Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Elder statesman and former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has commended the Nigerian governors for rejecting the controversial infectious disease bill which is being promoted by some lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
He said that the bill on the face of it was capable of causing confusion in the country, including some religious warfare given the way it surfaced in the Green Chamber.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, the former governor also appealed to the Southeast governors to work together to reposition the economy of the geopolitical zone. Excerpts:
How would you rate the efforts being made by the federal and state governments to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country? Are you impressed by their efforts in that direction?
I am very impressed. Yes! This is something we have never known before and the Federal Government set up a presidential task force which talks to Nigerians every day. And the state governments are taking actions. So, I think they have done very, very well. Where things went wrong is where they used to go wrong; the issue of fairness and justice in distributing things. When you wanted to give out palliatives you forgot the Southeast and South-south completely. The Federal Government forgot us and eventually what they gave… When you gave N112 billion to the Northwest then you give N3 billion to the Southeast, I mean, it is consistent with what the Federal Government has been doing which is marginalizing the Southeast and South-south. But overall, my assessment is that they have done very well. The only thing I have against them is the medicine; their process of medication. They are more interested in taking people and putting them in isolation centres than curing them. If a person knows that he has COVID-19 within four days and goes to steam; boil hot water and neem leaves with lemon grass and a few other things; and then steam it, that’s the end of it. I don’t know why we allow people to die when it is possible to stop this thing especially at the testing level. When you test and the result is positive, bring him for steaming first of all. And after that you can begin to apply some herbal and other medicines. That’s really my comment.
What can you say about the influx of some northern youths into Southern Nigeria? Some persons are trying to link the night curfew imposed by President Buhari to the movement of this youths who mostly move to the South by night. To them, it is suspicious. What’s your view?
It is easy to allege something. I think the curfew from 8:00p.m to 6:00a.m was meant for security reasons. The Almajiri movement is different. The governors of those states where they are, are tired of them and they want to send them out. I don’t think the Federal Government imposed curfew because of them. No! But I have told you my view about Almajiri. Not only Almajirai, but also the Talakawas. Talakawas and Almajarai, I think what they should pray for is Nigeria’s president of Southeast origin. A president of Igbo origin will end Almajarai by effective training of the Almajarai for economic use. The same thing goes for the talakawas because in Igbo land, everybody is equal to everybody. Everybody is free to pursue economic survival. Everybody is free to climb as fast as he can or to what extent they can. Therefore, if a president of Igbo origin is in place, this Almajiri business will disappear after a number of years. It is not months because it takes a long time to train somebody to be useful. We, the Igbo, want our children to be greater than ourselves and we train them to achieve what we could not achieve. We like it. Egalitarianism is our creed; equality of people. Apart from fixing Nigeria, I am sure every Nigerian knows that a Nigerian president of Igbo origin will fix Nigeria; make it grow and raise the dignity and respect of black people on earth because if you look at it, it is nothing to prove to any Nigerian. The person has to just go and look at Igbo people in his area and see whether they are making progress or retrogressing; and whether they are helping people or not. Igbo people don’t do anything in hiding. We train people. And in this case, when you are the president of a whole country, you can’t allow some people to be poor and some people rich.
What economic strategies do you think the federal and state governments should adopt to reposition the economy during this COVID-19 pandemic and after?
I am more interested in the after. You see, I was one of the earliest planners of Nigeria; myself and others. We were among the earliest planners of Nigeria from long time ago, we were talking about diversification. As if the oil was a curse, this oil thing became furious. The issue of diversification died. Now there is an area that is very, very important. You use what you have to get what you want. We have crude oil. We should make sure that we process the crude oil into refined products and make sure that the price of the refined products supports the other parts of the economy by being low. So, more than 10 years now I have been preaching it – diversification, especially in the processing of crude oil. Instead of importing and allow all the thieves who are carting away our money in the name of importing petrol and taking subsidy. It becomes urgent now that the petroleum price has crashed that we produce our crude oil and not import; and use foreign exchange to import processed oil when we can produce at home. During the war, the people in the Southeast were producing oil already. Even now, they can do it, but some people think that they are helping Nigeria by attacking people who are processing crude.
Latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that 40.1 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty line. Are you worried about this development?
Why not? They are Nigerians. If they are living below poverty line, we should be very ashamed. And as black people, we should even be thoroughly ashamed. And as the largest black country, Nigeria should be thoroughly ashamed. We have killed conscience in Nigeria. Conscience does not exist again in Nigeria. Corruption has taken over every place including small and large places. So, we should be very, very ashamed that 40.1 per cent of our own Nigerians, black people, are living below poverty line. I don’t know what that means in terms of food and what a person eats a day. We shouldn’t allow that to be the case for long. I listened to one woman who was saying that Nigeria is a country where there is no government. I know that we have government. Whether they are effective is a different thing. You may remember that in the 1950s and early 60s, the World Bank said that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than the rest of the world. Obviously, it is only after the civil war that you can add any part of the east, Southeast, among those living below poverty line otherwise we are gifted by God and that gift of God we can spread it to every Nigerian.
Governors recently rejected the infectious disease bill and gave some reasons for their rejection of it. In fact, when that bill surfaced in the House of Representatives, many Nigerians where worried; and had wondered what the House intended to achieve with that. Do you think the governors took the right decision?
The governors were right. There was a lot of confusion. You talked about vaccine. We don’t know what type of vaccine they are talking about because the vaccine for COVID-19 is yet to come and it might take about a year to be ready. But this one was brought…I don’t know. Some people have some ideas about religious warfare. I don’t understand the issues but the governors did the right thing. We should stop this nonsense. It is now again we should develop a policy towards China. Let me stop it there.
In the course of your response earlier, you made mention of how we were progressing before the Biafra war. What do you think the Southeast governors should do differently to rebuild our economy? How do you think they should turn the ills of COVID-19 to economic fortune for the Southeast?
The only problem we have in the Southeast is individualism. The governors should work together; create economic themes together; work together, project themselves as one. The Southeast economy, that area can be transformed into Dubai of Africa. There was nothing Dubai did that we were not doing. There was nothing Malaysia was doing that we were not doing. We are enterprising. But the Federal Government which seems to be pushing the Southeast out of Nigeria; not IPOB, is not taking us out of Nigeria. It is the F0federal Government that is pushing the Southeast out of Nigeria by all kinds of means. We can organize even within Nigeria. But before anything else, we can organize, have a commission that is central to all states and focus on development through that commission more than through small states. And we have gifts from God. We are successful on economic matters. Managing our success is the only problem we have. We do not manage our successes. I appeal to Southeast governors to work together; to create an economic body which will be dominant in the area. I think with that we will be doing very well.
Some traditional rulers in Anambra State have kicked against zoning. I know you are advocating that the governorship should be zoned to your senatorial zone which is Anambra South. Also, there are groups which have kicked against zoning. They said that they want a competent person as governor who comes from anywhere including the South. What can you say about this?
First, I have to correct an error. It is only a few of the traditional rulers in one of the zones that made such a statement. The others did not. And what is even more important is that we have something we call Anambra Elders Council. It is where all of us, the top people in Anambra State belong. And that body sanctioned zoning. And recently, this year, 2020, the body reaffirmed zoning. The issue is this, Anambra has people. If the elections are properly conducted, the best person who wins from any zone will be good enough to lead Anambra State because every zone in Anambra State has people who can be president and governors and be efficient in doing that. Also, when you zone, you narrow the choice. It is not just a person who has money; he brings money and begins to run. Also, you have better people. For example, in Anambra South, nobody is going to come out there without the approval of people who are of some consequence. So, such people must be very capable people; capable to run the state. It is easier and cheaper when it is zoned. It is more expensive when it is not zoned. So, people who want to carry money around will be opposed to zoning. Okay, some people said that every zone has been governor. I didn’t come out as the governor of Anambra State as a result of any zoning. I came out on merit. Everybody contested from every zone and I won. Anambra North has gone. It is our turn. All the theories are not necessary. Anambra South has capable people who can be governors. We don’t want to boast. And everybody in Nigeria knows that; not only in Anambra. So, we have capable people. Kicking against zoning is taking us backwards.