After months of speculations, former governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, finally joined the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Damian Duruiheoma in his country home in Okohia, Isiala Mbano L.G.A Imo State, the former governor gave reasons why he joined the ruling party and threw some insights on other burning issues.
Many of the comments trailing your defection into the APC are not quite complimentary. How do you feel? Did you envisage such level of hostilities?
I feel nothing. I must be frank with you. I was under no illusion that people will be clapping for me but what I never expected was the level of bitterness expressed in some quarters. That was uncalled for. I am running my own race, why don’t you run your own race. If I am making a mistake, I am the person that will suffer the consequences, not you. So why the bitterness? Can anybody live someone else’s life? Even sons join political parties different from those of their fathers. Sir Alvan Ikoku and his son, S.G. Ikoku, all of the blessed memory, were in different political parties and even contested election against each other. I am talking of a period and time the world was in darkness, so to speak; to say nothing of today when the world has become so sophisticated. Friends have parted ways to join different political parties. Mine is not different.
I can appreciate if someone sees me as an asset but that does not still preclude me from exercising my fundamental right of freedom of association. It even borders on selfishness. Why must it be only your own party that I must serve? We are all Nigerians. I am telling you that I have seen where I could be of a better asset, to use your own language, and you are telling me, no, you must stay with me. Are you being fair to me? My own interpretation of the matter, not just as it affects me, but speaking generally, is that in our politics, some people merely see others as instruments for pushing their own personal ambition.
Your last party was the Accord Party.. .
(Cuts in) And that’s precisely what I am saying. Those complaining bitterly are not even in the Accord Party. They are from other parties, crying more than the bereaved. But it looks as if the PDP is more concerned. Please gentlemen, can anyone of you tell me here and now the difference between APC and PDP. More than 80 per cent of those in APC were in PDP. Over 90 per cent of those who want to contest for the chairman of APC today were all in PDP. Are we not all in the same country, governed and influenced by the same socio-political and economic environment?
In fact, in most areas, there is so much cultural and religious homogeneity that belonging to different political parties makes no difference amongst them as a people. I agree that democracy, as we have copied it from the western world, is anchored on political parties but it is the same people that populate the parties. This rancorous compartmentalization is only a ploy to deceive hapless and ignorant Nigerians and should stop. It is like the difference between Methodist Church and Anglican Church. They sing the same hymn; their clergies wear the same type of robes and preach the same way.
What precisely informed your joining the APC instead of going back to the PDP since, as we have seen, there is no difference between the two?
I decided to join the APC because I believe it is high time we changed tactics in our approach to handling the myriad of challenges facing us as a nation. And what do I mean? I mean that we are shouting too much at one another. Take the president, for example. All what we do is to shout at him, employing all sorts of language. We do not motivate him. We are not supportive of him. We bully him and haul all sorts of insults at him.
And as you would agree with me, the tactics has not worked because all what we succeed in doing is to put him always on the defensive, to protect himself. So, I would want us to change tactics. Instead of shouting at the president, let us devise a means of encouraging him to hold on to the ball. Too many people are shouting at the president but I believe that more people should see a way of motivating him, to encourage him to strive on in spite of his apparent mistakes some of which may not even be his own direct faults.
I have been among those shouting at the president but now, I want us to try something different. I have decided to get closer and probably learn more about the nature of the challenges he is facing and see if there are ways we could help. I thought about this for a very long time and the decision to finally join APC did not come over night.
Naturally, the APC has to defend its government and the opposition has to make sure that the government does the proper thing. But even so, the point I am making is that we have to be more nationalistic in trying to make government perform better. By all means we should criticize the government but I insist that our approach, generally, is too combative that at the end, we perhaps merely succeed in putting the president on the defensive, making him believe that the entire thing is to mock him and not to encourage or assist him to succeed.
What I am saying in essence is that the standard of public discourse in our country is very abysmal and we have to endeavour to elevate it in order to make progress as a people, as a nation. We have to reduce the partisan contents in our national conversations. Political parties come and go but the country, the nation stays. I don’t know if some of you were around during the second republic. We had the NPN, UPN, the NPP, GNPP, PRP. Some of their leaders behaved as if they and their parties were bigger than Nigeria itself. Today, where are they?
I looked at the whole situation and came to the conclusion that the APC offers the best platform for changing this narrative. Of all the visible political parties in the country today, the APC is the only one that is functionally national in outlook and cannot by any stretch of imagination fit into a party under the control of a few identifiable individuals. President Buhari is not holding the party as if it is personal asset. In my state Imo, the party has opened its doors and is doing everything possible to bring people together. In addition, since every politics is local, we need to support the governor for the interest of the state and its people.
But must you be in the same party with him to support him. Can’t you support him from outside?
The answer to your question is not far-fetched. There is this fixation that no matter how well-meaning you are, you cannot and should not see anything good in a government if you are in an opposition party. The situation is worse here in Imo State where those in the so called opposition seem to believe that they have to show open personal hatred for those in office. You are in a different party and you see something good the ruling party has done and you commend it for that, you are labeled anti party by little minds who have failed to learn from developed democracies on how best to engage in a civilized opposition strategies that promote good governance instead of personal animosities. In this state, this concept of anti-party gives statesmen little or no room to intervene on behalf of the people and think Imo first. I would not like to be distracted by being labeled anti party for making myself available to share experiences and ideas with incumbent governors.
Even after the events that denied me the opportunity of having a second term even after I won the election that would have enabled me do so, I vowed never to abandon the state and that informed the reason I have made myself available to those that came after me except one. You all were here during the short-lived administration of Ihedioha. I was all out to support him because I felt I owed it a duty to myself and the people to do so. When Uzodimma came, I lived up to my vow and some little minds call it any government in power. But as a statesman I am supposed not to be openly antagonistic to any government whether or not I belong to the same party with it.
But I appreciate the concern because it is a show of love. Because you only show concern about the affairs of somebody you love. Nobody has said it is good riddance to bad rubbish. They are only expressing their regret that I am leaving for somewhere else. But as a statesman, I am still very much available to interface with people of like minds irrespective of partisan leanings because that is the only way we can make good progress. Yes, ordinarily, one could give support to Governor Uzodimma from outside but like I said earlier, I want to get close so that I can have the privilege of working with facts and knowledge instead of conjectures. The situation the country finds itself in now does no longer give room for guess work.
In the case of Imo State, Governor Uzodimma has shown zeal, commitment and capacity to provide good governance. I believe I need to fully buy into what he is doing and lend my full support. As you all probably know, I ran on the same ticket with him on the platform of the AD in 2003 for the governorship of the state. We did not succeed but when I later served as governor between 2007 and 2011, he was very supportive. We were both in the PDP before I left to pick the ticket from the PPA. But he and several others were instrumental to my going back to the PDP after I became governor. So, aside my states-manly disposition to think Imo first, I have a moral obligation to stand by him now that God and providence have given him a turn to be governor.
There is the speculation in some quarters that one of the reasons behind your recent move is to run for the office of the president especially against the backdrop of the growing sentiment that it is the turn of the Igbo of Southeast…
I like to encourage journalists not to indulge so much in the speculation over who will run for president or who will not run. I think it is sufficient for now to say that it is the turn of the Igbo of Southeast, as you rightly defined it, to take the presidency in 2023, provided we play our cards well. Playing our cards well means being consistent and engaging other stakeholders. Yes, it is our turn, but that does not mean that other ethnic nationalities will automatically say, come and take it. We have to win the argument.
The Igbo have to recreate the type of scenario we had in 1999 wherein head or tail, a Yoruba was to emerge president. The Yoruba were not shouting on top of their voice, “give us presidency”. They allowed the rest of the country to see why the president should come from amongst them and even some Igbo politicians played a role in that even though we were looking for the same thing. That’s why I say enough of speculations on those who will run or not run. Let every Igbo man who thinks he can run come out.
So, will you come out?
The event of July 28 2021 at my country home in Okohia took a long time to come. I mean the day I was formally received by the APC. Before that day, I had joined in my ward amidst so much speculation. Some said I would never join APC and they gave their reasons. But that day came and ended all speculations. So, let us similarly wait for the day that will answer your question, either in the negative or in the affirmative and end all the speculations.
There is also this argument that Ndigbo cannot be talking about producing the next president of Nigeria and at the same time talking about leaving the country.
Ndigbo have never said that they want to leave Nigeria. What Ndigbo are saying is that if Nigeria cannot accommodate us, we have the right to go our own way. Why are we still pretending that there has been a full reconciliation after the end of the Nigerian civil war in spite of the No Victor, No Vanquished mantra. More than fifty years after, everything points to the fact that there was a victor and there was a vanquished. That’s why people like us have decided to move closer to find out why the nation cannot completely put the events of the civil war behind it and forge ahead.
Every Igbo youth of today was born after the war. The things they are seeing are a far cry from what their parents told them, about no Victor, No Vanquished. That’s why some of them accuse their parents of deceiving them. Some have outrightly rebelled against their parents because they are direct victims of the lie on No Victor No Vanquished. However, I would advise those who are making this analogy of Ndigbo wanting to leave the country and wanting to produce the president to desist from that because it is a needless analogy. One cannot be substituted for the other. The Igbo have the right to air their grievances which include the fact that Nigeria seems to have placed a near permanent glass ceiling on any Igbo becoming president of Nigeria. In other words, agitating that the wrongs against them be righted does not detract from their right to demand to be allowed their turn to produce the country’s president.
So, I like to discourage journalists from propagating that thinking because that is not fair to Ndigbo. Yes, I agree that some Igbo youths have tended towards violence but youths from other parts of the country have also tended towards violence. The youths of the Niger Delta were at a point very violent. How did we end it? It was through dialogue and I believe that the same approach will work wonderfully well in the case of the Igbo or other ethnic groups.
Sir, you said part of the reason you joined APC is to get closer and perhaps be in a better position to offer advice. Can you tell us some of the areas you would like to advise on now that you are in APC?
First of all, ideas on how to strengthen our country are no rocket science. It is what Nigerians are discussing every day. Similarly, the federal government is not lacking in ideas on what to do. What I believe is the problem is the fear of the unknown by the different stakeholders. Take the issue of restructuring for example, which I believe is at the root of our problem. I strongly believe that those politicians from the northern part of the country, who have voiced against it do so not out of any pathological aversion, for restructuring but because they are afraid of the unknown consequences of restructuring. So, those of us who know that their fears are unfounded have the duty to convince them to let go of such fears.
Let me give an illustration. You have a blanket covering your body in a cold. And I come and say, let me in. It is for me to convince you that letting me in will not deny you of the comfort you are already enjoying. So, as I said earlier, the time has come for us to stop howling at each other and instead address our mutual fears. That is the whole idea about getting closer. It is not to pontificate. It is not to lecture the president or other APC leaders. Do this, don’t do that. What to do is there for everybody to see. The problem we have is the fear of the unknown