Chief Ralph Obioha is the Chairman of Ohaneze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee. In this interview with Edward Nnachi, he expresses confidence that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would do the right thing given his reputation, antecedents, and records as an experienced statesman. He insists that Ndigbo did not lose out and should discard such insinuation.
As the Chairman of Ohaneze Ndigbo caretaker committee, to what extent would you say the organization has been able to defend the Igbo cause?
Ndigbo is not under any attack, so talking about defending Ndigbo should not arise. Ohaneze Ndigbo is the apex organ for the promotion of vital Igbo interest. In the course of promoting these vital Igbo interests, Ohaneze Ndigbo is adopting new initiatives centered on dialogue, persuasions and diplomacy as against confrontation and imposition of own points of views. In other words, Ohaneze Ndigbo is promoting Ndigbo rather than defending Ndigbo because there are no issues to defend. The Ohaneze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee is a child of circumstance and to some extent a child of necessity due to certain tendencies from the former executives of the body that had wanted to elongate their stay in office. The quick intervention of the body’s Elders Council resolved the issue by setting-up the caretaker committee to run the affairs of the apex Ndigbo body till a substantive executive is elected to run the affairs of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
There is this insinuation that Ndigbo lost out in the current political equation in the country, what are your thoughts on this?
Yes, the Ndigbo politics of 2015, especially in the Presidential election, suffered leadership failure and consequently there is a general feeling amongst Ndigbo that they have been locked-out of the political opportunities in the country, presently. It would have been worse if not for the valiant efforts of Ohaneze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee that the path being canvassed by the defunct executives of Ohaneze Ndigbo that all Igbo must put all their votes in one basket is in the first place not well thought out and in the second place does not make any political sense and that ill-informed position exposed Ndigbo to great political risk. The Ohaneze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee rose to the occasion and did its best to achieve some damage control and at least demonstrated that all Ndigbo did not buy into the oneway traffic advocated by political former executives of Ohaneze Ndigbo. It is now left to President Muhammadu Buhari to act as the father of the nation he is and make an all inclusive government for the country. The President is, by his antecedents, reputation and records, an experienced statesman who is well conditioned to do the right thing. Ndigbo should discard any insinuation of having lost out.
How would you appraise the performance members of the 7th National Assembly from Igbo land?
They deserve a pass mark and I say this by the fact that all Igbo members of the National Assembly, in the 7th Session carried out their legislative duties with dignity and good behaviour. The two principal officers served well in their respective deputizing roles with demonstrative loyalty, which forms the hallmark of proven responsibility. The others arguably can be excused for their failure for not attracting substantial federal presence in the South- East on the basis of their numbers to impose their will. If the question had been about my views on the performance of the entire 7th session of the National assembly, the answer would have been different.
Can you make a critical appraisal of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?
The operative word here is critical and one must appreciate certain factors of being in a rush to criticize an administration such as the former president’s without being in possession of factual information arising from the activities of the administration at this point in time. In our clime, government is run mostly on strict secret basis so vital information and facts are usually not readily available to make an impartial appraisal. One can, on the surface of known developments, make certain safe assessments such as that President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was very weak on corruption. This alone placed a heavy burden on the entire working of the government and like cancer, ate the entire fabric of his administration. The depth of corruption in that administration beclouded any kudos accruing to that government and even if one is to wait for full disclosure of the happenings in that administration, because corruption took centre stage nothing, absolutely nothing, can be attributed as ennobling to President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Again, take the issue of subsidy on petroleum products, it was turned into one massive corruption infested operation and toward the end of his administration, it became obvious that subsidy was synonymous with free and easy money for elections. A visit to the core infrastructural sector that ensures movement of goods and services, the South East Zone was completely neglected yet the zone was considered the solid support base of the Jonathan presidency. Towards the tail end of his administration, his entire campaign trust, the former president’s governance cohesiveness broke apart and it required only heavenly intervention to save the administration. It must be admitted that it is not fashionable to criticize a fallen man but since the question has been put forward, the only kind cut that one can give ex-president Goodluck Jonathan is that he acted well by throwing in the towel at the right time thereby sparing the nation any crisis if he had done otherwise.
What do you make of President Buhari’s inaugural speech?
It was Presidential. It exceeded the benchmark set by Nigerians in anticipation of what the President will say. President Buhari laid it out precisely in a manner that brought great relief to most Nigerians that waited to hear what he had to say. The highlight of this speech was his declaration that he was for everybody meaning that he will be the President for all Nigerians and he strengthened that declaration with the punch line that he is not for anyone meaning that neither Daura, or Katsina, or the North, or anyone should entertain the idea that he will be owned by anyone. President Buhari therefore devoted a good portion of his speech to dwell on security, the most troubling specter in today’s Nigeria and marshaled his priority to stamp that menace out. The speech emphasized that he will be guided by the constitution he had sworn to defend and protect. He then aligned with the rule of law as the beacon of his incoming administration and declared that witch hunting shall have no tolerance in his administration. I have received many messages of concerned Nigerians seeking clarification about the word ‘prologue’ used and enquiring if the President, on those who committed crimes and broke laws, has given general amnesty. My interpretation of zero witchhunting has in no way absolved anyone who broke the law or committed any crime; rather it means that going against anyone who did not break the law or did not commit any crime will not be tolerated. That is what witch-hunting means. It must be further explained that for any Nigerian that did not buy into supporting candidate Buhari that cannot amount to “an enemy combatant” and should not entertain any fear of witch-hunt. The president’s commitment to the constitution means clearly that all individuals, high and low, who were entrusted with public funds and abused such trust, must render account. He insisted that there will be no hiding place for such individuals but again laid down the golden rule that the exercise will be carried out under the rule of law. The President shall have to banish the method used by our sick justice system that protects the high and mighty at least to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary.
During his campaign, he promised to run a transparent government. But recent report on his asset declaration indicated he may not keep that promise. What do you make of this, sir?
A promise, as they say, is a promise and a promise should be kept. One should not go by recent report as any fair minded person would at least, appreciate that public disclosure of an assets declaration should be given time before concluding that a promise has been broken. The public declaration will definitely be made if President Buhari promised to do that provided that such promise was not a creation of the media, as I personally did not hear such a promise. As far as I am concerned, he, with his vice, has met the constitutional requirement of declaring their assets to the appropriate agency.
To ensure good governance in the country, there is need for a vibrant opposition. Do you see the PDP providing that in view of the avalanche of defections?
The bedrock of democracy is a virile and vibrant opposition and Nigeria will benefit greatly if PDP will bind together and play such a role. In the first place, the party just lost an election and knowing the workings of government, the party ran for 16 years, the party is in the most vantage position to become an effective sentinel of government. Four years is not eternity in politics and going by the fact that PDP still controls at least 12 state governments, the party has support to mount a credible opposition, an important role in any democracy. Please do not entertain defectors as they very much abound in our country. In the first place, they are of no consequence. I was personally disappointed when the former president rejected the position of Chairman of his party’s Board of Trustees. I urge him to reconsider and assume his rightful position to re-position his party for the task of being the opposition party thereby strengthening our nascent democracy. Our country needs PDP now more than ever and by the party’s strength in the political arena, the party should at least, return the favour Nigeria gave the party for the last 16 years or is the party willing to confirm the impression Nigerians have always entertained that the party is a bunch of self seekers whose credo is share the money?