'NIGERIA WON'T BREAK UP'
Former deputy governor of Old Ondo State, Chief Akin Michael Omoboriowo, has said Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu died a hero and a true patriot. According to him, Ojukwu deserves a befitting state burial despite the fact that he took up arms against his fatherland, in the bloody civil war of 1966 to 1970.
He said that as a true patriot, who abhorred injustice, a man with an uncommon love for his people of the South East, Ojukwu stood to defend what he called the massacre of the Igbo, describing his action as courageously justified, in view of the ethnic cleansing of the Igbo nation, as a fall-out of the 1966 coup.
'It was not as if Ojukwu did not believe in one Nigeria, but when a united Nigeria was turning its sword against one nationality, within the Nigerian state then, it has to be resisted. That was why they declared a state of Biafra, which I believed was justified.'
The octogenarian businessman, lawyer cum politician says since he met the late Ojukwu in 1983, they were close, having been in the same party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Omoboriowo, an Awoist, shocked most of his admirers, including Pa Obafemi Awolowo when he dumped the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1982, resigned as deputy governor to Pa Adekunle Ajasin of Old Ondo State to pitch tent with the ruling NPN. Against all odds, he contested against his boss, the then incumbent governor, defeated him only to be upturned via a judicial pronouncement.
Now the chairman of Genesis Electricity Ltd, Abuja, Omoboriowo was a member of the 1996 constitutional conference and member of the 1997/98 National Reconciliation Committee.
He commented on some national issues, Boko Haram, the EFCC and did a critical assessment of the Governor Segun Mimiko administration in Ondo State.
Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is dead. We understand that you have close contact with him in the NPN. Could you tell us what you know about him?
Ojukwu was a close friend of mine and an associate in politics. By all standards, he was one of the fathers of the nation up to the time he passed on. He was a generational man, a man who could easily pass for the leadership of Africa if we were to have common government, and no one would have hesitated to him taking up the mantle of leadership of Africa. Ojukwu got the best of Western education. He was well endowed mentally, cerebrally, accomplished, courageous, patriotic and down-to-earth. He stood by the truth and he was ready to die for it. He was ready to die for his people, the Igbo nation he called the Biafran people. At the same time, he was magnanimous when he knew victory was not attainable. He went on exile for 13 years. He led spiritual consultations with his Maker and he came back, joined hands with colleagues across the nation to rebuild Nigeria as a united country. So, he was a great patriot.
You said he was a patriot. Will a patriot take up arms against his fatherland?
When we say patriotism, it means fighting for one's fatherland. Because of what he called the pogrom of that time when the Igbo were massacred in large numbers in the North, Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna, following the killing of the Sadauna of Sokoto in the coup of 1960, the Igbo became the target in the North, he called it 'the massacre of my people.' A great venom was spilled on the Igbo by the Hausas in the North. In fact, at the Kano Airport, the Igbo, who were trying to flee to the South, were massacred: mother, father and children wiped out. Across the country, wherever the Igbo gathered, with a view to moving to the East, they were attacked and killed by the military of Hausa stock. To Ojukwu and the average Igboman, it was the height of injustice and inhumanity. There and then, they made up their minds to do battle against what they regarded as ethnic cleansing of the Igbo nation. So, from the foregoing, it was not, as if Ojukwu did not believe in one Nigeria, but when a united Nigeria was turning its sword against one nationality, within the Nigerian state, then it has to be resisted. That was why they declared a state of Biafra, which I believe was justified. Today, both sides have learnt a lesson from it. He was patriotic, despite the fact that he took up arms against Nigeria, we must see through the situation that gave birth to it.
Now that Ojukwu is dead, what would you suggest about his burial?
Well, somebody who is dead is dead. That is my perception. I am a rigorous Christian, worshipping at Christ Promise Assembly in Abuja. I belong to the end time church. We believe when one dies, there is immediate judgment. You either go to the right or left of the Lord. That is, either eternal life or doomed in the lake of fire. Even among the Christian community, they do not understand this. So, if they give him state burial, I am totally for it, because he deserves it, but if they do otherwise, I bear no grudge in my mind. What is important is where he goes from here, on what side of the Lord' will he be? Again, I think the type of burial is immaterial but how do we immortalise him? I think a federal institution should be named after him because he did so much to give Igbo nation a sense of identity during his lifetime. The Igbo suffered under his leadership, but he meant well for them. At the end of his capitulation, he came back and embraced one Nigeria.
So, if a man like that dies, he deserves a hero's burial. I don't know how they intend to go about this. If for nothing, the legacy he left behind, he should be honoured for it. Where he goes from here is not for any man to determine but by his creator.
How did you become Ojukwu's friend?
We met in 1983. That year marked a watershed in the political history of this great country. That was the year I fought my political leader, the supremo of the United Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I fought him politically and people thought I was going to go under, but God said no. After signing the Cooper Road Declaration of 1983, where I crossed over from UPN to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), I was expelled from the UPN with others. It was an action taken by the Ondo Chapter of UPN and ratified by the National executive of the party. I was to join the Zik's National Peoples Party (NPP) because of similarity in ideology with the UPN, but my people thought otherwise. I met with Pa Adeniran Ogunsanya in Lagos; everything was perfected for the movement before my followers decided otherwise, when I got to Ondo.
Their reasons were quite convincing because, according to them, the NPP was an opposition party in the South West while the NPN, being the ruling party at the centre, will assist in my election, give me police protection and offer development to my people.
I had to succumb to this majority decision. I had to leave the UPN because I was robbed of victory in the shadow election, where I defeated Michael Ajasin, the then incumbent governor of the old Ondo State. I tried in vain to make our leader, Pa Awolowo, to make a public statement that I won the shadow (primary) election.
I had majority of the legislature in the Ondo House of Assembly behind me; that was why Chief Ajasin could not replace me when I resigned as deputy governor in August 1982. Twice, he presented the name of Dr. N. F Aina and it was rejected. That was about the same time Ojukwu also declared for the NPN. We met at several political fora and when we met, we discussed mutual political issues. Ever since, we became friends. When I went to Enugu for a rally, he invited me specially and a few of my supporters for a party. He was a courageous, cerebral, knowledgeable and celebrated man.
What would you say caused PDP to lose South West in 2011 polls
This is a very controversial issue, but I know that the indiscipline within the rank and file of the PDP was largely responsible for that disastrous outing in the last general elections. The PDP also took the ACN for granted in the South West. ACN went to the field with watertight plans, full of determination to win back the zone. Of course, it backed this up with a lot of funds. General Obasanjo is a family friend and I have a lot of respect for him, but I must say that he has penchant for dictatorship, perhaps, because of his strong military background. That was also a factor in the party's loss of the South West.
When the majority of the people say this the person we want, Obasanjo will say no, this is the person I want. A typical example was that of Ekiti, where Segun Oni was imposed on the people. Although Oni later performed to the surprise of everybody, being a humble and hardworking young man, who was never part of the corrupt deals. What I am saying is that the people ought to have been given the opportunity to elect someone who will represent them and not imposition.
Except the PDP family retracts from this type of practice, the party will be doomed. I believe Obasanjo would have seen that he made some serious mistakes in that zone. The ACN also has that penchant for imposition of candidates, but the people had their way. For instance, in the last council elections in Lagos State, the PDP tried. From my own feelers, it won about 13 councils. Despite that, the ACN announced all the councils for itself, leaving a few councillors for the PDP. This is why some people are clamouring for the scrapping of the state electoral commission. The PDP has to go back and do a serious re-thinking, plan ahead and put their divided house together. The party is in power at the federal level, so it has no reason to fail.
If they don't put their house in order, I am afraid, the ACN will continue to ravage them.
What's your assessment of Segun Mimiko
Well, Ondo used to be a state before Ekiti was carved out of it. I am very close to Ekiti because I go there every week. I must say that Mimiko is a wonderful man. When he became governor, I never thought he could do what he is doing now in the state. Like Fashola is doing in Lagos, virtually all the roads in Ondo are beautifully laid out with sidewalks, complemented with streetlights, and bus steps. He replicates this in the major towns in the state. The school buildings are very modern, with all the necessary infrastructure in place. I am surprised as to where he gets the money, especially as his predecessors were always singing no money. Unfortunately, we did not have money during our time because oil had not come in. The only place where we had little oil was in Shekelewu, in the reverine area. For us to even get little money from it, it took about three years of battle because of the NPN-UPN rivalry then. But today, to the glory of God, in Ondo State, the young man is using it to better the lots of the people. I tell you, in the next election, the people of Ondo will be begging Mimiko to contest.
The Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has been claiming responsibility for some bomb blasts. What do you think and this?
I think anybody who fears God should not take the life of innocent fellow human being for whatever reason, except in self-defence or court order of competent jurisdiction sentencing someone to death. So, for an individual or a group of persons to be killing other fellow human beings, who have legitimate businesses, I think it's the height of godlessness. The government has a duty to protect the life and property of citizens of this country. The president must do something and fast too. But it is not for me to tell him on the pages of newspapers. I believe he has the capacity to put an end to this senseless killing. If not checked now, it may lead to some serious consequences as the whole world is watching and the citizenry are getting restless by the day.
Last week, ex-EFCC chairman, Farida Waziri was removed. How do you see this?
I believe the removal of that woman was an attempt by government to give teeth to the agency and make it more proactive in the fight against economic crimes. In other words, people who corruptly enrich themselves should not be shielded or handled with kid gloves; it is a serious matter. The sad practice during the era of that woman was that some itchy-fingered state chief executives were arrested, investigations going on and charged to court. The moment they get bail, the story ends there. I think government got tired of that kind of laxity, especially as the international community started asking questions; so it had to act. There was need to do something because if you don't clean the Augean's stable, the reputation of the country would go down.
There's fear that Nigeria may disintegrate. Do you share in this feeling?
I am a proud Yoruba man from the South West. I believe Nigeria has come to stay, as an entity. There have been all sorts of foul talk that Nigeria was in the fringe of breaking up. That is rubbish. I don't believe Nigeria will break up. It has come to stay. This is not because we have a good military or strong armoury or because we have the support of the international community. It's simply because of the programme of God for Nigeria, Africa and the world at this point in time.
God Almighty watches over His programme. Once God Almighty makes a pronouncement, the whole heavens watch over it and makes sure it succeeds. No nation in the world can dismantle the plan of God and if Nigeria crumbles, it's going to affect the plan of God Almighty. This is why it cannot happen. Let people read the Bible reflectively and relate it to the Israelites of the old and of today.