Fred Itua, Abuja
Professor ABC Nwosu was a political adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and later appointed Minister of Health. He hails from Anambra State and also a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this exclusive interview, he spoke on why Igbo leaders were yet to take a position on the 2023 presidential elections. He spoke on insecurity, President Muhammadu Buhari’s style of leadership, zoning in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State, among others.
You have kept quiet despite the happenings in the country. Is it deliberate or you are watching to see how things are unfolding?
It is deliberate. That is because over a decade ago, I predicted at a public lecture that what was happening in Nigeria can only be interpreted through a well-known theory; the Chaos Theory. Therefore, linear thinking or straight thinking cannot get us through our conundrum. What was needed was the thoughtlessness of a leader to accelerate the chaos to a point of no return. That happened in 2015. As an academic, I have kept quiet watching to see how the Chaos Theory will express itself in Nigeria.
So, 10 years after you propounded the theory, have we seen some actualising of the concept?
Nigeria is a plural society. Some say we have about 300 ethnic nationalities that were existing by themselves in Nigeria prior to 1914. There was the Lagos colony. There was the Southern Protectorate and there was the Northern Protectorate before they were amalgamated in 1914 by Lord Lugard. Our founding fathers, being fully conscious of the fact that we were a plural society, were determined that the smallest ethnic nationality should have equal and full citizenship with the largest and decided that the best form of government was a federation. Consequently, when self governance was granted, our founding fathers gave Northern Nigeria time to be ready. They did not force 1957 on them when Western and Eastern Nigeria became self-governing because of our differences. Our founding fathers also ensured that the North, East and West had their own Constitutions. Thus, the Federal Constitution of Nigeria as gazetted in 1959 included also the Constitution of Northern Nigeria followed by the Constitution of Western Nigeria and that of Eastern Nigeria. Each Region had its own representative in London apart from the Nigerian ambassador. This was how our founding fathers decided to manage our diversity. The moment you mismanage Nigeria’s diversity, you are likely to introduce disequilibrium in the polity. The extent of your mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity determines the extent of the disequilibrium. The highest point of disequilibrium was in 1966. I was then a student of the University of Ibadan which I had to flee for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ironically, ditto for Ken Saro Wiwa. That was because we were not sure our lives were safe even as students of the University of Ibadan. That is the degree to which we mismanaged our diversity at that time. I am again seeing mismanagement of our diversity and I want to emphasise that there are no second class and third class citizens in Nigeria; that there are no conquerors of the Nigerian people.
From the picture you have painted, you talked about bad managers of the country who have, so far, not handled our differences and find ways to carry everybody along. Has the present administration been fair in representing the differences of every Nigerian?
The present administration has completely mismanaged our diversity. The present government is behaving in a manner that does not really care about our diversity. Even with the use of force, this cannot be sustained. The people from the South East where I come from have said that we do not have a single person from the zone in the Security Council of Nigeria. That is a very profound indictment on the administration and they have ignored this cry from the South East. The interpretation is that the South East does not matter; what can they do, anyway? Whether they can do something or they cannot do something is immaterial. The important thing is that it is very wrong before God and man. It has never happened even after the Nigeria-Biafra war. Even in 1970, the Supreme Military Council found it necessary always to include a member from the East Central State into the Supreme Military Council. It is simply common sense that when you are a father, you do not exclude children from some mothers from the common patrimony.
But people will say there are top Southern people in government who should ordinarily make the case for the region. We have senators and ministers. They are not talking because when you are on the dining table, you maintain table manners. Why are they not making the case? Is it deliberate or you feel they are also part of the problem?
I cannot speak for them. But it is also common sense that you cannot be on the dining table with somebody and you are criticising that person for inviting you to the table. All ministers are appointees of Mr. President. The only option to them if they are not satisfied, is to leave the government. You cannot stay in government and be criticising the President that appointed you. I have been in government and for me to criticize them would be unfair. I was not criticising and lambasting President Olusegun Obasanjo when I was working with him. So, why should I be criticising the ministers for not lambasting the President that appointed them? Rather, it is us outside government as Ndigbo that must keep up our protest that we are not being treated fairly in Nigeria. Fortunately for us, we have a good President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and he has always spoken out. He is the President-General that Ndigbo are very pleased with.
President Buhari has repeatedly at various fora, reminded Ndigbo that he got less than five percent in 2015 general elections from the South East. He said he has appointed ministers and creating the impression that he has done enough already for the South East.
Some people believe that those making the case for the Igbo to be part of the security council have no case. What’s your take?
The President is completely free to believe in what he wants to believe in. I am also free to hold the position which I hold. That position is that the President is very wrong. The way he is managing Nigeria’s diversity is very wrong. No matter what the President is being told by his appointees, the truth is that Ndigbo, are very unhappy and dissatisfied with this government. It is this dissatisfaction that is fuelling the upsurge in the activities of what I call the Neo-Biafra movements. They are not actually Biafra. I was part of Biafra Armed Forces and I know that what is going on now is not about Biafra. Those of us who were in Biafra know that Biafra finished in 1970. Subsequent agitations for self actualisation and restructuring must derive from a mandate freely and openly given by the entire Ndigbo.
Could it be that the Igbo are still paying for what some people would call a mistake in engaging the Federal Government in war?
People who speak of 97 percent versus five percent also do not understand Ndigbo. Left to Ndigbo, that five percent should have been zero percent. Even if Ndigbo gave the President of Nigeria zero votes, that President is expected to do his duty as the President once he is sworn in. He is expected to govern without fear or favour or malice or prejudice. That is the oath of office of the President of Nigeria, so help him God. That is the oath of office you took. The President cannot reverse the oath. When Obasanjo became President of Nigeria, he did not win in his ward, yet he had to accommodate the South West. He had over 40 ministers because Chief Bola Ige and Mrs Dupe Adelaja had to be brought in from Alliance for Democracy (AD) in order to manage our diversity. The APC then in opposition trying to get power, said over 40 ministers was wasteful and today, they have 43 ministers and there is imbalance between the Zones with regard to Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State. This is mismanaging our diversity and it arises from discretionary use of Presidential prerogative and power. We are a diverse country; our strength, our greatness lie in managing our diversity very well.
People believe that there is this anti-Igbo sentiment within the ruling class and government in power. There is also a clamour that power should shift to the region in the interest of fairness. But from your experience as a politician and an academic, do you see that happening in 2023, that the two major parties will concede to the region?
I do not deal with sentiments. I do not also beg. And, anybody who understands Ndigbo and the South East knows that we do not beg. We are not begging for power. We are not begging for appointments. When the time comes for Ndigbo to seek power, the authority structures in Igboland shall take that decision in consultation with the people.
Is it Ohanaeze itself or elders from the region?
Both Ohanaeze leaders, Traditional Rulers, individuals, Town Unions will be involved. Currently, the argument among Ndigbo is why an Igbo man should seek to be president of Nigeria? A Nigeria where economic growth has plummeted from six percent to about to two percent? A Nigeria where the debt was wiped out 2007 and has again become the highest in the history of the country? A Nigeria where the unemployment rate has become the highest in the history of the country? Why does an Igbo man desire to pick up Nigeria and start the patch work after people have deliberately broken it by mismanaging our diversity? Many people of Igbo extraction who would have aspired to be President of Nigeria have not answered the question for themselves. When they have answered these questions and made their intentions known to Ndigbo, then all other matters and processes will follow. Ndigbo are not the worst politicians in Nigeria. Anybody who believes so is wrong.
But a former Secretary to Government of the Federation doesn’t agree. In an interview I had with him, he says Igbo leaders are not good politicians and that if they want the position of the president, they must think of a larger Nigeria and play the politics others play. What’s your take?
Babachir Lawal is a young man. Nobody knew him in this country except when he had that very brief controversial stint as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. That he should be the one advising Ndigbo on how to be good politicians, is very preposterous and a gratuitous insult. Dr. Azikiwe was not only a politician, he was the foremost Nigerian nationalist and a Pan Africanist. Dr. Nwafor Orizu was a good politician. Dr. Mbadiwe was a good politician. Dr. Okpara was a good politician. Even the younger generation like me have served the Federation as Political Adviser to Mr. President and as Minister of Health. I am 76 years with a doctorate degree from the University of London, having attended Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London. That I should now listen to the silly political advice of a younger and discredited Babachir Lawal is what I will not do. My advice to agents provocateur is to always remind them that we are a diverse people in Nigeria. We act differently and no group is superior to the other. What unites us is our common desire to see greatness of Nigeria as a nation , each respecting the other. It is not with upstarts insulting their elders from other groups because they think they come from the current government. Where was Babachir Lawal in 1998 when Solomon Lar on behalf of G-34, presented a letter to General Abacha which he might have lost his life? Where was he when politicians attended the all politicians summit at Eko Holiday Hotel in Lagos when thugs came and broke us up? Let people stop their insults and provocations so that we can sit down as Nigerians and discuss Nigeria. Babachir was not even at the National Conference in 2014 which we all were members of. He should please talk to elders like Tanko Yakassai.
There has been a serious clamour for the sack of Service Chiefs. A lot of people think that holds the key to the solution for insecurity. Do you share that view or you think there is something we need to do differently to reset the security architecture of the country?
There are four considerations in this matter of Service Chiefs that all must accept, including the government. The various services in the Armed Forces and the Police should know that the present situation of insecurity is completely unacceptable and things just cannot go on like this. The second consideration is that, whenever there is a system failure, the place to begin is at the top management of the system. Whether the current Service Chiefs are the best in the history of Nigeria is immaterial. The fact is that the security situation which they are currently managing has deteriorated to a point that they must go. I believe that with the National Assembly going to Mr. President on this issue, the Service Chiefs themselves should be begging the President to let them go. Something is wrong whenever a human being believes he is indispensable because someday, he will no longer be there.. The call for the removal of Service Chiefs is not personal. It is just a principle that when there is system failure, the system managers must go. So, the Service Chiefs who are the system managers should go.
The third consideration is what I said earlier that things just cannot just go on like this anymore. Something drastic has to be done. The word drastic, was actually used by the Speaker last week. I remember one of the famous songs of Bob Dylan that asked ‘How many deaths must it take to know that too many people have died? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.’ Instead of addressing insecurity in Nigeria, we prefer to quarrel when anybody says we are the third most insecure country in the world. When Transparency International says we are still as corrupt, we quarrel. When the same body said Jonathan was the most corrupt, the same people applauded. When they said that Boko Haram occupied the entire North East under President Jonathan, the same people applauded. But when the same body again says that Boko Haram has continued in this government and IDPs, we say they are talking nonsense.
Amotekun in the South West has generated controversy especially down North. Many Northern leaders think it is a threat to our existence and that it should be disbanded. While in the South East, some are calling for a similar outfit to be created to complement what the Federal Government is doing in providing security. Do you think these are the solutions?
The outfit in the South West is the response of the people of the South West to insecurity. I applaud them completely for realising ‘that too many people have died and that the answer is not blowing in the wind’. The answer of the South West Zone is Amotekun. I am happy for them. As you well know, the South East has never ever been quiet about insecurity. The people think underground and this underground thinking in the South East has been going on. You recall the sacking of the village of Umumbo in Enugu. Enugu State and the South East went underground to solve the problem. You also recall the kidnappings and the establishment of Forest Guards? The South East has gone underground again with the recent upsurge in insecurity just like the South West did before Amotekun came up. They have a strong sense of family. And they are never docile when one of them gets killed in their farms, their homes or on their highways. What their reaction will be and what they are planning is beyond me to discuss in this interview.
But the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is accusing the governors of the South East of not doing enough to come up with a clear structure of how they will go about it…
The President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as I have said, is one Igbo son in whom we are very pleased. Ndigbo congratulate themselves that they got it right in electing John Nnia Nwodo as President General of Ohaneze. Whatever he says publicly or privately, Nigerians will find that when the time is right, they will see the zonal security arrangements and Structures of Ndigbo and this shall have the buy-in of the governments, the Town Unions and Market Associations, the Traditional Rulers and the Youth Organisations. A people who made Ogbunigwe should never be taken for granted.
Should Nigeria expect something soon?
I do not know. All I know is that Ndigbo take their collective security seriously and will do everything to secure their homeland and Igbo communities. Ndigbo will react to wanton shedding of Igbo blood in such a manner to let the world know that we hate insecurity and the killings of our people. Ndigbo are not begging for appointments. They are not begging for a second Niger Bridge. It is not the roads that they are after. Ndigbo insist that they are 100% citizens of Nigeria and the security of their lives and property must be paramount. Igbo lives are more important than appointments. Ndigbo are not less citizens of Nigeria than Fulani, Yoruba, Tiv or Hausa; they are equal citizens of this country and they will not take crumbs. So, those who do not understand the Igbo spirit, are making the mistake that people made in 1966. How can anybody accuse the Igbo of lack of patriotism? He is the one who has left Igbo land and built in other places. I saw my friend last Saturday at a function, a terrific surgeon. He and his doctor friends founded Borno Medical Clinic which was one of the best hospitals in Maiduguri. They built excellent houses in GRA. Today, they are now squatters in Abuja. One of the founders, Dr Vin Ofuani, from Delta State, is dead. He died last year. My friend Dr Victor Muoghalu now does limited practice in Abuja. Why in the first instance did they leave their various villages in Igboland to found a hospital and make Maiduguri their home? If they did not believe in Nigeria, would that have happened? Ndigbo are nation builders, not nation looters or destroyers. Nigerians who have never left their ethnic localities to invest in other parts are criticising Ndigbo for doing so.
The new governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, has alleged that some PDP leaders from the South East are being used to destabilise and overthrow the APC- led Federal Government. And when they say PDP leaders, you are obviously one of them. As a senior person from the region and member, board of trustees of the party, did you feel insulted when you read that?
I laughed because it is neither true, nor conceivable, nor based on any facts. Like I keep asking you, why should an Igbo man be a part of the destabilization of Nigeria when he has nothing to gain from it? The Igbo man is interested in restructuring Nigeria and bringing about a nation that works for all its citizens. To associate Ndigbo with destabilisation of Nigeria is outlandish.
Let me digress to your own Anambra State. Next year, Anambra will have a governorship election and zoning has always been there. But in the PDP for all we know, there appears to be a paradigm shift. Somehow, all the three zones have produced a governor. As a leader of the party in the state, where do you stand?
Anambra has had a chequered history if you remember. As far back as 1997, I expressed interest in the governance of Anambra. I am from the South. It was not zoned to anybody at that time. By 1998, when the contest was declared, we were 10 aspirants from the three zones. At the primaries, which was state-wide, I was declared the winner by the Chairman, General A.B. Mamman and I was given the certificate of return. It was upturned at Appeal and given to Dr. Mbadinuju. You will remember that in 2003, Dr. Chris Ngige emerged. But the time that Anambra State had the best governance was during the tenure of Peter Obi APGA. Ndi Anambra are proud of Peter Obi and what he did. After the tenure of Mr. Peter Obi and with the overwhelming attachment of the people to the memory of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Governor Obiano emerged. Governor Obiano has not done well as Ndi Anambra desired. Even his godfather wanted him out, to be replaced by somebody from his zone. I was then Chairman of Caretaker Committee of Anambra State PDP. So many things happened and PDP lost that election in 2017. PDP is determined not to lose it again.
How do you intend to get that?
What the PDP is looking for is somebody who can win the gubernatorial election in Anambra State in 2021. We want to avoid a situation where you compromise competence for zoning. I will advocate a capable governorship aspirant who can win and PDP will have a good governor for Anambra State. This will be in the best interest of the state. In the 35 other states of the federation, the governors are either PDP or APC. It is only Anambra out of 36 that is APGA. It is wrong politically. It means that if you call PDP governors’ forum, Anambra State governor is not there. If you call APC governors’ forum, Anambra State governor is not there either. Mr. Peter Obi succeeded because he came with a bag full of humility even though he was one of the richest and he is still one of the richest people from the South East. He also came with a lot of ideas. He handed over schools to the Churches. He moved Anambra State from bottom in education to the top. These are not things you ignore. The PDP is looking for somebody again like that and God help us, we are not going to compromise.
Have you narrowed your choices to anybody in particular?
No. We have narrowed to those who are competent. And right now, they are about six that we consider to be capable and competent. They come from the 3 zones. We are not ignoring any competent person because he is from a particular zone.