By Daniel Kanu
Renowned scholar and two-time minister, Prof Ihechukwu Madubuike, does not shy away from reporter’s questions, no matter how controversial they may be.
He demonstrated this daring mark again during his recent exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, where he tackled critical national issues, including presidency of Igbo extraction in 2023, Abia Charter of Equity controversy, The VAT storm, and security challenges. Excerpt:
There is this move in your state, Abia to disregard the Abia Charter of Equity. Reason being that the three zones have all had their slot and that it should now be left to merit, competence, among other factors. What is your take on this?
The Abia Charter of Equity is based on the template of the four districts that formed Abia State. The name is an acronym, an abbreviation from the initial letters of other words to form a new word (neologism). Many of those who are pontificating on the subject cannot even say what the word represents. I have heard some say it is from the Holy Book and have gone ahead as a result to call it God’s Own State. I have no problem with that allusion and identity mark. But we must live up to our name or bear the consequences of illogic. Let us be true to our identity. It is disingenuous to postulate that Abia was formed on the basis of zonal representations. It is a lie, an extreme form of egocentricism, bordering on narcissism. We thank God some of us are still around to remember the inclusive conscience that gave birth to the sharing formula of the highest political office in our state. The nexus of that formula is Equity. Equity has always been a mediator for beneficial human relationships when judiciously applied. Sharing and inclusion are the preeminent models of participatory democracy and relevant political institutions. The ‘Nzogbu Nzogbu’ mentality can be disruptive. So also, is the ‘Nkari’ syndrome, we Abians do not need them. Equity and inclusiveness are a rationalization principle of ‘Onye Aghala Nwanne ya and Egbe Bere Ugo Bere’. Isuikwuato District has men and women of capacity, competence and integrity that will usher in the much-needed good governance that will kick-start enviable growth and development in our struggling state. To develop Abia must harness all the human capitals that abound in the clime. It must also respect the freedom and choices of her citizens as important and necessary criteria for development. Above all, it must not scuttle agreements freely entered by our founding fathers. Remember that righteousness exalts a nation. Let’s dare to be right.
Do you see the latest VAT debate as playing out the challenges of fiscal federalism?
The Value Added Tax controversy. It’s a controversy in irresponsibility, the lack of the will power by our elected leaders to do the needful, to increase their locally generated revenues, instead of leaving it in the hands of a paternalistic overbearing land lord all this while. The judgment in the capital of Rivers State should be incarnated into a law, allowing states to exercise the power to collect what is part of their internally collected revenues. A new VAT regime, will allow for competition among states. It will increase their revenue profile to innovate and to think out of the imaginary development box for increased financial independence and freedom. It will end the father or mother feeding bottle syndrome in practice in the Nigerian federation. The ideal is an arrangement whereby the states manage their resources and pay an agreed collection tax to the Federal Government. The Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) must not turn itself into the global International Monetary Fund—a servant of global power and an enforcer of sorts. The FIRS must be pro-people. It should see itself as a servant of the people. A paternalistic approach that stalls the freedom of choice in matters as economic is anti-development in real terms. The VAT is only one of the many fault lines that are injurious to the practice of federalism in Nigeria. Others include the non-independence of the judiciary, the state parliaments, and the local governments. Besides, there are too many items in the Exclusive List, all in favour of the Federal Government. A good number of them need to be removed and given to the sub-nationals to handle. Accountability and transparency will be easier to monitor at this level. Corruption will also abate in proportion. The Southern states must continue with their financial and economic strategies; they must continue to open the economy to genuine foreign and local investors, to grow their GDP, like the Southern states of America did in the days of repression, represented by Governor Wallace, the laureate of racism and repression. The governors must continue to be aspirational and inspirational despite challenges, disruptive tendencies and delays from within and from without.
The state of security challenge in the country remains frightening despite government efforts. How would you place what is going on?
Security can be defined as a state of being safe and free from harm. Harm is not only freedom from physical injury. It also refers to absence of mental sanity or wholesomeness. The fact is that we have had security issues in this country since the inception of a flawed amalgamation project which injected a virus of violence through intended fault lines to favour a particular and narrow view of governance and state formation. Those whose narrow view of statehood are ingrained in this model have no intention to change it. The result has been violence and repression of legitimate agitations for a change of the status quo. Nigeria seemed to be bound to violence, and violence leads to insecurity of lives, property, and poverty, damage that are not easily reversible. Even if you subject yourself and subscribe to the principle of a Hobbesian state or that of la raison des plus forts, where you rule without being right, you are still not safe and secure. The two amount to the same and that is the dilemma of starting on the wrong foot. There has been a failure of governance in this country and the sooner we face this grim reality the better for all of us. Over a decade or so ago, I bemoaned in a book I presented to the public in 2007, namely Politics, Leadership And Development in Nigeria, the disconnect between leaders and those they lead – the growing gap between the rich and the poor. I frowned at the increased social tension this has led to, even then and predicted it may get worse. We can no longer pretend that there’s no link between poverty, state failure and security of life. Insecurity occurs also when there is no safety net for the citizens, no viable social programmes for economic redemption or uplift. It is an insult to go to markets and give market women and traders paltry sums of money that are not adequate to feed a family of five for a day. That type of dole-out explains the level of premium government places on her citizens – the most important social capital it has. There is no consensus that the Nigerian state is doing well or that it is effective. The fact also is that there is anger in the land, and government has so far not done enough to address the growing malaise. There are things that countries that are relatively peaceful are doing right that we are not doing. We must begin to do those things that lead to the production of positive public values. What is driving the world today is innovation be it in politics or in power equations, or in economics. We should not be ashamed to go to Rwanda, for example, or Islamic progressive Dubai to learn or borrow ideas. Innovation means change not a return to antiquated programmes and policies. Leadership must stop imposing its preferences on the citizens. Governance need not be a war between the people and their leaders. Even in war, there are sometimes a “ceasefire”, a moment of sober reflection and stock taking. When we say we are “on top of the game”, whom are we competing with? Governance, as I said, is not a competition between the citizens and the government. It must be a cooperation between the two. And this can be achieved through dialogue and avoiding conflict inducing policies. How can we be “on top of the situation” with increased kidnapping, banditry, growing pains and fears, all products of insecurity. The physical insecurity will be worsened by the debt trap this administration is leading us into. We would have murdered sleep when the consortium of bankers and lenders come to collect their loans and their compound interests, when distressed tax payers are no longer able to pay because of salary arrears, when those who contracted the loans are no longer there to pay them. One can only imagine what disruptions and social dislocation if we get to this juncture. We do not pray for a failed state. Studies indicate the link between acute poverty and state failure. They also indicate that once there is a state failure it is difficult to reverse. We must frame our policies in consonance with the emerging consensus building and best practices. We cannot be seen to be announcing policies that open our borders to all manner of people without a proper review of our security architecture. Current security models are not built like that. The backlash of such policies threatens internal security. It is time therefore, we reviewed such policies, mend the cracks in our walls and fences to proverbially avoid the visits of insects and lizards. All hands must be on deck.
Some critics say conducting the 2023 elections would pose a great challenge in view of the security issues?
(Cuts in) 2023 will come and go. In fact, it is a breath away, not as far as we think. Like the Christmas festivities it will catch many, as it were, unawares, like that presidential aspirant, who did not remember where his polling booth or something like that, was until the elections were over. In 1979, I contested election into the Imo House of Assembly. Early in the morning one of my assistants drove to the house of one of my opponents and asked him to come to the office to get something. He did, and remained their drinking palm wine until voting was over. Elections can also be fun and melodramatic. It is a time for hyper emotions and less reasoning. We may not hear about body bags or the ungovernable threats this time. It will, therefore, not bring much change, a déjà vu. At the end, we will continue with the macabre dance in the open. I have not seen the oasis of hope and transformation in the landscape. The crop of politicians in the affray and those preparing to join the melee have not, so far, inspired a transformational change the voting population- that is the citizenry, has been so enfeebled that it cannot ignite the requisite fervor and momentum to change the status quo. If elections are not held it may come, mark my words, because of extraneous factors, if the international community is that interested in the future of Nigeria. But I doubt it. In short, there is nothing in the electoral, social, economic and operational security structures to scuttle the mandatory 2023 elections or to drive a change for public good. The movement of politicians from one party to the other is to stabilize the status quo, an endorsement of elite conspiracy to the detriment of the people who put them to power. It is, a shameless betrayal of the social trust between the elector and the elected and a further deepening of the sovereignty gap between the two. The present system as a model is a post-war model which invested the leadership with powers it is not bound to account for. The parliamentarians are all “immune”. For there to be a change, there is the need for a strong institutional framework to secure the people’s rights and obligation to authority and to enforce government’s compliance for the enthronement of public good and values in governance.
What is your take on the Igbo and their quest for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023?
Ndigbo are purpose driven and are determined to make their dream a reality. The quest for an Igbo President of Nigeria started after the war. The struggle received impetus with the efforts of the Right Honorable Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1979, which yielded a positive result, because that effort led to the formation of an accord between the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). Although the relationship died a premature death, we still learned our lessons. The late Dr Alex Ekwueme did his best to become president in his life time after a glorious contribution for the development of Nigeria. It is to say that we are serious about the project. Equity, good conscience and fair play demand that we have it. Igbo leadership has reached out to all nooks and crannies of the country for support and the sound bites are not negative. We will get there by the grace of God.
What kind of leadership is needed in Nigeria in 2023 to bring the needed transformation the people desire?
It should be evident from all the above that Nigeria needs a God-fearing and people connected and inspirational leadership. We need a leader with ability to guide, influence others for good and ready to adapt and change for the production of public value. A good leader is not afraid to accept faults and correct them, to listen to others and build a network for progress. Leadership is a team work and not ego tripping. A good leader must be a communicator, not withdrawnnor taciturn. He must not talk down on his fellow citizens. In all human relationship, respect and trust are important capitals. Character is even more critical. Never trust a man without character or address for he can betray you any time. A man without character and learning can be purchased any time. We need men who will not sell out because of the spoils of office. Men, like Gilbert Holland prayed, “who have honour, men who will not lie.”