By Daniel Kanu
Elder statesman, Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei, is a renowned dental surgeon. Ebigwei, a former chairman of the governing board, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, President-General emeritus, Aka-Ikenga, an Igbo intellectual think tank and former Vice-President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, is worried about the Nigerian state and afraid of mass explosion if the situation is not properly managed.
He also looked at 2023 and the clamour for president of Igbo extraction, as well as the controversy the election of the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo generated, among others. Excerpt:
Are you disturbed by the security challenges in the country or you feel it is normal?
The security situation indeed is a big threat to the peace of the country. The security situation seems to be getting worse and it is not because the military is not trying, they are trying, but from the look of things its appears their morale is very low and the equipment, the military hardware not sufficient enough, intelligent gathering is not still conducive and properly coordinated, the Armed Forces appear to be overwhelmed because if you see the number of people that are trouping into the country today from all parts of the Sahel region in Africa, hardened criminals, bandits, as if there is no border control, there is no checks and balances as to who enters Nigeria and when you look at most of the people who are committing these heinous crimes they are non-Nigerians, why? Why should our border control be so porous to be allowing such people to enter with ease? So, I must say that the influx of criminals into the country has overwhelmed the kind of security checks we have in the country today. So, it is expected that the country has to re-strategise, immigration has to work harder, customs and exercise has to work harder to check the influx of arms and ammunition into the country. All the intelligence agencies have to work harder, moreover, the Armed Forces must develop a very strong intelligence gathering to checkmate what is happening because without strong intelligence gathering there is no way they can check the menace of these criminals. The government has to put more money into the Armed Forces and such monies must be utilised as budgeted. We hear stories of cutting corners here and there. I think that is a shame. More recruitment should be made in all segment of the security forces: The Nigerian Army, Airforce, Nigeria Police Force, Immigration, Nigerian customs, etc, they should beef-up their numbers to be able to do enough patrol of the entire country. Also, the Service Chiefs have overstayed their welcome, they should sort of consider deploying them, and bringing in fresh blood and those with fresh ideas to take over. And not only that, all the security forces must have a national outlook in terms of national spread in employment and deployment. People are complaining that only one section of the country has populated the military and every other security agencies and some of them are sympathetic to the criminals, especially the herdsmen. Does it not bother you that we have never heard that a single herdsman has been prosecuted in this country despite all the heinous crimes that they are committing. The number of military and Armed Forces serving in the Southern part of the country should be reduced because it is not necessary. The menace of the herders can be left for the local vigilante to checkmate, while they withdraw most of the soldiers that litter the Southeast roads and everywhere, take them up North to check the menace and the influx of foreign criminals, supply good equipment to the military, boast their morale and you see them perform better in the assignment.
There is this complaint of sabotage within the military in respect of the assignment…?
(Cuts in) Of course, that cannot be far-fetched bearing in mind the nature of the country. Take, for instance, the Boko Haram today, these are highly indoctrinated people whose values have been altered, their value chain remains the same whether you have captured them, or whether you are pretending that you can reform them, they are hardened people with core values in their religion, so capturing them in the war front, giving them military training and infusing them into the Nigerian military is very dangerous. It is like taking a scorpion and putting it in your pocket, it will continue to sting you. so it is not far-fetched that there will be sabotage, but that should not be an excuse when you do all the other things right.
You think it is not proper to give them (Boko Haram) amnesty as the government did in the Niger Delta as some are clamouring?
Niger Delta situation is different from the Boko Haram situation and it will be wrong to compare them. Boko Haram is ideological based on their religious beliefs. I know religion has a way of fine-tuning the minds of individuals. So, you can’t compare with the agitation in the Niger Delta, who are just agitating for a stronger economy, better benefit from their resources, that they want to be part of all the largesse that accrue from their land, that is resource control. It is easier to pacify those who are agitating for resource control than those who are acting based on ideological beliefs, asking for critical fundamental change. Once you are able to massage the economic needs of the agitators in the Niger Delta, once you are able to carry them along and show concern, you can go to bed and sleep. Their agitation is based on the idea that they are being cheated out of what you have accrued to them, they are cheated from enjoying or benefitting enough from what nature has given to them. So, if you give the Niger Delta region what accrues to them equitably it is different and they will not complain. Boko Haram converts are acting the way and manner they are doing based on religious ideology and it is difficult to change such people. So, the two (Boko Haram and Niger Delta) agitations are not the same.
The Southeast is strategizing to clinch the presidency in 2023, but some are contending that it is not feasible…?
(Cuts in) Why? Is there anything impossible for the winning mind? Ndigbo is agitating to have a shot at the presidency because they have never had it and they are qualified and have all it takes to be president and a good president for that matter. The Igbo group is one of the largest regions in the country today and they are feeling cheated out on governance, so the agitation is a proper one, it is ideal and it should be supported by all and sundry. I have read some comments asking why the Igbo wants to secede and at the same wants to produce the president in 2023. My reaction to that is that it is a misplaced comparative. One may ask: when the Yoruba was strategizing to be president did it stop OPC and some other of their groups from agitating for the Oduduwa republic? Did the agitation stop them or stop other parts of the country from voting for Abiola or for Obasanjo? People who are agitating for Biafra are majorly young men who are feeling they have been cheated out of the nation, they are feeling that they are badly marginalized. They go to school; you give them a higher cut-off mark than others, still they excel and finish from school they will be employed whereas their counterparts from other parts of the country are engaged in various plum jobs. So their feeling is that they don’t belong to this country. The distribution of infrastructure is not equitably done; there is no fair play, no justice and so they feel badly marginalized and neglected. And you know that when you marginalize a person or group the mind of the person or group will start to re-orientate and the next will be agitation. When you discriminate against a group they will react, they will kick against the system holding them down. Agitation normally leads to crisis if not properly tackled early enough. Now, if you allow them, assist them, support them to get the presidency the tendency is that the agitation is like going to die because they will no longer feel marginalized. The complaint will stop because if they are again marginalized it means that their own person or people who hold the reins of power are the ones marginalizing them and they will no longer blame others or raise any alarm. But look let me tell you, for Nigeria to move forward economically, developmentally, and otherwise, we need to restructure the country. We need to look at the issue of devolution of power. Power cannot just concentrate on one place. The federal level has enormous power, enormous responsibility while the federating units are just left on their own. Without true fiscal federalism we will continue to walk in circles with no genuine development. Nigeria is an over-centralised democracy, it is not a true democracy, it is not a true nation, we are a country, not a nation. A nation is a geographical entity, and the bonding is such that the people are ready to die for their flag. How many Nigerians are ready to die for Nigeria today? That is the yardstick with which you measure if a country has graduated to become a nation or a mere geographical expression as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo described it.
When you hear people say that Nigeria is at a tipping point what import do you get?
What happened during the #EndSARS protest is a pointer that the mindset of an average youth in this country is angry and if that mindset is not curtailed and addressed there will be a situation in future you may not be able to contain the eruption that will arise. There is a way you can hold youths who feel cheated, youths who felt deprived, youths who felt they don’t belong to the country, you can hold them down today but you cannot hold them perpetually because most of them will tell you that they are already living dead, that they have no hope for the future, so we are simply sitting on a keg of gun powder and if not well managed it can explode. The protest shows that there is danger ahead.
What should Ndigbo expect from the candidate emerging as the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
I am a current Vice-President General of Ohanaeze worldwide, I have seen it all. I have been an insider, I am a member of Ime-Obi, the highest decision making organ, so we have done a lot for the unity of Nigerians, especially the unity of the whole of the South, later the Middle Belt joined us, so we are speaking with one voice and that one voice, we are speaking about is equitable distribution of things, resources, infrastructure in Nigeria, restructuring at all levels, devolution of power, making everyone has a sense of belonging in this country, so that we can become a nation. This is what the present regime of Ohanaeze has been putting in place, so the people that are taking over now are those expected to continue from where we stopped. We don’t want any war in the country today. Many of us have witnessed wars and we know it does nobody any good, so we need diplomacy now so that we can forge a united front for the emancipation and economic development of this country. We need Igbo leadership that will not quest for war or division, but a strong Nigeria where everybody has a sense of belonging. The Igbo man is everywhere, the Igbo man is Nigeria because any community you go to in this country and you don’t find an Igbo, the place must be a ghost town, so the Igbo have nothing better to gain through separation agitation, but we have more to gain in a united country (Nigeria) where the rule of law is respected, where everyone has equal opportunity and where the focus is not selfish aggrandizement. With that, economic development, unity and progress will be restored.
Were you not worried about the skirmishes that trailed the campaign and election of the President-General of Ohanaeze? Why was it difficult for Imo State to come up with a consensus candidate like what has been happening with other states that have produced the leadership of the organisation?
I was not worried about the development. I did not see anything wrong with that, the more the merrier, it’s a democracy. If one person is adopted people may say it’s an imposition, but if all of them go to the field to test their strength, their popularity, and what makes each of them tick and preferred it is better for us. The electors will have choices to make when you allow each of them to showcase their credentials. Of course, it was an array of qualified contenders, but as you know in a democracy there must be a winner after the contest. One of the beauties of democracy is in giving the people the opportunity to choose. We should encourage competition so that the best will emerge.