Hon. (Chief) Modestus Umenzekwe (Onwa Achina), a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a Member, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Board, in this interview with EJIKEME OMENAZU, justifies his party’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, which he says is based on strategic political calculations, even as he calls for inclusive governance. Excerpt:
What do you think are the chances of your party’s presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in the 2023 presidential election?
The APC is a party to beat in the forthcoming election. It is a well-structured party that has put its footprints on the ground in every aspect of governance. If you watched what played out at the national convention that produced the flag-bearer, you would agree with me that we are already marching on to the seat of power. That convention was very free, fair and credible. The way other candidates stepped down for Asiwaju Tinubu, showed that he is destined to govern Nigeria, having paid his dues as a politician. His doggedness and political sagacity were brought to bear in the whole process. So, I am convinced that by May 29, 2023, Nigerians will gather at Eagle Square to swear in Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the new president.
What is your take on your party’s Muslim/Muslim ticket of your party, which a cross section of Nigerian seems to object to?
First, I congratulate the APC for making sure that the ticket went to the South. It is a welcome development. We are human beings, so we cannot get everything perfect. But, human beings create problems for themselves, because we are born to be free. For me, I don’t speak for Christians, neither do I speak for Muslims. God created all the religions, including traditional religions. All our prayers go to God. It is left for Him to answer. It is only Him that can judge. Certain things that are supposed to be personal are being brought into the public domain. Politics is about interests. Whatever we are doing is about interest. Strictly speaking, for me as a person, Christian/Christian ticket is okay. Muslim/Muslim ticket is also okay. The most important thing is: Will you deliver? Will you be able to pull Nigeria from the woods? Are you going to give us good governance? What are you bringing to the table for Nigerians? Look at the system. Is there anywhere we are getting it wrong? How will you correct it? Those are issues we should be talking about. When I was in school, Muslims and Christians, we were living in the same room, at an appointed time the Muslims would go to the mosque; we would go to our Church. Okay, even within the Muslim community, you see sections which do not always agree. When you come to the Christian community, you see some sections not agreeing. Even with the Muslim-Muslim ticket now, when you get into Muslim groups, you will see some people that will be asking why one sect is selected and not the other. If it is Christians, the same thing would happen. We have had Christian/Christian tickets in this country and heaven did not fall. But, this time around, certain things are coming up. It is unfortunate that we are going this way.
What is the way forward for the APC?
Mine is to appeal to everybody, in as much as I tell you to vote your conscience, as a party man, I will prefer that you vote Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Let us see what he will do, taking into consideration his track record in politics. I sincerely believe that he will do a lot. You see, we had a Christian before, but the Second Niger Bridge was not done. I am talking now as somebody from the South East. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s compound remained untouched. Onitsha/Enugu expressway remained untouched. Port-Harcourt/ Enugu expressway remained untouched and a lot more. However, it is President Muhammadu Buhari that has been doing all these in the South East ant through an equally a Muslim and detribalised Minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). By December this year, the Second Niger Bridge will be commissioned. I have gone there, I have walked on it and it gives me joy anytime I go there. Azikiwe’s compound was like a thick forest, and it pained me. This is a man that brought us independence. But today, go there and see how that compound is and a lot of other things I have earlier mentioned. So, to answer your question, I don’t think that our problem is religion. Yes, I would have preferred a Christian. But the party has calculated that this is where it should be. The cardinal thing is to win election and provide good governance. Therefore, we should look beyond religion and give this election what it takes so that our flag-bearer will go there and do what he did in Lagos.
Could you list some of those things counting For Asiwaju Tinubu?
Because of his love for democracy Tinubu and some others fought the military to a standstill, risking his life and were forced into exile. He came back, contested, won and governed Lagos for eight years. The running battle he had with the Obasanjo-led Federal Government, it is not everybody that could have had such a running battle and sustained it. But, he was able to do so. Then, from Lagos alone, he captured the whole of Southwest and all those states are performing very well. From there he went into a merger to have APC and captured the Federal Government. He is a human builder. He has made a lot of people. No matter what we do, human capital resources are the most important. When you bring up human beings, you develop talents, experts in economy, engineers, professional teachers, etc. So, Tinubu has been able to bring up a lot of people. He has invested a lot in the leadership in this country, providing employment here and there. I think, if he becomes the president, he will improve on these things using the national resources. He will stop rascality and impunity. So, I don’t think this issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket will tear us apart, after all, in Abuja, you see Muslems and Christians winning and dinning. The top politicians, whether Muslims and Christians, they wine and dine, attend weddings and marrying. Again, if Asiwaju could leave his wife to be a senior pastor in The Redeemed Christian Church of God, what else do we want? From what I have read about Shettima, I think he will do well. I learnt that he adopted an Igbo boy even before he became a governor. I think he trained him up to a Masters level. So, I don’t think this thing should create problem for us. I appeal to everybody to play down on this. Let us go into this election. Let Asiwaju go there. If things go wrong, then we will ask questions. As I am talking now, I will also talk.
What do you think about Tinubu’s age and state of health? Some people believe that he is too old and should have allowed a younger person?
Yes, people complain about his age and health. Nigeria is a large and difficult country to govern. Therefore, it needs a president that is healthy, energetic, and full of vitality. So, such people claim that Tinubu failed in these indices. But, is he insane? What are we talking about? Who is healthy? Nobody knows what will happen to anybody the next minute. How old is Joe Biden? He is 79. So, what are we talking about? Or, is it because Tinubu is not an American? That was what they were saying when Buhari entered, that he would die within four years. Nobody is God. Young boys below 30 years suffer from diabetes. Young girls below 40 years suffer one ailment or the other. I don’t want to attack anybody, even my enemy, based on his or her health. The only thing that can stop somebody from aspiring to the position is if such a one is a lunatic. Governance is not a one man show. There is no way you can govern even your family without leaning on somebody. You either lean on your wife, your children, and others, otherwise, you would be challenging God. You must seek advice, even to govern a nation. Tinubu is a goal-getter. You can see the level of support he has garnered. People are beginning to understand that this man is the right man for the job. I think you are hearing comments. Even some church leaders are talking. So, what are we talking about?
Don’t you think that Tinubu’s chances are being threatened by the call for generational change by the youths? Is your party not bothered about this?
No, every party has various strata of human beings, we have the young; we have the middle age; we have the old, the very old. No one can exist without the other. No government can exist without them. Even if it is a boy of 30, he cannot do the work without those that have the experience. If he is a man of 80, he cannot do it without the support of others. So, the youths cannot be everywhere and old people cannot be everywhere. There must be a coming together of both the old and young. APC also has the youth wing. Therefore, APC has what it takes to do the job.
Nigerians have been lamenting the poor economy, inflation, poor value of the Naira, insecurity and workers’ strikes under the APC administration. Many think that it has become increasingly difficult to market APC. What do you think?
Is APC the cause of economic problems? The economic problem is all over the world. You saw what Covid-19 did to the world. APC is not the cause of the poor economy. There is a crisis everywhere. Is APC Russia or Ukraine? Is APC Britain, Syria, all these places you have serious problems, is APC there? Each country has its problems. The whole world must come together to address these issues. Africa and various continents must come together. That is not to say that APC is 100% perfect. They are human beings. There are mistakes here and there. As human beings, there are some shortcomings. But, you can’t use it to generalise that they are the cause of the economic problems. We suffered Ebola in this country, they contained it, Covid-19, the EndSARS; they contained them. I commend the government of Lagos State, they contained some of these things, and Asiwaju was very much available throughout the periods. So what he did in Lagos was to establish a Governance Advisory Council. He will do the same at Abuja. I think we are good to go. I think we are very comfortable. The road is rough. The road to the highest echelon of governance is always rough everywhere in the whole world. But, with understanding, we will get there.