Igbo short-changed on appointments, compensated with projects –VON DG

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The Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria and a chieftain of the Enugu State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, Osita Okechukwu, speaks with JOHN ALECHENU on the alleged marginalisation of the Ndigbo and the 2019 general elections

Do you agree with the Ndigbo who are accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of marginalising the South-East in terms of federal appointments?

I will be an idiot to come out here to say my people (the Igbo) are fully represented at the highest echelon of government. We are nowhere in the security apparatus, we are not on the board of the NNPC – Ibe Kachikwu is on the board but he is from the South-South. Yes, that is the downside of our regime. My business as a social scientist is to accept the downside but when you do a graph, President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘upside’ far outweighs the downside. Appointments are temporal; they are transient but when we talk of Enugu coal being revamped, it may be for the next 50 to 100 years. When we talk of the eastern rail line – the one that the British installed is over 100 years old whether we properly managed it when the British left is another matter. We are talking of tangibles now. The Enugu-Onitsha road was first constructed by the Shehu Shagari administration in the 1980s, repaired by the Petroleum Trust Fund under Buhari and was not rehabilitated in the 16 years that the Peoples Democratic Party spent in power. By then, we had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; we had the minister of finance; the chief of army staff; we had the minister of power; we had the senate president; we had deputy senate president; we had deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, we had the chairmen, Senate and House of Representatives committees on works – all from the South-East – within that interval of 16 years that the PDP held sway but infrastructure collapsed. Now, we have somebody who we didn’t vote for, but who chose, on his own, to use his pan-Nigerian platform to borrow $100bn, divided it into $16.6bn and gave each of the six geo-political zones, including the South-East.

Are you saying the PDP government did nothing in the South-East throughout between 1999 and 2015?

The PDP used the second Niger Bridge as a campaign slogan for 16 good years. They even went into a public private partnership at some point. The Obi of Onitsha, who is an intellectual, reminded the then President (Goodluck) Jonathan about the promise he made about the bridge in 2011 when he went to use the same thing to campaign in 2015. When Buhari came, he fixed the Second Niger Bridge as one of the five top priority projects of his administration and voted N14bn to start the foundation of the bridge with big pipes that are 40 feet and big radius; that has been completed. It is going to cost the Federal Government about N240 billion because Mr. President doesn’t accept half measures. This is a man who didn’t give us chief of staff; he didn’t give us secretary to the government or minister of finance, coordinating the economy, but you can see the paradox; we are benefiting more from him. We need to vote for him because of this foundation he is laying in the interest of this country. I am an Igbo man; if it is good for Nigeria, we will benefit because we are everywhere in this country.  If I stay another 10 years, I would have spent more years in the North than I have spent in the South-East. I am 63 years old. I have the advantage of traversing this country and have made friends across ethno-religious lines.

You spoke about Buhari revamping the Enugu coal project. Are you saying that the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who is from the state and has spent 11 years on the seat, hasn’t made any case for it?

Let’s take it this way. By the end of the 8th Senate next year, my younger brother, Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, would have spent 16 years there (as a senator). We are just saying enough is enough.

Are you saying he has no input in the revamping of the coal project?

Enugu is not called Coal City for nothing. The appellation is not for the fun of it. The four coal fields in Enugu were designed by Prof. Barth Nnaji when he was an adviser and later, minister of power, to generate electricity and for the use of coal for other purposes like what they call briskets, which they use for cooking. The distinguished Senator Ekweremadu never mentioned this in his 16 years in the Senate and I have been doing a lot since then to see if we can revamp Enugu coal. I feel that being a Senator, it should be an easier thing to facilitate because I know the encumbrances. Where we come from, Enugu West Senatorial District has very arable land. The local government, where Ekwerenmadu comes from, is a rice belt. There is the need to hook up to what Mr. President is doing in ensuring self sufficiency in what I call the RRAP – roads, rail, agriculture and power. We should also be talking about bringing about a cassava integrated farm at Olu in the Izeagu Local Government Area as well as a rice integrated farm in Aniri, where Ekweremadu comes from because I have studied the Anchor Borrowers programme of Mr. President as per agriculture; those are the areas. What we use to see is that on each Christmas, Ekweremadu would buy motorcycles and other things and dash out.

Are you saying he shouldn’t empower his constituents?

We should be talking about providing sustainable employment for the teeming unemployed youth. A senator of his calibre should use his position to facilitate the opening of the eastern corridor standard gauge railway using President Muhammadu Buhari’s platform; this is what a senator should pay attention to instead of bickering. Ekweremadu, to me, is running a cycle of diminishing returns; he has spent the last three to four years fighting. That is not what our senatorial district needs. Enugu State has 10 higher institutions – university and other higher institutions – which produce about 2,000 graduates on annual basis but what we hear is that our boys are killed in South Africa; they are chasing us out in Ghana; we are fighting in Gabon, and we are fighting in Cameroon. We have to put a halt to that because economic development has told us that the people, who have a collation point at home, hardly migrate but those who have nothing holding them together will migrate. We ought to reduce that by providing employment. If Ekweremadu was an APC deputy senate president, this acrimony we are seeing between the executive and the legislature today will not be there and our region would have been better for it.

As the VON DG, do you have an insight into the recent invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services?

I have none. What I have learnt in my 63 years on earth is that the details of what happened will become public one day. I have this confidence that our democracy has come to stay; nothing will truncate this democracy. You know why? This fight is a war within the elite, between the National Assembly and the executive, it is non-religious and it is non-tribal. In Saraki’s camp is my friend, Senator Isa Misau, who is from Bauchi. On the other side is my brother, Senator Hope Uzodinma and Abu Ibrahim. Look down the other side, you find Yoruba men on both sides of the divide. It has not gone into our traditional fault lines. I don’t want to bother myself about that; it happens once in a while in democracy.

We are going into an election year and perhaps now more than ever before, the health of Mr. President is raising a lot of concerns. Don’t you think someone, other than Buhari should emerge as President in 2019?

It will not be in the interest of this country that another person comes in at this point. You know why? Buhari came in, and with very little resources, he has been able to achieve what we are seeing today. This is the rainy season, most of the contractors working on road projects had to pull back to allow the rains recede before they return to site, this is normal. I don’t want to talk about health; I lost my son, a 19-year-old boy in March this year. So, if it is about age and health, I don’t want to talk about that. This is not about propaganda.The facts on the ground shows that President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on the most ambitious physical infrastructural development of the country – 5,000 kilometres of federal roads; 5,000 kilometres of rail lines; 5,000 additional megawatts of electricity and self sufficiency in food production. What more can we ask for?

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