In counting core supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari, it would be incomplete without the name of Dr Ezekiel Izuogu, a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the All Progressives Congress(APC). He is one man that believes in the ability of Buhari to reclaim the nation from the grips of corrupt people. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on a wide range of issues.
The President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration just clocked two years, what is your assessment of the mid-term period?
President Buhari was my candidate and I went round the country to campaign for him despite the dangers of insecurity in different parts of the nation then. I saw in him a man who could reclaim the economy of the country by fighting corruption. I supported him mainly because of that ingredient that he could fight corruption; that he is not corrupt himself, that he is disciplined and that he can cause that discipline throughout the country. So far, I am happy that he is fighting corruption and the corrupt people are now hiding their loot. Some have returned part of the money and others are digging the ground and hiding the money in their houses. It is a very embarrassing situation. For the first time, Buhari has attacked corruption and I am very happy about that. So I think the development is very good for Nigeria. Some other people criticise the way he has done a few other things and unfortunately, he has not been well. I want to give that concession to him that if he has been well, we would have fully assessed his performance. However, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo is doing very well. I commend him for the job he is doing. I commend him for being loyal to Buhari. He has been a loyal subordinate. That is very good. We did not have that kind of situation in previous administrations. Prof Osinbajo has introduced that element of loyalty. If somebody is your boss, you should be loyal to him. You should appraise his functions and attributes. For instance, Buhari is fighting corruption, Osinbajo is also fighting corruption. That is a wonderful combination,
The government came with three major promises to fight corruption, address insecurity and boost the economy, do you think he has met the people’s expectations in those three areas?
On the issue of security, I am very surprised that most of the security chiefs are from one part of the country and they belong to a certain religion. President Buhari never mentioned that when we were campaigning for him. He never said he was going to do that kind of thing. So, I feel disappointed because that does not unite the country. That makes it suspicious among different tribes in Nigeria and as a person who loves Nigeria, I do not like it. Effort should be made to do the right thing as far as security is concerned. If there are about 20 security chiefs, 16 of them cannot come from one part of the country or one religion. If you do that, you would be seen as promoting one religion over the other or one ethnic region over the others. Buhari never told us he was going to do that. So, the thing should be looked into immediately. As they are starting their third year, they should change the security setting immediately. There should be Yoruba, Igbo, Tivs and other tribes in the country. There should be people from the Niger Delta area. It should not be one ethnic region or religion. It does not promote unity in the country at all. I am a chieftain of the APC and a member of the national caucus and a member of the Board of Trustees and Buhari never told us he was going to do that.
Many believe that the government has relatively done well in the area of the Boko Haram insurgency but its achievements are being eroded by the savagery being perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen. The argument is that the Boko Haram members have emptied to different parts of Nigeria as herdsmen. What is your take on that?
I agree that the government has done well on security. But I am very worried over the activities of the herdsmen. We are developing a secret army in the country. This is because herdsmen are not supposed to carry AK-47 rifles and other instruments of warfare in the country. That is very bad. In any case, it should be controlled so that the cattle can be reared in a particular area carved out for them. They should not be left to be terrorising villages, raping their women and kidnapping their husbands. That is very bad. In terms of fighting Boko Haram, Buhari has done well; we must thank him for that but the idea of leaving arms in the hands of herdsmen, that is very embarrassing. That can bring a civil war in Nigeria. We do not want a civil war in Nigeria any more.
The economy is one area where many think the government under Buhari has not done well, do you share the same view?
On the economy, Buhari believes that engineers are very important to promote any economy. He has said it and I totally agree with him. Our industrialisation is bad, we are not doing well in that area. We are not manufacturers, we are importers and consumers. We import cheap things and we give the importers fake titles they do not deserve because they should encourage local economies and local industrialisation. People are becoming great importers of goods that can be manufactured in Nigeria by our school children and those from technical schools. They can manufacture all those things and there would be employment everywhere in the country for everybody. But these economic kingpins are destroying the economy and I do not like it. They do not support research at all. They have refused to support local research because if they do, it is going to reduce their material gains. Nigerians should stigmatise all those cheap things and should stop giving the importers honour and chieftaincy titles. They should stop giving them awards until they repent.
Today (May 30) is being observed as sit- at-home in the whole South East in honour of Biafrans who died during the war? There is so much tension in the East following the development. Are you comfortable with that?
I believe that the greatest need of Nigerians is restructuring. If Nigeria is restructured very well, we would not have all these problems. I was a grownup in the First Republic and I saw how the Eastern region was performing. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was also performing in the Western region and Ahmadu Bello was also doing his best in the North. Every region could boast of achievements. There was a genuine competition among the regions that the west thought the East wanted to take over and the North was afraid that these people would do better than them. The competition was good for the whole country. So, restructuring is the key word. We cannot do away with restructuring. I am sure that if we restructure Nigeria, those Igbo people that are agitating for Biafra would come back and develop Nigeria and the country would
be a wonderful place just like America. There are some people in Nigeria who feel that if Nigeria cannot work, they should divide the country but I believe that dividing the country would not work. It would create more problems. The best thing is for us who are here to consciously restructure the nation so that every region of Nigeria would be fighting for survival. That is how we can beat Ghana, South Africa and all other countries. With our population, they would be behind us.
Some say that the present government is not encouraging national unity? The argument is that there is an increasing gulf among the different nationalities in the country. Do you agree?
I mingled with Buhari during the campaigns and I realised that he is a good man and he means well for the country. He may not have that natural tendency to reach out to others but we all have similar weaknesses. There are some people who are good in administration or good in governance but in terms of reaching out to other people, they are weak. I think the problem of this government is traceable to those who are operating in the government with the president. Those who are operating with Buhari are not doing well. To reach out on behalf of the president, they are not doing it. There were some people who were not in the APC but were brought in after they won the election and they have been mismanaging the whole place. Some of them are not even politicians and they are mismanaging the whole place and Buhari is being blamed for that. When Buhari’s wife spoke out, he spoke my mind. I totally agree with her. I spent four months campaigning all over the country for Buhari and today, I am nowhere. I am not a chairman of any board or anything; nobody recognises me even though I am very honest and sincere. Those around Buhari have hijacked everything and because they do not know where the rain started beating them, they do not know how to escape from it. That is the problem of the government and I hope that the Acting President would take this into consideration in managing the affairs of Nigeria while Buhari is away. I hope he comes back healthy also.
The issue of marginalisation of the South East appears to have become more pronounced under the present administration with the most recent case being the exclusion of the zone from the proposed modernisation of the nation’s railway industry. As an Easterner and a top member of the APC, how do you feel?
It is extremely bad and condemnable. Anybody who is doing that is trying to divide Nigeria and such a person does not mean well for the nation. If you mean well for Nigeria, you should pursue those policies that would unite the nation. Anybody who is proposing such a policy is an enemy of the country and he should be condemned. The policy should be changed immediately. All Nigerians should be treated equally no matter where they come from. That is the only way we can be as great as America. Nobody should discriminate against another person. The immediate past president of America, Barak Obama was a black man and he ruled very well. The population of blacks in America is only six per cent and yet Obama ruled very well. Nigeria should copy the same thing. There is too much ethnicity in Nigeria. Such a thing does not help Nigeria; it only divides Nigeria. Look at people based on what they can deliver and what they are capable of doing for Nigeria. It should not be based on where they come from or whether they are Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba or minorities. That is the only way Nigeria can develop. If you go to Kaduna and live, you can become the governor of Kaduna whether you are an Igbo man or Yoruba man, Tiv, Niger Deltan or wherever you come from. If you deserve to be the governor, he should be made governor of Kaduna. If the Hausa man deserves to be governor of Enugu, he should be made governor of the state. We should stop discriminating. We are dividing Nigeria by ourselves and we are worried that Nigeria is so divided.
On the issue of restructuring, the argument in many quarters especially down South is that the North is against that because they are benefitting from the current system. Do you agree?
You all misuse the word North. The people who are opposed to restructuring are less than five percent of the Northern population. They are powerful but that does not mean they control our vote. In a democracy, you take decisions based on voting populations. The voting population in the North is against those reactionaries and they would change it when they have the opportunity. Nobody should use the North or a small minority to judge. It is just like in the South East, we also have reactionary elements. In every history, there are always reactionaries who are opposed to progress. In every part of the world, there are people opposed to progressive principles but they do not control the system. Nigeria must rise up and vote for the right persons to lead them no matter where they come from. That is the only way Nigeria can become great.
What are your greatest fears for Nigeria?
My fear is that if people do not agree that what is good is good, and they continue insisting that they would do the bad thing, that is unfortunate and that may lead to a civil war from which nobody would come out. War is not good; I witnessed the Nigerian/Biafran war and I regretted it. Some of the small boys in Igbo land who are now shouting war or Biafra, they did not see the civil war. Even if they saw it, they were just small then, so war means nothing to them. But when they see the bloodshed that follows war, they would hate it. We were at the constitutional conference and we all made recommendations for the good of the country. A Northern person was the chairman and in fact, the North almost ran the place. We arrived at decisions that were good for the whole country. I hear that some delegates from the same North are going around holding conferences that the thing must not be implemented and yet they signed the recommendations of the conference. These are reactionaries but they are very few in population. They cannot change the destiny of Nigeria with over 170 million people. People should stop holding us to ransom. I feel very bad. I just came back from America and it is not my first time of going to the US and I see the difference. The light there was on 24 hours for every day of the week and so on. I have a factory in Abuja and light comes to this factory only one hour in a day. I have three generators and they have all broken down. In such a situation, how can you do implementation of research? How can you make inventions that would save Nigeria? There is peace in every part of America. Even in the remotest streets in Washington, everywhere looks wonderful. The local governments are doing it. The local government chairman in Nigeria would make himself automatically a billionaire. He would embezzle all the money belonging to the local government and no road there is constructed and the people are suffering but keeping quiet. Why? That is the problem that we have.
What are your expectations ahead of the 2019 general elections and will you be willing to contest for any position again after several failed attempts to win governorship election in your state?
What they did to me in Imo State frightens me. The amount of rigging in that place after I won the governorship election three times frightens me. I was nearly killed. When I see the face of a Nigerian politician, I get frightened. Something must be done about it. But I cannot disobey God; if He wants me to come out, I would come out. It must be the power of the almighty God who can do all things. I am here to do the will of God but what I saw in Imo frightened me. It is not only Imo but all over the country. There is massive rigging and inflation of votes and the people in INEC are very corrupt. The INEC people collect millions and announce people who never won elections. That is why we are suffering. When they see a good candidate, they conspire against him. There were some big men who said Izuogu, he is the best governorship candidate in the whole country but he would not chop and would not allow anybody to chop. Therefore, he must not be the governor. And they contributed millions to stop me. Only God stopped them from killing me. Those people are evil and unless we make laws that would contain and checkmate them, the future of democracy in Nigeria is numbered. We have to do something about it.