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‘Buhari is aware of the enormous hope Nigerians reposed on him’

By Onyedika Agbedo
25 May 2019   |   3:44 am
Permit me to quip the old adage that to whom much is given, much is expected. President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, is aware of the enormous hope Nigerians reposed on him.

Osita Okechukwu

Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, gives insight into what President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in office, which will commence next Wednesday, will look like. He says the President understands the level of hope Nigerians have reposed on him and will work harder to meet their expectations.

President Muhammadu Buhari would be sworn in for a second term in office in four days time. As one of those who vehemently supported his re-election, what should Nigerians expect from the president in the next four years?
Permit me to quip the old adage that to whom much is given, much is expected. President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, is aware of the enormous hope Nigerians reposed on him. To that extent, my answer on what Nigerians naturally expect of him will be benchmarked by placing in proper perspective his three cardinal programmes viz., economic recovery, war against corruption and security. These were the cardinal programmes Mr President culled from the manifesto of the APC. Those who know Buhari will agree that he is not a pretentious person that makes pledges out of political exigencies. 

Accordingly, Nigerians should expect accelerated drive in the development of critical infrastructure, the foundation of which President Buhari has been laying for the last three years within the meager resources available.

Without being immodest, Mr President has embarked on the most massive infrastructural development in the country since independence — 5,000 kilometers of federal roads, 5,000 kilometers of standard gauge rail lines, additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity and self-sufficiency in food production. These are the critical infrastructure that this country needs.

Naturally, some of us on the Eastern Corridor railways axis are expecting Mr President to commence construction work on this line that goes from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, covering about 18 states of the federation. The same will be applicable to those on the Coastal line axis, which goes from Calabar to Lagos.

But the railways appear to occupy the interest of the President more than other sectors of the economy. Why?
No, far from it! He just started from an angle which is very capital intensive and which most of our youths only hear of but never boarded. The economic recovery programme of Mr President is massive, ranging, as stated above, from railways to agrarian revolution. 

In the agricultural sector for instance, Mr President is on recovery mission of what our ancestors did with land through rice, cotton, cocoa, palm plantation, sorghum and cassava farming. Agriculture is his poster boy in his economic diversification policy. This is why there is near consensus in the approval of the reappointment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, for another term. People applauded his reappointment for his uncommon ingenuity in revamping agriculture from an uncanny perspective.

A lot of Nigerians feel the President has not done enough to curb the spate of insecurity in the country despite his military background.  What is your take on the issue? Will the situation get better in his second term?
Methinks Mr President has done a lot to contain insecurity of different variants. It has persisted for two main reasons. One, it is asymmetrical and secondly the material conditions which gave birth to them are also myriad. This means that you are not fighting a conventional army or enemy and secondly their grievance is of ancient type. 

This where the anti-graft war comes in because the main cause of insurgency is gross unemployment, despondency and deprivation. When you have a population where 60 per cent are youths, it is advantageous if they are busy and disadvantageous if they are idle. The sages say that an idle mind is a devils workshop. This is our sordid scenario and why the solution seems a mirage. Otherwise, what Nigeria has spent on security in the past three years is humongous and unintended. It is only an experienced general that would muster such courage to commit huge funds to security in the face of competing demands for social infrastructure.

How do you think the president should balance political appointments across all the regions in his second term against the backdrop of accusations that his appointments so far have been lopsided in favour of the North?
I had read Mr Presidents speeches and could recount him pledging inclusiveness. As I said earlier, he is not pretentious and cannot pledge inclusiveness if he doesn’t mean it. At least in Emefiele’s appointment he wasn’t clannish. That’s a good starting point and one hopes he will disappoint naysayers and bigots.

The APC is again facing the same challenge it encountered in 2015 with regards to the election of the presiding officers of the National Assembly. Do you think the party would prevail this time? 
I beg to disagree, as our leadership, to the best of my knowledge, has not zoned all the principal offices in both chambers. Why don’t we give our leadership the benefit of the doubt? For the irony is that we act sometimes as if Nigeria is a Nollywood country. Nollywood in the sense that on one breadth we accuse Mr President of being aloof, undecided and all manner of aphorisms. And when he says Senator Ahmed Lawan is my choice for President of Senate, the same people will also shout that he is undemocratic and dictatorial. All one knows is that all the six geopolitical zones will be adequately allotted principal office or offices in the National Assembly in the fullness of time.

As a political scientist, why is it becoming increasingly difficult to enforce party supremacy in the country?
Supremacy of the party like any other concept or coin has two sides. At times some dictators use the concept to oppress members unduly and sometimes the concept is used judiciously for the collective interest of all.The concept of party supremacy is better administered in a political domain where the electoral process is to a greater measure free, fair and transparent. In this scenario, a political party is aware that each time its primary is not free, fair and transparent, it will loose the seats it could have won. This is the bedrock of internal democracy in political parties. It means that we should all collectively work towards free, fair and transparent elections. That is the magnum opus.

Atiku Abubakar is challenging Buhari’s victory at the tribunal. How do you think the case would play out given earlier calls on him to drop the bid by many people including eminent lawyers in the country?
One cannot in all honesty comment so as to avoid being charged for contempt of court. The only thing one can narrate is the experience of our group, the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), since Buhari ventured into electoral contest in 2003. The Atiku camp is aware that Mr President has a vote bank of 12 million votes. The vote bank was on display in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. 

But the Atiku camp had always insisted that the vote bank no longer exists due to Buhari’s alleged poor performance in office?
There is an admonition my father of the blessed memory was wont to dish out at issues like this. He would caution that one should not tell his children that he was used to coming first in the class when it is a lie because some of your classmates are alive.

Any pragmatic observer of the presidential election knows that Buhari made millions of votes where he used to make millions. He performed poorly where he used to perform poorly. He even got lower than we anticipated in Kano and Kaduna States. A lot of people forget that Buhari, for the first time, scored over a million votes in the Niger Delta and made 25 per cent in three out of five South East states. Luckily, nobody has said election was rigged in the South; what happened was low turnout.

What is your take on the INEC server result being canvassed by PDP?
One doesn’t know how they came about INEC server when the Commission said they don’t have such server? Is it not akin to one building a Facebook result out of Facebook domain? In actual fact, one commends His Excellency Atiku Abubakar for pulling PDP out of the loop. However, the expectation of victory was based more or less on Nollywood episode, because of Buhari’s cult followership in the North and the vote bank.

Secondly, the restructuring hype, which raised a huge support base in the South, especially in the South West, collapsed the day ‘AtikuPlan’ was released. It was then discerned that it was not as robust as being canvassed by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and their ilk. 

Thirdly, the last straw that broke the camels back was when Atiku publicly pronounced that he would sell the NNPC to his friends. It was a big shocker to all the managers of states and local government councils who survive under the canopy of the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC). For them, the sale of NNPC simply means the end of monthly oil windfall.

You made reference to restructuring. Why is President Buhari shying away from the issue?
May I at the risk of sounding like a broken record repeat that President Buhari is not a pretentious person, otherwise he wouldn’t have renewed his commitment to true federalism after the 2019 presidential election. All I know about Mr President is that he knows he cannot railroad any change down the throat of Nigerians as he did when he was military head of state. He is a democrat convert, who believes in consensus and the power or art of compromise.

He could have made the issue of financial autonomy of state legislature and judiciary a campaign programme. Remember that he took the bold step to sign into law the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, No. 4 Bill, 2017 Fourth Alteration, on May 7, 2018. If he is shying away from restructuring would he have gone ahead on May 16, 2019, to assemble all the stakeholders after the election to brainstorm on the amendment made to Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as it affects the State Legislature and the Judiciary?

Today, to effectively make sure that the third tier of government operates in the spirit of true federalism, the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has made a simple proposal on how best to monitor public finance at the local level and the governors are resisting it. They are calling on Buhari to stop NFIU. Even those who shout restructuring are leading this pack.