This is the second part of The Tide Roundtable featuring Barrister Uche Okwukwu, Rivers State Chairman of ACN, first published last Monday. Read on.
Powell was not chairman of the Republican Party, you were a party chairman and in that position you took an oath not to allow your personal decisions to affect your official conduct. Since your decision ran contrary to the party’s agenda, don’t you think that it amounted to anti-party? Was that why you resigned as chairman of ACN in Rivers State?
I did not resign as the chairman of ACN.
Why not, was your personal position the decision of the party?
No, not decision of the party, but I consulted widely and called the leadership of the party to a meeting and I told them this, ‘we should not do things for the fun of it, we must as much as possible be with the people, I mean greater percentage of Rivers people. This is their opinion.” I told them, and of course with great respect. The person who contested the House of Assembly elections in Ikwerre Local Government Constituency is here and alive to attest to this. In the meeting I called, I told them the opinion of the people of Rivers State to allow Amaechi continue because of the mega projects he has started, whether it is right or wrong let us allow him to go on with the projects till 2015, so that he would be able to achieve over 50 per cent success before any other person can come on board because any other Governor may not agree completely with his concept and ideas, or, he may agree with it but may not go on with the same speed that the man who conceived the idea would have gone about it. But if you have 50 per cent (on ground) of a particular thing, whoever comes would be morally bound to pursue it. But if left at this stage, it may not be in the interest of the large majority of Rivers people.
I did say that, in all the papers and of course before I went on air, I told the central working committee of the party that I would go on air and say what I’d told them, the youth leader of the party, Mr Bob Aaron is here and was in that meeting. I have never, in all my life, betrayed anybody. I can go to prison and suffer incaceration. If agree with you on something, I don’t care what it will cause me, I will stand by it, but before I take any decision to review our previous decision, I must let you know my reasons for taking that decision or why I should take a different position, at all.
Don’t you agree that the internal wranglings worrying your party is as a result of your action or is it simply true that one of the major set backs in any opposition is in house fighting.
No, there is a book called United We Stand. I equally read a book, Divided We Stand.
In Africa, polygamy today is a global strategy because the impression people had before was that if a man has one wife, the family would be stronger but that may not be true in all instances. If for instance, you marry many wives, you could also have a stronger family. This is because, there will be competition among both the wives and their children, but you may have one wife and bear three children but they could be thinking only of inheriting the father’s property. ACN has the same difficulties other political parties had, but ACN achieved some success under my watch; it conducted primaries and produced candidates from Governor to House of Assembly. Internal wrangling in a party is part of the political process. It is expected, even if we are related by blood, if you bring us to a family meeting and say we should abide by a decision, we may be arriving at the same decision but may disagree with the process, and that process of disagreeing may lead to internal wranglings, but the most important thing is to disagree to agree. We disagreed at certain levels and agreed as a party and had candidates to run our election. My personal position as I said, has nothing to do with it.
Different sums of money have been quoted by different accusers. Please tell us, how much money was with you, when you decided that your believers should vote for Gov Amaechi, not Sekibo of your own party?
I am a very careful person. If I were not careful, I would be in jail. The party sold forms, National Assembly, State House of Assembly Governorship and so on. Everybody that bought the forms paid into a bank account in Abuja which was not controlled by the state. The party’s National headquarters thereafter, remitted N4million into our state party’s account with Intercontinental bank to which I am a signatory, along with the state treasurer and secretary. We also sold forms for the councillorship and chairmanship elections and all forms were sold by the secretary, because he was always in the office. I did not sell any of the forms.
The secretary sold and kept the proceeds. In the end, we realized about N10 million and used part of the money to buy essential office needs like fans, generator and refrigerator and about N9 million was remaining with the secretary. On the eve of the first National Assembly elections, the party needed funds so, we approached the bank and withdrew N3.5 million to add to about the N9 million with secretary, Mr Amonibia Akor which amounted to about N13 million which we used for the purpose of supporting the national assembly elections, I Uche Okwukwu never distributed a dime. The only money of the party I was holding was N8.8 million that came on the eve of the presidential elections, through the National Treasurer of the party, Hon Kenneth Kobani. He brought the money at about 11:30 pm April 9, 2011 date of the second National Assembly when, he returned from Abuja. Before then, everybody had gone back to their various local government areas for the elections and since there was curfew, Kobani, Sekibo and myself who were in Sekibo’s house agreed that party agents who returned their units result sheets Form EC8A should be given N2,000 each. Unfortunately, everybody had gone back to their places for the elections and I as chairman, I was asked to keep the money until Monday, when, every body would have come back. Since I did not have adequate security, I took the money to my friend’s house for safe keeping.
Later, I gave N4.4 million to the chairman of chairmen forum, Timothy Amadi with a directive to disburse and keep proper records. The money was to be paid to all chairmen of the party. Later, as the days progressed, our friend and brother Uche Onyegocha, the APGA House of Representatives member, representing Owerri Federal Constituency, between 2003 and 2007 and a brother in-law to Dr Abiye Sekibo came to me, saying that he had been instructed by Dr Sekibo to reach me urgently and take the remaining N4.4 million. This was in the presence of the one time Chief Press Secretary to former Rivers State Governor Peter Odilli, former Commissioner of Information and also ACN, candidate for Ikwerre and Emohua federal constituency, my driver, Innocent Okocha, President, Abiye Vanguard and Henry Amadi, my friend with whom I had kept the money. When I called Henry to return the remaining N4.4 million, he said he didn’t know that they would need the money that urgently, and later brought, N2.1 million cash which he gave to Uche Onyegocha sent by Dr Sekibo, the ACN governorship candidate, along with a cheque of 2.3 million drawn in the name of the same Uche Onyegocha and handed all over to him. Onyegocha took the money and the cheque and left for Sekibo’s place, as ordered by Dr Sekibo. From this account, you can see that it is entirely false that I resigned and left the party with funds under my custody. I did not resign. I am still the only constitutionally elected state chairman of the ACN. No more, no less.
Barrister Uche Okwukwu you are known by many people for different things, controversial is one of them. Once, you were quoted as saying that Ikwerres are Igbos just as you were also quoted as supporting the MASSOB struggle at a time. Can you react to these sayings?
Yes, my name is Uchechukwu Okwukwu. I am an Igbo man. I have said it in different fora, the Willink report is available, the Ph’D work of Late Chief Aguma in University of Ibadan 1977 is available, other reports are also available. There is a fundamental difference between a nation and a tribe. A tribe speaks a dialect, a Nation speaks a language. Some Ikwerre people agreed that they are from Igbo, some say they are from Benin heritage. Scientifically, there are parameters we use to determine things, the sociological, spiritual, geographical and historical. If you say you are from Benin, come with your proof and show us how you came from Benin. There is no common thing that trace Ikwerre lineage to Benin. There is no single common Edo language in the Ikwerre land. None. So, those who, in falsification of languages, say other wise, should come forward with their proof.
In a study carried out by the Niger Delta group in 1976, under the Niger Delta spirit, edited by Prof Alagoa, the Ikwerre was clearly pointed out as Igbos. See, to lose a war is bad-the post-war Nigeria saw the two groups, the Igbos and Niger Delta as conquered people and the victorious North and the West clearly, unequal partners in a new relationship that eventually emerged and in that unequal relationship, like the law of Osmosis, weaker solution is naturally drawn by the stronger solution. What happened was that if you said then, you’re an Igbo, you are hated because you’re a Biafran you committed a crime, your master is in Cote d’Ivoire you raised up arms against the Federal Government, forgetting that according to Gabriel Onyeke’s Commission of enquiry 30,000 Easterners were massacred. So everybody said I am not Igbo purely as a survival syndrome. Why would you say you are Igbo, when you were not wanted? Of course, my name is Uche Okwukwu, so you can ask me my name and I will say’ am not Igbo, because if I say I was Igbo, I will be punished, but you would agree with me in this state that the great and mighty of Ikwerre land agreed that they were all Igbos. They include late Francis Ellah, former Secretary to the Rivers State government who said he was an Igbo man, the late Okugbule Wonodi, former registrar of the University of Port Harcourt said the same. Chief C. C. Nwuche said he is an Igboman, so what crime has Uchechukwu Okwukwu committed?
What is the contention of Ogbakor Ikwerre on this? Do you belong to Ogbakor Ikwerre?
Ogbakor Ikweere is an umbrella socio-cultural body, it has never said no Ikwerre man should have a different opinion on any issue.
Do they agree with you on this issue?
No, Ogbakor Ikwerre doesn’t need to agree with me because, it has never, ever driven any Ikweere man for identifying with the Igbos or one who said, he is an Igbo man.
We hope they will not sanction you?
They never drove away Okugbule Wonodi, they are not thinking of that because there are available records to show, everybody wrote with his own hand writing. When people who went to school wrote in their own handwriting, when they were not biased, people wrote tribe and nation, such records are available. What happens in this country is that we like to suppress truth. Believe me, this is the biggest shame coming from this part of the black race, it is not a courageous race ,the race is always very petty. Today’s US President Barack Obama told American voters I am pure Black American” be said, my father came here to get scholarship to study Medicine, because of internal crisis, and then government received Obama’s father into the US.
The Kenyan’s son said my name is Barack Obama ,my background is Kenya. He never said I come from America and I will answer Bush or White. ,if it were in Nigeria, he would start answering another name or remove Barack Hussein Obama, because America had problem with the Muslim extremists, then.
Do you think that the MASSOB struggle for a Biafran nation is realisable under the Nigerian Government?
Every struggle under the sun is realisable, every dream you have can be realised.
I asked because most Ikwerres say they are not Igbos.
It is not what we feel or think, many may speculate that I am a multi-millionaire, but I am not a millionaire, it is just an opinion. I have said and quote me, Uche Okwukwu, take me up, put me down, bury me 5ft underground, I am an Igbo man. What is wrong with that? I have said it before and I have given great names who also said they were Igbos too, identity is very important see, I read a book sometimes in London. I recalled the history of the Samarians, and I read it in the monastery, and beheld how a man was asked the question, who are you? When he mentioned his name, the man asked him again, do you remember what happened to your people? He answered, no, so, the man then told him to go back and read his history because, the Samarians are today a lost tribe, because they refused to read their history
Again in Geneva in 1998? I met a senator from the US, attending the meeting of the unrepresented United Nations Organisation.
The man said he was Asyrian, and everybody was shocked but he said it. That he is from Asyria, the most interesting thing was that the man could read and write in Asyrian language, even though there is no country today, called Asyria.
I took him up on that and he said, the worst thing that can happen to a man is to deny his own root, out of fear, cowardice, intimidation. When you do that, on the long wrong, you pay dearly for it, if you are not careful, your geneology disappears from the face of the earth.
Is that why you were once said to have supported the hoisting of the Biafran flag in Rivers State?
MASSOB is an idea, I believe in ideas and in what I call appropriate fiscal principles and I believe in many other progressive principles. When we go into the river to fish, there are all kinds of fishes, Tilapia, and the rest, but some other persons may be looking for the type of fish that is not known to us and which is not too popular. The Movement for the Actualization of the Soverign State of Biafra raised the flag of Biafra (MASSOB) in 2000, because they perceived injustice, and that perceived injustice they believed, could only be addressed when a peaceful process produces a clearer political space. The Ogoni people raised a flag in 1990 when they felt that they were being oppressed, they had a national anthem, I have attended a meeting of Odua Peoples Congress, (OPC) when a flag was raised, even when it was from the Yoruba nation but because these people speak Igbo and you understand Igbos are people that are hated in Nigeria. Whatever they say the talk is: bring them let’s kill and sacrifice them. They were not the first to raise a national flag. The first flag was raised by the Arewa, before Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu raised the Biafran Republic’s flag, but nobody discussed it. They suppressed it, the British intelligence suppressed it, the truth is that I subscribe to the fundamental principles of Biafra because it is a foundation that supported that the issues be addressed.
The Blackman’s rights to get dignity and survival is one. What the Igbo man is saying is we must go back to the table and negotiate and discuss. The Ijaw man for instance said, I am producing oil, but I buy it more expensively in Nembe than others buy it in Sokoto, lets discuss it, Ogoni man said, you started drilling oil from Ogoni kingdom in 1958,we raised our voices, you killed our people, let’s discuss, Igboman said of all the six geo political regions in Nigeria, we alone have just five states, others have six. For that reason, we have 15 senators only, when the North have more, let’s discuss, Ikwerre man said out of the 774 local government Areas in the country, Ikwerre with their land mass and populations have only four local government areas, is an issue, lets discuss, that is how nations move forward. You don’t move the people forward by supressing them for their agitations. If you do that, you compel them to resort to violence and I don’t pray and subscribe to violence because of my background and training, I believe that it is important to jaw-jaw than war-war, so it is important to discuss and talk, there are many different issues bothering the people. Dialogue is the answer.
What do you find wrong with the present state and local government structure in such dialogue?
The state and local government structure cannot guarantee justice because of the way and manner they were created. They were created based on those who have influential people in government or high connections in military government. That was how the local governments also emerged, so, you cannot see the states and local government areas as the basis for that kind of discussion. This is the reason why we must go back and discuss on ethnic nation-states’ levels. Even the state structures we have, is it the kind of structure we should have? For example, some states have the population of about 5 million while some have populations of one million. You also have local governments that have populations of less than 1 million and some with about 50,000. That cannot form the basis, but to a large extent, true federalism brings about competition, like talents among individuals, you come with your own talent and I bring my own, that way we make a better society, and at the end of the day, when we restructure Nigeria, we have true federalism. This will make everybody to produce and contribute according to the comparative advantage principle. The state of California and other states in the US have large economy not because they have oil but because they export education. These states sell and export education, exactly what Ghana is doing now. What do I mean? Nigerian students in Ghana pay $5,000 to school in there. So, the point is, you identify your area of comparative advantage, and with that, you can export it. So, some states in Nigeria can even do that and export education. India for instance, is benefiting from health, through successful kidney transplant. People all over the world, including Nigerians now go to India for what they call ‘medical resort’, an arrangement whereby a patient stays in a hospital for one month, just as one rests in a hotel on vacation for relaxation. Tourism is there also, So, comparative advantage can come when we agree to restructure Nigeria. You may have crude oil today and be reckless with it. It will bring poverty and crisis later. That exactly is the problem we are facing. The Gulf of Guinea today is in crisis because of crude oil, and particularly because there is nothing to show that the Gulf of Guinea is better than any country in East Africa who do not have oil but depend on tourism. Nigeria is not doing better than Bostwana. With great respect, my point basically is that, resource control is good, true federalism is also good, but it must be predicated on caution, fairness, justice and equity, we must agree, you make a man agree, you appeal to him, persuade him, educate him, bring him out from ignorance and make him believe that you can give him food. For instance, we can make Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria the best, and people from all parts of the world will come there and study, I do not come from Yoruba land, but I learnt that University of Ife had a better law faculty and people competed to write JAMB to go there and school. And in Ife then, I saw people from different parts of Africa coming to study and read there, even Nigeria was doing what they called Aid programme, so, if a state in Nigeria puts in money in education ,that state will get foreign students that will pay them in dollars and pounds as we pay in Britain and Ghana today.