Senior lawyer and president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike says that the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha’s days would soon be over, stressing that like all mortals, he cannot decide the future. He also has noted that from the actions of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, it was clear that he is not interested in defending the people of Nigeria against rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
Uwazurike who made the assertion in this interview with Business Hallmark’s Obinna Ezugwu, expressed disappointment with the police chief’s handling of herdsmen, while warning that their activities portend danger for the country.
A lot is happening in Imo. Okorocha choosing his in-law, Uche Nwosu to succeed him, alleged attack on Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Valentine Obinna… Many things. How would you describe these events?
Well, just to say that power corrupts and absolute power consumes the holder. What do I mean by that? When you think that you have it all; when you are satisfied that you are the alpha and the omega, when you are satisfied that your word is law; that whatever you say must happen, then you are walking on the precipice. If you listen to people, you will step back from the precipice. If you don’t listen to people, you will believe in your own immortality and that is when the person jumps off the cliff. That’s the only way I can describe what is happening in Imo State.
Against all expectations, Chief Rochas Okorocha won seven years ago. The then governor did not challenge him in court. He said he will not challenge him. Now towards the end of his regime, we are having all kinds of precarious situations. In simple language, Imo state is just waiting so that this regime will pass. Imo state will resume its normal life only afterwards, for even a blind person can see and even the deaf can hear what is going on.
The President of Imo State, who is otherwise called the governor, thinks that he has absolute powers and that’s the danger we are facing. Democracy is on a tripod: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, which on all forms, must be independent. But one hallmark of democracy is the inalienable right of the people to elect whomever they want and nobody has the right to tell us that this person is far too good and should therefore rule. No, the person must win the primary of his party and then present himself for election.
If the people of Imo State think that you are qualified to be their governor, then they will elect you, provided you have passed through all the crucibles; all the processes. Imo state was built on a tripod of Okigwe, Orlu and Owerri. The way it has always been is that one zone will hold power and another zone will take over. We have never failed to observe it until seven years ago and that is the cause of all the crisis. It’s the unwritten law. So Mr. Governor is turning everything Imo stands for upside down. That’s all I have to say there.
With respect to the attack on the Archbishop, the governor said its untrue, but what impact will it likely have given that similar thing had happened with Ohakim before 2011 election which partly cost him?
Well, Imo, remember, is a Christian state. There are two major Christian religions there: One is Catholic, the other is Anglican… it is same in the whole of Igbo land. Then Methodist, Presbyterian Assemblies and so on and so forth. And of course the Pentecostals. But the Catholic church has 60 percent of Igbo land. For Anglican church, I will say 30 percent and then the rest then fill up the remaining 10 percent. So whatever you do, you must obtain 20 percent of those principal religions. Between Anglican and Catholic Church, you probably have 80-90 percent. Some people may challenge this statistics, that’s fine, but let me give you this analogy. If the Igbo gather to discus anything, there are two principal clerics people ask for: Archbishop (Emmanuel) Chukwuma of Enugu Anglican Diocese and Archbishop Obinna of Owerri Catholic Archdiocese. They speak and everyone pays attention.
Archbishop Obinna is someone I know personally as a man of substance; as a man who will not hesitate to say the truth. And if he can’t say the truth, then who will say the truth? He lives by example. If he says what he believes in, then he has the freedom of speech. The church is his office.
During the burial service, the Archbishop spoke. Those who were supporting the governor, the party (APC), and of course, the Chief of Staff (Uche Nwosu) and the first lady were all there. They tackled him; they rushed him enmassed. Everyone should watch the video on YouTube. Then some reverend fathers started moving forward to protect him from the surging group. And as they were moving, you could see their vestments, pushing people back.
If that is not an assault, then what is it? It is an assault because as a lawyer, I know the meaning of assault. And there was the Archbishop sitting, he was presiding. In the Catholic Church, you do not touch the Lord’s anointed. Remember in the Bible said: “touch not my anointed.”
Archbishop Obinna is someone I am personally proud of because when you see a man who can stand up and say the truth, then you can always go home and rest. If he is sorry he will be the first person to tell you he is sorry. That is the mark of a man. So for him to be humiliated during service… remember service starts with “In the name of the Father,” that’s how mass starts. When the priest is in his vestment, he lives in a different world and if he is preaching, he is still there.
So all those who were harassing him, were they Catholics? I know one person who said he is a cadet of Knight of St. John International, I hope Owerri Archdiocese will take note of that man’s name and handle him properly because no Catholic will ever go near a catholic priest, not to talk of an Archbishop. And for those who do not know it, the Archbishop has a line straight to the pope. The pope has a representative in Nigeria, he can go through him, he can also go straight to him.
Catholic bishops visited President Buhari and said many things against him. But the President of Nigeria did not push them out, he had to listen. It is not too much for the governor to go straight to Archbishop Obinna and apologise. He should go and ask for forgivesness. That is the first step. When he does that, then he can start reconnecting with the people.
In Imo state, the easiest way to get the women against you is to go against their clergy, they don’t joke with their clergy. So if it’s a case of Governor Rochas on one side and the people of Imo State on the other side, then he is done.
You seem quite optimistic that “his cup” will soon pass as you called it, but…?
Yes, in 2019, definitely we will have a different governor. Another person will be there. Who this person is, I do not know. But remember this, man proposes but God disposes. It is only God that determines who will rule, the length of time only God knows.
I can give you some examples. In Kogi, Abubakar Audu was already winning, but just on the light of the victory, he died. President (Umaru) Yar’Adua was there, he didn’t finish. Sani Abacha was there, with all the powers that he had, still the Lord took a position. So when a man begins to play God and say nothing will stop my son-in-law, or my son-in-law will be governor, we begin to ask the person whether he is still a mortal being. Or as we say in religion “are you a mortal man?”
He has shared key positions to his people, he has all the state power apparatus and support from Abuja. Don’t you feel it might be difficult to stop him?
Well, let me quote the late Dr. K.O Mbadiwe. “When it comes to become, then we shall see.” You see, one uncertainty I like in life is that man has no permanent power to make anything happen. So the will of Imo people must come to pass. If perchance, they impose a person as our governor, the person will be the governor of himself and those who put him in power, definitely not the governor of Imo State. You notice some states where people are suffering; people are dying in the hands of herdsmen, but their governors are busy singing the praise of Abuja.
You also know those governors who say I stand with my people. So it will be with Imo state. Whoever will be our governor must be a man who will stand with the people, and you will stand with the people if, and only if the people will elect you.
You mentioned the herdsmen. It is a growing menace in Nigeria, and instructively, the IGP Mr Ibrahim Idris recently ordered vigilante groups to surrender arms while ignoring the herdsmen Does it come to you as a shock?
No, it doesn’t because when you are sent in an errand, you run the errand. I do not believe the Inspector General of Police is defending the people of Nigeria or protecting the rights of the people of Nigeria. The Defence Minister and other ministers have actually said those herdsmen are foreigners. Nobody is talking of disarming them, nobody is talking of arresting them, but the IG of Police is anxious to disarm those who are defending themselves.
The Inspector General of Police is not a threat to the herdsmen, he has never threatened them. Therefore, he is not acting for the people of Nigeria, he is acting for those he knows very well, but definitely not us. Where he comes from, if somebody should carry cattle and go to his own farm, if he has any, and then start grazing on the farm, perhaps, then he will know what it means to loose an entire source of livelihood.
Mr. President is talking about bumper harvest, presenting agriculture as a success story, but those success stories have disappeared at the feet of herds of cattle and since those herdsmen are not Nigerians… they are foreigners who have come to destroy our farms, they will go back to their countries with their herds and Nigeria will now be counting its loses.
In terms of policy, the President of Nigeria is there, the Inspector General of Police is there. He is the first line of defence. I am waiting for him to say he got a call that the herdsmen are destroying this or that, or that they just burnt that town, or that there is a settlement in Benue they are attacking and therefore, that he has rushed there to dislodge those snipers, then we will clap for him. But now he is pontificating all the way from Abuja. When he comes down to earth we will know, and one day he will leave office because no position is permanent in life.
But before that time, don’t you think they would have done irreparable damage?
Yes, even now it is difficult to recover because farming is done at the beginning if the season. Those farmers cannot farm; they can’t even go to their farms. Whatever is left from next year is taken up and there is nothing new coming in. And you know that the Benue Valley is the food belt of the nation. I am happy Mr. President has gone to Plateau and Benue states. Plateau state battled the issue of fulani herdsmen for years and they are still battling and those from Benue are facing their own. The man in Nasarawa is having a good time even though his people are already victims. But are they planning for the next farming season? No.
Restructuring has been suggested as one way of tackling this herdsmen menace. You have been at the forefront, but it’s obvious the Buhari government is against it. Now, some are saying if there won’t be restructuring, let’s boycott 2019 election?
I have never been an advocate of election boycott unless it is local government election. In the local government, the results are already written like the one that just took place in Edo. So, why do you waste your time going to pay nomination fees? Knowing full well that nothing is going to come out of it.
But as for the 2019 election, I only ask people to go and pick up their PVCs, I ask those who want to contest to go and get registered in the parties now and mobilise people. Do special mobilisation now, not later. You never can tell what will happen, that’s what people don’t realise in politics. Don’t give up, if you give up you have accepted defeat in the democratic struggle. I don’t support arms struggle because people will die.
And we don’t want that, like (Goodluck) Jonathan said “not a drop of blood is worth my ambition.” So, we must get together and make our decisions known.
In 2015, the twenty plus local governments occupied by Boko Haram, their results were in Abuja. Which means INEC conducted elections in the areas occupied by Boko Haram? They didn’t but they had results. If you go and check their results, it is equivalent of the number with which Buhari beat Jonathan. The first action of Mr. President was go and attack Boko Haram there, because it was a territory under the group; he launched a war against them, so who voted there? But this coming election, we all must be ready and willing to act. You cannot take power by sitting at home, that’s my believe.
You have harped on the need for people to collect their PVCs, but there are places, especially in the East where people say they have tried but couldn’t?
That’s the current compliant… that the continuous voter registration in the East is not going on. I remember the man in Anambra was quoted to have said they just finished governorship election and therefore no registration, and when he was told that some people have gone round to the various places, he started telling them to come down to Awka. In this era of high transport cost essentially because of petrol, you go there and you don’t see anybody, you turn around. If you have the phone numbers of those in charge, they will tell you to come another day. They deliberately frustrate you. The South East and South South registration centres are nothing but a sham. So when INEC gets its acts together, continuous voter registration is what they should be doing. You should stroll in and stroll out, you shouldn’t spend more than 5minutes, for you to be answered and you move on. We cannot grow if we continue to be Lilliputians in the administration of electoral laws and procedures.
But in this case, some people would argue that the INEC officials responsible are also people from these areas. So who do we blame?
You blame whoever appointed the members. A messenger does not go beyond the message. INEC appointed people with a mandate. INEC has given them the machinery to work. Afterall, like I said earlier, we had votes coming from the Boko Haram occupied areas in 2015. Did they collect their PVC’s? Where were they? They didn’t collect anything because the areas were occupied by Boko Haram. Yet, the results were counted on their behalf. But here in the South East and South South, we have people who are willing to be registered but INEC cannot register them. The buck box stops on their table. It can never shift to anybody.
The agitations in the South East is assuming another dimension with agitators insisting that they won’t allow Ohanaeze or anybody to hold meetings where the unity of Nigeria will be discussed. They disrupted a meeting of Igbo leaders in Enugu…?
That’s the one Prof. Nwabueze was telling me about. You see, the beauty of democracy is that you have your say, I have my say, the majority will have its way. Minority will have its say, majority will have its way. At times you have people who are very loud, but they may not have a lot of support, but you have others who may be silent but they have lot of support. So with time, we will know who has the majority. Those who are against restructuring will say it… that what they want referendum. Those who want restructuring will also say their own, so let all parties shield their swords and jaw jaw, because it is always better than war war.
Talking about 2019, there is now an emerging third force which many say is SDP to which people like Gerry Gana now belongs. Do you feel it’s a welcome development?
Well if you ask me, in a democracy, the more the merrier. America has no limit to the number of parties. People only know of two: the Republican and the Democrat, but they have many other parties. At a point they even had a party known as the Know Nothing Party. In nigeria many years ago we had a party called The Chop I Chop Party. So if they want to form SDP or join SDP, good luck to them. If they want to go back to PDP, good luck to them. If they want to go to APGA, same thing. As it is, there are only three parties that have governors, PDP, APGA and APC. If we are going to have a brand new party with enough strength to offstage everybody, why not?
If SDP succeeds in getting only one or two states, no problem, but all I am asking is, to quote Jerry Gana, “if you are commander-in-chief, please chiefly govern well.” That’s all I will ask. For Jerry Gana, Goodluck to him. Movement from one party to the other is nothing new. We know those in APC, we know those who crossed. The New PDP, they are the ones marginalised in APC. The ACN is also complaining that they are not carried along. They are really agitating. So you never can tell what will happen. There are a lot of discordant in a number of states for you to know that there may be upsets in various states very soon.