Osita Okechukwu is the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a staunch supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview with reporters in Enugu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain assesses the President’s chances of securing his second term mandate. CHRIS ORJI was there.
You have been insistent that President Buhari will defeat Atiku Abubakar in next month’s presidential election. What makes you sound so confident?
My position is based on many parameters that suggest President Muhammadu Buhari is going to win the election. One, on the day that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finished its primary in Port Harcourt, I was one of those that celebrated Atiku’s victory, because if they had for instance nominated or voted for the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, we could have been in a bigger problem. Atiku has a huge baggage and integrity deficit. Besides, he is representing a party that degraded Nigerian democracy, created unemployment, squandered our commonwealth. He was in charge in the first four years of the PDP. So, if there is any probe of the 16 years of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo should be held culpable, because in that 16 years they were the principal actors.
While the then President Obasanjo was junketing around the world, trying to rehabilitate himself, Atiku was in charge for four years. He was also the chairman of National Council on Privatization (NCP) that sold state owned assets. It was highly controversial, less than transparent process.
Are you writing Atiku off just on your perception of his integrity?
He is Hausa-Fulani like Mr. President. So, ethnicity and religious cards are cancelled. Going by the Igbo parlance, they are of the same age grade bracket, in the sense that as at the last count, Atiku is 72, Mr. President is 76. So, there is no differential, because this election is a referendum on the incumbent. Even those who have grouse against Mr. President cannot sincerely say that Atiku is the prime-alternative. On the age bracket, he cannot say he is a youth. On ethnicity, he cannot say he is not a Fulani. On religion, he cannot say he is not a Muslim. That is nothing he (Atiku) could do differently. One of the trump cards he could have used, which is restructuring, he has been unable to define it and it is difficult to define as well. Let us be honest, it is difficult. Those who are trying to define it behind him were trying to throw away the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, which is both impracticable, if not impossible.
What makes you think it is impossible to do away with the 1999 constitution and have a new one?
It is impracticable, unless you are calling for anarchy. If you want to throw away the 1999 constitution or even Section 9 of that constitution that talk of amendment or alteration, it then means that you are saying that the councilor in your local ward should not be councilor anymore. The man who represents your House of Assembly constituency should not be there. Your governor should not be there and your Federal House Representative should not be there. Your senators should not be there and the President should not be there. This is because from the councillorship to House of Assembly, to the Federal House of Representatives, to the Senate, to Governor, to the President, they are based on the 1999 constitution as amended. That is why they say the constitution is the ground norm. So, if you are going to do serious restructuring, fundamental restructuring, you must look at Section 9 of the 1999 constitution that talks of the conditions and provisions to make amendments.
What does this section say?
In simple terms, it says that you must have 24 states Houses of Assembly behind you. You must have two-thirds of the National Assembly. That is two-third of 109 of the senators, not quorum of those present; two-third of 360 of the Federal House of Representatives; not quorum of those present. If you have two-thirds of the National Assembly and 24 states House of Assembly behind you, before God and man, any fundamental restructuring requires that. So, Atiku and those who are canvassing for him had not been able to explain it. What they told us in elementary government or political science class 101 is that there are two types of constitution. One is flexible and the other one is rigid. The 1999 Constitution is on the rigid side. So, for us who want restructuring, we need consensus. We need the art of compromise from the different sections of the country and Atiku had not built that. On the integrity quotient, he has integrity deficit and he has not built any consensus platform across the country. On the message, he has no message. I asked Yinka Odumakin and my friends in the Southwest who are talking vehemently about restructuring under Atiku to explain it to us. They were unable, except to talk glibly about administrative restructuring, which is today being gradually addressed under Buhari.
They said the Constitution was made by the military, not the peoples constitution, but they forgot that 1999 Constitution pulled its weight from the 1979 constitution, which was people based and other amendments. If you look back to America where we copied our model, what they tell you is first amendment. It took years before the second amendment. It took years before the third amendment. So, it is not done in a pool. So, when they came with restructuring as an agenda, it fell in flat in their face. Restructuring did not gather the traction they envisaged.
Are you saying that Atiku stands no chance against Buhari?
I have tremendous respect for His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar. We know each other very well. I am very close to him, but he has no chance against Buhari.
But, it appears that the country is not faring better under this government, going by the worsening unemployment and poverty now. So, are we seeing a case of the kettle calling the pot black?
Let us be honest. I subscribe to the old paradigm that the incumbent had to bear the brunt. Yes, we are not distancing from it. All we are saying is that the rot was inflicted on the country by the ancient PDP regime. When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory lamented about missing 16 billion dollars, let us say it was not up to that, but actually the return on investment made in electricity was not commensurate to the money busted. And somebody will tell you, don’t talk about that. That same person is on the other hand talking about 1963 Constitution, that we should adopt it. You talked about unemployment. Going by the World and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) records, we had $228 .76 billion collectively three years to 2012. This time around, in three years to 2018, we had $92.2 billion. Since we are talking about unemployment, we had $112 million in 2012 and $88 million in 2018, a difference of 66 per cent versus 46 per cent — World Bank and NBS sources. You now ask yourself, if you got smaller money, how on earth can you produce more jobs when the federal roads are dilapidated. It was like we stopped where PTF ended. In 2004, oil sold about $145 per barrel. Between 2009 and 2014, it was above$ 100 per barrel. When President Buhari came, it was below $40. It later rose to $60 and $70. Today, the price of oil is below $60 per barrel. Please can you count them? When you measure the fund at his disposal and what has been achieved, you will rate Buhari higher. Today, there is an appreciable improvement in power supply. We are also trying to leverage on standard gauge rail line. The Lagos-Kano will soon be completed. By late last year, the Federal Ministry of Transportation under Rotimi Amaechi advertised for the Eastern Corridor Rail line. Six other water supply projects of $50 million each were also advertised last year that will come into fruition. So, when we talk about unemployment, it was an outcome of the rut of the past years. Nobody, not even a magician can fix a rut of 16 years in three years.
Why dwell so much in the past?
We must not forget, where and when the rain started beating us. For instance, Jonathan took over the affairs of the country as Executive President on May 6, 2010. The next few days, he awarded Green Field Refinery for $23 billion. The then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced it and we were jubilating in our corner. The three Green Field Refineries awarded for $23 billion were to be located in Bayelsa, Kogi and Lagos State and had a three year span for completion. That contract was awarded in 2010. We did not see the refinery. We did not see the money. If those three Green Field refineries were completed, by now the Nigerian state won’t be expending humongous funds to buy refined products instead of refining it.
What was their anger? That they even came back to tell Nigerians to bring 20 per cent counterpart funding and that was not the case. By then we had a foreign reserve of over $46 billion. We had more than $20 billion in Excess Crude Account. The three Green Field Refineries that could have stopped importation of refined petroleum products from our accounts, subsidy or whatever you call it, was bungled. Because that is the greatest drain on us and we are running a mono economy. On the one hand, you sell crude, on the other, you buy the refined products from your co-producers. We are talking about not only the PMS, but diesel, kerosene, industrial products like LPFO and HPFO. That is part of the problem that we are in.
Why are we talking about modern transportation and electricity? So, if President Buhari had met enough funds, he could have done better. The only problem we had is because no foreign government will dissociate you from the past of your country. We are even happy that because of his integrity quotient, the international community is listening to us. That is why he was able to source about $2 billion for super grid highway, so that those who are generating power through renewable energy, solar, wind, mini-hydro plants, can have their power evacuated. What we have is narrow transmission line. Look at the Mambilla Hydro power plant. It has been on the drawing board since 1973. He is the first person that started the project. The Second Niger Bridge had been on the drawing board since 1970. He is the first President that brought the first bag of cement, the first shovel of gravel, the first shovel of sand and the first set of rods to start the foundation. That is where we are.
You have harped so much on the President’s integrity quotient. Not long ago, one of his estranged associates, Buba Galadima, warned that nobody should say anything about the President’s integrity again, alleging that members of the President’s family he used to give N2000 to travel from Abuja to Katsina before are now billionaires. Atiku even alleged that the President’s family members bought Etisalat and Keystone Bank. Can you react to these allegations?
My answer on the issue of corruption is that the anti-graft agencies are still alive. If you have evidence, credible evidence, please file your papers. Rumour is not one of the chapters in the Evidence Act. If you have, you go to one of the anti-corruption agencies. When we approached the EFCC against the then President Obasanjo, they did not listen to us. We went to court to look for mandamus. It was when we came to the election that President Muhammadu Buhari said, no, the CNPP, if you are the people supporting my election, let us talk about my election. Let us not talk about the past. That is why I said that if President Buhari today opens the vault, they will all be in jail. So, it is not about sitting somewhere and saying the President’s children or relatives bought this or bought that, please, blow it is open. One of the greatest things we achieved in 1999 is the Freedom of Information Act. Credit goes to the then President Jonathan who signed it. It says that if there is no security encumbrance on any matter, the law opens the book for you.
What would you say about the worsening insecurity in the country?
We are praying that the insecurity should abate. But the Igbos, as I said before in our local parlance, if the rain is beating you and you want the rain to stop, the first solution the Igbos proffered is that you should know where the rain started beating you. When you had $23 billion to do refineries and to stop importation of refined products and you did not stop, this is one of the consequences. When you have rail line to finish in a jiffy and you didn’t, that is the consequence. When you suddenly sold all the federal houses; if you appoint a Minister, you now pay huge bills for him to rent house in Abuja. These are the consequences. You appoint a DG, you now pay up to N5 million for him to rent a house. These are the consequences. You threw away the baby and the bath water. That is the PDP records. To fix it, we have started by laying the foundation of critical infrastructure. That is the solution.
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