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Obi driving sentiments through church wrong – Okowa

Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and governor of Delta State, has been at the centre of the crisis…

Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and governor of Delta State, has been at the centre of the crisis currently rocking the party since his emergence as running mate to Atiku Abubakar. In this interview, he shed light on efforts to pacify aggrieved party stakeholders, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, and the ongoing ASUU strike, among others. Excerpt:

You are completing your second term, just like many other governors. However, some people, especially in your geopolitical zone, say your emergence as a vice presidential candidate is a betrayal of the southern-eastern agenda, especially with the candidacy of Peter Obi on the platform of the Labour Party. What is your take on this?

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It is unfortunate what we have seen in the Nigerian politics of today because there are so many conversations out there and people are not actually looking at the realities. You can see what is going on today with the Muslim-Muslim ticket, but does it really matter? The point, however, is that in a fractured country where we have voices of dissent, people don’t trust each other anymore; in a country where every geopolitical zone has its own voice and direction it is facing.

When you put all these together, you don’t need a soothsayer to tell us that something is truly wrong with the country. There are so many voices of anger expressed in different ways and we are beginning to have a fracture in the foundation that holds this country together.

So, with all these, we should be frightened for Nigeria and when we want to play politics, we need to be a little bit more cautious; unfortunately, many politicians don’t want to go on that part.

In a country where you have a shaky foundation; where people are getting sensitive to issues because of the high level of failure of trust, if you go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, that trust deficit becomes widened. But if we have good governance and everything is moving fine, people won’t think about that, they will be looking at who will perform.

Now you begin to look at what is going on; the Peter Obi factor is as if he is trying to go through the church and make it look as if he is driving Christians into politics. I do not believe that the church should actively go into politics because that is not their calling. But people are just hanging on to anything they can reach, even to the detriment of their fate. I don’t believe that’s the right path to go.

In a distorted position as we have in this country, who best fits the position of the president? Somebody who has the capacity, the experience, the level of calmness, the wisdom and the reach across Nigeria to be able to gather a team together, put people at a table, talk to each other and from day one is ready to start proffering solutions and getting the buy-in of the people to be able to move the country again. 

When you are talking about people like Peter Obi; yes, he has some relevant experience but how deep is that experience? I don’t want to criticise him. He was governor for eight years; let’s try to understudy everything about him within those eight years. I try not to talk about people, so I will leave it at that.

With Peter Obi’s growing support, especially in the South East and South South, what should the PDP expect of you as its vice presidential candidate?

In the South East, it will definitely be an issue for us because of the sentiments that are coming; but I know that the PDP has a strong root in the South East and I know the contest in the South East will be between the PDP and the Labour Party. We will wish that he (Peter Obi) is not in the race but since he is, it will be a competition between two parties in the South East; not the APC but the PDP and Labour Party.

Your emergence as running mate also became a heated issue in your party and you and Governor Nyesom Wike have not been seen together in a while. What is the situation at the moment?

My emergence and the cries about it are all but politics and in a competition, a lot of us were eminently qualified but I happen to be chosen and I think it is God’s grace. In the South-South, I am in touch with all my colleagues.

As a party and as a family, we are all talking with Governor Wike and the process is being led by our presidential candidate because he is the leader and we believe that that’s the best option and I think that sooner than later we will be able to have the issues resolved.

For a family that is large, you will definitely have issues when trying to divide things. I am sure that there were some political parties, even some of those you mentioned earlier; they were busy dangling their vice presidential ticket and they didn’t find any credible person to pick. It took a lot of time to make that decision. But in PDP, because we have a lot of qualified people, that’s why it caused the kind of initial discussion that we had concerning the vice presidency.

I think we are working hard to tackle it but we are also moving ahead to try to get as many people as possible back into our fold and we are beginning to see such gains.

Our presidential candidate, as you are aware, has met with Governor Wike in Abuja and recently overseas together with three other of our colleagues. I believe we are working on that and things will be settled

Recently, the vice presidential candidate of the APC was reported to have said if they are elected, he will be in charge of security while the president will be in charge of the economy. Is there a kind of power/function sharing arrangement on the ground between you and Atiku Abubakar?

I believe that the presidency is a team and in that team, we complement each other. The president is the boss and the vice president will assist him; but it is not for the two of us, it is going to be a team government.

Being specific and going by the constitution, if the vice president is going to take charge of security, is he going to preside over the Security Council at the federal level? I don’t understand that because there is a commander-in-chief. Is it a reversal of position?

The vice president can offer advice, but I will find it absurd to speak about how I will take charge of this. Possibly they (Tinubu and Shettima) have agreed that he (Shettima) is going to be the commander in chief.

On the issue of the economy, it is actually teamwork. The president will provide leadership, supported by the vice president, but there is an economic team that will be right on the ground to deal with issues and beyond the economic team, we know the importance of the organised private sector in moving the nation forward and we will leverage on that with the president providing leadership. That is where we stand, that is what is right for this nation and that is what Atiku Abubakar will bring.

As a medical doctor, your profession is bedevilled with brain drain like never before. How will you bring your experience to bear to address that?

It is not just doctors but even nurses are moving in droves now and it is a major problem. It is a creation of a multiplicity of factors. The welfare of the worker is important. We have had this review of salaries but unfortunately, the naira has continued to depreciate. Job satisfaction is also there.

It is going to be a question of reworking the economy in such a manner that you begin to see an improvement in the value of the naira. This is going to take some time and when the value of the naira improves, we can begin to find a reversal of what goes on.

Secondly, we can look at the opportunity that presents. We can deliberately, as a country, have a programme to train people not only for our own country but to also export some of these people we have trained.

We have a lot of institutions that can truly train many more doctors and nurses. With proper planning, we can produce enough doctors and nurses for the country and also have those we can, through a bilateral relationship, farm out to other countries.

But the first thing is to improve the institutions, provide the needed equipment and take some economic decisions that will improve the value of the naira so that we don’t have that exodus as a result of a weakened naira.

ASUU strike has continued to linger, but you have said the four state universities in Delta State have remained in session regardless. Do you have a blueprint for addressing this recurring ASUU-FG face-off?

In our relationship with ASUU and all other unions, it must be such that you truly bring them to the round table; you don’t wait until a crisis situation has come. You sit down and analyze situations with them and make promises you know you can keep. Once you distort the level of trust, it becomes difficult for them to trust you again.

We must be ready to discuss with the labour unions on the basis of truth and make them realize what is doable