Chief Matthias Omeh is a chieftain of the APC. In 2015 he was appointed co-ordinator for the Buhari-Osinbajo Campaign Organisation in Enugu State. Besides serving as Commissioner for Agriculture and later Commissioner for Commerce and Industries in the state, Omeh was also between 2000 and 2004 Chairman, Governing Council of the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, aside being the founding President of the National Association of Micro Finance Banks of Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on the “rigid” style of Igbo politics which is causing them setback.
South easterners still allege that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government dislikes them. What is you take on this?
I don’t believe Buhari hates or dislikes Ndigbo. For instance, there is no senatorial district in Enugu State that Buhari’s administration has not touched with one good road or the other. In Nsukka Senatorial Zone, Enugu North, there is the Obollo-Afor-Ehamufu-Nkalagu Road which is now completed. If you go to Enugu West, particularly Aninri Local Government Area, you will see the roads spanning from Oji River to Aninri through Awgu. It’s a fantastic road, then the Enugu-Onitsha Road where the level of construction work going on is quite impressive. If you go there you will see what I am talking about. But I was disappointed when I encountered a PDP chieftain in Enugu State and he said that the Federal Government was wasting money there – that is, in doing the type of road they are building on the Enugu-Onitsha Highway. You need again to visit the Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway and see what is happening in the Enugu end of that road. The story is the same even in Nkanuland here in Nkanu East Local Government Area. The point I’m making here is that even though they were calling some of us Boko Haram in 2015, Enugu State does not regret Buhari being president of this country.
What exactly are you saying about the president?
Thank God, the assumption or accusation is made by a section of Igbo people. How can Buhari be an Igbo hater when in his first political outing, he made an Igboman, Chief Edwin Umezuoke, his running mate, yet the Igbo did not vote for him? The second time in 2003, Buhari made our son, Senator Chuba Okadigbo, his running mate, still we did not vote for him. It was only in his third outing that he tried the South West, he chose Pastor Tunde Bakare; he failed in that election, but he saw potentials. The second attempt he made in the South West, he succeeded with Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate. So, where is the hate people are accusing him of? Hate in what sense? When Buhari was the Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), we saw what he did on major roads in Enugu and in Igboland generally, and that was when he discovered Dora Akunyili (may her soul rest in paradise) and worked with her.
Go to Onitsha today and see the Second Niger Bridge that has been a campaign issue over the years. Buhari didn’t campaign seriously with it; but now he is doing it. So I don’t see the hate people allege, except if we want to reap from where we never sowed. As a matter of fact, Buhari is not an Igbo hater from all the examples I have cited.
You talked of the rigidity of Igbo leaders and their style of politics in Nigeria. How do you reconcile the rigidity with their not voting for Buhari two times even when he chose Umezeoke and Okadigbo as running mates?
I would say Ndigbo have not understood Nigerian politics. We also think that politics is just like the business of buying and selling where Ndigbo do well; that is individualistic. Unfortunately, politics is not like mere business of buying and selling. Politics involves people; it involves collective decision. Politics involves thinking for your people and planning for your people – short term, medium term and long term. But this is what the Igbo lack in their politics, especially since the passage of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his generation of Igbo political leaders.
Simply because we have succeeded as individuals in business, we also think that we can succeed as individuals in politics; no, politics doesn’t work that way. We have also failed to copy from the father of politics in Nigeria who incidentally came from the Igbo extraction, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who played politics of inclusion. Azikiwe was not exclusive in his style of politics; he played politics in the West and succeeded; he also played politics in the North and succeeded.
Actually, the Igbo man gained from Zik’s style of politics. But for the cross-carpet that took place immediately after independence, may be, that handshake across the Niger that we had been looking for, we would never have nursed that handshake because Zik entrenched his party, the NCNC in the West. But when he saw also that we needed, for nationalistic reasons, we needed Nigeria, and from his patriotic instinct, he also had an inroad in the North. And in the First Republic, NCNC worked with the party in the North – I think Northern Peoples Elements or Northern Peoples Congress.
What exactly was Zik’s style of politics?
Zik was flexible and not rigid; he had that political flexibility, manoeuvring and sagacity. He was playing sagacious politics where you look beyond yourself. He did it and succeeded. Even after the war, when he ran for the presidency under the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP); he came third after Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). But because of Zik’s love for the country, and to bring the Igbo man out of his immediate environment, Zik agreed and there was an alliance between the ruling NPN and the Igbo-dominated NPP. When we had that alliance, an Igbo man became the Speaker of the House of Representatives and an Igbo man was the vice president, and an Igbo man was even the minister for Abuja and so on.
Sadly, however, the Igbo man has failed to play that type of politics now. Ndigbo now plays politics of rigidity, politics of one-party system that has never worked well in this part of the country because of our socio-cultural diversity. The current leaders of Ndigbo lack flexibility in their style of politics; and this is working against our people. They lack diplomacy and they are too rigid. Again, our people don’t plan ahead. No Igbo politician now will be able to tell you this is where the Igbo man will be in five years’ time; politically. This is where we shall be in 10 years. Even the politics of 2023, we don’t have any plan for it. If we had plans, we would have known that we would not have voted – that even if Atiku Abubakar had won, it would not have been in the interest of Igbo aspiration for the presidency in 2023. But Ndigbo stuck to their gun to the extent that a socio-cultural organisation endorsed a candidate, and it was not a good political decision by our leaders.
What then is your advice to the Igbo; politics wise?
So, we have to change and I have been telling our people that we have to be more Nigerian than we think we are. We are not more Nigerian than others just because we live in every community in the country. We have to be more Nigerian than we think we are by integrating politically, by planning and reading the political barometre. We are everywhere but we failed to know where Nigerians are going in 2015 and we failed to know where Nigerians were going in 2019. Then what is the need of priding ourselves that we are everywhere?
So, I am calling on Ndigbo to have a change of mind; to accept whoever God has made the leader and cooperate with him and get the much we can from such administration.