Nigeria turns 59 on Tuesday. We begin our special series on the Independence Anniversary today. They will surely delight you. Enjoy the interviews with Chief Ezeife, Frank Kokori, classic contributions from Kingsley Moghalu, Segun Odegbami and Dr Ugoji Egbuju.
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Third Republic Governor of Anambra State, in this interview, traces the beginning of the problems of Nigeria to the creation of 12 States by General Yakubu Gowon. He says that going back to regional structure will be the panacea for the country’s economic woes. He also speaks on some other national issues.
Nigeria since 1960 has had many failed visions and plans. What do you think made the visions and plans fail?
We should not imply that Nigeria has always failed. It is not true that Nigeria has been a failure from 1960. We had succeeded very much from 1960 to 1966. That was the highest point in our development.
We, in the central planning office, we were working very hard to ensure that the economy not only at the centre but also in the federating units were growing. We had central planning office for all the country.
But we had also connection with the states, that was a time when myself, Olu Falae, John Oyegun and many others were in the same office and we were working to develop Nigeria and we were succeeding. We succeeded overall in developing this economy. It was that time that the World Bank itself made the statement that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than many other parts of the world.
People who are old enough know that we are the golden age in Nigerian development. But then, coming closer to your question, in 1966 there was a coup, the coup affected everything. When you spoil the basis of growth, the structure of the economy, the motivation for growth, the competition among zones, regions, when you do that, you have already destroyed something.
In fact, destruction started when 12 states were created in Nigeria.
When we were operating under purely regional government, things were very good. They continued to be good until 1966. The main point is this, there was a time Nigeria was making progress, not just federal government but all the regions of Nigeria. That is why the World Bank said parts of Nigeria were growing faster than many parts of the world.
But then something happened, the coup. After the coup, things changed. What changed? The structure of government which was based on three regions, later on became four regions, changed. Instead of four regions we now have 36 states plus Abuja and we have today more unitary government than before. The Federal Government is too big, what it likes, it does and it doesn’t appear that we have the best quality people to lead us in Nigeria. And it makes things worse because whoever we have leading Nigeria as we unify policy making and development, that person is also leading the regions and the states.
Formerly, you could have geniuses leading the regions like Dr. Mike Okpara was leading the East, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was leading the West, these were geniuses. But now if it were during the Okpara and Awolowo era, they could not have done as much as they did because the Federal Government and the federal leader dominate the leadership of the zones or regions which are now states.
So. In 1954, the leaders of Nigeria decided to have three regions and to make those regions the federating units in Nigeria. You know politics has its own strengths and weaknesses. Later on, the Mid-West was added, so we had four zones. But from four zones, the military which ruled and ruined Nigeria created 12 states and from that the military raised it to 36 states plus Abuja. The competition between the regions disappeared and the control of affairs of the regions or states by indigenes of that area disappeared.
Before, the states or regions used revenue collected from the people, so, if we want to pinpoint where our problems started, we must pinpoint the beginning and continuation of military rule up to tomorrow.
The reasons include lack of competitions among the regions any more. Indigenes of the states are no longer keen on what is happening in the states compared to when every money spent in the state was our money. Now, money spent is oil money. So, whether the programme is state or federal, they have the same explanation for their failure.
What killed all the programmes we tried was the killing of the successful structure which our leaders gave to themselves in 1954. There is no magic about, it is a comprehensive ruining of the system. The destruction of the structure that worked for Nigeria started with General Yakubu Gowon.
What do you think are the things needed now to make Nigeria move forward and make all the good visions of the founding fathers come to fruition?
What we need urgently is to go back to the system that worked. We know the system that worked, we can go back to it instead of hanging on this ruinous system imposed by the military. Well, we speak English, instead of saying let’s go back to the system that worked, we talk about restructuring. Restructuring means nothing else except going back to that system that works. Having a truly federal government with regions or zones as federating units, it knocks off all the problems with one blow. So, anybody who takes power as President or anything and does not rush back to the system that works, does not love Nigeria.
How possible will it be now that we have a Constitution that recognizes 36-state structure?
(Laughs). Yes, you are right, the present constitution recognizes 36-state-structure, the present constitution is even illegitimate. They came to the front of it and say ‘we the people of Nigeria.’ We didn’t give ourselves the constitution, it was done by the military, the same people who ruined Nigeria made the constitution and the constitution is one of the strategies for ruining Nigeria.
Today, Nigerians are thieves in office because there is no feeling. If you are made a governor, you ask yourself what is in there for me and then you go plundering the funds, resources of the state and packing them out to Dubai, United Kingdom, USA (United States of America), etc. There is nothing positive in our motivation when we take political office.
Apart from restructuring, going back to the system that works, what do you expect the present leadership in the country to do to ensure that the system works?
I don’t know about the present leadership in the country because there is a problem as you know. There was election and there was a tribunal on that election and in the course of the tribunal, those who were defending the government somehow gave up the defence and most Nigerians then thought there would be fairness, they would declare the case for the other side. Instead of that, we saw real big grammar in the judgement. I am told that a person can now go and declare that he has a Ph.D and swear an affidavit and once the person has sworn to an affidavit, it should be treated as if he has Ph.D.
Different zones have started struggling for the 2023 Presidency, what is your take?
It shouldn’t be an important issue but because Nigeria is not working well, very light issues become important. Otherwise, why should anybody from the North be thinking of another northerner? We have zoning, we accepted zoning and rotation.
Rotation is among the zones and so far, every group, the major groups, Hausa/Fulani have dominated the presidency of Nigeria, there is no point to call the names, everyone knows them.
Then, the other group, Yoruba, apart from being President during the military (Olusegun) Obasanjo became civilian President, elected, and really he took a position Nigerians had given to the West because Nigerians had voted for (Chief Moshood) Abiola and the military did not allow him to take the position.
Eventually, the military gave the position to Obasanjo who also is a military man. Then, even some minority groups have tasted power like (Goodluck) Jonathan. Jonathan has tasted power properly by rotation and which Obasanjo facilitated. One group of the three major groups in Nigeria, the Igbo has not tasted power at all. After all, (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was not the type of President we have now. So, with the Igbo being the only major group that has not tasted power at all, the issue of who should take power in 2023 should not be controversial.
But if the rest of Nigeria says Igbo should not take power but Igbo do the right thing, organize themselves, they bring out not one million people vying for the same position, but may be one or two and they then lobby other parts of Nigeria things can change for them.
One newspaper made a mistake in the summary of my position and they used the threat that if other parts of the country refuse to give us the President, they will see the consequences of something like that. If you read the statement I made from the beginning to the end, you won’t see any threat in it, you see understanding, going from place to place lobbying.
But assuming that it is because of rejection that other Nigerians reject Igbo presidency that (Mallam Nasir) el-Rufai wants to be President, that (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu wants to be President and it will favour them. If that happens, the real meaning is that the Igbo should cease being citizens of Nigeria. That there is no point belonging where you are rejected. One rejected does not reject oneself. Among those who reject you, you don’t want to force yourself to belong.
So, there is this talk about Biafra. The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is promoting Biafra because of various problems and punishments against Ndigbo. Because of many problems caused to the Igbo in Nigeria, they are trying to leave.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has been very busy pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria. I will give you just a few instances. We are traders, we import like containers etc, but when our people import things, the things are seized and auctioned. Ibeto was one of the strongest persons in cement, after some time, he was crippled. Instead of going up, he was going back to give advantage to Non-Igbo. Look at this man who is building cars (Innocent Chukwuma) Innoson… he was taken like a tout in pants from his house to Abuja.
Emzor Pharmaceuticals was closed down for days because they said that boys and girls or youths were inhaling something that was produced and had been in the market for decades. Some people discovered that they can inhale it. Ifeanyi Ubah, the one who made oil, petrol available (when there was serious scarcity in the country) was arrested two times and incarcerated.
Look, NIA (National Intelligence Agency) is behind my office, when the National Security council of Nigeria is to meet, you don’t find one Igbo man there, what kind of National Council is it? You come to employment, if there is a new list of people employed by the Federal Government, you will see that Igbo is non-existent on the list. 27 Judges were appointed recently, mostly northerners. There were two from the West, two from the South-South, none from the South-East. But if it were people disengaged like they are removing military (officers) from South mostly, if it were disengagement, you will see a dominance of Igbo names on the list of people being removed.
There is something Nigerians should learn. If you want to be one country and grow, there is a quotation I will take from Russian women. They say, ‘they too have mothers.’
There was misunderstanding between Chechnya and Russia and news was all over the place on how many Chechnya men were being killed every day, slaughtered because the Russians are bigger. After some time, the Russian women said, please stop killing all those Chechnyan men, they too have mothers. That is the kind of feeling that makes for rapport and cooperation and development. They too have mothers. You have put yourself in the place of the other person, that is how progressives think.
So, only Chief Edwin Clark, and recently Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Alhaji Balarabe Musa have thought about ‘they too have mothers. They too are Nigerians, Igbo too are Nigerians if you want to deny them 2023 Presidency, deny them citizenship of Nigeria.
Rotational Presidency or zoning is not in the Constitution, so how can the country go about it?
We have been going about it as a matter of agreement or understanding. Not everything done is in the Constitution. Do you know that one of the justifications for Buhari to come back was to complete Northern rotation? The point is that not everything done in government is in the Constitution. One of the main problems of Nigeria is the constitution because it is never accepted as genuine, it is not accepted as the will of the people. So, even if it is not there, it doesn’t matter.
Do you think the agitation by Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB group is genuine?
Yes, you can’t beat a person and say don’t cry. What Nnamdi Kanu and co are doing is crying because they are beaten and they are doing it in a way that is non-violent. Therefore, Nigerians should appreciate their method. I am happy the rest of the world, Europe, European Union, they met with Nnamdi Kanu and they saw point with what he was saying. The (United Nations) UN also met with Nnamdi Kanu in Switzerland, I don’t know whether they have changed their mind. They invited him to the United Nations General Assembly, but now having met with him in Switzerland, they may not meet him again in New York.
So, I think Nnamdi Kanu is doing what is forced on us (Ndigbo) because some of us believe that we should find out more mature ways of going about it. But the ideal is very lawful, they are crying for a referendum, that is democracy. I think if Igbo people are denied the Presidency in 2023, then, no matter how unpopular IPOB may be among some older people, everybody may rush it.
What is your assessment on the security situation in the country?
One of the things to say on security is that Nigeria has never had it so bad. What is worse is that it doesn’t appear anybody is interested in what is happening and the government itself in the Federal Executive Council admitted Miyetti Allah for negotiation. And I heard that somehow, the money promised them was delivered to them.
So, government tells us stories some time that Boko Haram has been decimated but we find out that Boko Haram is there. Why it remains there, we are told the stories about how it was founded, who are financing them. Anyway with Boko Haram being very strong and with foreigners being involved in, Yoruba are now facing what is facing them, all the bushes and forests have been taken over by foreigners.
The same thing in the South-East, the same thing in the South-South, the same thing in the Middle-Belt, so, the situation of security in Nigeria has never been this bad. And never has it been that a government does not seem to care.
Clearly, the security situation in Nigeria calls for everybody to defend himself. Every community should have Community Vigilante groups, every town should have vigilante group and there should be some kind of integration and comparing of situations. It is a matter of saying you will buy a gun and of course it becomes nonsensical to say give away your guns. When the government cannot defend you, it cannot say you should give away your guns.
Now we are reading about bandits, how they were organized, how they were created and if anything is true about it, we are in trouble. The situation in Nigeria has gone beyond what man can mend. All Nigerians should pray to the Almighty God who has the power to do anything. Let God intervene in the affairs of Nigeria and let justice come back to Nigeria. There is no justice in our country.