From Ehirim Files Archives
By Mike Ebonugwo
September 17, 2003
Prior to the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) national convention where he emerged as presidential running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo was perceived in many respected quarters as one politician who would never compromise on the question of the supremacy of civil democracy over military dictatorship. The reason for this is not far-fetched.
He remains till date one of the few politicians who refused to serve under any military government in spite of tempting offers and gestures that had less principled politicians scrambling for one position or the other.
So, eyebrows were naturally raised when he agreed to run with former military dictator, Gen. Buhari whose regime went down in history as one of the most oppressive. Apart from that, the emergence of Buhari as military head of state via a coup d'etat that toppled the Second Republic civilian government where Okadigbo was a prominent figure led to his seeking political asylum in Britain.
So what has changed to make the Fourth Republic former Senate president to embrace Buhari as a presidential partner in spite of what many regard as Gen. Buhari's hardline anti-democratic disposition?
Also by discarding his widely publicised presidential ambition to run with Buhari instead of joining his fellow Igbo presidential aspirants in their walk out protest against the emergence of Buhari as presidential candidate, can he be said to have betrayed the Igbo presidential cause as some are now accusing him?
These are some of the questions, I asked the former Senate president. And his answers represent the vintage Okadigbo forth-right, pungent and uncompromising especially on the questions of the 2003 elections and the lingering state of uncertainty in the country.
Running mate to Gen. Buhari
IT'S a very simple matter really. First of all, some people say why did you become running mate to Buhari, after a long background of not serving any military government. My answer has been, I was not going to serve any military government; its that Buhari is joining us in a constitutional government. So its the other way round.
So, its victory for pro-democratic government rather than a loss as it added to its number such a personality. And we have accepted a democratic temper and the Constitution. So the question raised by those who have problems about serving military government or not by Okadigbo just put the wrong question to the wrong place. The question should have been were we going for a military government or a civilian democratic government? My answer is the latter, so there shouldnt be any blame there. So, the question of going to serve a military government is non sequitur.
Considering the way and manner you emerged as running mate to Gen. Buhari, there are still many today who see you as having betrayed and undermined the Igbo-for-president cause which was the clarion clamour for the Igbo before the last elections. What is your reaction to this? I asked him. He did not hesitate to explain his seeming controversial action at the time.
My answer to that is a capital no! I neither betrayed the Igbo cause nor undermined the chances of an Igbo becoming President. You have to look at the question of an Igbo emerging president in the context of what is happening in the country. In the PDP, no Igbo presidential candidate had evolved, even though there are five Igbo governors in the party. To the contrary, they worked against the emergence of (Dr.) Alex Ekwueme; I saw it coming and I dodged the bullet and went to the ANPP to try my hands elsewhere and to keep it open in the PDP in the event that Ekwueme will emerge. If he had emerged, I would have pulled out; I wouldnt be involved. And that is the major party.
That is a preposterous proposition. You must step down for something you can serve to the other Nigerians! Not to carry a load and throw it over to them. So, for failing to be able to do what the Northerners did for themselves, we now blame Dr. Okadigbo for not being president. That is balderdash! And in so far as I was concerned, the shortest cut to the president was to take the vice presidency and in four years time get the presidency as agreed within the ANPP. So by now we would have been talking of an Igbo man becoming president by 2007.
Did you watch the election? The ANPP won the election hands down. We defeated the PDP flat out! The European Union election observers said there were monumental electoral fraud in 23 states of the federation. Everybody knows that we floored the PDP. How come up till date they have not celebrated any victory except maybe the one they had in one hotel. You find people who said they won an election hiding. What do you call that? (President) Obasanjo cannot come to Lagos without at least 13 lorry load of mobile police.
This is more of a security movement than a political movement. Protection from the presence of the people who are supposed to have elected you have become the primary duty of the Nigeria Police Force. What kind of victory is that? It reminds me of Omoboriowo who won an election under the NPN in the Second Republic but was looking for police protection to claim his victory (prolonged laughter). How come PDP people are looking for police and army protection, yet they say they won. Everybody knows they failed.
Now theyre busy talking of 2007 when they have not finished with the issue of their failure in 2003. The outcome of the election is still in the court and we have to settle that before anybody starts talking of 2007. The PDP and their governors and their people are petrified by their unpopularity vis-a-vis what they see is our popularity with the people.
So I dont think the quest for an Igbo president was affected by the outcome of what I did. What they did affected their outcome not only in the ANPP but also in the PDP. You have to win as a Nigerian not as an Igbo man. In the case of Obasanjo in 1999, the Yorubas voted against him, he was still made President by us.
Talking about 2007, it would appear that the initial campaigns do suggest that Ndigbo are completely out of the picture to produce a President, I told him. He laughs it off, insisting rather that the elections of 2003 are not over yet as the courts still have to decide on a number of election related cases pending before them. He is also of the view that if the tribunals and courts do their jobs objectively and fairly, the ANPP would emerge victorious. He did not stop there.
These electoral panels, the Court of Appeal and also the Supreme Court are in a position to examine and decide the issue of democracy in Nigeria. They better do it right or face the consequence. And until these (election petitions) are determined, the question of 2007 is nothing but hogwash.
The fundamental issue now should be how to address the problems of unemployment, insecurity of life and property. We should be talking of how to deliver goods and services to the people and providing good roads and checking armed robbery, as well as seeking solutions to the problem of lack
of electricity and water. Right now our economy is lying prostrate. The question should be what are we going to do about it?
But the Federal Government has signaled its intention to address the problem of the economy through a new blueprint it calls the New National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS), I reminded him. He dismissed this with a wave of the hand.
Is it the one they said will materialise in 10 years time? he scoffed dismissively. I hope he (Obasanjo) doesnt think he would be there in 10 years time. The implication is that they have no programme; that they have already failed by their own testament. In 10 years time there will be some glimmer. The Economic Summit by Professor Anya and the rest of them came up and said they were wrong in saying 10, that at the way were going, it will take 20 years for the economy to recover.
So, 10 years or 20 years from now we will remain in economic coma? You know what that means? We'll all die. One more year of things remaining the way they are the system will collapse.
Nigeria is facing atrophy in a reckless way from the top. The top is leading the country to a break down of the system which is alarming. And the President with his cabinet is telling Nigerians that they have no hope for the next 10 years. Even that little thing left, which is hope, they have also dashed; you cant even hope when you have been given a picture of 10 years darkness; no light at the end of the tunnel. This is shocking and we need a change to reverse the negative trend.