FIRST Republic Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amechi will be celebrated in Owerri, the Imo State capital, at the end of this month to commemorate his 90th birthday. The elder statesman spoke to Sunday Sun on some issues, including the Igbo and 2023 presidency; and his relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
After the 1966 coup; your movement was restricted. What actually happened?
The military governor, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu instead of doing what other military governors did, consulting their leaders even though they’ve been castrated as politicians, did one thing here, he sent M.I. Okpara, Dr Mbanugo to prison detention; served a restriction order on Nnamdi Azikiwe, restricting him to 10 miles radius to Nsukka where he lived, he served a restriction order on Mbazulike Amechi, restricting me to 10 miles radius from my house. I served that order, but I have to tell you, I broke that order on one occasion. Ojukwu and myself, we met in Lagos, he challenged me; I told him why. What happened was that on a certain date, Mrs Okpara came to my house crying, I asked her, she said Ojukwu was going to charge my husband to court for stealing 25,000 pounds security money, she said this was security vote in cash at Okpara’s office at the time of the coup. When the coup happened, Dr Okpara took the money and deposited it in First Bank not in his name, but for safety there. I said is that all, but you know me and what I can do; go back nothing will happen. I went to Ojukwu House in Enugu, he was in office; where he was living is where you have the Orthopaedic Hospital now in Enugu. I spent from morning till evening, Mojekwu and Onyeabor Obi, these were his close relatives who were around; they made it impossible for me to see Ojukwu. So, I went back to my friend and colleague C. C. Onoh, I said this is what is happening, I went back again and stayed there till 11:00p.m and they did not let me see Ojukwu. Then, I went back to town, I went to Onoh and we agreed that we should keep watching, that any day they’re bringing Okpara to court, C. C. (Onoh) will arrange and wire the court with explosives from the Colliery. Don’t forget C.C. was chairman of Coal Corporation. He will wire the court and if they saw the lorry ahead, bringing in Dr. Okpara into the court, they should blow up the court with the magistrate and with everybody inside. But meantime, I should go to Lagos and talk to Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu, Emeka’s father. I said okay and the following morning, I flew to Lagos and went to his father at Ikoyi and said this is what is happening. He said; how can Emeka do a thing like that; to charge Okpara to court for stealing 25,000 pounds. So, he picked up his telephone, but that time, when you want to call, the operator will ask you the number please and you tell the operator the number you are asking for and they will get you the number. So, the operator said that they were down on Enugu lines. They couldn’t reach Enugu. He tried and tried and tried, no way. So, I said, give me the phone and he gave me the phone. I dialled. He said Oga, we’ve been trying. I said, if you can’t get Enugu, give me that number now on the other line. He said may I know who you are sir? I said; you don’t have to know who I am. I said give it to me on the other line. So, the line rang. What happened was that, that was a security line. It will never be out. The Prime Minister had access to it. Some ministers had access to it. I happened to know about it when I was a minister and the operator asked me who I am and I didn’t give him an identity. So, the number rang and Ojukwu answered at Enugu. Then I gave the phone to his father. His father said Emeka, I didn’t know what Ojukwu said, but he spoke in Igbo, Onwere ife m n’acho I gwa gi. Banye plane biawa Lagos kitaa (There’s something that I want to tell you. Enter the plane immediately and come to Lagos) and the father dropped the phone. So, the following day, Emeka arrived and we met at his father’s place. Then when Emeka saw me, he said, ah, Alhaji. That’s what we used to call ourselves. He said Alhaji, you are supposed to be on restriction within 10 miles radius of your house. I said yes, didn’t you do Geography? I’m from Ukpor, your papa is from Nnewi and his house from my house is five miles. What are you talking? Then the father said, you don’t do a thing like that. You are trying Okpara? Don’t try it again. Don’t ever think of such a thing again. So, there, I took the phone and phoned C. C. Onoh at Enugu and said, Bushman, that’s what I called Onoh. Bushman, he said, yes, Foolish man; tell the mechanic not to bother again, that the electrician has repaired the vehicle. That was how the whole thing ended and I saved Okpara that embarrassment.
People say that military incursion in politics was Nigeria’s major problem; but why is it so difficult to get back on track after 20 years of uninterrupted democracy?
Yes, we have shifted from military government to democracy. Have you shifted from military uniform or are you talking of military person because the last 20 years that you are talking about, has been the 20 years of Obasanjo, Abubakar and Buhari. Obasanjo has ruled in military and ruled in civilian. Buhari has ruled in military and he is ruling as civilian. Where is the democracy there? Democracy, is it in the dress he changed? Obasanjo ruled wearing khaki as a soldier, Obasanjo ruled wearing agbada as a civilian. It is the same Obasanjo. Buhari ruled having overthrown a democratically elected government. Obasanjo did not overthrow any government. Circumstances brought Obasanjo into government. Murtala Muhammed died and they had no choice than to make Obasanjo the head of state and immediately Obasanjo came in there, he decided to make arrangement to hand over government. So, Obasanjo cannot be described as a coup maker, but Buhari is a coup maker. He overthrew the Shagari government in 1983, now he is ruling from 1983. It is the same Buhari. The difference is the dress he wore in 1983 and the one he is wearing now, but it is the same dictator. It is the same man who hates democracy, who cannot understand the language of democracy, who cannot speak the language of democracy. Can’t you see it clearly?
Whose fault? We say we are in democracy, but we still bring them in.
Who brings them in? When you talk of we, who are the we, me and you? When we were fighting for independence, we called you (the press) the 4th estate of government. You were fighting side by side with us. In those days, journalists like you jump into the back of lorries, gwongworo, they jump at the back to go and cover news. Now, you have to dance to the tune of the owner and founder.
Your relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo has endured. What is the attraction?
Obasanjo was a military man and when he came into politics, he became a good politician. He played his politics well and I met him only as a politician. What happened was, I think in some way, there’s a way he understands things. For example, about April or so last year, I had occasion to talk with him. When he said that he was mobilizing to form a political party, an association or something, I said look, if you must overthrow this people, you must work together with the PDP; you can’t succeed alone. The PDP can’t alone. But he said, I’ve already left the PDP and I tore their membership card. I’m not going to have anything to do with the PDP. I said yes, but you can still reconcile. I can still reconcile you and the PDP people and you come together. Then he said, well, I recognize you as a father of this country. If you invite me to come to your place for any meeting, to meet with the PDP people, I will come and that was what brought them together here on June 16th last year. So, he came here with the leaders of the PDP, with leaders of some other political parties; Kwankwanso from Kano, Ihedioha, Tambuwal from Sokoto, the present Governor of Sokoto; they all came here in this my Obi here. We talked and talked and talked and they all agreed that they should come together and that they should now go back and plan to withdraw from the APC. It was here in my Obi that, that arrangement was effected…
The Southeast seems totally excluded in the present government. You’ve practiced parliamentary democracy, you’ve witnessed presidential democracy. Is there a place for what is happening in the country now in a democracy?
That is why I said that the Southeast is not being marginalized, but being treated as a slave. That’s what I said. In what other way will they show you that? They don’t regard you as part of them. They’re treating the Southeast as a slave, but the Southeast can change that position and assume a position where they will come on the throne and rule and be the head of this country in 2023. I can organize that. I’m not boasting. I know the last word Dr Azikiwe spoke before he stopped breathing on this earth, when he talked to me and when he handed me the golden key.
So you have the key?
Of course, yes.
And you don’t want to say the word yet?
I have forgotten (laughs). You know old age. I’m old now (laughs), but all I know, it’s not by my power, but by divine grace. I have the answer to Igbo occupying Aso Rock in 2023. Let those who want to believe it, believe it. Those who don’t want to believe it; let them not believe it. God who has left me alone in Nigeria, of all the nationalists in the country, of all the ministers that founded this country, of all the ministers that ruled this country at independence; all have died, except one man. God has His reason and purpose for doing that.
Is there any time the Igbo will be relevant again in national politics because as it were, Igbo politicians are relegated to the background and the people are saying that it was because Atiku Abubakar picked Peter Obi as his running mate that he lost the election; because the Northerners are afraid of an Igbo man coming very close?
Your question is; is there a time the Igbo will be or can be? Which auxiliary verb will I accept there? Will be? The next time they will be, I don’t know. If you say can be? I will say yes, they can be, but if you say will, I don’t know. Look, in a seminary, a senior seminary, a priest who is fond of smoking went to the superior of the seminary and said, excuse me Monsignor, can I smoke when I’m praying. He said, of course, you cannot smoke while you are praying. So, a very senior priest who was there who does pipe said, come here you foolish boy, turn that question the other way, turn it the other way. I said turn it the other way, can’t you understand? And he turned it and said Monsignor, can I pray when I’m smoking? He said, of course, you can pray (laughs).
What is the way out of all these mess we have found ourselves in?
I believe in one big country. I believe in Nigeria because what I fought for was Nigeria, because the political party which I belonged to had a slogan and policy of one Nigeria; and we demonstrated one Nigeria policy in everything we did. For example, Enugu the capital of the Eastern Region where my party, the NCNC ruled; elected a Mayor who was not from this part of the country, but from Northern region. Mallam Umaru Antine was elected Mayor of Enugu for two terms, even though he was not a native of this place. He was a Chairman of NCNC youth association. When the Zikist Movement was banned by the British Government after the Tom Jones lecture by Osita Agwuna, as we came out from prison we met and changed the name of the Zikist Movement to NCNC Youth Association and I was elected Secretary-General of that association. We also elected John Umoru from Esako in Edo State as a member of the Eastern House of Assembly even though he was not from Igbo land and in the House of Assembly, Dr Azikiwe, the Premier appointed him Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. We also elected Umaru Ushaw the Saraki Hausawa at Onitsha, that is Eze Hausa at Onitsha. We elected him a member of the Eastern Region House of Chiefs in those days. So, I believe in one big country, but certainly not in a country where my people will be treated as slaves, where they will be treated as irrelevant, where they will be treated as no persons, no. I will rather opt out. I don’t want to go out, but if Nigeria forces me out, I don’t have regrets because what we did to build it up, to build up Nigeria, we can still use it to build ourselves. Don’t forget that when the war ended, Awolowo for whom we made every sacrifice when he was in imprisoned by the Balewa Government, aided and advised Gowon to deprive every Igbo man and woman of his or her money and give us only 20 Pounds and every man you see in Igboland now, every wealth you see in Igboland now and Igbo investment outside is that 20 pounds. So, if we could succeed in those difficult days, if Christ will have to come again to save man, we will ask Christ to come and save us again because He has saved us before.