New Telegraph

Ozobu: S’East Needs Infrastructure, Not More Ministerial Slots

Prince Richard Ozobu is a one-time Secretary General of pan-Igbo sociocultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a former board member of National Commission for the Museums and Monuments and now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, (APC). In this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, he speaks on the recent ministerial appointments and military coup in Niger Republic with the attendant threat by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to adopt military operation to restore civil rule should diplomacy fails

During the conclusion of the screening of ministerial nominees some senators were calling the attention of Mr. President to the fact that only five ministerial nominees came from South- East whereas other regions had eight, nine and 10. What’s your opinion on that as a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC)?

Let me ask you in the first instance. What does the Constitution say? The Constitution says that it has to be balanced in terms of the minister per state….

…what of the federal character principle?

Of course, the Constitutions said specifically with regard to ministerial appointment, one per state. It is at the discretion of Mr President to have the number of min- isters he wants. As far as I’m concerned, these things are not very important. What is important is what type of projects do we need most here and how do we get them; do we have the right people given these appoints? How do we get development projects in this place, capital projects here that will lead to youth empowerment as well as employment?

That’s what is important. The number of ministers you have will not guarantee you that you are going to get an additional expressway here. First, let me ask you, during former President Muhamadu Buhari’s regime, how many times did anybody lobby for anything? Yet we got new roads almost being completed when the Senate had already approved and said that the job has been done severally and none had been done. The money entered into private pockets; talking about the reconstruction of Enugu-Onitsha highway, Second Niger Bridge.

Did we need 10 ministers before we got those things approved – capital projects, the rebuilding of the International Airport in Enugu, did we have 10 ministers here before that was done? We should focus our attention on what is in the best interest in our area and how we get it done in terms of capital projects, to get our fair share, and what we need for our own development in this place. We need security as well and so on and so forth, that should be our major interest.

Don’t you think that for the optics, since South-East has not been giving a lot of votes for the APC, that giving them more appointments and positions will help to boost the chances of the party in the zone?

The capital projects that were done here, did it make them vote in terms of boosting the votes of APC here? In terms of the capital projects that were done in the past eight years, some of them were never contemplated in this area for over 45 years, 50 years. I’m talking in terms of expanding the International Airport; I’m talking in terms of Second Niger Bridge; I’m talking in terms of rebuilding Enugu- Onitsha highway and also Enugu/Port- Harcourt highway.

Wasn’t that enough to generate the votes that will be required if that is what you are talking about in terms of getting the party the necessary votes in this place. The psyche of our people must change; the current politicians, they have not been able to go back and think in terms of history. You cannot play the game you don’t know the rules. We do well in business because we have apprenticeship in terms of commerce and industry; we do and in fact many countries are beginning to come and look into how the Igbos generate capital and development in terms of commerce and trade.

You go into apprenticeship, you sign apprenticeship agreement, after four or five years of serving your master, he sets up a business for you and gives you capital to begin. This is an Igbo entrepreneurship scheme and many countries come to this country and study how we do it effectively. You know, in politics they don’t want to know how the things are happening. Have you gone to see why Azikiwe was winning votes in Lagos? That Adeniran Ogunsanya was actually the chairman, a Lagosian, of NCNC, and so on and so forth.

That in fact an Igbo man won election in the Western House of Assembly; that is Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. We have the capacity to generate friendship and belonging because we are an itinerant tribe. Less than 40 per cent of Igbos live in Igbo land, more than 60 per cent spread out, most of them in the Northern part of Nigeria, others in the West, some throughout Africa and Singapore. Go down there you see many Igbos and they are contributing to the development of the area.

When we had problems in Malaysia, in those areas, in terms of Ohanaeze, we had to send a team to go and resolve these issues and they were very happy to receive the team. That’s our culture and tradition wherever we are, peace, unity and progress among our people. Why will we be having a lot of problems here? Look at the level of insecurity in this place.

The insecurity is also linked to the arrest and detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB)?

Yeah, but he said there was no time he was asking anybody to begin to kill anybody within Igboland because of the Biafra he was talking about. He has said it several times, people are taking advantage of it to commit crime, heinous crimes and going into banditry, and many people beginning to think aah haa, if people are stealing with pen why can’t you steal physically take it; when the greatest paying thing is political appointment, SA, give a car worth N150 million, the first thing he does is that he rides back with a Jeep, tinted glass to the village to tell those who are far bigger than him, have more money than him that I have made it.

The next thing is how to take the entire land in that place and build a castle for himself with public funds. Has anybody been asking, all the money coming in here in terms of local government how it is being spent? Everybody is pointing at Abuja, why don’t you point the hand first of all at home. The problem is not outside; the problem is in ourselves here… When I first joined politics, I just wanted to know what was going on there and after a while I was looking at my time and Edwin Umezoke said look at these small boys, why are you looking at your time?

You are not going to leave here until the chairman says the meeting is over. So whenever you are coming here be ready, otherwise any decision that is taken when you have left you are bound by it. And he was teaching us about discipline, we learnt from them. We make references to them. These days nobody wants to listen to anybody. You just want to score, there is a rule of the game, a football match has a game oh, it has rules; politics has rules, there is also the Constitution of Nigeria, there are also regulations on how to play these things.

If you don’t follow it, you may even go to everything will end in the court and if it goes that side at the end of the day the judgment may go against you and you begin to say eehhh the judgment was… when you get a copy of the judgment, go and read it first of all and see the areas being put in.

How do you assess the intervention of ECOWAS in Niger and how do you think the problem could be resolved?

Let me tell you, Nigeria is a major power in the world, the largest black nation. One in every four black men in the world is a Nigerian in terms of population. Economic power of a nation is number one in any black nation; and the strategic importance to the world Nigeria is number one because of the mineral resources of the country. Many nations are seeing, Western world particularly are seeing this (coup in Niger) as the next step to the final target of Nigeria for communist takeover…

Communist takeover?

Yes, that’s the way and manner when I look at historical antecedents. You see, the gas pipeline is already being developed and it will pass through Niger, which will give them tremendous resources also, all through Algeria to Europe. And they can say to hell with you to Russia because of what they are doing to Ukraine and things like that. They will begin to buy gas from Nigeria which will give Nige- ria a lot of income in terms of natural gas. We have a lot of natural gas but the thing has been flared up for more than 50 years.

And in Emene (Enugu) the thing blew off the other day and went on fire as well. So, this thing has been a way to also give tremendous income to Niger, bear that in mind. So, telling Nigeria what to do or what not to do will not solve the problem; foreign policy is dictated by national interest and not everything is played because of democracy in the open field, no. That’s why you have elected members; they need to consider very strategic information that is not made available to the public which they are working on.

So, at the end of the day, I see this thing being resolved much more peacefully than we think. Or there could still be this issue of military action if necessary to protect the integrity of Nigeria.

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