*Says Atiku Abubakar financed Obasanjoâ€™s campaign in 1999
*How I almost fought Abubakar Rimi
For Okwesilieze Nwodo, the founding national secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, his first love is medical practice.Â And although he wanted to go back to Enugu to practise after his tenure as secretary of PDP, he explains that â€œthe fear of you attending to a patient in your consulting room and that patient pulls a gun and kills you right there was so much that I refused to go back to Enugu to practise.
That was the fear then.Â You know it happened to the Igwe family, the lawyer.Â It was just too dangerous to practise in Enugu.Â Then to go to Enugu I needed six mobile policemen and two cars.Â But now in Enugu we drive around freely.”
In this second part of our special interview, Nwodo talks about his state, Enugu, and how former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, worked hands in glove with former governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, to make a mess of things.Â He also discloses how he fell out with Obasanjo and how he almost had an altercation with Abubakar Rimi, Second Republic governor of old Kano State. Excerpts:
By JIDE AJANI Deputy Editor
THAT convention in Jos was almost marred by Abubakar Rimi, the Second Republic governor of Kano State. His argument was that the 1999 Constitution, which was yet to be in operation then said power should rotate between the North and South and, therefore, the North should have a first shot at the Presidency?
Oh yes. Rimi insisted on contesting for the candidacy of our party.
Did he formally apply or all that was thin air?
He actually bought the form and paid but we returned his money. We wrote him back and told him that the party had zoned the Presidency of the country to the south and that he had done his best.
At the convention, he went as far as campaigning and at a point the place became rowdy?
Yes. We had made it clear to all aspirants that there was not going to be campaigning at the convention venue; the thing we allowed was a five minute or so speech-making by the aspirants in form of their manifesto – this was part of the programme of the day but what Rimi did was to go from state to state to start campaigning and the convention venue was becoming rowdy in a way. I had to confront him at the convention centre. I had to go with security men. At some point he tried to be violent and people cautioned me and said why was I trying to ruin everything we had worked so hard to achieve.
At what one point did the whole thing calm down?
I canâ€™t remember now but people spoke to him. Even the public address system had to be used repeatedly.
I remember Chief Anthony Anenih was the first political heavyweight to arrive at the stadium that day – as early as 8.00 a.m – and he kept moving back and forth either to settle one thing or the other ?
He played a role and some other leaders were there too to stop him. I think what may have happened was that the Obasanjo camp offered a lot of people vice presidential ticket to win their support. I believe that was their arrangement then. Because I know that after the convention, the battle for vice presidential ticket came up. It was a very fierce one. Maybe because Rimi was promised that and he found out that other people were interested in the job.
At that stage some party leaders and some other people were still trying to prevail on Obasanjo to nominate one of them as running mate?
The party never met to endorse any of the candidates then. They were still trying to do so at that time. Mind you, Atiku was already a governor-elect in Adamawa State. So, we didnâ€™t know where it was coming from. I will tell you that we didnâ€™t know how Atiku emerged. All the people that were lobbying then did not even know. We had people like Wali, Abubakar Rimi, Bamanga Tukur and others. These people were very interested in that job. But Atiku got it. While they were still trying to mobilise the president just announced Atikuâ€™s name. Some people I think were not comfortable with that choice.
ConventionÂ and election
I understand it also came to you as a surprise. So, what did you later find out?
What I discovered before and after election was that Atiku was a chief financier of some of the activities leading to the convention and election. Atiku was the chief financier of Obasanjoâ€™s election. You know Atiku and the late Sunday Awoniyi were in the SDP then. They were involved in inviting Obasanjo to come to PDP. And Atiku remained the chief financier.
From that point of view, I was not too surprised that he was chosen to run with Obasanjo. My surprise was that if it was an arrangement they had earlier, he would not have asked him to run for governor.
But donâ€™t you think it was possible for Obasanjo and Atiku to agree on that, just so the latter would be shielded, thereby deflecting whatever suspicion that might arise as a result of the type of relationship that existed then between both men – what if it was a decoy?
(Laughs) You know, it may be possible. But we donâ€™t know how he emerged. And we had to fight very hard to get Boni Haruna on board as state governor. I had to go to court to argue his case that he was eligible as a replacement. And eventually we won the case.
What you said earlier about your party was a clear demonstration that it had good intentions from inception. So, at what point did your party lose it?
Many of us who supported Obasanjo didnâ€™t know. But those of us who were working closely with him discovered early that he didnâ€™t come to stay for one tem or two terms. The problem really was that Obasanjo felt that he was more intelligent than any African leader who was head of state at the time he was ruling this country as a military man.
He had the same feeling for those who were still presidents of their country at the time of his second coming. His thinking is that he knows everything but he was able to prove to Nigerians that he knows nothing. Early enough in that administration, he started nursing the ambition of life presidency and every thing he did, pointed toward that fact that he wanted to perpetuate himself in power.
From day one, he began to whittle down the powers of those he felt might constitute a sort of obstruction to his ambition. He tried to cut the influence and powers of the people who brought him to power and those who worked hard for him to become president.
In which specific way did he try to do this?
The first casualty was Sunday Awoniyi. Awoniyi wanted to be the chairman of the party and many of us were happy that he was going to bring his wealth of experience to the party. We felt that he was going to bring moral standing, administrative competence and a clear vision. And it would have gone along the dreams of the founding fathers. But you know Awoniyi, despite the fact that he was from the North, was Yoruba. That was Obasanjoâ€™s argument. And that Nigeria can not have the president and party chairman in that kind of setting. But the truth is that Sunday was the only person who could look Obasanjo in the eye and tell him the bitter truth.
There was nobody like that then. He gave him ambassadorial offers. He was offered to go to the UK as the Nigerian high commissioner and he also offered him to go the United Nations as Nigeriaâ€™s permanent representative. He also offered him America.Â He even offered him to be the secretary of the federal government. But Awoniyi declined all that.
He now asked him what he wanted to be. Obasanjo wondered why it would not make sense to a man like Sunday Awoniyi that having an Obasanjo as President and having a Sunday Awoniyi as party chairman would not make sense to some other people and Obasanjo concluded that Awoniyi must have an agenda for him to turn down all the offers made to him. So, Awoniyi had to go.
How did Gemade come in?
Everything was done behind the scene to appeal to Gemade to campaign against Awoniyiâ€™s popularity. But at the end of the day when Gemade discovered what Obasanjo wanted they fell apart. Even though the constitution of the party stated that election of officers to the party exco should be every four years, and that at mid-term, there would be a vote of confidence on the exco members, Obasanjo just decreed that the two of us could not contest the election.
And that was denying us our constitutional rights. And they got the convention stopped and later on they went to court to reverse it. And then the Board of Trustees had to get the president to make a commitment to myself and the chairman so that we can step down for other people to take over. At the end of the day that was the beginning of the destruction of democracy in PDP.
The next set of officials who came into the exco were not elected. There was no voting because they had prepared a list. The list was just announced to the convention and there was an acclamation. And the destruction of democracy continued.
But did you ever at any point attempt to advise him that what he was trying to do, life presidency, would not work?
Obasanjo is the last person that will accept that he was going for third term. If I had attempted to raise an alarm, would it have made any sense to anybody that I was sending a right signal; wouldnâ€™t people see me as the one who had a problem? No not even about third term.
Did you ever come up at any time as the secretary of the party to advise on issues you felt he was not getting right?
I never had the opportunity. At the time we left in 2000, if I told anyone that Obasanjo was planning third term, the person would say it was because I was having problems with Obasanjo. The person would not agree.
Are you saying that third term was that early?
Yes it was that early. Even before the swearing in, I used to go to the Defence House to pick him each time we had a gathering of the transitional committee we set up then. The committee was to have a holistic look at the country and come up with the direction the new administration would go.
It was an advisory committee and we divided it into works, education, power and others. I would go and pick him in the morning and drive with him. He would meet with the committee members and make his input. From some of the discussions I had with him while we were in the car, it was clear to me that Obasanjo wanted to be the only iroko in the forest. He wanted to whittle down the influence of past rulers within and outside the country. He wanted to be seen as the expected messiah.
I even became a serious disciple of him because when he is in his elements and he talks about this country, you would be forced to believe him. I began to look up to him thinking he was going to do some thing great for this nation.
What particular thing did you do to that made him dislike you so much or was it just the party office you wanted?
After the convention Obasanjo and people around him felt that I didnâ€™t want him to be president by telling the party that he should be disqualified. They were not happy with me. So, when I went to the Defence House to do my duty, his wife, late Stella said I should leave their House (laughs), that I didnâ€™t want her husband to be president (laughs).
She was a nice person but I think I misunderstood her. She and I had a common friend (Ben Murray Bruce). I would always complain to Ben that he should talk to this woman and that she didnâ€™t want me to do my job, that she was always driving me from the house. I was just there to do my job. Then Ben came back that she was just pulling my legs, and we eventually became friends. But it is just to tell you the body language around the president at that time. My elder brother and I arranged a meeting and we went to meet him with Liyel Imoke and Donald Duke.
Was it before he was sworn in?
Yes it was before he was sworn in. We met him at NICON. We said that now that the primaries are over, that we have all accepted him.
And we pledged to work with him. So, that was how we mended fence at that time. Because of the offer that was made to me to leave Ekwueme and which I rejected, he kept telling people, even after he was sworn in, he was telling people that if he had five people like me to work with in this country, he could change this country. He said I was the first Igbo man that he had seen that refused to collect money or be compromised.
But I think along the line he found out that if I was determined to do something, there is no way I can be influenced. It took persuasions from Chief Tony Anenih and many people for him to allow me to run for secretary. And he, at some point asked me a question:Â He asked me if I would support him or Ekwueme were they both to contest the party primaries again. In fact, that was the condition he gave to me, the response of which would determine whether or not he would allow me contest the secretaryship of the party.
And what did you tell him?
I told him that we would cross the bridge when we get to it. He didnâ€™t like my strong will and that was why he insisted that I would not run when the next opportunity came up.
If he had not stopped you, you would have contested?
Yes, I wanted to.
What happened in Enugu State between you and the former governor, thatsome of the political leaders had to flee?
What happened to us in Enugu was a master plan by Obasanjo. He wanted to break down the powers of influential people and those who brought the votes that gave PDP victory. All the weighty politicians in the country were members of the Board of Trustees.
These people went back to their states and made their people to vote for Obasanjo. But Obasanjo didnâ€™t want to tie his victory to those people because he knew that they would determine his victory whenever he wanted to do something else. He, therefore, set out to whittle their powers early and transferred powers to the governors. The governors now ran the states as mini dictators. The two political gladiators, in the Enugu State chapter of the PDP were Jim and me.
And the then governor started with Jim and they eventually fell out. They felt he was interfering with the appointment of officers from the state. As a member of the Board of Trustees and his political father, I believe that he was entitled to make input on some issues in the state.
That was how the war started and Jim was eventually stripped of all influence in Enugu. Even at that time our legislatures wanted to impeach our governor. Atiku called me and said the president wanted me to intervene in the crisis. I spoke to some members of the legislature, who were at that time seen to be loyal to me and Jim. Those who were loyal to Obasanjo and the governor had been battling with the legislators for one week and the impeachment was going on.
Was that in 2001 after you had been stopped from becoming secretary of your party?
I was still the national secretary then – this was 2000. A presidential jet was sent and I went there. I arrested the situation within 24 hours and I told the governor to meet their demands. That was how we saved Enugu but this was something people came round to blame me for that if I had not stopped the impeachment of Chimaroke Nnamani, Enugu State would not have been put through what we went through. After that Obasanjo decided that I was not going to come back as national secretary.
And my governor whom I saved became the champion of that cause. That was where I fell out with them. I spoke to him that I helped him when he was in trouble but he was now aligning with Obasanjo to fight me. After that the governor became more draconian. He felt that Jim and I should have no influence in anything happening in the state.Â And he took over completely.
But we still had so much influence that we controlled 16 of the parliamentarians and at the height of the crisis we had the 16 quartered in Abuja and we would fly them in a jet to Enugu and then fly another jet carrying mobile policemen to go and join them for security.
The first time we tried it we didnâ€™t go with the police and they were almost killed. The governorâ€™s thugs ambushed them in front of the state assembly in front of the gate when they were arguing with the policemen to open the gate, these thugs pounced on them, shot at them, some of the persons who went with them were seriously injured. It was after that first incident that we asked the inspector general of police to arrange security for the lawmakers, get an armoured car to lead them from the airport to the assembly and back. They made laws and the governor would not sign. The other six people would go to the old parliament building and make laws and the governor would sign.
Were things that bad in Enugu State and as that why you ran away?
Ran away?Â It was not a matter of running away but one of wisdom. There was real fear. The fear of you attending to a patient in your consulting room and that patient pulls a gun and kills you right there was so much that I refused to go back to Enugu to practise. That was the fear then. You know it happened to the Igwe family, the lawyer.Â It was just too dangerous to practise in Enugu. Then to go to Enugu I needed six mobile policemen and two cars. But now in Enugu we drive around freely.
Why was the impeachment process not considered again or was the president so powerful that â€¦?
Not only that, we put together a powerful documentation of all the breaches of the constitution that the governor had committed for his impeachment and Jim and I and Dubem Onyia, took it to the president, including what we considered the political murders in the state, at that time I think they were up to 30 in townships and hinterland.
Sorry please; 30 suspected political killings as at that time?
Yes, 30, by that time. The first one was a member of parliament, Nwabueze Ugwu, who was to be killed but his brother who was identified was the one who was killed. We documented all that and the president did nothing. He sat on it.
While we were taking the legislators to and from Enugu to sit, the president was aware but he did nothing. The motion for his impeachment was moved by two thirds of members of the assembly but the Enugu State chief judge would not set up a panel to investigate the breaches. It was the height of decimation and desecration of the Nigerian Constitution.
But we heard that Enugu was working?
Yes, Enugu was working on the pages of newspapers and on television and on radio but when you get to Enugu youâ€™ll discover that nothing was working. Our governor was working for himself.Â The governor was pussyfooting on building the permanent site of the state university and when he decided to build it, he took it to his village, rather than the place where Jim who founded it had started to put something in place and where I had continued.
By the time he did that his own university, Rennaisance University was almost in place and he had already built a medical school for his university and by the time he was leaving office he had almost completed what would become one of the best hospitals in Africa. He built the best private secondary school in the whole of Africa in his village – air conditioned from the reception to classroom to dining room and auditoria. Once you are in the school building and it rains, no drop of rain would touch you because all the buildings are linked with one another with corridors and at the time he did this, not one single public secondary school in Enugu had received a brush of paint. He set up one of the most equipped radio stations in the whole of the south east but at that time, the state radio and television were running down. So, Enugu was working really.
This issue of godfathers in Enugu State is funny because when you look at Jim, Chimaroke and Chime?
Iâ€™ll tell you this, I was simply lucky that I had no godfather. Iâ€™ve never believed in it because I donâ€™t think modern democracy believes in it.
Modern democracy believes in power to the Â people because if there were to have been that same syndrome for Obama, he would not have become the American president – his victory is an eloquent testimony to the spirit of democracy. When a godfather complains about a godson me I am not one of those who would not express sympathy either for the godfather or for the godson.
In Nigeria, there are two reasons why godfathers and godsons part ways. Itâ€™s either the godfather is overbearing, wants to dictate and wants to amass wealth and the godson wants to cut him off and do his thing and Chris Ngige and Chris Uba fit this just as Sullivan Chime and Chimaroke Nnamani fit the same.
In the case of Nnamani and Jim, it was Obasanjo who was manipulating Nnamani to whittle the powers and influence of not just Jim but other politicians in the country who Obasanjo saw as constituting or would constitute a threat. Governors who played along were effectively used to cut down people of influence and power in their states and that was why you had all these pockets of violence and political fights in the states.