Political gladiators on Tuesday threw hard punches at each other on the state of the nation yet exchanged banters at a book presentation in Abuja.
The attacks were on the respect for human rights and the conduct of elections, especially the Kogi State governorship election, under President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) government and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) successive governments between 1999 and 2015.
It all happened at the presentation of a book by Eric Osagie, the immediate past Managing Director of The Sun.
The book titled: “The Big Interviews: How to get the news subjects and angles that make the headlines,” was reviewed by Chairman of The Nation’s Editorial Board, Sam Omatseye.
APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole ignited the fire when he came into the hall while the keynote address was being delivered.
He went straight to his PDP counterpart Prince Uche Secondus, hugged him and exchanged some banters to the admiration of the audience. He did the same with Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike as he made to sit between him (the governor) and his (Oshiomhole’s) immediate predecessor, Chief John Oyegun, who chaired the event.
Minutes after being called to make his remarks, the former Edo State Governor fired the first salvo at the PDP. He accused the opposition party of preaching what it never practised during the 16 years it was in charge of the country.
Ever ready to showcase the achievements of the APC, Oshiomhole delivered his punches clinically, saying a former President on PDP platform once travelled out of the country to preach what he never practised while in office.
But the PDP, through Secondus and Wike, countered him. They said nothing had changed since 2015 when the APC assumed power at the centre.
Oshiomhole cited two occasions when the former president appeared on a television to talk about what they did not practise
He wondered how the presidents on the PDP ticket could be bold to talk about corruption when they failed woefully in the fight against graft during their regime.
Oshiomhole said, “I watch interviewers from abroad. I see fearlessness, I see courage. I don’t hear anyone interviewing Donald Trump who say, Your Excellency, not because Trump is not particularly excellent but even Excellent Barack Obama never had any interviewers say ‘Your Excellency’. All he is just called and addressed is President Obama.
“I watched an interview with a former president and I believed that many of us here watched it. Even if the man that reviewed this book referred to it.
“When the host of Hard Talk, that popular BBC programme, asked a Nigerian president (I have enough trouble now so I won’t mention any name but Wike knows the person, he has associated with the person, and he is still being seen by the person) he asked him two questions at different interviews.
“He went on by giving lectures as he usually does. He has all the answers and he said the problem of Africa is lack of population control. The population is grown at the average of three per cent or more and yet the average economy is growing far less than that. That is why poverty remains endemic. So in terms of looking at holistic approach of the African poverty situation, you cannot but focus the on question of population growth.
“And then, this fearless, professional British BBC Hard Talk Host asked him, since you are the president of Africa is most populous nation, how many did you contribute to this population, how many children do you have and how many wives have you married
“I thought for me that was courageous. That leader should not preach what they are not doing. You can be on record to have had so many wives both registered and unregistered, several children, some in dispute and yet you go to the queen’s land to lecture about population.
“You ought to have married one wife and have maybe two children and then use yourself as an example.
“We have this same big man, very big man. He writes letters a lot even though there are no post office. And then he asked him: there is a lot of corruption in your government and Nuhu Ribadu will testify to that and he said, did they say I was corrupt.
“He said that he superintended over a government that according to transparency International was very corrupt and you didn’t fight it even though you set up formal institutions. He tried to make distinctions between the president and the government, and the interviewer said you have the responsibility to enforce law and order. You made those laws and you did not enforce them.
“For me talking about courage and professional hazard, I am trying to imagine if anybody could have in this hall could have asked him such questions and then find his way to his Apo village to go and sleep as nothing had happened.
The PDP chairman in what was a response to Oshiomhole said nothing had changed since the APC government took over in 2015.
He said, “Like my senior brother has said here, he has much explanation and rhetoric to make. I don’t have that.
“From when then opposition and now the ruling party took over, have we seen any improvement, the answer is also with you.
“But most importantly, are we free now to speak? Even in the military era, journalists were vibrant and they fought for their rights. But we have seen bills going to the National Assembly, anti-freedom of speech.
There is one lesson we must learn today, we are in a free world and free market. By 1960, I believe Nigerian population was about 50 million. Today, we are talking about 200 million people. The country had four major functional sea ports but today we have only one functional seaport.
“So we need more of these interviews and we need vibrant journalism in our country. It is not enough to accuse, it is not enough for propaganda. Truth is very tough and challenging. And if you want to begin to cover the truth like light one day it will explode.”
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike noted that the APC was guilty of the allegation made by Oshiomhole.
He said: “The chairman of APC said it is good for leaders to preach what they practice.
“During the chairman second term (as governor of Edo State), he went to the Villa to thank a former president for one man one vote. But today do we have one man one vote? He got a chorus no! So practice what you preach. When he has the opportunity to thank the former president for one man one boat, he should have carried it along to the current President and say one man one vote.
“Remember that in their own time they had what they called Occupy Nigeria, nobody was arrested, nobody was sent to jail, nobody disobeyed court order. Today, are they practicing what they are preaching? He also got a chorus ‘no’ from the audience.
“It is very important, we cannot be deceived by politics, we cannot be deceived by what we are seeing. All of us know that we are not progressing, we are retrogressing. We are witnessing what we preach and we are not practicing. So, as a leader, I want to come back to you that even the BBC hard talk that you referred to, it is the first time I will be hearing a cabinet member saying that he does not like money. Who does not like money? Without money can you pay your children’s school fees”.
But Oshiomhole insisted that “The president is practicing what he preaches.”
He also accused the PPD government of laying a dangerous foundation, saying “but for people like me, I am happy that you remember one man, one vote. I launched it in Benin whether you will agree or not, I know a lot of people who are here were present when I said one man one vote, one Wike one vote, one Amaechi, one vote.
“If there is any state in Nigeria recognised by local and international observers where blood rather than ink is used to thumb print, it is Rivers State. It is only in Rivers that ballot papers are not distributed and even military officers’ heads are chopped off, police officers head chopped off.
“These are hard facts, this shows that one man, one vote may have taken root in many places. I will re-launch one man, one vote in Rivers so that vote may count. I am supporting that the Electoral Act be amended so that the smart card reader should be in use. So that if you choose to be killing instead of voting, you will count bodies.
”So if you choose to kill instead of voting, they will not count bodies.
“But today, Kogi, for those shouting Kogi, Kogi. You know wherever you win, it is democratic and whenever you lose, it is not democratic.
“And let me advise those who are shouting behind, you are confirming my statement, once you mention Rivers they will bring guns, so stop shouting.”
Secondus who also spoke on the Kogi election described the certificate of return given to Governor Yahaya Bello as a blood-stained certificate.
He said: “We witnessed the governor (Kogi) receiving the certificate of return, that is blood stained, then he took the certificate to present to the president that is blood-stained. The woman burnt alive is a symbol of democracy that has the right to vote.”
Author of the book Osagie noted that he made his mark by interviewing troublesome and controversial people. And he had the privilege to be among the very few journalists to have interviewed President Muhammadu Buhari.
“A journalist work is to fish in troubled water,” he stressed.
Among other people at the book launch are Vanguard Publisher Sam Amuka; former Governor of Anambra State Peter Obi; VANGUARD Editor in Chief, Gbenga Adefuye; DG NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside; The Nation Managing Director, Victor Ifijeh; Capt Hosa Okunbor; Azu Ishiekwene, Richard Akinnola; Special Adviser (Media) to Asiwaju Bola Tinub, Mr. Tunde Rahman and ThisDay MD Eniola Bello.