Gen. JOJ Okoloagu (Rtd), member of Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview with Ochiaka Ugwu, said President Muhammadu Buhari is still the man to beat in 2019 presidential election. Okoloagu also spoke on the just-concluded Ekiti governorship poll, Igbo Presidency in 2023, defection by politicians across party lines, insecurity, state police and killings in some parts of the country as well as the proposed APC South-East rally in Enugu. Excerpts:
A few days ago, the governor of Benue State indicated interest to quit your party, the APC, on grounds that the party gave him red card. We have also seen the Sokoto State governor romancing with the PDP. Does this bother you?
Well, everybody is entitled to his opinion. Gov. Ortom is still in the APC. Gov. Tambuwal is still in the APC; anybody is free to romance with anybody. But honestly speaking, I don’t think there is a serious thing there. The only thing I believe the new leadership of my party is doing is to find out the leakages because as human beings there are bound to be disagreements. I am not from Benue state but I have information about the combatants in Benue; the senator and the governor. My only worry is that Gov. Ortom has spoken out too loud and too early. Even if he decides to leave, where he made his intention known was not the proper forum for him to announce it. That is my personal judgment.
But the Benue governor said the APC has not been fair to him…….
I disagree completely with him that the party has not been fair to him or to anybody. He had not sought for anything and was denied yet as far as l know. We have not yet started the primaries. It is when we go to the party primaries and the party leadership says he cannot go for a re-election that his claims will begin to make meaning. Nigeria must develop and for that to happen, we must play politics with decency. You cannot say someone is your enemy because the person is in opposition PDP. We are not your enemies because I am in APC. We are just brothers but operating on different platforms with a common purpose. For those who understand politics, it is about service. If you understand politics as service, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be interacting. So Gov. Tambuwal of Sokoto State going to commission a project in Rivers State or the Senate President or House of Representatives Speaker doing that is normal in a democracy. We must grow above this parochial bondage we have subjected ourselves to for too long. I think there is hope for Nigeria because the new generation is interacting. I was very impressed with Gov. Tambuwal’s statement when he was commissioning the project in Port Harcourt. He said if people understand the purpose of politics as service to the nation, then the idea of one not associating with another because of political differences wouldn’t be there. The young man has shown leadership, so I have not seen anything wrong in that.
The election in Ekiti State has come and gone but there are backlashes here and there. Does the election show that your party is set for 2019?
My problem with the Nigerian democracy is that whoever losses cries fowl. I ran for senate three times and l am going for the fourth one in 2019. If it doesn’t work, so be it because power comes from God. There is no way you can satisfy everybody at the same time. Were they (PDP and other political parties) worried about the number of security personnel that manned the Ekiti poll exercise? That is Nigeria for you. If the government did not bring sufficient security, they will accuse government of not bringing adequate security for that election. And since the government brought more than enough security to ensure a peaceful governorship poll, they are now saying the APC rigged. But for me as a democrat, if we could militarize Ekiti in other to achieve the much desired free and fair election, so be it. So this is actually a pointer to what will happen in 2019. It has not been in doubt that the APC will win the 2019 presidential election. Whether Buhari or no Buhari, the APC will win because we are going to be judged by our performance so far. So there is still no alternative for President Buhari in 2019 elections.
The on-going killings in some parts of the country may appear to be a serious dent in whatever positive achievements your party APC may have recorded in the past three years. Won’t that affect the APC in the coming 2019 general elections?
Yes, it is very unfortunate that some elements have been perpetrating this kind of mindless killings in the country but l don’t think that alone can sufficiently affect the chances of APC retaining the presidency in 2019. Yes, people are likely to judge us by our party’s failures and successes. I am not saying that we have succeeded in everything. We are human beings, we are not God, and I want Nigerians to understand it from that perspective. We have succeeded in infrastructural development, youth empowerment and so many other things. In fact, we have even succeeded in starting restructuring and in tackling the Boko Haram menace. I believe in the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and there is no pretence about it. I am not defending President Buhari for the killings. We have not done too well in the area of internal security due to some handicaps that are being seriously tackled by the leadership. That does not mean that we have failed as a party. But you can also remember that when this government came on board, almost a whole state was taken hostage. But l believe that Mr. President needs to rejig our security architecture; he needs to do it urgently as a compliment to his commendable efforts in degrading Boko Haram. The society is dynamic, so also is combat. And because of the dynamism of this country, we need to be constantly in touch to get things right. The security lapses in Nigeria today is as a result of total failure of the Police, Immigration and also the Customs to do their job effectively. Whether the killers of our people are from Libya or any other country, the truth is that they cross the borders to come in. It is established that these people perpetrating the killings are not Nigerians so these three security institutions that are supposed to be manning our borders have failed. The Police charged with internal security do not have the necessary logistics to contain the magnitude of the crisis in this country. I am speaking as a security expert. The Nigerian military are over-stretched because what they are doing now is not their conventional job. So if Mr. President does not help in saving this situation now, we will likely be embarrassed in the future.
Do you think state police would solve this internal security challenges?
Yes, state police is the solution to the problem because this country has gotten more complicated than I even imagined, coming up as a young man or while in the military service. So l will go for a state police. There is no alternative to it. The Nigerian Police as presently constituted cannot handle the country’s internal security challenges. By 2019, we may have more internal security challenges than we have now. Anybody saying the security problem is religious is far from reality, at best, it is political. Because I don’t see what is religious about the killings in Zamfara or Sokoto.
What is political about it?
There are people who are sponsoring violence in this country for political reasons and Mr. President must get his team to identify those people who are doing this. Do you know how much weapons they are using for violence in this country cost? Do you know how much one bullet is? So who is buying them for the killers? So rejiging the security apparatus in the country now is very important. But if you say President Buhari has not done well, I will totally disagree with you because he has laid a good foundation for this country; it doesn’t matter whether he wins the 2019 election or not, but I believe he will win again because he is popular. It is not the social media that will vote him. This man (President Muhammadu Buhari) doesn’t play politics with human lives. He is only overwhelmed by the security problems. When he is blocking one loophole here, it will be leaking there. But he is making very serious and commendable effort in this regard. Though for now, there is no alternative to President Buhari in 2019 presidential election for goodness sake.
Do you see the possibility of the APC creating room for Igbo presidency in 2023?
The shortest route to Igbo presidency in Nigeria is through the APC. I saw a coalition of political parties. I have equally seen the number of people who are indicating interest now to challenge Buhari come 2019. By political birth right, it is the turn of the South-East. Any sensible South-East man will not gang up against the APC when you know that APC by our zoning, will be beaming its searchlight on the South-East come 2023. Whoever engages in any gang up will be deceiving himself. You don’t give power on the basis of tribal or ethnic nationality. If a political party has overwhelming majority and all of them come from the same tribe, they will govern the country. The constitution is there. That is why I am calling on my brothers from the South-East zone to see reasons with me in this regard. Forget about religious sentiment. There is no religion there. The situation in Sokoto and Zamfara has provided light to what some people have been calling the killing of Christians in other states of the country. What is going on is the killing of Nigerians! In fact, most of the victims in the North now are the Muslims. If you do a census of the dead, you will discover that Muslims have died more. They are dying like chickens. So it is not religious killings. It is also instructive to state that anybody taking over from President Buhari will do eight years. So any sensible politician should know that the shortest cut for him is the APC. But tragically, so many Igbos are in the PDP today and no amount of ganging up against President Buhari will work. He will win the presidency again in 2019. The problem is that when you get much money in this country today, you underrate the intelligence of the poor man. Yes, there is money in the hands of the PDP, but Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry what they did while in power. They messed up the entire country in every ramification. The point is that President Buhari or any other person the APC fields for the presidency in 2019 will win the election. So for the Igbos, they must embrace the APC because there is an understanding. I am a chieftain of the APC, in January this year, we met with Mr. President and expressed our desire to take over from him and he never said no. But you cannot take over just because you are Igbos, you can only take over if you belong to the party, the APC.
What is the essence of the planned rally in the South-East, in Enugu precisely?
I don’t know whether I am competent to talk about it because we are still organising. But we think there is need to sensitize the South-Easterners about the mistakes of 2015. It is not time to campaign yet but when it is time to campaign, we will campaign.