A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Osita Okechukwu, believes that the alleged support former President Olusegun Obasanjo gave to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 general elction was cosmetic and tailored to escape people’s anger over the evil acts he committed against Nigerians when he presided over the affairs of the country between 1999 and 2007. In this interview with the editorial team of Forefront, Okechukwu said even the transducers of President Buhari acknowledge the fact that he is a selfless leader who means well for the nation. Excerpts:
There is speculation that former President Olusegun Obasanjo is said to be massing opposition against President Muhammadu Buhari. What is your view on this?
Naturally at my 61 years of age, I do not work on speculations. I also do not know that the former president is a card-carrying member of the APC. The last time I heard about him was that he tore his PDP card and told the world that he has resigned from active politics. At least we know the president has four years and he is yet to complete one year in office. I do not know the issue of amassing opposition. There are two options where you could remove the president. That is recall, and I do not think the Nigerian people will recall the president or the National Assembly would move for his impeachment. I am one of those who can vouch that he cannot steal. I can vouch for the sincerity of President Buhari and even his traducers can vouch for his sincerity. All I can tell you, is that the president is on course and there is no cause for alarm. Even his traducers can vouch that our president places public interest higher than personal interest.
The fight against corruption is being used against him by Obasanjo, who was quoted to have said that the anti-graft war is mere window dressing and selective and that there is no sincerity in the fight.
I do not want to talk about Obasanjo as I am one of those who wrote a petition against him to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in December 2007 after he exited his immunity. The EFCC could not commence on the investigation as they were waiting for the High Cou rt to grant them mandamus. At present, the issue is at the High court. We leveled several allegations bothering on inappropriate privatisation process that was skewed to his cronies and diversion of funds. For me to talk about this, I consider it inappropriate. You can also recall the signature bonuses were queried by the Accounts Allocation Committee. I am one of those who queried his regime when he awarded the Lagos-Kano rail line, a distance of a little 1,000 kilometres for $8.3 billion, whereas the same Chinese he gave the contract to were embarking on over 4,000 kilometre rail project at $4. 2 billion. I do not want to talk about that regime. If Obasanjo had done well, our decayed infrastructure would have improved. He also spent some billions of dollars to provide electricity that was not commensurate. I do not want to speak on Obasanjo because we are still waiting for him at the court. My only grouse is that Obasanjo’s regime was one of the most supported by Nigerians, supported by providence. Throughout the regimes of General Abdulsalami and Abacha, the oil price never exceeded N22, but in Obasanjo’s time, it was over $120 per barrel. You then ask, when he could not conclude the Lagos-Ibadan and Agege to Abeokuta roads that were less than 300 kilometres, then, what were his achievements? Let us look at how Obasanjo kill our democracy and destroyed our nation. The senators in 1999 at Agura Hotel in Abuja, voted for the late Chief Okadigbo to become President of the Senate. During his time, money was placed on the table of the Senate as bribe monies by the presidency. There were plots of Third Term and I do not want to believe he is massing opposition against Buhari. If I am Buhari, I will not lose sleep and will advise him not to lose sleep.
Obasanjo displayed so much support for Buhari in 2015, is it not a thing to worry about for him to withdraw that support so early?
This is a country where there are issues. I will say Obasanjo is a Nollywood actor, his support for Buhari was an escape route for people not to condemn him for imposing Jonathan. He knew Jonathan’s capability. The EFCC listed Jonathan as one of those who squandered the commonwealth of Bayelsa people. If he was not a con man or Nollywood, Jonathan never told anyone that he wanted to be president. And after his failure to gain third term, he imposed a candidate of his own. Yar’Adua never told anyone he wanted him to be president. Obasanjo knew that Yar’Adua was sick and he reacted by imposing a sick man. If going by the PDP zoning arrangement, there were competent persons in the North. But he chose his candidate. There were my friends like Mantu, Senator Makarfi, Mu’azu Adamu and many others. Why not take one of them? At the Jos PDP Convention, the North had good candidates who were forefront aspirants for the 1999 PDP ticket. Prominent persons like Adamu Ciroma, Abubakar Rimi, among others, agreed to step down and allow the South take a shot at the presidency. After he finished eight years as president, he simply poisoned the chalice when he discovered that his third term agenda was thrown out by the National Assembly. Obasanjo was aware that Yar’Adua was indisposed and he deliberately imposed Yar’Adua to poison the chalice. What did Peter Odili did that Jonathan did not do? Odili funded the third term campaign? When Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah conducted Obasanjo and the late Stella’s wedding, Odili and his wife served as godfather of the marriage. One day, history will face Obasanjo on how ungrateful he was to the Nigerian state.
As an insider, you have a background as to the circumstances that led to the inauguration of Buhari Presidency. Obasanjo is said to have supported Buhari in the South-west, don’t you see his present opposition as minus to the President?
When we went to campaign in 2007, President Buhari had 12 million votes. In 2011, he had over 12 million votes as well. In 2015, he had over 15 million votes. Whose credit; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and not Obasanjo. Obasanjo cannot win Owu. He caused crises and cannot win the area he hails from. But if it’s the people’s votes, the man who assisted Buhari is Bola Tinubu and his men.
Is Ahmed Bola Tinubu being carried along by the Buhari Presidency?
There is no major political party that is monolith. What we have in every political party are tendencies and they find a way of reaching consensus. I do not think Bola Tinubu is angry and if not for the religious issue, he should have been vice president. I do not think Osinbajo came to that position without Tinubu’s support. Tinubu is a national leader of the APC and President Buhari respects him and Asiwaju respects Mr. President. What is your take on the current hardship experienced by Nigerians? Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has explained the current hardship being faced by Nigerians. I upbraided her for not resigning her position. The message she delivered is the standpoint that we are. Buhari said he could fight corruption and revamp the economy. Unfortunately, the goose that laid the golden egg, which is crude oil, the price nosedived. The crude oil price nosedived to between $30 and $4o per barrel. There was no way he could have done magic. He brought the TSA and got N3 trillion. Democracy is evolutionary and he cannot bring out money to do Kano-Maiduguri road without appropriation. Even his traducers agree that he has done so much to ensure that corruption is tackled. In famine season, the farmer must save for the rainy days. There is no magic in addressing some of the problems afflicting the country than getting money. Did you ever think that the office of the National Security Advisers will be turned into a slush fund agency? You have a situation where former governors of PDP that joined your party are thinking of forming another coalition as prominent APC members like Senate President Bukola Saraki, Danjuma Goje, among others, are believed to be moving in that direction. Why is your party doing to curtail such moves? In the next decade or plus, two parties will remain dominant. But PDP said it was going to rule for 60 years. Now you are saying that we will continue to have two parties, the APC and PDP? In the history of liberal democracy, certain things must take place and this is based on evolutionary trait. It took us about a decade to start a massive opposition against the PDP. In 2007, we embarked on massive coalition. At a certain point, prominent politicians came together to form an opposition, but we did not go far. We evolved a roadmap and we all thought by 2007, the opposition against the PDP will merge into a strong coalition. We are not saying that someone is not trying to walk away, but we are working as a party to speak to everyone to remain united. We worked hard to kill an elephant, and it is expected that certain people are not happy with the way positions have been shared. If we are in a parliamentary system, we should have had shadow cabinet and then you would have known what positions everyone would have got. But we are doing our best as a party to talk to ourselves and move together as a united political platform. Then, why is Bukola Saraki, who hustled for power being punished? If you are Buhari, and you know the manifesto of the party, especially in the fight against corruption, you will understand the issues. We note that Buhari did not win in Kwara in 2011. We all acknowledge the fact that Saraki did a lot for the APC to win Kwara State in 2015. If you are now prosecuting Mentuh and Dasuki, why then will you not prosecute Saraki? Then, you now come and say CCT should not prosecute Saraki, what will the people say? Remember that people are accusing Buhari of engaging in selective prosecution. How do you explain that? If you try Dasuki, is it me, Osita that was not in office that you will try? Did I hold any key position? Was I the DG of any agency? There’s disenchantment against the emergence of Saraki as President of the Senate. If Saraki goes, don’t you envisage a situation in which the PDP may produce the next Senate President? That is speculation. Saraki had not put up his defence. I am one of those who believe that if Saraki had not vied for Senate Presidency, he would not have been put on trial by the CCT. If you go and check the assets declarations of other senators, they may be found in the same shoes. The same applies to Senators Ahmed Lawan and Marafa. Let’s us put aside sentiments and allow the law to take its full course. You should also remember that Saraki has not put up his defence and even if he loses, that does not mean that the APC will lose the Senate Presidency. It does not mean that the PDP will get the Senate Presidency. You cannot say until the day is over. Saraki himself may say at the end, “Gentlemen, the party is still our party. He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”.