Senator Alex Kadiri is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress. He speaks with OSARETIN OSADEBAMWEN on the demand for Igbo Presidency in 2023 and the hurdles ahead of that plan and why the minority groups in the country will find it difficult to rule the country.
AGAINST the allegation that the Northern establishment is planning to retain power in the North, the South-East is staking its right to the presidency in 2023 going by the rotational arrangement. Do you think the South-East merits such consideration for 2023?
My belief is that power cannot remain in the North forever. Power has resided in the North for too long. Having said that, I must be frank with you, you are in my house. Nobody gives you power. You go in search of it and fight for it just like Abiola did. The late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola had a long-term plan for the presidency. People did not understand him. He established Concord Newspaper, put people from different parts of the country in charge. That’s how Yakubu Mohammed became the Editor of Concord. Dele Giwa became the Editor of Sunday Concord, and so on and so forth. If you are friend of Abiola living in Kano or Sokoto, Abiola will fly there if you have a naming ceremony in spite of the inconvenience and the bad weather or he will send a ram for the naming ceremony.
He established a football club, the Abiola Babes and was basically funding the Nigerian Football Association (NFA). So, his name was being sung by the people all through the country through his acts of philanthropy, through acts of employment for those who got employment. There were those he gave money to establish their own businesses. He didn’t care if you are Yoruba from Egba or Yoruba from Ekiti, or Fulani from Sokoto. He patronised most people in the country. So when it was time for him to ask for the presidency, his job was easy. He even challenged Nigerians by picking another Muslim from Borno, Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate in a country where we pretend to be more religious than the Pope. Yet, people voted for him. I voted for him too.
Now, whether the presidency goes to the Igbo people in the South or the Ijaw who are also in the south or the Bini who are also in the South, only God knows. I hate this idea of people saying the presidency is now for the Igbo man. I was surprised that a man like Okwesilieze Nwodo, former chairman of a party like the PDP, is saying that if they don’t give the Igbo people the presidency, he would ask Igbos to go and join Kanu in IPOB. That is almost a treasonable statement.
Don’t you now think his comment earns some merit, given the South to North and North to South presidential shift since 1999, especially when the South-South and South-West have produced presidents: Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan?
Look, I don’t know if you watched the interview with late Samaila Isa Funtua on Channels Television? It must have been a recorded programme they showed after he died. And he said things that I believe in. Any Igbo man who wants to be the president of Nigeria must come out and work for it.
No Igbo man is going to sit in Umuahia, Enugu or Awka and Nigerians would say, okay it is your turn. When will it be the turn of the Binis? As you know, there are other tribes, very many, in this country like the Tivs. When will it be the turn of these people? Those of us from the Middle Belt, we are beginning to think that in the schemes of affairs, nobody is thinking of the Middle Belt anymore because we are small tribes scattered all over the place.
Some people now feel that maybe the only way an Igala man or a Tiv man or a Berom man can ever ascend the leadership of this country is through the military because when it comes to party, nobody takes us seriously. The Igbo man believes that the Hausa Fulanis have held this position for too long, the Yorubas too have used it but the Igbo man is the greatest enemy of himself.
Why is that?
They are very disorganised. Do you know that when Atiku Abubakar picked Peter Obi as his running mate in the last election, do you know that Peter Obi could not harvest votes from Igbo land to help Atiku win the Presidency? The complaint about Peter Obi in the South-East was very vociferous. Maybe, because the other people have made a promise, as I read somewhere that they had made a promise that the next president of Nigeria is going to be an Igbo man. I don’t know what powers the president has by appointing somebody else from the South-East without the persons from the South-East fighting for this position.
Let me tell you something that is instructive: when Igbos in the North visited former President Ibrahim Babangida recently, he said the Igbos are in every nooks and cranny of Nigeria. They should use their presence in every village to network for votes in addition to the desire to look for money in those places. What Abiola used his own personal wealth to achieve, the Igbos who are scattered all over Nigeria can do it effortlessly if they really mean well for themselves. They’re not doing this.
What could be responsible for this?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve tried to look at it but I cannot understand it. My wife is Igbo. So, I have nothing against the Igbo people. The fact of the matter is they don’t mean well for themselves. Their republican and unrealistic approach to issues is not helping them, especially in a complex country like Nigeria where you need to network. Do not wait until the month or the week of the year of the election before you start making friends, hoping to be nominated. Before you can become a presidential candidate a party must field you. Like Ismaila Funtua said in that Channels TV interview, a party will field the candidates it believes may win election for it. It’s not just about fielding Alex Kadiri because I talk too much. How many people will vote for me? It will field somebody who can win votes from Sokoto, votes from Borno, Rivers, votes from Akwa Ibom, Ogun and so on. That’s the only way. How many Igbo politicians have that kind of spread right now? They are running back into their enclave, chanting that the 2023 Presidency is for the Igbo man. That’s wishful thinking. I can’t see them with any strength in APC. I can’t see them with any strength PDP. APGA has been boxed into Anambra State.
Just a few days ago, former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, said that the leadership of the Igbo race has fallen on his shoulder and that of the Chief Whip of the Senate and former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. Which of them, in your estimation can garner votes from across Nigeria as you just explained?
It is one thing to be known as an individual in politics. It’s another thing to be liked by people in politics. Take Rochas, for example, he has schools here and there. That is good. However, if you meet some Igbo people, they will tell you he cannot be the representative of the Igbos. They have their reasons. I don’t know. You take Orji Kalu? Whether we like it or not, he has been to prison and has come out, not for political reasons, do you get my point?
In Pakistan, many of their presidents have been to prison and come to become president later. They do it because of political reasons. They are not accused of anything. I hope you can see the difference. Some of this people have commas and full stops in their profiles. Why can’t we have somebody who does not have skeleton in the cupboard from the South-East? Someone has mentioned former governor of the Central Bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo. He is a nice man, but where is his political base, Nsukka, maybe Awka? He is not a politician. He is a technocrat. He is a professor. He is an economist; for all these marks of excellence, I clap for him, (claps). Any Igbo man who wants to be president of Nigeria including Uzor Kalu, Okorocha, even Arthur Eze, their oga pata pata or Ifeanyi Ubah, all of them cannot sell themselves even in the states where they reside. That is a challenge they must overcome.
Let me tell you a funny story, when we were in the Senate, we zoned the Senate Presidency to the South-East. Evans Enwerem became our president. There were all kinds of problems due to issue of certificate or no certificate, even on performance; we put him aside and picked Chuba Okadigbo. Intellectually sound, but he was sleeping on the job; we decided to remove Chuba. We were now left in the Senate with Ifeanyi Araraume, Arthur Nzeribe and Adolphus Wabara, Nnamdi Oreagbuna and some others, we were faced with these choices.
There was hardly anyone to choose from because when you need to know more about each of them, go and meet their Igbo brothers. They know more than you and I will ever know about themselves. So this presidency that everybody is clamouring for, we are heading in the same direction. Are Imo people clapping for Rochas today? The Abia people, are they clapping for Orji Uzor Kalu today? Anambra people, are they clapping for Ifeanyi Ubah? So, there are a lot of problems they have to go back home to sort themselves out first. The ones that have good names and credibility outside have no political tripod on which to stand like I just mentioned, Chukwuma Soludo. That is the problem. So, to say that the Igbo man must become president… who is this Igbo man that will become president, and under which political party?
Are you saying it is not possible for the Igbo man to be president in 2023?
I can’t see the way through. You tell me how? As I just mentioned to you, there is no serious Igbo man in APC. There is Ogbonnaya Onu, Hope Uzodinma but the only person to me is Chris Ngige. He is the one that has the experience; he has been a governor, a senator and now he is a minister. So in terms of experience, he has it but has he got the backing at home? These are the issues. Somebody may drop from America or from Europe or India that we don’t know yet.
You did not mention Moghalu in your list of South-East Presidential material
His case is almost the same as that of Soludo.
Are you saying that no other political party can produce a president outside the APC and the PDP?
It is possible. You saw Ghali Na’Abba, Bugaje, and so on floating a movement now. Normally, when they start this kind of thing, they used to inform me. But do you see any Igbo man there? Have you heard of any serious Igbo man in their midst? That front is basically being pushed by people of Northern extraction who have fallen out of favour with the current people in power. Quote me.
Do you think they will be relevant politically in 2023?
Well, with the way things are going in this country, if they are able to play their cards well, by building a party like the Chinese, which they said is what they are trying to do… I have heard Bugaje’s position paper, they are building from towns and wards. If this thing works and is not sabotaged by the powers that be, if it sails through, that may be a successful outing for everybody. As they are molding this thing now, I don’t see any serious Igbo person participating right now. Can they finish what they are doing now and because they want to bring Nigeria together, go and look for somebody who is unknown and give it to him to become president? It is not possible. It is never done in any country.
What is your honest advice for the Igbo nation?
What they need to do is to widen the scope of their political participation. This mentality of I am richer than you is what is killing them and that has led to many sections of this country hating them. You want to be richer than your neighbour, money all the time. If they can spread out their net, catch more fishes, when the time comes, people would now look at the characters involved and make a choice. When Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the vice-president, in spite of all criticisms about Igbo people, nobody could point accusing finger at him. Nobody that I know appeared in the media to say Alex Ekwueme is a corrupt person. Can somebody like that come out of the South-East? This is the issue. But because of their pursuit of money, they do so many things and people have doubts about them.
For the Igbo people to aspire to be president of Nigeria, they must spread out, make friends from other places, not just making money from Nguru, Sokoto, or Idah. Where they make this money, what is their relationship with the host community? The money they are making should also serve as good avenues to attract votes for the Igbo man. Again, since we are practising democracy, the Igbo man who wishes to be president must belong to a party that is likely to win an election. No party will put up a candidate that it feels may not win any election. It is as simple as that. I wish a woman like Ngozi Okonjo Iweala were a politician. At least Nigerians now know who she is; she has shown us her worth and she is a worthy person across the globe; she needs no introduction. She may not have the funds to play the type of politics we play in Nigeria now, but if that type of person can stand out among the Igbos, it won’t matter whether she is Asaba Igbo, Ika Igbo or Orlu Igbo whatever. When the chips are down from these same Igbo people, you start hearing from them things that you would not want to hear a second time: who is proper Igbo or who is an Osu etc? Such divisiveness at a time when you would need them to pull their strength together! I worry for them. No human dead or alive can take the presidency of Nigeria and give it to the Igbo man. The Igbo man must find space in the existing parties or if he can form his own and attract membership to be able to campaign and win election