A long time friend of President Muhammadu Buhari and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, who is also a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with The Punch’s Ihuoma Chedozie, speaks on issues surrounding his suspension by the party’s National Working Committee led by Adams Oshiomhole.
Were you guilty of anti-party activities as alleged by your party?
Then why do you think you were suspended?
I don’t know, to be honest. The much I know is that as a member of the merger committee of our great party, the APC, in 2013, I had remained steadfast and resilient in the pursuit of the goals of the party and our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari.
You have been insisting that you did not do anything to warrant a suspension, but you have been criticising the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole. Do you think it’s fair to be criticising the chairman of your party openly?
I think it is personal. He is Mr-Know-It-All and very intolerant of any contrary viewpoint. I still maintain that he mangled our party’s primaries recklessly. He dashed the hopes of our candidates in Rivers State and in many other constituencies. Otherwise, we were friends during the fuel price hike crisis during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era. He was President of Nigeria Labour Congress and I was the National Publicity Secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, and I represented the association in the fuel price hike talks.
How do you feel about this development?
I suspect Comrade Chairman, Oshiomhole, wants to sideline me. He wants to blackmail me and make me inconsequential when the time comes for ministerial appointments. You would recall that the spokesman for Mr President, Femi Adesina, hinted of possible cabinet reshuffle. I find solace in the fact that he (Oshiomhole) is not God.
The chairman of your party in Enugu suspended your ward’s party EXCO for passing a vote of confidence on you. Does that not say something about how unpopular you are?
One is at a loss to understand where the state chairman (of the party) derived the powers to suspend my ward executive council or any ward executive council for that matter from. I had perused page by page the Constitution of the APC and couldn’t locate where Ben Nwoye, who claims to have PhD in law, got the powers to dissolve a ward executive council. One will like to be educated on where the power he exercised is derived from, failure of which one can regard what he did as the height of brigandage and impunity.
But Dr Nwoye used to be your associate. What changed between the two of you?
He was and indeed (my associate) without being immodest; I was one of those who retained him as chairman when the same person he is backing today, used thugs to chase us out of Enugu State Congress of May 19, 2018, at the Indoor Sports Hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. This person’s thugs nearly killed Nwoye’s driver that day. I saved his chairmanship by organising a repeat primary the next day. I leave everything in the hands of God and refer Nwoye to Proverbs 17:13, where God’s judgment is waiting for him.
What steps are you ready to take to overturn the suspension?
The truth is that in the eyes of the law and the Constitution of the APC, I am not on suspension. Impunity cannot triumph over the rule of law, never.
You must have considered quitting the APC due to this. Which party will you like to join?
I am a student of struggle and cannot quit a party I am not only dedicated to, but have also committed my resources and sweat to build. We will, by God’s grace, outlive this. Democracy threw up the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, but one day his impunity was over.
Even beyond your membership of the APC, you are believed to be a close associate of President Muhammadu Buhari. Have you reached out to the President to intervene?
It will be a distraction to bother Mr President, so I didn’t reach out to him. We are busy celebrating his much deserved victory and thanking God for saving Nigeria from uncertainty. If President Buhari is not made of sterner stuff, he could have been bruised by Oshiomhole’s shenanigans – a chairman whose legacy is scatter, scatter and confusion. For example, few days after Mr President admonished us his supporters not to gloat or humiliate his opponents, Comrade utterly discarded the admonition and heaped insults on His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar. He became a destiny reader and prophet against old African tradition, which says that you don’t go with pepper where peace is being packaged.
You have been speaking out against the activities of Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha. How does it feel to be suspended alongside him?
I have nothing personal against Owelle Rochas Okorocha, except that I pleaded with him not to run for the APC presidential primary in 2014, as an apostle of the zoning principle. I told Okorocha that the Presidency was the turn of the North. I added that our brothers, the Yoruba, led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the Action Congress of Nigeria, had come for an alliance and offered their over 1,000 delegates to President Buhari, then an aspirant. Why don’t we, Ndigbo in APC, go into same alliance and offer our less than 1,000 delegates to Buhari? Okorocha arrogantly refused. He ran and we paid dearly for it, for the Yoruba people got more than what was on their wish list in the alliance with Mr President. However, on July 12, during the launch of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport terminal of the Abuja mass transit train service, I pleaded with Oshiomhole not to hand over the APC structure in Imo State to Okorocha. I told him that the mainstream faction had rescued the APC from Okorocha during the congress of May 2018 and that giving the structure back to him would be harmful. Oshiomhole dismissed my advice and today he is burnt and the APC in Imo State is in unavoidable quandary. I am not happy to be vindicated.
But, after you lost the APC ticket for Enugu West Senatorial Zone, there were insinuations that you worked against the election of your party’s candidate, Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu. There were also reports that you openly spoke against your governorship candidate, Ayogu Eze. What do you have to say about this? How is that fair as you are in the same party? If I didn’t win the primary, I could have supported Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu. That’s me, I am a humble party man. But when I remember how Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu instituted serial court cases against our great party in Enugu State and how she factionalised our party for no just cause, it became impossible for me to support a stolen mandate. Do you know that it was Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu’s suit which scuttled Ken Nnamani’s genuine effort to reconcile the factions before the primary? I told them she could not beat a colossus like Senator Ike Ekweremadu and that without being immodest, I was the only one who could beat him (Ekweremadu). I couldn’t tolerate Senator Ayogu Eze for supporting the rigging against me which hurt, not only me but the whole party. My cardinal question remains – is Okechukwu responsible for Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu losing Egede, her ward? If she is a good lady, she could have had a seamless win in her ward, Egede. Charity, they say, begins at home. Please I’m not in any way instrumental to Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu not winning in any of the 81 wards which make up Enugu West Senatorial Zone. She lived on the assumption that the result would be written in a hotel, forgetting that President Buhari would not recklessly use the proverbial federal might. Count me out please, because she lost to ‘card readers’.
You reacted angrily at your inability to secure the Enugu West Senatorial ticket. Was your anger justified?
It is not me per se that reacted angrily, but the entire members of the party. Once more, without being immodest, I am one of the main engines of the party, so once I was betrayed, the members felt short-changed. It was like pulling out the head of the masqueraders. Did any of them contribute meaningfully to the building of the party? Are you aware that Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu simulated the case that hurt Senator Ayogu Eze’s governorship bid? A house divided against itself cannot stand. I did all I could to unite the party but Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu’s agenda regrettably prevailed. Today, she allegedly wants to be minister with Oshiomhole’s assistance, instead of reaping the whirlwind she sowed.
If you had emerged as the APC candidate, the incumbent, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, would still have been too strong for you.
Ask questions, Ekweremadu’s camp celebrated Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu’s emergence. That is the much I can say. I told Comrade Oshiomhole that she couldn’t win when card readers are used because she is neither friendly with any of the factions of the APC nor the electorate.
Have you reached out to Oshiomhole and other members of the NWC over your suspension?
For what? Please, the APC is founded on rule of law and has a very distinguished membership and I respect those laws. I was a member of the merger committee and know the rules and abide by them. We are not working under Oshiomhole and Sons Limited. Therefore, the rule of law must govern the affairs of the APC, not the whims and caprices of a man who has been using all manner of subterfuge to escape the arms of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission since 2016.
Looking back at the issues that culminated in your suspension, do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you had done differently?
My happiness is that we won the presidential election free, fair and transparently. For me as a Christian, any other thing is to forget and forgive. So I pray for forgiveness for all those who mangled our primaries.
Yes! Understand that Comrade Oshiomhole is surreptitiously rooting for 2023 for himself and wants to do everything to sideline those from the South-East. Comrade Oshiomhole is aware that the South-East is the only geopolitical zone in the southern belt that has not presided over Nigeria since the advent of zoning of the Presidency between the North and the South in 1999. This was revealed by a close aide, in a discussion. When we thought he (Oshiomhole) was rooting for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the friend said no, that he might be using our national leader, Asiwaju, as a smokescreen. But I wondered how Oshiomhole would wriggle out of the EFCC’s web, given the obscene nature of his wealth. How will he explain that (wealth) to commensurate with his legitimate earnings?
For you, what is the way forward, politically?
I appeal to all to join President Buhari to consolidate the critical infrastructural development he has embarked upon. This is the way to prosperity, to economic growth and real restructuring. Imagine what Nigeria will look like when you have additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity, 5,000 kilometres of federal roads and 5,000 kilometres of standard gauge rail lines completed and Nigerians are able to produce what we eat. It would be near Eldorado and that is where we are heading to in Buhari’s second term in office.
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