How I became close with Bola Tinubu through Bola Ige —Joe Igbokwe
2023 Presidency: ‘Let all parties pick their candidates from S/East’
Spokesperson of the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Joe Igbokwe, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS, speaks on the dream to have the Igbo produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023, the challenges that have faced the race concerning the realisation of this dream over time, the security situation in the land, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, the late Chief Bola Ige, and his leader, Senator Bola Tinubu. Excerpts:
You have been at the vanguard of the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023. How would you justify this cause?
Since the end of the Civil War and the inception of Nigeria, an Igbo man has not been president of this country. Zik [Nnamdi Azikiwe] was a ceremonial president. The prime minister was the man in charge, because we were running a parliamentary system, the British system. So, Zik was just a ceremonial president. There was no executive power; the power was with the prime minister.
Then there was the Civil War in which millions died. I was a victim of that war because I didn’t go to school at that period. All schools – primary and secondary – were taken over by refugees. There was no school for us. I was in elementary five in 1966 and then the war ended in 1970, when I went back to elementary five. I lost those years. 1970 to now is almost 50 years and an Igbo man has never been president of this country.
And that is just the reason why you are clamouring for the position?
I have not finished. We have six zones in this country. The South-East is with fewer states. It is the only zone with five states. The North-West has seven, North-East, six; North-Central, six; South-West, six and South-South, six. It is only South-East that has five and if they are sharing anything in this country, the South-East will be the last. They have five governors, five speakers, while others have six each. If they are sharing revenue or enrolling people into the army, police, air force, government agencies, if it is by quota system that every state is going to contribute six or seven each, our own is going to be seven multiplied by five, while others would be more. It is the same in the distribution of local governments, we have the least. It is the same with revenue allocation… with almost everything. It is the least in everything in this country. That is why we would need one or two more states to prop us up. We are being excluded.
If I post anything on Facebook promoting my Nigerianness, before you know it, they start to abuse me. Others have three times six, 18, senators in their zone, whereas we only have 15. Concerning the number of the House of Representatives members, we are the least, ditto House of Assembly members, and when you talk about the number of speakers, we have the least.
Now, where would I start? It is a structural marginalisation. It is even a syndrome which we are trying to bring to the fore. I have written so much about an additional state in the South-East to make it six. That will help. The moment that is done, you would have created almost 60,000 jobs. If you do that, then you take off and develop the state almost immediately.
So, we are talking of Igbo presidency and I just gave a background. If you look at it from 1999, [Olusegun] Obasanjo came there. He wouldn’t have but Abiola won election in 1993 and was denied and that was why they zoned the presidency to the South-West and it became an Obasanjo/Olu Falae affair. Even though the South-West had wanted Falae to win the election, Obasanjo became president. After him, [Umaru] Yar’Adua came, followed by [Goodluck] Jonathan, who completed the remaining two years of Yar’Adua and then spent another four years. Then he tried if he could spend another four years, but we refused. Then the presidency went back to the North and by the grace of God, they are going to do their eight years.
Then when is it going to come down to South and where will it go? I am asking: where will it go? Is it to come back to the South-West which had already produced the president? I know my leader [Senator Bola Tinubu] is interested. That is, I don’t even want to talk about it. By 2023, Professor Osinbajo would have spent eight years as vice-president. So, if the thing comes to the South, we are asking all the political parties to field Igbo candidates, all of them, in order to heal the wounds of the Civil War. For the sake of national unity, that is all I want. So, we are saying that the APC, the PDP and all other parties, put Igbo as your presidential candidates to heal the wounds. I am one of the die-hard APC persons. Even if you have one person belonging to the APC from the South-East, it is enough. Don’t underrate the power of one. If they remove one from one billion, it will not be one billion again. One vote is the reason why America is speaking English today and not French. But I know that I am not the only person in the APC; we have thousands, if not millions, in the APC in the South-East. So, there is a reason. I want you to capture this.
We are a vibrant ethnic group that travels, traverses the whole world for greener pasture. We are all over Nigeria and that is why we suffer what is called demographic distortion, in the sense that nobody is at home. How many leaders of Igbo are registered in Lagos? They are here. They stay more in Lagos than home.
So, looking at all these things I have told you, don’t you think we deserve to produce the president of Nigeria for the sake of peace and to give the Igbo a sense of belonging, to tell them that they are part and parcel of this country? This is because we are feeling left out. Looking at the statistics I have given you, we are feeling left out. If you wake up in the morning and one of your five or six wives is complaining, crying, you have to settle the matter before you leave home. Now for the sake of national unity, the Igbo are not strangers in Nigeria. I can also go further to tell you that there is no place Igbo language is spoken as an indigenous language all over the world. They are not indigenous anywhere in the world except here in Nigeria, unlike Hausa or Yoruba? This [Nigeria] is our home. We don’t have any other place to go. I am not saying all this because I am Igbo.
In what way do you think the Igbo have contributed to the situation that they are in now?
I wrote a book titled ‘Igbo: 25 Years after Biafra’ in 1995 and captured in there what you call marginalisation. These things that I narrated to you now, structural marginalisation and systemic marginalisation, are systemic. In that book, I tell my people that when you suffer marginalisation from the state, why do you also marginalise yourselves? My people have not played better politics. We have not paid serious attention to the struggle for political power, because I have realised that politics is superior to economics. At least, Professor Laski (Harold) of the London School of Economics has settled that beyond any doubt that if you don’t get your politics right, your economy would not thrive. The Igbo have not played better politics since the end of the Civil War. Since the war ended, they didn’t ask questions, they didn’t do anything; they just picked up their bags and went back to business.
The state of Israel, it took [Adolf] Hitler to teach them that politics is very important. Hitler killed six million Jews to let them know that politics is superior and that opened their eyes. They were into business making money. They were not interested in the struggle for political power, because they didn’t know politics is superior to the economy. If you don’t have a stable polity, your economy would not thrive. He who seizes political power controls the army, controls the police, controls the air force… controls everything.
After the Hitler holocaust, the Jews didn’t go to sleep again. Today, you cannot be president of the United States of America unless you appease the Jews. They are very small. You might have to listen to them to know what they are saying, where their interest lies and they would be interested in who is going to emerge, whether he is going to fight for them. They wouldn’t want a repeat of what happened to them during the holocaust, because that was the price they paid for not playing better politics.
I will cite an example. When Yar’Adua died in 2009, Jonathan was to complete those two years left and go and let the North fill their quota. Jonathan did not go. They voted him in 2011 and in 2015, he wanted to rule again. We told our people that he was not going to win that election. If he won that election, it meant he was going to serve as president for 10 years and if you add it to Obasanjo’s eight years, that would be 18 years. The North would not agree to that. Already, there was a distortion of power sharing arrangement of 1998 by Jonathan because he was looking at 10 years if he had won the 2015 election. That would have been 18 years if that were to be added to Obasanjo’s eight years. So, he messed up the power sharing formula. That put us in trouble but thank God, we have put that behind us now.
The late Chief Sunny Okogwu, in one of the interviews he granted, concerning the possible clamour for Igbo presidency, said that after Jonathan, if such clamour should happen at all, the Igbo would be reminded that their slot had been used by Jonathan. Do you agree that Goodluck Jonathan is Igbo?
No, they gave him an Igbo name.
Is Jonathan an Igbo man?
No, he is an Ijaw man; they just gave him an Igbo name. They just gave him that name, Azikiwe overnight. This is part of the problem we are talking about. They gave him that name ‘Azikiwe’ just to say that he is an Igbo son and they are complaining they have not ruled.
To what extent have you been able to rally your people ahead of 2023? What moves are currently being made? What I am saying is that what plan do you have on the ground currently to achieve this objective?
They met in Ebonyi a few days ago, I mean the Igbo leaders, to position themselves. It won’t stop there; they will take trips to the South-West and the South-South to go and lobby. The issue of power is not a tea party. Power is not served a la carte; you have to struggle for it. They have to make peace. They have to visit the South-West. They have to visit the South-South and meet their leaders and convince them on why they have to withdraw their candidates for their own. And if I am part of that delegation, you know what? I will put an argument on the table that would prick their conscience, even though we have not yet played that politics.
If the position does not come to the Igbo in 2023, what would happen?
I can’t say. Maybe they would continue to agitate for Biafra, because they would see that they cannot get anything out of Nigeria. But my take is that you have to work for something before you can get it. They have not worked sufficiently; they have not played better politics; they have been playing divisive politics, ethnic politics. Nigeria should consider them.
I alluded to what happened in June 1993; how Abiola won the election and how he was denied victory and mainly the people who fought to annul the election were from the North. Abiola was killed while pursuing the mandate, did Yoruba go to war? At the time of the struggle, many Yoruba leaders were jailed. Some of them went on exile. They [the Yoruba] won in 1999 because there was nothing they (those who denied Abiola) could do other than to heal the wounds and ask the Yoruba to come back to the union because they were dangling the Yoruba Republic because one of them won an election, you killed him, killed his wife, destroyed his businesses. That was why they did what they did in 1999 to assuage the feelings and give them pat on the back in order to heal the wounds.
Nigeria has become virtually borderless and nearly everybody has contributed to building this nation up to where it is today. Where will you start, where will you begin? The Biafra you are looking for, you don’t know whether there will be power struggle among Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Imo states when you get there. That is as regards who is going to be president and who becomes what? The moment you create that, border issue would start and brothers would be fighting each other. There would be serious struggle for power.
Right now, we are talking of high-level insecurity. What is your view on the security situation in the country?
It was there before Buhari came into office. Before winning and after winning the election, the thing escalated. It is not normal. Some people want to get back at the president. Some people are creating this problem.
When you talk about kidnapping, they are doing that to make money. These are people who don’t want to work. That should tell you that they want to make money. The other day, somebody said in a newspaper report that in six months, they made N200 million from kidnapping. If you give one of them job to do, and you pay him N200,000 a month, you think he would take the job? All this should tell you that they are not ready to work; they are into crime to make money.
But don’t you think the government shares in the blame?
Kidnapping and banditry are crimes and the one who has the authority and capacity to punish such abnormalities is the government.
I am not saying that the government is not without any blame. That is why government is in place. I am not exonerating the government but I am telling you that some of them [security problems] are man-made, to create maximum crisis, to create maximum insecurity to get at the president. So, you cannot just overlook what is going on; you have to deal with it.
Are you saying that the government is not applying enough will to tackling the problem?
I know that the government is working hard. Before they came to Abuja, these bandits, the Boko Haram people came and bombed police barracks, the United Nations headquarters and so many other places. Since Buhari took over, they have not come to Abuja. They now go to small towns and villages to cause havoc and burn down houses. We also have these thieves called cattle rustlers doing their own thing. But they [the government] have to deal with them.
Do you see the government doing that?
Yes, so many things are coming to the table. The governors are saying that they can handle the situation but they need local police to do that. If you say a governor is the number one security officer in his state, you have to give him the tools to work with so that he can recruit from among his people. That is the reason why they are calling for state police. At a meeting of the South-West governors recently, that is what they were saying: ‘Yes, we will take responsibility but give us state police. So, they are asking for state police because right now, the governors have no control over the federal police. The commissioners of police would not listen to the governors; they take orders from Abuja.
But people are looking at the abuse that could come with it.
I think we need to do away with that. The damage is too much. We need to close our eyes and allow the governors to have this state police. Let’s see what is going to happen. If they abuse it, we will know. Make the law in such a way that it will not be abused.
Senator Bola Tinubu is your leader, about whom you talk with so much reverence. Who is the Bola Tinubu that you know?
You see, the man is a hunter of talents. He hunted me down 27 years ago in the days of locusts, when the country was in crisis. That was when we got to know each other.
I was with Bola Ige then. I used to go to his house in Ibadan. It was Bola Ige that I first got close to. He was the AD leader. He was in the APP before he went on to form the AD. I always went to his house in Ibadan and when I launched my first book in 1995, he was there. That was the peak of the crisis. He was there, Kudirat Abiola was there. In fact, he was the chairman of the book launch. Many other Yoruba leaders were also there. In 1995, the struggle started. I was writing and speaking. Since then, I have not changed. He [Tinubu] got me and he nurtured me. He trained me and launched me into the system. I was in my office in Alausa when he said I must be the publicity secretary of the party in the state. He told them that anybody could stand for all other posts but let nobody go near the publicity secretary office except Joe Igbokwe.
Here is a man others would say they want to be like but can you do what he has done? Can you spend your time and energy and money on people? Can you raise people? Can you train people? Can you put people in the system? Do you care? He cares. He is dependable. He can be trusted. He knows where he is going. If he says he is going to do something, he would not fail. He does not underrate his enemies. If his enemy is raising 1,000 soldiers, he would raise 50,000.
Asiwaju applies what psychologists call the “empty forte strategy”, the principle of reverse psychology, to win battles against his enemies. Let me describe Asiwaju for you in one sentence. It is difficult to see people anywhere in the country saying something against Asiwaju and you will not find one person that has benefitted from Asiwaju from among those in such a gathering that would not come and tell him about it. In any profession, in any setting, you find people sitting, whether in Sokoto, whether in Rivers, whether in Anambra, whether in Ebony, whether in Adamawa, discussing something negative about Asiwaju, somebody would not take his phone outside that place and call him to say see what they are saying about you o, baba! Somebody that has benefitted from him. The man traverses all of the states of the federation like a colossus. He works when others are asleep. Tell me, who else in this country has built the kind of political network Asiwaju has built over the years? Let me know. He has many followers. He trains people and his products include [former Governor] Ambode, [former Governor Babatunde] Fashola, [Biodun] Faleke and Governor Sanwo-Olu. Where will you start to count them? He is a strategist, a leader par excellence and a wonderful giver. He gives unexpectedly – when you don’t even ask for it. And if you betray him, he would forgive you tomorrow. If you come back, he would forgive you, saying, ‘He is my son. What do you want me to do with him? Do you see how he crushed Lagos PDP? Who is remaining there?
The next battle that has started is Afenifere 1 and Afenifere 2. Which one? Let me see how they are going to battle with Asiwaju with all the tentacles he has.
You met Bola Ige before you met Tinubu…
You see, after the primary of the AD in 1999, because it was a battle between Olu Falae and Bola Ige in the AD, they tilted towards Falae. The party ticket was given to him, and there was tension in the South-West, many leaders were not happy, many people were also not happy. They were not because they knew he would have been too strong to handle, too hot to handle, that was why they rooted for Olu Falae.
Then after the primary, he invited me to his house in Ibadan. That was on January 29, 1999. That time, Asiwaju and others had been elected governors, so they came. I was the only Igbo man, with my wife. People had thought Bola Ige would pick the party’s ticket. He didn’t know why he was denied the ticket because Olu Falae was not so much in the struggle; he went to serve Babangida now. In fact, the military governor in Oyo State arrested them [Bola Ige and others] and called them prisoners of war. So, after all this, he felt betrayed and that was why Obasanjo asked him to come and serve. The rest is now history.
But at that meeting in his house on January 29, he singled me out and told those governors that ‘if there is anything you are sharing in the South-West, take Joe Igbokwe as one of you’. That’s what he told them. He took the microphone, called me and my wife out and said in Igbo language, ndibayin (take this man and his wife as one of you). That is what he told them. And that was what brought me close to Asiwaju because I was based in Lagos.