By Chidi Obineche
ELDERSTATESMAN and frontline nationalist, Chief Mbazulike Amechi speaks on the state of the nation, insisting that Nigeria is at war and, therefore, should embrace a “declared or undeclared State of Emergency” to confront the “war” headlong. In a frank and sartorial review of the many problems of the nation , especially under the current regime of Muhammadu Buhari, the first republic Minister of Aviation accuses the President of not showing enough capacity that he can change Nigeria; a situation, he says, has fuelled the belief of an “imminent total collapse of the nation.” The nonagenarian regrets that the setback in the fight against corruption is that “there is corruption in Buhari’s government.” He reveals that Buhari is shackled by eight powerful men who may do something to him if he fails to toe their way, wondering what he will tell the three founding fathers of the nation( Zik, Awo, And Ahmadu Bello) when he finally meets them. He further speaks on other national burning issues. Sunday Sun met him at his country home, Ukpor, Anambra State. The Excerpts are served here.
Nigeria appears to be grappling with a lot of problems. How do you assess the state of the nation?
Looking at the situation in Nigeria today, I get very worried. Very seriously worried. There was election last year, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) won, and they were working for a change. Well, they voted for them in the hope that there will be a change. Now, we are seeing a change, but the change we are seeing is a change from frying pan to fire; a change from bad to worse. We had the last government that ran the country without plans, and ran the country almost to a halt by stealing and massive corruption. Well, the voters swept off that government and ushered in this new government. But, since this government came on board, what we are seeing is the change they promised, but the change is in the reverse gear. Instead of moving forward, we are moving backwards. Everything is going out of hand. Security is not improving. Security is getting worse. The promise about cleaning out Boko Haram in good time was not met. Apart from Boko Haram, in other parts of the country, there has been increase in the number of cases of armed robbery and kidnapping. In places like Rivers State and Bayelsa State there have been mass murders, senseless killing of people for political reasons. Then, coming to the ordinary man or woman in the country, they are now placed in a position of near hopelessness. Nothing is working again in the country. The crucial things that should work in the country are not working. Electricity has broken down in the country. In this part of the country, we have not had electricity for two good months. Industries are closing down. So many things have collapsed in the country. Now, look at the fuel situation in the country. First of all, Nigeria is the world’s 6th oil producing country. The price of crude oil is falling in the world by about 70 per cent.
Don’t you think there are external factors affecting the performance of this government, like this issue of falling oil prices which it has no control over?
Well, like I was saying, instead of the price of fuel falling correspondingly with the price of crude oil which we export, the price of fuel or petroleum products is rising in the country. Apart from the fact that the price is rising, there is scarcity of the product in the country. You mentioned external factors; of course there are external factors. Nigeria, like I advocated several years ago should be having at least eight to 15 refineries. Nigeria should now be exporting petroleum products to most of the West African countries. But, unfortunately the three refineries that were built by the previous governments have been allowed to rot away. They are not producing. The one at Port Harcourt is not producing, the one at Kaduna is not producing; the one at Warri is not producing. And every year, we hear that millions and millions of dollars are invested in the turn- around maintenance of those refineries; yet they refine and nothing comes out of them. Petroleum products importers are holding the government by the jugular and some people in government have interest in them. So they must import. If you let the refineries to work, they will no longer import. And therefore, to make sure that they are fleecing the country, they are in collaboration with the people in the oil industry making it impossible for the refineries to work, or new refineries to come on stream, so that they will continue to hold the country to ransom.
What is your panacea for the resolution of this myriad of problems you have enumerated?
First of all, I would have thought that we are in a position of crisis. Crisis that would in normal circumstances lead to a declaration of a state of emergency. I believe that the panacea will come from a declared or undeclared state of emergency in the country. We are in emergency in this country. The government should not be partisan at this stage. The government should not be a government of one political party at this stage. The government should not be a government of one particular tribe, or one particular region at this stage. The government should not be a government of one dominant religion or anything at this stage. The government should formally or informally, whether declared or not, operate a state of emergency where everybody will be involved. The best materials from any political party from any part of the country, whether they belong to a political party or not; the best in everything whether resident at home or abroad should be brought into this. We are fighting a war of survival. The politicians have run this country to the precipice of total collapse. We are moving fast towards being a failed state. Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state. And if people in government are really serious about this, they should involve everybody. They should not be partisan about it. They should not go into myopic political partisanship in the country. We are in a state of emergency, more serious than physical war.
How will your proposed state of emergency be declared?
I said the state of emergency, declared or undeclared. You can operate a state of emergency without saying there is a state of emergency. The president should by involving everybody not minding whether they belong to his APC or not. We have very good brains in every part of the country, in America, in Europe and other parts of the world. Bring all of them home, involve them. Let us solve the crises, and then everybody will go back to his or her base.
Would you say the inability of the president to tackle these problems conclusively could be ascribed to ineptitude or cluelessness?
I wouldn’t say the president is totally responsible, because the decay in infrastructure started before he came on board. The unemployment started before he came on board. But the fuel crisis and the electricity crisis are his creation.
They are creations under his administration. They were never like this before he came on board. And the idea of overloading one man with responsibilities for political reasons, like somebody being the Minister of Power, Housing, Works; one man holding all these because of money brought during the election is wrong. We all know what is happening. You make one man the sole administrator of a country, in a state of emergency like this? The president is helping to cause the problems himself. There are Nigerians who can handle these portfolios very well. Why heap them on one man, and try to make one man the sole administrator of a big country like Nigeria?
Are you suggesting then that the president is incompetent and inflicted the problems on himself?
I wouldn’t say he is incompetent as such, but I said that he is not showing that he is up to the task. He has not started showing that he is up to the task. I don’t know whether age is part of it, or whether experience is part of it. He ruled the country as a military man, but the difference between Buhari of 1983 and Buhari of 2016 is the dress. The other time he wore khaki; this time he is wearing agbada. But it is the same Buhari.
Let me go to the perennial clash between Fulani herdsmen and farmers all over the country. Why the situation is spiraling into a dangerous dimension, the president has been accused of looking the other way. Do you think his inability to act is a by- product of prejudice or incompetence?
On that matter, I think the president’s salient act may be because he is a Fulani man, and these Fulani herdsmen are his brothers and sons. He is an ex- service man. Where did these Fulani cattle herdsmen procure their sophisticated weapons with which they wiped out a whole village; with which they burnt down houses and occupied those places? And the president of the country keeps quiet about it? But when young boys embark on demonstrations demanding the release of Kanu from detention and the actualization of Biafra, they line up soldiers and mow them down. Is he not thinking that this country is one country? So, the president’s silence over the atrocities being committed by these Fulani herdsmen makes the president look suspicious to me.
In the circumstances, what exactly do you want him to do?
The president should stop the nonsense.
But there is no indication so far that he wants to stop it?
Well, let the people defend themselves. But there is nothing with which to defend themselves. Villagers who are not armed. Villagers who cannot even afford three square meals a day. With what can they defend themselves? You see, that is why I say these people are leading the country, ruling the country, pushing the country to a very dangerous precipice. If they don’t take care, we may have a total collapse.
Let’s talk about the Biafra agitation. Recently, IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) spurned Ohanaeze in the constitution of a group that will dialogue with international envoys. Do you think that is helpful to their cause?
Eeem! I am an elder statesman in Igboland. I took part in the struggle for the independence of Nigeria. I belonged to a political party that believed religiously in one Nigeria; in one big country. And when this issue started and pressmen asked me what I thought about the agitation for Biafra, I said to them, “don’t ask me about the agitation for Biafra, but ask me, what are you doing about that?” And I told them that I had made my opinion, suggestions and advice available to Mr President. As an elder statesman, as the chairman of Ohanaeze elders council, as a leader accepted by Igbos by virtue of my age, and my experience in politics I wouldn’t make my views public on this issue. But all I know is that these people should be listened to. Listening to them does not necessarily mean accepting what they are saying or what they are asking for. But the government should listen to them. The government shouldn’t treat them as enemies.
Tempers are still flaring on this issue, and no one knows where it will lead to. Don’t you think some of you should step in and call the boys to order?
I will not say that calling the boys to order is necessarily the answer. When a boy is crying and rushing to the father, won’t the father ask the boy, my son, what is your problem? What do you want?
With your experience in politics and with what happened during the struggle for Biafra over 40 years ago, where do you think this renewed struggle will end up?
I am not a prophet. I don’t belong to a Pentecostal church, (laughs) but so many things that are happening in Nigeria today are pointing to a precipice, and it is not desirable. They are not pointing to any light at the end of the tunnel.
Dr Junaid Mohammed described the Biafra agitators as irresponsible who should be dealt with decisively. What do you think?
It is not possible to wipe out a people. They tried in 1966 to wipe out the Igbo, and settle the Igbo question once and for all, but they did not succeed. So Junaid should come down and do it; maybe he has some sons who can take up weapons. Let them come down and kill them.
Your friend and contemporary, Maitama Sule also made some comments which suggested that the agitation is uncalled for.
Maitama Sule and myself are in one boat. We all fought for the independence of Nigeria. We all fought for the unity of Nigeria as a big country. And we have not departed from that philosophy. So, what is guiding Maitama Sule is also in my mind. I believe in a country. I believe in Nigeria playing a role which nature has assigned to her to be a big brother to African countries. But we can only fulfill this role by the kind of government we have at any given time.
Government has announced some measures to steady the course of the economy, especially the exchange rate of the Naira. What is your view on this?
Naira has become a worthless piece of paper, worse than the Ugandan money of those days, worse than the German Deutschmark when the Second World War ended. Without fighting a war, Nigerian currency is now worse than the Zimbabwean currency some years ago. Zimbabwe is gradually recovering. I don’t see any hope of recovering in Nigeria in the near future. Everything is going down; everything is going carcass; everything is going wild, and nobody seems to bother. The people in government are bothered about pettiness. They say they are fighting corruption, but there is still corruption in the present government.
So corruption is fighting corruption?
Corruption is fighting corruption, and very soon they will meet and embrace.
If you meet president Buhari today what will you tell him?
I will tell him, my dear General, sorry Mr president, are you not worried about the state of the country, which we handed over to you on a platter of gold in May last year? What I will tell him depends on his attitude to the situation. I am not near enough to know how free he is because you may have a president who is shackled by lieutenants and colleagues in the party. And he, being a military man more than a politician may not understand the game very well. There are some people who get rich in the midst of crisis. There are people who are empowering themselves by the present chaotic situation in the country. And if such people encircle a president, that president is in serious trouble. I don’t know if Buhari is in that state now. But there are some people even outside his cabinet who are very powerful. They have stolen so much money in this country that if he doesn’t take care they might even do something to him. There are such people. There are eight of them in his government; in his political party, who are so powerful in every way that if he doesn’t take their way they will do something to him.
Who are these powerful men?
You know them. You are a journalist.
I don’t know them.
Go and find out.
Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo did a book when Kenya was enmeshed in poor economy and corruption and he entitled it, “Cry my beloved country”. If you were to do a book now on Nigeria what will you call it?
I am not writing a book now, but about two or three years ago I issued a small pamphlet which I entitled, “This union: Is it working? Will it ever work?.” So, I am still on that issue.
Do you sometimes weep for the country?
Of course! Who will see a house he built in his youth, using his total energy, resources, manpower, and wealth, and when he is old instead of enjoying and relaxing in the house, somebody comes up and pulls the house down. That is the way I feel about this country. Being one of the last persons to board a passenger plane to heaven, I would have liked to see a smooth country, so that when I get there I will tell Zik, Awolowo and Sardauna that the thing that did not happen in your own time is happening now. I am not happy at all with what is happening.