The President of Igboekulie, a pan-Igbo socio-cultural and political group, Prince Ben Onuora, has said that restructuring is not the silver bullet that would end Nigeria’s challenges.
According to him, the country must purge itself of bad leaders and leadership, if it must move forward as a country.
In this interview, Onuora decried the high-wire 2023 politicking that is being played already. He also spoke on the propensity of the Southeast zone to repeat the mistakes they made in 2015, and the rising insecurity in the country. Excerpt:
The debate for and against the restructuring of Nigeria has been raging. Many argue that it is the way forward for a better Nigeria, while others fear that it could lead to the final break-up of Nigeria. Which side of the divide does Igboekulie belong to?
There is no nationally accepted definition or understanding of what restructuring means. What is clear, however, is that the Nigerian federal system of government is not working. It is not delivering good governance, national unity, the security of lives, and property or prosperity. Instead, our federal system has become a chronic dispenser of mass poverty and misery, alienation, injustice, retrogression, religious intolerance, corruption, etc. Some of these failures are manifestations of structural imbalance in the Nigeria federation. The Federal Government or the centre is too strong and appropriates too much of our national resources to itself, most of which end up being wasted. The exclusive list in the constitution has 66 items, while the concurrent list of things that the Federal and state governments are empowered to do or legislate upon has just 28 items. For this reason, only the Federal Government has a Police Force even when a state governor is the chief security officer of his state. He has no direct control over his own state Commissioner of Police. The Federal Government runs primary health centres in remote villages across Nigeria from Abuja. It runs primary and secondary schools. So, there must be power devolution to the states because currently, we have a suffocating and overbearing Federal Government which has worsened the case lately with a disgraceful and obvious enthronement of nepotism and favoritism.
This Country is lopsided. How do you justify the imbalance that the military handed over to us, where for instance, Kano State alone has 44 local government areas compared to only eight for Bayelsa State or 47 for Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia combined or indeed 44 for Edo, Cross River, and Bayelsa combined?
The last national conference after five months of deliberation came up with 600 resolutions aimed at solving some of our national problems. It recommended the scrapping of local governments to enable states to create as many as they want with their resources. It further recommended decentralized police, merging or scrapping of redundant Federal parastatals and agencies, etc. Though President Jonathan had no political will to commence the implementation of the recommendations and President Buhari is not interested in it, our nation must revert to this report and implement some of the useful recommendations for us to make progress. We believe that restructuring, rather than break-up Nigeria, will if properly done, empower competition and progress among states. However, for this to happen, there must be a restructuring of a leadership mindset as restructuring on its own is not a magic wand. Our attitude and flawed leadership selection process must change. We are not going to import angels to run a restructured Nigeria. Dr Michael Okpara whose development footprints are still seen across the five Southeast states and four South-south states ran the Eastern Region as Premier with only 11 ministers. Today, those nine states have not less than nine governors, nine deputy governors, 175 Houses of Assembly members, and countless special advisers and assistants. When you add pervasive and unbridled corruption to this bloated structure, you then appreciate why we are in big trouble.
In 2015, Igboekulie was like the voice in the wilderness crying out for the Southeast to get their acts together, play better politicking, and avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. Now, a subtle plot for 2023 is thickening and major political players in different regions are already scheming and silently making deft moves to position themselves in favorable positions for the political race. In your view, do you think the Southeast has learned anything from past mistakes?
You are right, Igboekulie in 2015 led the clarion call for the Southeast not put all its political eggs in one basket. It is never a good strategy in politics. Diversity gives you an opportunity to be part of the political process, no matter which of the dominant parties wins the national election. Besides, as humans, particularly for the South Easterners who are republican in nature, diversity of opinion should be expected. It is even as if the entire nation heeded Igboekulie’s call. Until last week when Governor Obaseki of Edo State decamped from APC to the PDP, no political zone in Nigeria or major ethnic group could boast of being controlled by one party. Not even in the president’s Northwest Zone. In Igboekulie, we are development-oriented. So, our focus now is how to get governors, legislators, and President Buhari to fulfill the promises they made to the electorate in 2019. This should be the focus of all lovers of the country now, not 2023. Politics should not be an end in itself, it is a means to an end. So, despite the obvious moves you mentioned, we consider it unhelpful and unhealthy to be so evidently preoccupied with 2023 politics and neglect what is being done with the 2019 mandates. Having stated that, I believe that if this was a nation founded on equity and justice, there should not be any difficulty in having a national consensus that the Southeast Zone should produce the next president of Nigeria. When 2023 draws nearer, I believe the Southeast would be able to present competent, proven, credible, and popular candidates to the major political parties. Instructively in 1999, the choice for the nation was between Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae. In 2019, it was between Buhari and Atiku. What is wrong with a similar scenario for the Southeast in 2023 in order to foster national unity, sense of belonging, and fairness?
Many have criticized the Southeast for their inability to speak with one voice on issues that concern their interest. Do you see this lack of political coherence and naivety playing out against the Southeast once more?
I believe that disunity in the Southeast is often exaggerated. The press has a way of creating a faulty narrative. Are other zones more united than the Southeast? I don’t think so. The two major political leaders of the Southwest today are Obasanjo and Tinubu. Have they ever been real political friends? Is Oyo State not in PDP today with its immediate past governor, the late Abiola Ajimobi losing a senatorial election? When the PDP zoned its presidential ticket to the North in 2019, did five candidates from the North not slug it out till the end? If it was the Southeast, it would have made the headlines as evidence of lack of unity. When Atiku lost the election, despite appeals to him, not to pursue judicial intervention in the interest of the North, did he not do so up to the Supreme Court? The reality is that all South Easterners cannot have a herd mentality, though we recognize the need for cooperation over issues of common interest. Today, of all the major tribes, only the Igbo have just one apex social-political organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The North and Southwest have different groups jostling for supremacy and often attacking each other openly. In fact, some of Buhari’s most ardent critics today are Northerners. The Southeast should not focus on politics alone. The Southeast has other forms of unique development tools which are time-tested like the town union governments, famed apprenticeship system, and the ‘akuruo ulo’ (wealth gets home), as well as ‘onye aghala nwanne ya’ (never forsake your brother) philosophy.
Serious concerns were raised a few weeks ago over the stealth influx of northerners into various parts of Southern Nigeria. Why was there so much uproar and suspicion by the influx of fellow Nigerians?
Under President Buhari you cannot afford to be complacent in a sensitive matter like this. If it were the time of Presidents Shagari or Yar’Adua, I would have said no cause for alarm. But President Buhari has unfortunately demonstrated incredible parochialism and continues to entrench ethnic dominance with callousness and impunity to the extent that recently, Rtd Col. Umar, a fellow Northern Muslim, had to write an open letter, criticising President Buhari on this. For this Federal Government, Section 14(3) of the Nigerian constitution which insists on fairness and justice in order to promote national unity does not exist. Consequently, with the government’s previous failed efforts through the creation of cattle colony, Ruga settlement, using National Assembly to make a law for grazing reserves and routes which Igboekulie fought frontally, the unabated and officially unchallenged murderous activities of herdsmen, all in an attempt to surreptitiously steal Southern lands, we view this influx as another strategy to achieve what has been resisted so far by the Southeast and other Southern states. When you have been stung by a poisonous snake, no one can blame you if every rope-like object is seen as a snake by you.
What would you advise the Southeast governors to do to better secure the region?
They should work closely together to increase vigilance through the youths, vigilante groups, town unions, traditional rulers, and even the police. The governors should summon the political will to apprehend and effectively prosecute all criminals within their states. As a lawyer, I know that assault, criminal trespass, kidnapping, murder, etc are state offenses. They should, therefore, take responsibility and stop looking up to Abuja for what our laws empower them to handle. For those of them who still misuse the notorious security votes, this is the time to properly deploy such funds appropriately, afterall, Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” They should look into the workability of creating an efficient security outfit for the Southeast to curtail security breaches generally and protect us when the police display partisanship. This would create jobs for our youths and encourage our people outside the Southeast to establish industries to grow the Southeast economy and increase our IGR through taxes from newly recruited employees.