Posted by By CHIDI NNADI & PETRUS OBI, Enugu on
Two weeks after the National Convention of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that produced a Chairman in the person of Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme has expressed concern over its future.
Two weeks after the National Convention of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that produced a Chairman in the person of Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme has expressed concern over its future.
Ekwueme, one time Chairman of the partyís Board of Trustees (BoT), a man who speaks sparingly but weightily, spoke to Sunday Sun in Enugu, in a manner that suggests that the elder statesman is worried about some of the things happening in the country.
Ranging from Buhariís coup that ousted him from office in 1983; his dismissal of some of the claims made by General Theophilous Danjuma in his recent press interview; Obasanjoís faulty attempt at practicing democracy "at old age" and the dismal level of public power supply now under probe, Ekwueme left no one in doubt that he is worried about Nigeriaís future.
At that March 8 national convention of the party, the PDP governors had chosen Ogbulafor against the wish of many party men who converged in Abuja to elect their national officers through the instrument of the ballot box, claiming that two candidates for the position of national chairman, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and Dr Sam Egwu had generated enough heat to polarize the party. It was said that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was backing Egwu while Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) was said to be on the side of Anyim.
But Dr Ekwueme told Sunday Sun in Enugu that the claim of the governors did not hold water, as election to the offices would have been better for the party.
There are other weighty issues that Ekwueme responded to:
Your Excellency, you were in Abuja during the last convention of your party where delegates were to elect officers to the various positions of the party which didnít happen as most officers were selected, what were your impressions about that convention vis-ŗ-vis others held in the past.
The first convention we had was the national convention held in Jos in February 1999; after that we had another one in November the same year to elect the officials of the party because what happened was that before the party was formed, the formal inauguration was in August 31, 1998, and as the leader of the G-34, which midwived the party I was unanimously adopted to chair the party. And in September we were required by INEC to submit a list of all the officers of the party since our constitution and manifesto had been submitted to and accepted by INEC in accordance with the requirements of the INEC Decree then.
We did not have a convention as such to select the officials. What we did was to gather at a venue, at a general meeting, as we called it then, not a convention, at Rockview Hotel in Abuja. Each zone was to confer and select the list of persons to fill the positions allocated to them.
The position of the chairman, of course, was allotted to North Central at the caucus and Chief Solomon Lar was selected as the person. And on September 12, 1998 I formerly handed over the chairmanship to him. So, after the presidential elections were concluded, I ran for the election, the members felt there was need for a proper convention where officers would be elected in accordance with the constitution of the party, which was held.
I believe in November 1999, it was at that convention that Barnabas Gemade and the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi contested for chairmanship. There other positions were equally filled; some returned the people they had on board. The Southeast, for instance, in September 1998, had selected Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former governor of Enugu State to fill the slot of National Secretary of the party, which was allotted to us and which was reaffirmed at the convention in November 1999.
So, that was the first convention where we had election of the party as per our constitution. Of course, you know about the controversy surrounding the election of Gemade over and above Awoniyi, but that is not a matter to go into on this occasion. After Gemade served for barely two years, we had another convention where there was no formal election of officers, but by acclamation.
That was where Audu Ogbeh was acclaimed to take over from Gemade. And something happened in 2003 when Audu Ogbeh Ďresigned.í The North Central had a hurdle and among those willing to fill the position, the lot fell on Col. Ahmadu Ali and he became the chairman of the party. There was no election, no convention, it was later on in the year that it was then decided that we needed to have a convention, and that convention was by acclamation of a list of pre-selected officers.
So, we were hoping that this one (Last Abuja Convention) would take us back to what we did in 1999, which was a formal election where we had a procedure of casting votes as we have always done during primary elections. Itís time consuming and tedious, but it is part of the sacrifices we have to make for democracy. But in this instance, I think the supporters of the candidates were so polarized that if one of the candidates was elected, the polarization might cause a cleavage within the party itself.
Anyone who won would have concluded that they are in, and those who lost would think they are out and it will take sometime to bring the party together again, and all the works weíve done in the reconciliation committee to try and get everybody back on board to where we started would be jeopardized or diminished.
I donít know at what stage the governorís forum started meeting to zero in on one candidate, but that is what happened and they zeroed on one candidate and the president endorsed that nomination. Although delegates had come to cast their votes which is by secret ballot, but the PDP state governors have some degree of influence on the PDP delegates coming from their states and thus were in a position to influence the candidates.
What it means is that if 26 of the state governors were able to convince most of the delegates from their states to vote for a particular candidate, then the process of the election itself will be a matter of window dressing. Because whomever they zero in on will likely carry the day. But I said, personally I would have preferred us to go through the whole tedious process of casting votes, I would have liked to cast my own vote for one of the 26 or 27 candidates that indicated their interest in the chairmanship just as I did for the 18 of them who indicated interest for the presidency in December 2006.
Do you agree that voting would have polarized the party?
I wouldnít say that I buy that argument because people came there with the intention of voting and the chairman of the panel, Adamu Ciroma said that we would vote, and he intended that we would vote until all the candidates for the chairmanship, and eventually for the position of the secretary withdrew their candidature and endorsed one person. So, if 20 people wanted an office and 19 came forward and said we are no longer interested, we have endorsed one person, what is the point of having an election unless to show that the majority of the delegates endorsed that one person; that the person is returned unopposed, that happened for the chairman and for the secretary.
For other officers which were allotted to the zones; the zones had met and done their own zoning state by state and adopted one person from the relevant state and presented that as a candidate the zone had selected.
Why couldnít that happen in the South-East?
Well, it is easy to have an agreement on who will be the deputy national Legal Adviser from the South-East zone, for instance, or even the zonal chairman or the ex-officio. But when you are talking about the national chairman of the leading political party in Nigeria and ipso facto in the continent, it is a position where peopleís ambition cannot be so easily wished away. Even in the North Central, they tried to do the same but they did not succeed until the Governorsí Forum again saved the situation.
The only difference there was that they had done an analysis of the positions zoned to the zone, which had been occupied in the past eight or nine years and from where those positions were filled, and came to the conclusion that the position of the national secretary belongs to Kwara State . And the argument was simple.
They first had the position of national chairman, which was held by Solomon Lar from Plateau; I think they had the position of deputy Senate President that was filled by Barrister Obeha, Nasarawa State; then from Solomon Lar as chairman it went to Gemade, Benue State; from Gemade it went to Audu Ogbeh, Benue; before it went to Ahmadu Ali, Kogi State. Then from Abubakar as deputy Senate President it went to Mantu, Nasarawa to Plateau again. So, it was argued that Benue , Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi have had positions allocated to the zone; and Niger which is another state in that zone occupying the position of zonal chairman in the person of Alhaji Magaji.
So, that left Kwara as the only state within the zone that had not occupied any of the positions zoned to the North Central, so, they agreed that Kwara should produce the secretary. We tried to advance the same argument here in the South-East; we had national secretary and Okwesilieze Nwodo took that from Enugu State.
After that it went to Vincent Ogbulafor from Abia State, after him it went to Ojo Maduekwe also from Abia State and then to Bernard Eze back to Enugu State. So, itís true that Abia and Enugu states have had their turns and Senate Presidency was zoned to the South-East and all the five states had taken it in turns, so that cancels itself out. Now, we have the Deputy Senate President and that went to Enugu , and in the House the highest office we have there is the Chief Whip and that has gone to Imo State .
And in addition to that the National Vice Chairman, that is, the zonal chairman, has always been in Imo; from Dr. Sylvester Ugo in 1998 to (Fidelis) Ozichukwu in 1999. So Imo has had the position for nine years.
In the meeting we held in October, I told them that if we follow the argument of the North Central, which was mentioned by some people then the national chairman position should come from either Ebonyi or Anambra; that one of them should take the zonal chairman and the other national chairman so that every state will feel that they have had a shotÖ
But some of them argued that Anambra has had the position of National Chairman and Chairman of Board of Trustees and that is me. But I told them that the positions were not zoned to the South-East. I was chairman because I formed the party; and when Solomon Lar took over they said okay, I should take the position of Board of Trustees, and I took that position.
But in 2003, I resigned to contest for the presidency. So, if these positions were zoned to the South-East somebody from the zone should have taken over after I resigned, just like Okwy Nwodo was replaced. So, you cannot confuse issues with positions I held on personal merit to what is zoned to the South-East.
In spite of that, the meeting still said that it should be between Imo and Ebonyi; specifically, in my view that some powerful Imo delegates, including the National Vice Chairman, who is the zonal chairman, who was in charge of the zone, was contesting, and if Imo was zoned out he would not contest. And other candidates like Iwuanyanwu were also very keen and so it was easy to throw logic to the wind. They signed everything on the Saturday meeting, which continued from Friday. I refused to sign the minutes of the Friday meeting because I told them the logic was flawed.
But the communiquť said that it was going to Ebonyi and Imo because they had voted before I came in. I didnít want to appear as the one creating a problem for the zone because Anambra was not involved, so I signed the communiquť and I received a lot of criticisms from some people who said that I should have allowed everybody to contest, that there was no point limiting it to two states.
So, you can see the problem, if the South-East cannot even agree to limit it to two states you can then imagine the possibilities of agreeing to reduce it to one or two candidates; that is the nature of our people, everybody feels he is as good as the other.
Donít you think that this selection process will affect the PDP in trying to hold other conventions in the future?
I worry about it because I donít think itís fair on the candidates for them to spend their time, energy and money, traveling the whole country, say what they will do if they become chairman, canvassing their manifesto so to say and at the end of the day they didnít contest.
What happened at the convention has led people to now talk about lack of internal democracy in the PDP, how do you look at that?
I donít think you can base that only on what happened at the convention. If you have time to look at the report of my reconciliation committee, that was the number one complaint. Everywhere throughout the country, lack of internal democracy. Because at that time the governors behaved as if they owned the party at the state just as the president behaved as if he owned the party at the national level.
The governors will say who is the party chairman even at the local government level and you donít have that opportunity to let democracy grow from the grassroots level and I emphasized in my report that that must be the saving point, that all the congresses that should lead to this convention must be properly handled right from the village level. If a village has two wards, all the members must come there and vote for the chairman of the ward.
So, we have not jettisoned the question of internal democracy. Itís very important and itís something that we hammered on very seriously in our reconciliation report. And Iím happy that the new national chairman has announced that he will go through that report and implement it.
So, the first stage will be internal democracy, which must start at the ward level. I hope this is the last time we will have this type of convention.
As the chairman of the reconciliatory committee, what were the immediate challenges you faced?
The challenges were that many of the founding fathers that left was because they felt that the party had been taken over by the former President Chief (Olusegun) Obasanjo as if it was his personal property; that the chairman, Ahmadu Ali, could not do anything except what the (former) President wanted. So, they did not have that sense of belonging in terms of participation, in terms of joint ownership of the party, that was their biggest complaint, but we were able to assure them that we have to start again from the grassroots and build up to the top. And based on that assurance many of them came back, people like Rimi, he came back; Ghali Níabba, former Speaker of the House of Reps, came back.
Chief Solomon Lar who hadnít left except that he was at the periphery came back. So, I felt that in spite of the challenges we faced, people who have been wronged over the years, people should have faith in the party that it could be salvaged; and that it has the potentials of being a great party which is what we envisioned it to be at the onset; we expect them to come back, join hands to rebuild the party.
One would have expected more of the key people like former Vice President Atiku, former Abia governor, Dr Orji Kalu coming back to the PDP, does it mean your committee did not reach out to them?
Well, Atiku was out of the country at that time, do we go outside the country to talk to him? But at the same time you should appreciate that we were not anxious to build a one-party state, we need to have a good virile opposition because that is the essence of democracy. Atiku is the leader of Action Congress (AC), Orji Kalu is the leader of PPA (Progressive Peoples Alliance) and as at that time he had a PPA governor in Abia and Imo, so, we were not asked to swallow all the parties and have a one party state. Because a one-party system is another form of dictatorship, that was not our objective.
But those whom we felt were only out of the party for some reasons, but have not enthroned themselves in another party we talked to. For instance, if Solomon Lar had joined AC in Plateau and canvassed for the party during the last election, we probably may not have talked to him; but even though he did not work actively for PDP, his daughter who was a candidate for House of Representatives stood on the platform of PDP and won. And she is today a PDP member of the House of Reps for Langtang. So, that is the reason, we couldnít have talked to every Nigerian.
You were in the Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration that was sacked by the military in 1983, would you say the sack of the government in 1983 by the military was justified?
There was no justification for that, I feel they were just hungry for power, and had to find something to hang on to, to come back. And the military that took over from us and ruled this country for about 15 years from December 31, 1983 to May 29, 1999 were not better; anybody you ask will tell you they didnít do any better; that they didnít do as far as we did as a civilian administration. In fact, many people if they are honest will tell you that the four years of our government was the golden age of Nigerian politics.
The NPN then, in my view was a very well run, well-organized party where there was care, where there was good relationship between the party and the government. President Shagari did not take over the party from Chief Akinloye of the blessed memory; he came there and functioned as the chairman of the party without interference from the president or myself or any member of the executive.
In the same way, the legislature did their work, we didnít interfere; you can see the frequency with which the head of the legislature, the Senate President; that office was rotated in the past dispensation.
There were five presidents of the Senate within eight years and four or five chairmen of the party within the same period of time. Itís an indication that things were not the way they should be, that there were interference from the executive in the affairs of the party and the affairs of the legislature. But in our time, we restricted ourselves to executive functions and allowed the party to run as a party and allowed the legislature to run as a legislature.
That was a model democratic set up. Itís a pity that the military truncated that experiment. So, after 15 years we had to start again from the scratch, otherwise by now we would have had a well organized and entrenched system; and then if they had allowed that government to continue we would have had a two party system by evolution not by fiat like Babangidaís own, by decree.
It would have been by evolution because NPN was standing and the other smaller parties UPN, NPP, GNPP and PRP had grouped together as PPA. So, we would have had two parties and that would have been healthy for the nation, but that experiment was abused by the military.
You are putting the blame of what happened on the head of the immediate past leader, could you please assess the four years of the Shagari administration and the eight years of former President Obasanjo.
If you want to talk about that it will be the topic of a new book. But I have said it that President Shagari did not interfere and he had the background of a democrat.
He grew up in a parliamentary system where you have collective responsibility; he was minister for many years under Tafawa Balewa. So, by contrast, President Obasanjo was a military dictator as military Head of State; he was the law maker, law giver and law executor; because the law making body was the Supreme Military Council of which he was chairman. They would pass a decree and that became the law, and as Head of State he will execute those laws.
He also had control over the judiciary, because if he didnít like anything all he had to do was pass a decree. So, having that absolute control over the executive, legislature and judiciary by implication, itís very, very difficult, in fact, impossible for him to run a democratic government where he would have the National Assembly that will guard its lawmaking powers jealously and watch appropriation, check his government which nobody did when he was Head of State.
He had a judiciary that is independent, whose powers he could not oust by decree and who can pronounce and say that what the man has done is unconstitutional and thatís it; that it will be very difficult for him to function under that democratic setting and I was proved right because he found it very difficult to function.
An Igbo adage says that you donít learn how to use the left hand at old age; he couldnít learn democracy at an old age, having functioned as a military dictator for three years and seven months and 17 days; from February 13, 1976 to September 30, 1979, it will be very difficult for him to function as a democratic president where the law is passed by the National Assembly in terms of what he can do and what he cannot do, what money he should spend or he should not spendÖ
So, it was the military blood that was running in his vein as president?
Yes, yes, and the experience of having been Head of State before; perhaps if he had been just an ordinary soldier, and had not been Head of State, had not joined the national government it might have been a bit easier for him to manage the transition. But having been in-charge before and ran the government of Nigeria , he would think oh, he has done it before; and he used to say it, when I was here we had so, so and so, things have fallen apart. He always said that from experience, which was military dictatorship experience.
One of your kinsmen at the PDP Jos Convention in 1999 said that you came out to be president so as to get back at those that sacked the Shagari administration in 1983, how do you react to this?
Well, everybody is entitled to his opinion, but I told the military who came to me that I didnít have any time for post mortem; that I had a vision of what I would do for Nigeria and what I should do in future will occupy 100 per cent of my time.
So much of my time that I wonít have the chance to start witch-hunting people who sacked us from office. So, that was it. It was obviously not true that I was coming for vendetta; but some of them believed it and did everything possible to undermine my candidature and to support the candidature of one of their own, a retired military general, Chief Obasanjo.
But we saw the G-34 fighting the late Gen Sani Abacha administration; was that not a fall-out of your experience in detention?
No, not generally that, itís a matter of principle. Itís not a fall-out of my experience with the military, itís principle. I have always felt, even before the Abacha regime, that military government is another form of colonialism. When you impose yourself on the people without their consent; you wonít allow the people the opportunity of choosing their own leaders, but you impose leadership on them; you appoint a major as military governor of East Central State or so, and he comes here and he rules by edict, not by constitution.
There is no consultative assembly or military assembly to advise him, whatever comes into his mind he will do it; and I said that was wrong that we should not allow ourselves to be under colonialism, internal colonialism; in the case of British colonialism you could shout and the whole world would hear about it and say this country is entitled to independence and they would help to put pressure so that finally you become independent.
But in the case of internal colonialism by the military, they donít listen to anybody; anybody who wants to talk they will say he is interfering in the internal affairs of the country. So, thatís it, not because of my experience with the military.
Sir, Gen T. Y Danjuma in an interview granted recently to one of the national dailies said that you are not worthy to be a Nigerian president, how do you react to this?
Itís unfortunate and very sad that Gen. Danjuma (Theophilus) should descend to that type of level. First and foremost, I believe the whole thing is a figment of his imagination, because I donít recall his ever coming to see me with Chief (Simeon) Adebo as he said in that interview.
In short, the whole thing was based on a wrong premise; he said that as at now, just as Atiku was in-charge of NIPSS, that is not true. There is a gazette outlining the responsibilities of the vice president, I can get that and send to you later, you will not find NIPSS, you will find National Council and Establishments, National Emergency Relief Agency, National Economic, National Economic Council, thatís all.
You will not find NIPSS there. I was never in-charge of NIPSS. But, assuming that was the situation, what I gathered from the report was that I said that the cost for the refurbishment was high that the president shouldnít approve that type of money, which means I was trying to save money for Nigerians, and that is something I should be commended for, not condemned for.
Danjuma probably forgot that it was the government triumvirate of which he was a part, because that government was known as a triumvirate: Obasanjo, Danjuma and Shehu YaríAdua. It was that government that built those houses he was complaining about that required so much money to repair. And the government spent so much money to build that which he now found uninhabitable.
He should not say that because Obasanjo spent public fund building those houses, he didnít say he was not fit to be a president; but now he is telling me that because I did not approve that they should spend huge sums of money repairing what he and Obasanjo did not do properly that I am the one not fit to be president.
And then he went on to talk about the Shagari housing policy, I donít know, I thought out of experience he should know that we had a Minister of Housing was whose sole responsibility was housing, or because I was an architect he thought, therefore, I was ipso facto the Minister of Housing.
I was not. Or that I should do the job of the minister and the job of a public servant. And he complained of Shagari houses, those of you who live in Enugu should go to Trans Ekulu and see the federal housing there, those who live there are very happy. The same thing in Lagos and other places.
Unfortunately, of course, some of the governors from non-NPN states decided to destroy the good intention of the NPN government. They decided to allocate land to the Federal Government in inaccessible areas, not close to centres of habitation from where people would take over and stay there and go to work. So, of course, naturally those houses were not habited and any house that you build that is not habited is going to face dilapidation and degradation and thatís what happened.
Why would Danjuma raise such allegations against your person?
Well, Iím very surprised, but that is his mentality just as he talked about the death of Ironsi; and he washed his hands clean of it contrary to what everybody knows.
Was he really involved in the killing of Ironsi?
I donít know, but I think we all read the account of what happened at Ibadan where Ironsi was killed.
We have seen the probe going on in the power sector where it is said that $16 billion was spent between 1999 and 2007 and yet this was a sector that was closely supervised by President Obasanjo, how do you look at this?
Well, Iím not sure about the figure because different figures are being bandied, some say $10 billion, some say $16 billion, some say $3.8 billion, some say $3.7 billion, so there are so many figures flying around. I donít know which is correct. Whatever the correct figure is, the truth is that not much has happened to improve the power supply system in the last eight years.
If anything, I think we have a low generating capacity today than we had in 1998 in spite of whatever amount, whatever billions was spent. You see that is the difference again between somebody with democratic background and somebody without it. At one stage, the power situation was so bad that Obasanjo set up a committee headed by Liyel Imoke, the present governor of Cross River State whom he later made Minister of Power; but he was chairman of the central committee given responsibility to turn around the power sector and the president said that this committee should be reporting to him.
Which means that he will accept responsibility, and if this committee failed in getting the power sector turned around as they did, then it means that he has failed (in other places) he should have resigned. Just as we had problems with petroleum, we had crisis in the petroleum sector; each time there was price increase you have strike, you have labour congress, a lot of crises in the petroleum sector and he was the Minister of Petroleum. If it was in a parliamentary system, any minister charged with a responsibility and he has that type of crisis he would resign as minister at once.
But in this case, how is he going to resign because, in fact, he was the chairman of the NNPC, I mean the president; and the chairman of NNPC reports to the Minister of Petroleum, and thatís himself; and the Minister of Petroleum reports to the president and thatís himself; so, all down the line he has total responsibility for the oil sector and so when there is failure in the oil sector he should accept personal responsibility for that failure and should arrange his exit.
Sir, how has life been with you as a politician, some people say you have become poorer as a politician?
Well, poverty is relative; certainly, before I went into politics I had a lucrative practice as an architect.
I had the largest architectural practice in Nigeria with offices all over the country, 19 offices; I consulted for the World Bank, the federal and state governments, corporations and private individuals; so I was doing quite well. Then I knew that Nigeria had not advanced to a point where one could go to the government and leave his practice functioning, and then come back to it eventually.
I know that if I allow it, any job you got as an ongoing administration, they will say yes, what do you expect, he is passing all the work to his firm. They will forget that Iíve been doing those projects before. like I said I was with World Bank as a consultant on Education and Projects; so I decided to close all the offices on September 13, 1979; and what I did was to dismember it and share the practice among my three associate partners and each of them so that I will have nothing to do with the business.
But even at that, one of them who got a job was questioned by the military by the time they took over in December 1983 to find out what influence I had in the job. So, you can imagine what would have happened if I did not close down the practice; I thank God I had the foresight to close it.
Now as you know after serving for four years and three months I was clamped into detention; from house arrest to Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison; from there to Ikoyi Medium Security Prison; coming out from there in September 1985, when Babangida took over and stayed under house arrest, 24 hours military guard, until July 3, 1986 when I was released and brought to my village and then put under restriction not to leave my local government. After a year and half the thing was divided, I was allowed to leave my local government, but not to leave my state, the next was to leave my state but not to leave Nigeria ; until 1989 when I became free to travel.
During all those years I couldnít pick up any business, I couldnít do my business in the village. So, without any income I had to engage in asset disposal to keep my family going. I had to start selling off my assets. I sold off my house in GRA at Onitsha, my landed properties at Onitsha; the housing estate and then the industrial estate: sold my house in the GRA in Aba; sold my house in Abakaliki, the GRA; sold my house in Lagos; because when you attain a certain level it will be disastrous if you cannot feed your children the way they are used to because you went into politics.
So, my logic was that those assets were things I acquired and they are to serve me on a rainy day, and the rainy had come. So, there was no point keeping a house in Aba or Enugu or Onitsha or Lagos and collecting peanuts as rents that wonít be enough to maintain your family; so I had to get rid of those assets. So, I grew poorer than I was prior to the government, but I thank God that I am still able to look after my family.