EX-MINISTER IHENACHO OPENS UP: WHY JONATHAN SUSPENDED ME
The immediate past Minister of Interior, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho is a household name in the country especially in the maritime industry. He is one of those that could succeed in areas where others would not even dare. But in his short stay as the Interior Minister, he had a raw deal when he was suspended and later recalled under controversial circumstances. To him, the suspension still remains a mystery.
The Master Mariner, Managing Director of Genesis Worldwide Shipping and Chairman /CEO of Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd in this interview recounts his experience as a minister, insecurity in the country, politics of Imo State among others. Excerpts…
The greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is insecurity of lives and property especially in the northern part of the country. From your vantage position as the immediate past Minister of Interior, how do you feel?
I feel like every other Nigerian. Any right thinking and patriotic Nigerian would condemn the spate of violence that we are witnessing today, particularly the deadly violence being employed by certain people to try and achieve political objectives. I am a believer in the maxim that we can actually achieve things by talking. Violence is not the best way to achieve certain things. We should give purpose and effect to dialogue between parties. So, the issue of insecurity, upsurge in violence and terrorism is a regrettable thing. It is my hope that those who are behind it would have a rethink and opt instead for dialogue with the authorities to resolve whatever issues they are pursuing. It is my hope also that the national security establishments would be able to evolve the necessary strategies that would contain some of these problems that we see.
With the recent bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, many argue that the insecurity situation has an international dimension. Do you share that view?
Well, I am not entirely sure if there is any international connotation that could be ascribed to the bombing of the UN headquarters. The headquarters is a structure that is resident in Nigerian soil. So, every infrastructure that is liable to be attacked must be put on the same pedestal. If you attack a Nigerian institution, it is bad and if you attack a UN institution that is based in Nigeria, it is equally bad. So, basically, I cannot ascribe any particular thing to that event. But I condemn violence and terrorism unequivocally and in general. We really hope that issues behind the violence would be resolved through dialogue between those who are orchestrating this violence and the authorities.
As the immediate past Minister of Interior, what is the effect of the situation to the image of the country?
I feel bad just like every Nigerian. I feel very bad that we have this ugly development. The cause is really a development that cannot help the image of any country. Every right thinking Nigerian, whether as a Minister or an ordinary person really should feel bad that these things are happening. Well, I am no longer the Minister of Interior. If I were still the Minister of Interior, I would know that this is my job and I would have to look at all available measures including persuasive and coercive to try and make sure that the level of violence is absolutely minimized and all together eliminated.
So, to that extent, I feel bad that this thing is ongoing. I honestly hope and wish that we could find the right formula for addressing these issues both politically and otherwise. But certainly to allow that these things would continue unabated is not acceptable. Buildings are blown up, lives are lost; these things are certainly not what any Nigerian could be proud of.
What were your greatest challenges as a Minister of Interior?
There are lots of challenges that I encountered and most of it is actually rebuilding the capability of the ministry itself. You know that the ministry has evolved overtime. There was a time when the ministry encompassed control of the Police, Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence, Fire service, Prison service but over the years, there have been administrative changes which basically saw to the removal of the key elements of coercive power. The Police for instance has moved on to become a separate ministry.
The Customs has become part of the Finance ministry. And we had a number of parastatals that were left. But in total, it seemed to diminish the power of the Minister to be able to deter troublemakers. And so, some of the challenges I faced were really to engineer the necessary changes in the structure of the ministry so that it could become a formidable force for deterring people who are hell-bent on perpetrating unrest, criminality and terrorism. Those were some of the challenges but of course, there are also challenges in terms of the politics of power and how power is resolved among agencies.
I was faced with the challenges of developing the ministry and parastatals. Take the prisons for instance, we were faced with challenges of obsolete infrastructure. We were faced with the challenge of developing a new prison management system. We were faced with challenges which bordered on changes in the law so that we did not have this problem which we have had for sometime when people were detained awaiting trial for so many years.
Do you agree with those who insist that the insecurity situation in the country is as a result of the desperation for power by the northern power elite ahead of 2015 general election?
I am not entirely sure that that is the case and I would not really subscribe to that. It is very simplistic. There are so many reasons behind some of the problems that we are witnessing. But those reasons are not beyond the capacity of the political establishment to deal with. There are challenges in terms of people wanting to capture power. There are challenges in terms of political parties wanting to capture power.
There are all kinds of challenges, people who do not have jobs. There are lots of people who feel shut out from the system of opportunity and wealth distribution. These are the challenges that face any political administration. So, I do not think that you would simply say it has to do with the North wanting to capture power. Everybody wants to capture power but behind that is the requirement that whomsoever captures power must use it responsibly to ensure that the wealth of the nation is fairly and equitably distributed to all Nigerians.
You cannot capture just for the sake of capturing power. You capture power so that you are given an opportunity to show your superior management capacity in distributing the welfare to the people and in generating jobs and values.
You are one of the leaders of thought in the South-east. What are the prospects of the zone producing the President in 2015 general election?
That dream is realizable. The South-east just like any other political bloc aspires to produce the President but as I said, it is not an end in itself for you to produce a president. You have to produce a president who realizes that he is a Nigerian president of South-east extraction and who has a responsibility for ensuring there is fairness and equity in the distribution of the national wealth to all Nigerians. So, when you ask me whether it is realizable, yes, it is realizable and when you ask me whether it is indeed right for a South-easterner to aspire to that position, yes, I think so.
This is because we really have to look at the statistics and those who have been there and how they have performed. You also look at the possibility that a South-easterner could be there and the potential what the South-easterner would bring to bear if they come to that position. The South-easterners have a right indeed to aspire and there are clear cut rules for aspiring and pursuing this ambition, and all of these have to be done within the ambit of those constraints which we have talked about.
As a major stakeholder in Imo State and a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), how do you feel that your party lost the last governorship election in your state?
What do I feel than that it is a challenge to the PDP members to rise up to the occasion. There is a reason why the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) ascended to the governorship position in the state. And if we can start off by sitting down to carry out a review of what led to that failure on our part, then we would be able to put together an action plan and a strategy for recapturing power.
But basically, what it is about really is that you aspire to achieve political power at the state level so that you can use whatever experience and capacity you have to attract welfare to the people. If you have a situation where the leaders of any political party over time become cut off from the grassroots that they are supposed to be walking for, then the people at some point in time would exercise their franchise in a way that results in the voting out of that person who has indeed distanced himself from the grassroots.
So, this is what we have. The PDP is a formidable party and the ruling party at the federal level. And it would really be a great thing if we had a connect between that potential and the governorship at the state level. It is important to realize that the job there is to bring succour and dividends of democracy to the people and this will be shown in the quality of governance that you bring.
These will come in the form of infrastructure that you build, jobs that you create and all the benefits that you bring to the people. But if any administration were to arrogate to itself the position where it becomes so remote from these people that he is supposed to be working for, then you would see that what happened in Imo State would happen again. The people would simply vote you out of power. So, what happened in Imo State is a challenge to the PDP and to all of us.
And the starting point is for us to really go back to the drawing board, look at what happened, properly analyse it, identify the pitfalls and mistakes made and evolve policies which would make sure that you are absolutely close and in tandem with the people, that you have a leadership that is responsive and not a leadership that elevates itself above the people it is representing; a leadership that is not arrogant and conceited. You are talking about a leadership that shows humility regardless of position and even in terms of the policies they bring and the way they comport themselves. This is the only way we of the PDP can recapture power in Imo State.
The impression in some quarters is that even as a PDP member, you worked against the re-election bid of the immediate past governor of Imo, Ikedi Ohakim. How true is that?
But you know that is a very ridiculous assertion. The evidence is absolutely there all the time. When I was made a Minister, in the first session that I had, we made the observation that it would be futile for any Minister to think that he could work independent of the requirement to cooperate fully with the governor of his state. And at any subsequent opportunity that I had, I had continued to re-echo and to emphasise that point. But of course, you know what happened to me while I was a Minister.
I was under siege all the time from people writing petitions against me direct to the presidency. They are not individuals but people in authority and every time regardless of the fact that I was there working with you and I wanted to cooperate with you, these things tarried on. But it did not happen to the point that I worked against the PDP because I did not have anything against the PDP. The PDP is the only party that I have joined and worked with.
I have never at any time supported anybody to vote against the party. If anybody has any evidence, he should provide it. But it is a different kettle of fish where if I am working for the party and somebody feels that maybe, the party belongs to them and they would rather work at cross purposes from me, that is not my problem. You have to look at what I have done; I have been loyal to the party. I have worked hard for the party and continue to work hard for it. So, all these stories that you had were things that were planted in the media to actually support what eventually happened to me. I am not really bothered about those things.
But many thought that you were suspended as a Minister because you worked against the interest of the party.
My suspension was a mystery to me and continues to be a mystery because I was there doing my job in supporting President Goodluck Jonathan and speaking out on his behalf and suddenly I saw that thing. But subsequent events vindicated my position because I had warned that the party was actually heading for a terrible performance in the polls.
I had said why it could happen and those who were actually involved in all those things were the ones who engineered all those stories as a counter-measure. But at the end, you saw for yourself and every Nigerian saw what actually happened on that day of Imo governorship election. I am happy to say that I am vindicated. Having said that, it is time for the PDP in Imo State to come together and find out what happened to evolve common policies to move the party forward. But what is more important is that we need to have a leadership in the state that would be ready to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people. It is not the kind of leadership that would elevate itself to the position of a master and not the servant of the people.
Many people who know your pedigree feel that you have what it takes to be the governor of Imo and that indeed, you are aspiring to lead the state in future. Do you have such a dream?
Well, I have to say to you that by the grace of God, I have the potential to do a lot for this country including as you say, serving as the governor of Imo State. But if that opportunity were to be presented to me, I would always realize that my position is not one that I have been elevated to the status that is so far away from the grassroots. I would realize that it is an opportunity given me to use my superior management capacity to try and use the available resources to serve the people. As I said to you, I have potential to do a lot of things. I have worked as a Minister, I could work as a governor and there are also other things I could do but I am really there to serve the people.
Looking at the chain of your businesses, many are surprised why you dabbled into the murky waters of the nation's politics. What are your reasons?
I really like you to capture this point you have made. Politics is supposed to be a vocation. It is not supposed to be something that a jobless person should aspire to. You really have to demonstrate that you have a profession and that you have succeeded in it and you are willing to make sacrifice in order to help your people. That is what politics is supposed to be all about.
It is not supposed to be about gambling, to say I can gamble and become a minister or governor and once I get there, I spend more time and resources fighting to keep myself in power rather than actually doing the job I came to do. If we concentrated upon people who have achieved successes in their various professional careers, if we concentrate on people who indeed have the resources to maintain themselves whether they are governors or not, then you can see that if that person gets to the position of a governor for instance, he would only be there to work. They would not be there to look for any money to make.
They make better money elsewhere. So, you see, people say we are surprised you did these. I believe that politics is a vocation and a sacrifice that you make. It should not be for somebody who is normally less than the level of a governor to aspire to be one because once he gets there, he would spend 90 per cent of his time and the resources trying to keep himself in power rather than working for the people. That is what makes the difference. You met me here in my office and you see what I do. And people say, God, you are making a sacrifice. That is the real analysis and that's what I did.
I had to bring to bear the experiences I have developed over the years in the maritime and oil industry and managing complex international businesses. This is because in the final analysis, the requirement of political management is very close to that of business management. It is an input and output system and they all involve human beings who require those things. In politics, you say, these are the resources available to the state, these are the problems of the state, then how are you going to arrange the investment profile of that state. Some people would start in a situation where they throw money at everything, some would spend money to keep themselves in office politically but we would work as if it was a business. We would invest in those businesses that would create free multipliers and you would see a doubling of the benefits in that society. This is what we should be doing. We should empower people.
You have tasted the turbulent waters of the nation's politics, how is the experience like?
Politics in Nigeria is dangerous and deadly. There are lots of buccaneers out there and they play absolutely with all kinds of instruments and tactics. You talked about the issue of my suspension. I was there doing my job and I had not done anything. I did not hear anything and nobody heard but I was in the newspapers as a man who was suspended.
But fortunately in the following weeks, the picture became clearer and people saw that it was a setup. It was because people saw that we represented a threat to an order that was there, sucking the people dry. But the bottom line for us is this- does it make us to run away and we sit back into the safety and security of the business world? If we did that, poor men would suffer. We really should be emboldened and should learn from it. If you say there are crocodiles in the gutter in your neighbourhood, you have to do something about it.
If you do not go down, roll up your sleeves and wrestle with those alligators, they would one day come out of the gutters and eat you and your children. That is why for those of us who are in business, we should find time to continue to be involved in politics so that you have people of a higher pedigree in positions of leadership.