Chief Ochi Emmanuel Ode, Chairman, Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC), in this interview spoke on the nagging issue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued medical vacation in United Kingdom and the call for his resignation. He also touched the recent non-elective national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), among other issues, in this encounter.
People believe that having stayed about 20 years in the Senate, the former Senate President, David Mark, may not return to the Red Chambers in 2019. Which party do you think will take over the Benue South Senatorial District seat?
I do not see Senator David Mark going for the Benue South Senatorial District seat again in 2019. I understand that he has a plan. But, he is yet to come out with it. However, I do not see him going back to the Senate. So, I see the seat out for grabs between any of the political parties. It can be PDP. It can be APC. It can also be any other party.
How do you see the recent protests over President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued stay in the United Kingdom and the call for his resignation?
On the issue of President Buhari’s health, we have to tread cautiously because we are all bound to be sick as we are all human beings. Therefore, we cannot be insulated from ill-health. Having said this, the issue of governance is very important to the Nigerian state. Sentiments should not be brought up over the issue of governance. Nigeria is in recession. All hands must be on the deck to rescue the country from the precipice of the economic woes. Any other action taken in line of this should not be an attempt in futility. That demands that the person in the helm of affairs of Nigeria at this material time must be fit and able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not being interfered with from any quarter. That is why the kangaroo handover to Prof. Osinbajo as the Acting President should not be allowed to continue. Nigeria is not an enterprise of Buhari. If he is not well to assume duty, he should step aside and properly hand over to his vice, so that the vice will become the president and appoint a new vice president so that the two can work together to move Nigeria forward.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was reported to have received President Buhari’s clearance to re-jig the cabinet. What is your take on this development?
As I speak, Osinbajo is not in charge. If he is in change, he does not need to go to President Buhari to seek clearance to change or allocate portfolios to ministers. He does not need to always get clearance from a sick man, who is on sick bed, to change biros, whether to use red or blue in the discharge of his activities. That is mostly what is happening now. To worsen the situation, there are some personal staff or what one may refer to as ‘close aides to Buhari’ who do not give a damn to the Acting President. They see themselves as a hierarchy and determine what happens in the day-to-day running of the Presidency. We must not forget that Osinbajo just stumbled into politics. Therefore, he cannot withstand the power play in the Presidency. I see him sweating profusely in this power game. Nigerians cannot expect anything tangible from him under this situation. To me, he is currently in chains. That is why I am of the opinion that he should be led out of the chain and be made a substantive president forthwith so that Nigerians can be attended to. That is my view. Anything short of that is dragging the Nigerian state into further recession.
How do you see the decision of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to extend the tenure of Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s National Caretaker Committee by four months?
To me, I see the PDP non-elective national convention as a good omen. It was a very wise decision for them to extend the tenure of the caretaker committee under the leadership of Makarfi. So far, so good. He has been calm and visionary in the leadership of the almost dead party. I have always said that Modu Sheriff was a mole in PDP, whose intention was to hold the former ruling party permanently down. But, thanks to the judiciary that rescued the party from his hands.
enator Ali Modu Sheriff was conspicuously missing during the recent non-election convention of the PDP. Does this not point to a danger signal for the party?
To me, it was not a surprise that he was not at the convention. I say this because, he was not really a PDP member. He was there on a mission; to destroy. But, with the court judgment, the party is no longer conducive for him to stay. To me, that is good for PDP. That he decided to absent himself from the convention was good, rather than being suspended. Suspension may bring some critical effect on the party. That he went his own way was PDP’s prayer being answered.
But, there is one advice I will give to the party. That is: In as much as they want to recall all the members that defected to other parties, they should be cautious not to receive those that may become another problem to the party. They should imbibe the culture of internal democracy. This is the key to their bouncing back. They should know that Nigerians will not forget in a hurry their undoing in the past. Except they are able to put their house in order, Nigerians will still reject them, even though I do not see the APC having the leeway in the Nigerian political scene in 2019. This is because Nigerians have discovered that the politics of the current ruling party is that of deceit.
How do you see the on-going constitutional amendment and the lawmakers’ attitude to restructuring which seems to be contrary to the popular will?
The APC government is a government of deceit and propaganda. Nigerians should not expect any tangible changes with this government. For example, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has said that Nigeria does not need restructuring. Two weeks after saying that publicly, the APC appointed him the chairman of the committee to look into the issues regarding restructuring. That is to tell you that the issue of restructuring, which is part of the party’s manifesto, for which APC set up a committee, is dead on arrival. What do you expect from the outcome of that committee’s deliberations? Your guess is as good as mine. The APC has the greatest number of governors in the country. The governors are in charge of the state Houses of Assembly. When the issue of constitutional amendment goes to the states, they will kill it because APC has nothing to offer except propaganda and deceit. Nigerians are tired of APC. It is sure that Nigerians will throw them out in 2019.
Separatist agitations have intensified with both the Niger Delta and the Yoruba youths sticking to their guns on their proposed October 1 Independence declarations, while the northern youths insist that Igbos should quit the region due to the calls for Biafra. What is your take on these agitations?
The separatist agenda is the agenda of the elite. It is the antics of the elite being propagated towards 2019. The Nigerian elite will do a lot of good to us if they can stop this divisive agenda which they are pursuing for their selfish ends. The elite are the ones masquerading in whatever names through the youths to bring about division so that they can reap their selfish desires. Nigeria is better off in unity not in divisions.
What is your advice to the government in this regard as October 1 beckons?
What can the government do? I expect the government to unmask those behind these separatist agitations and bring them to book. If the government does this, all these things will stop. Government cannot claim that they do not know those behind the agitations.
With the jostling for the 2019 elections and the reported non-performance of the APC government, as a top Middle Belt leader, what direction do you think the region will go this time bearing in mind that the region was with the PDP before the APC took over before the last general elections?
The issue of the Middle Belt is not different from that of the Nigerian state. If our politicians are able to base their associations on ideologies, there will be no need for them jumping ships every now and then. But, in Nigeria, politics is not based on ideology, but ‘politics of belle’ where the food is ready. Where the food is ready, that is where the Nigerian politicians will flood. They move there to be relevant to have food on their tables. In other words, where politics is based on ideology, people remain focused and stay with the ideology, even if it fails, until people imbibe it. In this part of the world, it is not like that. I don’t see any difference in the Middle Belt. They will always follow the bandwagon, either to the left, or to the right.
Do you see the nation coming out of recession soon?
I don’t think so. Nothing has been done concretely to take Nigeria out of recession. Currently, no one is in charge. No identifiable person is in charge of governance. Osinbajo is not in charge. What decisions can the Economic Team take without the president? Right now, Nigeria does not have a sitting president. The presidency is currently floating.
How do you see the Anti-Grazing Bill?
I think the issue is that of states, not the federal government. The governors should occupy themselves with what happens in their states. They should get their Houses of Assembly to make the necessary enactments that will enable them govern their states well. If the movement of animals in the states is not healthy and they legislate against it, it is well and good. The state government should legislate against such movements so that there will be peace and tranquility in the states. I do not see the issue as a federal matter. Once anyone commits an offence in any state, the law in that state should take its cause. If the herdsmen cross boundaries to commit crimes, the laws in those areas where they commit the crimes should take the necessary steps to ensure justice so that there will be peace and tranquility
Would you give an assessment of Lagos State under the Akinwunmi Ambode administration?
Lagos State under Governor Ambode? Governance in Lagos in the last four or five months has stagnated. We no longer hear much of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode’s government again. The streets in Lagos are littered with refuse dumps. The roads are impassable. Almost every part of Lagos has become slums. Go to Oshodi, Mushin, Agege and other parts of Lagos, roads are becoming impassable. All drainages are blocked and nothing is being done about the situation. Can we say the politicking of 2019 has started and governance has been relegated to the background? Only the governor can answer this question. Or, would we say the governor does not have money with the huge Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in Lagos. Lagosians are worried. He should wake up from slumber. It is too early for the government to go to sleep. Lagosians do not want that.