Chief Ugochukwu Okeke is a chieftain of the PDP from Anambra State and in this brief encounter with RUTH CHOJI, the seasoned politician stated that, Igbos need to be united so that they can negotiate on how to get power in 2019 or 2023.
Your state governor and Gov. Rochas seem to be having a running battle, what does this portend for the south-east?
I am also worried and so are many people from the south-east. In fact, some people have called me to ask what we are doing to settle the rift. I think it is wrong for them to use the media to fight their battle. They are leaders in their right and it doesn’t tell well of them if they can come out openly to insult each other like that. It is not about them parse but about their office which is an institution. When you are serving people, you don’t behave the way you do. Everything must be about people. You don’t go into name calling and muzzling, it is wrong. I believe people should seek positions based on what they are known for and what the upcoming can do for their people, irrespective of the fact that our elections are enmeshed with money. It is worrisome even from where I come from, you will see that those in power are those who had money to spend to get the position when the real leaders, who have vision and passion for development are holed up somewhere. I think we should learn from our former leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Awolowo. My governor is in APGA and he is their leader. Rochas was also a member of APGA, he left there to join the APC, so they are brothers. Our people are not happy with the situation. But it is all about politics. Let us pray it does not degenerate into a personal battle.
What will it take to unite the south-east and make them have one voice?
There are divisions all over the country. If you look at the north-east and north-central, they are also divided. In our case, people don’t really understand the concept of leadership. It is not about using your money to get the position, it is about what you plan and what you can do for the people because of the adage in our place that says ‘when a young man cleans himself well, he can dine with elders’ which has been misconstrued to be about money because everything about Igbo land is about money. There are people who have quality of leadership but don’t have money. People who have earned money through hard work will not throw their money contesting elections. We have people who know the problem of this country and have answers but because they don’t have the resources to contest for elections, they die with their knowledge. The Igbo needs a strong voice that can speak for it and we must be united. I think that is beginning to happen with the recent election of the president of Ohane’eze in the person of John Nwodo. We need to be united so that we can negotiate on how to get power. Power is not given on a platter of gold, you have to fight for it.
Former President Obasanjo has come out to say that, he will support an Igbo presidency, what will it take to have an Igbo president?
What that statement means is that we must work together as a nation.we must negotiate and discuss with all parts of Nigeria, we must appeal to them through dialogue to support us. Nigerians need to see reasons why the Igbo should be given presidency. We are the thread that keeps this nation united because there is no village or community you go that you won’t see the Igbo man. We settle there and even build houses there. Our people believe in one Nigeria and I think it is time for Nigerians to believe in them. The only people you meet in civil service that don’t discriminate are the Igbos. So the Igbos should be given the chance to bring out the presidency in 2019 or 2023, whether in the APC or PDP.
Talking about the PDP, do you think the party will ever get back its lost glory?
APC is what it is today because of Buhari, take him out of the party and the party will crumble. But the PDP has structures. It goes beyond an individual. It is a Nigerian party where everyone is carried along. So I believe that, the PDP can overcome its challenges. I hope that with what is happening now, our people can read between the lines and know who is a true leader. People are talking about Donald Trump today because he was able to identify what the rural Americans want. Clinton was associated with the rich. So he (Donald Trump)won massively at the grassroots because he picked the issues that bother the average American.
Talking about Trump, some are afraid that his policy that banned seven Muslim countries could escalate into terrorism worldwide. Do you share such fears?
Although I don’t agree with his style, I think he is doing the right thing because the world needs somebody that is strong and can stand up to extremism. People are just surprised because they see America as a land of freedom where everybody can come and stay, so President Trump’s ACTION surprised them. But I support what he is doing.
Do you agree with the assertion that, Buhari’s agreement is marginalising the Igbos?
Well, I personally respect the president because he is a man of integrity. He has been consistent in his character, so integrity is used to describe him. But the appointments are there for everyone to see. Our people are Nigerians and they have contributed to the growth and development of Nigeria. Although, those on the other side have argued that during President Jonathan’s time, many Christians were given positions and they even provide you with facts but I think we must move away from ethnitism and other sentiments if we want this country to move forward. The president has the opportunity to unite the country because of his integrity. You can’t lead Nigeria without other sections. Other regions have professionals that, given the opportunity, they will help the government get out of this recession.
Coming back to the economy, there are fears that the economy could slide into depression. Do you harbour such fears?
The economy is really bad and it is made worse with the state of our forex. But I am glad that the price of oil is increasing, this could help us generate income.The president might have good plans and intentions but I don’t think he has surrounded himself with the right people. We cannot continue to invest in agriculture on paper. We need to do more. We have arable land and our farmers do a lot every year but they don’t have access roads to bring out their goods and also they lack storage facilities. You can’t just tell people to go back to the farm when you have not made provision for how they will process their goods. Government must start importing equipment that will facilitate and make farming productive and lucrative.
Are you worried about the dimension Fulani and community clashes have taken?
Yes I am worried and that is why I think we should go back to regionalism. Although we have been living together as one, I don’t see how herdsmen will come to a community with their herds and instead of being polite, they killed the people and destroyed their properties. If we go back to regionalism, the herdsmen will stay in their region and if they want to migrate to another region, they will need the permission of the leader of that region before entering there to graze.
Does it mean that federalism is not working in Nigeria?
If federalism was working, we won’t be having the kind of problems we have now. I am also not happy with the way the federal government is handling the situation. They should have arrested the culprits by now. Does it mean that cows are now more important than human beings? I know that the responsibility of government is to protect lives and property. Foreigners cannot come and kill our people and nothing is done. Our security agents must be proactive in securing Nigerian lives.
The government has also been accused of mismanaging the IPOB situation. Do you agree?
Yes, I agree because these young people were protesting peacefully. They were not carrying guns or anything, yet they were shot in cold blood in the name of protecting the area. Meanwhile, we hear of people who attack villages, kill innocent people and destroy properties with nothing being done. IPOB were just expressing their displeasure with the way the south-east is being treated by this government. The security agents are supposed to protect nigerians not kill them.
But do you believe in the creation of Biafra State?
Biafra is a metaphor. It is a way of expressing their grievances with the system that does not favour them. They want to be involved in the affairs of the nation. Mark you, the strength of the United States of America is in their diversity. People say, Lord Lugard brought us together but it is done, we are together and the best thing is to learn to stay together. The greatest advantage we have as a nation is our population, not even our natural resources. Unless we learn to work with the psych, we will continue to have problems. I pray that Mr. President will carry everybody along. I also pray that the Lord will give him strength to carry on his good work.