Ahead of next week presidential election, Igbo Leaders in the 19 northern States yesterday declared support for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, General Mohammadu Buhari, urging him to rescue the country from being run aground by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Leaders who paid a courtesy visit to Buhari at his presidential campaign headquarters in Abuja noted that impunity and indiscipline had become a common phenomenon in today’s Nigeria.
Coming under the umbrella of Igbo Delegates Assembly, IDA, the group which was led by its President-General, Chief Sam Demian Enyama also had the Eze Udo, its traditional arm made up of the traditional rulers of Igbo communities both in the north and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
Speaking at the occasion, the presidential-General, Chief Eyama described Buhari as a man of impeccable character who is disciplined and result- oriented.
Dispelling religious sentiments against Buhari, Eyama urged Ndi Igbo nationwide to rally round Buhari and vote for him on March 28, saying that he would address most pressing needs of the regions in the country.
Speaking on behalf of Eze Udo, Eze Uche Egenti said that Nigerians especially the Igbo would not want to experience another civil war.
Observing that the country was heading to the brink of collapse under president Goodluck Jonathan, Egenti asked Buhari to come to its rescue.
He said “ We are here to support your aspiration to become the president of this country. We know that it is easier to work with you because of what you stand for. We are not ready to be plunged into another civil and we are pleading with you to help us organize Nigeria again. We want discipline to reign again.
“We want to plead with you to help galvanize Nigeria once more. Let discipline reign again in Nigeria. Let the polity be sensitized. A lot of people have complained that the issue about you is religion but we know you are not a religious bigot. You are a very firm articulate officer of the Nigerian army. In 1983 when Nigeria was at a verge of collapse, you came in and rescued it.
A notable Igbo leader and chieftain of APC, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu who also spoke at the event that attracted the presence of the party’s national chairman, Chief John Oyegun and other senior party officials said that the essence of the meeting was to reassure Buhari of the support of Igbo people.
According to him, the train of APC was in motion and could not continue without the input of the Igbo.
Onu also dismissed the insinuations that Buhari was a religious bigot whose interest was to Islamize the country if elected president.
Affirming Buhari’s forthrightness, Onu who was a former governor of Abia State stated that the APC presidential candidate has distinguished himself with his track record and offices so far held.
Meanwhile, in a manner seen by many as unseal, Buhari, while responding to the plea of the visiting Igbo leaders took time to explain what the meeting meant to him.
He also, perhaps for the first time, revealed why he joined politics and at such the opposition.
The former military Head of State who went memory lane revealed how the military government saved a fortune for the country only to be squandered by the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Buhari who also preached peace and unity among the tribes in the country recalled how property and shops of the Igbo communities in the north were secured during the civil war, also dismissed the speculations that he was a religious bigot.
How the meeting was brokered
“This meeting is an act of God because we had agreed on our programmes since but Chief Ogbonnaya Onu came to me and said that this meeting must take place. I tried to get out of it by going through the programmes with him and telling him that I have visited 35 states excluding Yobe and because of the additional unsolicited six weeks grace granted, another programme was drawn to conduct some town hall meetings.
I told him that, we were scheduled to go to Owerri and Onitisha to meet the Igbo leadership and business community. So, why not let us merge the two events? He said no, these are Igbos from the 19 Northern states and eventually, I gave up and said let it be done at the expense of our break.
I have no regrets holding this meeting because he educated me about this organization in the respective states which I was unaware of. He told me the details and I appreciate this organization because of your experiences especially when crisis happened in this country.
North/south relationship during the war
I could recall the good old days. When it was Christmas and new year, virtually, all businesses closed up in the north especially in Kano. Business would not resume until the Igbos return to their businesses. After the interruption of the civil war, I must admit that the elements of the first republic civil service were good because to the best of my knowledge, wherever Igbos had property in town, there were committees in the respective towns.
The properties were repaired, given for rent, an account opened for them. After the war, the Igbos came back and claimed their property and the savings made.. I thank the civil servants of those good old days because the committees were developed with very clear and firm terms of reference and the properties of the Igbos were looked after and they claimed them back. I think they did well. I think that I am the only Army officer to command three of the four Nigerian Army divisions. Again, from 2nd Lieutenant, all the Command and Staff appointments I don’t think I missed any.
My colleagues were Col. Ugokwe, GC. Ojukwu and they can bear testimony to that. On the political side, I became governor of the north east which is now six states and spent three and half years in Ministry of Petroleum, twenty months as Head of States and 40 months in detention eventually. I think I have seen quite a lot in Nigeria.
Why I joined politics
After going top and sliding down, why did I join politics? There were two reasons which I have mentioned on several occasions. I have to bore you with this because I don’t want you to slow down on whatever you are doing. Keep on trying, God will repay you one way or the other. I was sitting at home after I got out of detention and thought people would leave me alone. I didn’t even build a filling station, not to talk of owing an oil block and so I thought I had lost their sympathy.
But they kept coming to me and there was nothing I could do and then I speculated that maybe when I get into partisan politics, I would get into a position to be heard and then something happened in 1991 and the Soviet Union collapsed. They were the first to go into space and in terms of nuclear war heads and conventional forces, they were superior to NETO .
It just collapsed and people just went home and now, there are 18 Republics in the old Soviet Union. That was when I decided that the best form of governance is multi party democratic system with a big proviso that elections must be free and fair. Other wise, the whole thing will be a sham and it is in pursuit of that, that I am on my fourth attempt to get the highest office.
I am not a religious bigot
In the fist three attempts, I ended up at the Supreme Court because I believe in the system. There is no point believing in a system and conducting yourself haphazardly. I am telling you that I am fulfilled because when I decided to join politics in April 2002, I joined APP even though there was PDP and they were in government.
But I went into the opposition even though there were governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives in the party, but the following year, they gave me the ticket and what did I do with the ticket? I got the late Chuba Okadigbo to be my running mate and by that, I blew the mind of people about my tribal or religious position. In 2007, I picked Chief Ume Ezeoke and again, he was Igbo.
So, I dispel any question about my being a religious bigot or a tribalist. Later I picked Pastor Bakare and now, I am running with a Pastor, Prof. Osinbajo. The issue of religion has been taken into account in this country.
Why we insist on free and fair polls
I am very grateful to Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu for organizing this meeting. I am even more grateful that the leadership of the Igbo community in the north decided to turn up. It is important that we continue to make sure that we are broadminded. The beauty of this system is what I have mentioned already.
Let the government respect Nigerians and individuals and allow them to choose and elect those they want to lead them. If that is done, Nigerians will be surprised about how peaceful this country will be. I think that in every human being there is an element of rebellion. If you try to force a human being to do something he doesn’t like, he will develop a way of resisting it.
But if you develop a system and persuade him to accept the system, then, Justice must be done and you will be surprised how peaceful you will live. But if you try to force it, I am afraid that you will keep on suffering.
PDP has destroyed Nigeria
Look at what we have suffered in the last 16 years. Most of you are business people and always out there. Maybe you don’t even need computers because your head is just like a recorder. You import and know the exchange rate. Where were we 16 years ago when PDP took over this country and where are we now?
How much was the Naira to the Dollar then and how much is if now? Does it mean that you will not sell the things that you have in your shop now because people cannot afford them because the Naira is now about N230 to the dollar? I think that as a community, You are more affected in Nigeria than anyone else. You are the ones that go from Singapore to China and all over the world to make the contacts and order things.
You don’t order them in Naira, but in Dollar or Pounds Sterlings or Yen. Now, you need trailer load of Naira to maintain your businesses. Remember what we earned from 1999 till now. But then, where is the Nigeria Railways that we have been talking about? Where is the Nigeria Airways?
Where is the Nigeria Shipping line? Where are the roads and where is the money we earned? There are States now that haven’t paid salaries for months. Corrupt PDP governors cannot even pay salaries. I don’t think you can support this type of government anymore. It will be impossible because the worse has almost happened. If everybody is impoverished, what do we do? Do we eat grass?
Three things APC government must do
What we identified in APC are three fundamental things that are relevant. We hope, God willing, if we get into government, having campaigned on those three fundamental issues, we will deliver on those three fundamental issues so that you can physically see. I think that those who are really poor and live in the rural areas hardly have anything to lose, but you who criss-cross the world using your resources, when you are grounded, you feel it harder. It is a fact of life.
What are the three things we identified? First, security, then the death of the economy as a result of which there is mass unemployment and; third one is corruption.
Throughout my visit to 35 states, I mentioned these three things and nobody ever challenged me on them. We cannot continue like this because this is our country. No sentiment and nothing should make us change our mind. We just have to get rid of PDP and start building Nigeria again.
How military saved economy
In 1983, when we came in, we felt that change had to take place because I was involved in the military government that handed over to the second republic and as Minister of Petroleum, I was holding one of the most important appointments. The military handed over a relatively, materially and physically secured country to the second republic.
In four years, three months, if anybody told you that he knew how much debt Nigeria incurred after spending what the military left, he was telling you a lie because when we came, because of the debt Nigeria had incurred, we had to put in place two committees, one local and one foreign to help find out how we incurred the debt and how we were going to pay for it.
Together we will rescue Nigeria
So really, the question of patriotism is a very serious issue. The damage has been done. You are in a position under the system to make a difference and I am appealing to you to make sure that this difference is made. We are not doing anybody any favour. We are doing a favour to ourselves because we have no other country than Nigeria.
I am very happy with your kindness in coming to Abuja to see me and to support the APC. I assure you that you will not regret it. We are patriotic. Nigeria is our country. We have no other country, but Nigeria.Together, we will salvage it.”