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My relationship with Obasanjo, Kema Chikwe

Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, Dr. Kema Chikwe, was recently home. And our correspondent, Chidi Nkwopara, cornered her in her Emekuku, Owerri home to speak on a number of issues, including the recent defection of Governor Ikedi Ohakim to Peoples Democratic Party.
Excerpts:


As then minister, people said you were very close to Chief Obasanjo, yet he dumped you midway?

To be honest with you, Chief Obasanjo never dumped me, and I think he still appreciates my efforts. But politics is not about persons and personalities. It is about people. Yes, of course, I contested for the gubernatorial primaries in Imo State and you know what happened. There was the issue of succession and desperate move to alienate,  particular people in Imo State from that race.

Kema Chikwe
Kema Chikwe

They threw it open. But they had their own principles, and there was this strong argument in favour of Okigwe Senatorial Zone. So, even though I came first in the primaries for Owerri Senatorial Zone with a wide margin, that was the end of the outing. They produced a document, which was supposed to have been signed in 1998 or so, stating that the next governorship position would be  zoned  to Okigwe.

And that marked a temporary end to your ambition?

Quite frankly, I prefer to go with popular opinion than to just think about myself. What is most important to me is public service. But I do think that the former president still appreciates the efforts I made during the period I served under him. So, it wasn’t a question of dumping.

So, we shouldn’t see politics as a kind of preference issue. It is much more than that. He doesn’t come from our state, and I think that as much as he could, he tried to get opinion of people from the state, not from the masses of course, the leadership of that state.

And the leadership in Imo State, even though they contradicted each other but I think it became a consensus that it was zoned to Okigwe. And you know it had little or nothing to do with the president. It is not an appointment.

But if it was an appointment, I think he would consider me as one of the people to be so appointed. It was not an appointive position. I know he still knows my competence.

They say you soiled your hands as aviation minister.

In what way?

Your inability to make Owerri Airport  functional. I don’t know what people have not said. I will not be surprised if they will not even say more in future. Now, let me tell you quite frankly that the Airport became functional because of my sincere efforts.

That the airport is functional in Imo State gives me joy. I opened it after many years of closure. Planes were not landing there. Even the aircrafts that started landing there, I brought them. The navigational aids, the up-grading of the airport, I did it. I also did even the extension of the airport terminal building. But you know the Imo State Government was most unfriendly because everybody was under suspicion of challenging their authority, which I was not doing.

You did that?

I was doing my work. They didn’t want anybody to be respected. There was a lot of disrespect in the former government in Imo State and they dwelt on serious propaganda and blackmail. Airport is something that if you work, it shows. Aircrafts land there.

I have been around. If you go to Lagos Airport, Abuja Airport, I went to the minutest detail of even landscaping the airports. The Kano Airport, I fixed the runway. I did the Abuja Airport. I did the airport services. I restructured the place. I reformed the place and it is not something you can wish away.

Kema Chikwe
Kema Chikwe

But it is only within my state because of political factors that you can hear those blackmails and petty talks and so on. You see, politics is much more than that and people who misunderstand politics will never move ahead. And you ask yourself what has happened thereafter.

And that you bought cars.

I don’t know which cars you are talking about. I don’t have an issue here and since I left office, nobody has invited me to ask me about anything. If I did anything, it was to neglect my personal interest in office, and I think my staff appreciates that.

And I built up a very strong workforce, which was weakened after I left in the aviation sector, even in the transport ministry.

So, I am fulfilled, if it is for contribution towards the development of this country at any level. Even in politics. You live here in Imo State, and you know what I have done from my ward level to my local government level, to the state level. But when you have government that is focused on personalities and destroying people and blackmailing every other person, we end up going nowhere.

Power is transient.  It has moved, and I am happy that what I have seen in Imo State today is different from what used to happen, picking up personalities for destruction just because you saw them as political competitors. I think that is very wrong. I have a record in service and so be it.

What is your view about Ikedi Ohakim’s defection?

I praise him for bringing important personalities to Imo State to witness it. Any sensible politician would do what he did.

He has started a good job and he wants to complete what he is doing. He wants to give himself a chance. And if you want to give yourself a chance, you must work very hard for it. You must have something to show for it and you let people know. And that is what he did.

Coming into PDP? For me, Ohakim was a founding member of PDP. We ran around with him and so on. And sometimes, I see some of these other political parties as a platform for securing ticket for election when you are frustrated within the party. You know, there are too many people in PDP. So, competition is too keen.

Is it based on competence?

The sad thing is that this competition is not based on competence. It is based on personal factors. I like you. I hate you. So, sometimes, somebody who believes he has something to offer would want to seek another platform. To be honest with you, the way I see Ohakim is that he is a child of destiny. If anybody should answer destiny in this state, it is Ohakim because he was struggling for himself unrecognized but God recognized him.

He came up. He was in the race on PDP platform before he left the PDP. May be, he didn’t like the process… what was happening. He was dissatisfied. But again, power belongs to God. He gives it to any person He chooses. If Ohakim depended on the leadership in Imo State, they may not have even considered him. They are not God. Nobody is God and God brought him into it. I am happy they have taken the step he has taken because it’s also easier for us to give him maximum support in PDP.

Would Ohakim have failed on any other party platform?

Don’t forget that Imo State is really PDP. Even in 1999, when nobody gave us a chance to win here. Nobody gave us a chance. When all the political bigwigs were in All Peoples party (APP), PDP still won. It means that there is a very strong structure of PDP in Imo State. And Governor Ohakim was part of building that structure. He recognised that you cannot build a house and abandon it for other people. So, he stepped out and he came back to the house he jointly built with all of us. That is exactly what he did last Saturday. I am very supportive of the move he has made.

There are fears that with this development, Imo is in for real political turmoil. Do you agree?

I want to tell you what is unique about it. The people of Imo State are strong willed. They know what they want. I gave you an example of 1999. People deluded themselves in 1999, thinking that in Imo State high profile personalities was politics.

To be honest with you, we in Imo State proved that wrong. You have to wait to look at the two sides of a coin. You have to weigh the situation to know which one is more favourable for this state. To be honest with you, what has happened, what the party has done in Imo State, eases the tension in this state.

All of us have structures. All of us see ourselves. We see ourselves as compatriots.  In fact, if anybody claims leadership of  PDP in this state, I think out of the first three, I should be one and that is the truth because some other people just didn’t feel so.

But PDP is a wide field, which I jointly founded with other people, grew it, groomed it and sustained it. So, there is no person who can come out to claim the sole ownership of PDP. To be honest  Governor Ohakim has equal claim.  I know what I am saying because I am an integral part of this system, of this party, from the grassroot to national level.
But PPA is feeling shortchanged.

Now let us treat your question about PPA. I am not in PPA. I don’t know what is happening in that party and my own brand of politics is positive and people oriented. What I want is what is best for my state. I don’t want to mention personalities that engage in negative politics. Like I told you earlier in this interview, power belongs to God. I have struggled to be a governor.

I didn’t get it. But then, that is the way it is. It is not that I didn’t work hard enough. In fact, I probably was the person who actually toured every part of Imo State, making my case to the people.

What about money politics?

Honestly, I don’t believe in money politics. So, at the end of the day, I don’t think that Ohakim is disenfranchising anybody.

To be honest with you, this is my candid opinion. I think we should all work together. If he has become a governor through the will of God then let’s rally round him. Give him a chance. Give him that leadership support. If he invites people to support him, I think they should support him. That is what is important.

But some people are really aggrieved by Ohakim’s defection?

I don’t want to think about whether anybody is happy about it or not. That is not the issue. We are talking about the masses. We are not talking about individuals or any person who has morbid interest for leadership. It does not make sense.

Let’s give Ohakim a chance because he has worked hard. And I am telling you, Ohakim and his wife have done very well in this short period, as far as I am concerned. At least, you have some kind of intellectual perception and approach to politics for a change.

And he has never really bothered about structures, you know. This has shown also shown that I have a structure. But then, your structure is your political association, your ideology, a platform of people who agree with you.

But what I do not like with our state is one individual wanting to own the party. You cannot own a party. It is called a party because it is a collection of people working together and not one person to come and announce that he is the god of a state or the party.

Ohakim is a child of destiny. Here, he is and the party, because they want to work hard for 2011, decided to use the governorship platform to rally the people together. And so, we should give it a chance. We should all come back into the party. And for us, it is a major win. Do you know what it means for the President, the former president and Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BOT), the entire national working committee of the party, PDP governors to converge in Owerri last Saturday.

Sheer wisdom will tell you that there is a reason for it. There is a purpose for it. These are more knowledgeable people than I and they have come together. There must be a purpose for it. There must be a reason. There must be a cause for it. Therefore, we should give Ohakim the support.

How do you see politics?

Politics is about humility not about ego. Let us think about Imo people for a change. The roads are bad, especially in my area but he has started doing some work. The road that was commissioned by the President leads to my paternal home, Egbu.

I am happy about that. He is doing the Ring Road now and if he completes that Ring Road, Imo State will become something else, especially my federal constituency. He has embarked on projects that I can see on not settling down on individuals.

Ohakim is not focusing on how to destroy individuals, how to make them irrelevant, how to negate their own authority or how to neutralise them. That is not his focus. His focus is working for himself. I have not seen him take up the newspapers to start abusing anybody or be after people and so on.

What I do not like is this morbid pursuit for party ownership. What do you own party for? What are you owning human beings for? Nobody is God. So, if he has been given this opportunity, I think we should rally round and support him.

And I will do everything I can to support this government because also they recognise the fact that I have a role to play.

What is your relationship with Chief Achike Udenwa?

So long as he comes from Imo State, I see him as my brother. I didn’t agree with his approach to politics and I think may be that was the way he saw it. But then, deep inside me, I don’t see him as an enemy or a bad person. He is quite sociable.

He is my brother and I cannot run him down. He created a platform that gave a wrong perception of me and it is unfortunate. But that does not make me have negative feelings towards him. I also think that power is transient. Now that it is Ohakim…. Ohakim is his junior brother.

All of us are from one family. So long as you come from this state, what should be important to us in leadership position, all of us, is to think about Imo people, what will suit them and not what will suit us to remain perpetually in power.

What has it been like being an Ambassador?

It has been very pleasant experience working with the international community because it gives you comparative thoughts of your own country. It gives me an idea of what to do. I am engaged in economic diplomacy. I have just had an economic conference.

I am leading an economic delegation to Nigeria. Today (July 27, 2009), I have some people with and so on because I think that will be the fastest way of growing a good bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the host countries, Ireland and Iceland. It makes me think of home more, what to attract to Nigeria.

Well, again, it is less politics because sometimes I don’t know what is happening here. You have time to work. You don’t have people carrying false propaganda and talking nonsense.

And the rising criminality in the country?

Well, there is a change of baton of leadership in the Nigeria Police Force now. And I think it is the greatest challenge the new Inspector General of Police faces. Look, every community, every kindred, knows who the bad people are. The strategy has to change now if we want to solve the problem. Everybody should be security conscious. Everybody should play a role.

But it starts even from the system of our education. If you go to the tertiary institutions, there is no organised way of how students are living. I get distressed when armed robbers are caught and they say people are undergraduates of this or that school.

I mean, it is very painful. When we were in the university, we felt like we were going to be the presidents of Nigeria. But now, the children don’t have self esteem and that is why I am happy that a reform is coming in the education sector.

And by the grace of God, it will be a meaningful reform. In fact, there are no proper residences for students. That should be a priority because it is going to check the movement of students. Nobody is checking what they are doing.

What is the cause?

What is causing all this is greed! It is the society that is causing all this and I feel sympathy for all these people who engage in kidnap or armed robbery and not thinking of a way of strategizing to have a good future. There are too many things wrong.

We should now begin to build up our society so that people will have means of livelihood, means of getting income, create jobs and so on. We should give government a chance. I am very happy with what the president is doing. If you look at the structures he is putting on ground, they are fairly strong structures.

From 1999 to 2007, a good foundation was laid. And now, by the grace of God, it does not matter what people write or say, a good foundation has been laid and I am happy that this President is also receptive.

I have been to Katsina State. I have seen what he did as a governor. The universities, the schools, the system and I believe he is putting structures on ground that will create a meaningful take off for this country. The IGP has a challenge.

Even if you have to go on international level to seek cooperation to combat this menace, I think I am sure they will do it.

What is your relationship with Achike Udenwa?

So long as he comes from Imo State, I see him as my brother. I didn’t agree with his approach to politics and I think may be that was the way he saw it. But then, deep inside me, I don’t see him as an enemy or a bad person. He is quite sociable.

He is my brother and I cannot run him down. He created a platform that gave a wrong perception of me and it is unfortunate. But that does not make me have negative feelings towards him. I also think that power is transient.

Now that it is Ohakim…. Ohakim is his junior brother. All of us are from one family. So long as you come from this state, what should be important to us in leadership position, all of us, is to think about Imo people, what will suit them and not what will suit us to remain perpetually in power.


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