•2015: Ndigbo will cross the bridge when we get there
BY GBENGA OKE
Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, former journalist and governor of Anambra State from 1999 to 2003 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was also at one time an Associate Professor of Politics and African Studies at the State University of New York. In this interview with Vanguard, he speaks on the many controversies that marked his term as governor, his relationship with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and the position of the South-East on the chairmanship of the PDP. He also explained how religious sentiments have endangered the politics of Anambra State and steps that President Goodluck Jonathan needs to take in realising his dream of transforming Nigeria.
For some time now you have laid low. Is it that you have retired from politics?
Tthere is no private life for a politician. I did my four years as governor of Anambra State and a lot of controversies trailed my tenure. There were lots of campaign against me, betrayals, blackmails and one of them that was popular is the killing of the Igwe’s while I was attending a meeting in Houston, Texas. I had no hand in it and I did not know about the plan. When I returned, I wanted to set up a judicial committee to investigate the killing but the Onitsha Bar Association said no because they are suspecting I had a hand in it. Then I removed my immunity for the police to investigate me of the double murder, an action which no governor has ever done.
Police found as fact that I was abroad the day the Igwes were killed and after months of investigations, the police said I conspired with no one. The state Attorney General said he has no evidence to prosecute me and he did not. Also, the Judge of the Onitsha High Court discharged and acquitted me and quashed the case. Another High Court in Abuja discharged and acquitted me of another charge of forgery of police report and quashed the case.
I was investigated for money laundering and financial irregularities and was set free. Code of Conduct Bureau also investigated and set me free. So I can be said to be one of the cleanest public office holders in this dispensation.
So with all these trauma, I said let me rest. But I have worked during campaigns. I worked during the Yar’Adua/Goodluck campaign and also during the 2011 President Goodluck Jonathan campaign. I also played an active role especially in the South-East and we carried the day. So I am not secluded in the political scene as people may think, I have been doing a lot of things. Aside that, we former governors have a forum where we meet and it is good that after leaving office as governor, you lie low and see what governors following us can do.
Do you believe the President has rewarded the South-East well enough for their support during the election?
First, we have to understand that in this situation, the President will have his hands tied because he is dealing with about 150 million Nigerians and everybody expects something and there is no way the president can satisfy all the wishes and aspirations of so many people. And this issue of sectionalism and zoning is not helping Nigeria’s politics because you have asked about South-East now, just like South-East, we have South-South, South-West and the North. Even at the beginning of the Jonathan campaign, some people had a view that President Jonathan came from the old Eastern Nigeria, which consists of South-South and South-East and in fact, the South-East came out in their millions to vote for him because of that relationship.
So the South-East did not pin him down specifically as to what they must get after the election because they thought they were dealing with a brother and friend.
When the chip was down and offices were being given, we got the SGF and most of the people of our zone felt what was being given is not enough for the support they gave.
That is an argument from a lot of them but it is not President Jonathan that zones offices but our party. It is PDP that zones offices and although the president is the leader but he does not overrule in everything the party does. So if there is any blame in key offices it is an issue for the party.
Where our zone got angry is on the issue of chairmanship which we lost in the days of Vincent Ogbulafor, lost again during Nwodo and they said take another South-Easterner to fill that seat until March when there will be new election and nobody was listening and our people thought they were being taken for a ride.
Even there was a meeting they had last week where the party responded that for the remaining part of the tenure that the chairman of the party will not come from the South-East and they are looking elsewhere like the North-East. So that is an issue for the party not the president. When it comes to the presidency, we have got SGF, although that is not what we are asking for but the SGF is still good, it is also a high appointment and it depends on how you convert it. If you put a firebrand there, it can overshadow everybody in government.
I will not immediately complain about the appointments, although some people have been complaining that each time they want to appoint ministers from Anambra, they single out only women. Last time, it was Mrs Anenih and Dr Akunyili from Anambra and this time around, they have added one more, Stella from Anambra and from Abia, they took Ngozi Iweala, all these were our sisters born in our state but married elsewhere. So the thought is that why not give appointment from where they are married rather than from where they were born. That is a matter for the President because he makes appointments but my view is that, yes we assume that these women are our sisters, we should also remember that these women have brothers and they should mix it up when giving appointments.
In your candid opinion, where do you think the next PDP Chairman should come from?
Left to me, this zoning issue was brought in by PDP, I wouldn’t bother myself with it. I would have said let us give it to the right man that can do it wherever zone he comes from because there is no zone or state in this country today that cannot produce a President. When it comes to zoning, let us go for the best we can produce in each of the zones. When Alhaji Shehu Shagari was nominated to be president, he came to the South to pick a vice-president, Dr Alex Ekwueme and Shagari’s administration remains one of the best civilian administrations. So whenever there are issues like this, the party should pick the best candidate for the presidency or governor. The presidency should be by rotation, it should be zone by zone, each zone should be able to produce a President at a time in the nation’s history.
In terms of what we have on ground, since the chairmanship of the party was zoned to the South-East from the beginning and we have lost two chairmen and our time is still running, in the spirit of fairness and equity, it requires South-East to produce another chairman before our time expires in March.
I sympathise with the position of the President. The president was running for an election and Nwodo was dropped because of his behavior during the campaign, for the president, he needs continuity and bringing a fresh chairman from the South-East when there is an acting chairman of the party, Haliru Bello, even if I were the president, I will also ask Bello to continue because elections were around the corner.
President Jonathan was right when he asked acting chairman, Bello to continue with the campaigns and it made sense but now that the elections are over, the chairmanship position should revert to the South-East, which the party zoned it for four years, which ends March 2012. We expect the President will still do something more substantial for our zone and I have no doubt about that. So I call for patience on the part of the South-East.
There is this insinuation that the South-East gave their support to President Goodluck for him to support an Igbo president in 2015. What is your comment on this?
Is it up to President Jonathan to invite somebody from the South-East to be President? It is not in his position but that of the party. What I personally feel regarding 2015 is that people should leave President Jonathan alone to concentrate and give his best in the next four years. We will cross the bridge of 2015 when we get there. However, I am of the opinion that we should have a system in place where our president will stay six years of one term while Governors do one term of five years.
Despite the perceived rumbling between you and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, you remained in the same party with him till today. Is it that both of you have buried the hatchet and……
(Cuts in and laughs) I have visited ex-president Obasanjo twice in his Ogun State house and I slept under the same roof with him twice and he took me to his chapel where I ministered the word of God and Baba said he has forgiven me. And in that church, he said he realised people were just picking on me for nothing and the whole church was jubilating and I was happy because Baba said that he has nothing against me.
I could also remember when Obasanjo visited Anambra State when I was governor, Baba gave me ‘A’ in infrastructure and when Professor Jerry Gana also came with a media team to Anambra State, after they looked at everything we had done, they awarded me ‘A plus’ because in the area of security, there was no other state that was secured like my state, I was adjudged the best then.
The only area I was not happy with was that of second term, which I was denied despite the level of my performance. Some people were coming to Abuja to spoil me despite the good work I was doing in the state. When the time to get the second term ticket came, the party said every PDP governor will do second term because we were foundation members of the PDP but to the surprise of many, I was asked not to go for second term despite all my performance.
Aside that, the issue of primaries of the party was an issue because other governors were given an automatic ticket but the party insisted I must do primary. So I did primary the first time and won, they cancelled it, second primary, I won and they cancelled it again and Audu Ogbeh told them that if primaries were conducted 10 times, I would win.
There was a third primary which I won which Ibrahim Mantu and others conducted and gave it to Chris Ngige. You see what they got because when Ngige came, he flogged them, he never compromised in anything and these were things that I lived with. I had more problems than Ngige but I was handling them diplomatically. I suffered seriously in Anambra State but I am always remembered by the people and the politicians and it was by the grace of God I came out of these alive.
The PDP government has been in and out of Anambra State and an All Progressive Alliance (APGA) government led by Governor Peter Obi is in place now. What is your assessment of the present administration?
Governor Obi is the governor today and I must say people welcome him with open hands after he defeated Ngige but it was more of a religious sentiment and that is one thing that we have to be very careful of in Anambra State.
Are you of the opinion that religious sentiments play a role in Anambra politics?
Yes, there are plenty of religious sentiments in Anambra politics. In the whole of Nigeria, it is ethnic sentiments and religious too, but in Anambra State, it is between Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Pentecostals. It was much of that reason I was not allowed to contest second term. The Catholics believed it was their time and Peter Obi was chosen but today, the Catholics are regretting that if they knew what they know now, that it shouldn’t have been Peter Obi, it should have been somebody else or it could have been me because I ruled everybody and tried to maintain a good relationship with everyone because I attended both Catholic, Pentecostal and Anglican churches as Governor to show that constitution provides freedom of religion.
Peter Obi in certain areas has done well because there is no governor that will be in office for four years and will not do anything, it is not possible, so he has done the little he could do under the present circumstance.
Will you take the blame for the seeming hostility that PDP is regarded with in Anambra state as you were alleged to have provided breeding ground for the Ubas and other Godfathers.
No, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo instructed me to work with the Ubas. One area was the N10 million, which Uba was being paid to do his contract and this arrangement was made between Uba and the military. I wasn’t there then. So when I came in, I wanted to stop the arrangement of paying somebody N10 million whether he works or not but after consulting with the President because he likes the Ubas and after the consultation, the president said the N10 million was legal and that I should not stop it. So am I supposed to be blamed for this development?
There has been this issue of the Governors Forum being a powerful machinery in the governance of Nigeria today. The Governors under this forum sometimes do influence decision making at the national level. As a former governor of a state, what is your assessment of this forum and does it correlate with what governors did during your reign as a governor?
We had one like that but ours did not suffocate the president or tied the president’s hand. As a governor then, after my appointments, I had the constitutional power to appoint my commissioners and assistants and so also the President, he should have chance to appoint the ministers and advisers he can work with, that is my concept of it. But today, it is no longer what it used to be.
For example, there was a time Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to elevate one of his advisers from my state, Professor ABC Nwosu and the president called me to ask whether I am recommending him to be a minister and I told him I have not seen ABC Nwosu, when I see him and ask him questions, then I’ll get back to him. Almost the same day, ABC Nwosu arrived and said the president wanted to appoint him minister but it depends on my recommendation.
So after the discussion, I called Mr President to tell him that I have signed for ABC Nwosu to be minister and the following day, he was announced a minister and that is the way it was. But this time around, the governors will bargain to the last minute for their candidates, the governors have acquired so much power and added to the power of the National Assembly that even the powers of the presidency is at stake as things are today, the powers of the presidency which every other power should be under, is now being pressed on all the time by the powers of the National Assembly and from the governors forum. It is a matter of where and when the president may have his way, but that is not in the constitution.
The president once elected has the right to choose whoever he wants. Look at President Obama, he chose his secretary and no newspapers carried a news that any governor lobbied him, these things are settled behind the scene, it is not for public consumption. Although because of the President’s nature, kind, mild and a Christian, he would like to carry everybody along.
In fact this Government of National Unity should not arise, in Britain, I don’t see how Labour Party would win an election and and invite other parties to make a Government of National Unity, it is not necessary.