Saturday, 6 June 2015

Many Months After Spreading Hate Messages Against Igbos: Former Ex-President Obasanjo's Aide Bombards Oba Akiolu

Igwe Ezeoba Alex Nwokedi, the Uthopo na Eze Achalla, Anambra State, is a man of many parts. He was Press Secretary to Head of State during the  General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime and also served in the same capacity during the early days of Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration.
He was pioneer Public Relations Manager of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, and General Manager, Public Affairs, NNPC. The former Chairman, Eastern Nigeria Council of Traditional Rulers, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, the last elections and the Igbo position. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the polls? Particularly, how do you see the incoming President Muhammadu Buhari?
Buhari is a straight forward man. He is very disciplined and has, as his pivot, the fight against bribery and corruption. So, I think in this direction, our Lord has brought him to be utilised to fight bribery and corruption in Nigeria. As Catholics, we have two prayers. One is against bribery and corruption and the second is for our Lord to help Nigeria out of distress it is presently.
Some people who never wanted Buhari to win the presidential election but who have just managed to come to terms with the reality of his victory are saying with the people surrounding him, he won’t go a long way to meet Nigerians expectations. Do you agree?
With somebody like Chief John Oyegun and more other people who are very highly reliable working with him either as party leaders or people that will work with him as government officials, to a great extent, I will say that the claim that Buhari won’t go far is weak. There are also others like Prince Tony Momoh a journalist and a former Minister of Information.
Chief Oyegun, like Tony Momoh and others that I know around him as of now, is naturally intelligent, academically brilliant and has been tested and, put right on the ground, his integrity has never been challenged. And as Chairman of All Progressives Congress, with him behind or around Buhari, if they listen to him, he will assist to provide a formidable administrative team, which will enable him to succeed in his struggle against bribery and corruption in Nigeria. All I am pleading is that, everything we do must have a human face.
You said Buhari’s emergence was answer to the prayers of Nigerians. What should be the starting point for Buhari given your experience as a public relations and journalism expert deeply-rooted in presidential spokesmanship. How does his Press Secretasry make a good President of him?
In the first place, like I said about Reuben Abati in the past, a presidential spokesman is his intelligence officer. He collects information from the public for the President and makes the public to read the President’s mind on public issues through the media. So, he really requires a very good public relations crew to expose his inner thought and also help his media unit to collect information from the people.
For example, when  I was with my boss, General Olusegun Obasanjo, I think I have spoken to you about House of Geneva? Press personalities came there to speak their minds about government and, from there, I knew the minds of people, I knew how to relate it to my boss and how to handle situations.
So, the new President, Buhari, must get a public relations crew/press crew that will help him to study the minds of the people, advise him on what to do and ensure that his inner thoughts are properly interpreted to the people. There is no issue of his PR or media people trying to publicise themselves. The person they are projecting is the President, not themselves.
Igwe Nwokedi
Igwe Nwokedi
And as a matter of fact, no statement on issues of policy goes out without the President’s approval. So, let the public and media relations people of General Buhari’s Presidency not put the cart before the horse. They should always get the approval of the President for anything they do and the President must know whatever will be said with regard to his government. All these many mouths speaking for one President must stop. There should be change of attitude about many people speaking for the government and even for the party. I am saying this not because I want to dabble into politics but because no matter who you are in Nigeria, the attitude of political or government players affect your life. So, as traditional rulers, we owe the society the duty to properly guide those players as fathers; so we can get the best of them.
And I want to advise President-elect Buhari that, after he has made his speeches, he should invite the core leaders of his public relations/media unit and tell them the areas which should be emphasised and then they will kick on that. As Press Secretary to General Obasanjo, whenever he had made a speech and we were playing squash the next morning, as we were on, he would be telling me the areas, which should be emphasised and, as soon as we finished playing the squash, I would go and get myself ready for those things he asked me to do.
I want to also advise Buhari to tell his head of media, or I don’t know what that will be called, the areas of his speech that should be emphasised or stressed to the public. That should be the pivot of his image making. He should not allow them to just publicise his speeches. It is his duty to tell his media handler which areas that touch his mind, which should be emphasised. If he relates closely with them, like Obasanjo related with me as his Press Secretary, they would then be able to relate with the public.
You and Buhari served in the Obasanjo military regime as Press Secretary and Minister of Petroleum, respectively. What can you say about the secret of the relationship between Obasanjo and Buhari?
The secret is simple: truthfulness. General Obasanjo would never tolerate anybody who tells lies and General Buhari is a disciplined man, who equally would not tolerate a liar. For Buhari, I am quite sure that of all these people who are dancing around him, he knows the genuine ones and those whose dance around him for personal reasons and I am sure he knows how to handle them.
And what advice do you have for the people of Nigeria, particularly those feeling that because their candidate was heavily criticised, they too would put Buhari on his toes?
All I am saying is that, this is not the time for personal ego. This is the time for all of us to come together and give the incoming President hundred percent support. Loyalty has no percentage. Give him hundred percent support to enable him achieve his objective and, in that case, he will be able to succeed in changing Nigeria for better. That was partly, I think, what he was soliciting for when he met with the lawmakers-elect asking for their cooperation.
Asking for lawmakers-elect cooperation, what about that?
The incoming National Assembly should give that cooperation Buhari asked for because we have no alternative than to move forward. United we stand, divided we fall. So, we should all stand behind the new President so that he can successfully carry out his change programme, especially in the area of the fight against corruption.
What are the grey areas you want the new administration to critically address?
The grey areas he should look critically into include power supply. This idea of telling us they have injected so, so and so megawatt into the grid is neither here nor there? Now that Buhari is going to be there, he should, first and foremost, get experts, who should tell him what the problem with electricity in Nigeria is, what to do to have regular and steady power supply and when it is going to be feasible.
For example, transmission and distribution lines, transformer sub-stations, main unit stations, all these things have to be studied and he will be advised on what to do. He should move away from the practice by which government would say, ‘We have injected like 200 megawats’ because it doesn’t take us anywhere. He needs to have a proper briefing on the situation of power supply in Nigeria so that he will know how to tackle it. Nigerians, on their own side, should be patient with him while doing this because when you have a capable hand doing something, you allow him the time to study to be able to really do it. This is important because, if we have regular and stable power supply, the industries will work ad there will be employment.
Another grey area is this issue of fuel shortage. I think, with the Buhari government, it should become something of the past. What is the cause of fuel shortage? He can set a small committee to go into the matter and report back to tell him what to do.
Setting up a new committee on fuel shortage you mean?
Yes, setting up a committee….
(Cuts in) What about past panels on the NNPC which had their reports submitted….?
Yes. I am aware there were some panels in the past, particularly during the Abacha regime which did a good job on what to do about this problem. There were the General Abisoye Panel on NNPC and the General Tajudeen Olanrewaju Presidential Review Panel set up to review the General Abisoye Panel Report. Both reports are there.
By asking General Buhari to set up a small committee therefore is not for them to go and start afresh but you know reports are very usually voluminous things. The committee should in this case go into the General Abisoye and General Tajudeen Olanrewaju’s reports and bring out the vital areas and advise the President with a view to implementing them. Luckily, these two generals – Abisoye and Tajudeen Olanrewaju – are still very much around. In working on those reports, you need them to work with them. And I am very serious about this because fuel shortage must stop once and for all in Nigeria. It is unspeakable that a nation blessed with crude oil will have her people in difficulty getting fuel like we have presently.
The Igbo people actually concentrated on returning President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Now that it turned out the other way, what is next for the Igbo?
Let me tell you one thing, we the Igbo never met and said President Jonathan must come back. We voted according to our conscience. And some of us felt that allowing him to complete his term was not a sin. But the country said we needed somebody tougher and the people had voted for a highly disciplined personality.
So, the Igbo have not done anything wrong. We voted according to our conscience and I would not say we failed. We should be gracious in victory and noble in defeat.
Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State is canvassing Igbo unity and working hard to prepare a new ground for them in the emerging era. How do you see this effort?
I have always respected Governor Okorocha because he is a philanthropist. Now about the issue of Igbo unity, it applies not only to the Igbo. Afenifere is talking of Yoruba unity; so is the northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum, talking about the need for a united North. So, there is nothing wrong in having a united Igbo nation.
If you read history, you will see that the Igbo were the people regarded, even in the colonial era, as a nation and there is nothing bad in coming together; not for tribal reason but for development of the Igbo land. If the Igbo are united, we are not united just for federal relevance. One, the Igbo governors, by the unity, will be talked to, to be mindful of the welfare of their people. That is the first thing that unite a people.
They should talk to the state governors to carry out projects which will touch the minds and lives of the people. They should also get it to their minds of the governors the security of lives and property of the people.
So, what Okorocha is doing is good. We should all stand up and rally round him in ensuring that Igbo become a united nation again for development of our children not for tribalism.
Although it is said now that socio-political, religious, ethnic unrest and economic challenges have dropped by 30 percent, according to a public analyst, if you agree with that, does the improvement affect your state of mind regarding the statement of Oba Akiolu of Lagos to the Igbo living in Lagos during the elections?
This issue came up in the meeting of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers and it was very well handled by the Chairman, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe, and his deputy, Eze Ndigbo of Aguleri, Eze Christopher Nwabunwanne. It was very well handled and did not generate ill-feeling.
But every traditional ruler in Nigeria should know that all people living in his community should be taken as his children.
So, all people living in Lagos, whether Ashanti, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo and so on, are all the children of the Oba of Lagos. Se o ye e? (speaking in Yoruba). The same thing at Achalla, where I am the paramount ruler, all the people living in that community are my children. It is the duty of traditional rulers to regard those living in their towns and communities as their children, give them protection and security at all times. You cannot say you will throw your child to the river because he did not vote the way you voted. In my own house, I didn’t even know how my children voted.
For example, whenever there was trouble in the North, the first thing we do in the South-East is to protect northerners living in our communities. In some areas, the traditional rulers, supported by the military, would take those whose lives are threatened to the barracks. That is how it should be. Those living in your community are your children and they require your protection.
It was said that the Oba Akiolu’s comment was informed by Igbo living in Lagos feeling so rooted in Lagos that they now were said to be claiming to want to take over Lagos or at least be the ones to decide who rules Lagos. The oba now asked whether a Yoruba person in Onitsha can claim to rule in Igbo land?
Let me tell you that I have not heard of that statement. How can an Igbo man say he wants to rule Lagos or be the one to decide who rules Lagos? Is he saying that in his room? May be. I was following Ambode and Jimi Agbaje’s campaigns in the papers. Agbaje could have won that election but the very day he said that he was going to abolish the toll gate, that was the day he lost the election. We need such Lekki toll gate all over the country.
The last time I went to Japan, from Tokyo airport to the town, I counted up to 95 toll gates. I don’t know the position now. We need toll gates in Nigeria and we need to create special toll gates fund for the money collected to be utilised in modernising and maintaining the roads and building more roads like what Governor Babatunde Fashola has done in Lagos. Before Fashola did that road, it would take you six hours to drive from the Ikeja airport to Victoria Garden City, VGC. That has improved as he has got six lanes for that road. Jimi Agbaje was making good points for example, his points on education and so on, but he lost it when he said he would abolish the Lekki toll gate.
Another thing that made him lose the election was that he did not take his campaign to the people of Lagos. For example, I heard he went to Ajegunle, Surulere, Yaba, Ebutte Meta, Apapa Road, where you have non-indigenes. You didn’t go to the core people of Lagos and enunciate special programmes for them. What were you going to do at Ajegunle for instance? One of them was talking about the traffic on Apapa Road and said, ‘We are going to improve on transport system in Apapa’. What does that mean?
That is why Agbaje lost. That is gone now. He should go back to the drawing board against another time but in the meantime cooperate with Ambode.



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