In this interview with Jideofor Adibe and Stanley Ugagbe of The News Chronicle (TNC), Osita Okechukwu, the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, spoke on sundry national issues.
TNC: First of all let us congratulate you on your appointment, and we believe also on your re-appointment as the DG of Voice of Nigeria. Though it was founded in 1961 as the External Service of the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria), not many Nigerians know about VoN or what it really does. Can you briefly explain what the VoN is all about?
Okechukwu: We are the BBC, VOA, Voice of China, Voice of Isrealetc, of this world, and you rightly summarised our history. Our mission is simply to reflect Nigeria’s and Africa’s perspectives and broadcast it to the world. We neither add nor subtract, we are the authoritative voice and in today’s social media world, we are the reference point, where the true story of Nigeria is cross-checked. We are not by VON Act, allowed to advertise, so we are in serious national assignment.
TNC: The Voice of Nigeria was founded in 1961 and has had a number of DGs. What do you think you have done for VoNthat is different from what your predecessors in office did?
Okechukwu: Without being immodest, one cannot compare my tenure with the tenure of icons like Professor Chinua Achebe, the first Director of the External Service of our parent agency, Radio Nigeria or AlhajiYahayaAbubakar,pioneer DG of independent VON. These are broadcasting gurus and host of others who followed. The little one did was to expand and modernise the Digital Media, which AlhajiJijiwa and Sam Worlu commenced. The simple reason being that our audience had migrated to Multi-Digital-Media platforms. A cursory study we conducted showed that 5 out of 6 geo-time zones globally had abandoned the traditional transistor radio, the traditional domain of Short Wave Radio. The prevalent radio in such domain is FM Radio found mostly in their vehicles. We devised VON app and enlisted brother apps of Simple Radio, TuneIn Radio, and Garden Radio found in Smartphones to catch our audience in those geo-time zones. It may interest you to know that it’s only in Africa that the transistor radio is dominant.
TNC: You proudly display your credentials as one of President Buhari’s foot soldiers. You were with him in the CPC where you ran unsuccessfully for the Governorship of Enugu State. You also tried unsuccessfully to run for a Senate seat in 2019.Do you feel you have been adequately rewarded for your loyalty to both Buhari and the APC – especially measured in terms of the political appointment you got and your failed attempt to run for the Senate seat in 2019 which you blamed on the former National Chairman of the party Comrade Adams Oshiomhole?
Okechukwu: I am a proud foot soldier ofPresidentMuhammadu Buhari, GCFR, any day, any time and I am happy that I followed Rt.Hon. ChubaOkadigbo of blessed memory to this memorable adventure. On reward, I am a Christian and we are admonished to thank Almighty God in every circumstance we found ourselves.
TNC: Some accuse you of advertising your closeness to Buhari as a way to bolster your political stature. In which ways do you think President Buhari reciprocates your enthusiasm for his person, which has sometimes led to your being heavily criticized by some Nigerians, especially your Igbo brothers and sisters?
Okechukwu: I joined politics in 1978 and my first political party was Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). I was attracted to the philosophy of the lateMalamAminu Kano, the liberator of the Talakawas or masses of the North. I came from Social Science school and have a bent for social justice and welfare of the masses. From PRP I joined the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) led by the great Zik of Africa. I followed Okadigbointo Buhari’s then political party, the ANPP, because one could still trace similarities between MalamAminu Kano and Buhari. Without being immodest one can rightly claim that I came to the national limelight more through the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), as their spokesman than from my current appointment. Therefore the issue of enhancing my political stature is secondary. I pride myself as a humble person. I hope Iam not wrong, for one cannot rate or mirror oneself.
TNC: Let’s talk about national issues: Can you give us your perspectives on the following: (a) the agitation for a President of Igbo extraction in 2023 (b) regional security outfits like Amotekun and Eastern Security Network (c) the demand for political restructuring of Nigeria or what some people call ‘true federalism’ (d) Farmers-herders’ herders conflict as constructed by actors from the South and the North.
Okechukwu: This is a barrage of national questions which can throw one off- balance. Let me start by saying that I canvass for Dual-Restructuring of Nigeria’s federal and state structures. One is that there are some extra chunks of meat hanging unnecessarily on the Exclusive Legislative of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These extra pieces ofmeat need to be slashed and devolved to the Concurrent Legislative List for our socio-economic development. I do not support a federal government which drills borehole for instance. To successfully devolve powers and resources to the states we need to adhere to Executive Order 10 of Mr President. For the avoidance of doubt, Executive Order 10 is an incremental restructuring aimed at enhancing Section 121(3) of our Constitution, which promotes the independence of State Judiciary and Legislatures. One can only locate rubber stamp State Legislatures, less than independent State Judiciaries and outright breach of Section 7 of the Constitution in the administration of our Local Governmentsdotting our political horizon. This is not the democracy Tom Chok, ChimaUbani, Dr BekoRansomeKuti et al laboured and died for.
TNC: You once remarked that “the surest route to the growth of democracy is first sowing the seeds of democracy at sub-national level.” With the growing differences cutting across religion, ethnicity, region and politics particularly in the last six years, in what ways has the current administration been sowing seeds of democracy?
Okechukwu: The proverbial seeds of democracy at both the national and sub-national levels are free and fair elections at all tiers, which today is lacking seriously at the sub-national levels,despite the fact that the 1999 Constitution expressly states under Section 7 that local government Chairmen and other officials shall be democratically elected. Where there are rubber- stamp State legislatures, less than independent judiciaries and warped local councils elections; the practical outcome is the birth of Emperors. When governors act like Emperors, it means the main intendment of State Police may be defeated because State Police, in such a situation, will encourage authoritarianism.
TNC: You expressed confidence that Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution would solve many of the country’s socio-economic challenges. With two recessions under the current administration and the continuous loans, can it be said that the initiative has failed? Like the President, you have always canvassed that the youths should go into farming. Is this targeted at the ‘low class?’ Are there children of the ‘high class’ who have keyed into the initiative?
Okechukwu: I stand by my position that Buhari’s Agrarian Revolution (#BUGREV) is the solution to our myriads of socio-economic crisis. It will curb gross unemployment, palpable hunger in the land and widespread insecurity. It is the surest bet in repayment of Chinese loans. One expects our state governors to join the crusade and devote similar resources to support the #BUGREV. Buhari should borrow more money to boost mechanization of agriculture. This will promote subsistence farmers to commercial farmers and commercial farmers to largescale farmers.
TNC: According to you, “Inequality created the paradox of Nigeria producing the richest African and the global poorest country”. How can this gap be bridged? With the continuous alarm from the West, South and particularly the East that the President favours the North with appointments especially in top positions, is this not the ‘inequality’ you talked about?
Okechukwu: one cannot in all honesty condone favouritism or nepotism; however my biggest headache is that no geopolitical zone in our dear country is truly developed, unless you’re on the arcane mission of “I Pass my Neighbour”. This is why I did a holistic assessment and came to inevitable conclusion that we must reintroduce the Mixed Economic Model of Development. This is because one of the outcomes of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced in 1986 was the crass inequality it bred and the paradox of Nigeria producing the richest African while having the largest concentration of poor people in the world. It is an illusion to think you can have security in a scenario of island of the rich and ocean of the abject poor.
TNC: In your words, “both the federal and state governments cannot employ up to 10 per cent of the millions of our unemployed graduates”. If this is the position of the government, what is the hope of the common man?
Okechukwu: Let’s renew hope that governments at all tiers can fix our problems with transparency as the bedrock. This is the magic of the Chinese, not hanging hope on captains of industry without factories. In actual sense what we have with few exceptions are portfolio industrialists and nebulous bankers who poach our foreign exchange.
TNC: You affirmed that “Buhari is aware of the enormous hope Nigerians reposed on him”. One of the hopes of Nigerians on the President is that he must ensure all lives and properties are secured. With the daily reports of kidnappings and killings, is the President still aware? Prior to his emergence as President, he repeatedly called for the resignation of the then President because of his allegedinability to tackle insecurity. Why has Buhari not resigned since insecurity is lingering under his nose?
Okechukwu: Despite all the minuses, both imagined and real; President Buhari in the fullness of time will have excellent pass mark; for he is quietly laying the solid foundation for Nigeria’s Risorgimento. My prayer is that he will be succeeded by someone with his knack for transparency, capacity for oversight and knack for the common man.