Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe contested and won election in 1983 to represent Orlu Senatorial District of Imo State in the National Assembly. In 1992, he contested the presidential primaries of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) that was later canceled. The Fourth Republic saw him serving as a senator between 1999 and 2007. He speaks in this interview with JOHN SILAS at his Haven of Peace country home in Oguta, Imo State on a wide range of issues, including the 1993 poll, 2015 elections and insecurity in the nation. Excerpts:
How do you feel attaining and even surpassing the Biblical age of three scores and ten?
I feel 76, and you can see that yourself.
Looking back, is there anything that you would have done, especially at your younger age that you left undone.
There was nothing that I was supposed to do at any point in time that I didn’t do, and I have always justified my actions.
Does it mean that you don’t have any regret for any of the actions you took in the past?
I don’t regret anything I have done because people in my position would think about things over and over again before doing them. And if there was anything that I thought about so well before doing it, I shouldn’t go about regretting it. I go along and suffer the consequence if there is any negative one. That’s the way I see it.
What of your role as the leader of the defunct Association for a Better Nigeria (ABN), which many still blame for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election said to have been won by late Chief MKO Abiola?
Those who are making reference to it are very wise men though they have forgotten that our actions were heavily supported across the country.
At that time, I was deemed to be a vagabond. My colleagues and I were abused and insulted everywhere, but all of a sudden, going for election, it’s now a novelty. By the time I formed ABN, there was nothing at all of such nature; you go and burn tires on the streets; you go and kill people and use their heads for juju, but we stood firm to say that we want this done, and I believe that we got what we wanted.
So, it is for you to assess our actions in your own way. For us, I got what we wanted. We said cancel the election and eventually they cancelled the election. We said don’t count the votes, but they counted the votes. So, how do you measure success?
In the middle of that, I have run elections, where I adopted five different political parties, and each time I go to any political party, we win. How do you define a good politician rather than the man who contests an election and wins?
Are you saying that you are proud of that action even when some people believe that it truncated the democratic government that would have come in then and the consequent long stay by the military in power?
Yes, I do. I am proud that we cancelled the election. I wanted the election cancelled and it was cancelled.
If you have such opportunity again, will you take a similar action?
Ten times over if the circumstances are the same.
You were in the Senate in the Second Republic as well as in the present dispensation between 1999 and 2007, how would rate the National Assembly then and now?
It would be unfair to start criticizing my present colleagues in the National Assembly. If I have anything to say about their performance, I will say it to them privately. If I have any reason to criticize them, I will go to them privately; I won’t go to the street.
There is a general belief that Nigeria’s democracy is expensive compared to other advanced democracies across the world, and that it is responsible for the high overhead cost which in turn leaves little or nothing for developmental projects. What do you make of this?
It depends on which aspect you are looking at. There is no way you can practice democracy anywhere in the world without spending money; money is involved at all stages.
A lot of people had expected that you would be at the just held National Conference, what stopped you from being at the discourse to contribute in charting a new Nigeria?
I have always been somebody who listens to the majority and plays according to the majority. As for the confab, I was not feeling too well when it was going on and I was abroad trying to get treatment. So, I cannot comment on anything that took place at the conference.
I don’t know whether you have read some of the recommendations of the confab, especially the approval for the creation of 18 new states. Do we really need more states?
Yes, we do. The South-East in particular needs an additional state so that we can be at par with other geo-political zones of the country.
But there is an argument that new states will place more financial burden on the Federal Government.
I don’t think so. It is a national burden, and we should all share it equally. It is not good enough to say let’s carry on with the present arrangement, while the injustice as a result of the imbalance in the state structure stays behind.
Do you see Ndigbo closing ranks on where the new state should be carved out from because there are several agitations at the moment, including that of Urashi State being championed by you?
A new state for the South-East should be the proposed Urashi State, which I am still championing.
Why do you think Urashi should be given preference ahead of others like Aba, Njaba, Adada and Etiti?
Can you skip this question, please? I am fighting for a new state and we have done the necessary presentations in Abuja, should I sit down here and start criticizing it?
Some political leaders in the North are of the view that the cry of marginalization should not be the basis for an additional state for the South-East. Their argument is that the zone doesn’t deserve another state given its landmass and population. What is your take on that, and do you see a sixth state addressing the issue of marginalization?
Yes, it will address the issue of marginalization. Those who are saying that we don’t deserve an additional state are expressing their personal opinion, and I believe that they seized the opportunity of the confab to advance their argument. But go and read the confab report and see whether they are right or wrong. Somebody has to be right or wrong. I am right while they are wrong.
The 2015 general election is fast approaching, what are your thoughts on the elections?
I am afraid if we can get good democracy because too many people are being vicious. One has to be careful now that we are discussing it. So, let’s see how it goes.
Your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term, what do you make of that?
Like I said before, I am a party man; I am an establishment man. You will never see me fighting the authority. I have learnt to either go under or above in politics; never go through the middle. At 76, I must be sensible how I play my politics these days. It is ether I go under or above; never in the middle. Next question!
How do you see the All Progressives Congress (APC) and General Muhammad Buhari’s challenge against your party?
That’s their entitlement; they are playing ‘democracy’.
Are you not worried that the APC would be banking on Buhari’s popularity in the North and the support of the South-West to unseat the PDP in the forthcoming presidential election?
That is hypothetic. Let’s wait till the time comes.
A popular Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Gumi, recently advised both President Jonathan and General Buhari against contesting the election, saying violence will erupt whichever way the result goes. What is your take on that?
Is that what he really said?
The advice was contained in two separate open letters he sent to the President and General Buhari
No comment because I haven’t read it.
You recently endorsed the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to govern Imo State come 2015. Do you still maintain that position and what informed it?
Yes I do, because he is the best out those who have been presented at the moment. Unless something comes up, I am still where I am, and that is on the side of Emeka (Ihedioha).
Was your decision informed by the clamor for zoning by the people of Owerri zone, where Ihedioha hails from?
For me, Ihedioha is the best for now. Something may happen tomorrow. I may decide to run.
But the people of Okigwe zone are insisting that they should be allowed to complete their tenure which was cut short in 2011 by Governor Rochas Okorocha’s victory, before the governorship position goes to another zone.
I am not a believer in consensus. If you get 10 members of a consensus club, the definition of consensus will never be the same. So, where do you want to drive me into if you cannot agree among yourselves? Are we being democratic? The answer is no. If we want to be democratic, we should be ready to compete.
Don’t you see your support for Ihedioha pitching you against the people of your zone, who are insisting that the Imo governorship contest should be thrown open?
Those who are opposed to this should go to the polling booths to fight it. What do you want us to do? Is it not to make a choice, which we are making at the moment? If you don’t believe in what I am saying, then go and do your own. That is the simple thing to do.
Do you see Ihedioha upstaging the incumbent governor?
It is easy. If you do a proper assessment of the capabilities of those in the race and who have been winning elections in the past, you will know whether Mr. A or B is suitable to be the governor of Imo State come 2015. We will win again if that is what you are asking me. The PDP will win Imo State in 2015.
The apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has tactically endorsed President Jonathan’s re-election bid, where do you stand on this, as some dissenting voices are saying that it was done in a hurry?
You are singing my song for me. Aga akpaya akpa (it must be discussed). When the time comes, we will talk. Right now, I can’t see how we can be more Jonathan than Jonathan himself. Before yesterday, the man had not opened his mouth to say that he wants to be president. It was only on Friday (last week) that he made it clear that he wants to run.
All the statements he made in the past were playing what I call the Abacha (late General Sani Abacha) game. He (Abacha) was very lucky, sitting down there and every group came to pledge their loyalty to him and offered their votes, and he said nothing. He just put on his sun glasses and shook his head, after that the people will go away.
The five parties then all went to Abacha; where is democracy in that? And that’s what might happen to Jonathan, everybody is going there, pledging their votes; all groups and parties. We will wait and see.
What does the return of the Abacha kind of politics portend for Nigeria’s polity?
You said it is democracy, isn’t it? So, they are all playing it the way they understand. That was why I told you earlier that the first thing to do as leader is to get the people whom you are promoting to define what they want. How do you define consensus?
Agreement by the majority…
Fine! And the only way to do it is to talk, isn’t it? So, we are talking.
What do you make of the security situation in the country, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, which is ravaging the North-East?
It is a child’s play if you compare what is happening in a country of over 150 million to what is going on in countries with less than 10 million populations. So, don’t lose sleep over it, it is nothing.
Many Nigerians will not agree with you on this, given the level of destruction in the affected areas.
Then they should keep their disagreement. You people (media) blow this thing so much as if we are coming from the fire of hell. We are not. We are 150 million people, what do you expect; that some of us to fold their hands and go to bed? No! But I believe we will overcome it like any other country.
Are you not worried that the rising insecurity could lead to the realization of the prediction by an American study group some years back that Nigeria will cease to exist by 2015?
Show me the report! Bring the report and we will discuss. Who has seen this report and where was it published? Nobody! Meanwhile people address press conferences and make references to what they have not seen.
Finally, Senator Arthur Nzeribe is mostly described in the media as a maverick politician, how did that come to be?
(Laughs) No answer.