By Jide Ajani Editor, Northern Operations
Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the bicycle-riding Minister of Transport, is a true Nigerian. Born on May 6,1945, Ojo, as he is fondly called, is the Deputy Zonal Coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation. In this interview, however, Ojo takes on the opposition and insists that they are not long-suffering.
“The opposition in Nigeria has to be long-suffering,” he declares. Ojo, a lawyer, had served in the following capacities:
*Foreign Affairs Minister July 2007-March 2010
*National Secretary, Peoples’ Democratic Party (2005-2007)
*Presidential Adviser (Legal & Const. Affairs) (2003-2005)
*Federal Minister of Transport (2000-2003)
*Federal Minister of Culture & Tourism (1999-2000)
*Member, National Assembly (Second Republic) (1983)
*Member, Constitutional Assembly (1988-89)
*Member, National Constitutional Conference (1994-95)
*Adviser to Chairman, Social Democratic Party (SDP) (1990-92)
*Adviser to Minister of Foreign Affairs (1993-95)
*Member/Technical Adviser, Vision 2010 (1997)
*Member, National Boundaries Adjustment Comm. (1997)
*Elected Senator (1998)
In his biography, Ojo is described as an individual with “poetry and humour.” He quotes John Pauker that “We are all brothers, like Cain and Abel.” He tells one audience, “We must be one of the best in the world in managing personal guilt, which perhaps, explains why we have one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.” But, beyond the humour and the frank critique is the message that personal responsibility, character and leadership are not only possible but already evident in Nigeria.
“From a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, currently of US Council of Foreign Relations: “Ojo Maduekwe speaks first and foremost as a citizen of the country he loves. He speaks also as one who has participated in government at the highest levels. He speaks as a social and political critic and as an intellectual whose readings span politics, economics, and literature. This exceptional combination gives his words a formidable character.
“Maduekwe is unafraid to confront those who would lead Nigeria or other states to the point of failure. He puts great emphasis on the quality of friendship. It is not only presidential and political leadership, though he is frank about them, but he points equally sharply to the responsibilities and the shortcomings of the religious institutions, the non-governmental organisations, and the universities. All of them must rise to the occasion, he asserts, if the nation is to overcome its past corruption and errors.”
In this interview, you will find Ojo’s views as interesting as they are controversial. Excerpts:
You have been quiet for some time now and you are not known to keep quiet in the face of burning national issues, why has it been so?
Well, there have been quite a number of things that one has seen and has learnt to be more circumspect about issues.
Yes, you are very correct because when you look at the positions one has held either at the party level or at the national governmental level, there are issues that would require comments from one, but, I disagree with that aspect of your comment that I am known to talk always suggesting that I am loquacious. I am not. (laughter).
Okay, you are a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). But, there is something definitely wrong with that your party. You have served as national secretary before and you should have an insight into the workings of your party.
The way you have put it you are not being fair to the members and leaders of that great party.
What people tend to look at are the faults of the party whereas the good deeds are always avoided. Our party is the only one that keeps the flag of democracy flying, despite what people would have you believe. Unfortunately, because of the size of the party and its large membership, people focus on things that happen negatively which are not as much as the good which the party has done.
What that does is that it places a responsibility on us as members and leaders of the party to be more circumspect and progressive as we are already doing with our transparent presidential primary which has produced President Goodluck Jonathan as our flag-bearer.
It also means that we should look at ourselves more closely than other political parties would look at themselves.
It also means that our faults would be more microscopically observed and, therefore, more magnified; and, so, we must accept the privileges and the problems – we cannot accept one and leave out the other.
I would be the last to say that all is well with PDP, and, as a matter of fact, I want you to go back to the speech I delivered on Independence Day in 2004, I was then a Presidential Adviser on Legal and Constitutional Matters. After that speech, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, called me and asked if I had put in my letter of resignation before I read that speech and I told him no. And, he wondered how I could offer such an appraisal of the party in power and the government of the day and with President Olusegun Obasanjo in attendance and he asked if he saw the speech and I said yes.
Six months after that, I was made the national secretary of the party.
In that speech, I made it clear that far more important than just winning elections is the need for the ruling party in a country that is in this type of developmental stage to entrench democracy and that PDP has a special responsibility not only to adhere to internal democracy in the party but also to ensure that good governance and constitutional rule through democracy should be a lasting issue. Now, after I gave such a speech, I was asked to come and preside over the same party six months later as the chief administrative officer.
Many of the reforms we put in place are there under the leadership of Ali.
Which Ali? Ahmadu Ali?
Yes! The able Ahmadu Ali.
Many people would not agree with you on that that Ali was able because under his watch so many things went wrong in the party.
(Cuts in) If you ask me if we did everything right, I would be the first to admit that we didn’t.
You couldn’t have done things right with Ali as chairman.
But, we did some things.
Could we have done better? Yes!
But, we had so much time to do so much and then you move on. We tried.
No PDP chairman has, contrary to what some would want us to believe, ever served out his full tenure. For Solomon Lar, there was really no tenure and when Obasanjo decided to, he booted him out. Gemade did not spend the last month of his tenure, Ali, Audu Ogbeh, Vincent Ogbulafor and Okwesilieze Nwodo never spent their tenures to the end.
(Cuts in) No, you are wrong. Ahmadu Ali, my boss, did!
No! Ali’s was an aberration. Obasanjo just forced him on the party and, no one was sure which tenure did he serve. Ogbeh left before his tenure ended and for Ali, some people were not sure if he used part of Ogbeh’s tenure and even used another tenure. Let’s put it this way, when Ali came in Ogbeh’s tenure had not ended.
Yes! When he came in, it was zoned to the North, specifically, North- Central.
The secretaryship was zoned to the South-East and I was made minister of foreign affairs and I had to resign because I couldn’t hold both the party office and government appointment.
But your party is so interesting that when Ogbeh was national chairman, he was appointed presidential adviser on agriculture and he accepted, contrary to the constitutional provision in your party’s constitution which forbids that.
It was honorary!
The constitution was specific, sir. Article 15 of the constitution of PDP insists that any member holding any office in the party at any level shall be deemed to have resigned that office, if he or she assumes any of the following offices as Special Adviser or Special Assistant to the President or Vice-President of the Federal Republic. Your party is the largest party and it allows other parties to use the faults of your party as excuse for violating democratic ethos.
That is wrong, but you have raised a very fundamental issue which I am glad you have done, but most people do not see it that way as being fundamental.
But for me, it is simple common- sense. If PDP begins to behave well, other parties won’t have excuses to point at.
It is fundamental. People do not see it that way.
It’s a very fundamental challenge of what is wrong with our polity and it goes beyond PDP or Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), or the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Your question relates to the real issue of what people want in and from politics. What do people really want in politics? Unless we, the political elite, confront this issue you have raised, particularly the way you raised it, we have collectively failed the nation.
If we agree that the reason for being in politics is to canvass issues that can improve the lives of the people, then we ought to accept that even when we are members of the opposition, that we have a very serious role to play and that important role is to offer a distinct alternative, in terms of policies and procedures to what the ruling party is offering and go to the marketplace of ideas to push this alternative world view.
The opposition too, should be sufficiently patient, and also be sufficiently confident in the wisdom of the people to make a rational choice and also be confident in the institutions of the state, as the judiciary, in terms of judgments, and also the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in terms of providing Nigerians with a better framework for election.
It means over time, when you stay in opposition and present an alternate view of things, one day you’ll have your day in the Sun. But people think that the reason for being in politics is to be in government by whatever means and, so, if they are not there, (rather than organising their political parties to present the needed opposition view) all they do is to either blame the ruling party or even magnify and adopt some of the excesses of the ruling party and that makes our polity very inadequate and, of course, suffer from strong ideological malady. I am making this criticism not only as a participant in the polity, but also as an observer who has to comment.
I value the point you are making and I believe that we should be concerned about how to upgrade that noble outfit which it is in other parts of the world. Look at the current President of Senegal, he was in opposition for about three decades and eventually he won.
We should be patient enough.
You are right! The man in Senegal must be very long-suffering. (General laughter)
Yes! In fact, that is the point. The opposition in Nigeria has to be long-suffering.
Do you see politicians here being long-suffering, based on contemporary realities in Nigeria’s polity?
The people who give us votes and the media should hold us more accountable and use what we do and how we do it to hold us down. There should be reward for those who are long-suffering and punish those who keep jumping about in search of office in government.
Good! That is the next point. What you are saying now is that there is a disconnect or a mismatch between the reward for those who are long-suffering and those who keep jumping and, therefore, Nigerians should be more critical.
We are not being held more accountable by the masses and the media. This should not be seen as a case of blaming the victims.
You have remained in PDP and…
(Cuts in)Look, let me tell you, PDP is a great party and it offers the biggest prospects of providing democracy in Nigeria than any other party.
Pre-PDP, you had always talked about politics of pragmatism, the present realities…
(Cuts in, again) Principled pragmatism! You must still be principled in that pragmatism. If your pragmatism is not principled, then,
it becomes crass-opportunism.
But some people accuse you of that same crass opportunism too.
Ya! That is not new. We always run that risk.
Abacha! With your intellect and…
I was not a member of that regime.
Yes, I know, but people saw you as emphatising with that regime.
I’m happy you raised that issue the way you did because people have not shown enough introspection to reconcile what I believe in and what they thought was happening.
For me, the issue of national unity is far more important than any other issue.
As a young undergraduate, I made it clear in my mind that what I would never want to see again is a civil war or anything close to a civil war for whatever reason. I was in the trenches. There is a lot of hypocrisy on the issue of military regimes and you know that.
I was a member of the National Assembly in the Second Republic when the military struck, not a single paper wrote an editorial condemning that coup. In fact, there was celebration that the military has come. So, who is fooling whom here?
How do you celebrate one military coup and condemn another?
I think we are getting to a point where a fundamental position has to be taken that military rule in whatever shape or form should be a thing of the past. But, before we got to that stage, some people were embracing and celebrating some military coups depending on what interests they were pursuing or protecting at any given time.
This is not a time for me to go into some more sensitive issues like June 12. I wrote one of the very first critical articles protecting June 12. But, we know those who asked Abacha to come in and they were supposed to be the pro-democrats. If military is wrong, military is wrong. But, in one breath you cannot invite them to come in and in another breath you condemn others. You know those who I am talking about. When the mistake had been made by those who invited Abacha in, I took the principled position that the best way to deal with the issue was to negotiate him out, not by direct confrontation but by wearing him out.
I was also worried about what I called the Somalia syndrome whereby the local effort to get President Siad Barre out of Somalia did not capture what would happen when he eventually leaves. And, you then have a dictator leaving and you have an implosion which was what happened in Somalia and the country is yet to get out of it.
I was concerned about avoiding a civil war as a result of the clash of so many interests and for me we have had military regimes and no Nigerian should be in a position to begin to say one was better than the other. Papa Awolowo talked about the most benevolent military regime not being half as worth it as a civilian administration.Democracy is the ultimate goal. If people worked with the previous regimes and even participated in transitions to civil rule of those ones, why can’t we participate in that one being talked about since it was already working on another transition? It is something that was principled and I do not regret.
I don’t think anybody can say it that I took a particular position because of money or the benefits I was going to derive from it. Not even my worst enemies have come out to say that we have this dossier on Ojo; that based on his looting of public funds he has bought this or that. I headed the ministry of transport and I worked diligently there. I have always worked based on my faith and what is good for my nation.
The mobilisation for Abacha’s transmutation from military to civilian would be…
(Cuts in) I never at that time said others should not or cannot seek the office, but I looked at the status quo, and decided, even as President Clinton suggested, that if he drops his uniform and seeks the office as a civilian, then, why not. Others in Africa had done it and the democracy is becoming stable. Look at what is happening in Ghana, and Nigeria, too, is beginning to become democratically-stable; that is the truth and we should commend PDP for helping this nation stabilise and hold on.
Your PDP at the state level is a joke. You have your governor who was a PDP member but later dumped PDP for Peoples’ Progressive Alliance (PPA), only to embark on a road show to the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), but while in transit, he swung back into PDP and has been welcomed. What does that say of your party and your governor, Theodore Orji?
As I said earlier, we are still at a stage where the ideological character would evolve. We are still making progress and, at least it is better than what we had in 1999.
Each constituency of the major players would have to make up their minds on how to handle specific issues.
In the case of Abia State, it has always been predominantly a PDP state but the former governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, had his own reasons for leaving the party that time and formed PPA. The current governor who was his Chief of Staff and who was his anointed to take over moved to PPA and, of course, they battled us and managed to capture Government House. But we had the majority of the senators and the House of Representatives members and that showed that the state remained predominantly PDP.
When this happened, there was no traffic from PDP to the PPA state government and it showed our preference in the state and because PPA had a lot of internal contradictions, it collapsed like a house of cards and that provided a window for us and when he decided to move into APGA, we saw the strategic move and reminded him that he was supposed to be with us as PDP colleagues. We felt the issue of development was even more important than the issue of politics and we saw the need to work with the governor within the same PDP family. We have spoken as a family and things are beginning to move.
If we allowed Gov. Orji to remain in APGA, it wouldn’t have worked well and we believed that being inside the state we would work together for the development of the state. Developing the state is more important.
When the senate presidency was zoned to the South-East, the traffic and mortality rate was so high – Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius, Adolphus Wabara, Ken Nnamani – five, now that the chairmanship of the party has been zoned to the South- East again, we would have three persons occupying that position within the first four-year tenure – Vincent Ogbulafor, Okwesilieze Nwodo and… What is the problem with the South- East and the politicians from the zone?
Let me say upfront that the picture you have painted cannot be defended.
I’m not wrong.
Yes! You are perfectly correct, these are facts. I am also embarrassed just like any other sincere leader from the zone and one would have loved to have a better sense of stability. But without justifying or defending that, you still have to look at the republican disposition of the Igbo. We are a highly republican people. And, it is always at a cost. We are individualistic, we respect hierarchy but we question the hierarchy and if these things are not very well-managed, they have the potential to create dysfunctional effects.
I feel we in the South-East can build on the strong tradition of gaining democratic temper and the republican spirit and entrench enduring democracy in the South-East with a view to making it a model.
What you say is a problem is actually an opportunity for the best when well managed.
It can actually be a plus in the context of a transformational leadership that is creative and imaginative and, therefore, throw up leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike, Michael Okpara, K.O. Mbadiwe and these people can become a model for the rest of Nigeria and I can say this as an Igbo that we have the capacity.
But the most recent developments would not in any way be a model that others should follow…
Let me finish. (laughter)
We can be a model for Nigeria in the context I am talking about.
And, we do not owe any apologies because we have the capacity.
But looking at the present, other zones would say God forbid…
It is too early to say that.
Discussions are going on in the South- East to bond properly and we are looking at how to transform those faults into opportunities.