By CHIDI NNADI, ENUGU
• Says he betrayed Ojukwu, APGA, Ndigbo
After weeks of shock over the defection of Chief Peter Obi to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s widow, Bianca, has lambasted the former governor of Anambra State for his actions.
Bianca, who is Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain, had told Daily Sun on the eve of the day Obi dumped the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for the PDP that the ex-governor would never leave the party believed to be the rallying point for the Igbo because of the vow he made before Ojukwu. Thus when Obi dumped APGA, Bianca was shocked beyond words, as the former governor had reassured her over time that he would remain in APGA and help to sustain the party.
As he left, Obi, oblivious of the “injury” he had caused Bianca, decided to look for an opportunity to placate her and found one last Friday, October 17, which, however, turned to be a shocker also for him.
Obi had trailed Bianca to the Netherlands where she was being honoured by The Voice Newspaper, as the Outstanding Ambassador of Africa, but Bianca declined all the entreaties made by Obi at the event.
The organisers of the award had penciled down Obi to present the award to Bianca but when it became obvious that the ambassador had made up her mind never to have anything to do with him, they quickly drafted an ambassador from the country to do the presentation.
In this exclusive interview with Daily Sun, Bianca looked at the relationship between the late leader of APGA, Ikemba Nnewi, saying Obi had betrayed him, APGA and Ndigbo, even when he was the greatest beneficiary of Ojukwu and APGA influence in Igbo land.
She, therefore, described Obi’s defection to the PDP, as a “betrayal and unimaginable breach of trust,” saying though his exit was a big loss to the party, APGA, nevertheless, would continue to hit successes without him. Excerpts:
Recently, former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, defected to the PDP, how did you receive this news because you had told us the previous day that he would not quit APGA because of the promise he had made to Ojukwu?
I received the news with shock and disappointment because up till the last moment; Obi kept reassuring me that this would never happen; that it would be over his dead body; that the day he leaves APGA would be the day he quits politics; and most importantly, that he would keep the promise he made to Ojukwu. I had no reason to doubt him. I had become used to unsubstantiated rumours, regarding his defection to the PDP. Even just before the last TAN South East rally in Awka, I spoke with him because I had heard that he would decamp at that event. I had reason to be concerned because he had tendered his resignation letter, as BoT chairman of APGA only the night before the rally, which came as a great surprise to us all. I asked him whether he had any plan to defect to PDP and he told me that his position remained the same; and reiterated the statement that APGA was in his blood.
He kept his word then and so, I had no reason to believe that he would lie on this occasion. I felt that he had enough integrity to keep his promise to Ojukwu because there was no compelling reason for him not to do so.
Everything he is, today, he owes to Ojukwu and APGA. APGA catapulted him literally from obscurity to national prominence. He served two consecutive terms, as governor of Anambra State, a first in the history of the state. This, he achieved under APGA. His decampment is shocking to our party members. He never gave them any indication that he was about to jump ship. Close as I was to him, he did not even have the simple courtesy to inform me of this decision but continued to deceive me up until his defection.
What was this promise that Obi made to your husband, do you think they are or it is weighty enough not to be broken?
Obi swore to Ojukwu, upon his honour, that he would never leave APGA; that he would do all within his power to sustain and advance APGA; in his own words that he would ‘sink or swim’ in APGA. I am glad that today there are living witnesses to attest to this fact.Ojukwu believed him and was convinced beyond doubt that even if there was ever a mass exodus from APGA, Peter Obi would be the last man standing.I recall when Theodore Orji, Governor of Abia State decamped from the PPA to APGA, only to decamp from APGA to the PDP shortly after Ojukwu had welcomed him into APGA, Ojukwu, in his stoic manner, told us all that we should understand that not many politicians in this world had the integrity and loyalty of Peter Obi. Ojukwu used him as a yardstick to measure other politicians because Obi presented himself before him as a disciplined, principled and trustworthy politician, who was fully committed to carrying on his legacy. Any other party member or politician, decamping from APGA is not held to the same standards as Obi. He was fully aware of his responsibilities and what was expected of him.He has dashed the hopes of many, and reduced his prestige to the level of any other ‘food is ready’ politician by this betrayal and unimaginable breach of trust.
What kind of relationship existed between Obi and your husband while he was alive?
It was a father and son relationship. As far as my husband was concerned, Obi was the most fervent devotee of APGA. Though he did not necessarily sanction every decision or approve of some of his actions, no one could ever utter one negative word against Peter Obi in his presence. He would never tolerate that. To Ojukwu, Peter Obi was a combination of the Old Testament Joshua and the New Testament Simon Peter. He was convinced beyond doubt that as far as APGA was concerned, Peter would do everything required to spread its gospel. And why not? Afterall, Obi was the greatest beneficiary of that gospel. Obi, like the biblical Joshua, would carry on from where he left off and take APGA to the Promised Land.That is why, after the people of Anambra State granted his last wish and voted Obi in for his second tenure, as governor, Ojukwu took out congratulatory messages in the newspapers, simply displaying Obi’s picture and just three words: ‘Upon This Rock…’, in tacit affirmation of Obi’s nickname of Okwute, which means ‘Rock’; and in undisguised reference to the biblical Simon Peter whom Christ described as the rock and foundation upon which the church and Christianity would be built. To Ojukwu, Peter Obi was the rock upon which APGA would stand and be propelled to greater heights. According to him, Obi had all it takes to further solidify APGA’s foundation. It is against this backdrop that I maintain that Obi knew he was constrained to respond to a higher calling. He gave his word and, therefore, he was standing on sacred ground; but the tragedy today is that he has sold his birthright and abdicated his legacy. What he has done is akin to desecrating his father’s grave. It is alu (taboo) in Igbo culture. I am deeply pained by this development. How can it be so easy for him to trample upon the legacy of a man, who gave him so much, even sometimes to his (Ojukwu’s) own detriment; a man, who had such high expectations of him.
Ojukwu had such faith in him and placed him upon a grand pedestal, crediting him with so many qualities. He would always say only few politicians in this country had the measure of humility, steadfastness, integrity and courage of Peter Obi. He never anticipated feet of clay. Peter Obi has betrayed not just Ojukwu but also a multitude of APGA party faithful, who trusted and believed in him, toiled night and day to see him succeed; the people of Anambra, who will invariably feel that he used them to fulfill his ambition only to dump them when he felt the need to move on to his own perceived greener pastures, and millions of Ndigbo, who hold Ojukwu in great reverence, subscribe to his philosophy and would not be kindly disposed to a man, who is willing to sacrifice the interests of his people over momentary and fleeting gains when it becomes expedient for him to do so.
To what extent did the former governor benefit from Ojukwu’s influence and name in Igbo land?
As I said before, Peter Obi remains the greatest beneficiary of Ojukwu’s goodwill in Igbo land. Ojukwu supported Peter Obi through thick and thin. He celebrated his triumphs, mourned his losses and worked tirelessly to see him succeed. I cannot even begin to quantify all his efforts to establish him firmly, politically. He was so passionate about Peter Obi’s cause that he would leave no stone unturned to propel him. He was the one who went to Abuja and signed the INEC forms, personally guaranteeing Obi when problems arose over Obi’s candidature, which threatened his chances of contesting in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. Ojukwu put his health at risk to embark on a rigorous campaign for Obi’s success, especially for the elections that brought him in for a second tenure, as governor of Anambra State. From local government to local government, the message was always the same: “This is our golden child; grant me this last wish and vote for him.” Ojukwu was a proud man but was always willing to beg on Obi’s behalf. He hated to travel anywhere by helicopter but for Peter Obi’s campaign he frequently did so, even against his physician’s directive in order to cover as much ground as possible. At times when I was worried and pointed out that he was exerting himself too much, he would respond by telling me that this was his last fight; that APGA was his parting grant to his people and that Peter Obi would fulfill his destiny. For that reason, we all needed to make sacrifices in order to realise that goal.Whenever there was a problem in the party, Ojukwu would summon party members in order to solve the problem quickly so as not to create any distractions for Obi.Whenever there was a crisis or discontentment within the party, which threatened Obi’s political fortunes in any way, he would plead for us all to remain united, citing the Igbo proverb that ‘one does not kill that person who it will be his duty to bury’. He was a major stabilising influence. Ojukwu’s sermon was that APGA was beyond a political party. It is a creed and we are all obliged to be devotees to its philosophy of ‘be your brother’s keeper’. It is an irony that Peter Obi has chosen, by his most recent action, to betray this philosophy and disown his brethren. He has equally lost a rare opportunity to transcend to the pantheon, as one of the great Igbo statesmen of this century.
Obi cited his resolve to be deeply involved in the re-election campagn of President Jonathan, as his major reason for joining the PDP but your party has already endorsed the president, as your candidate in 2015; do you believe Obi in this reason?
The truth of the matter is that he did not need to decamp to the PDP in order to be deeply involved in the re-election campaign of President Jonathan and if he has any respect for the president, he should stop dragging his name into this, in justification of a decision, which was solely in his own selfish interest. Even an elementary school pupil would have been able to deduce that he had more clout with his exalted position in APGA to effectively campaign for the president. Afterall, did he need to decamp before APGA adopted the president, as its candidate during the last presidential election? APGA has always lent its support to this president and our position has not changed. We fully acknowledge and celebrate the giant strides the president has made in all sectors in order to transform this country but even more profound is the fact that Nigerians have witnessed a new era of political collaboration with the dawn of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. He has ably demonstrated and fulfilled his promise that his leadership would be one uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past and that his government would be committed to change. Today, I am Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain despite being in an opposition party. I am not the only member of APGA serving under this administration. None of us was required to defect to the PDP. Peter Obi was one of the closest governors to the president even though he was an APGA governor. He was a special adviser, an active member of his economic management team, and frequently accompanied the president on many of his official trips abroad despite being an APGA governor. So, what is the logic for this defection?The success of APGA during the 2014 gubernatorial elections was largely due to the president’s commitment to free and fair elections and his resolve to ensure that the votes of the people of Anambra State counted.I do not buy the explanation that Obi decamped from APGA to PDP in order to campaign for the president because it does not hold water. This administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is one which has welcomed and accommodated other political parties with open arms as partners in the collective task of national development. I can only justify Obi’s decampment by concluding that he might have found it difficult to cope with the new reality of finding himself outside the corridors of power. Sadly, he was convinced beyond doubt that the only reason he lost out on a ministerial appointment during the last batch of appointments was simply because he was not a card-carrying member of the PDP. He felt that playing the role of a statesman in APGA would relegate him to being a political benchwarmer. I find it difficult to believe that he can secure the trust and confidence of the people of Anambra State and our party loyalists after this unjustifiable sabotage. They cannot be blamed if they feel he made a mockery of them by exhibiting this Machiavellian mindset.
We learnt that Obi has been having problems with his successor, Governor Obiano; could this be part of the heat that made him to quit?
There is no basis for this assertion and neither he nor his successor has come out to say irreconcilable differences exist between them. I believe the relationship between them is a cordial one and goes back to many years. Obi committed time and resources and campaigned to ensure Obiano’s victory at the polls. However, you don’t send somebody to the market and line the path to that market with landmines. Obi’s primary duty was to nurture APGA and be a father to all. I often reminded him that just as Ojukwu had mentored him, he was now obliged to play the same role for Obiano. Even if they were having issues, that is no reason for him to run to another party. You do not bite off your nose in order to spite your face. Let me take this opportunity to remind him, as Ojukwu often told us in his (Obi’s) favour that “you do not kill that man who you must be obliged to bury”. There was no justification whatsoever for him to act like a ship’s captain, who, upon encountering a storm, jumps ship, abandoning his crew and passengers. This is a journey we all began together. Ten years is not 10 days. Through these years, we rallied around him, supported him and celebrated him. This is not what we expected from him; APGA was his home. When you are leaving your father’s house, you don’t flee like a thief in the night through the back door. You march majestically out through the front door. His actions clearly demonstrate that he lacks the courage of his convictions.
Many think that with the exit of Obi from APGA, the future of the party is now bleak and that APGA won’t achieve much in 2015, particularly in Anambra State where the party structure revolved around him; how would you react to this?
It is undeniable that Peter Obi made immense contributions to APGA. I remain proud of his achievements, as governor of Anambra State. His exit diminishes us, and many of his supporters and grassroots crusaders are disappointed and demoralised. However, no individual can be greater than the party. APGA will continue to thrive in Anambra State. The current governor is committed to making this happen.
True, we have witnessed the exit of several party members, who were disgruntled by the state of affairs in APGA. However, their problem has essentially centred around one individual whom the clock is ticking for. Umeh will not remain APGA chairman beyond 2015. Another reason for discontent within the party structure was that Obi compromised the interests of many party faithful and die-hard supporters, who stood behind him in the period of internal conflict between himself and Umeh by turning round to reconcile and negotiate with Umeh, leaving his own supporters in the lurch. It has to be admitted that Obi essentially created the problems that he is now trying to escape from. It will be interesting to see how he will come back to Anambra State to campaign against his erstwhile brothers in APGA in the upcoming National Assembly elections or face those who ardently campaigned for him under APGA, wore party uniforms with his images emblazoned on them and worked hard to mobilise grassroots support. Will he be able to look any of them in the eye without conscience pangs? It will be a grave mistake for him to believe that the people of Anambra State have a short memory; they may not be disposed to welcome him with open arms. Even with a rented crowd, he cannot expect not to be confronted with the consequences of his opportunistic action.We shall miss him for sure but APGA will weather this storm. Our greatest strength lies in our ability to rebound from situations that would ordinarily liquidate other parties. When the situation calls for it we close ranks and repel invading forces. Our members are resilient and indomitable. APGA will surprise many by the successes it will record in the 2015 elections.
Why is APGA infested with crises; there has never been any quiet moment for this your party, from the leadership tussle, BoT, to former governor and incumbent governor squabbles; why is this so?
These crises are not solely limited to APGA; divisions and conflicts also exist in other political parties. However, we must be bold enough to confront the ghost from our past. At the very root of our problems lies what can best be likened to the paradox and predicament of the French people, who, in 1789, launched a revolution, overthrew their king, abolished the monarchy and instituted a republic, only to end up with an emperor in the person of Napoleon. We chased away the cat, only to bring in the tiger. The bitter truth and sad reality is that every vice, offence and transgression that Umeh’s predecessor, Chekwas Okorie, was ever accused of, which prompted his removal, as national chairman of APGA, has been committed a hundred times over with impunity by Umeh. In spite of this, our party members have remained resolute and committed. Many have been victimised and have suffered injustice in the hands of Umeh for speaking out and demanding internal democracy, transparency and fiscal accountability in the conduct of the party’s affairs. They felt disappointed that Peter Obi could not come to their rescue. This is part of the collateral damage our party is suffering with Ojukwu’s demise. However, we are consoled by the fact that the new governor of Anambra State is fully committed to strengthening and rebranding the party as well as consolidating the party’s gains under Obi. The mantle has now fallen on Governor Obiano to pursue the Anambra State of Ojukwu’s dreams to advance APGA’s crusade to all the states of the South East and beyond and to realise our collective aspirations for the party and our people. We will look beyond this unfortunate episode and face the future with renewed strength and optimism. APGA will survive.
We have won many battles and our battle scars we proudly wear like a breastplate. Our resilience is our badge of honour. In times of necessity, we come together, put our individual differences behind us and we prevail because it is our passion, which drives this party.
How will Ojukwu feel in his grave about the action of Chief Obi, remembering that he went to beg the Anambra people to return him, as his last wish?
If the dead could feel, I believe Ojukwu would be quaking in his grave at this act of betrayal. Besides Ojukwu, so many believed in Peter Obi and put in a lot of effort to ensure his extraordinary successes at the polls. It is regrettable that he was not even considerate enough to gather these people together, thank them for their support through the years and inform them that he was moving on. It is a sad day for all of us. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever envisage an APGA without Peter Obi. We have undoubtedly lost a precious son but by no means does this sound the death knell for APGA. The requiem is for him alone.
The spirit of Ojukwu lives not only among the people of Anambra State but also Ndigbo as a whole. That spirit will continue to sustain and propel APGA. The party will flourish with or without Peter Obi. I believe that in spite of whatever he may become in the future, posterity will not be kind in its judgment of his latest action because not only has he squandered his patrimony, he has firmly appended his seal on a new brand of microwave politics in Nigeria.
Monday, 20 October 2014