Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, no doubt has seen it all, ranging from Nigeria’s civil, coups and is one of those involved in the shaping of the nation’s democracy. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun in Owerri, he dwelt on several issues militating against the nation, why Nigeria should remain united and other burning issues. Excerpt:
Was this the Nigeria our founding fathers envisioned?
I want to tell you that I’m completely disillusioned; I’m not happy with what I’m seeing today. I remember clearly the event on that October1, 1960, when the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian Green and White flag was hoisted, we chorused the national anthem, ‘though tribe and tongue may differ, but in unity we stand.’ We all knew from the beginning that we’re different race and tribes; we all knew we have differences in religion, but we resolved to stand in unity and indeed our founding fathers did very well, it appeared to me that the best government we have had was that government of 1960 because that time there was no question of Nigerians killing Nigerians, that time, there was no problem of herdsmen and farmers clashing, there was no problem of kidnapping, 419, insurgency, but today, we have multifarious problems that make the country ungovernable. Nigeria is getting to a point of anarchy, and I’m worried about it, this is not the country our people envisioned. Running a government is like running a home or business, if you have strategy that doesn’t work; you have to change to another one. First of all, we have a constitution which our founding fathers had, that constitution recognises our differences in tribe; in ethnicity, and the constitution gave the federating units at that time reasonable autonomy. Nigeria is too large for one person to stay in Abuja and govern the whole country and expect to do it efficiently, take for example, the power supply, when I was the Chairman of Power Development Council, I made strong statements that power should be exclusively handed over to the states, should be removed from the Federal Government. I was doing it with all sense of sincerity and love for the country, and I believe if that was done, I’m sure over 90 per cent would have been self-sufficient of power. Power is a major element of industrialisation, without power, industries can’t grow, but everything is concentrated in Federal Government. Look at roads, for example, now we have one minister in charge of roads in Nigeria, the same ministry in charge of power and housing, I mean, he is a human being, this minister was a very good governor, he governed Lagos State. I think frankly speaking, he laid a solid foundation for Lagos State, but there is an extent to which a person can go especially when that area is not in the person’s calling. Make no mistake about it, roads, power and housing are engineering challenge, architectural challenge and there are people who are trained for this and we expect those people to be in charge of them. However, the most important thing is that, if this thing is decentralised, it would be easier. I have sat down to check the amount of money spent on power since after the civil war and from the rough estimate I got, it would be enough to give power to the whole of Africa, because most of the money go into private pockets, but if it is done by the state, they would be able to control it. When something is done from the centre and the thing is big, it is not easy to control, that is why we are talking of restructuring of government. When the constitution was made, people agreed we have local government, state and federal, the point is that we envisaged that not everybody from the local government can go to the state or Abuja, but today everything is centred either at the state or Abuja. But if we actually have restructuring of the country, we move some power from the Federal Government and give to the state; I think it would be easier to manage. There is one other problem I have in this country and that is budgeting, when I look at the national budget, they don’t have the money for it; they depend on oil whose price they cannot control, they depend on agriculture which is not properly developed. All these things they talk about agriculture and all that, most of these statistics need to be verified. So, I believe that we have to be very realistic, when a budget is made now, most of them are made for the payment of salaries, in fact, most of the budgets go to the recurrent expenditure, and for capital projects, the government resorts to borrowing and the worrisome thing about this borrowing is that they accumulate debt for the younger ones who are coming up in future. This government has borrowed so much money; this money is going to be repaid by the younger ones because most of the people who borrowed today may probably die in the next 20 years or so. The youths of today are the people that are going to bear the brunt of all these, that is why I get worried because you know that I’m the patron of virtually all the youth organisations in the country. I’m a patron of northern youths, Arewa youths, patron of Tiv youths, patron of Yoruba youths, Oduduwa, patron of Ohanaeze youths, even Nigeria Youth Council, I’m their father, I’m concerned. So, the position they have given me confers on me a duty to ensure that their future is properly protected, but what we are doing today is not protecting them. I believe that everything in Nigeria requires restructuring. We have talked about minimum wage of N30 000, that cannot feed anybody in this country. The worrisome part of it is that the resources we have today cannot allow that to be paid conveniently. If that money is paid, all other groups go through it and by the time you work it out in the whole of Nigeria’s budget; that means the budget and wealth of Nigeria will be only paying salary to only civil servants and politicians who are just in power. But the majority of Nigerians who are not in power or who are not civil servants will suffer because once they don’t have money for capital projects, many businesses that depend on the execution of such projects, can’t get businesses, they will sack their staff, most of them even when they do the job will not be paid; even the banks would be bankrupt. The business environment will be terrible because of all these types of problems, so the government has reached a point, where it will sit down and they tell us everything is well, nothing is well. This government must re-examine this system, first of all, Nigeria must be restructured, secondly, can we actually with the resources we have at the moment cope with a bicameral legislature of House of Representatives and Senate, is it not possible for one of them to carry out the duty? Every nation must structure their constitution and their system to suit their resources; we must cut our coat according to our material. It doesn’t make sense for a country like Nigeria, where we talking about money that cannot be easy to manage, we can have a better way of governing the people, even this process of election that we have, I think something is wrong, we can adopt a process of selecting our leaders.
You’ve expressed disappointment with the system. At what point did we miss it?
To be honest with you, we missed it after the military coup, when the military took over power in 1966 and they decided to have a unitary system of government and after that too, corruption entered into the system in 1960. To be honest with you, there is no human society where you don’t have corruption, but the one we have today is completely unacceptable. Nigeria should have the moral acceptance that corruption is bad and know that they would not do it whether they are caught or not. It appears today in Nigeria, the only thing that stops them being corrupt is because of the law, it worries me because most of us are Christians and Muslims and both religions preach against corruption, corruption is very endemic in this country, it is everywhere even in the universities and that has destroyed our education. Because of corruption, you see some people getting degree without qualifying for it, even the security agents, these kidnappers in the North; we are hearing stories that some of them collude with security agents. You can see that if a security agent colludes with these hoodlums, the country is in a terrible mess. I have talked about the government looking at the system again, if Nigeria is not restructured, I can tell you this country will turn into chaos, if unemployment continues, the criminals will be more than good people, and if they are more in number, they would just take over the country. It is getting to a point where criminals are contesting elections into the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate, even in some places criminals are becoming traditional rulers. If this trend is not checked, they will take over the whole country, they have money to offer for everything. That is why I said Nigeria needs to pause for a while, look at the past and know where we are going and resolve on how best to solve this problem. We talk about the Boko Haram, they have dared Nigerians from all indications till date, nobody has been able to tell us how they are funded, even somebody said that they are getting $3,000 per day, who is providing that money? These are some of the things Nigerians need to know, because these people are Nigerians fighting Nigerians and they are from homes, they have councillors, members of House of Assembly, they have House of Representatives members, they have senators, they should be held accountable for these things. If not that elders in Igbo land tried to control the IPOB, they could have become a bigger terrorist organisation, but we try to control them. I think the people in those areas should try to control their people too. The other group is the herdsmen who with impunity raze villages, rape and kill. Who gives them the AK 47 they use, somebody must have been providing it because those people can’t afford it. When some people say there is collaboration with security agents, I think there is a sense in it, we already heard some of them are sent in from Libya, we have immigrations, we have customs at the borders; how did they come? Nigerian security should have identified all the routes and block than, the main thing in this is not fighting a war, bombing a place, the major part of the war is stopping their logistics. If our military and other security agencies can stop them from getting resources, they will get tired and go away, but you can see that they are continuously restocking resources, they have all the materials to fight us and it is coming from somewhere, where is it coming from, is it coming from Nigeria or outside? The rate of kidnapping is getting terrible now, formerly there was no kidnapping in the North; South-south and Southeast at first, we know are quite different. In Southeast and South-south, they target individuals, but the one in the North now they target group, demand money, what are they doing with this money, where do they keep this money, these are questions security agents must have to answer. I’m planning to get in touch with the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN); I want Iwuanyanwu Foundation to collaborate with them on a summit on security because it is high time the youths came and took a position on these matters; because it is their future that’s at stake. Most of us have lived our lives, then the youths are the people who are going to bear the brunt of this mess. That is why I’m planning that summit.
Looking back, do you think Nigeria is a mistake or do you have any regrets labouring for Nigeria?
I don’t have any regrets at all. It’s clear from history that Lord Lugard when he amalgamated Nigeria didn’t do it because he loved us or because he wanted us to be a very strong country, you know we have amalgamation of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria. I think it was for trading purpose because he was then, like the Managing Director of the company and whenever they make profit, they are honoured and decorated by the Queen, I think he did it to enhance the profitability of the business. He was succeeded by Clifford who saw the differences in handling Nigeria, but you know it was only in 1946 that Richard was able to add the three regions, Northern, Eastern and Western regions, and even then it was in 1951 that John MacPherson was able to have the first constitution and in 1954; we now had the proper constitution of Nigeria and that was when Lyttleton was there and that was the London Conference, the constitution which we thought was the peoples’ constitution and that was the best constitution we have ever had. To answer your question, there is no regret, over the years I have found out that God designed Nigeria, God has endowed us with all minerals and great human resources; we have everything to become great. In fact, God has destined Nigeria to be world leader in Africa, the Europeans will crumble and one day Africa would be the centre of activities and Nigeria is destined for that. I think Nigerians must work hard to make sure this country is great; we have a lot to gain. Truth be told; our diversity is what makes it a very great country. Many Igbo have demonstrated commitment to one Nigeria more than any tribe, that is why you see them everywhere and that is the first testimony that the Igbo are committed to one Nigeria. I believe that if we can get the right leadership, take the right decision, be honest to ourselves, if we can avoid this crave for wealth, this country will be the best country. I still have hope that if we work hard, very well, this country can still be a great country.
We’ve heard so much about the coup of 1966 that overthrew the First Republic; from your inquiries and understanding overtime, was it really an Igbo coup or were there actually some form of support of sympathy from Igbo politicians for the masterminds of the coup?
I can tell you that the coup has nothing to do with the Igbo; Igbo leaders didn’t know anything about it, if any group had a loss, it was the Igbo; that first government in 1960 was the best we have ever had since creation of Nigeria. The Igbo were very comfortable with that government, we had a Prime Minister who was a very good man, extremely good man, yes, it is true that Zik was the founding father of the country, but he did not become the President because his party did not win election, but he was respected and made the Governor General and later the President of the country. When the British were leaving, everything was on merit, the only university we had as at that time, an Igbo man was the Vice Chancellor, Prof Kenneth Dike. Today, it will never happen, it was on merit, Ironsi was appointed the General Commander, today, it will not happen. When the police was handed over to the man from Akwa Ibom who was actually leaving in Aba, the point is that easterners occupied highly big positions, Eastern Nigeria was very happy and stable, economy was booming. The report by the World Bank then was that the economy of the Eastern Nigeria was the fastest growing in Southern Sahara, so we were very comfortable, but there was trouble in other parts of the country and that trouble at that time put one of the founding fathers in prison, Awolowo, and that coup was actually to release Awolowo. It’s just that the man who led it, Nzeogwu was an Igbo man from Niger Delta, but there were some Yoruba too, there were other tribes, it’s not just the Igbo, but because an Igbo man was at the head. Incidentally, some northern leaders were killed, Tafawa Balewa was killed, Ahmadu Bello was killed; it was very unfortunate. The Igbo were very sad over it because the leaders were good, Ahmadu Bello was good, Tafawa Balewa was equally good, he was one of the most vocal leaders we had got. If you listen to some of his speeches at the United Nations, you will feel proud, I don’t think of any Nigerian can boast of oratory skill better than Tafawa Balewa. So, we were comfortable with that government. People must put the history right, I have been telling people, Ojukwu never went to seek cessation of the country, he only asked for restructuring. What Ojukwu wanted to do was that Nigeria should be restructured in such a way that the Igbo can comfortably live in Nigeria in peace and in pursuit of their businesses. At first, they accepted, but later disagreed and that was how the whole thing started. Biafra was not declared by Ojukwu; but leaders of Eastern Nigeria, including present day Cross River, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa. Delta then was in Midwest and Alvan Ikoku was chairman of that convention. I was very happy when Ojukwu died and he was given a national burial.
But do you think that Biafra is an alternative, particularly in the face of the mounting agitation from young Biafra activists?
The truth about it is that I believe in a big country, the danger in Nigeria today and I’m warning with all seriousness, people who are agitating for Biafra should be very careful. If we start agitating, Nigeria will break into very small fragments, ethnic groups can say they want to be a country and then they would be very weak. Nigeria would no longer have that strength and power in unity, so, I’m cautioning any group whether IPOB or others talking about secession to please realise that it is not in our interest. Besides, go and check history, when people secede that way, they would be continually at war. Today, we have peace, but the moment we start breaking, we might be 13 or 15 countries. We should all work hard to keep to one Nigeria and leaders should listen to us but if Nigeria is not restructured, Nigeria will disintegrate on its own and that will be a calamity. Our education has collapsed, unemployment is rising every day, businesses are collapsing, foreign investors cannot come because of insecurity, we have to sit down and know how to restructure the place.
What is your view about the current jostling for positions in the incoming National Assembly especially by the APC, bearing in mind the exclusion of the Southeast?
It’s very sad to see the impunity in that statement made by the APC. I can’t understand it; anybody who is a student of history will understand that it never worked. PDP tried it, it didn’t work, there is no way that people that have gotten the mandate of their people to defend them, to come and impose leadership on them, they are not school boys, even school boys want to exercise their rights. So, I think it is very wrong, there is nothing wrong in APC saying we have zoned the Senate President to this place, we have zoned the Speaker to this place. Then, when they zone it; people would go and contest. But again, the legislative arm in a democracy is the most important arm, it is the watchdog of the people, they monitor what the executive is doing.
The constitution we are running today has given the president a lot of powers and if you don’t have a strong legislature to monitor them, there would be problem. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely too. If a party wants to put a leadership they want to control, then it’s unfair to Nigerians. Nigerians deserve a legislature that can be held accountable for any problem which they fail to solve. Going through history; in 1999, part of the problem then was that the choice of the people was not given, there were impeachments, if you watch in four years; there were four or more Presidents of Senate. Subsequently, they had chosen their candidates and there have been stability. The last time APC chose their own, what the APC is doing now is an insult to Nigerians, how can somebody say because he won a majority, therefore, he has to sit down in a small room over coffee or champagne and appoint who will be President of the Senate of Nigeria. It is a very big position, Speaker, a very big position, it is a property that belongs to Nigerians not to any party because at the moment; people are elected, and that is what I’m warning the executive. Last time people in Southeast and South-south were not happy because they felt they were not well treated and we were told that the reason we were not well treated was because we didn’t vote for the president at that time. I think it’s wrong, once you are elected a president or a governor, at the moment you were sworn in, you are to serve the entire nation or state, not party. People talk about Southeast, today money is being borrowed for railways none of them pass through the Southeast or South-south and we are going to pay for it. If a railway line is built through Owerri, Aba or Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Benin to Lagos, it’s going to be a viable railway line because people on this route travel a lot. They have excluded the people of Southeast and South-south and when we complain they say we complain too much. We are aware this money is loan, so, we say this thing should be given to us. I have been to Niger Delta, in the next 50 years, the area is going to be the poorest in the country because their resources have been exploited; their environment degraded, they cannot do their farming or fishing. Oil has completely destroyed their place, oil is a perishable commodity, it will finish and when it finishes, they have this little 13 per cent derivation they get. It’s unfair; I believe that what the constitution said initially is that they should be given 17 per cent because of their environment, not just do cleaning. Why would you even allow an environment to be bad first before you even talk about going to clean it up; I think a law should be done to help them while oil is still exploited, some of them are getting strange diseases as a result of the degradation.
Going forward, what is your wish for the country?
I love my country, I run businesses in America, Europe even in other parts of West Africa, but I have found out over the years that if I leave Nigeria, after two weeks anywhere, I will be home sick. So, there is no country like Nigeria, the social life is wonderful.
I wish to see a Nigeria where there will be no kidnapping, where there will be no armed robbery, where this problem between cattle rearers and farmers would stop, where Boko Haram would stop and those things could only be stopped by government taking action because most of them are caused by unemployment and hardship. Most of these people are not potentially criminals, somebody who is not a kidnapper; he handles first kidnap operation successfully and he got N1 million, even if you offer such person N1 million he would not take.
As one of the fathers of Imo, can you set an agenda for the incoming government?
You know the government is a PDP government and I’m the leader of PDP in Imo, so, we promise Imo people that Emeka Ihedioha is a person we have tested including in the National Assembly. He’s an honest person, intelligent, hardworking and resourceful, so, I think Imo people should expect a very strong and wonderful transformation, but they must realise that Rome was not built in a day; the amount of problem in Imo is such that it will take some time. They should be patient with him, but I can tell from the way he has started, he started very well. He has put up a transition committee, not a PDP committee; nothing to do with party. That is the problem we have with APC, they are always talking of party. Once you win an election, it’s no more party, he has setup an all-inclusive transition committee, he brought out the best from everywhere working out problems and solution; how to attract investors, how to tackle insecurity, how to improve agriculture and how to build industries and all these are going to create jobs.