Promoting Good Governance.

INTERVIEW: I have no words that can cure Buhari’s illness — Odinkalu [Part II]

CHIDI Odinkalu, a writer and Professor of Law, and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission has for several decades dedicated himself to advancing human rights and political accountability in Nigeria.

On Thursday, February 13, and in the company of The ICIR‘s Dayo Aiyetan, Ajibola Amzat, Yekeen Akinwale, and ‘Kunle Adebajo, Odinkalu bared his thoughts on trending issues in Nigeria.

In this final part, he speaks on the controversial subject of hate speech, the role of courts in settling electoral disputes and what should be their limits, President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to retain the security service chiefs, the emergence of Amotekun, the idea of Igbo presidency, and what he would tell Buhari if he were in a room with him.


The ICIR: You were former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and one of the key voices that fought against hate speech, but now you among those standing against the bill meant to control hate speech. How do you reconcile that?

Odinkalu: Because I don’t think the bill addresses what we need to do. Right now, we have enough laws against hate speech as it is. We have the Electoral Act, we have provisions on hate speech, we have the Penal Code, we have the Criminal Code, we have the Criminal Law of Lagos State, we have the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. All of them have provisions against hate speech at the moment. 

But they are not being implemented. Why? If you read the Babalakin Commission of Inquiry Report. The commission investigated FEDECO, that is the Federal Electoral Commission, in 1983. It was constituted by General Buhari in 1984, submitted its report in 1986 to General Babangida. And when you read the report, you will see that people who were arrested and supposedly to be prosecuted for hate speech in elections then were all set free on nolle prosequis issued by the Attorney General in the respective states where they were due to be persecuted. Why? Because their hate speech was profitable to the parties that were ruling in the respective states. It is the same thing today.

When you go on social media, the biggest sources of hate are agents of the Buhari Media Centre and APC. Between November and the beginning of January, I either shut down or got Twitter to intervene with at least eight handles, eight BMC handles, all of them pursuing hate and threatening violence. But the government is not going to prosecute them because they are useful handles for the purposes of what they do. And, by the way, in 2011 after the post-election violence in Kaduna, the then President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Sheikh Lemu Panel of Inquiry into the post-election violence. Sheikh Lemu said the biggest sources of hate were politicians who were at elections preaching hate. There is no law that empowers politicians to preach hate. There is every law that says if they do that you can prosecute them, but politicians don’t prosecute themselves.

Why do you want to prosecute citizens who are saying something you don’t like? Because the politicians are giving bad examples, citizens follow along. If you have positive examples from politicians, citizens will copy.

Three, the biggest cure for bad speech is more speech. When you go on social media, for instance, you will notice that when people do terrible things, other people will call them out and by piling in on you, they shame you into behaving properly. That is the biggest enforcement mechanism. It is not being sent to jail. As we are having this conversation today, Agba Jalingo in Calabar has just made bail, after 175 days in detention for a crime he did not commit because he said something a governor did not like – account for money meant for a community bank.

And the same thing goes on around the country. I mean we are in this room with a young man who was rusticated from a university for saying something the university authorities did not like.

Who wants to be in the position of being chased around by people who do not like him? In 2015, all we did at the Human Rights Commission was we went after hate speech with the hashtag #NoHateSpeechNG and we recruited influencers and persuaded them. So they helped us track as much as possible what was going on social media. And then they brought things to our attention and we made a determination as to whether or not it crossed the threshold of hate and dangerous speech. And if it did, all we did was went to that post and we commented on it, #NoHateSpeechNG. People piled in on it; we used that to clamp down on hate speech. We were not asking for anybody to be sent to jail.

And it seems to me there are very low-intensity mechanisms by which government can address the problem of hate speech, but the reason people are afraid and rightly so about this bill is that it doesn’t address hate speech but rather is to be addressed at controlling social media, controlling mechanisms of expression that the government just finds too difficult and not under its hold.

The ICIR: That is exactly what bothers most people. It is not just about hate speech and social media but seemingly increasing intolerance on the part of government. And the courts are not helping matters, bails are being delayed. Within the context of what is happening, how does the ordinary citizen have any confidence in the judiciary or legislature, which all appear to be in the hands of one person?

Odinkalu: Precisely the point. I dare to say this is not an APC/PDP issue, it is not just the federal government; everybody is doing it. The federal government is intolerant, state governors are intolerant, APC governors are intolerant, PDP governors are intolerant. It is a culture of powerful people oppressing people who are below them and vulnerable people with appearances of whatever it is they are controlling in the state. And you can see, in the case of IG Wala, who was sent to jail for seven years for making some allegations about the chairman of the Pilgrims’ Welfare Board of the Hajj Commission. If you read the judgment in the case, you will weep for the judiciary. Yes, you will weep for the judiciary. The point I am making is this is not about the party affiliation, it is just that people believe power is there to be used to destroy those who don’t have access to it.

I don’t think the framework is there at the moment for trust between citizens and the state. People want to as much as possible avoid the state or avoid having anything to do with it, whether you are a powerful media house or a lowly citizen, it is the same thing.

And as long as we are in that situation, Nigeria is going to have difficulties being able to generate the kind of followership from the citizenship to propel a state that can compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century.

The ICIR: That takes us to the way police have handled protests in recent times. We have had cases of the police using live bullets against protesters and have recorded quite a number of deaths. It seems the government is more reckless in the violation of human rights. There is also the violation of court orders for the release of Ibrahim Zakzaky. Is there still hope for this government? We still have about three years to go.

Odinkalu: If we lose hope, that means we are all in trouble because then there is no other reason to live. Hope may not necessarily come from the government but we have got to believe that it is going to be possible to survive even this administration.

In 1995-97, a lot of Nigerians were losing hope and then all of a sudden we discovered hope, Abacha was gone and democracy – at least elective government – arrived. Then the politicians went their way and we are where we are. But the one thing I believe is we can’t lose hope and I am sure you are doing what you are doing partly as a project of hope.

Your [The ICIR] stories are not tangible, it is not as if we can hold your reports and shout eureka, yet your stories contribute to a tapestry that hopefully should inject citizens with an idea that a better tomorrow is possible and that is all that we can do.

And again to be fair, some people in the administration, within the public service, try. Through his own experience with intolerant neighbours, I think Yemi Osinbanjo has not done too terribly in terms of projecting the message of hope in quiet ways. Obviously being vice president is the most difficult job in the country right now and as vice president also you cannot upstage your principal, you have to be careful about optics of upstaging your principal.

But within the constraints of the office, now and again he does things that suggest he gets the message and he understands how it is about trying to do your best to project hope and be able to leverage on that for things that are bigger. And that’s why you can really ask for of people who are in public service. I talked about Governor Zulum and I talked about Governor Fashola. So, now and again you find some people who are making that effort, we need many more of those. But, and I think I have to say this, part of our problem is the judiciary and the uncertainties that the judiciary is bringing into the process which increasingly may be contributing to destroying people’s beliefs in the idea of elective government.

Today we are hearing that the Supreme Court has just decided that David Lyon in Bayelsa cannot be sworn in tomorrow. In Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, who quite clearly won the elections, unquestionably won the elections, has also of a sudden been struck down as governor.

In Zamfara, again you had an outcome, elections were done, and then the Supreme Court said  … My view quite honestly is that it is not up to judges to decide who wins or loses elections. And you can see what is happening. Politicians no longer celebrate the declarations that come from elections. They wait until the tribunal, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court have ruled, and that is when they start celebrating. That is just destructive.

Of course, we are responding to a reality that INEC has not been the kind of independent umpire that we expect, but democracy never promised magic. It promised that you will make mistakes, you will stumble, you will learn. So you don’t have to have a linear graph of progress. You have reversals.

Now, what is happening here is that the Supreme Court – of all courts, not even the trial courts – is introducing tremendous uncertainties into the picture. As I said, my view is that the Supreme Court can in fact strike out an election but the right to institute a government cannot be the decision of a majority of two judges out of three or three judges out of five or four judges out of seven.

And you can end up in a situation in which four judges from states totally unrelated to any part of the country where the issues are sit down and decide what happens in a state. Who is the panel that decided the Ihedioha case? A judge from Lagos, another judge from Zamfara, another judge from Niger. They connect one, two and decide who wins. That is the system and that’s wrong. I frankly believe that is wrong.

Let them strike down the elections and tell the people to go back, under these conditions, go back and conduct fresh elections. “INEC, you do it right this time.” It seems to me that is the remedy. Not you go and conjecture numbers that are manufactured and then you go and decide.

Another point is the inconsistency in the composition of the panels. Now for the presidential election panel, Mrs Odili could not sit, her husband is a former governor of Rivers State and his party affiliations are known. Justice Kekere-Ekun could not sit, again I suspect because of her family, marital links because this was a contest between the PDP and APC. At the Court of Appeal public pressure made sure that Justice Bukachiwa could not sit because of her marital links. Today, David Lyon has been sacked. Who was the presiding Justice of the Supreme Court in the case? Mrs Odili. Now, Emeka Ihedioha was sacked. Who read the judgment in that case? Justice Kekere-Ekun. There is no consistency and the optics don’t look good for the judiciary, it seems to me.

And when the people lose faith or are made to begin to question decisions of the judiciary for reasons other than legitimate disagreement, there is a problem. I don’t want to cast aspersions on any judiciary officer because I don’t have the material but I do think that the optics can be very bad for the Nigerian judiciary.

The ICIR: Staying on the topic of elections, many people are worried, looking at what happened in the last elections in Kogi and Bayelsa. People are not only losing confidence in the court but in the electoral process. It then means that the next elections will come and people will do anything to get into office.

Odinkalu: But that is the jurisprudence that has been manufactured by the Supreme Court. The jurisprudence coming out of the Supreme Court on elections is terrible. It basically licenses anything. You can get votes through a barrel of gun and that’s fine. But it goes further. With the judgment in Osun, you can actually go and get kidnappers or anything to lock in a judge and make sure he doesn’t go to court on a day and any judgment procured is gone, the proceedings of the tribunal can be gone. It totally endangers the system. I don’t think that the degree of contemplation required for that level of decision-making exists, which is why increasingly my view is that serving judges should not get involved in election petitions.

We have enough retired judges to take care of election petitions at the highest levels — presidential, governorship. Can we assign that to retired judges? What you will have is it saves time for judges to do their regular work and the incentives to over-monetise the system may well be reduced. I don’t know whether they will be completely reduced but it may well be possible to reduce those incentives.

The ICIR: In your own case in court instituted by former Rivers governor Peter Odili, you said the system that produced the judgment isn’t fair enough but you are appealing. Against the background that you don’t believe in the integrity of the judiciary, how hopeful are you?

Odinkalu: The case is still in court and my lawyers are handling that. The system must be allowed to correct itself. You have got to allow for the possibility that the system will correct itself. That is the reason why there are appeals. By design, the judicial system recognises that human errors do happen and for the possibility that it can correct itself. And even the Supreme Court can review its decisions. 

Governor Ihedioha is before the Supreme Court now with an application for the court to review itself; let’s see what happens. And I do genuinely believe that it is important to allow the system to correct itself before we reach our conclusions.

I invested in that process with everything I have. Let us allow the judicial process to work its way and then we will see what happens.

The ICIR: The Obama administration refused to give arms and ammunitions to Nigeria and one of the reasons they say is that we were decertified under the US Leahy Law. Now, the Trump administration is giving arms and ammunition to Nigeria and we know that a whole lot of them will find their way into the hands of Boko Haram. So, will the American government, in this case, be held culpable?

Odinkalu: I don’t know. I don’t know the contracts under which these supplies have taken place, so I don’t want to make conclusions about dispositions I’m not totally informed about. It is also the case that strictly speaking, under the US law, where you can trace causation between the US jurisdiction and violations of human dignity that happened outside the US jurisdiction, with instrumentality that is traceable back to the US jurisdiction, then you can establish liability. So if ammunition suppliers in the United States supply ammunitions that ultimately end up in the hands of Boko Haram without adequate safeguards, which are then used to violate the peace of people, say a violation of human rights, then it seems to me that’s it’s possible to trace that back to the United States and hold them for liability. But we will deal with that when we get to that. 

When you look at the numbers of security personnel killed, in nearly every situation, their weapons are collected by the people who kill them. We have had a lot of military bases destroyed in Borno and all their ammunitions were confiscated, seized, and taken over by Boko Haram or alleged Boko Haram elements. That’s a huge factor in the rearmament of Boko Haram.

So, that’s not to be ruled out. I don’t think we have done enough to make sure that doesn’t happen and we are not into this largely because we can’t protect a whole territory. So we are depopulating rural and civil rural settlements and setting them up into mega camps around which we can set up protection mechanisms with military assets and all of that, concentrate them so that we don’t have to disburse them. That’s exactly what is happening now in the northeast, certainly in Borno state.

That says we are limited in terms of our assets credibility for the purposes of managing the insurgency and that also says, contrary to what the Chief of Army Staff has said in most of his recent interviews that this is a crisis to be won, it doesn’t have an end in sight.

The ICIR: Virtually everybody in Nigeria but the president thinks that the service chiefs should be changed because insecurity is worsening. Why wouldn’t the president change the service chiefs even though they have failed woefully?

Odinkalu: Because he is the only person whose vote counts. 

The ICIR: What is he protecting? 

Odinkalu: You have got to find out. You see, you have a situation in which, I believe CDS [the Chief of Defence Staff] is RC [Regular Course] 25 or 26, and all the service chiefs are between RC 25 and RC 29, and now there are only I believe three Generals who met the Chief of Army Staff in the Defence Academy. Not more than three. 

There is General Oyebade, who I believe is RC 32, and then we’ve got Adeosun, who is RC 33, and one other. These are the only Generals who met the Chief of Army Staff. The COAS is RC 29. Now, RC 30 is down, RC 31 down, RC 32 is pretty much finished, 33 does not have more than two people left, 34 gone. How do you achieve quality replacements? We think our problem is the battlefront but you also have to preserve career viability for officers, and not just one officer but for cohorts of officers, and which is why officers are identified by their Regular Course.

When you have a particular course cohort exterminated by effluxion of time without achieving career ambitions, it breeds resentment, and that’s what is happening with our armed forces as it is. And that is probably the biggest source of problems in the fight against the insurgency. Why because we have got service chiefs who are supposed to be there until the day after Armageddon. Well, Armageddon is coming and it’s already happening. 

The ICIR: Lately, there have been reports on human rights violations, extra-judicial killings. Some are of the opinion that there have been a lot of war crimes in Nigeria. And, so many people have invited the International Criminal Court (ICC). Do you subscribe to the ICC coming to investigate and establish those accusations?

Odinkalu: When I was chair of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), I made a lot of efforts to establish dialogue with the leadership of the security services, first with General Azazi, Colonel Dasuki, with Chris Ekpenyong at the SSS, and late Alex Badeh. There are a lot of things we were able to achieve, which I cannot mention, which I will not allow myself to discuss publicly. I remember my relationship with Badeh initially didn’t always work and I remember the last encounter we had before we unlocked think, I told him, you see, I respect your uniform but you don’t have a monopoly of patriotism. I’m Nigerian just as you are and, believe it or not, I love this country as much as you do. 

I told them, the work you guys have got to do is very difficult and many of us will not be able to do it. I don’t want under my watch as chairman of NHRC for any Nigerian soldier or general to be charged or indicted by the ICC. I don’t care what is involved, but that means you have also got to trust people like me to do the kinds of things we need to do so that if they look to charge anybody, you can we have effective national institutions and they have investigated and done their work.

I remember when we did the Apo killings investigations at the NHRC, there were a lot of threats, a lot of people abused me, and a lot of people threatened to kill me. Of course, we found that those people had been unlawfully killed and we awarded damages. What people didn’t notice is that that was the first time senior generals in the armed forces were testifying publicly before any civilian-led government body in Nigeria’s history. That was the first time we were having that kind of encounter. We went to SSS headquarters and we took confidential evidence. And what people didn’t know was that a lot of negotiations went into convening all of that.

There was something else they didn’t realise, which is what I tried explaining to them. People look at what we say and think it is bad, [but] think what we could have said. We could easily have said the officers who killed these people were criminals and should be prosecuted; we didn’t say that. We could have named particular officers and said they should be indicted, they should lose their ranks, but we didn’t say any of that. All we did was exonerate the people who had been called terrorists post-mortem and awarded damages. But what that meant was, by doing that, you inoculate Nigerian officers against foreign intervention and people don’t understand this about human rights. It is actually a way to elevate the moral and diplomatic authority and currency of the country.

They think you’re there to bring the country down, but it is the exact opposite when you do it right and when you do it with skill and authority. Like I said, there are things I just can’t say and until I die I won’t be able to say them but I have documents to back everything up. 

At a point, there were things I did with the service chiefs that no member of my governing council knew about but, at the end of the day, we’ve got to understand that we have only one country. And with good conscience and due regards to legality, there are ways and means, boundaries within which we can do things that would enhance the way we conduct this campaign now on insurgency, against terrorism, and insecurity. At the moment, that isn’t happening. Of course, it is not helping that the current regime has refused or failed or neglected to redesignate a new governing council for the NHRC since 2015 and so I am the last chair of the commission. I don’t think that’s right.

The ICIR: A lot of Nigerians are always saying that people who have ideas and can run this country much better than what we have now are always shy of power, and never want to get involved because of the nature of politics in Nigeria. Are you one of those who think that I could change a lot of things but I don’t want to get involved? Putting it differently, the means by which leadership emerges appear to be defective and maybe people like us think that the system would not allow us to get there. How can we fix that system so that it allows our best brains to get into political office?

Odinkalu: First of all, we don’t all have to be politicians. There is power in different areas of life and I think part of the Nigerian problem is thinking that the only way to attain the ultimate is politics, which is why our GCFR, which is Nigeria’s highest award, is reserved only for heads of states and presidents. There is only one non-former of head of state who has received GCFR and that was Obafemi Awolowo from Shagari 1981. 

Now, there’s no reason why the highest national award cannot go to someone who is not a politician. There is only one non-politician GCON and that’s Aliko Dangote. 

Now, to your larger question, in my state, to signify interest in governorship — primaries in a political party, you need to start your noise-making with about N150 million, just to start noise-making. 

By the time you get to primaries, you would have committed well over N500 million. That’s not even to win primaries. By the time you win primaries, you’re into billions and that’s not the real elections. Now the question is who has that kind of money? No self-respecting professional could possibly have that kind of money. Which means you either have to steal, or you have to have someone steal you and steal your ideas and steal your wellbeing and your livelihood. If that doesn’t happen, you don’t stand a chance. Which means if you then get that person buying you to put you forward, you don’t have a programme. It’s that person’s programme you would be running. Does it make sense then to run?

There are places where it has been different but it is at the tail end of compromise. For instance, Fashola in Lagos State. But you don’t know what he endured. It’s just that he was properly brought up, it seems to me. He had very good grounding and he bore a lot of what he endured with tremendous calm and dignity. But he is the exception. Where else in Nigeria has the relationship between godfather and godson worked out right? None. Absolutely none. That’s the problem. How many are willing to endure that kind of thing and to reach those kinds of Faustian bargains? I don’t think there are too many people. So, can we change that system? Well I have seen so many people who promised to go and change that system, none of them succeeded. 

You know, there are party managers and party owners, which is part of the why. The parties are not organised. They don’t have proper records. There is no proper record sheet of any party, it is in booklets. Now those booklets have holes in them and so if you pay a party manager, your name from not being in the book can become number seven because when the original list was written, numbers were skipped and all these holes need to be filled by people who pay money. 

But if you have proper, legal records, you begin to modernise the parties. Unless you modernise the parties to a point where membership isn’t beholden to this kind of cookery, I don’t think professionals can be chanced.

The ICIR: There are Nigerians who say the country cannot continue as one the way it is. There are people also who say that Amotekun has forced a conversation around restructuring. If politicians won’t allow us to restructure, then we will find our way around it. What are your views about the emergence of Amotekun and the whole conversation around the need for Nigeria to restructure? 

Odinkalu: Amotekun is exactly that. It is restructuring. But you see, it is also thoughtful. Why do I say it is thoughtful? There was a problem with state police, which I think people need to acknowledge. Most state governors who don’t have state police now are despots. So you give them state police now, nobody will go to their states. We recognise, of course, on the other hand, that centralising policing in a federation is problematic. So how do you balance those two things? Avoiding abuse or further abuse of policing resources on the one hand and on the other ensuring that we have the exercise of policing powers in a way that is effective in a federation. 

Amotekun responded to this by saying let us not make it a state proposition but a regional proposition. And in the region, it just happens that we have APC and PDP. So, in that context, Amotekun was thoughtful in addressing the tensions. A regional unit is less likely to be abused by one governor by the mechanisms of inter-state dialogue intra-regional control.

That, it seems to me, recognised the political realities and messiness of the compromises in a federation. Nigeria is over-centralised and unquestionably so. Most states are not viable without federal allocation but most states can develop and be able to grow their revenue if the leaderships are responsible.

Look at Imo State. It was doing under N300 million monthly in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) under Rochas Okorocha. Emeka Ihedioha was in power for about seven months. In those seven months, he raised the state’s IGR from between N300 and N350 million per month to about N1.1 billion. That sounds small in absolute terms but in relative times it is phenomenal. To the point where for the budget of this year before the Supreme Court passed its judgment, Imo State was projecting an annual IGR of about N30 to N36 billion from under N5 billion. That tells you something. It may sound ambitious but for Imo State’s human assets base, it is perfectly achievable.

This is the problem I have. The federal subventioning through allocation has made too many states rather comfortable in sharing the little money that they get and without trying the appropriate the assets potential of their respective states. And this is the challenge of the over-centralisation of the Nigerian federal system. When we talk about centralisation, we haven’t optimised our self-value. When you talk about this, a lot of people fret about it and part of the reason is they have not invested in the developing their people. Because when you invest in developing your people, you would not be afraid of unlocking your assets.

They would say, well, it is the south that is more developed but that’s not true. Absolutely not true. You are from the south and you have a Bank Verification Number (BVN), you are documented. But how much money do you have? How much assets do you have? Not a lot!

By contrast, you go to an Ardo, say, in Taraba State or Adamawa state. One Ardo who does not have a bank account, no BVN, no address, could have up to 800 cattle. That‘s a huge asset. But this Ardo, the chief of Fulani settlement, does not exist. He is not documented, he does not exist for any purposes but he has a voters card and doesn’t pay tax and we don’t see the person as able to pay tax because we look at him, he looks lean and he looks like he is withering but 800 cattle is a lot of money! It is a lot of tax revenue!

So part of our crisis of poor revenue is also a crisis of absence of civic inclusion, the fact that a lot of our citizens are not captured in our civic space, which is why many indices in Nigeria are hovering between 33 and 38 per cent. Broadband coverage is 37 per cent, bank coverage is about 35 per cent, and BVN coverage in that range, thirty-something per cent. That is the band everybody is chasing. What happens to all of the people who are outside it? Without broadening to those people, we can’t develop. We can’t optimise the potentials of the country. That is where Nigeria’s wealth is.

The ICIR: Professor, 2023 is coming. Do you have any fears like many of us have? Number two, many people are also talking about Igbo presidency. What are your views about that?

Odinkalu: 2023! Let’s survive 2020 yet and then 2021. Politicians are making their calculations, yes. But in terms of civics, at the end of the day you have to vote. Politicians will plot their ambitions about what they want to do, but the reality is there is a lot of uncertainty. It seems increasingly we are locked into a two-party system. There is now a ruling party APC and an opposition party PDP. They are both deeply flawed in many ways. We are in a process of flux and there is the possibility of realignment in many ways. Those are going to have to play themselves out, and part of playing themselves out on the basis of where the president is going to come from and what kind of president we are planning to have in 2023, I have my own suspicions about some of the things that could happen.

But responding specifically to the point about Igbo presidency, I think about it this way. It probably takes me back to where we started from. Every Nigerian, irrespective of where they come from and or what their ancestry is, has to be given a sense of belonging and that sense of belonging includes the sense that they can aspire to the highest country in the country within boundaries of law. I say within boundaries of law because the constitution precludes a Nigerian by naturalisation from aspiring for president. Unless we amend the constitution, that is what it is. So to run for presidency, you have to be a Nigerian either by birth or by descent. But within those boundaries, every Nigerian should be able to aspire.

One of the reasons the thing about Igbo presidency is arising is because people say some people have not be allowed to aspire legitimately to be the president. I find the nomenclature of the Igbo presidency a little troubling, I have to confess. Because if you become president, you are president of Ni-ge-ria. You have got to see the big country not the part that you come from.

My fear is that if you brand something as Yoruba president or Igbo president or Fulani president, you diminish the presidency. You have got to make sure you preserve the idea that this is a competition from different parts of Nigeria vying for the highest office in the land, which should have a sense of country. Secondly, you have got to preserve the idea that a certain quality of skill and person is required for that.

So, will I support a Rochas Okorocha who is Igbo and aspires to be president or a Theodore Orji who is Igbo and aspires for president just because we want an Igbo president? Of course, I can’t. So if you put up that kind of person and you put up any other person from any other part of Nigeria, I don’t yield to any balk in my Igbo identity but I will support that other person, and it is as simple as that.

So, I think we all have a responsibility to insist that our presidency has to elevate to a particular level of quality in people. It may not be the case now and that is part of the problem. We have got to keep insisting on that and if we continue to banalise as it as to be from that part rather than it has to be someone who can offer us that kind of thing, then we will keep ending up where we are.

I am not saying the two are necessarily incompatible, that is not my point. But I am not going to get an Igbo president at the expense of getting a good president. If it is a choice any day between a president from a particular part and a president who can take us somewhere, I will… because nation-building is a forward-looking project. It is not about where you come from; it is more importantly about where but you can take us. That is the issue.

We have not had that so far. Maybe, Obasanjo had a pan-Nigerian outlook. I am not one of his greatest admirers but I will give him that. Yar’adua may have been provincial in his origin but he was a Lagos boy and his biggest achievement was the Niger Delta. That shows someone who understood the country.

I do think we have to continue to look for that kind of person, somebody who can transcend where they come from. If the person is Igbo let’s support the person, but let us not bring out a crook and all go behind a person just because of where they come from. That I cannot buy at all.

The ICIR: If you had a few minutes with President Muhammadu Buhari, what would you want to talk to him about? What would you tell him?

Odinkalu: Nothing! Quite frankly, nothing. 

The ICIR: Why? You don’t want to dignify him with your perspectives? Why would you have such an opportunity and not make use of it?

Odinkalu: Look, this is a man who has run for the presidency as a soldier and run for the presidency as a retired soldier not once, not twice, not three times, but four times; and then reelected to the presidency. If he doesn’t know what to do, I will not waste my words or time — It is as simple as that. What am I going to tell him? So why was he running for the thing so much in the first place?

You see, I think we have to be humble enough to understand the limits of our place and, for me, not telling him anything is understanding the limits of my place.

If the man consistently since he was 40 years old as a soldier in the prime of his youth has been running for this thing and this is all he can deliver, I have no words that can cure his illness. You can quote me as I have just said it. Absolutely nothing!

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