‘Why there is leadership vacuum in Igbo land’
Sir Azuka Okwuosa, is a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) and a former member of Ojukwu Presidential Campaign Committee. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he explains the challenges of finding credible leadership in Igbo land and how APC has transformed the critical infrastructure in Southeast geopolitical zone.
• Ojukwu Was The Last Standing Titan We Had, Says Okwuosa
• We Want To Ensure APC Produces Next Anambra Governo
A school of thought believes the problem of Southeast, especially in Anambra State, which is the core of the Southeast, is the issue of leadership. Why is leadership selection a big challenge in Anambra and Southeast?
THE problem in Anambra State and Southeast has indeed been that of leadership and followership. Let me start with followership. The problem of our people, Ndigbo is that we want to lead our leaders. The problem of leadership is because, in a place where you don’t have good leadership, the followership will not be there. Leadership exudes confidence that attracts good followership. When Ojukwu was leading, automatically people rallied around him. Even in death, because of what he stood for, he still reigns from the grave. Today, we are still looking for that caliber of credible people who can make selfless service, people who can stick out their necks for the emancipation of the people. Those things are at a very low end because people are looking for bread and butter. So in the issue of leadership, there is a vacuum in the entire leadership spectrum of the Southeast. And the reasons are very obvious; we are looking at a situation where our leaders will be back home to administer the affairs of their people.
I could remember in the first republic, the great Zik of Africa was born in 1904. By 1970 after the civil war, he retired to Onuiyi Haven, Nsukka. He was only 66years old. The great Ikemba Ojukwu was born in 1933. After the June 12 saga of 1993, he retired to Enugu, which is the capital of Eastern Nigeria. How old was he, he was 60 years. The same with Ekwueme, he retired to Okoh. So, any time you see critical issues that bother on Igbo nation, people will say let’s go to Enugu to consult the Oracle (Zik) or let’s go to Nnewi to consult the Great Ikemba or Ekwueme as the case may be. Today, we see a situation whereby our so-called leaders – in their 70s and 80s- are still residing in foreign lands, trying to administer the affairs of our state from a foreign land. It cannot work. Charity begins at home! So, most times when issues concerning the people of Igbo extraction arise, they will go to Abuja. It is not done. You are supposed to hold a conclave in your region, where you need to sit down and plan. It requires sacrifice, the tenacity of purpose, vision, and commitment to make that sacrifice. That is what is lacking today. And that is why when the issue of crucial importance happens, you will not see anyone come and stick out their neck and say enough is enough. Ojukwu was the last standing titan we had.
I am praying that we should have more leaders who can fit into that shoe; and occupy that void, which was been created by the demise of Ojukwu, Zik, and Ekwueme.
So, the leadership problem has been there unlike for other people. Go to the Southwest, they have leaders, the Fasorantis, the Akandes. They don’t stay in Abuja or even Lagos. They stay in their bases. When an issue that requires going to Abuja comes up, they go to Abuja and return to their base, that is how they make sure that their kith and kin occupy very eminent positions in the country. Even in the north, the same thing is applicable unlike what we have in AlaIgbo today. And I pray that we can fill that void, so we can begin to harness our resources together. I know that at the end of the day,we have a role to play so that we can compete with the other zones effectively in terms of asking for what is due to us in this country.
Widow of Ikemba, Her Excellency, Bianca Ojukwu, recently expressed that dismay that politicians that won elections using Ikemba’s name deviated from the real essence of his ideology and leadership acumen.
Now that you have come to assert your close relationship with him, could you explain why Ojukwu did not have the opportunity to groom many young people?
I would not say that Ojukwu didn’t have the opportunity to groom many of us. If I may go down memory lane, when Ikemba came back from exile in Ivory Coast in 1982, after my youth service in 1984, I started working with him at the political arena way back in Lagos when I was managing my own outfit. But I had a passion for him because of the institution he represented. He groomed me and I learned a lot from him.
After 10 years of interaction with him, from 1984 to 1994, I became a Local Government Chairman in Nnewi. That is part of the training. After that, it was that basic training that spurred me up and gave me the baptism of fire to go into the frontiers of politics and within two years, I became Commissioner of Works and Transport. There are few people, after the formation of APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance) that derailed who did not follow that vision. They were there not because of what the man represented or the views he espoused.
Some of us, the early apostles of Ojukwu were still there, because of the institution the man represented for NdiIgbo. And that is the difference, not because of financial remuneration. When we were with him, in the 80s; his assets were frozen, their properties were seized. Ojukwu had nothing. He could not get involved in any business, even on a partnership basis, because wherever you see his name, that company will never get any federal government contract. And Ojukwu could not carry a briefcase and start moving from one location to another that would be a disgrace to the Igbo nation. So, the man stayed and embraced priestly poverty for the emancipation of his people. He stood his ground and refused to be cowed down. We keyed into that idea. We were not following him because of bread and butter.
But, some people who came in after the formation of APGA saw it as an opportunity to get into power and jettisoned that ideology. But, I would not say it was all because a good number of people are still sharing that ideal, particularly my own case. My relationship with Ojukwu transcends even the formation of APGA. APGA was formed in 2000. My relationship with Ojukwu started way back in 1984, almost 19 years after. Does that make any sense to you?
To me, our relationship continued even after serving as Local Government Council Chairman and later after my tenure as the Works Commissioner. I relocated from Lagos to Enugu to be able to continue to interface and interact with him. Even during the twilight of his life, I was there constantly and consistently by his side. On that faithful day, he had that crisis that went into coma, I was the first person that was called. I was in a church service that Sunday afternoon. I was the person that lifted him up into my vehicle and drove from his house in GRA to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), within ten minutes. There they stabilised him before he was flown to the United Kingdom. He had a relapse that day and the doctor said if we don’t take him outside the country he might have permanent brain damage. You know he had stroke. I also visited him in the United Kingdom to see him; he was there for 11 months before he eventually died. After that, I participated effectively in his funeral. I was one of the 10-man funeral committee and chairman of his burial subcommittee on funeral rites. And to date, those ideas he espoused I have always identified with them.
As far as I am concerned, I know that in me, and a few others, we still have Ikemba Nnewi alive. He has invested, but the fact is that we have not been given the opportunity, because of the background of where we are coming from. That background, the society doesn’t allow things that are genuine to spring up. They believe they have many issues, but I believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That is why we are still unyielding and unbending to that legacy, which sustained Ojukwu. That is what actually propelled me this moment to offer myself to the services of the governorship of Anambra State come 2021. Because I believe I have something to offer, which I know ordinarily, most people don’t have. I went through his political tutelage and I was well tutored and grounded in his philosophy. And I know that his ideas for the Igbo nation are ideals that would emancipate our people. So, my duty is to take over from where he left off and with other well-meaning individuals be the Joshua that will take our people to the Promised Land.
With the 2021 Anambra State governorship poll approaching, a lot of aspirants are springing up. Two broad camps are already on the table; some say the ability to create wealth will determine the next governor, while others say the election will be based on merit and track record. Which part do you think represents what Anambra State needs?
What I believe is a mixed grill. Anyone who is qualified to be the next governor of Anambra State must have a combination of all those attributes. You have an all-encompassing experience. But, what we see today are people coming from either side of the divide and we hardly see people with a mixture of both. And that is the problem we have. Any leadership that will take over Anambra State without experience will never succeed. Because, if you look at previous experiences, since the creation of the state, those who did not have experience have governed the state. I believe before you can be a governor, you must have been privileged to pass through the local government, you must taste executive at the local level, which will propel you by the time you find yourself at the state level to be able to function well. And you must be an accomplished person. Take me as an example; I am an accomplished businessman, I have a business interest in oil and gas as well as communication. Am also into construction. You must have a sustainable source of livelihood and also have the opportunity to go through political tutelage, of which I was privileged because of my association with Ojukwu. And as the great Ikemba would say, there is no school you would attend, and assume you are a politician. I was not cut out to be a politician, but by association, I was able to imbibe those qualities and sustainable values. As for me, if you have the business capacity but lack political experience, you will be a failure.
Look at the people they imported, after four years they couldn’t make any mark, because of lack of experience. They are learning the ropes while on the job. We have instances in the state, where people without political experience were brought in and they started learning on the job.
At the end of the day, they will not have a credible successor, who will take over from them, because you don’t offer what you don’t have. There is a situation where people came in the midst of a crisis and they were able to excel because of their experience. So, it must be a combination of both factors. Having gone through the local government and state house, being in party politics, building up a political formation, and being involved in presidential campaigns of a notable personality like Ojukwu. I was in the national Presidential Campaign Committee in 2003. We toured the length and breadth of this country with nothing. We were funding ourselves, fueling our vehicles, and paying our hotel bills. We were in it not because of the money, but because we believe in the institution he represented.
I have also functioned at the state level. So I wear the shoe and know where it pinches. All these would enable somebody like myself to excel once I get there and am going there to solve the problems because I already know what the problem is and not to start learning the ropes. There are a lot of people in government with different interests, by the time you get your acts together; nobody is there to teach you. But if you know what you are doing, you stand firm. So, the next governor must be somebody who has a combination of these qualities. And they are very rare. So we need people who are experienced politically and otherwise. That is why I believe I have the qualities others don’t have.
And again political tutelage is very important. Who mentored you? Under whose tutelage did you pass though? Which road did you ride through? I have a history and I have the experience, I understudied Ojukwu for a good 10 years before I became a local government chairman.
In the midst of all these problems, I couldn’t have offered myself if things were really going on well, But, because of the level of decay and rust in the system; infrastructural decay, inability for us to take care of certain basic amenities made it imperative for me to come out to run. Evil triumphs where good people keep quiet, so this throve of experience cannot be jettisoned on the altar of cowardice while in actual fact, I know I have the capacity to make a difference. So my coming to submit myself to the people for the position of the next governor of Anambra State is because I want to be part of the solution to the problems of Anambra State and indeed NdiIgbo in general. If we get Anambra State right it would translate into a larger Igbo place of service because Anambra is the bedrock of Igbo nation. Once you get Anambra right, the rest of Igbo states will cue in. Without Anambra, we are nowhere. So, I believe that I am in the position to play that role aligned with other progressive forces in the Southeast to canvass for the President of Igbo extraction in 2023. That is my mission.
But, there is the perception that APC is not acceptable in Igbo land. Given what has happened between 2015 and now, how can you rate PDP’s 16 years and APC’s five years so far in terms of provision of infrastructure in the Southeast?
PDP’s 16 years was a disaster to the Igbo nation, particularly the last six years of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. That was when we had the highest number of officials in positions of authority. We had the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), the Deputy President of Senate, Minister of Aviation, and other notable key positions and yet we had absence of motorable roads. Almost all the federal roads were not maintained.
Within the five years of APC administration, we have seen the reconstruction of some roads: Enugu-Port Harcourt highway and Enugu-Onitsha expressway, Onitsha-Owerri, and so on. The Enugu Airport was “rehabilitated” under the PDP administration, but less than two years the runway collapsed and the arrival lounge was destroyed by the storm. These things were done when our kith and kin were occupying very prominent ministerial positions in the PDP administration, yet nothing to show for it. The second Niger Bridge was on the drawing board. At a time they continued using it as a political jingle to deceive our people.
In less than five years of the APC administration, we have seen the aggressive rehabilitation of Enugu- Port Harcourt expressway, Enugu- Onitsha by the reputable construction company, RCC. They are doing the job day and night. What has been done under APC in the past four years if we are to multiply by the years of PDP, then the entire Southeast would have been the Taiwan of Africa.
The issue of the second Niger Bridge as you can see the project is almost 70 per cent completed less than three years of this administration. What do you call marginalization, what do you call deprivation of the people of Southeast extraction? The answer is that this is the only administration in the history of this country that made it possible for us to gain what we lost in 16 years. Politics is a game of interest. If your interest is accommodated in an administration that caters to your welfare, you go there. The bottom line is that the APC administration has taken the Southeast to the next level. If we give APC another opportunity for another four years in 2023, the Southeast will be second to none in terms of infrastructure.
And for the fact that they were doing all these things when nearly all the states were under PDP, shows they did not segregate because the people did not vote for APC. That shows political maturity, which shows the extension of the right hand of fellowship. So, let us appreciate that, let us reciprocate the handshake so that our future could be more guaranteed under this administration. We can show that by giving Anambra State as APC-controlled government in 2021.
And from there we could begin the journey for Southeast Presidency. It is an incremental process. If we don’t get this one right then we may not have the locus to begin to make the case. Already PDP has disappointed southeast because they have zone their Presidential and Vice Presidential tickets out of Southeast. So, the zone is suffering because of the support it gave to PDP in the last dispensation. So, where is our interest? Our interest is no longer accommodated in PDP. APC is the place to be. So NdiIgbo should come in their numbers to be able to populate the party and be in a position to demand our rights. If the APC-controlled government can do what it has done in Southeast, which was in opposition against them in the past five years, imagine what will happen when we are part and parcel of the ruling party in the next four years.
Can we have a bit of your background?
I am from Oraifite, Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State, Anambra South Senatorial zone, to be precise. My background is such that I have been involved in party politics from inception. I went through the tutelage of the great Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu of blessed memory, who unequivocally adopted me as his political son in the early 80s. That was many years before the formation of APGA. I have been a local government chairman in Nnewi since 1994. I have been Commissioner for Works and Transport in Anambra State from 1999 – 2001.
I have held other positions both in the party and also in socio-cultural organisations of Igbo land. Presently, I am the Vice President of Igbo Improvement Union (IIU). Currently, I am a major player in APC Anambra State, working assiduously for the emancipation of my dear state, come 2021, to make sure that the next governor comes from APC of which I am imminently qualified and capable to implement that particular feat.
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