By Dickson Okafor

Mr Johnny Ucheaga is the secretary of the Police Equipment Foundation (PEF) and a chieftain of the defunct National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN).

In this interview, said that as it stands today,  Nigerians won’t allow incompetent person to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election this month, but would rather vote for a competent candidate irrespective of the political party affiliation as the next president.   

The legal practitioner and political strategist predicted that the result of the presidential election slated for February 25, would astonish many, as well as restore the confidence of Nigerians in the nation’s democracy. 

He highlighted the effects of the newly redesigned naira notes would have on this month’s presidential election and the economy and what is expected from the next government. Excerpt:

Do you think religion will play a great role in this month’s presidential election considering the reaction trailing the same faith ticket of APC? 

It will be hypocritical for me to criticize a Muslim-Muslim ticket. When we voted for the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe in the presidential election in 1993, we didn’t care if it was a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Some of the people criticizing the Muslim-Muslim ticket today did not criticize it then. But today, they have option not to vote for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. They can vote for a Christian-Muslim ticket. Don’t forget that everybody has his strong and weak points. But in case of Tinubu he is not a religious fanatic because his wife, Sen. Oluremi is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Tinubu is strong enough to convert his wife to become a Muslim, but he never did so. She knew he was a Muslim, but married him. It is remarkable that Tinubu left her in her religion. To me, everybody has his own verdict and I know Tinubu very well. He is not a religious bigot hence I don’t have problem about him. In politics, some people choose running mates because he has a choice to choose someone who can help him win election in certain constituencies. He can choose a Christian from a minority population or a Muslim from a majority population. Therefore, Tinubu wants to garner votes and his handlers encouraged him to choose a fellow Muslim as running mate. That does not mean he is going to Islamise Nigeria if elected president. As I speak, Tinubu is doing everything to assure Christians that he does not mean bad.  

The Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, has been endorsed by the Southern/Middle Belt leaders even though some Igbo leaders have openly said Obi won’t win the race.  What is your take on that?

We faced similar opposition against former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 during his first term contest when the Southwest said they were not properly consulted by leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before they settled for Obasanjo as the presidential candidate of the party. And they decided to vote for Chief Olu Falae of Alliance for Democracy (AD). In the case of Peter Obi, I believe his handlers are still making consultation with some Southeast leaders and politicians in the five geo-political zones in the country. I understand that there is certain team that is mandated to reach out to other people and groups across Nigeria. There is one Omoba, my very good friend, Dr. Doyin Okupe, he is in that team. He knows what I’m talking about. I was an instrument to his conversation with Obasanjo administration on advice that earned him appointment in the government. So, he knows what I’m talking about because he has experienced it. Okupe was the Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He is a medical doctor, but he is more of a medical politician because he eats and breathes politics. Therefore, he knows what to do as a chieftain of Labour Party. The main problem I have with that team is when I look at those who constitute the team, I don’t see who have fought and won elections among them. On the insinuation that youths seem to prefer Peter to Atiku and Tinubu because he is younger did not give him political advantages over these his seniors and may not make him win the presidential election. But as it stands now Nigerians not only the youths won’t allow incompetent person to succeed President Buhari. 

With the clamour for power to shift to the Southeast and the recent endorsement of Peter Obi by leaders of other geo-political zones, to you, is Peter Obi the joker? 

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He could be the joker because the main contestants stand better chance to emerge winners. In the case of Peter Obi, all he needs is strong and tested caliber of people to work with because he is not vying for ambassador to Vatican, but he is vying to rule a huge circular country, Nigeria. So, he should look for people who have been in the game whether they judge them right or wrong. There are times when those who don’t see anything good in you come up with good advice because no matter how bad a bush is there are people who goes in there and come out alive. For equity and justice, Igbo deserve to produce the next president of Nigeria and that is why youths are behind him. I was there when Labour Party was formed, when I was carrying my papers to form National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN). Then Dan Nwanyanwu was carrying papers to register Labour Party and we know who paid for the registration. Today, Dan Nwanyanwu’s Labour Party is now two political parties called Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) and Labour Party. Those are low hanging fruits if you ask me. Why can’t LP merge again with ZLP? The government that is in Anambra State, the home state of Peter Obi is the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and APGA has a presidential candidate. Why can’t LP merge with APGA? That is why if you leave a river and you don’t close the area that is licking it becomes a stream. Peter Obi had been in a minority party in Anambra State before. When he talked about how many times he was impeached as governor that was because he was not controlling the state House of Assembly. When he joined LP I did not see it as anything special, but within three months he has grown to his credit and most Nigerians see him as an alternative. In fact, people who I respect have bought into his candidacy and I’m happy for him. But he should not be aloof.  

Nigeria is back to politics of tribe and ethnicity with the emergence of Bola Tinubu from Southwest, Atiku Abubakar, North and Peter Obi Southeast as presidential candidates of the three main political parties, does it show that Nigeria’s democracy is advancing or retrogressing?

You are limiting the contest to these three persons. Are they the only persons in the race? We have other candidates who have sprung up and are in the 2023 presidential race. However, like I told you, Peter Obi was not a candidate of my analysis three months ago, but now he is a serious contender for the presidency.  Apart from Obi, the other main candidates have governors, Senators, House of Representatives and state House of Assembly members even chairmen of local government areas and councilors in their political parties. Each of the candidates is running on their reputations and not on tribe, religion and ethnicity. What I know is that only the presidential candidate that is credible and competent irrespective of political party will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigerians are no more interested in the geo-political zones or tribe the candidates are from, but what they are concerned about is the antecedents of the candidates. Those are very strong issues that will determine who will emerge next president of Nigeria. In the present political structure there is no hanging boot, not in admirers or people who will not vote on day of elections. To me, Nigeria’s democracy is advancing with the emergence of the main presidential candidates as flag bearers of their political parties.   

Are you confident that any of the candidates if elected is capable of ending insecurity in the country?    

I heard the Vice Presidential candidate of APC, Sen. Kashim Shettima said that his candidate will stem insecurity issue within six months if elected. Insecurity or terrorism is not a problem of West Africa, it is a problem that has been imported from the Middle East. The fight between the Shiite Muslims and the other Islamic groups is the cause of insecurity not only in Nigeria, but in West Africa. They still consider or regard Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Northern Ghana, and Northern Cameroon as their places. They don’t regard them as countries hence they believe these are their people and their areas of influence. The fight that is in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iran and in Libya is the same thing. As people who share in the same historical patrimony, some of our territories fell into territories where terrorists used to hold sway before the coming of the Europeans and that are what we are seeing today. So, the present and past governments made promises how they would bring down the moon and for everybody to come and see, but in all, it is mere talk and talk is cheap. I’m hopeful that the person the electorate will vote for will silence insecurity.

Scarcity of fuel and the newly redesigned Naira notes is biting hard on the people, isn’t that going to affect the chances of the ruling APC to retain power at the centre?    

If we go into history you will know that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele implements government policies because he is not elected, but appointed. This is not the first time Naira has been redesigned under Buhari administration. The Naira was redesigned when President Buhari was military Head of State in 1984. So, if he decides to redesign the Naira for the second time while in Government Hous, it shouldn’t be surprise to me. It may not be the decision of Emefiele alone to redesign the Naira because President Buhari told Nigerians that he was aware of it. On its impact on Nigeria’s economy, a lot of our money that are supposed to be in circulation is not in circulation because they are hidden by some prominent Nigerians. And I understand that since the news of the newly redesigned Naira note was announced by the CBN governor, over N7.3trillion has been deposited in the banks across the country. As I speak, the rate of dollar and other foreign currencies have started to drop as Naira has started gaining value internationally. Why won’t they drop? We are being taken seriously globally now because of this single act.  However, our economy will improve if people see that we are doing what we need to do. Also, there is a hint from somewhere, true or not that America will ban deposit of dollar that is beyond certain years in their banks. On fuel scarcity, it is unfortunate that this is happening few weeks to the general election. I urge the Federal Government to find solution to it soon in order for us to have free and fair election. 

With the outcry by INEC that the ongoing fuel scarcity will hamper the election day logistics, do you see the electoral body conducting free, fair and credible general elections in few weeks time? 

I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I know that everybody knows the importance of the forthcoming general elections hence the ongoing fuel scarcity is very unfortunate. I am a legal practitioner for 37 years standing at the bar and political strategist. I have the good fortune of working early in life with a partner and a good friend, Dr. Kenny Martins through him I got introduced to who-is-who in the country including one of the fathers of the nation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo who accepted me as a member of his household and accepted me in the front role view of evolution of Nigeria’s leadership both in democracy and mentorship. A palm wine tapper does not say all he saw while on top of a palm tree otherwise people will begin to avoid you. However, to answer your question, even though we are developing democratically if there is scarcity of fuel during election, INEC will find it difficult to conduct free and fair election. But I’m sure INEC will do everything possible to ensure elections are conducted free and fair so that President Buhari will handover on May 29 this year. Unlike in some Africa countries where their leaders are unable to handover, Nigeria has shown since 1999 that it is possible to hand over power from one democratically elected government to another. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the former President of Nigeria said: “Show the light so that others will follow”. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had shown the light against all temptations for him not to handover in 2007. I can tell you that he faced pressure from within and outside the country not to handover, but he resisted the pressure and handed over to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 and former President Goodluck Jonathan also handed over to President Buhari. So, fuel scarcity won’t hinder the INEC from conducting the forthcoming election. Nobody has a reason not to go if his tenure expires and it is expected that the president will also handover on May 29. And nobody will want a transition government. Certainly, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu will indeed replicate what they did in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states in this year’s general elections.