A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo State, Chief Longers Anyanwu, has added his voice on the quest by the Igbos of the South East Nigeria to bid for the presidency in the 2023 general elections. In this interview with Editor-in-Chief, CELESTINE OKAFOR, he appraised President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in the past five years. He also spoke about APC national leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, among other issues. Excerpts:
You were one of the APC party leaders in the South-East that worked so hard to ensure president Buhari's re-election in the 2019 polls. You have also supported him and the party in so many ways. Everything about that election including the Atiku Abubakar's election petition challenge have come and gone. Why are you not playing a key role in the government now?
Well, the personality of President Muhammadu Buhari is like a magic wand that has worked well in Favour of his government and our party the APC. Buhari's sincerity and integrity of person and his determination to work towards the greatness of this country endeared him to majority of the Nigerian people. Our party APC has enjoyed a tremendous followership across the length and breath of this country. At a point towards the 2019 presidential election, people thought that Buhari's popularity has waned. I was in Adamawa state where his opponent in the PDP (Atiku Abubakar) comes from. Despite that, Buhari was commanding almost 99% of the votes in that state. I was the chairman of the party congresses conducted in Adamawa and l saw the signal. And each time you met president Buhari, he was always confident of victory. He would tell you that in 2019 election, he had garnered more followership than he had in 2011 and 2015 polls.
So what gave him that kind of confidence that he was more popular than he was?
The confidence essentially came from the response of people at his campaign rallies. At times he would find it difficult to get out of his presidential plane or his car because of the throng of people that gather around him. Nigerians thought it was a joke. At times, Buhari would do his campaigns in two locations in a day. He went round physically, not that he sent proxies. He didn't do that in 2015. When you see rented crowd in a campaign rally, you easily know. And when you see grammar, high table politicians, you equally know. But in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, the crowd of supporters were real. They would not even let him come down from his plane or car before they make efforts to touch him. Sometimes you will be wondering what was driving these people. May be he knew what is in the mind of the ordinary people. They are the people that make up the nation's demography. But we the elites were talking to the elites. The case of Buhari has made me to realize that a candidate can be the focal point in an election. And the type of message the candidate had was appealing to the ordinary people, the down trodden talakawa people who constitute the bulk of voters in this country.
In the 2019 elections, the issue was that the two major candidates are Muslim fulanis. But it appears that what was at play was which among the two was more Fulani than the other.
Yes, both Buhari and Atiku were Muslims and core fulanis. But it was very clear that president Buhari was different from any other politician in the country. While some of us were mere canopy politicians, the president has a real cult-like followership who believe in him, not that they were looking for something from the man.
Are you saying the APC did not actually rig the election as the opposition has alleged?
How can the APC do that? The party couldn't have done that with the kind of opposition and checks Atiku could muster to counter any rigging. There was no way the APC could have successfully rigged that election even though there is no election in Nigeria or anywhere in the would that is perfect. In America today, the sing-song today is that the election that brought president Donald Trump to power was manipulated. The slogan has always been that the process should be substantially compliant.
Now talking specifically, what flaws have you identified in the Nigerian election?
The flaws l have identified so far is that the electorate expects so much from the leadership. The electorates think that power is in the hands of the man contesting the election. But the Northerners have demonstrated in 2019 that power resides with the electorates, the voters. If you try to tamper with their votes, they go into instant action. But in our own part of the country in the Southern Nigeria, you see pockets of aberration in the election process. In the South East area where l come from, you clearly notice this aberration. There are manipulations here and there. There is a huge necessity for electoral advocacy in Nigeria. We need to urgently get the electoral process a bit tidy for the sake of our democracy.
Your state Imo, seem to have done almost exactly what the Northern voters did in 2019 elections..
How? Well, lmo state was a peculiar or rather complex case. It is complex in the sense that we saw a party in control of power, a party that was clearly on a voyage of self destruct. They created the background for confusion. Then you see other political gladiators who have individual capacity to win the election losing grip of the structure which hitherto they have used. The only alternative that everybody in Imo state had was to use the PDP that capitalized on the mistake of the ruling party in the state. The lmo people resolved that whatever happens, they would not want to see the incumbent governor pick his choice of successor for them and hand over to that person. That was the summary of the matter. Both the elites and the ordinary people acted in collaboration in that seeming conspiracy to frustrate the attempt by the incumbent governor to foist on the state who he wanted as successor. I am being very careful in presenting what happened during that election because l participated in the entire process. And l want people to react and say that was what actually happened. So if the ruling party in Imo state had put its act together, perhaps the outcome of that election would have been different. I come from Okigwe zone. In the 2015 election, the Okigwe zone elected their candidates in the federal house almost all on the platform of APC. Uptil now, it is only in the Okigwe zone that you still had the candidates of APC elected. In the Orlu zone where the governor then (Senator Rochas Okorocha) come from, the story was different except recently that he was able to find his way into the senate on the platform of our party APC. Everybody in political contest will tell you that he or she was rigged out in an election. Even the person who won the election will tell you that he did not win as much as he should have won. So it is the court today that often decides who won or did not win. And when president Buhari said he was going to look into the judiciary to find out how they come about with judgements in political cases, everybody started calling him a dictator. Therefore, for us to move forward in our democracy, we must not allow our democratic representation to be in the hands of the judiciary. The people, the electorates should truly determine who represents them in a democracy. I believe in the power of the people. That does not mean that people should not be going to court to challenge the election results in which they feel they were cheated. We must ensure that the electoral process are not subverted.
Some of your party members seem not to be too comfortable with your national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, who many believe to be insisting on the supremacy of the party. In the second republic, the party was strong and supreme and everybody respected the wish of the party. But that seems to be a different scenario in this democratic dispensation?
If l understand you, the point you are making is that the party should be supreme in its entirety and not the elected members of the party. Well, in the second republic, The national chairman of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Chief Ama Akinloye, was strong enough to call the shots on the supremacy of the party. He looked at heavy weights in the NPN then, people like Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Maitama Sule, MKO Abiola and co. These were powerful and influential men in the party who are very wealthy like Abiola himself. But Chief Akinloye overlooked these heavy weights and chose a poor teacher in the person of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the presidential candidate of the party during the party primary. In the case of the then Nigerian People's Party (NPP), the Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great Zik of Africa was a towering personality in the party then. But Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, was the party's national chairman who called the shots in the party. Ogunsanya was able to deliver his home base Ikorodu. He was able to deliver old Plateau state to the NPP with the emergence of Chief Solomon Lar as governor of Plateau then. As a political party, you must know where your interest and strength lies at all times. Therefore the leadership of the party must be like that of what Machiavelli said about the philosopher King. He said as a philosopher King, you must have divested yourself of your personal interest such that the interest of the state becomes your interest. Remember how the concept of state emerged from the jungle animalistic state of affairs before sanity was brought to prevail so that the state interest can be above interests of individuals. Machiavelli also said that the philosopher King must not be a dunce, he must be a man who knows it all for the good of the state. So l am a party man. My father was a party chairman in NPP during the second republic and from him l learnt party administration. Parties must focus on their areas of interest. Buhari was getting reasonable amount of votes in previous elections before he became president. If not for the merger of parties to form the APC, he would not have mustered enough vote to clinch the presidency in 2015 elections.
What is your take on the Igbo presidency question in 2023?
The question is: what do the Igbos want? Do they want a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction or just an lgbo president? That is where the crisis of understanding begins. If the Igbos want to be president of Nigeria, they should prepare well for it. Do they want to go on their own through the pro-Biafra concept? These are questions that must be addressed first. The Igbos must determine as a people what they want. Nigeria has moved on. How many Igbo ministers or notable politicians today can beat their chest and say that he or she has been able to send three or four persons to the federal parliament as a lawmakers. Except in the time of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. He was influencing the appointment of ministers from different states in Igboland then. I know of ministers Chief Iwuanyanwu has singlehandedly made like Prof Ihechukwu Madubuike, Vincent Ogbulafor, Ogbonnaya Onu and co. He didn't nominate himself. Igbos should realize that political party and power struggle is not what you can do alone. After all, president Buhari with all his popularity couldn't do it alone. He needed some people to succeed and he achieved that during the political merger that gave birth to APC in the 2015 elections. Even if you want to go it alone by breakaway, you still need to vote in a referendum. A people must decide where they are going. Somebody must provide a direction to that journey.
How do you mean?
The Yorubas have someone who made things happen for them. There is a man who called himself a talent hunter. He said he does not have all the answers to the problem, but he can smoke out those with potentials to help solve the people's problem. He said even though some of them disappoint him, but he will keep on hunting and projecting those talented unknown quantities so to use that word. It is not an easy thing to do. This very person has almost beaten known records in making people. How many people can seat in the comfort of their sitting room and be influencing the appointment of Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of House of Representatives, Ministers, Honorable members, Local government chairmen, senators, State Commissioners, special advisers and special assistants in government, just all manner of appointments.
Are you talking about Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu?
Exactly! He has single handedly influenced the appointment of these people without taking appointment for himself. It is not an easy thing at all. That is networking. That is how politics is done. Tinubu has used his party to change the political fortunes of the Yorubas. You have to reach out. It is not enough to say it is our turn. We will go. So who will go? I have reflected over the situation of my people in Igboland. A lot of work needs to be done if we must get there in 2023. Presidency of Nigeria is not a tea party.
Former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, was in charge of his party APGA just like Tinubu was incharge of his own party, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Tinubu used the ACN to negotiate into a merger that brought the Yorubas to the fore-front of power again after the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. But Peter Obi was unable to do that?
Infact immediately Peter Obi finished his governorship tenure in Anambra state, he dumped the party and joined the PDP and wanted to use the party to become Vice President or president. Tinubu couldn't have done that. Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is not a saint though, but he used his party to conquer Abia state politically and get the governorship position in Imo state. Orji used his party, the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) to also penetrate the South-East. This was about the time the Asiwaju Tinubu had created his own party ACN and was using it to galvanize and reposition the South West. There is what the Igbos call the "nshiko" (crab) mentality where anybody who wants to climb is brought down. Peter Obi, with his intelligence and ingenuity, could not even grow his party APGA beyond his immediate environment Anambra throughout the period he spent as governor for eight years.
What is the Igbo hope for presidency in 2023?
It is very bright if the right things are done. It is the dream of every tribe in Nigeria and for me as an Igbo, l will definitely support it. But l ask: can you point at any Igbo politician today who can proudly say that l made so so and so person politically in Igboland or in neighboring Igbo South-South state like Akwa Ibom, Rivers or Delta states? Power is not voluntarily given. You have to work for it. This issue of bring him down syndrome has affected the Igbos so much. Igbos need people who will work for them in 2023. People who will negotiate for them in the North-West? You have to have people who hold juicy appointments who can dispense Favour when the time comes. Today, if somebody in Lagos wants to help you, he will tell you to go to FIRS and see so so and so person so that he can give you advert. Has the person not helped you? Our people in Igboland want people who will serve in servitude till eternity. I am not saying that loyalty and appreciation is not good. Our people are republican by nature. South South is a serious case now. By the time we move to the next election, they may end up with a situation which was described as the case of the monkey and baboon. Look at what is happening in the NDDC now. They are trying to destroy themselves. By the time we get to the next election, their case may be worse than that of the Igbos.