exactly, as a group I accept that indictment.
Let me return that question to you. My leader, what are you people doing for Igbo Presidency?
What I think we are doing, there are many groups. But those of us in the APC, we look at what is happening today, an Igbo man could probably in 2015 indicate, my party has not zoned anything. We have not decided where the presidency is going. So it may be the Igbo man has a chance in 2015.
Assuming he doesn’t make it in 2015, whoever enters there, the Igbo man can now prepare very well and see that by 2023 an Igbo man would be President. That’s the situation.
Your calculation doesn’t even work?
Because assuming you have accepted after Jonathan it will not be an Igbo man but it’s going to be a Northerner?
Yes, but I didn’t say a Northerner. You didn’t hear me mention any ethnic group (laughter)
Ok, I withdraw that. Now, it would be any group after Jonathan and Jonathan may end his tenure in 2019. Assuming he is re-elected in 2015?
You can’t assume it. I’m talking from the point of view of APC. And from the point APC are we expecting Jonathan to be re-elected? No-no. You’re asking me, I cannot tell you what any other person is doing on the APC point of view, I’m calculating that if the Igbos don’t make it in 2015,that definitely we must work hard for it. Nobody will dash you the presidency. It means that Igbos should come into APC and work hard for it?
Ok, your hard work is in the context of APC?
Yes, in the context of APC. That’s why I cannot speak for PDP. I’m speaking for APC. For me, the PDP is gone.
Gone, in terms of?
That is, our chances in PDP have gone. We lost it in 2011, I tell you the truth. No matter the way you see it, we lost it in 2015. we need to start positioning ourselves through APC to be sure that if we don’t make it in this 2015, because my party has not in any way said the presidency is zoned to this side. So, if we’re not able to make it in the struggle this year, we must begin seriously to work under APC and achieve it latest by 2023.
There’s a problem there?
What is the problem?
The problem is that the Igbo see this APC as a Yoruba party?
Some say it’s a Yoruba party, others say it’s a Northern party. Why can’t we make it an Igbo party? That’s why we’ve got to work hard within APC. You can see the baptism it’s getting. Some say it’s a Yoruba party, some say; Oh, it’s a Hausa-Fulani party.They just give these tags just to scare our people away. APC is a Nigerian party and a lot depends on how you work on it. If in the 2015 election we work hard I promise you APC will take a minimum of three States and of the five in the South-East. And that’s the beginning.
Three States from the South – East?
Can you name the States?
I don’t want to name them. Any of the five is an opportunity.
You‘re taking Anambra?
By the grace of God. That would be the beginning
You already have Imo State right?
Yes, we have Imo State. So we will add one more and I said minimum. Supposing we take five of them.
Mind you it’s not the powerful people that vote; it’s the grassroots that vote who wants to look at the APC as the party that wants to cater for the ordinary people.
And by the time we release our manifesto, by the time we start working, start our campaigns, you will see that the ordinary man will see that’s where his salvation lies. So he can leave elites like you in the PDP. We hope to be in control of the centre; for us to execute our programmes we hope, first and foremost to grab the centre.
We’re not joking. It’s not a question of dragging people out of the centre. And group that needs the APC most it’s the Igbos.
What makes you think so?
Yes, I think so because when our States are in into the programmes of APC we will see development in Igboland. That’s one. And again the Igbo Presidency we’re talking about becomes more realizable unlike in the PDP where there’s no programme for it.
But some leaders come not and say you will get Igbo Presidency tomorrow morning only for them to get “settled” themselves. Approximates and the rest of them, contracts, etc when they get these things as far as they’re concerned, Igbo Presidency can wait. We’re not that way in APC. We are quite dedicated in APC.
Tunde Bakare was Buhari’s running mate in the last election?
Just recently Bakare had cause to indict some of the APC governors as being corrupt?
Tunde Bakare had denied that statement. He never made that statement. You see, the APC is an emerging political party people are not comfortable with. People the other side are not comfortable with it. So anything can happen now, that’s why to make a statement one has to be careful. Because people take these statements and translate them anyway they want, put them down and people would read them.
Now, in most cases the refusal you would put up later on would not be widely read as the initial falsification or misrepresentation of your statements.
This issue of APC gaining ground in Igboland, how can you justify it with the recent deportation of Igbo people from Lagos by Fashola?
Does Fashola own APC? Fashola does not own APC. I’m a member of APC; Fashola is a member of APC. And I condemn in it entirely that any Nigerian can be deported from any State of his residence.
But it has nothing to do with APC. When I was Governor, if you could remember I think it was in 2002 or so that a lot of Igbos lost their lives in the North. Now there were to be reprisals in Owerri. I called in the Commissioner of Police; I called the Army Commander and I said this must not happen. I told them that the Northerners here were citizens of Imo State. I took all of them to the Army barracks at Obinze. I am one advocate that believes that wherever a Nigerian lives, he should have all rights and privileges there.So you cannot tell me you’re deporting anybody from one State to the other for whatever reason. If he committed an offence try him by the laws of the State. If you go to Lagos you have the “alayes” and not all of them are Lagosians, some might come from Osun; some might come from Oyo or from Ogun. Have you deported them? But this has nothing to do with APC.
It is common knowledge that what happened was not done by APC, it is not an APC rule that if anybody deport him to another State. So I don’t think this is an excuse.
And this young man called Femi Fani-Kayode didn’t help matters by writing in support of the Lagos State Government’s action and calling names of Igbo women according to him, he had intimate relationship with?
Yes, I read his article. I met with Femi yesterday and I didn’t know he was in the APC and I asked him. He said he had already joined the APC weeks ago. The statement he made was in bad faith. At this time, we should not be whipping up ethnic sentiments. I thought of even making a rejoinder to that statement but on second thought I said I would be aggravating the issue. A lot of people have already addressed the issue.
But not people of your calibre.
Yes, not people of my calibre but to be honest with you, he went too far to talk about how the Yoruba gave back the Igbo their jobs, which they left because of the war. Femi is a young man. Even Femi’s father, Remi Fani Kayode – his life was saved by Colonel Emma Nwogbo. He didn’t put that down.
But did he know about that?
He should. Why wouldn’t you know what happened to your father? However, Femi is my friend, I don’t deny that. But at the same time, why he went so far, I wouldn’t know.
That’s what I’m saying. Did you try to caution him when you met?
No- no- no. The circumstances under which I met with him, we couldn’t talk. I only asked him, “ah, are you part of us? It’s a very delicate issue, which I wouldn’t discuss with him at the time we met.
Your party is seen in many circles to be undemocratic and a one-man affair because of the imposition of candidates. Igbo moving to APC means they have to be running around Bola Tinubu and other Yoruba leaders for favour?
Consensus not imposition; there’s definitely a difference between the two. Are you talking of imposition of candidates or you’re talking of consensus.
We’re in Nigeria; we know what consensus implies ?
No, no, you’re getting it wrong. I don’t see APC in that mould. For example, in a governorship race where about three or four candidates come up, instead of wasting their energies, trying to outdo one another, you can get them to a round table and then discuss it. You can try to convince them and arrange for them to seek different political posts one for the governorship the others for maybe Senate, House of Reps, etc; it’s a consensus if you’re able to build it. It’s beautiful. You save yourself the problem connected with primaries. Primaries are not an easy thing to any party,
You would see that you could have a primary but at the end of the day the party would be so weakened that when it gets to the main election it can’t make any impact. Remember last time what happened to PDP in Anambra State. They tore themselves apart and there was no way they could come together again and they lost. So wherever we can avoid such a sluggish primary we should. But definitely it’s not an imposition of candidates but by consensus. No position, as a matter of fact, is reserved for anybody.
Are you going to run for Senate again under APC?
I can tell you, I took part in the formation of APC. I was one of those who planned the merger and at the time we resolved that we take our ambitions and put them in our pockets. By the time we finished merging and the party settles down and everything has been put on ground then, you can come and with your ambition.
So to me today, I cannot say what I’m going to run for. I’ve not even given it a serious thought if I’m going to run for something or not,our preoccupation as at now is to put APC on the ground. Having been registered, registration is just one step. The next thing is to put it on the ground and that’s what we’re all working towards.
For our individual ambitions everybody has his own but it’s not an issue yet.
You and Rochas have had political fights, now you are in the same party. Does it mean politicians can be with strange bed fellows just for power?
There’s nothing indicting. Political party is like a church. When you go to the church everybody is there. Let me give you my own experiences. When I started politics in 1979, I was in PRP. When I wanted to contest for Federal House of Reps in 1983, we had this progressive idea and we were advised to go to our states and work with any progressive party on ground.
So, I contested under NPP in 1983 but I didn’t scale through in the primaries. By then the war in Imo State was between NPN and NPP. After that the Army took over and later I joined SDP and we found out that some of our colleagues in NPP had gone to other parties while those we were fighting before have come to join us. We continued like that until the next dispensation, which was the time of UNPP, DPN, CNC, and the rest.We continued that way until we came to PDP and up till this day when we’re now in APC. So there’s nothing static. Our Politics is not yet that of ideology. If we had continued with NRC and SDP by now we would have had two ideological different parties.
Your APC governors came out recently with the notion that there should not be local government autonomy in the constitution. What do you think about this?
I support that the local governments should not be independent. Local governments are regulated by the laws of the state. However, it is surprising to me that some governors tamper with the local governments’ funds. They should not; they are not supposed to. But you should ask what the respective state Houses of Assembly are doing.They are supposed to ensure that governors do not tamper with local government funds. So, we should not give local governments autonomy because they’re not federating units. The federating units are the Federal Government and the State Government.
The local governments should be regulated. Everybody should know what the other person is doing.
Your Excellency, once again there is this issue that I came across when I was browsing the Igboville on the Internet. Somebody commented on the issue of MASSOB. He said Chief Achike Udenwa ordered that MASSOB members be shot and they were killed when you were governor. Can you please address this issue?
Well, this is complete fallacy. And, of course, I didn’t have any such power to order the police to shoot people. What I remember that happened was about in 2003. That time the MASSOB leader, Uwazulike, became uncontrollable.
He was even running a court and people were going there to settle matters. The police arrested him and some of his members. Eventually some members lost their lives in an ensuring encounter with the police.
I even went to Okigwe then and I addressed the MASSOB and the police. I eventually called Uwazulike and the president of Ohanaeze.
I told Uwazurike then in the presence of all those present to change the name MASSOB. That as long as that name MASSOB remained, the police would always have reason to fight it. For instance, MASSOB is talking about Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. Imagine! It is treason. Change the name to any other thing. We have the Movement for the Survival of the Ogonis, MOSOP; we have the AREWA, we even have the ODUA in the West. Change your name and don’t talk about the sovereign state of Biafra. Because once you continue with it, the police will come after you.
Remember, I swore to defend the sovereignty of Nigeria and, as such, I cannot support anything that goes contrary to that. So, if he had changed the name MASSOB to an ethnic group or body, it would have been better. But unfortunately, he was adamant and had thoroughly indoctrinated our youths. Most of these youths were either not yet born during the war or were babies. Like him, he was a baby during the war. Did he know what we suffered during the war? Whoever said such things was very uncharitable.