I didn’t think I could sit down and supervise another death in the PDP. Bola Ige had gone, Dikibo, Harry Marshall. I thought it was too much.
When Audu Ogbeh became the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and consequently an inner member of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government, many Nigerians wondered how he would survive the onslaught of the President.
There was a familiar ring to this. The Chairmen before him had left office in controversial circumstances and here was a man who had retired from politics into farming. As people would say then, Obasanjo has brought a “weather beaten” man he can lead by the nose. But they were wrong because subsequent events proved them so.
What Ogbeh’s critics did not realise was that the former Minister of Communications under President Shehu Shagari was following a beaten path. He has always been an odd man out in his crusade for social justice, fairness and harmonious living. These principles countered the inner workings of the Obasanjo regime. “I was party Chairman. I came under pressure to do certain things but I refused, including changing the nomination of people who had won their primaries. I told Mr. President that it’s not feasible. I can name names like Senator Ben Obi, Joy Emordi and Uka Chukwude.
They won their primaries and I was under pressure to change their names when I told the man that it can’t happen. When one of the reporters asked him what would happen if the 2011 polls are not credible; if imposition of candidates predominates party primaries, Ogbeh reclined on his seat. Again, he sat straight, leaned towards the edge of his right hand and began to cut the air. As he gesticulated, his voice rose as he was answering the question. Occasionally, he paused to choose his words.
“I think there will be a great deal of frustration leading to near anarchy. I don’t want to predict doom but quite frankly, I think we must try and hold a free and fair election in 2011. I’m therefore saying to the Assembly people that the matter isn’t as simple as it looks. Let them do everything to do those amendments necessary. Let nobody feel so secured that we can get away with it,” he said.
Audu Ogbeh in his own words:
When the structural adjustment began in 1986, I was in Hong Kong. That was when we began the first auction of the naira. The pressure on Nigeria to devalue began when (Shehu) Shagari was in office. (Obafemi) Awolowo then said it was madness to think of devaluing. Shagari refused. (Muhammadu) Buhari too refused. They got hold of IBB (Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) and his government then and they said we had no choice. So, we began this indirect thing of auctioning the naira. The day it started, I was in Hong Kong with a friend, Chief Godwin Okoye, and I said this is the beginning of Nigeria’s journey to doom. The economic pressure is turning Nigerians wild.
The only industry is political power. People are grossly overpaid and hopelessly under-used. If you know the salaries of some of these guys, a councillor walks away with N700, 000 a month. Then you ask who invented this fiction? They said it is because they want to attract the best minds. Go to your local government and ask if any new road has been graded in the last five years or a school rebuilt or a market constructed. Some of these local governments receive N70 million and N80 million a month. Where is this money?
As the pressure mounts, the naira is losing value and we are so import-dependent. Everybody is getting desperate and the only guys with the courage to say no are maybe you guys in the media and maybe one or two Nigerians. The rest of us have decided to keep quiet. Where in the world will such bizarre thing happen? Just walk to a school, carry children and behead them? If that doesn’t shock us, then I don’t know. Till now, I have been waiting to read something in the papers about what government will do about this but nothing. All I hear is that in Suleja, many parents have withdrawn their children from schools and schools are closed. They are scared to death. It is very bad.
Quite frankly, sometimes one is so confused and you just ask, is it hopeless? Can we do anything about it? There are those who tell you the situation is perfect and they are in charge. This is why some Nigerians are making rather extreme statements. But you can’t blame them because they have reasons to be extremely troubled. Where would this happen on this planet now that people will park a van in front of a school, wait for children, carry them, take them away and the next thing is the parents find their headless bodies in the bush.
They are ritual things. What are they doing with the heads of the children? Maybe there are those who believe in money-making. So, they go and do it. But how does a country sleep with this kind of thing happening in our very midst and we want God to bless us?
I have met the President, Yar’adua only once since he came in and I haven’t tried since then. Maybe one will try. It may take a while to get there but you can. I’m so troubled by this and I just thought I should ask you guys to share my views. I will probably try to talk to him because I find this as a very terrible sign that our country can start going down this way. How many more children are they going to kidnap and kill? Like I said about the kidnapping, the technology is everywhere for monitoring calls. What are we waiting for? We don’t have the money or the matter is not serious enough? Somebody carries you and he says N10 million. What is this?
This thing is actually linked to politics and boils down to the issue of reforms. Do you think reforms will ever bring credible elections?
I don’t even know if there is anybody willing to carry out the necessary reforms. Like I said somewhere, we are cheating at elections so blatantly and we are telling children not to cheat in examinations. What is the difference? It’s the same thing. In the school certificate result this year, we got only 27 per cent pass nationwide. If you discount those who did honestly from those who got people to write for them, you may find that the real figure is well below the 27 per cent. So, all our younger people are learning corruption from us. The only thing in life is cheat as much as you can, buy good cars, live a good life and be in control. It’s the entire example we are setting from these elections. Ghana is now more attractive to everybody than Nigeria is. Companies are packing out and going there. We are begging Senegal to refine crude oil for us, officially begging. Senegalese will take our crude and refine and then bring for us to buy. We like importing.
Over the years and after the first coup; though I’m not saying that the First Republic was perfect. Political victimization was the extent of intolerance for opposition. It has always been there. But over the years, as the military stayed on, we all learnt this strategy of using force to achieve objectives. But the worst one was the moment the economy crashed in 1986 because Jeffrey Sacks, who was the Economic Adviser to Kofi Anan, came here at the Hilton and gave a lecture and Paul Kubmon, the current economic Nobel Prize winner in the U.S., both of them denounced the structural adjustment as the biggest crime against Africa since the slave trade. They crashed our currencies.
Due to the anxiety to survive, some of our sons and daughters are into prostitution and slavery in Mauritania and Mali, trying to cross the desert through Libya to go to Europe. Nigerians are in prisons everywhere in a desperate attempt to make money because life is getting too costly here and the economy really, the only area of growth is in oil and gas. I’m not very sure that the banking sector has added anything to growth in the last three years. The only industry is politics. If you can get in, life is nice. You hang in there and don’t leave. We had a third term agenda here and there are many third terms all over now – Senators and Governors who would like to stay forever if the Constitution doesn’t bar them.
There are lots of weaknesses in the Constitution. But how do you manage the review when there are many powerful interests that would rather not have things changed? Ideally, there are those who want to see us as other nations, but there are individuals who would rather have it as it is. Take one issue like the creation of states, which may be another story for you. There are about 40 demands and many more. Forty new states in Nigeria would be a huge joke because we don’t have the resources to sustain them. The cost of governance is too high and the wages are crazy. I must also say that the pressure on the politicians is also high, because people see them as the only guys with the wherewithal. So, state creation may not be feasible. But there is also intensive marginalization in many states where a big ethnic group doesn’t believe that a smaller ethnic group should ever access the governorship. So, one may not be too parochial if you say rotate the governorship in Senatorial Districts. They say no; that it’s not democratic. Which is democratic? Marginalization of a segment or rotating the governorship because that’s where the tension is coming from?
That same ethnic group forgets that no single ethnic group has the numbers to make a President in Nigeria without the support of others. Neither Hausa-Fulani alone nor the Igbo and Yoruba can say that our votes alone will make us President. So, they need everybody and the give and take. But if you go to a state or local government, a large group says no, you don’t qualify because we have the number. It’s part of that African thing in all of us.
Last night I was watching the legislators on TV. What is it about where the budget is read? The House of Reps has more space, so they have always sat there. But the original design of the National Assembly had a neutral chamber that could accommodate the two of them. But then, many people said why waste it because it will only be used three or four times in a year. So, why do you waste such a hall? In the larger chamber, everybody comes, they read the budget and you go back. But it’s now an ego matter. Is that the issue? Is that what concerns Nigerians now? Is that more serious than the abduction of four children and the cutting of their heads or a weaker Naira that you have and the lack of production at home or all the killings and the kidnappings? All the time, it’s getting worse by the day.
I’m an elder now and I have been in this business of politics for over 30 years. Is it getting better? What is it that makes us so trivial in our approach to issues? If I drop dead today, nobody will say I died too young. But, for God’s sake, I have children and grandchildren. All of you are much younger brothers. What future for the economy, power supply, interest rate. I’m trying to build a factory. I can’t get there and I get stuck halfway and the bank gave you small money because they wouldn’t give you enough. So, you can’t create the jobs you want to create for younger people. We have been talking about interest rate and it can’t come down from 24 per cent. So, we can’t generate jobs and there are one hundred and something universities and almost another hundred Colleges of Education with about 60 or 70 polytechnics; sixteen million children in secondary schools. Only one per cent enters the university.
We met once and they asked me to return to the party and I said I’m not coming back. We are in the same country. Let’s do a housing programme for a million apartments per annum so that mortgages can begin to happen. We all came.
We got a good apartment in Utako and they said it’s N10 million and that we have 15 years to pay. You know you are paying towards ownership, not to a shark of a landlord who is asking you N1.5 million. Tomorrow, he says he has doubled it and if you don’t like, you pack. Which young man in London goes looking for a plot? He looks for an apartment. In Germany, France and the U.S., it’s out of date looking for plot. Even the plot now is too difficult to get. You buy your apartment and you have 15 years to pay at maybe 5 per cent interest. They said it was a great idea. We worked it out to create 27 million jobs. I said 200,000 in Lagos, 200,000 in Abuja, 200,000 in Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano, Onitsha a hundred thousand each. The rest of the place, at least 20,000 and 30,000, including university hostels. Imagine the jobs for those delivering sharp sand, laterite, tipper drivers, quarries, tillers, electricians, architects, painters.
That’s how Singapore grew. Last month, they gave N2 billion to governors to share. On the other hand, if that money had gone into housing, you can imagine the boom. Add that to agric and you would have mopped up all the unemployment and reduced the crime rate. But right now, there is nobody to talk to. There is nobody that I can walk to in the system now and say let’s talk.
I must be fair to the legislators, they are trying. But they must also keep away from trivial issues, which demean their status, like all these quarrels about who is Chairman. It’s not necessary. Secondly, I think there must be more robust debates on some of the issues. Even if the debate is not necessarily within the legislature, a real debate on education, on housing and even on defense. How come all those weapons came into the Niger Delta and nobody saw them. You have 900 kilometres of coastline. How strong is your Navy to patrol the place? How many warships do they have? How strong is your Airforce? I’m not a military man, but how many planes do they have now? They will tell you this is secret but it’s not because it concerns all of us.
On internal security, the Police are short of equipment. Don’t you know where to get them? England has over 2.2 million cameras monitoring the entire country. One time, they tried to buy cameras in FCT here. Nobody knows whether they were ever bought. The Assembly should question the Executive where these votes are. At the State level, of course the State assemblies have absolutely no control over their governors. The local governments are simply not functioning. Go home and check around in your local government whether anything new is going on? Where is the money? When I was chairman, I summoned all our governors to the Secretariat to ask them what they were doing dabbling with the local government funds. They were so angry with me that they sent a delegation here to protest that I was too harsh on them. Votes are going, but where is the cash? They ought to dig deeper into these things so that the democratic machine can work. If it works, there would be no need for these extreme views about revolution and so on. But people are frustrated and angry and they say maybe that’s the answer. Democracy is wonderful, but we need to get down and question each other.
But the other thing is that the common people, we don’t say anything. Nobody talks now, except the media. You guys write and write. You take all the risks. But the leaders are all quiet because what is the use in talking. That’s what they say.
I don’t wish for a revolution in this country because I don’t like to think of the scenario. This country is a huge dam. If it breaks lose, it will sweep everything. We are too many and it will be fuelled by frustration and hunger.
May it never come! If it comes, many will go who probably are not responsible for the situation. If you are riding a decent car on the street, you are one of them. If you live in a decent house, you are one of them. If you are perceived to be comfortable, you are one of them. The calls are coming out of anger but it’s not something to wish for. We should be able, through dialogue, to correct the system to recognize that things are not good enough. I’m not saying this to help my friends who are in office. They are my friends. I’m not attacking them to say you are bad or good. A few of them will be honest enough to know that what I am saying is real and I’m not alone. If you guys can do opinion polls on the streets, you will hear anger. I’m saying lets find a way of doing it before it gets out of hand. Let’s take this step or the other. These calls are coming because there is no internal democracy even in the political parties.
I don’t want to go back to my time as Chairman when I started seeing these things and trying to raise alarm within the party. But every night, they went to the President and told him lies that Audu is an Atiku man, Audu is living in affluence; he has this and that. They worked very hard and told him that I was an enemy, especially when I told him that the Third Term wasn’t safe for Nigeria . The other tragedy of course is that if you hold a contrary view, then they hack you out because there are no men in this country left.
They are very few. The Idoma people have a name called Acheme, meaning that men are finished. There are too many cowards. Apart from you guys in the media, even the women are more courageous. They will walk up to you, abuse you thoroughly, go and cry and apologize later.
Everybody is hoping to get some benefit for himself. Otherwise, what’s wrong? We used to have stakeholders meetings at the party level where we talk frankly at night. I remember we had one that Na’Abba was so rude to the President that I even had to call Na’Abba to order. But he was blunt. At such gathering, we say Mr. President, the people are angry. There is danger here. Let’s do this. Let’s not do that. At least the message will be there. The Board of Trustees used to meet with the President where we sit down and talk seriously, even though they said stubbornness and arrogance didn’t allow people to listen. I don’t know how it works now. But you said, at all party levels, if you start a party today, there is a big guy who tells you his candidate must be this or must be that. He will say after all, he is funding the party. Some of us, frankly, are even withdrawing. I’m tired of taking the blame.
I think the banking thing really worsened Transparency International recently released result. Otherwise, I would have thought that now that the EFCC is beginning to prosecute, they would recognize their efforts. That’s not to say that corruption has reduced, but that somebody is addressing it with a certain degree of seriousness. Corruption can’t be cured because the factors, which force corruption on society are increasing. There is hardship and economy is not working. You want to earn a decent living, but all the doorways are closed. So, desperate people will do anything. Once they are in government and they can take what they can for their lifetime and their great-grandchildren, they are okay. In Nigeria too, if you pass through and you don’t do it, later in your family, they will say you are a useless man; they will say ‘you went there and you were speaking grammar when XYZ took plenty for themselves. That’s the other side of it. On the other hand, if this economy were free and we say we are doing a million houses and two of you decide to form a company making doors. You are producing 50,000 doors a year at N25, 000; that’s good money. You don’t need to see any governor or Minister because you would be busy. If a governor wants to see you, what is it about because you have a schedule. Your products are in demand; you have distributors waiting and you want your boys to work three shifts.
You don’t have time looking for Senator XYZ or former this and that because you are busy. We are spending over a billion dollars importing tiles every year from Switzerland, Spain and Portugal and Italy. There is clay, there is kaolin and water to make tiles here, make paint and make nails. Imagine the boom. But you can’t do it. You can’t raise a bank loan and the opportunities are just closed. You have no electricity. Greece is a country of nine million people. They have 10 refineries. Abu Dhabi is the capital of United Arab Emirates.
There are 1.5 million people there. They have 11,000 megawatts for 1.5 million people. We are trying to get 6,000 megawatts for 130 million. We are now at the manufacturing levels of 1960 in this country. Go to Ogba and Ikeja in Lagos and see factories that are shut down. Go to the Southeast where the Igbo really wanted to manufacture. Go through there and see carcasses of industries.
Many owners have died, Then the textile industries in the North are finished. We haven’t any programme for reviving industries here. So, you sit down and wonder what we are leaving behind. I’m over 60. When I go, what do I say to God, that we did a wonderful job or we ruined the country? What else can God do for Nigeria that He hasn’t done?
The international media is saying that this country is a failed nation and I hope we will all recognize the need to do a very decent election in 2011, including those who are in office now. The danger is that some people in office today just believe that the situation is perfect and that nothing can go wrong. That excessive confidence is dangerous. People shouldn’t feel too secured by believing that everything is perfect. How do we cure ourselves of this desperation for sitting there? There are some people in office today threatening everybody and saying if you run against me, I will kill you. I want to remain there for 30 years. It’s just for them to know that this thing can bring the roof down; how to convince them that we should all try to be open about it. Those who predict doom have their reasons.
I personally will just pray that it doesn’t come because if it does, where will Nigerian refugees flee to? The Camerouns, into Niger or the Republic of Benin? We are too many. In two hours, we will overwhelm these countries. What’s the population of Ghana if you cross Benin and Togo? It’s the population of Lagos alone. So, it’s not good for us. I used to tell legislators that everyone of them should have a second address so that you don’t hang on to this too much. If this isn’t working or you haven’t won your election, you go back to what you were doing. The situation is very frightening and the degree of frustration and economic hardship is the one really bothering everybody because that’s where the real danger lies.
I think there will be a great deal of frustration leading to near anarchy. I don’t want to predict doom but quite frankly, I think we must try and hold a free and fair election in 2011. I’m therefore saying to the Assembly people that the matter isn’t as simple as it looks. Let them do everything to do those amendments necessary. Let nobody feel so secured as to think that we can get away with it. I’m glad about the Senate retreat in Enugu. They are beginning to see the sense in clearing all cases before anybody is sworn in. I don’t see anywhere in the world that two and a half years later, election petitions are still disqualifying and Judges are still tied down by the fate that the political crisis is pumping out. Election can’t be forever in a country. It happens and goes and people, government sit down and face what they have to do. Ours is endless; from one election to the other. Nothing but petitions, court cases and politicians doing their best to corrupt the judiciary. Let me put it this way that the prospects of a bad election in 2011 is scary.
Considering the proposal by the Uwais panel, in many other countries, the INEC Chairman is appointed by the President. In some places like Bangladesh and some parts of Southeast Asia , they have a structure like the one recommended by the Uwais panel. The big question is: where are the men in this country? If the President makes you INEC Chairman, tell him, Mr. President, I will do the job well or I will quit. If he wouldn’t let you do your job, you leave. But there are too many men in this country that would say how could I argue with him. He appointed me. There is too much at stake at a personal level. What of the one in Ghana? He’s still there since 1992. Nobody is quarrelling with him. Why don’t any Nigerian say no to the person who appointed him? Why are we so peculiar as a people? That’s the problem.
If you get there, you must please the man in whatever he does. He put you there and you are making money. Since we can’t trust the ones named by the President, we must do what Uwais said so that we can say Mr. INEC Chairman, if you don’t do this job well, don’t tell us that they called you from the Villa or they did this and that. I was party Chairman.
I came under pressure to do certain things but I refused, including changing the nomination of people who had won their primaries. I told Mr. President that it was not feasible. I can name names like Senator Ben Obi, Joy Emordi and Uka Chukwude. They won their primaries and I was under pressure to change their names but I told the man that it couldn’t happen. I can’t deputize for the constituency in Anambra.
I was in no position to replace them. I said Mr. President, I sent people there, they conducted the primaries and everything was okay. Nobody protested. My style then was that if there was a process, bring all the parties together and let’s hear them out. Somehow, Obasanjo didn’t like Ben Obi and he said I should replace him but I said no. I went to the Working Committee and said gentlemen, if you insist, you have my resignation. I can’t do it. If you win your primary, even if you were a small teacher in the village and the people say we like him to represent us, what right do I have before God and man to sit here and change it? I can’t and I shouldn’t. A guy loses an election, they phone you up and say declare results immediately. They go upstairs and do a Press Conference. You are a husband and you will go to your house and tell your wife that the soup is not nice whereas another man is sitting on your head.
Of course he did not the President took it in good faith. What followed thereafter were crises until the terminal end of this matter.
The day the President came to your house to eat pounded yam, the day we ate Egusi and bush meat cooked by my dear wife? When we left the place, I think he was like let’s go and settle this matter. But then, there were the hawks – the Bode Georges, the Anenihs and the others who said you must remove him. He’s very arrogant. Who is he? He caved in. He said I’m sorry I can’t work with you anymore. I said no problem. You will have my resignation in 30 minutes. I don’t like hanging on to this job because it’s nothing. I wasn’t born a PDP Chairman. I knew I wasn’t going to die a PDP Chairman.
I submitted your resignation the second night after the Thursday we ate together. Over the weekend, he said no, I’m sorry, this and that. On Saturday evening, I said here it is. Give it to NEC.
In my place, if you eat in a man’s place and you turn around to wrong him, it’s a kind of oath. But I don’t have any quarrels with him. He did what he thought was best. I did what I thought was best because at that time, I had ample information that they were going to kill Ngige before Christmas 2004 and that was the subject of my letter. I didn’t think I could sit down and supervise another death in the PDP. Bola Ige had gone, Dikibo, Harry Marshall. I thought it was too much.