By: Aidoghie Paulinus
Former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, has revealed why the Igbo elite do not support Biafra agitation as currently propagated by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The former governor of old Enugu State who clocked 70 recently told Sunday Sun in Abuja that the Igbo elite prefer a restructured Nigeria where its economic potentials and prowess can fester like it did in the first republic before the outbreak of the civil war than Biafra.
Amongst other issues, Nwodo spoke on why former President Goodluck Jonathan agreed with PDP governors to remove him as national chairman of the party, why Jonathan, PDP lost power in 2015 and the contentious issue of 2023 presidency. Excerpts:
You have clocked 70. That is three scores and ten. How do you feel?
First of all is that I am grateful to God. In the biblical injunction, we were told that, that is a ripe age which God has prescribed. So, if you get to that age, you should be grateful to God for attaining the age of 70.
At 70, what has life experience taught you?
Life experience has taught me that every problem has a solution. You just have to sit down and look for it. If you want to succeed, you have to be painstaking. You have to be dogged, you need to have the I-can-do spirit and you must not take no for an answer. Very important, if you must succeed! Success does not come by cutting short. What I call people who take undue advantage to do things illegally and wrongly is that most of the time, they have short-term gain, but long-term disaster. To have something that will last, you have to sit down and work for it.
Does this experience apply to all professions and vocations?
It applies to everything in your life. You see, if you just sit down, you graduate from school and all you want is tomorrow to ride a four-wheel-drive and to have all that money can provide without working, you can only do it by stealing. But if you want to get it and get it right, you can only get it by hard work. So, it is very important that people should learn that hard work doesn’t kill anybody. It only gives you satisfaction when you produce results and those results last longer than cutting short.
The Nwodo family of Ukehe is well known in Igbo land and in Nigeria. How is the Nwodo dynasty now?
Well, what I can say is that each member of my family had almost the same training in terms of the family training we had from my parents. And then, we all went to good schools. My father put really high premium on education. There is none of us who ended with a first degree. Most of us had specialties and PhDs. My younger sister is both PhD and Senior Advocate of Nigeria. So, I think that what has kept my family name going is the solid education that my father gave to us. It is the solid home training they gave to us.
Has your family been able to groom people who will take over the stage as good successors to the dynasty?
I can tell you that most of the politicians in my state, who believe in my family, are because we have a philosophy in my family that the people matter more than anything else. Empowering people, improving their skills and their knowledge, giving them opportunity, grooming them for leadership, is the highest thing you can do for any individual. It is not throwing money at him. Teach him how to fish. So, a lot of people who have succeeded in politics in my state, most of them worked with me or their parents worked with my father and they have been groomed to know that if you want to be in public life, the first thing is the people, not your pocket.
Were some of the people you groomed among those who called for your resignation as national chairman of the PDP?
Yeah, that was politics. The INEC, when I became chairman, condemned the primaries that were done in eight states and said they were not going to take candidates from PDP because the executive we had in eight states were not in place as per our constitution. I called the governors with the president and we explained this to them. They said INEC can’t do anything. The president said okay, the legal adviser should take them to go and meet INEC and whatever they decide, we will implement. They met INEC, Jega stood his ground and said this is what he met; it is not what he created. And since he met this, he is going to implement it if we do not go and repeat the congresses in those states. My state happened to be one of them. So, when we decided to do this, some of those eight governors went to court and then, some, we repeated the state congress for them, they were okay. My own governor, while agreeing to have the congress done, when he realised that I was a man of internal democracy, it is not a question of write the list of executives from ward to local government to state and give me and I announce. No! The elections must be held. And he was not comfortable with that because people he did not want to be in the executive were winning the primaries. He interpreted it that I wanted to set up an executive that will deprive him of second term. So, he started to fight me. And then, other governors who had similar problems, he recruited them easily. The final thing that nailed the coffin was, I was in Lagos and I was doing a press conference and because I was very emotional about internal democracy, I said that because of the pressure the governors were putting on me to accept their list without a level playing ground for everybody, that I didn’t want any governor to come to my house again and that any governor who came to my office with Ghana-must-go, I will disgrace him. So, my governor told the governors, you see, this man, you can’t work with him. They went and met Jonathan and said to Jonathan that I went to Lagos and that I said that all of them were corrupt. The president called me and said a few governors are not happy with me, that they said I accused them of corruption. I told the president, I said, which of them is not corrupt? And then, I gave him specifics of every one of them and the amount of pressure they were putting and their list and all that. I told him that I told these people that we are not selling nomination in Wadata. They should go, lobby the delegates and spend the money campaigning in the wards and the local governments and they were not comfortable with that and it was as a result of this pressure they were piling on me that I made this statement, but if they insist, I will apologise to them. The president summoned them and I just made this same explanation I made. I said, we have to turn a new leaf, we must do internal democracy. If we want the true leadership of this country to emerge, there must be a level playing ground and party members should be allowed to vote those that they think will do the job based on their campaign. We just don’t sit down and write names. So, if I was misunderstood, I am very sorry. But Mr President, please, join me to beg the governors, let us provide a level playing ground and let us do the primaries. So, the governors were not happy with that, they asked the president that he either choose the national chairman or you choose us.
So, that was why you were removed as national chairman?
That is the story I am telling you. So, when they gave that option to the president, my state governor (Sullivan Chime) went one step further. He got a judge in my state to say that I was not even a member of the PDP, that I should not parade myself as national chairman. That judgment was never served on me up till today and the attorney general was asked to go and discharge that injunction. On the day we were having the primary for the presidential election, Adoke called me and said he has discharged the injunction and that I should go to the Eagle Square and take over the proceedings. I arrived and I went to mention this to the president and then went up to the stage and took over from my deputy whom I had written to preside over the primary for the presidential nomination. By the time I came down from the stage, all hell broke loose. My governor ganged up with his colleagues and they accused me that in spite of a court order saying that I was not the chairman, I came and presided over the convention and that I did this to give another presidential candidate an opportunity to go to court against the primary. So, he rushed down to Enugu and got the governors in the Southeast and the Southeast caucus of the party to say that I disgraced the Southeast that I am representing by flouting court order and coming to the convention and I should either resign or be removed. All his colleagues put pressure on the president. And I told the president, this matter is not about the chairman of the party, we are talking about President of Nigeria. That is what we are fighting for now and if you are no longer comfortable and you think that you will lose your governors, I have no business remaining here. It means I am not working for the success of the party in the presidential election. I have finished the main assignment I came to do which is to run this primary and you are now the candidate and your deputy is now the vice presidential candidate. I am done. And then, I stepped aside. But then, I went to the National Judicial Council and filed a petition against that judge. The judge was roundly condemned.
How about the waiver issue? Adoke said it was the waiver you granted Atiku that got former President Jonathan enraged. Is it true?
Well, Atiku’s waiver, as we normally insists in PDP, will come first from your ward, your local government, your state and your zone. And Atiku’s waiver came through all of these and when it came to the National Working Committee, I am only one of 13 members and there was not one dissenting voice that had come from Adamawa that was pushing not to be approved. But people were just using all these to create excuses.
But why do you think former President Jonathan told you to quit?
I believe that he was just bowing to pressure. He said the governors were his field commanders and he can’t go to war without the field commanders and if the field commanders said it is either me or them, he has to go with them. And I said that was fair enough.
How can the office of the national chairman be separated from being subservient to the office of the president?
I think the most important thing is internal democracy and financial independence of the party. And this is also one of the problems I had with the governors. The governors control the parties 100 per cent. They determine who will be a member of the party; they determine who is going to be ex officio member in every ward, not to talk about ward chairman. You can’t even aspire to contest with him on who will be chairman in your ward. So, I devised a process by which we had e-registration. In any part of the world you are, you could register as a member of the PDP. Secondly, I said each person should pay N100 a month. That is N1,200 in a year and that will make the party financially independent of local government chairman, of state governor, of president; the president can run its affairs. Thirdly, if we are able to do direct primary because we have registered people electronically and we have given them a membership card which is as authentic as national ID card and which I produced at less than 10 per cent of what it was causing the Federal Government to produce national ID card. With that ID card, you have your thumbprint, your photograph and you have your iris captured. So, it can only be you and if you go to your ward for a primary election, we have a card reader which will identify that the card is genuine and we can see your face, we can see everything. You go in, so nobody can go to the market and bursts people into his ward to do primary election to influence the results. I had devised a waterproof process by which people will be authentically nominated on a level-playing ground and results were automatically sent to the ward collation centre, to the local government collation centre, to the state collation centre and to the national. The results of every primary election we have, whether it is for councillor, whether it is for local government chairman, for House of Assembly, governor, National Assembly, president, the results are in every office, automatically sent. The governors said no, we won’t take this one; this one wants to take the party from us. So, it was also one of the problems.
I registered Jonathan in the Villa and it was in all the television networks that night. We went to NEC meeting, the Governors Forum under Amaechi shut it down and this is what we have today because if we had this internal democracy and it was no longer a question of who pays the piper dictates the tune, the party has money to run its affairs at the national secretariat, at the six zonal offices, at the 36 plus Abuja state offices, at the 774 local governments and in the wards, then nobody can tell the party what to do.
How will you compare the party you were chairman and what it is today?
Let me say that in terms of running party primary elections, through indirect primary, that is, delegates come to do the election, the party under Secondus has done reasonably well because when the governors wanted to hijack the Port Harcourt convention, the board of trustees stood like a bulwark behind the national chairman and if you watch that primary on the television, it was very transparent. And all the contestants congratulated Atiku when he won the election because they were all satisfied that it was transparent. That has also happened in a couple of states’ rerun elections that they have conducted. I think so far, they are doing their best. But I would have preferred a direct primary where we have people electronically registered, we have a transparent registration process, and the party is financially independent. People must know that for you to have a voice in the party, you have to be a financial member. You don’t just come from the main road and be making noise. Have a commitment which every other person has so that you have your right of speech, you have your right of your own opinion as a financial member and that your money constitutes in the financial management of this party, so you have a say.
The issue of the board of trustee chairman: It seems the office no longer carry the kind of weight it used to carry like when Chief Tony Anenih was there. What accounted for that?
I think that one, Chief Tony Anenih was there when we had two presidents. So, when a party is in power, all offices assume power (general laughter). Of way out of power, you are almost on your own.
What mistake do you think the PDP made in losing power at the centre and how can the party regain power?
I believe that our losing the election in 2015, number one, there was a conspiracy in the North that Jonathan doing four years of after Yar’Adua, that he cannot continue, that it was the turn of the North. So, many of our members, especially governors from the North, fell for that. Number two was that if PDP had nominated a northern candidate to run against the North since this feeling that it was the turn of the North was very high, maybe we would have had a different result. Thirdly is that the president was too trusting. We saw all the loopholes that were going to help the APC and we brought most of these to his knowledge, but he was too trusting of the people and he didn’t take any action.
Was he too trusting or he was too weak?
I think one is that he is a person who, he will give you an office today because somebody recommended you and he trusts the person who recommended you. And he will believe you even if ten of us come and tell him that look, you are going to undo him. Because of that person who recommended you and he didn’t know you, and he feels that you should owe it to him that he didn’t know you and you should do this job properly. That is why I used the word too trusting. He was too trusting and he allowed a lot of people who were working against him to be in position to undermine the election of the PDP.
Your party, the PDP, has a zoning arrangement that is rotational. Last time, it was the turn of the North, but the North was not successful. Former Governor Gabriel Suswam has said as a result of that, the zoning arrangement will still favour the North in 2023. Is it true?
It is not true. Even though the PDP said they will do North-South zoning, it has become a culture in Nigeria that no zone is allowed to continue beyond eight years. You can take that from the time of Obasanjo. Even though he was PDP, when he wanted to do third term, most of the people who shot him down were PDP. And he knew that he could not install a southern president to continue and that was why he supported Yar’Adua to take over. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua died and the constitution of the country had to be respected, which means the vice president to complete that tenure. And based on that, the vice president, having completed that tenure, believed that the Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket was entitled to a second tenure and the party conceded and gave him that tenure. After that, we took it to the North. And APC knew they would not win if they didn’t take to the North. So, they too went to the North. That was how APC came to power and then, the rotation continues. Now, having had a northern president for eight years, PDP cannot come and install another northern president to continue.
So, it will be injustice?
It will be very unjust, very unfair.
But Oyegun, immediate past national chairman of APC, said considering the current economic realities, the nation should get a candidate from anywhere and that it doesn’t matter wherever the person comes from. What is your take on this?
Unfortunately, the people of the Southeast where I come from, frown at this kind of thing. If all the major geopolitical zones in the country, and especially the major ethnic groups in the country have all been presidents, and in all fairness, justice and equity, we should be looking at the Southeast to produce the president. Suddenly, the country is saying now it is merit. It is like ambushing a guy.
What is your take on having a president of Igbo extraction?
I think this is the time for it. Two, the Igbo are the cement that holds this country together. You find that in every nook and cranny of this country. At a time that our national unity is so threatened, I believe that a detribalised tribe holding the presidency at this time is the surest way of restoring Nigeria’s unity. Thirdly, the Igbo, 50 years after the war, have been so marginalised as if the civil war was still on. To heal that wound and to put that war behind us, I think if the country reaches out to the Igbo, it will be the masterstroke to heal the wounds. And finally, if that wound is not healed and is made deeper, it can only promote tribal groups, continue to insist that they break away from Nigeria.
Are you saying the healing of the wound is the reason the country is the way it has been?
It is one of the reasons. It is one of the reasons because the cacophony of voices asking for Biafra and the voices asking for Oduduwa state now and the subterranean wish of the Middle Belt to free themselves from the domination of the North, all these things are the result of marginalisation and injustice which everybody is feeling. So, it is a master stroke to douse all these tension. The best thing the country will do at this time is to look for an Igbo president.
There are those who also believe that the Igbo are the problem of themselves, that even if other zones agree to give it to the Igbo, it is the Igbo that will ensure that one of them is not president. What is your view about this?
When it was given to the Yoruba to heal the wound of Abiola, Obasanjo emerged in our party and Falae emerged in the other major party. It was not like they just went into the room and came out with these people. They went through party primaries to emerge. Last time, you saw the primary that produced Atiku, you saw the primary that produced the president and that two Fulanis came on board. The rules will not change. If you zone to the Southeast, the two parties will go there and those interested will slug it out. Eventually, two people will emerge. The country will vote for them and whoever is better will carry the day.
How do you rate the Buhari administration in the last five years looking at the three promises of curtailing insecurity, corruption, and revamping the economy?
To be honest with you, I don’t think this administration has done well. In spite of the high credentials that the president came into office with, people believe that he was actually going to stamp out corruption and as a former military man, that he was going to restore security in the country. There were high hopes. Even his electoral promises gave credence that he was going to do these things. But five years down the line, unfortunately, that is not the situation. The insecurity in the country is worse today than when he took over power. When you talk about the economy, worsened now by COVID-19 and the inability to sell our oil in the international market, the economy has really gone haywire. And when you talk about corruption, even the Transparency International says corruption today is worse than it has ever been in Nigeria. So, I don’t see the promises that APC made that they have been able to fulfil any of these.
Let us get down to your state, Enugu. The zoning formula for the governorship has run its full course with the East, West and Enugu North is completing its turn now. At the expiration of Ugwuanyi’s tenure, can it now start from anywhere or start all over again?
So far, let me be honest with you, rotation has helped us in Enugu, especially people from my area, the North because we are the least financially empowered in the state.
Why is it so?
Well, it is so because we are very close to the North. When education and western civilization came, it came from Onitsha and all the other southern Igbo. The northern Igbo of Enugu and Ebonyi were the last to embrace western civilization and education, as well as commerce. So, both of them remain the weeping baby, if you may call it, and the nearer you are to the North, the later you acquired some of these things. It makes it difficult for my people to compete. This rotation has helped us. If at the time it was zoned to us, other zones came up, we may not have been able to get it because we would not have been able to match them naira for naira. It has brought peace, it has brought harmony and the people of Enugu are enjoying it and if you go and ask them, more than 90 per cent will want it to continue for now.
Sir, do you ever foresee the Southeast aligning with the APC?
It is very difficult.
Because APC has come to be seen in the Southeast as a hostile government to the Southeast. For example, these young boys who are agitating for Biafra, the base of their agitation is the marginalisation of the Southeast. And what they are saying is what everybody in the Southeast feels. We may not agree with their style, but in their youthful exuberance, we just have to try and accommodate them, to mentor them.
Why are the political leaders in the Southeast shying away from this marginalisation?
Because the youths are the ones at the forefront of the agitation.
The elite! The elite prefer a restructured Nigeria than Biafra because they feel that our people need a wider market for them and they benefit more. Like California is the sixth largest economy in the world, but it benefits by being a part of the United States, like the Barcelonans in Spain. So, our elite believe that in the First Republic, Eastern Nigeria was the fastest growing economy anywhere in the world and that we can recreate it; we can create a Dubai in the Southeast if all the restrictions will suffer as a result of being in Nigeria in this federal structure that is not federal and too strong a central government that is not favourably disposed to us, that if we restructure Nigeria, we take our lives into our hands and we can develop our place again as fast as we were developing it before the war. That is the feeling of the elite. The young people see nothing but, if you may call it, this subjugated to second class citizenry and they are reacting in that way. They don’t see why they should be second class citizens in their own country and if Nigeria doesn’t want them, then let them go and do their Biafra there. So, that is why APC will find it very difficult to win a free and fair election in any state in the Southeast. If you do any free and free election, PDP will continue to win by over 95 per cent of the vote cast.
In your heart of heart, are you politically confident that an Igbo man or woman will rule Nigeria in the near future?
Let me put it this way: If the next Nigerian president is not of Igbo extraction, there may be no Nigerian to rule.
What is giving you this sense of conviction?
The way the Southeast will react and the way the Southwest will react and the way the Middle Belt will react, I am not sure there will be a Nigeria for anybody to rule. It will be the end of the experiment called Nigeria.
There was an outcry recently during the lockdown when northern youths were coming to the East and people were apprehensive. How did you feel about it?
This is exactly what we are trying to prevent. If we allow the situation in Nigeria to continue to drift, young people will hold very violent opinions and these opinions are based on what they are spoon-fed and what they are feeling themselves inside the country. I know how we managed to douse the fire in the Southeast when the northern youths said Igbo should leave northern Nigeria and go home and to make sure that there was no repercussion of the Southeast saying northerners in the Southeast should leave the Southeast or should leave Southern Nigeria. As I said, the elite still believe that Nigeria is salvageable as long as it is an equitable Nigeria where every citizen of this country is standing on equal ground with every other person.