• On 2019: Sycophants, for selfish interest, want Buhari to run at all costs
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and an Igbo leader, in this interview, situates the PDP and the Igbo people within the politics of 2019.
What do you think about the defection of Professor Jerry Gana, among others, from the PDP?
Profs. Jerry Gana and Tunde Adeniran are highly respected people in the party. They didn’t tell me they were going away. If they had told me, I would have probably offered advice. In all the parties today, you will notice that there is general disaffection, even in APC. My belief is that before you join a political party, you must know the philosophy and strive at all times to protect it. This idea of people jumping from one party to the other, I don’t think it shows proper democratic conduct because, if democracy must be preserved, even if you have not got what you want in a party, you have to stay and fight within that party to ensure that things are alright; but you know that is not common in Nigeria today. What it means is that most political parties in Nigeria are not ideologically driven. To be honest, when you talk of APC and I talk of PDP, they are the same people. APC says PDP was corrupt but the truth is that virtually all the leaders of APC today came from PDP and some of them are even returning to PDP. There is that forward and backward movement in today’s politics in Nigeria which I think is not very good. I think people should not keep changing parties. It is even worse for people who are elected. For example, somebody is elected to be a governor on the platform of a party, he moves to another party. Why are you changing? Didn’t you know that there is a programme of your party before you joined? There are people at the National Assembly who are elected on the platform of a party, they leave; why when the electorate voted for you because you were in a particular party, because you had a manifesto, you had a programme of that party and that is why they voted for you? I think these are some of the things we have to rectify in the future otherwise our politics will continue to be chaotic and confused.
The defectors are said to be planning to work with the Obasanjo coalition. What does that portend for the PDP?
I can tell you that PDP is stronger today than ever before. PDP is the strongest party today; we have scaled all the hurdles, we have removed all the elements that made it to have crisis. Some of them were dealt with at the national convention, congresses in the ward, local governments and states. I am not aware that the APC has had national convention up till now. When you test the stability of a party is after a convention. PDP has fulfilled that constitutional requirement but these other parties have not. I have seen some of them say that they are extending the life of the executive; it is unconstitutional because the constitution of a party says elections should be held after certain number of years. I am sure some of those decisions will be challenged in court.
Obasanjo’s advice to Buhari on 2019 too late
Obasanjo made some points obviously but I don’t agree with all of them. For example, telling the President not to contest (2019), I don’t think anybody has any right to tell any Nigerian not to contest election. Buhari has the right to contest election. He is a Nigerian citizen. There is no age limit. In some countries I have seen a 93-year-old contesting for election and Buhari is only 73 years old. There is also something I feel very sad about: sycophants. Buhari should beware of sycophants asking him to run again. Some people say the only person who can rule Nigeria is Buhari, they say they are calling on him to contest, that if he doesn’t contest, there will be no Nigeria. I have heard somebody say that if Buhari doesn’t contest, they will go to court to get an injunction to make him run; these are cronies. I advise him not to listen to them. Buhari is a friend and I appreciate his efforts especially in fighting corruption. I know his effort during his first time when he fought indiscipline, but there is no doubt about it that things are hard. Anybody who goes to tell him that things are normal is deceiving him.
Solution to fuel crisis
I find it very hard to know why Naira, which was 160 to a dollar, within a short time, fell to nearly 400 before we started coming down to 350, and I heard that two windows were created; some people buy dollar at 200 while others buy at 350. And that is part of the reason we have problem. Fuel price is controlled by the value of Naira. The talk about hoarding and so on, I am sure there is hoarding but I think the main problem is that the price of fuel is dictated by the fluctuation in the foreign exchange rate. The solution is for Nigeria to refine the crude here.
Why Nigeria should not sell its raw material
I was the founding Chairman of Raw Materials Research Development Council and my goal at that time was that we should not export any material without value added. At that time we had 21 states and I said we should build 21 refineries in Nigeria. I had made arrangements with some foreign people who were prepared to participate but our private sector people were not strong enough to support the project. The Federal Government should invest now and sell later to the people; that would be the opportunity for them to participate in the economy. This idea of selling everything today creates only a few rich people because, if you start privatizing, how many people can afford it? At the end of the day, you create a few super rich while the middle class is wiped out. We did our best in the PDP to make sure the middle class was still there. That’s why we retained petrol subsidy. So what I think the government should do is to still subsidize the price of fuel with the excess money they are getting from crude. Well, I heard government say they will put the money in construction and so on. The excess money is quite a lot but part of it must be spent on subsidy so that everybody can afford fuel. And government must immediately take steps on a long term solution. I can tell you that Raw Materials Research Development Council can come up with refineries, the type we can manage. In Biafra, they designed refineries; if the President today gives an executive order to the Raw Materials Research Development Council that within 6 months they should design refineries, I am sure they will do it.
So you believe genuinely that Buhari can run in 2019
Buhari can run for election if he wants but he should not be deceived by these people; he has to make the decision himself, he has to look at his health. The way to do it is not for the cronies to tell us he is the only person who can rule because they are annoying Nigerians; Nigerians are offended when these people say everything is in order. Buhari is liked by the people obviously; if he makes up his mind to run, he should talk to Nigerians, and say ‘when I came I promised this and that. In corruption I have done this, in security I have done this and that; it is unfortunate today that we have unemployment on a large scale, we have these problems most of our people are suffering, workers in this country today, the salary they are paid they cannot feed; if I return, this is what I am going to do, to restore the situation’.
In 2015, he made promises. Do you think he has fulfilled those promises and, going by what is on ground, why would you want him to run again when former President Obasanjo has advised him that we need a younger person?
I am saying that no human being can tell another person to run or not to run. To run for an election is a personal decision. What annoys me is that some people say only Buhari can rule Nigeria. I don’t think it is right; in fact, many Nigerians are annoyed about that. Only he, his family and his doctors, and not his cronies, know the condition of his health. He is there already, so he knows whether he can run for second term or not because it is clear to most of us that these people asking him to seek re-election want to ride on his popularity to power.
Is the National Assembly right to reorder election timetable?
The National Assembly has the right to make laws. I don’t see anything wrong with it. And I want to commend the National Assembly because I have seen that they take bipartisan position on issues of national interest most of the time.
What kind of a candidate should the PDP produce to defeat the APC in the presidential election in 2019?
We don’t know who is going to be our candidate but we have many candidates who can defeat APC and other parties. We have learnt from the experience of the past, we want a President who will be in firm control of his ministers so that we don’t have a situation where some corruption was quite there. We want such a leader so that everybody is transparent. I can tell you that I haven’t seen any proven case of corruption against former President Jonathan for example as a person but people around him were corrupt. We want a leader who has political experience and not someone who is a learner because Nigeria is so complex.
The APC government said it had technically defeated Boko Haram but while we were still talking about the remaining Chibok girls still in captivity, you now have over one hundred others from Yobe kidnapped; how do you score the administration on security?
Government has done very well; before they came, the insurgents were expanding, they bombed Abuja. Now, government has been able to contain them to the North-East; so it is not fair for anybody to say this government has not done well. Having said this, a battle such as this cannot be easily won and government must find a new strategy to win the battle. We have been told that ransom was paid in exchange for some of the Chibok girls, even though the information is not confirmed, and that this is very attractive to terrorist. When they are broke they will look for soft targets; so what happened in Yobe is not different. The kidnapping in Chibok girls opened a new frontier of terrorism where people can now make money by kidnapping a whole school and girls become an attraction because they can marry them. When Boko Haram started, they were putting up their flags; they are people looking for secession. I still remember the statement made by former Libyan leader Gadaffi at a point, he said Nigeria should be split into two countries, North and South, and I believe that most of the arms used by Boko Haram are coming from that direction. So I believe that this is a long term plan made to convert northern Nigeria to an Islamic republic. But secession wars are not easy to win. And you cannot say it is a religious war because the people they are killing are Christians and Muslims. And government cannot fight this war without the cooperation of the people.
In 2015, Nigerians voted against Jonathan partly because of the kidnapped Chibok girls and that was just one year to the election in 2014. Now, the Yobe incident is happening also one year to another election; do you think this one will work against the sitting President should he decide to run again?
I am a leader in PDP and PDP is going to win; there is no doubt about it. I told you they are not organised; if there are free and fair elections, we are going to defeat them and Nigerians should be careful not to talk of using the police or INEC or so to derail the mandate of the people. Nigerians are primed to face any consequences, Nigerians have suffered a lot. So I think, frankly speaking, they (APC) have done their best but I think PDP will do better.
As an elder in the South-East, what advice do you give to the Igbo as they engage in the 2019 general elections?
We have suffered a lot in the present dispensation. Every Nigerian knows that South-East has been completely neglected. Can you imagine a people whose leaders helped to get independence for this country being so treated? At every stage in the history of Nigeria, the Igbo have played a major role. But if you look at the structure of government today, it is clear that we are not quite involved; it is true somebody will say that every state should have a minister; Igbo are no fools not to know. But we have seen the whole ministerial positions given, the Igbo are sensible enough. And, above all, in the Security Council, no single Igbo man is there and they claim the Igbo didn’t vote for the government; yes, the Igbo didn’t vote for the government but if they are well treated, they have nothing against Buhari or anybody. Buhari is a friend to many Igbo like me. I like him and I have always talked good of him. But the truth is that Igbo feel very sad because if you look at every appointment, it is not that we don’t have people; we have people who can be taken and, because of this now, Igbo don’t have confidence; they cannot come to Abuja with confidence because they believe that they don’t have anybody. When you come to Abuja today, nothing is done on merit. If they say there is recruitment, if nobody recommends you, if you don’t have a big man talking for you, you cannot get the job.
Where do you stand on restructuring?
In those days when we left school, you didn’t need anybody to talk for you, anybody to recommend you. If there was vacancy, you go there and, if you are qualified, they take you; that is the type of government where Igbo can survive and that is why we are looking for restructuring very badly.
Even this Boko Haram challenge, if you restructure, it may even help to solve it because you will find that natives will have more work to do than soldiers. The idea of flooding everywhere with the military, natives can do the job.