BY CELESTINE OKAFOR
Former Anambra Central Senator and current National Secretary of the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ben Ndi Obi, has reviewed the two year mid-tenure of the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari and described it as falling short of the people’s expectation. In this interview with CELESTINE OKAFOR, Senator Obi proffered solutions on what the APC regime can do to regain the confidence of the electorates ahead of 2019 general elections. He also spoke on the recent coup scare and the controversial Abuja Peace Accord.
What is your assessment of the state of the nation under the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari, two years after?
I am really very worried. I’m worried because in politics, for every and any election, you have to undergo some campaigns. And in the process of campaigning, you have to emphasize the manifesto of your party. And you also have to go a bit beyond the manifesto because the manifesto may not exactly capture the various disadvantages across the communities of the federation. So when you encounter such disadvantages, you therefore have to make some promises. Unfortunately, the situation in the country today is looking quite hopeless. The APC administration is a bit running out of time and seem to be running out of ideas. And this is compounded basically as a result of the poor health of Mr President. I must say as a Christian and as a patriot and indeed a friend of President Muhammadu Buhari, a man l know who has undisputed integrity and honesty, that unfortunately, his health challenge has not enabled him to actually actualize his promises to Nigerians. As l said, it behoves on all of us Nigerians, to pray that the good lord will grant the president a very quick recovery from his ailment so that he can come back and face the challenges of governance based on the mandate he got from Nigerians.
Beyond the issue of his health problems, would you say, as an experienced party manager or administrator, that in two years, the APC as a party has so far made things easier for president Buhari and his regime?
From my experience in the management of political party over the years, l can confidently say that the APC as a party today is actually not a political party. It is to say the candid truth, a marriage of desperadoes; people who wanted power at all cost. So most of them were not prepared on how to manage power should it come their way. And when you juxtapose that with the 2011 elections, President Buhari, mostly from only the north, was able to garner about twenty million votes. And in 2015, l think he got about fifteen million votes across the country. So the truth of the matter, was that the APC is symbolized by one person and that is president Muhammadu Buhari. It was only for him that Nigerians voted for the APC. The situation, as far as l saw it from day one, is that the APC is what you can call a gathering of strange brethrens. Because of the situation l have narrated, they have not been able to fulfill their promises to Nigerians in the past two years.
What would you consider as the specific achievements of the APC government so far in the past two years?
I must congratulate the government of the APC for doing a good job of attacking the Boko Haram terrorism in general. One must concede that they did a good job of that. You know the APC campaign mantra was tackling the issue of insecurity in the country, corruption and what have you. But you see, having saluted them for their ability to tackle the state of insecurity in the country, the issue of anti-corruption or rather the battle against corruption, as the case may be, has not been well handled at all.
In what way specifically?
You can see that the various security agencies under this regime have sharp misunderstanding, and there is no way they can effectively tackle corruption when the various agencies of security are battling themselves. Unfortunately, the one-man riot squad that should be Mr President is unable to take charge as a result of his ill health. Now you have the DSS (Department of State Security Service), the NIA (National Intelligence Agency) on one side and then the EFCC ( Economic and Financial Crime Commission) on the other side. There is also the ICPC (Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission) on one side and the police on the other side, all running riot. There is absolutely no coordination of these agencies and this is very glaring. So the fight against corruption is taking a dive for a complete failure. This is very unfortunate, because every responsible Nigerian want the issue of corruption adequately tackled because it is one of our biggest set backs as a people and as a country. If you do not conduct a thorough and proper investigation into any allegation and you go to court and expect the court to give you judgement, then you must be making a huge mistake. That is why most of EFCC’S cases in court failed. And don’t forget, that l once served in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) between 1999 and 2003, and we also fought corruption with the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration. We fought corruption and every thing was centered there in the office of the National Security Adviser. l worked hand-in-globes with these agencies and at very close quarters. I knew how we made a lot of Nigerians refund so much of their loots that they acquired illegally. It was not a matter for the press. Remember, how many times do you see the face of the Director General of DSS then or the DG of NIA. I was also there when General Aliyu Gusau (then DG of NIA) and Chief Kanu Agabi who was the then Attorney General of the Federation, were saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the activities of the EFCC then under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. And when l was going to run for senate in the 2003 elections, it was my office at the NIA at No 1, Ibrahim Taiwo street at the Presidential villa that l relinquished for Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. That was where Ribadu started work as chairman of EFCC. So l know how we did those things successfully. Therefore you can’t ascribe success to what is happening now in the anti-corruption war. We as PDP, as a party, are in full support of the war against corruption and we are prepared to cooperate with the relevant agencies of government in prosecuting the war. But let me say this: you can not fight corruption by double standards! The fight against corruption must have a level playing field. It must not respect party loyalists or opposition party members. It must cut across whether you are PDP, APC, APGA, UPP or Labour Party or whatever political party you belong to. Those in charge of taking responsibility should not put up sentiment or partisanship on this project. A lot of that is happening already and that is why Nigerians are beginning to lose hope. Finally in all of this, l have said that it is the health challenge of the president that is creating all these anomalies. Buhari’s first outing as a military head of state, even though it was a military government, was quite commendable. The mandate Buhari gave to his deputy at the time (late General Tunde Idiagbon) was effectively pursued. And whenever Buhari who is a man of few words spoke, he knew what he was going for. But unfortunately, things are not the same today. So l think his health is a major obstacle in the actualization of his campaign promises. And his lieutenants have still not overcome the fact that they are in government. Some of them still see themselves as in opposition. They seem not to know where they are going as a party in government.
Would you also say that our democracy has improved in two years after sixteen years effort of your party PDP at consolidating it against the backdrop of the bogey of coup which the Chief of Army Staff ( Lt. General Tukur Buratai) has allegedthat some people are urging the military to spearhead?
I think it is very unfortunate that people are talking about coup at this time. But what the Army Chief said is a serious thing. It is a very serious allegation at this point in time. What l expect the Chief of Army Staff to do is to give us further details. It is not just enough for him to say what he said. Yes, the military authorities have now come out to allay the general fears and concern arising from what he said, but he (Buratai) should go a step further to tell us more story of what he knew because he must have got some information for him to go public and make such a statement. And this is what l am saying that you don’t fight this battle on the pages of newspapers. I personally consider such statements as reckless especially when the public are not privy to what they should know. General Buratai should have gone the whole hog to tell Nigerians that these are the people who are talking to his office about this thing (coup allegation). So the democratic success we acquired under the Goodluck Jonathan administration and which also the PDP government established since 1999 with so many things that were put in place like war against corruption, telecommunications, etc, are about to be frittered away. In the 2007 general elections, the main contestants were late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan for the PDP, the former AC (Action Congress) had former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and my humble self. The former ANPP had President Muhammadu Buhari and late Chief Edwin Umezoke. But Obasanjo went ahead and announced whatever he regarded as presidential election result and the whole world condemned that result as not being free and fair. Based on that, late president Yar’Adua (May God continue to grant his sole eternal rest and peace) set up the Justice Muhammadu Uwais panel to look into the issue of elections in Nigeria and come up with amendments to an electoral process that will endure. Uwais panel, to my mind, did a good job of that. But it was not implemented unfortunately. However, former President Goodluck Jonathan came on board and ensured that the electoral process was sanitized. The elections in 2011 was commended by the international community. All the election observers commended Prof Attahiru Jega’s INEC. All other elections that followed after the general elections of 2011 were also very transparent. It was based on one man, one woman, one vote. Infact, after that, Jonathan made it so clear to everybody that he wanted a clear, free and fair democratic process. Politicians, based on that, started telling one another to better go and work hard and campaign for votes. So votes now count. We saw that again in the 2015 general elections. Look at the elections that we’ve had since this Buhari administration. Look at the Edo, Ondo and Rivers elections we had recently. In the Rivers election particularly, the military moved in. The police moved in and ballot boxes were carted away as has been reported. So you can see that our democracy is retarding. Our electoral process that has become a pride has been violated. Therefore a lot of work needs to be done. I am worried because we have elections coming up in Anambra state very soon. Let us again watch and see what will happen. But l’m very worried about what will happen in the 2019 general elections. If a state election can be so militarized, what then will happen in 2019? When l was appointed special adviser in 2011, the first thing l did was to sit down with President Goodluck Jonathan and said since we believe in free and fair elections, my office will be conducting a lot of workshops across the country wherever there are elections. I will make the political parties to understand that they have to abide by the ethics of the game. I did a memo to the president to that effect. I did workshops in everywhere in this country and l got all the political parties, all the candidates to sign my communique and l did that in conjunction with INEC. So most times when things went slightly wrong, the politicians want to react. They will tell you that if they didn’t sign the communique, anybody could have gone to the street. Today, we don’t have any of things like that.
Now, taking a look at the state of the nation’s economy, would you also say that between 2015 and now, there have been significant improvements in the way your party the PDP government left it?
Well in the economic sphere, things are as bad as that. The way the economy is being managed today is bereft of economic management team. Honestly l don’t know how they are running the economic team today. When an economy is in distress or in recession, the wisest thing to do is to put in place a highly respected team of renowned economists who will sit down and quickly draw a road map on how the economic situation can be turned around within a shortest possible time. So l am worried! When your politics is not right, your economy too can not be right. I always see the economics of a country as a branch of the entire political structure. I am very disturbed that they seem not to be getting their bearings right.
Taking you back to the issue of peace committee on the electoral process, suddenly we started hearing that people like Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah are the drivers of this peace committee. So who actually, between you and Kukah, is the real initiator of this peace process?
Well in 2014, precisely in first week of May, l went to see the then National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki. I said to him that l was very worried the way politicians especially political parties are talking and angling about this Boko Haram. They were really politicizing this Boko Haram thing. And because it is a serious security issue, that l need his consent to organize a summit, an All-Political Party Summit to address this issue of Boko Haram. As at that time, most of the Ambassadors have drawn my attention to the reckless utterances of the politicians which was not helping matters. Col. Dasuki, the NSA, agreed with me. So l went and briefed the President that this was what was happening. The president expressly approved of it. I immediately set up a summit that took place on the June 12 of that year. I chose that June 12 date for its significance. My office ran that summit and it was chaired by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Head of State. President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari were in attendance. Infact, l had to write to the leadership of APC formally because l went to brief the then interim national chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande. I met him at the Lagos House interestingly with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, my good friend. I told them that l want to organize a national summit because of this Boko Haram issue. They said it was a good idea and then they requested me to do a formal letter to that effect so that they can table it before the National Executive Committee (NEC) of their party. So l quickly did that memo to them and interestingly they deliberated on it at their NEC meeting. They said since it is Senator Ben Obi that is doing the summit, they have no fear that l will be clearly transparent. They ensured it was approved by their party NEC. I then met personal with President Muhammadu Buhari who was not a president then. I told Buhari that apart from informing your party the APC, that l’m also informing you about the summit based on your own integrity and the respect you command in this country and beyond. Buhari told me Senator, go ahead, l know you very well, l know what you can do. They all signed the communique of that summit that all utterances that could aggravate situations in that general elections should be measured. That Boko Haram should not be politicized and that it is an issue that we can not afford to politicize. Most of the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of various countries resident in Nigeria were in attendance. That summit now gave birth to the Abuja Peace Accord. People like Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Dr Kofi Anan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, were major officials in that summit. Deliberately, l brought in those who worked at the United Nations like Prof Ibrahim Gambari and General Isaac Obiakor, the first African at the United Nations on security matters. These were the people l brought so that no political party will accuse anybody of biases. And they all attended. Infact, at a point, President Jonathan asked me whether l am sure that Dr Kofi Anan will attend that summit. I told him Mr President l’ve secured his assurances. He said if that is the case, he will direct the party (PDP) to shift his campaign schedule to Ondo state. So Jonathan truly directed that his campaign should be shifted when he learnt that Kofi Anan was already in the country. All political parties and their chairmen attended that summit and again, l got them to sign that communique. That was how we witnessed a transparent election in the 2015 poll. And both Buhari and Jonathan hugged themselves. So immediately that peace accord took place, Mr Banki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations sent his envoy in Africa, Ambassador Ibn Chambers who is based in Senegal to come personally and congratulate me for a job well done and to tell me not to stop at that point but to go ahead and establish a peace committee. It was even difficult to get money from the government for the summit event and the Abuja peace accord. I tabled it before the peace committee here and they saw what l was into and they bought into it. I was with Chief Emeka Anyaoku reviewing the success of that peace accord when Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah came in to first congratulate me and then to say that we must have a peace accord to continue the process. He said we must discuss it. Then he and l went to Cardinal John Onaiyekan to get his support and blessing. Onaiyekan was so excited about what l did with the Abuja Peace Accord and he said that we should go ahead. That was how General Abdulsalami Abubakar was made chairman and Commodore Ebitu Ukaiwe was made his deputy. We now agreed in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s house that the Kukah Foundation and my office should jointly run it as coordinators. Fortunately, Cardinal Onaiyekan went on a live programm on television and made it clear to every one that this peace initiative came from me, Senator Ben Obi. And he also said so severally at our meetings that l should be thanked because it was that my initiative that we used to achieve peace in the country. We now went ahead to invite former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari to come and sign the peace accord. This is how the peace committee