Chief Kodilichukwu Okelekwe recently emerged as the All Progressives Congress (APC) senatorial candidate for Anambra Central in next year’s general election. In this interview with TONY AKOWE, he speaks about Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s presidential aspiration and why the Igbos need to back him during the contest
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu recently emerged as the presidential candidate of the APC ahead of next year’s presidential election. What does that portend for the party?
First, let me start by congratulating Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his doggedness and tenacity. It is a victory well deserved. The APC has a good candidate in Tinubu. With due respect to the other candidates, it is obvious that he is the candidate to beat. Love him or hate him, one thing you cannot take away from him is that he is a leader gifted with the major ingredients that make for good leadership. God has endowed him with those characteristics. You talk of determination, self-confidence, good judgment or foresightedness, he is endowed with the four attributes that make for success in leadership. Therefore, I have no doubt in my mind that he will emerge victorious. The political permutations on the ground are also in his favour.
A lot of people expected delegates from the Southeast to vote for aspirants from the zone at the last APC national convention, but what we saw was a far cry from that. What could be responsible for this?
To be honest with you, I would have loved it if a person from Southeast had emerged as the APC candidate. That would have been great. I was not a delegate and can’t say what happened. I wouldn’t want us to dwell on that now. We should focus on the fact that a candidate has emerged. So, as southeasterners, as Igbos, how do we key in? I can tell you, that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a president in waiting. The question as an Igbo man is, what does Tinubu’s presidency portend for the Igbos? I think that’s what I want us to dwell on. As for the behaviour of delegates from the Southeast, it leaves so much to be desired. But, let’s not focus more on that, but on the future. How can the Igbo key in? How can the Igbos be part of the Tinubu presidency? What does it portend? What will be the place of the Igbo in his presidency? These are the areas we need to focus on, talk about, and not dwell on the past.
The APC is widely regarded as a Hausa or northern party in the Southeast. Do you see the region keying into Tinubu’s 2023 project?
You talked about the perception of the APC as a Hausa or northern party. Well, now that there’s a southern person as the presidential candidate, is it right to still call it Hausa or northern party? I don’t think so. Assuming you are right that it used to be, right now with the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the presidential candidate, the APC has come of age. The APC is a national party; we have demonstrated that by electing a southerner as the presidential flag bearer of the party. I would have loved to see a president of Igbo extraction because I am a proud Igbo man; there’s no way you can be a proud Nigerian without first of all being proud of your heritage, of where you are coming from. But, since we now have a candidate in the person of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, what should the Igbos do? We must key into the project because he is a good candidate. As Igbos, we need to be strategic in our thinking and we must work out how we can be part of it. Since getting a president of Igbo extraction is no longer feasible in 2023, we must position ourselves to be part of the birthing of the Nigeria of our dreams; a Nigeria where justice, equity and fairness would reign; a Nigeria where there is no glass ceiling on account of ethnicity, religion or tribe; a Nigeria, where merit is the order of today; a Nigeria where how far you can get to is determined not by your tribe, not by accident but mainly by your capacity and ability. That is the question that stares every Igbo man in the face.
We are talking about restructuring. Going back to true federalism and having true federalism, not in name as we have at the moment, but in practice, so that each region or state can develop at its own pace. Who is best suited to genuinely restructure Nigeria into a true federation? There is no other person other than Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. If an Igbo man were to be president today, he won’t be able to restructure Nigeria because of suspicion. We fought the civil war and there is the agitation by IPOB. So, every move of a president of Igbo extraction, no matter how well-intentioned, will be viewed with utmost suspicion by other tribes. But, a Yoruba man will be able to generate the needed and necessary cooperation of other tribes to restructure the country because there will be no suspicion of him trying to balkanise the country and break away. So, I expect the Igbo elites to sit down with Tinubu and have an understanding so that by the grace of God when he becomes president in 2023 Nigeria will be restructured into a true federation, where one’s ability can determine how far he or she can go in life. I think that’s what we need to focus on. Restructuring into a true federation or federalism in name and practise is a win-win for every section of the country because every section of this country is endowed with human and material resources. So, I believe that the Igbo should key in and be part of making the Tinubu presidency.
Former Governor Peter Obi is running for the presidency and you are asking the Igbo to embrace Asiwaju. There appears to be a contradiction since you prefer an Igbo president…
Let me say that there’s no contradiction whatsoever in my position. I am a pragmatist. His excellency, former Governor Peter Obi is a very good man; a man endowed with all the qualities that make for a good leader. But, the question is, if you look at the political Pegars, to become the president of this country, you need the support of at least four geo-political zones. Apart from winning the highest number of votes, you must win a minimum of 25 per cent in two-thirds of the states. We will have to look carefully at the political situation in the country and weigh our chances and options so that we don’t make the mistake we made in the past of putting all our eggs in one basket. That is what is still hunting us. That’s why I said as Igbos, we need to be strategic in our thinking.
So, as the pragmatist that I am, looking at the political Pegars, I believe that Peter Obi has given momentum to the Labour Party. But, momentum is one thing, voting on Election Day is another. I believe the Labour Party has a great future under Peter Obi. But, what I cannot say is whether that great future is in 2023 or 2027. In my thinking, I believe that to win the presidency of a country, you need time to prepare. Tinubu has been on this journey for decades. He has been preparing himself and so, this didn’t happen overnight. You need time, but I don’t know whether the Labour Party has that time. There is no doubt that there is a lot of momentum on the side of the Labour Party, particularly on social media. But what percentage of Nigerians is on social media? I prefer an Igbo man becoming a president in a restructured Nigeria. If we can rally around Tinubu and get him to restructure this country, not just for the interest of the Igbo, but for the interest of every section of this country, then if an Igbo man becomes president he will make so much impact. I know Igbos are transformational leaders. But, the system has to be right. We can’t do much in an atmosphere of suspicion, where every step is suspected. That is why we need to be strategic about what we want.
You are aspiring to represent Anambra Central senatorial zone in the National Assembly next year. What are you offering the zone?
Those that were there before have done their best. I don’t believe in politics of campaign of calumny but issue-based politics. They have done their best. But, you know where better is possible, you don’t look at good; where best is possible, you don’t look at better. That’s why I aim for the optimum. When you represent a people, you symbolize their wishes and aspirations. So, representation is much more than physical things that we see. There are also intangible things but also very important. I know that involves three basic functions. You have representation, you have lawmaking and you have oversight functions. But, there are other things. Attracting physical infrastructure is good. But, there is much more than that. In Anambra Central, our primary occupation is trading. We are traders. That is what we are. As a senator representing the zone, what can I do? What laws can I initiate to ensure that every obstacle to their trading is removed? These are intangible things you may not see. It is not like if you have attracted a road people can see the road, but you can also initiate laws that can remove every obstacle to their business. Look at the current insecurity ravaging the whole of the Southeast, particularly Anambra State. I must commend Governor Charles Soludo. He is tackling it head-on and I’m sure that if he sustains the momentum, the way he’s going now, in the next three to six months, Anambra will be calm and there will be peace. So, as a senator, it is incumbent on me to work with the governor, regardless of party differences, to ensure that there is security because if there is no security, my people cannot trade.