Chief Ralph Obioha is a veteran politician, who played a major role in the fight for actualization of the annuled June 12, 1993 election. The elder statesman and Igbo leader in this interview with KENNETH OFOMA reviews the state of the nation, especially as it regards the coming general elections, Naira redesign policy, among others
Are you still in active politics?
Nooo. At almost 80 years, nature has slowed me down, so I take my peace.
What is expected of me now is to speak without fear of favour, and to state things as I see them. I might be right or wrong.
Your last political activity was as a national chairman of a political party?
It was the Justice Party.
It appears there is an elite conspiracy against the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi in the South-East, yet it appears that the masses are supporting him?
I tend not to agree with this saying that the political elites are in a conspiracy to oppose Peter Obi’s candidacy. Rather to the contrary, I think they are definitely in support.
And I say this because there is no Ibo culture, there is always the tendency for the masses to look at the faces of their leaders and it dictates where they should go.
So, if the elites had opposed it, you will see the masses being more averse to it; but that is not the case because there is a massive support.
I keep telling people that if the election is free, fair and transparent, you will notice that Obi will garner more than 80-90 per cent of Igbos wherever they are.
And this is a statement of fact.
Many people have this perception of elite conspiracy because of actions and utterances by some persons, for instance the letter written by Anambra Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, the comment by Arthor Eze, Governor Dave Umahi, Chimaroke Nnamani and others. Sometimes they make such comments and when they begin to receive backlash they will begin to amend their statements?
Ibo people in Nigeria have been put at a minimum of 50 million and when instances are made under 10 people, could they be any statistical or any basis to say that the Ibo elites are opposed to Peter Obi’s candidacy?
I said earlier that on the contrary the Ibo this time said they will be cautious so that it is not interpreted that Ibos want to stampede Nigerians that it must be there candidate.
Obi has repeated many times, and I also have said on many occasions, Peter Obi is not an Ibo candidate. He is a national candidate and to be honest with you, it’s also providential as far as I’m concerned because how that man had been able to galvanize the youths, first of all for them to show interest in politics, is something that had been very, very ignored in the past.
But the taste of the pudding will be on the 25th, to really see whether their overt support will be translated into casting of votes. I’m confident that they are the people driv ing this whole thing and they are more than 65 per cent of the population of Nigeria, the youths and we shall see how it turns out.
Security is another concern as we get close to the elections. In the South- East we have witnessed the issue of unknown gunmen burning INEC offices and police stations; in other parts of the country they have different colour and texture of insecurity.
There is also political violence. But something happened recently where a trending video showed somebody said to be an enforcer of sit-at-home being set on fire by a mob somewhere in Anambra state.
What’s your take on all this?
I’m opposed to jungle justice; I’m vehemently opposed to it.
But also very drastic measures have to be taken against people who believe that they can intimidate, strike here, harass and even kill innocent people and their misconceived idea that they are enforcing stay-at-home. This happened years ago when a similar body really attempted to and really succeeded in making Ibos not participate in the national census.
As of today we are Nigerians. What a genuine Nigerian of Ibo extraction is talking about, let us promote Nigeria for the good of all, it’s very, very necessary and we have subscribed to constitutional democracy and the principle of it is electing the leaders.
An opportunity has come in which we have seen one of us selling himself so extraordinarily and saying that people should not participate in the election is running against the grain of natural justice.
We have gotten a candidate, he just happened to be of Ibo extraction nothing more than just a happenstance; he is talking well, he’s behaved not today but in the past. I had insisted wherever I had gone, describing the humility of Mr. Peter Obi.
I have seen him several times at the airport, because we all travel; not only will he carry his own bag, on one occasion we arrived together in Abuja, he also wanted to carry mine, I insisted please it will be too much for you. So, it is not a claim because what I’m describing now happened over 10 years ago.
So he has had a track record of humility and if you look at also his curriculum vitae you will see a man who has a mission to discharge.
People also who know me, my major identification is that I stood out, fought for a person who is not of Ibo extraction to the point of going on exile to go and promote his mandate. So nobody can ever accuse me of saying that I’m partisan or partial.
In recent times, despite the political parties signing agreements with Abdusalam Abubakar group to be of good conduct, we have also seen political violence and attacks.
For instance Atiku’s convoy was attacked in Maiduguri; Obi’s supporters were attacked in Lagos, PDP supporters were also attacked in Lagos, and there were several attacks against opposition parties in Ebonyi with the recent attack of APGA candidate resulting in the death of his driver and also a police office. Also of concern is the language of the candidates who resort to verbal abuse of other candidates instead of restricting themselves to their policies.
What’s your advice?
Well, first of all, violence is condemnable because the exercise we are going through I don’t see why violence should be involved in it. It’s purely for you to espouse what you have for Nigerians.
Let nobody believe he has superior intelligence than the other Nigerians, espouse it, articulate it, present it and Nigerians are quite capable of making their own assessment of a candidate they will vote for, I don’t see intimidation, violence, killing as part of democracy, I don’t see it. It’s condemnable and all of us should join in condemning it. 25th will come and pass and all of us will remain and be in Nigeria. It’s important that har-
mony exists in our common wealth because that’s what Nigeria is. So men of goodwill must try to stamp out this violence, it’s not a do or die matter. I believe sincerely in the philosophy of late Ibrahim Waziri, who was the first person who talked about politics without bitterness. And if you look at when it happened over 25 years ago, we should actually be building blocks of improving and knowing that elections in other democracies happen without such events.
The other arm of the question is the abusive language of politicians. For instance in Anambra, the presidential candidate of APC said that Peter Obi will deny the people three times like he did in the Bible; his running mate will be calling Peter Gringory; some will say he is a Nollywood actor, just abusive language?
I will describe it as some of the negatives that he (Tinubu) will incur from the electorate because people don’t believe that abuses will gain you votes. If I were a political adviser to the APC presidential candidate I would tell to leave those areas, it doesn’t gain you votes, and rather it reduces support.
Let’s come to the issue of Naira redesign and the consequences and the way the whole matter is being politicized now?
The Naira redesign seems to be actually a matter that happens at a wrong time and the duration that they had thought they could implement it was also too brief. And as such has brought a lot of untold hardship and stress and discomfort to the very citizens that it is the primary job of the government to ensure their comfort. Personally, I’m a victim of that; the reason I came back late now, since 8am I left to go and get some money (in the bank) and I came back without the money. And they were giving a maximum N5000 on N50, N50 Naira notes, some of them are old, some of them are torn.
There is no presence that Emefiele misfired in it. But going further, the government has not told us officially the reason why they want to do this. It’s all speculation that they want to stop politicians from corrupting the democratic process. You really don’t know which one to believe but if they had wanted to control the government accumulating money there are other very many means of doing it, because as of now there are also rumours again, it pains me to indulge at my age and experience in rumours.
So I’m one of those who will believe in what the government puts out officially as the statement that can be taken into serious consideration. If the government believes, when I say government, I mean the Federal Government, believes that state governors and politicians had been stockpiling money they should come out and take charge; they have the agencies to call those people to order. They may be enjoying some immunity from prosecution but they also have the right to raid and seize those accumulated funds.
So it’s a policy that has brought so much hardship and in the urban areas imagine then what is happening at the interiors, just imagine it. There is nobody that is in any cosmopolitan town in Nigeria that will say it will take them more than 30 minutes to reach a bank, but the truth of the matter is that in some interior areas it will take more than five hours for them to get to the bank.
There was somebody speaking from Yobe who gave an example of about only seven banks in the entire state. Around where we are sitting now, there are about 13 banks. So all those things have to be taken into consideration and I’m pleading with Nigerians, let’s start thinking Nigeria, this is a potentially great nation, let us stop being divisive.
I thought when you were going to ask me a question about certain abuses that have been experienced in the political campaigns here, you know; if the so called person who wants to be a president of Nigeria use words that are statesman like, talking about mundane issues, that you wanted to use as an illustration saying that somebody is not reliable, it’s not to go the Bible
the Holy book. And I’m not defending Peter Obi but he has been measured in his campaign, he has stuck to policies more than childish and infantile issues. He has said, I will convert Nigeria, change Nigeria from consumption to production. And it is actually producing that will change this country and before when we were at the height of our development it was when we were producing.
The Premier of Eastern Nigeria used to ride behind some vehicles he was moving to introduce the new palm seedling that was revolutionary then. Also in the West Awolowo was paying so much premium and effort in developing cocoa and in the North we used to know as school children what they call groundnut pyramid.
If we return to that…
there will be no oil, we were running an efficient government then, no oil.
The health centres then have all been abandoned, but then the health centres in my village had a dispenser that made sure that when we go the medicine used to be called M&B but later on when I grew up I knew it was May & Baker, and then the other one was APC. All of them are analgesics but with different names now.
That brings now to mention that Emzor has quite made an impact in the production of analgesics and prophylactics. So the point I’m making is that we are now talking about four major parties, four eminent Nigerian candidates; they should consider the nation first before their personal ambition. Only one man will emerge on the 25th and there will be 26th, 27th and going on.