The South East Where People’s votes never counted –Gen JOJ Okoloagu

General JOJ Okoloagu retired from the military after serving the nation home and abroad for thirty-five years, he contested the Enugu North senatorial election in 2007. The retired General allegedly won the election but eventually lost out at the Court of Appeal. In this interview with journalists at his office in Abuja, Okoloagu, who is a member of BoT of the All Progressives Congress (APC) bare his mind on the nation’s security, INEC under Prof. Jegga, what he observed as corruption in the judiciary, 2015 general election and many other issues of national importance.

EXCERPTS:

What is your assessment of the nation’s security?

I am not comfortable with the situation and I wouldn’t say in all honesty that the government has done enough even though they are trying now. What worries me most is the tendency to politicize the issue of security, I am in opposition but I don’t like the idea of political parties challenging one another on sensitive security matters. A con man who called himself Stephen Davies, a person of un-known identity claimed he is working for Mr President and to that extent APC is very correct to pin the man’s excesses on the president. A situation where a sane person will accuse somebody that commands the security forces fighting an enemy as being a sponsor of the enemy just doesn’t sound normal, from the security point of view, I am talking as a soldier, I gave thirty five years of my youthful life to this job, we don’t have anything to show for it but at the time we were there, we were comfortable, the system has forgotten us, it is so bad now that my pension is not even enough to feed me. This will however not make one lose expectation of a security outfit.

Nigerians are taking the freedom of information too far, I was very disappointed with some national dailies where we read about a person of unknown identity occupying prominent position in front pages and then two days later Nigeria soldiers escaped to Cameroon, let me put it bluntly here, I fought in the civil war and even outside the country, the white boys desert even from positions when the heat is too much for them. They run, the natural instinct of survival is to get to safety. The only question in the military panache is, your attempt to survive was it based on bravery or bravery. When a soldier desert on the grounds of the later, he is court-marshalled. But assuming that you run into an ambush, when you strike that ambush, the natural tendency is to dispatch and find your level. In that process, you can run out of your (AOR) area of responsibility. So for the media to have made headlines that the Nigeria troops escaped to Cameroon is hurting, it is the highest form of ingratitude the tax payers can show to the people the tax is used to maintain.

The way we use freedom of information here gives an impression that we use it to ridicule ourselves. Don’t we have national pride, when I was kidnapped and my driver killed, I shot the leader of the gang and escaped. I did not just stand there and in that process, I can find myself anywhere. When you journalists sit down in Lagos and Abuja to write about operations when you are not there. It is disservice to the nation. The media should try to encourage the military to finish it’s job and on the part of the government I make bold to say that the government must arm our forces appropriately, when you confront an enemy that is better equipped than you, the natural tendency is to withdraw. Someone carrying Mark4 can not effectively battle someone with AK47 The government should take responsibility for the embarrassment we are suffering in the hands of boko-haram. They had the opportunity to end it but they did not. What do you say of a government that started by denying the existence of insurgents when three hundred people were taken away. Nigeria is the only place you commit all manner of crimes in the name of the president and go scot-free that is why it is possible for a white man to come here and lie and say that the former Chief of Army Staff sponsored boko-haram. It was under the same CAS that the insurgents had its greatest waterloo .

Can you compare the military of today to that of your era?

Sir, let me tell you one thing, the society is dynamic, it keeps changing, the comfort the military have now was not there in our own time, and the comfort we enjoy was not there for our fore runners. And a man’s desire to to live to a large extent depend on some dynamics, that is why you see America so advanced that they use the drones instead of risking the lives of her army flying aircraft to the enemy zone. I think from that perspective you must understand that there is no way you can compare the soldiers of our time with those of today, there is absolutely no basis for comparison, technology changes. If we want the soldiers to perform optimally, the government must also change with those dynamics and get the boys empowered in terms of the state of the art arms and ammunition. The drones should be considered unfortunately I may not be able to analyze that because I have remain an infantry all my life.

How will you assess the law makers in the South-East?

You see, it is never good to make a sweeping statement. There are those that have done very well and there are those who are to make money. I want to say too that it is not good to call names but I think I can say that in Enugu North Senatorial Zone, I ve not seen any impact of my representative in the National Assembly. There are some zones even in parts of South-East where you see their senators calling town hall meetings, give empowerment materials to constituents, there is really no common yard stick to determine if they have done well or not. It is on individual basis and I think every lawmaker should be treated on his or her own merit. Some have done so well and some so very poorly . My problem with politics and politicians in the South-East is that they fabricate and write results, now we are hoping that things will change in this regard. That is why some of us wont want to try again. If you don’t have money, you don’t have the police, we are in opposition but if what INEC has done far in Ekiti and Osun state now we are looking toward Adamawa, then, I think some of us are encouraged to try again because it means that the people’s vote will count. People’s vote never counted in the South-East and that why no matter whatever level, they don’t owe the people any explanation and they know that as long as they are doing their regular returns to the few godfathers, that write the results, they will always have their way. This is the time for the people to challenge the status quo in the South-East. I have tremendous respect for the Deputy Senate President, he is in PDP, I am in APC but you see that young man has acquitted himself not just in the South-East but nationally and internationally as somebody representing his people. So to that extent I am proud of that man. I recognize what Rt Hon Ike Ekweremadu has done, for his age and exposure. In fact he has written his name in gold

Why do you aspire to represent your people in the senate?

You see in 2007 when I made up my mind to contest for senate and I did, I won that election. I only lost at the Court of Appeal because my party then the AC did not want to bring money for the legal battle, the corruption in the Nigeria judiciary is such I wont even say was such that with the kind of evidence I had then, it is unbelievable that the judiciary can descend to that abysmal level. But things have changed, we now have APC, which covers all the tribes. APC now has a greater mix of Nigerians and it will be difficult for anybody to trample on us. My people are fully aware of my mission in politics, I am not in politics to look for food, I have a very good house in Abuja, Enugu and even at Ukehe my home town, I have a beautiful building there, the jeeps parked outside are mine, so when you have this kind of comfort, you should go and serve because my father is dead, my mother is dead, I buried them and none of them went with any material thing. The problem with Nigerians especially the Igbos is that we hardly appreciate that with all these grabbling tendencies, we will not go anywhere with any of those things after death. I have the drive, the motivation because I believe I can make a whole lot of difference. I did it when I was in the Army, there was a time when ninety percent of the people from my state or even from my area in the army hold it to my singular effort. I did not stop there, there are a lot of people I have put in the customs, immigration and police, my beneficiaries have become my testimonial I can show to anybody, good things endure for ever but nobody want to touch the bad. The issue is that when you help people to have food on their table, they will not forget you easily. Giving my contacts nationally and internationally, my people , the Nsukka people will benefit more with me being in the senate. I know the origin of their problems, we have doggedly fought for emancipation and emancipation is better appreciated with a measure of authority . I intend to help my people actualize Adada state which has been an issue since 70s then more importantly and more particularly, it gives me great pleasure when youths owe their existence to my effort not to me as an individual. It is still a miracle to me why I am alive , I ve shown you where a bullet hit me on the chest and I think I owe my survival to the prayers of people who have benefitted from me one way or the other. It is not entirely bravery.

What will you do differently if you make it to the senate?

What I will do differently are many, if I am elected by my people, I owe my victory to them, I will be accountable to them, those are two basic things lacking for now, whatever that is their right and privilege, I will fight for it, I will not say after all, they did not put me in there. I told you how I have been empowering people from my area . There was a time I begged Ayogu Eze to give job to somebody, he did not bulge. The greatest thing a politician will do for his people is to empower them, Nsukka people are terribly poor because our leaders don’t like empowering them. If you empower them, they wont come back to bother you they will rather want to give back to you in appreciation. I am talking from experience. Poverty is a malaise that cut across the entire area but if you can use your office to empower them, poverty level will reduce. I am not talking about sharing money. I am talking about systematic empowerment of the people which will make them stand on their feet.

How is APC faring in Enugu state?

What I can tell you outrightly is that we are going to contest every elective positions in 2015, we the have the quality men and women to do the job. I am not shy about that, Enugu state is an indigent state, people can only bluff and wish it away but it is there. We have the people but we don’t have the money. APC’s only challenge in Enugu state is logistics but we hope thing will change this time around now that we have a bigger broom. I want to use this opportunity to state that every claim of APC being a moslem party is a cheap blackmail by the PDP to gain the sympathy of the christians across the country. There is nothing in APC that suggest that . I hate the idea of importing blackmail into politics and I want to state categorically that our party will not present a moslem/moslem candidates during the 2015 presidential election. Our party is doing very well, checkout the states where APC is holding forth, Imo state has suddenly overtake other states in the South-East because of the APC wonderboy, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. APC has a wonderful template on governance based on our welfarist ideology.

Do you have confidence in INEC?

I must say that it is the recent behavior and activities of INEC that is encouraging me now to contest again, for the first time, their body language is indicating the fact that they want to conduct a free and fair election. The INEC under Prof Maurice Iwu was a thief INEC . Jegga is trying to redeem the image of INEC, the only place he has done extremely bad was the cancellation of the April 2, 2011 National Assembly election and he must as a matter of necessity clear air on this, the change that would have taken place that time is still elusive today because the opposition is not buoyant to finance an election twice. We hope Jegga will use 2015 general elections to prove his credibility to the whole world.

What is your reaction to the noisy activities of some NGOs urging Dr Goodluck Jonathan to seek a renewal of his mandate?

The TAN movement and others like it are organized campaign teams of the PDP, the transformation scavengers or what do they call themselves is a campaign body to beat the legal stipulation of when campaign should start, Nigerians have a way of circumventing any system. Those rallies are PDP campaigns. Let APC try that you will how hell will be let loose on us. Though their campaigns doesn’t really make any sense. I told you before, this is a country where people commit all manner of offense in the name of the president and the presidency because they know that the man will not talk. Why is Dr Jonathan not talking about the campaigns put together for him, I think he is guilty of conspiracy of silence by letting loose his attack dogs ahead of the 2015 elections.

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