Mr. Osita Okechukwu is the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the danger of having another northerner as the next president of Nigeria, why power should rotate to the South and allegations against the presidential candidate of his party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, among others issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
Why are you concerned about the choice of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 general election?
We are talking about our dear country because without this country there will be no presidential candidate. And for the country to exist, it must be managed as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from which the All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP, Labour Party and New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), among others, derived their constitutions from.
What Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has embarked upon is antithetical to the growth of our democracy and to social justice. To start with, I have great respect for His Excellency Atiku Abubakar because he was very close to one of my political mentors, Senator Chuba Okadigbo of blessed memory and my big brother Dubem Onyia. So, I became very close to him as well but in this instance, he has somersaulted and contradicted himself roundly. And it concerns the general public not only the PDP.
For the framers of the PDP constitution, chapter 7, section 3, sub-section(C), are very clear. It said that anybody who is aspiring for public or party elective offices should adopt the rotation and zoning convention in pursuit of the policy that will ensure the principle of equity, justice and fairness and in line with the fundamental objectives of the principles of the 1999 constitution that says that Nigeria should be governed in a manner that no one group or persons shall dominate the other for brotherhood, national loyalty and equity and unity.
I asked one of my friends, who is a good friend of Atiku, and he repeated the same question: ‘Osita why are you talking about Atiku?’ I said it concerns every Nigerian. Whether PDP, APC or any other political party, we should first and foremost think about the generality of the country because any small mistake could lead to unintended consequences and we don’t want that and that is why I’m concerned. I said that when the G5 governors step out that a lot of people thought that Governor Nyesom Wike is being personal but I think that he is fighting for social justice,equity and fairness.
It concerns me because I asked my very good friend, who is a supporter of Atiku: ‘You are a northerner and if when President Olusegun Obasanjo was exiting as president of the country in 2007 that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was running to replace him, won’t there be crisis across the country?’ I said even we in the South, just like the APC Governors Forum did, stood up on their feet and insisted that the candidate of the party must come from the South for equity, justice and fairness. So, all I’m talking about is fairness because I have nothing personal against Atiku. I’m not after Atiku but the G5 governors are the ones after him to the point that he went to the Arewa Town Hall Meeting in Kaduna to tell the North to vote for him and not to vote for Yoruba or Igbo. I cried for him and wondered what would have driven the man to this desperation?
What do you make of the allegations against the presidential candidate of your party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
I’m saying that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that anybody, whether you are partisan or nonpartisan, if you see anybody who violates the constitution deliberately, it is in our best interest to remind the person that to a greater extent it brings his integrity to question. Let us not sweep it under the carpet with your analogy of log in my own eyes because there is no eye without one log or the other. It may be big or it may be small. But coming to the issue of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the basis of our argument is that we had a creditable presidential primary on June 6 and he won that election.
For some of us who are of the APC, we are bound to see him as our candidate until the court of law says otherwise. I will also say that my baseline is that the rotation convention is so dear to my heart. I have lived in the West for over five years and I have lived in the North for over 30 years and I have come to see Nigeria as one, so all we need is those who can repackage it.
We need a driver with a greater percentage of integrity. If we don’t have that, we will be swimming back to where we came from and we are in a situation where the global community is looking at Nigeria to get out and claim her mandate as the giant of Africa. Nobody can say that we don’t just have potential, when our nationals are doing well all over the world. Today, we have a Nigerian, who is a General in the American Army and excellent professors all over universities of the world.
That is why we make reference to the breach of the PDP constitution. I told them that the issue of Iyorchia Ayu is inconsequential. Let us all join hands together and make sure that the rotation of the presidency is honoured in our own time, so that by the time it comes back to the southern part of the country after eight years, some of us who will be alive will advocate for the return of power to the North. It could have been a crisis if Tinubu contested after Chief Obasanjo. But coming to the allegations against Tinubu, Asiwaju is a cat with nine lives and he has come through all these allegations once in a while. Anybody who wants to give life to these allegations should go to court. It is only the honourable justices of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal or lower court that could look into all these papers and tell us which one is which. For those who are probing Asiwaju, I also salute them because it is also part of democracy and they did not resort to violence.
As a member of the APC, what grounds do you have to analyze PDP’s problem and fight or are you trying to go back to the PDP?
I’m one of the beneficiaries of this great country. I went to the Teachers Training College and I was paid N8 every month for good feeding. I went to the university and my bed was dressed and my room swept. Sometimes, I did not have money but I will eat free food and I had bursary. So, I owe this country a lot. I have studied the health of nations and what leads to civil wars; it is when there is dominance. What I’m driving at is that Nigerians should understand that they should not vote for Atiku because his candidacy is injurious to the nation. The constitution is against dominance.
Why didn’t you raise this alarm in fairness to the Igbos in your party by insisting that APC’s presidential ticket is given to south easterner like Governor Dave Umahi?
I agree with you and it is not only Governor Umahi; there is also my friend, Emeka Nwajiuba and Rotimi Amaechi, who came second in the primary election. We also had my brother, Ken Nnamani and Ogbonnaya Onu. So, I don’t blame anybody who is on that bent. But as providence would have it, there is Peter Obi as a presidential candidate, so they can vote for him.