Barrister Nkechi Chukwueke, a frontline activist, served as Special Assistant to ex-Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State on Women, Ethnic Groups, Mobilisation and Empowerment. The All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain spoke to Ejikeme Omenazu on her stand on some crucial issues of governance, including the anti-graft crusade, the need for more women in governance and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Since when you were part of the government in Lagos, what has changed in the state?
I will say that much has changed. Lagos government is a continuity built on solid foundation. It is a continuity from Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Babatunde Fashola and then to the incumbent governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. So, it is a government of continuity. Individuals and their methods of doing things may differ but they have a major goal, which is to ensure that Lagos remains the ‘Centre of Excellence’. But the way and manner of different governors to do so may differ. This administration is still very young. We may later assess the level of change that has taken place. Honestly, I do not think that Governor Ambode will perform less than his predecessors. There is an adage that says ‘children are expected to do more than their parents’.
Would you say that the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the centre under President Muhammadu Buhari is living up to expectation?
Let us remember This government has a four-year term I don’t think it will be wise to start assessing a government which has not spent one year out of four years in office. So far, it may not be what people are expecting but in two years, people will see a landmark. Some people are in a hurry to see Buhari do a miracle after the whole damage that was done by the past administration. So, they have been assessing him from day one. So far, so good, things are being put in place. We must give him time. Things are done step by step. Things may seem slow, but a lot is being done underground. In my opinion, I believe the president doing well.
With specific reference to the anti-graft war, do you think the government is going about it in the right way? What is your perspective on the claim of the opposition that it is one-sided?
I don’t know what they mean by being one-sided. Hasn’t any APC member been summoned? If so, I don’t see how it is one-sided. Besides, you can only probe someone that has been entrusted with an office. You cannot query someone who has not occupied an office or an assignment. If someone has been assigned to manage an account or parastatal, if he does not perform, you ask questions. PDP had been in power for 16 years. If things are wrong, it is right you query them by asking certain questions. Are you going to probe a minister who has just been given office? Let us wait until they finish their term, then you probe them. If someone’s performance is below 40 per cent, you ask questions and seek explanation.
The President recently announced that Nigeria has joined the Coalition of Islamic Countries Against Terror. What does the country stand to gain by this action?
Like the name goes, Nigeria has been seeking support from other nations to fight terror. The only thing is that they are Muslims. But they are human beings. They have been experiencing terror. The only thing is that we want a solution to the mess we found ourselves. Terrorism has come and it is about to stay. If there is anyone who can help, we need them. We need them in terms of intelligence. We need them in terms of equipment. I don’t want to attach sentiments into it.
What are the likely risks of becoming a member of the Coalition? Don’t you think it will expose the country to the dangers of attacks by ISIS?
Life is all about risks. You put it in a scale and see which favours you. Once you have made your choice, you leave your fate to God and allow nature to take its course. If we are are at advantage joining this group to fight and eradicate terror, it is a welcome idea. There is no evidence or warning on consequences of joining the coalition. Although, I am not a security expert, we know what security is all about. If someone wants to attack you even at your house, you resist. Attack can also be a form of resistance. Nigeria has tried many things to get support. If this does not work out well, we can back out. The ISIS has not warned Nigeria yet of any consequences of joining the coalition. President Buhari is an ex-military officer and a Muslim. I do not think he will put the life of over 170 million Nigerians at risk, except probably to put his name on a mark that this issue is resolved in his regime.
With reference to the recent Rivers Rerun, the Bayelsa governorship and Kogi governorship election, would you say the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the new Chairman and as presently constituted can conduct free, fair and credible elections in the country?
The next election is three years from now. Let us wait till then. INEC is not one person, but a body of many people. It is good for them to do something proper. Once they declare some elections inconclusive, it is because they want to do something properly to avoid more crisis. You cannot judge them with the few elections they have conducted. If the previous National Chairman and his team could do it, why can’t the current one do it? The current chairman is tested and grew from the office. So, he knows the implications. No one wants to be shown in a bad light. We should not judge based on what happened in these few elections.
As a female politician and APC chieftain, would you say that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been fair to the women in terms of appointments?
Fairness is relative. I can only say that women are still asking for more, they are seeking more relevance than to be seen. Yes, we have few of them in the cabinet. The percentage is not fair enough. Appointments are still on-going. We have spaces in agencies and parastatals. Women are better managers and can do better in any position and office. I want more women in office to support Mr. President. He means well for Nigeria. I can read his heart and actions. He, as president, means well for this country. But he needs people to work with him, people of like minds. We need more women in the government of President Buhari so that his good intention will be a reality and Nigerians can smile.
With the rising cost of living and the nation’s poor economic situation, what is your advice to the suffering Nigerian masses?
People should be self-reliant, independent. People should work hard. But they should be patient. They should look less at government, be relevant. Nigeria is a blessed country. Nigerians are blessed with talents. Look at the fashion industry, the movies, theatre, even in agriculture. God is wonderful. He gave us wonderful climate and nature. We do not experience calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis. It is just thinking of what you can do. It can be catering, hairdressing, etc. People do not have to be graduates to succeed. They can have vocational jobs. Artisans can succeed. Whatever you can do well, you will succeed. Reflect and see what you can do better; be an employer of labour. Assist others as well. We all cannot be working in offices. I pray for Nigeria to grow from strength to strength.
Although you play your politics in Lagos, you are from South East. So, how do you see the resurgence of the Biafran agitation?
I do not know what they mean that the government does not favour Ndigbo. During President Jonathan’s time, were they complaining like this? Government cannot give appointment to everybody even though they are expected to impact on the people. It is right for Ndigbo to be part of government. I cannot say much about the Biafran war, but it is not a story that should repeat itself. There are proper channels to trash out issues. The president has a listening ear. He can set up committees to handle issues. I am proud to be Igbo from Isikwuato. Ndigbo has not recovered what they lost in the last war and now they are crying for another war. People have right to be aggrieved. But they should channel their grievances properly, not by going out to cause confusion and destroy things. If you burn Onitsha market or destroy the Niger Bridge, you are doing yourself. Ndigbo are talented people and not destroyers. No one should be thinking of Biafra now to the extent of going to the streets to actualise it. As I said earlier, the president can set up a committee to trash out any issue. There is no need of any war. On the issue of ministerial appointments, Ministers come and ministers go. There are always reshuffles and changes. If our people are not there now, they will be there in future. According to the constitution, each state has a minister in the cabinet, whether a Minister or Minister of State. Board appointments are coming. I am a politician. I worked hard for APC both at the local, state and national level during the last elections but you can’t see me making noise about it even though I am qualified for appointment. But, I don’t like how people are judging this government from day one. I want South East to be better. I come from there, but I am a Nigerian first. If you do not get appointment today, you can get it tomorrow.
As an Igbo politician, how do you see the politics in the South East geo-political zone?
Igbo politicians have not done well. It is not that we do not have a leader or who to speak for them. But, the problem is the poor management by those who had led and are leading the people . For example, I doff my hat for Asiwaju Tinubu. I respect him so much for leaving a legacy. He has done so much for his people. He has made men and women. His impact is everywhere. He is a true leader. If we have one or two persons like that from the East, we will be better off. But, in South East, who is like that? They are selfish, self-centred. You cannot have all the positions at once. Power and respect are earned. We should learn much in politics. We are not good in politicking. That is how I see South East politics. That is my opinion.