Igbo Yet To Learn Nigeria’s Political Arithmetic – Sen. Okadigbo

Margery Okadigbi image via Sun News Online

Senator Margery Okadigbo is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She was the Anambra North Senatorial candidate of the party in the last election. In this interview by IHEANACHO NWOSU, Okadigbo who is a member of the presidential inauguration committee spoke on a wide range of issues commanding attention in the polity. She insisted that her late husband would have been a member of the APC if he were alive even as she argued that the incumbent administration is delivering on its promises.

How has life been after leaving the Senate?
It has been a bit traumatic. Traumatic in the sense that soon after leaving the Senate, my child was sick which took me out of the country for almost three years. And eventually, my son passed on. That is what has happened to me after the Senate. We went through all of that and we are still grappling with the pain . But to everything, we give God the glory. Back to politics, I joined the All Progressives Congress (APC), and on which I contested for the Senate for Anambra North Senatorial district. But I think the party in Anambra State was in a total confusion and it did not go so well. There was so much in-fighting; members were all against one another. Everybody came up with different issues. Even when we had good chances, there were litigations everywhere. So, it was a house of confusion in the State.

Some people were surprised that you left Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and joined APC when your former party and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) are considered to be more on ground in Anambra than the party you switched to. What informed your decision?

At the point I moved to the APC, it was a personal decision to leave the PDP. Running on the platform of the APC was circumstantial. PDP was not so much on ground when I left the party. I think the turning point for PDP was having Peter Obi as their Vice Presidential candidate. APGA itself was in tatters; its primaries were rancorous. And members of the party had issue with the late Ikemba’s wife (Bianca Ojukwu) and lots of other issues that happened. It wasn’t just APGA in Anambra State; APGA all over the Southeast was in tatters, in total confusion too. So, I think that the PDP coming up with Peter Obi as vice presidential candidate was what nailed it for a lot of people. I think that was a turning point for PDP in Anambra State.

Did you move to APC because of the relationship that exists between Mr President and your family?

As I said, for me, it was a personal decision. At the time I joined politics and the circumstance under which I joined politics, if I must say, politically, I do not have a godfather. What I have is God in heaven. So, I did not wake up one day and say I am going to be a politician. Some people probably did that. I did not do that. When I decided to leave the PDP, there were certain happenings in the party in Anambra State that I did not like. I was really fed up with PDP. When we ran the 2017 elections with the candidacy of Oseloka Obaze, most of the aspirants that ran with him all indulged in anti-party activities which was not favourable to him. I stayed with him to the very last. So, in principle, I felt that I needed to finish that fight which I did, and by the time I was done with that election, I knew I was done with PDP as a party.

Looking at your political journey so far, what would you say has been the political cost of not having your husband, Dr Okadigbo around? Have you lost anything as a result of his absence?
Let’s just say that if he was around, I don’t think that question would come up. I guess that question came up because he is not around. To be fair to myself and my God, I can not say I have lost anything all round politically. When I went to the Senate, I always tell people that if Dr Okadigbo woke up and you told him that I went to the senate he will tell you to leave him to continue his sleep because he would never have believed it. That is why I say that politically, I am a child of circumstance. I never had any godfather, and I did not wake up and say to myself that today I am going to be a politician. Although I have always been in a political home; my paternal uncle, the late Nwafor Orizu, my grandmother’s younger brother, my grandmother is an Orizu. So, I have always been in a political family. Then I married into politics. When I look at it at the end of the day, when it comes to representing Anambra North, I am richly qualified. I was born in Anambra North and I married from Anambra North. I think everything depends on time and circumstance and when that time and circumstance are right, things will fall into place. So, it is hard for me to write it off and say I lost or I am losing politically.

Your late husband ran with Buhari on the same ticket for the presidential election and he did not win. Afterwards, there was a protest where teargas was fired at him alongside others which led to his death . What has been the relationship between your family and the President? Are there things you expect from him and the ruling party?
I really do not think this is a fair question to ask. The reason is that President Buhari has been in power since 2015. In 2015, as I said, I was not around. I had issues that led to the loss of my son. So for me as a parent and as a single parent at that time, that was my priority. Four years later, there is a new situation. The government is back in power. At this point, I ran an election on that platform. It is a family I know. In all these years, I have been in touch with them. I have had a relationship with them. Even when I lost my son in Ogbunike, the First Lady sent a delegation to Ogbunike because this was happening at a time when she also had her son involved in an accident. So, there were two mothers in situations involving their children. She sent people to represent her at the funeral. In the past, they have lost children and I have been there. They have had weddings, I have been there. So, I have a good relationship with them and I do not want my relationship with them to be seen just as a political relationship. What I had with them goes beyond politics. We have become family friends; a friendship that started with my late husband and all these years, we have had that relationship maintained.

Are you saying it is unfair to expect anything from that relationship?

It is normal, but it is not something that I would say there is an expectation. I think it behooves on him to say that Chuba’s widow is here and this is what I think we ought to do for that family. So, it should rather be on him.

Would Chuba have joined APC if he were alive, given also the perception of the party as one that has not lived up to expectation?
It depends on what you mean by living up to expectation. If my late husband was alive, he would have been in APC, that is what I can tell you from what I know of him. If I recall, he said that he may not be here, but Muhammadu Buhari will forge ahead. So, I have no doubt that Chuba would have been a member of APC. It is also possible that what you call the expectation, he would have added value to whatever that is. But for everybody, you bring value to anything. He may have had a different approach to it because no matter what anybody says, my husband was a politician; he learnt it, he taught it, he practiced it. There is no two ways about it. The man was a tactician. So, maybe, he would have been able to offer something. Even at a young age of thirty-something, when he was political adviser to Shehu Shagari, he had a lot to offer. So, I do not doubt for one moment that Chuba would have been APC.

Are you okay with the trajectory that Nigeria is moving at the moment?

I don’t understand what you mean. What is the state of the country?

You are well placed to know…

No, I’m not.

There is so much poverty in the land, unemployment, insecurity and the cost of living is very high. People are complaining. What is your take?

People will complain. I complain too. I do know that if I go back to 2015 and use that as a benchmark, I know that 2003 and 2010 and 2015, they have all been different progressions. It has not been static. So, I would expect that 2015, to 2019, there would equally be progressions.

Do you mean progression in poverty because we have a situation where the World Bank has come out to say that Nigeria is now the poorest country?
I was in the Senate and I know there were times when we asked Okonjo Iweala the question to tell us how broke we are, as a PDP government. That question was always there.

What you are saying in essence is that Nigeria has always been broke?

Nigeria has always been broke, if that is the word you want me to use. Nigeria has always had its challenges .

But this government was elected to change the narrative

Maybe the government did not understand the situation, the depth of the problem

What do you think is making it difficult for the government to address the situation?

If at the end of the day, you expect that you will see N10 and you come in and you see N2, you are going to do quite a lot of wobbling to be able to balance out.

For how long would they continue to wobble?

It depends on how much time you have to wobble. It depends on how many other things you uncover. You may think it is two, but you might find out that it is not even two; you are talking about one or zero.

So, are you saying that there is nothing strange that government has not been able to fix the poor economy?

As I said, go back to 2003 and bring it back to 2019 or even 2018, over these years, we have not remained the same.

To you, once in a while you may sit down and say if the government then had not been cruel to Chuba Okadigbo, putting him in a very serious health condition, he would still have been alive. Do you always have that feeling?

Maybe it is the Christian faith in me that is guiding me. I believe that for everybody, there is a time and there is a season. If it was not God’s will Chuba would not have died. If the health system in Nigeria then had been good, I had no business taking him in a car to the hospital. It would have been a 911 call or whatever number and paramedics would have been here in this house to give him first aid because what he needed first was oxygen. That was not to be. If we had paramedics in the house, I had no business putting him in a car to drive him to the hospital. Oxygen would have been given to him. But that was not the case.

How do you feel that those responsible for his ordeal were the same he was in the same party with?

The party hounded him from the very day one. When we begin to talk about anti-party, it started with Chuba Okadigbo. Remember that the PDP as Senators-elect, they had all decided that they wanted Okadigbo as the Senate President. But some people decided that Okadigbo as Senate President was not what they wanted, and on the floor of the Senate, there was anti-party. The PDP as a party hired AD and APP at the time and voted against their own candidate. That was anti-party and somebody started it then. It did not start today. My husband was the first one. You can even add that when it came to inducements, we know when it started. So, some of these issues that we are talking about today, they have been in existence a long time ago. I remember there was a time that there was a display of money in the House of Representatives; it started then. Then Ghali Na’Abbah was the Speaker of the House.

The same situation is playing out now in the National Assembly; they are trying to choose a Senate President and a Speaker. If you look at the situation, how will you describe what is going on. Where do you think it is going to end?

In the case of the Senate, if the Senators-elect believe in the supremacy of the party they belong to, they should know that their first responsibility is to defend their party. And in defence of their party, they have to first understand that the APC is in the majority. I am not talking about any influence on the outside. I am talking about them as the Senators-elect. They should understand and I am sure they do know that they are in the majority. So, if they are in the majority, they should stay together as the party in majority and vote the person who will be their Senate President. They do not need to solicit the participation of other party.

What do you think made the then President and the ruling party to oppose your husband becoming the Senate President?

The leadership of PDP did not say no. The leadership of PDP had a shadow election in Agura Hotel, and my husband won.

But the president wanted a different candidate
That is why the President went and solicited support from the other party, because PDP was in majority and the majority of PDP Senators wanted him. The PDP at the time was a united party. They knew what they wanted.

Juxtapose that with the current situation where APC is insisting on a particular candidate , do you think it is the right approach or the lawmakers should be free to choose who leads them?
I just said that the first thing Senators-elect should do is to respect the decision of the platform upon which they came to the chamber. You know there has not been any sanction for all these cross carpeting and what have you. Until we get sanctions, party discipline will never be in place. I just said that the APC, being the majority should understand that they are the majority, and they should work on the basis of party supremacy. And if out of the 109 Senators, the APC which has 64 decides amongst themselves to elect a member they will have the majority. They do not need to go looking for other parties to support them. They can still choose who they want by staying together.

The party has indicated interest in one candidate and there are two others who are keenly interested – Ndume and Goje. Do you think it is fair for the party to insist on one person?
I am not even sure the insistence will work. They are not dealing with children. I am saying that the APC Senators-elect are in the majority. The 64 of them should have their shadow election. They should be mature about this thing. If they have three people that want to be Senate President, the 64 of them should have their shadow election and decide on whom it will be and whoever it is that they decide, they should take it to the floor. At that point, they are the majority because they are coming with one voice.

From your own experience, would you say the outgoing Senate was a failure?
I wouldn’t say it was a failure, but I can say that there was a lot of disconnect.

Who should take the blame for the disconnect – Executive or National Assembly?
The blame cannot go to the executive. The blame will go to the Senate. The executive does not leave their office to come to work in the Senate. If your house is not in order, you cannot blame somebody else for it and if your house is not in order, somebody from the outside can take advantage of it. Your house has to be in order.

We have a situation where the fortunes of women in politics keep declining. In fact, in the last election, less women were elected. How do you feel about this?
It is dwindling because the men do not want the women.

There have always been complaints of marginalization in the Southeast under this dispensation since 2015. Do you see the Southeast as truly being marginalized?

I want talk about a simple thing like the Zik mausoleum. That mausoleum has been hanging for so many years. It took Buhari’s government to finish it. The second Niger bridge, I was sitting as a Senator for Anambra North when we went for the ground breaking of the bridge in the year 2013 or 2014. But before Jonathan, there had been talks about second Niger bridge. But today, I can tell you that second Niger bridge is happening. Talking about roads, there are roads now being done. Remember in the Senate on one of those occasions when we had the debate, I said that the second Niger bridge in particular was a campaign slogan for most politicians in the Southeast.

Every politician that came told us about second Niger bridge and nothing was done. Again, I am from the Southeast, Anambra in particular. In 2003, at the Eagle Square, my husband made a very famous or notable speech when he talked about political arithmetic. The Southeast has not learnt that political arithmetic. We are yet to learn it. I stand exactly where Dr Okadigbo stood in 2003, that one plus one does not necessarily give you two; that one plus one can give you zero. But that you can play one plus one and it will give you five. We are yet to understand that political arithmetic and we get it wrong all the time. Until we learn to do it, just like he said years ago, we will never get it right in the Southeast.

If APC has done all these for the Southeast, why has it been difficult for the Southeast to accept the party?
It is not a matter of Southeast not accepting APC. You can also ask why is it that the Southeast, particularly Anambra, is an APGA and not PDP when PDP was in power. Why did they not take PDP but APGA?

The argument was that APGA performed better than the PDP

Why did Peter Obi leave APGA to join PDP?
May be because he wanted to play at the centre

Maybe the Southeast prefers to play at the local.

In terms of federal appointments, it’s heavily swayed towards the North in this administration. The Southeast does not hold any position, particularly in the area of security. Do you feel comfortable about that?

I am not into security, so, I am not in a position to say. But then, if I put it down to the most pedantic and say that over the years in the Southeast, we have maintained that position of having our people in the military, because you find out that at a time where a lot of people from the Southeast were interested in business and manufacturing. I do not like to talk about statistics when I do not have the figures because you would be quoting out of point.

But do you think that they are not in short supply in these security agencies?
I don’t know.

What is your next move, having contested for the Senate and it didn’t work the way you wanted it?
Definitely not governorship, if that is what you want to ask me. I am not interested in being a governor. I am not a local operator because I cannot survive there. But government is unfolding and I am available. I am ready to serve in any capacity that I find myself. Right now, I am in the service of the presidential committee, preparing for the inauguration. So, I do not know where it will head or where it will end up. But wherever it is, I am ready.