Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, a former governor of Imo State played a key role during the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He was of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) bloc. In this interview, Okorocha speaks about his presidential ambition, the crisis rocking the ruling party, his feud with incumbent Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma and other burning issues in the country.
As a founding member of the APC from the APGA bloc, what do you make of the recent happenings in the party, the crisis trailing its congresses, the adoption of Senator Abdullahi Adamu as consensus candidate and the upcoming convention?
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We formed the APC in 2014. We did so believing that the party will be the greatest in Nigeria and would bring different groups together to ensure victory against the then PDP. We achieved what we wanted because we worked as a family; there was unity in the party, there was trust and there was respect for the founding fathers of the party. In doing so, at the recognition of all the merger parties, the positions for the national officers of the party were shared among the five parties that came together – that is the CPC led by President Muhammadu Buhari, ACN led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APGA led by me, Rochas Okorocha and ANPP led by some group of governors.
The chairman of the party went to the ANPP. Then the DPP, a very small party, joined us but even at that everybody got their fair share and worked as a team and we achieved our purpose. But shortly after our victory, the party had so many challenges associated with the typical Nigerian party politics and that is what seems to be our major challenge right now in the sense that organs of the party are not functioning.
There is no clear program for the party, we keep changing the national convention and it is affecting the confidence in the party but the most important one is the crises within the party at the state level. It is so much because you can hardly find any state where there are no issues. And the party had set up a reconciliation committee and it seems nothing is coming out of that committee.
So what we have right now are so many court judgements against the party and which the party is not obeying here and there. But mine would be a suggestion: let’s go back to how we all started and follow the same pattern that gave us victory.
Before the endorsement of Senator Abdullahi Adamu, you suggested that the key position of the NWC be shared among the various blocs that formed the APC. It seems that advice has not been taken, how are you feeling?
It looks like that but if the leaders of our party or the president have agreed to endorse Senator Abdullahi Adamu as a leader of the party it is very much acceptable and that is the format that he wanted us to follow.
In other words, we share this position that no other person is more qualified to produce the national chairman than the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Other blocs should be made to bring in people to form the National Executives of the party in that case tension will be doused, peace will return to the party.
The agitation by various blocs that form APC seems to be threatening the party right now. Do you see the APC outliving this administration?
I must say to you that I’ve been in political parties in Nigeria and I have been through political parties in Nigeria but I have never seen any leader who has enjoyed the confidence of his party members like President Muhammadu Buhari. APC’s life and death are in the hands of President Muhammadu Buhari. If the party lives or dies it is in his hands. For whatever Buhari says to the party it is like a law; that is the kind of respect accorded him.
So I want to believe that he is a man of justice; that is the only confidence I have in the party – that he will do the needful and create a level playing ground for all.
Do you think the convention will hold?
I pray that the convention takes place but from the way it is going, I still have my suspicion that there is more to it than that 26th. But I hope it should. If it does not take place then it has confirmed my suspicion but there is no reason why the party should not conduct the convention and move forward.
Are you contesting for the presidency on the belief that this is the turn of the South East to produce the president of this country?
Not at all. I am contesting for the president of Nigeria because I see myself as first, a detribalized Nigerian who can make Nigeria work for all. I am contesting because I believe in myself that I can help in changing the narrative of the story of Nigeria for the better. This is my conviction and vision for this country but when you talk about the issue of the South East, I only come to that matter when I am talking about equity and justice to give everybody in this country – no matter your tribe, religion, or ethnicity – a sense of belonging.
If you are unable to pick the presidential ticket of APC what will be your next step?
Politics, for me, is not a do-or-die affair. I am first Rochas before politics. When I see children not going to school my heart bleeds and I know I have a solution to put them back in school. When I see youths not getting jobs, my heart bleeds because I know what I can do for them. When I hear that my nation is the poverty capital of the world, my heart bleeds because I know what I can do to correct the image; when I hear that there are killings, insurgency, my heart bleeds because I feel I have a solution to this. That is the part that troubles me that wants me to run for the presidency.
As for your question, I have not thought of it, you know when you think of something you can now find alternatives, I have not thought of it. I believe in APC and I am still in APC and I will be there to fix it.
Are you not afraid that you are eyeing this ticket that Asiwaju Tinubu sees as his. Can you match him?
No, I don’t think there is any basis for comparison. Asiwaju is Asiwaju, Rochas is Rochas. And I have tremendous respect for him as a person.
How do you intend to garner the support of other parts of the country to actualise your ambition; first to get the ticket and then the general elections?
I have shown records of what I have done before and these are what Nigerians are looking at and I think this is why some of us will stand out. Take, for instance, if you talk about the unity of Nigeria, everybody will tell I will unite Nigeria. I will make Nigeria one but how? The questions will be what has he done in the past to unite Nigeria so Rochas will tell you that I went to Kano not because I am a Muslim or northerner but because I love this country. I went to Sokoto, the same story. Zaria, Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo, Cross River, Enugu, so many states of Nigeria.
In 2023, considering agitation for separation by some groups in the South East and other places, do you think the North will trust the region?
When we talk about agitations and trust and then try to generalize it, you tend to suggest that because you come from a particular tribe. And all of you are in the same basket so that is not fair and that is not right. I am from the South East of Nigeria, I am an Igbo man, proudly Igbo man. I am a Nigerian, proudly Nigerian and I love Nigeria and I work for the unity of this country so I have no doubt the entire Nigeria will trust me because of my antecedents; what I have done for this nation.
I am not a northerner, I am a Nigerian but there is no part of the North that you will go to without seeing what I have done in those places. So if the North cannot trust me, would they have trusted their children in my hands? So there is always trust between us.
Your Excellency, two out of the five states in the South East geopolitical zone are of the APC but from all indications, it seems the party is still having acceptability issues in the zone. Do you see the region voting for APC in 2023?
You know APC and PDP are no longer an issue. Nigerians are looking more at an individual than the party; that is the truth. And Nigerians have come to understand that all parties in Nigeria seem to be one party because there is no party based on ideology or manifesto, it is just one party of the same ideology and in fact manifesto; they are the same all over. So they are now looking at individuals that they can trust with their future and the future of their children.
So individuals will play more roles this time. If a party produces a wrong candidate, nobody will vote for him but if APC produces the right candidate, people will vote for him.
What do you make of the agitation in the South East and the quest for a presidency of Igbo extraction?
Many things are happening simultaneously and they look like they are linked but they are quite different. First is the agitation by the young men who are our children and the agitation are a result of how they feel towards the Nigerian nation. They have this belief of they are being hated; they have the feeling that they were so marginalized and it is not quite different from the feelings across the whole country by the youths and they believe by having their nation, they will be better for it.
But it takes leadership to let children know when they are not going the right way and that is what I did when I was governor. So if you are asking me what is the problem? there is a failure of leadership in handling matters relating to the youths.
Now communication is lacking in most of the states and that is what you see happening all over the country not just in the South East. Everywhere, such crises exist and that is why I am talking about leadership that can create wealth.
After nine months your party bounced back to the leadership position following the Supreme Court judgement the feud between you and the governor has kept festering, thereby putting the state on the spot. Why?
What I will say is that Igbos are quite different from other people. You can easily get somebody to destroy his home in Igboland than you can get in Yoruba or Hausa because it is not that the governor one-on-one with Rochas. He is just being used as an instrument to stop me from furthering my presidential ambition. That is all about this hullabaloo!
It is unfortunate, but an Igboman finds it easy to destroy his own. Other than that, I don’t think there is any basis. If I reconcile with him today, the people that sent him will tell him not to do so and he will listen to them more so he will rather destroy his brother than not meet up the agreement with those who sent him.
Who are those that sent him?
If those people are bold enough they should announce their names.