Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Chief Guy Ikokwu, an octogenarian, is a delight of every journalist because of his boldness in addressing issues of national importance.
In this interview , Ikokwu, an alumnus of the University of London x-rayed a wide range of issues. .He noted that the country is sliding to the precipice, advising that the movement be halted now. He, therefore, called for the restructuring of the country in a bid to arrest the situation.
He also recommended that all sections of the country be carried along in the sharing of positions in the 9th National Assembly. Excerpts:
In the next couple of days, the 9th National Assembly will be inaugurated. What do you make of the Southeast’s campaign that the the Deputy Senate President be zoned to it ?
No part of the country really should be sidelined because it’s an entity that belongs to all and if there is proper reasoning and proper architecture, then we would have to think together and reason in such a way that you will accommodate a lot of the zones and a lot of the people. This is what an inside think tank can do. The National Assembly or even state Assembly is not to be ruled from the outside and dictated to politically, without any methodology. I’m not saying that the party to which they belong has no say. It has a say, but in such a way that it’s accommodating. Otherwise, it will be fractured right from the start. You have seen it happen before and it will happen again. What they do in electing their officers is by secret ballot and we heard that some of them want even the first hour of their plenary to change the methodology of voting so that it will be by show of hands and all that and you know that that undermines the essence of a democratic choice, which is why the country left the issue of Option A4 which focused on people coming out and you see exactly where they stand behind the photograph of a candidate. So, we have to move to a better level of performance, not the next level.nThe 9th Assembly is the assembly of a unilateral system of governance and it won’t work. The 9th Assembly is controlled by the Executive and the Executive controls the judiciary, which you can see what has been happening. We should have the highest standard of judiciary that is a separate sector that has its own powers, which will take the nation to a greater height. Undermining it has its own source of bringing the nation down, which is what the executive has been trying to do. You now use the Sharia system for the country. All parts of the country are not Sharia. The President goes to swearing in and he is carrying the Sharia bag by the side and many people started wondering what is that, and the person swearing him in also has his Sharia bag, which the media saw and we saw in a lot of reports how they circled those bags and said what is the bag for. What does it mean? The thing is that Nigeria is degenerating. It offends the psychology and the system of reasoning of the majority of Nigerians. We have Christians who are very good friends of Islamic people religiously. The same thing in the economy. You have the people whose essence of their riches is to benefit others and to develop and move everybody up. Today, you have people who make billions from the Nigerian economy, but they don’t use it to develop their own areas or their states. Instead, they send the money to other countries. Didn’t you see one of the billionaires from the North whose daughter is in a foreign school and when he went there for her matriculation, he now donated a sum of money which could have established a university in the North or high level of education in the area. Instead, he gave it abroad and the foreigners who received it were smiling and said yes, very good man from Nigeria.
The Federal Government will next week observe June 12 as Democracy Day. Do you share the stand of some people that May 29 should be phased out ?
What I understand that they want to do is to turn June 12 into the Democracy Day and phase out any other one. But then, there is no legislation backing it yet. It is just an executive order. It’s a political ploy to curry favour from the Yoruba. The issue is, if you are using June 12 as Democracy Day to honour Abiola, then the first thing you should do is to release the result of that Abiola’s election which he won. Prof Humphrey Nwosu was the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and he had a system which was fool proof, the Option A4 system, but the result of the election still has not been gazetted or released to the public. So, you can see that it’s just a ploy. For record purposes, why shouldn’t it be recorded the exact votes that were cast. That is a ploy for the Yoruba and the majority of the Yoruba, the real Yoruba we discuss with, the Afenifere, they are not coyed by this statement of the executive branch.
Why would you say it is a ploy when Buhari has already won a second term and he is not looking for anything from the Southwest?
No, he has not won. The issue is in court. A matter that is subjudice cannot be preempted by any individual . This is the problem in Nigeria that we do not observe or obey the rule of law. If a matter is in court and both parties are in court, it is the judgment and the ruling of the court that will establish the guilt or the innocence of any of the parties. If you believe in the rule of law, therefore, why should you take the laws into your own hands and then you go and do observance on the 29th on a matter in which you are a party and it’s in court and you don’t want the court to rule. You are not the only one who went to election. There were two of you, Buhari of APC and Abubakar Atiku of PDP – apart from others. These are the two main candidates– and the result of the election is in dispute and under the law, you file properly within time and the tribunal has to give its verdict. For anybody to go ahead is to preempt the judgment of the tribunal, which is not in accordance with the rule of law. That may be the reason all the former Heads of State in Nigeria boycotted that swearing-in of May 29th, except General Yakubu Gowon . And he was in absolute discomfiture there, sitting and looking around and he didn’t see any other former Head of State of Nigeria.
Don’t you think that their absence may be because the Federal Government has already extended invitation to them for June 12 and has said that May 29 would be low-key?
But that is not a swearing in day. We are talking of the swearing-in and they said it’s a low-key swearing-in. America didn’t send their representative or ambassador. They were invited. Britain didn’t go. European Union didn’t go. Russia didn’t go. All of them have ambassadors, they have representatives here in Nigeria in Abuja . They all boycotted the ceremony because they know what is going on. It’s an issue of, was it right or not right. Are we observing the tenets of real democracy and the rule of law?
But the countries you mentioned congratulated the President when he was declared winner?
Yes, he was then declared winner and there was no tribunal set up then. But then you know that in this election that just passed, we must tell ourselves the truth based on certifiable facts; there is no election in Nigeria that has been contested as this one. At the moment, there are loads and loads of petitions against all the elections, whether the State House, the National Assembly or the Governorship or the Presidential.
Are you suggesting that the election was one of the worst elections Nigeria has had?
At least you ascertain that by the no of petitions . Let’s look at South Africa; while we are still talking about our elections and its results and the challenges, President Jonathan was one of those selected to go and observe the South African election. It tells you a lot about how the world viewed the election his administration conducted . Back to our election, South African election also was both manual and electronic and within three days, we had the result of the South African election. It was done electronically, basically, after the casting of the votes manually at the polling units and centres. There were very few challenges and this is because of the integrity quotient. If there is integrity in an issue, even a little child that just started school and learnt how to count and you ask that little child, baby, please one plus one is what? The little child will count on his or her fingers or use a match stick to count and tell you that one plus one is two. He won’t tell you that one plus one is 11. So, why should an adult 30 years old, 60 years old tell the country, the children, those who are in primary schools and secondary schools that one plus one is 11? It’s the absence of integrity and any country that does not have integrity cannot perform. It will degenerate into a failed state because other countries are observing and seeing what is happening. That is where we are.
Is Nigeria degenerating to that?
We are already almost virtually there. For instance, the whole world knows that we have a budget for 2019; we have had budgets for 2017, budgets for 2018. All those budgets have not been implemented properly. There has not been real accountability on the performance of those budgets. Then you have that of 2019. A budget is supposed to have been ascertained by the National Assembly, latest by December so that they can start a new fiscal year in January. If the fiscal year is April, then it has to be finished in February or March so that you can start the fiscal year.
Between the Executive and National Assembly, who are you blaming for this delay?
When did the President submit the proposal? Once you submit it, the legislature has to do its own work. It has to verify. It has to go through, listen to all observations from the various zones and know whether the whole country has been carried along; whether there has been proper performance of the previous budget. That is their work. They are not a rubber stamp that you present something today and in one week, they say yes, that is okay, particularly in a country where there is very low integrity quotient. If there is very high integrity quotient like in a place like Sweden it would have been a different story . Once you do all the calculations and present it in Sweden, it doesn’t take more than three weeks to ascertain the budget for interpretation and for performance because they have a different system of integrity. Do you know that in Sweden itself, no member of the National Parliament earns more than the Chairman of a Local Council? Not a single member of the National Parliament has a private car provided by the government. Their salary, ifbit can buy a car, they use car or bicycle, so be it and is that, that is what they use. The only person who has an official car in Sweden is the Speaker or the Prime Minister . And it’s a security car, not his personal car and not 10 cars as we have here.
Your assertion seems to support the position of some people that the budget of the National Assembly has been one of the key problems of Nigeria, that they allocate hefty budget to themselves. Do you hold such position?
I like the word allocate to themselves. Do you know that the emoluments of our National Assembly, of the state Assembly, of the state governors, of also the other people who are serving in the country legislatively and executively, are more than those of America, more than that of the European Union, more than that of Britain, more than that of Russia? This is Nigeria, an undeveloped country, such that the 2019 budget that was presented , to high is totaled N18 trillion has 14 trillion for emoluments, that is for paying salaries and all sorts of allowances, even dressing allowances. The dress allowances, not to talk of furniture allowances of the National Assembly, are more than the salaries of people who are serving at grade level 14 and grade level 15 in service. Just for their dresses which they have to change, not to talk of furniture and other gadgets.
Then you come back and talk about their pensions. Most of them are receiving two or three pensions, either as former legislative people or as a governor that has finished his term of office and what has to be provided for him as part of his retiring benefits include a house in Abuja, a house in the state, two cars every two years or four years as the case may be. So, some are enjoying two or three of such emoluments on pensions. This is money that belongs to the nation for which people pay tax and so on. So, when you come and see that recurrent expenditures are almost 90 per cent or 84 per cent of the budget, then what is the balance that is left – N1.5 trillion for capital expenditure- for infrastructure. You can’t develop because it is the capital expenditure, it is the infrastructure that will provide jobs, that will also provide the repayment capitals of those expenditures for the recurrent services and expenditures. If you pay so much for recurrent, how does that recurrent pay back? It doesn’t pay back. It is consumed and the country continues to deteriorate. Now, we borrow money in dollars from abroad to pay our recurrent expenditure. Some of the money we borrow, they give you 10, 20 years before you start paying. So, we are passing the burden onto our children and our children’s children. So they become captives, they become economic slaves to other nations and so on. You know that Nigeria’s debt had been written off before under Obasanjo and Okonjo-Iweala. Since it was written off, Okonjo-Iweala introduced the saving mentality , that from your budget and so on, you set aside savings for the rainy day . As the economy in the world fluctuates, then you use your savings to cushion your economy so that for the time being, you will be able to adjust.
Are you afraid of the state of Nigeria today, the direction the country is going?
This is not a personal thing; 99 per cent of Nigerians are afraid and when you come to dissect it, mostly the inhabitants of the Northern states are afraid. The highest rate of insecurity in Nigeria today, right now is in the North. It’s in Kano, it’s in Sokoto, it’s in Zamfara, it’s in Katsina, it’s in Borno where you have a long standing insurgency; it’s in Yola, it’s in Taraba, which is nearer the South here. Atiku’s territory in Adamawa is besieged with insecurity. Buhari’s territory is besieged with insecurity and Buhari’s wife just recently issued a statement that the greatest thing to be done now is to contain the insecurity, particularly in the North. The insecurity in North is due to abject poverty, unemployment, no food to eat and who are those worried most? They are the talakawas. They are the Almajiris, people who go to the street begging with bowls and so on. With their parents unemployed and not having food to eat, the children in the streets become street urchins, trying to see what they can use to get something to eat, to get their own benefit or to slash off their own cake from the economy. So, you find that in the North now, most people who are protesting are doing so for their own welfare and benefit of that of their families and as far as they are concerned, killing people is nothing. All they have to do is get some weapons and when they get these weapons, they use it for kidnapping and extorting money from people. This is what they do and they have seen that it is very beneficial. When you kidnap somebody, you don’t kill as such. All you want is money. you will be surprised that those herdsmen and so on who connive and kidnap people, have very intelligent personnel among them who use telephones, android phones and so on and they use it to trace your family and to know how you will be able to transfer money for them they hold you for three, four, five or six days and then the money comes, then the money comes, they release you. They may not kill you.
From your reading of the situation , would you say the government is overwhelmed?
If the government is overwhelmed or seems to be overwhelmed, they have to publicly tell the country that they are overwhelmed. The question is , if they are overwhelmed , how then do you stem insecurity, particularly coming from those who don’t have. You know what caused revolutions in Russia, in France? They came from people who had been deprived of their means of livelihood. It’s a historical matter which anybody can read and dissect. It happened in Russia, it happened in France, it happened in China and it’s happening in Africa now. If you look at those places where you call third world people, once they readjust their level of poverty and get those who have that integrity quotient to come and develop them and give them skills; the first skill for emancipation is education. The second skill for emancipation is education . The third skill for development is education. Education is graduated from the basic education to the higher level of education, to the technological education, to the education of modern day which is the ICT, artificial intelligence. Today, your telephone does things which a hundred people will not be able to do in six months by calculations and so on. That’s the only way to develop and lift yourself away from poverty and ignorance.
Some are of the opinion that the major way of addressing the current insecurity in the country is the establishment of state police. Do you agree with that suggestion?
That is not the only way to go. It’s just a little fraction. The basic way to go in Nigeria is to get away from the unitary system of governance. A country that has multi-religion, a country that has multi-culture, a country that has over 350 ethnic nationalities with their own languages and their own culture, a country that has different ecological situation, different weather situation, agricultural and non-agricultural, such a country cannot be ruled despotically just by one man or one institution. You have to divide the country into segments and the best way for that which our founding fathers found after independence or in the quest for independence is federalism and we are talking of true federalism, which means that all the components that make up the nation have to be given the latitude and freedom to see how they can govern themselves; how to use their resources for their development internally and externally, and how they can also contribute to the wholesome of the national entity. That’s why we talk of restructuring. From lessons we have learnt and seen, if you restructure this country and give each zone their own freedom to govern and to use their resources the best way they can, there will be what we call a healthy competition internally between zones and among states as it was before. If you know how to develop your mineral resources and utilize them to move your people to higher standard of education, technology and so on, the other state or the other zone will copy you. In the South, we have oil. But in the North in Zamfara, they have gold. In the West, they have bitumen. In some areas, they have a lot of fish because they are in the coastal areas. In other areas, they have different types of livestock; you have sheep, you have pigs, you have cows. But the civil war destroyed a lot of these. Take for instance, in the East, you don’t have the native cattle, that is the Igbo or the Akwa Ibom or the Ijaws, you don’t have their native livestock anymore. They were all destroyed during the war and for them to start again now, the unitary system, prevents them.
Campaigners of restructuring are seen as people who want to divide the country, why do you think proponents of restructuring are misunderstood by the government?
We are not misunderstood by the government. The government knows the effects and the imports. The elite in government are the most corrupt and that is why corruption has become such a big factor in Nigeria that has made the existence of Nigeria as a unit absolutely despicable, both within and without. So, you see what they do with money which belongs to a lot of people or a lot of states. An individual or two will take it and they run into billions and trillions. They do anything they like with it and nobody queries them. The people that will query them are subjugated or destroyed or kidnapped or killed by institutions of the state like the police, like the military, like the DSS. Because of this structure in the country, the security architecture is just lopsided. Just one zone or two states virtually control the whole security architecture of the country. How can the whole country enjoy peace and security? Take the Service Chiefs, most of the meetings President Buhari conducts today are the ones with the Service Chiefs and those Service Chiefs are not expansive enough to contain most segments of the country or the regions or the states. It’s just one particular group of persons, basically one religious sect. it does not inspire any confidence. So, other people will say, since you can use this armed group to terrify the country, we also will get our own arms and use it to terrorize you or people close to you and gain, since all of us are gaining, either by corruption or kidnapping or by extorting money by very foul means. This is the problem that the country has today. We are not developing, but we are degenerating and right now, we are at the edge of the precipice. What is left now is little nudge for us to fall over . If the nation falls over, there is no way to lift the nation back.
When you talk of restructuring, the moment you allow states to have their own parameters, their own functions and responsibilities, you also give them financial capacities to be able to effect those responsibilities and once they have it, you will see the growth rate in Nigeria will immediately move from the 1.7 per cent that it is now to at least in three years time, it will move to five per cent.
Are you also considering the fact that most states are insolvent , they can’t stand on their own?
It’s because there is no restructuring. When you give these states their responsibilities, you give them the money that will match it, and once you do that, every state will be able to pay its own minimum wage and salaries to its people absolutely. And when you talk about police, it will just be a part of it. You don’t use state police to do everything. State police has its own basic responsibilities. There are rules and regulations of what they can do, how they can be composed. In most places, you find that what they have are regional police, not by the state, not by the local government as you used to have before where local governments have their own police and they use it to torture their political rivals. In the United States or other countries, you have the state police, you have the county police and you have the federal police or marshals.
Biafran agitators have continued to observe May 30 as a day of sit-at-home. Some people have argued that it’s no longer necessary in today’s Nigeria, what is your take?
So, what is Democracy Day for? Why do people have to have a holiday, they don’t go to work and so on. The Democracy Day which we are evolving, is to show the people the essence of a democratic way of life of institutions and so on. History has to be read and if you do not read history, you commit the mistakes of the past historically. I fought in the civil war. I know what it meant. I saw people being killed. I saw people dying due to starvation. More people died out of starvation and fellow Nigerians fighting us were telling us that starvation is an essential instrument of war. Government officials were saying it. Enahoro when he was Information Minister, said it. Of course, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was the Vice to Gowon and in charge of Finance also was saying it. At the end, over three million people were killed. Before that, you had the genocide of unarmed people , they were killed in various parts of the country and also killed by the military during the military campaign in Asaba, in Warri, in Kaduna, in Kano , inside trains and so on. You know that when we said according to the Aburi Accord that soldiers should go to their own regions and areas of command, Ojukwu who was then in charge of Biafra decided that all the northern troops who were in the East should go home . They said they are not going home unless they go with their arms; that they don’t want to be kidnapped and butchered. They left with their weapons peacefully and not one was intercepted on the way or killed. But then, thereafter, we fought a war in which over three million people died. These are things that have to be remembered, not just by Nigerians, but also by our own people.
The sit-at-home of 30th was not just a nonchalant issue. I sat at home myself because I’m not a government employee. I’m in Lagos and all I have to do is sit in my own home privately. I don’t have to go out to disturb anybody. Many people who have their own conscience did that. But if I’m a civil servant in Lagos, unless the Lagos government declares a public holiday, as a civil servant, I don’t go out to tell the government what to do . But for our own younger generations, it’s a historical fact that they should know what led to our present predicament. Igbos are not lazy people. But when you marginalize them from appointments, from infrastructure, from education, from even having their own international airport; these are daily occurrences. Your children will even be asking why and you show them the history of events so that it does not happen again. We are imbuing our people a conscience of fair play. Stay at home, not to fight anybody, but to meditate. If you stay at home and you meditate, the reflection of that your meditation will teach lessons how to handle other people that you communicate with who do not have the same religion as you, who do not speak the same language as you, who do not work in the same place as you. When you do that meditatively and you express that in your daily functions and activities, then Nigeria will become a better place to live in. There will now be an inclusive form of governance. Inclusivity means people in these areas should manage their affairs and when they come to a national level, all of them will contribute to the national effort. It gives them a peace of mind and it enables them to do the right things.
Why should a German, a French man or Chinese man coming to Nigeria have better quotient of contracts or otherwise than a Nigerian citizen in Nigeria in a Nigerian state? We should learn the lessons of other countries, how they developed. It’s a human factor.