It will be impossible for anybody to stop 2023 elections — Onochie, PDP presidential aspirant
Dr Nnamdi Orefo Onochie, a retired Nigerian Foreign Service Officer, is a presidential aspirant in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). During a visit to the Tribune House in Ibadan recently, he spoke with Deputy Editor, SAM NWAOKO, on his ambition and sundry issues. Excerpts:
WHAT are your comments on Igbo presidency in 2023?
There are Igbo people East and West of the Niger. I am from Asaba in Delta State, West of the Niger. The clamour today in Nigeria is that it will be best for Nigeria if the presidency in 2023 is conceded to someone who speaks Igbo. There are those who would interpret it that it must be South East and my own interpretation of it is that it is fundamentally wrong. If you understand Nigeria, especially with its imperfections, what you want to do is give to everyone what is their due and don’t deny them that because when you do, you are creating discontent that you may not be in the position to control. So, I say to my brother, David Umahi, who is the current governor of Ebonyi State, who has been clamouring within the progressives’ area that the presidency should go to the South East, that we need everybody.
Today, your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the issue among many Nigerians. There are fears that it is not doing enough and that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will engulf it when the time comes. What do you think about this contention and how would you say the PDP is faring in its entirety?
The PDP is a political party and a political party is primarily an institution of politics. Individuals will come and go the only one that is permanent is the institution. I am a political science major, I hold a Ph.D in political science and so, I know all these things not just by way of being a practical politician but also by being one who was schooled in this field. I’m not a lawyer, I’m a theorist of politics. I can tell you, when the PDP was the ruling party in Nigeria, all the other parties were gone. Today PDP is in the opposition but I can tell you with every sense of humility that the government in power today doesn’t seem to understand Nigeria. Things are growing worse and worse. Organically Nigeria has become ungovernable. For instance, let us look at one of the most basic ones: electricity. We are still running Nigeria as if it is a private home. And it is wrong, fundamentally wrong.
For me, I have put Nigeria’s problems into three jackets. The first one for me is not insecurity; the first one for me is electricity. The second one is the unbearable high cost of living in Nigeria. It is unbelievable how much Nigerians spend on food and the third one is what everybody now calls insecurity. I put the three of them in one jacket to be our number one problem. It is, indeed, a complex situation. Nigeria has a population of about 200 million people. Comparatively we should be doing better than we are doing with respect to the generation, the transmission and the distribution of electricity. South Africa has a population of about 45 million. What they produce for electricity is 50,000 MW for 45 million. In Nigeria we produce 4,200 (it’s never gone beyond 4,245 MW) for 200 million. This can never work. When I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1974, we didn’t hear people call NEPA. We used to read at night. Now nobody studies at night. Unless you belong to the elite who have a lot of electricity, a lot of money, a lot of diesel… but even at that, our elite is suffering. Ask a man who is a ‘big man’ and he will tell you that it is not the big man I was seven years ago that I am now. He is doing what? He is diminishing. The problem could be tackled from the base. In 1962/63, we had Kainji Dam, we had Shiroro, we had Oji River, 13 generation plants. The military came. By the time they left in 1979, there was no addition of a single electricity generating plant. It took 18 years when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came back as a civilian president in 1999 that he built seven. It was better than nothing. Indeed, our primary problem is electricity generation. Yes, there is corruption on the level of transmission and distribution. We will cure the corruption, but first we need to generate more. If by the will of the Nigerian people and I have the blessing of God, the next day after being sworn-in as the president, I will sing the paper and I will generate for each zone of Nigeria one huge electricity plant.
You are an early bird in this race. Not many people have shown their faces for this presidential contest, especially in your party. Now that you have come, are you alone in this? Where is your support coming from? Who are the people behind you? What is propelling you and giving you the confidence to come out for this all-important assignment?
First, my belief in Nigeria; the people of the country. They are the ones right behind me. We must play politics of programmes and not politics of personalities or godfathers. I am not looking forward to godfathers. I have met many of them. I’ve met kings outside and within Nigeria. But the problems of the country, the needs of the people, that is what is pushing me. I am not looking at other aspirants. Indeed to me, the more the merrier, let everybody come and lay on the table what they would do for the country. It is not simply about the money. In 1978/79, Meredith Akinloye told Chief M.K.O Abiola that ‘you cannot buy the presidency of Nigeria with money’. It is still the same thing. If you are not acceptable to the people, it will never work. So, indeed it is not who is supporting me in the PDP alone, but who is accepting me in Nigeria. That is why I have started early. I want the people to hear me and hear other people at some point, just like it happened in 1979. When they said you cannot buy the presidency with money, they went and brought a dark horse, Shehu Shagari. I consider myself starting out as a dark horse, but I am a dark horse who is coming out early. In Asaba, we say ‘it’s the bird that gets to the stream early enough that drinks clean water.’ Beyond that, you have dark horses that gallop ahead and beat the white horses. Can we do it? Yes, for the people of Nigeria and for the sake of Nigeria. We are talking about the roundtable that will reduce the cost of living in Nigeria. The orthodox way is to increase the salary of the people who work. As you are increasing their salary, the market sellers, the manufacturers, the service people are taking the money away by increasing the cost of what they offer to the people. So, it has never worked,. We will go the other way. We will do a roundtable. Everybody will come with what they have and we will say to them, ‘you’ve got to reduce this for the sake of the people and for the sake of Nigeria’ who have been suffering for a long time.’
It is the belief in some quarters in parts of Nigeria that when the race starts properly, PDP might not be able to stand the onslaught of the ruling APC. Their fear is that the APC will shout more and blow your party away through its propaganda. Is your party ready for this race indeed, because considering the way things are going, Nigerians are undecided on what to do now?
I disagree with your submission. It is not correct. Go out and ask every average Nigerian, they are suffering. APC is a political party that had made so much promise. Every of their promise is a failure. Look at the cost of living and look at the cost of petrol today. My solution to the cost of living is hinged on petrol. I will zing it down to N75 per litre. This political party in power today promised us N45 but the cost has tripled. Rather than it going down to N45, it doubled to N90; add another N45. Soon, they are going to move the cost of petrol to about N170 in the South and N174 in the North. You watch. They have failed. What about the US dollar? What I will do to the US dollar is to peg it at N92 to $1. I was a student when it was exchanging for N69 kobo. I went to Nsukka, my twin brother went to Oklahoma State. His school fees for one year was N2,000 and it was exchanged for 69 kobo. When I was in Algiers, because it was a socialist country, the government gave us approval to shop in London, Cairo or shop in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. I’m a Christian but I’ve been to Mecca and Medina up to seven times because we were shopping in Saudi Arabia. Their money was so good. One US dollar was exchanging for 2.3 Saudi riyals. That was 38 years ago. Today, their money exchanges for 3.1 to a US dollar. Our own is changing for N480. It is like we don’t even have a president who is watching over the country. So, indeed, if they tell you that they are going to win and they are doing propaganda, they will not be able to rig this election. Mark my words.
But is your party ready?
We are more than ready. That is why we are not only starting early, we have put our house in order.
Can you tell us some of the structures in place? What are those things to convince the people that you are set for this race?
They have always been there. The former Senate President is in charge of a reconciliation committee. We have a harmonisation committee that is harmonising everything we are going to do. Because we don’t have the megaphone of NTA and others like it does not mean that we are not doing something. The Nigerian people pray to God every day and what they are praying for is the best for Nigeria. For me, it is a better Nigeria 2023. We are not only prepared, we are going to do it. Did we rig the election in 2015? We didn’t win. The Nigerian people said we are not going to win. The current government has spent eight years and I can tell you: They will not win.
Looking at the schools you attended, Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha; Loyola College, Ibadan and CIC, Enugu and looking at what we have now as secondary schools, how do you feel?
Oh, indeed educationally, it is a tragedy. I was in Akintola Hall in my 100 Level in Nsukka. There were three of us in one room. Emma Anyanwu, Rotimi Adeoti and myself. Everybody had their wardrobe. They will clean your rooms, dress your bed and wash your linen. At the refectory, one meal on your card was three kobo. What are we giving our children? Four years ago, I had the opportunity of going to Unilag and I saw a students’ hostel and I wondered why shirts were hanging all over the place. That’s where they hang their dresses and there are about 15 boys in one room. Where will they be lying down, where will they be sleeping? How will they be reading? Unilag, of all places? So, indeed there is a tragedy. My belief is that every Nigerian, first the girls, then the boys will get an education free of charge from kindergarten to the university level. At the states now, most primary schools and secondary schools, people don’t pay anything. The most important thing is the university education. Our young people should be prepared for the future without paying a penny. It must rest on their ability and the desire to move Nigeria forward futuristically. So, indeed it is a tragedy but we can correct it. The budget for education in the whole country is, say N100. They give N35 to the administrators and say go and manage. You send somebody to the market to go and buy something worth N100 and you give the person N35 and say go and manage. What are they going to manage? The infrastructure is decayed. Everybody is complaining; the teachers and the administrators alike. A child will get into the university billed for four years, he will end up spending six. Is that not tragedy? What are we going to do? If the budget for education is N100, we will give them N80 and say go and manage. They are not going to refuse that. The National Assembly recently approved N32 billion for the renovation of the National Arts Theatre, while the budget of the federal ministry of education is not too far from N32 billion. So, we will go and paint a house, renovate it and sharpen it up for N32 billion and we will not pay the fees of our children? It is a tragedy and we can cure it.
Some political and opinion leaders in the country have expressed fears that there might not be 2023 because of insecurity and the ‘we against them’ division in the country. What do you think about this sir?
It is not the case. Just recently, we arrived in Zamfara State. Before we went, I had more than 100 people who called me and said don’t go there because there are bandits. I said we will go; we will take the war in there. Two days before, we saw the Sultan of Sokoto. He didn’t even mention insecurity at all. He was in Gusau; the Emir of Gusau was very unhappy about the way things are happening in Nigeria. His problem was not the bandits in Zamfara, it was the happenings here in Shasha, Ibadan. He said it was bad, that it was wrong. I agree, because every Nigerian is a Nigerian. If you say to a Nigerian today ‘hey you cannot go to the North, you can’t go to the South’, you are going to cause more problems. This is our only country. We have been fighting Boko Haram for 11 years. The Biafran war was for three years and they couldn’t dismember Nigeria. It will be impossible after 11 years of war that Boko Haram will dismember Nigeria. They have lost. I am a child of diplomacy; when the soldiers fail diplomacy will take over. We will call them, ask them what their problems are and we will solve them. We have done it before. I was a special adviser when they were trying to change over government in 2007. I was there when our principal then, President Umaru Yar’Adua, called Dr Goodluck Jonathan and asked him to go to the creeks and call the angry people to come. Whatever the problem is, we will solve it. Did Yar’Adua not solve it? We can solve it. Nigeria spent a lot of money but we made profit because even as at that time, Angola had started producing and gaining more revenue than Nigeria. Right now, what is our problem? Every year we spend about N1 trillion fighting Boko Haram, training soldiers and so on. The cost is too much. We will call them. We will have a clear-cut unilateral ceasefire. We can call them and beg them. We will take away their guns and there will be peace in Nigeria. It can be done.
So, thankfully you are optimistic that there would be 2023. What should the people do then? What should they expect?
Let us deal with the pessimism regarding the holding of the elections: I tell you, it will be impossible for anybody to stop the elections of 2023. Secondly, you see the Baba, who is there now is like ringing a bell; his bell is ringing and it will not stop until it gets to that date and he will go away. The APC cannot stop it as a political party. The president himself cannot stop it. The constitution allows him only two terms and he is completing the two of them. Win or lose, the APC will go away and them we will start a new chapter. You know some of the practical things that are there? The Europeans and the Americans are very hard on changing over government without doing it democratically. They will not allow it. So, practically it is impossible. The pessimism is completely out of place. It doesn’t have a proper background and foundation.
So, what do you advise Nigerians people regarding yourself and your party?
We must play this politics to be politics of programmes. The Nigerian people need to ask questions. If somebody gives you a bribe, refuse the bribe. Don’t vote for them. Vote for the people who would be able to help the country. Vote for me as an individual, support me. It is not about money. We have money but there are so many things we cannot buy. My advice to the Nigerian people is, yes indeed we need to change the government that is there and replace them with a PDP candidate such as my humble self. We will solve the problems of the country. We will make it easier for the ordinary people. They should not look at money, there things in this life that money cannot buy and we are all in tandem with that.
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