2019: Buhari Still Best For Nigeria – VON DG, Osita Okechukwu

President Muhammadu Buhari last Monday ended the many months of waiting by Nigerians by unveiling his second term bid at the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Council (NEC) meeting as he declared his intention to seek re-election in the 2019 presidential election.

In this interview, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a chieftain of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu described the president’s move as a welcome development, saying Buhari will use his second term to consolidate his developmental programmes for the country.

He also faulted the argument that age is not on the president’s side, noting that he is best among all the aspirants jostling to lead the country now. Excerpts:

President Muhammadu Buhari has ended speculations surrounding his second term bid by declaring his intention to seek re-election in 2019. How would you react to the development?

It is a welcome development and a milestone. With his declaration, we are more than ever before assured of continuity of the transformation of the sub-structure. The transformation of the sub-structure, in other words, critical infrastructure is the solution to gross unemployment, hunger, insecurity and uncertainty in Nigeria. It took him a tour around the globe to assemble the huge boutique of soft loans to lay the foundation for critical infrastructure in the country. When he was going round, typical of Nigerians, it was blame game and abuses that instead of sitting down to do his job, he was gallivanting. As God will have it, his integrity quotient has earned large swaths of soft loans like SUKUK, Eurobond, China Eximbank, ADB, IDB, et al. It is good that he will use his second term to consolidate. In simplicita, let me join my people to re-echo that, “we of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), Enugu State Chapter, celebrate the open declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari for second term. It is a launching pad for the progress and prosperity of our dear fatherland; a country whose growth has been stunted by infrastructure deficit. Our celebration is not only because he has paged and reaffirmed the ardent appeal, which Nigerian compatriots had canvassed long time ago, but for the truism that his second term will consolidate the critical and massive infrastructural foundation he is laying.”

The president’s declaration of his intention at the APC NEC meeting reportedly got the immediate endorsement of the NEC members. Hasn’t that sealed the fate of other gladiators within the party?

The truth of the matter is that in the advanced democracies, it is very rare for members of political parties to contest against incumbents. It rarely happens and happens only when the incumbent who has one term left is a non-performer, which means that to front him will be suicidal and an embarrassment. Otherwise, everyone will join hands to support the incumbent. Did you see or hear when George Bush

Jnr or Barak Obama was ever subjected to primaries? It’s important to note as well the truism that electoral contest is like the Olympic Games, therefore, the issue of sealing the fate of any serious candidate doesn’t arise. In the Olympic Games, all that an athlete needs is the flag of a country. In Nigeria, we have 67 registered political parties and any serious candidate can fly the flag of any one of them. Don’t forget that some run as independent candidates in certain climes. Let nobody cry over spilt milk, as there is none. Our democratic space is wide. Presidential or governorship contests are like beauty pageants. The judges’ choice of the most beautiful girl in Nigeria is limited to only girls who filled papers for the contest, not more beautiful girls at home who didn’t enter the contest. Therefore, in our assessment, Buhari is the most qualified out of all in the contest. So, our choice is limited to those who at the end of the day will fly party flags, because we have no provision for independent candidates.

There is this notion that with the president’s declaration barely a year to the election, governance will be relegated to the background as he focuses his energy on the politics of 2019. Don’t you think the timing was wrong?

It then means you don’t know him. If you know him, as far he is concerned he has done his real politiking. We the foot soldiers will do the rest and voluntarily. After Zik and Aminu Kano, he is the only politician that runs pro bono. Pro bono in the sense that he didn’t use the public offices he held in the past to enrich himself and hence relies on supporters, friends, relatives and party members. Even this time, he will not exert unnecessary energy, which will distract from the implementation of the RRAP projects.

Age is not on the president’s side and there are many young Nigerians that have also declared their intentions to run. Will the president not have a difficult time this time to convince Nigerians to support him given the emerging global trend of electing younger people to the helm of affairs of many countries?

Age is a matter of the mind and more or less irrelevant in deciding political career. If it’s about age, I couldn’t have lost my son last month. All we do is to pray for the good health of Mr President. When people talk of his age, it reminds me of how a lot of people, even close allies of Mr President, had concluded that he would not return alive from London. It was alleged then that some had started lobbying to be vice president. It then follows that the Almighty God that returned him to good health will sustain him.

With the President’s declaration, he has drawn a battle line with former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who had both openly berated his style of administration and advised him not to seek re-election in 2019. How do you think the battle will play out? What are the president’s chances with these two heavyweights stoutly opposed to his aspiration?

My little understanding is that the former presidents are not actually our headaches, as long as they are not running. Personally, I’m watching out and praying that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Social Democratic Party (SDP) makes mistake in their nomination of their presidential candidates. It is only the candidate of the PDP or SDP that really matters to us, not our elder statesmen. Let them please enjoy their retirement. Alternatively, the floor is open especially to Dr Obasanjo to dip hand in his deep pocket and sponsor one of the youths. This will be more practical than pontificating on Eldorado, forgetting that the monies he lavished on his third term fiasco are part of the debts depleting President Buhari’s budget. For his less than transparent escapades, Buhari is borrowing $1.5 billion to standardise the old gauge of about 1, 400 kilometers Lagos-Kano rail line he awarded at $8.3 billion, when the Chinese within the same period awarded 1,142 kilometers Golmud-Lhasa standard gauge rail at $4.2 billion. Methinks that in this era when former Presidents Lula Da Silvia of

Brazil and Park Geun-Hye of South Korea are in jail; and Jacob Zuma of South Africa is on trial, there is need for the anti-graft broom in Nigeria to sweep every cupboard. There should be no sacred cow.

With the level of insecurity and hunger in the country, do you sincerely think that this administration deserves another term in office?

The hunger and insecurity in the land is worrisome and Mr President is not happy with the situation, which deteriorates on a daily basis. That’s why he embarked on the Buhari Roads, Rails, Agric and Power (RRAP) projects; the most massive infrastructural development in the annals of the history of Nigeria ever embarked upon by one regime. The Buhari RRAP projects of three to five years completion cycle, comprises 5,000 kilometers federal roads, 5,000 kilometers standard gauge rail lines, agrarian revolution and additional 5,000 megawatts of electricity. Its sole objective is to halt hunger and stem insecurity. To be frank, in addition to Buhari’s RRAP Projects, Ndigbo, if we put our thinking caps for Buhari, shall be the greatest beneficiary of President Buhari’s second term. To start with, going by the subsisting zoning or rotation of president convention, between northern and southern Nigeria, out of the three geopolitical zones in the South-South, South-west and South-east, we are the only zone which has not benefited from the patriotic fruit of zoning. South-west had His Excellency, Dr Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years and South-south, His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Jonathan for five years plus. Therefore equity and natural justice is our shining armour.

You talked about the SDP making mistake in their choice of presidential candidate, are you giving them any chance in 2019?

Well, that was not to say that PDP or SDP has chances of winning the presidency. PDP, for instance, is now a regional party, consigned mostly to the South-south and South-east and SDP to Ondo State. My

assessment is that they are not truly national parties. They have been weather beaten. As we gravitate towards 2019 general elections, some of the issues raising their hopes like the herdsmen/farmers clash will definitely wane before the elections. Solutions like establishment of ranches and better security outfits and state-of-the-art equipment for the security agencies will be in place. Buhari is much worried as even the victims as the father of the nation.

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