Pharaoh Okadigbo is a scion the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, former President of the Senate of the Federal Republic. In this interview with The Sun, he shares his perspectives on several issues, including what brought his father and General Muhammadu Buhari together in the 2003 presidential contest.
You were prominent in Peoples Democratic Party circles at a time. What led you into the party?
In the late 1990s, when PDP was formed, there was the euphoria of returning to democracy. We had just graduated from the university and I had completed my youth service, it was only logical for me to join the political foray. I studied political science and had to join a political party. I always believed that, if you want to do politics, you join a political party. Politics is done at the political party level. To understand politics, you do that at the party level. The leading parties then were APP and PDP. My father (Dr. Chuba Okadigbo) of blessed memory was involved, so I joined him.
You were also with him in ANPP? What was it like going there?
You know that, as of then, there were only three political parties, PDP, ANPP and AD. My father was passionate about his quest for a better Nigeria and for this he fell out with the powers that be in PDP and he moved on. He found a like soul that wanted the same things he wanted for Nigeria. That was General Muhammadu Buhari. They bonded very well because of the passion they had for a better Nigeria. Yes, they were very passionate about a better Nigeria. It was not easy for them. He became running mate to General Buhari after many negotiations. But it was not that easy. You remember what happened at the Parade Ground. I mean the walkout. Some people walked out of the convention because my father was nominated as running mate to Buhari. It was a good experience for me, though it was short-lived.
That means you have been in both PDP and ANPP. From your experience, was there any ideological difference between the political parties?
Do political parties in Nigeria have ideological differences? I don’t see it. You know, people seeking power appear to be different from the people in power and it is like that, until you give them power. As of then, when we were in ANPP, which no longer exists, I felt that they wanted a better country and they were not satisfied with the way PDP was running the country. But in terms of ideological difference, it was very minimal. The fact is this, in Nigeria, we are all the same. I see that as something that ought to be an advantage to us as a country. But it is not. If we do not have ideological differences, then, what exactly is our problem?
Your journey into ANPP probably brought you close to General Buhari. What sort of leader did you see in him then?
I saw in him someone who had exactly the same passion as my father for the good of Nigeria. He spoke with passion and was deeply passionate about changing Nigeria and making it better for all persons. He always wanted a Nigeria that worked for all. As of then, I knew he had a lot of passion for the country.
Do you still see that passion in him now?
I don’t think a leopard changes it spots. Even if we all do not see it, I am sure that the people closest to him now still see that passion. I still believe he still has that passion. People don’t change overnight.
Looking at the country in the past several years, what do you make of its future?
The country going forward goes beyond who the President is and who he is not. It is much more than what government is doing and what it is not doing. It is much more about what we are doing ourselves to make the country better. When you see the education system, from primary to university, you look at the business sector, see what people do and what they don’t do; you ask, why do we cheat ourselves? Are we true to ourselves and to one another? Do we lie against ourselves? Do we always want to circumvent the system? Do we always want to fulfill our own obligations to society? Yes, government may be responsible for some things, but everything we do is not about government, yet, they add up to whom we are and what we want for our country. I agree that government should try to create the enabling environment, but, sometimes, government is not capable of doing that. So, what do we do? Fold our arms and wait? No! In your village, for instance, you don’t wait for government to come over and do everything for you. If you have a traditional ruler, you don’t wait for him to come over and do everything for the town. You form yourselves into groups and begin to make change happen around your town or village. For instance, in the area of security, in my village, I know that the vigilante that was organized to help curb crime because of the absence of the police has been doing a lot and recorded huge successes in making the village more secure. It was not government that did that. The people did that for themselves and it is paying off. So, I think all hands must be on deck. If we feel government is not getting it right, we must come together to help make change happen. We must support government to work for us.
What exactly does it mean to be Dr. Chuba Okadigbo’s son?
You know that my father was a very simple man…
Yes, he was. The way you are to your colleagues is not exactly the way you are to your son and your children. Your son looks at you differently. However, I shared him with a lot of people and I believe that there are people who probably knew him better than I did. Because of the nature of his job, he spent more time with other people. But he was a very simple man that liked simple things. He was a very principled man and was deeply ideological. I think that is where I got my principles from. You see, my father taught me that every man needs principles. He would always tell me, “Do not copy my own principles because I am Chuba and you are Pharaoh. What works for Chuba may not work for you.”
So, he taught me to develop my own principles and live by them. Everyone that knew him knew was very principled. He has been gone almost 19 years now, and I have lived by the principles. It is the character, which he moulded in his children, that has made us stand firm and strong.
You see him as a very simple man but some saw him as a tough guy who talked tough and could not be bent.
Well, he talked tough but he was a simple man. They also said he was flamboyant but I can tell you that he was not. Every person that came to see him at home always said, ‘Wow! this man is down to earth’. He welcomed both the rich and the poor to his house. He did not discriminate against any group of persons. Poor people would come to the house and say they wanted to see him and he would come personally to attend to them.
Perhaps that was why he bonded very well with Buhari?
Well, power attracts power. Men recognize themselves and are willing to compromise for each other. What the country was going through then needed that team. That was the beginning of Buhari’s journey to the Presidency. I believe that the reason Buhari got this far was because he once chose Chuba Okadigbo as running mate. In my view, very many people saw Buhari differently after that decision because my father added something to Buhari’s profile. For me, Buhari meant well with that decision. The first time he teamed up with Okadigbo, Buhari said it could be achieved. And it has been achieved.
What are your perspectives on the lure for quick wealth among youths, as against the time-honoured principles of hard work and apprenticeship through which many people rose to become who they are today?
Personally, I have been taught that there are no short-cuts to success. There are none. When you short-cut yourself up there, what you did not learn on the way will be the thing to bring you down. In terms of the flamboyance, legitimate or illegitimate wealth, you would ask, why? Why do people like to show off wealth? If you got your wealth illicitly, why expose yourself? If you got it legitimately, why expose yourself, too? This is not something that is restricted to the South-East. It abounds across the country. Everybody wants quick money and then show off. Why? My perspective is that the job opportunities are no longer there and the value of the naira is low. Most people that have jobs can’t make enough to feed their families. You see a man who is working and earning an honest wage of N30,000 but spends N16,000 on transportation alone monthly. Therefore, the rush for quick money is not just about flamboyance but because the youths know that they can work for five years and still not achieve anything. However, I think these things come down to lack of leadership. For some reason, so many of these youths had parents that failed but there are still so many whose parents succeeded and who want to live the same life of flamboyance. It is about the social media life. It is about the celebrity lifestyle. Almost every youth wants to be liked and followed on social media as a celebrity. But we lose the values. In all, however, I think that the quick money syndrome can only be defeated when the economy is good and works for all. So far as the economy is in bad shape, the idolization of money is too hard to resists.
If you are called upon to go and manage these youths and change their perspectives, what sort of things would you tell them?
It is not about telling them anything. It is about showing them the right thing to do and the results that come from doing the right things. They can’t listen to you. No one is ready to listen to you because whatever you tell them will not be different from what others have been telling them all along. The fact is that you must put things on the ground, wherever they may be, to encourage them, cottage industries, soft loans, agricultural establishments, recreating the apprenticeship system by supporting businesses that are willing to take in new apprentices with loans to enable them expand and take in more apprentices and, when they are through, support the graduates with soft loans to take off. Diversify the employment process and look into sports, athletics, boxing, swimming, football, basketball, etc. These youths have energy and can be utilized. Their energies can be redirected towards sports and, from there, they add value to themselves and society. Look around and see a lot of youths wasting, yet, when the Olympic Games come, we won’t have people competing for honours. Look at the days of Innocent Egbunike and the Ezinwa brothers, they trained at Nsukka Stadium. It wasn’t a fantastic stadium. Egbunike was counted among the top 10 fastest men in the world at a time. He was always in the finals of every major athletic event. He grew from there to win a scholarship to study in the United States of America. Today, where is our athletics? There are so many Nigerian youths who have found their way to the U.S. and European universities on athletics scholarships. Why haven’t we built on that? Today, we are still debating if the National Sports Festival will hold or not. The thing here is that not everything must be white collar. Sport is a huge job creator. Again, it has to do with education. If a man of 25 years has no education, there are only two things you can do for him; it is either you send him back to school to go get an education or you find him a job that does not require education. When we were growing up, we saw a lot of vocational and technical colleges. Today, one wonders if they still exist. And even when you graduate from them, what next? Do you have soft loans to enable you start something? The bottom line is this: without electricity, there is nothing you put on ground that will work. Do as many white papers as you like, without effective power supply, nothing else will function. Power is the base for production and manufacturing. Without that, you are nowhere. If we have effective power, the inflow of investments in the manufacturing and productive sectors will amaze you. That is what will create the jobs. We have the population and the manpower but manufacturers can’t establish here because we don’t have power. All those brands that ship their products to Nigeria would like to establish here because it would be cheaper to do so, but the lack of power makes it unrealistic to expect them to come. If we open up industrial complexes even in bush, so long as they have the necessary infrastructure, companies will be encouraged to go and build manufacturing plants there and then take advantage of cheap labour that we have here.
Even communities in those places will develop. People will build houses and malls, schools will develop, markets will spring up and exports processing with grow. For now, manufacturers see Nigeria as a consuming nation so they set up factories in places where they have constant power supply and then, ship their products to us to buy. You cannot create wealth doing that because whatever income you make is exported. You create wealth by making sure that income rebounds within you own economy as many times as possible.
You pointed out that the problem is leadership. How do we get leadership right?
It is about using the system we are practicing. Democracy! It creates the way for us to get things right. Like I said earlier, are we doing the right things for ourselves? If we think things are not going on well as they ought to, then, you and I should join political parties. That’s the lee way that democracy creates for us. We can’t continually blame the leaders. If we believe that they are not getting things right, we must join the political parties and change things from within. Leaders appear only through political parties. So, if you don’t like them, join a political party at your ward level and from there, you begin to play the necessary role to make change happen. If you don’t like the kind of leaders that you have, join the party and if you have several of you that think alike, you can vote at the delegate’s election and stop such people from becoming your leaders. That’s how you start bringing quality leaders into the system.
What are your views on the politics of Anambra State?
Anambra is peculiar in terms of the states in Nigeria. You will find that in the state, we are very individualistic. And you will find that it is very difficult for any one man to dominate the politics of the state. I believe that the fact that our people are blessed and almost everyone has as much money plays a key role. It has reduced the dominance of the state by any particular money bag. Though money is essential in politics, but for us, you don’t find any one person getting his way through because he has the most money. I also believe that since 1999, our governors have added value. Each leaves office with some contribution that endears him to the people. The people have become the centre of governance. So, for now, no one can say APGA or PDP etc., is the dominant party in the state because, even with those parties, our friend, Senator Ifeanyi Uba, won election to the senate on the bill of YPP, a relatively new and unknown party. It can still swing depending on how the next primaries go.
Are you considering running for elective office in 2023?
That’s too far. As far as I am concerned, my immediate concern is about getting our priorities right. I am a citizen of no other country than Nigeria. I have nowhere else to go to. So, for me, here must be put right for all of us. We must get Nigeria right for our own sake and the sake of our children. So, this is the time for all people of like minds to join the political parties and rework the system from inside. Bad healthcare system affects all of us. The insecurity here affects all of us. Poor education system affects all of us. That you send your child to a school where you pay N1milion per annum does not mean he/she has better quality education. So, like my father always said, all hands must be on deck. If you want to leave the county, feel free. I won’t hold it against you but be sure it is not better out there. Many of those out there want to come back home but it is just that home is not too sweet. I have decided to lend my hands to getting things right. I will do my best for the nation because I have no option.
Credit: The Sun