Chief Charles Amilo cut his political teeth at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1964, as a student member of National Council of Nigerian Citizen [NCNC]; a political party synonymous with the Right Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, first president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Amilo, who had a stint in the civil service, joined politics and contested and won election as a member of Old Anambra State House of Assembly, Enugu, on the platform of Nigerian Peoples Party [NPP]. He was nominated as chief whip.
He was appointed Commissioner for Information and Culture, under the regime of Governor Chris Ngige, who later became a Senator and is presently the Minister of Labour and Employment. Amilo, who hails from Enugwu-ukwu in Njikoka local government council area of Anambra State, is a notable community leader and was conferred with the traditional title of “Udo Obodo Enugwu-Ukwu na Umunri” and became member of traditional ruler’s cabinet. He is a powerful APC chieftain with firm grasp of national affairs. He spoke with POLYCARP ONWUBIKO at his country home and dwelt extensively on the relationship between the federal government and Anambra State in particular and southeast geo-political zone in general. Excerpts:
HOW did you perceive Governor Willie Obiano’s prodding on Ndi Anambra to vote President Muhammadu Buhari in the election in spite of the fact that APGA fielded presidential candidate?
Governor Willie Obiano by that singular action could be perceived as politically clairvoyant. He was foretelling the future, that is, that President Muhammadu Buhari would win again. Despite the position of Igbo people against Buhari, he still maintained his course in doing projects that will enhance the development efforts of south-east goe-political zone.
What am I saying? For 16 years, since Alhaji Shehu Shagari constructed the Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu-Port Harcourt Express Way, nothing has been done to get the roads repaired to the extent that for you to get to Enugu from Onitsha, you have to maneuver through Ufuma and Oji River, through the old road or you maneuver through Amansea to Ebenebe, Awba Ofemmili to Agu-obuowa because the other road has cut off and become a pot-holed road and a death trap.
So seriously, people abandoned the road until Buhari came into office. But since that time, they have been budgeting funds every year for the repair of the express roads to the extent that they have taken up N32 billion on that road without doing anything for 16 years on the roads. So, this is a tragedy of our people, of money being budgeted without using it. So, when Buhari came on board, he said, look, I am going to do Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu-Port Harcourt roads and insisted on doing a few other roads in Anambra: The Rojenny-Oba-Nnewi to Uga-Akokwa-Okigwe are being done and Amansea-Aguobuowa to 9th mile has been awarded by Buhari. He has kept faith to his promises on infrastructure and Zik’s burial place. He has released fund for the 2nd River Niger Bridge and said that it should not be tolled through PPP as indicated by previous presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, whose promises never materialized. He said that second Niger Bridge would not be the only bridge in the country that should be subjected to toll. The value of the construction of the bridge was N150 billion but it was reviewed to N420 billion including the two access roads and flyovers.
This is what Buhari has brought to the people that have endeared him to the governor of Anambra State. Let me tell you, Obiano likes to tell the truth. He is equally a man of honour; he might have said something like this: “No, no, no, you don’t confuse me with this your petty politics. You should not forget the fact that this man has been nice to us, no matter what you say; let’s vote for him for the second tenure”. When he came to power, many states were owing many months of salary arrears but he released funds to the states to clear them; and that was what Obiano was trying to say that the man has been nice to all the governors.
On that score would one say that Governor Willie Obiano is a pragmatic politician who had read the hand writing on the wall on the just concluded presidential election and act expeditiously?
I touched on it in the first stanza. I said that he was politically clairvoyance in the sense that he was looking at the ‘now’ and seeing what is going to happen in the future. He saw the Buhari’s victory coming and might have said: “Look, I have looked at round Nigeria, I don’t know where the other groups will get the votes; this man has almost won, let us support him now and bid our time when it comes…Yes we have a presidential candidate whom we nominated but looking at the picture now, in your heart of hearts, do you think he is making any impact? If he is not, let’s find a niche where we will get in and will be appreciated for giving support and then paid back in due gold coin”; and it worked for him. Look at it now, the others have lost but Obiano has won the election with the presidency.
From now on, by the time the second tenure starts, Obiano will be in the ‘Sanctus Sanctorum’ of power. He can walk into the presidency any time because he didn’t give him a fight. He is not alone in that. a good number of the governors did. The Governor of Bauchi State, Dankwanbo said that he didn’t have anything against Buhari, saying that he could not campaign against him because he knew that he was going to win. So, in essence, those who know the truth told the truth to their people; and that was what Governor Obiano rightly did no matter the backlash.
A leader is not supposed to fear what the people would say and do. He will take that into consideration but he will engineer the people to move into the right direction because that is where the golden crown is, and Obiano has really won the golden crown with Buhari.
Buhari has been declared winner. Do you think that he did not get it right in certain sectors of the national life and how would you like him to make amends, especially in the south-east geo-political zone regarding top security and sensitive appointments?
Well, many of us who have been in APC have always said that it had not been well in the manner of appointments, particularly in the Security Council and other top political appointments. It’s not been too wonderful but we gave him a benefit of doubt realizing that he would make amends in those areas. He has even said that his new team would be all inclusive and the nation will be better for it. I think what we are saying is that top political appointments don’t create a difference. What creates a difference in governance is performance. For instance, during President Goodluck Jonathan, Igbo people were in top and sensitive positions but there were no significant financial impacts in the former Eastern Nigeria and other sections of the country are holding it against us. Appointment is nothing. What is important is performance with the positions. What I am saying is that the president will make his appointments sufficiently inclusive but let those to be appointed know that they have to work for our people.
How would you rate INEC in terms of postponement of elections and inconclusive patterns of elections? Does Nigeria need significant reforms of its electoral platforms in line with international standard?
In Nigeria today, this is the same country where Professor Humphrey Nwosu propounded ‘Option A/4. We conducted the best election ever known anywhere in Africa with Option A/4. I am trying to say; what do we have to do with too much of English man’s way of conducting election? It’s not working, it shows it is failing. I witnessed 1959 and 1964 elections which were conducted by the British. In 1964, they messed up. I was a member of the team that went to the High Court in Lagos and sued Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Belewa for rigging the election in 1964 and for days, Nigeria had no government when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe refused to reappoint Abubakar to head the government because of the rigging. It was when Humphrey Nwosu did Option A/4 that there was peaceful election and there was no single fight anywhere in Nigeria to execute Option A/4 that resulted in Chief Moshood Abiola’s victory. So, what I am saying is that we are not just looking about electoral reform in terms of introduction of electronics that will be hacked again and everybody will be in crises. Let us find a small way of everybody going out to the village square and voting and returning somebody. After all, in that Abiola’s election which we were part of and applauded, he defeated Alhaji Tofa in Kano. The openness and uniqueness of the Option A/4 innovation is such that if you are afraid that your choice in voting will create enmity, you stay in your house, don’t come out for voting. We have to be bold now to do electoral reforms and find the best way that will be conducive to managing elections in the traditional African society which is what we are. The greater majority of our people will not appreciate the so-called electronic system and it will be trillions of dollars washed down the drain. So, we better not go that way until we are ready to make a quantum jump to direct voting system like we did under Humphrey Nwosu.
There is no power in Nigeria now in terms of making electronic voting system effective and efficient. This is what you have to put into consideration. We are not ready for electronic voting.
Do you think that Buhari will reappraise his perception of Fulani herdsmen rampage that sacked people in Benue communities and settled? Are there prospects for the indigenes to reclaim their communities instead of languishing in refugee camps?
The Fulani herdsmen crises did not start today. It has been on and that was what the then premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. M.I Okpala said in 1960, when he was inaugurating the Obudu Cattle Ranch; that ranching will be the order of the future. Iyala community and Ogoja people were all fighting and killing themselves until they insisted that all cattle in the area would be moved into the Obudu Cattle Ranch, and it was done and there was peace. The ranches should be primed by government and people should be encouraged to make land available because the beautiful business will be very beneficial to everybody as production of meat, milk and cheese will be more qualitative and cheaper with massive employment creation. In other words, government should come in there and assist with basic infrastructure and make loans available to lessen the burden in the establishment of ranches. Conducive environment should be created for dairy farming. Cattle reared under ranching have better quality meat than cattle reared in open grazing system.
When we imbibe such a civilized system, it will be realized that it is not punishment for the Fulani herdsmen; neither is it too much a sacrifice for the people who are in any part where the ranches will be established. Both will be benefitting from the business. In ranches, you have goat farm, sheep farm as part of the overall ranch with the result that animal farming in the area will be better and there will be better yield. Even the rice that is being produced in commercial quantity is primed by government by providing fertilizer and machinery and that is what I mean by priming and people paying back gradually. When we were growing up in the early 1950’s, we go to cinema halls to watch films about American cow boys who used guns to guard cows and shoot cattle rustlers in the hip and killing them. But later, American Government said no to the lawlessness and encouraged cow herders to establish ranches which were beneficial to everybody and boosted the business and wealth. You no longer see cattle roaming about. We should embrace ranching to stop clashes and mindless killings prevailing today.
The federal government is set to resettle the refugees as it has budgeted over N72 billions to resettle all the farmers who left their farms due to herdsmen conflict and all the farmers who lost their crops and other farm produce during the devastating flood in the riverine areas. They are all going to be remunerated by the budget. So, in this farming season, they will go back to their places. Why some of them are still in the camps is not because the herdsmen are still there but because their houses have been burnt. A good number of the herdsmen have moved out to other places as rain has started and moving closer to the river basin, nearer to their place, Gongola River Basin or Upper Benue where there is green foliage. The budget is also to help them rebuild their houses and go back to their communities.