Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former governor of Anambara State, also served as Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. An advocate of restructuring and good governance, Ezeife speaks to ONYEKACHI EZE on Nigeria’s journey to nationhood since independence in 1960
On October 1, Nigeria marked her 60th independence anniversary, what is your assessment of Nigeria as an independent nation?
You know the answer to that question; every Nigerian knows, even non-Nigerian knows, if we are talking about independence, it is not worth celebrating. Peoples should go to their house and rest, they should not lose hope on Nigeria. They should pray that we should not get into complete breakdown and disintegration of Nigeria.
We pray that Oduduwa Republic will not come on. We pray God to revive Nigeria, for a new Nigeria because we have been crying year by year. It is clear to me that man cannot repair the damage inflicted on Nigeria.
God created Nigeria through the instrumentality of British. Look at our climate, we don’t have earthquake or any natural disaster except those we bequeathed to ourselves like erosion, that is our own making. So God give us good climate and environment. Talking of minerals, we don’t even know the quantity we have.
For a long time, people are exporting gold and we don’t even know. What about human resources? Nigerians are gifted and talented. Today our children are making waves all over the world, but why are they not coming back?
I studied in Harvard and I am supposed to go to Uganda but I was stuck in Lagos where I was offered a job without application. Today, my children are abroad and I don’t have the persuasive power to convince them to come back to Nigeria: to be faced with insecurity and poverty?
Today Nigeria is ranked the poverty capital of the world. Before 1966 the Nigerian economy was growing well more than other countries, the World Bank said so. I don’t know what to say. Yet, I am encouraging Nigerians, let’s have hope, God does not make mistake. God who gave Nigeria abundant mineral resources knows, so Nigeria can grow to super power. I think that what we are passing through, although it is too bad but God can reverse it.
From what you have told us now, we were growing until there was a disruption. Where did we get it wrong?
I think we got it wrong right from the military coup because those military who took over and Nigeria and ruined Nigeria. When the World Bank said we were growing fast, what kind of structure did we have? We have federal system and it was federal.
The Federal Government was doing those things states and regions could do, like currency, defence, diplomacy etc. But most of development action was done by the region. In those days, when you were spending the tax money you know how you do it, you don’t stash it in foreign banks abroad.
First, there was a civil war and the Federal Government wanted to win that war, what it did was to isolate Ojukwu. To achieve that, it crested 12 states and now 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT). So what we have today is not a federal system, not based on regions but states. Before the war, they came up with something rational called Aburi Accord, which restored the regionalism.
When we talk about restructuring, how do you want it to be done? Before, we have three regions, now we have 36 states and Abuja. How do we restructure without losing the essence of nationhood?
When people talk about restructuring, the word restructuring confuses people. They think it begins and ends with resource control. The North resist it by thinking that once it is called restructuring it is all about oil money stop flowing to Kano or the North. The Federal Government must actually help the state and local government in internally generated revenue. We need to restructure and by restructuring, we mean simply going back to the structure that worked and that is regionalism.
Today, we have zones. We have six zones, we can make it 12 zones, that we solve the problem of the Middle Belt that is the way forward. Why I believe that a new Nigeria can be unveiled fast, it doesn’t take much.
But there are fears that restructuring will lead to a break. How would you allay such fears?
Restructuring is for survival while continuity is for break up. Look at what is happening in the South West. People are saying no going back on Oduduwa Republic. Look at what is happening in the South East. We in the South East are the most marginalised and excluded in the project Nigeria and we have voted with our feet for one Nigeria. We believe that where you live is where you develop; therefore this restructuring we are talking about is useful to every Nigerian.
You blamed the military for Nigeria’s woes but in the last 21 years, we have civilian governments. Was it not long period enough to remedy whatever is the problem created by the military?
Today, we have civilian government led by General Muhammadu Buhari. Before then, we had General (Olusegun Obasanjo). When they are not there, they will be pushing for what they want. The military has not left Nigeria. The constitution they imposed was one sided.
The military dominated Nigeria for the North; they created states and local government to favour the North. Lagos has 20 while Kano has 44 local government areas. How we are represented in the National Assembly is dependent on that. That is why anybody looking at the National Assembly to do anything for us is wasting time because it is not balanced. It is one sided from the constitution the military imposed.
There is another round of constitution amendment. These issues you discussed can’t they be corrected in the amendment?
It is not meaningful to talk of amendment of constitution by the National Assembly. We never had it so good in the 2014 constitutional conference where all parts of Nigeria were fully represented and we worked hard.
We had no problem in bringing back Nigeria that will work. What we need now is to revive the conference and go to work; we don’t need another constitutional conference. It is dishonest and I don’t understand what is going on. The Middle Belt took for ignoring the principle of Federal character. So if we want a new Nigeria, it is easy. We can go back to Aburi Accord and implement it.
As you can see Nigeria is gradually breaking up and we recognise it. If you restructure there will be justice. The Middle Belt told us that they thought that they were Northerners and fought the war of the North and they didn’t know they were used and dumped. I appealed to Nigerians to have hope and pray for God to rise and unveil a new Nigeria so that man’s desire does not win.
Today because of consciousness in Nigeria, corruption is comprehensive, every facet of Nigeria is corrupt. A person in government goes in there for what he will get and his or her relations rush to him. I was a governor of Anambara, none of my relations had any dim or cornered anything, so people have changed.
We must make those in government listen to people. Man’s mess up cannot be cleaned by man, divine intervention is necessary. The only celebration is Nigeria.
What is your take on the clamour for a president of Igbo extraction?
That’s a major challenge, I will like to thank God on this issue of Igbo president because he has done it. I have the feeling that it has been approved by God. I hear the North wanting to be in charge forever, even Tinubu whom I helped to become governor. But our God is in charge, He has approved it. Yesterday (last week) a very important person from the North called me and said we should go ahead that he has commenced mobilising for Igbo presidency project.
Also the Middle Belt youths decided that it will support the South East presidency for justice and equity, and moved around the North selling the idea and the person they selected. They organised a mock election and selected somebody which I will not mention. The impression is that the All Progressives Congress is likely to select an Igbo person as their candidate; it remains the Peoples Democratic Party.
As far as the Igbo presidency is concerned, there is no complain. If an Igbo man is voted as president of Nigeria it means justice, equity, fairness is returning to Nigeria, and that will end request for Biafra. We the elders from the South-East have been praying for one Nigeria, all we need is to have a level playing field. We have a problem, we don’t know how to manage our success, we are not diplomatic.
You the press men must fight this battle. We must learn to manage our success. With justice we will not be taking of Biafra. But assuming we do everything people expected us to do and persuade Nigerians to produce an Igbo president, and merely because we are Igbos and our candidate did not win, we will take it that the residents of Nigeria have rejected us. In our thoughts and believe, one rejected will not reject itself.
How would you manage the number of aspirants that are likely to come out?
Yes, one Hausa friend told me you people, if you are asked to produce president all of you will come out. We are going to be well organised. We are going to create an Elders’ Committee to make sure that the number bid is scaled down and everybody aspiring is speaking the same thing.
We will give it everything we have. The Igbo presidency emergence will fix Nigeria, we have already voted with our feet for one Nigeria, therefore the Nigerian system will must benefit from what Igbo has.