‘It’s time for global realignment’
As the clamour for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction gains more ground and support from eminent leaders especially former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who last week called for it, erudite scholar and prominent Igbo leader, Professor Anya O. Anya has come out with the things Ndigbo must do in order to clinch the coveted seat. Speaking with a team of Editors from The Sun including the MD/EIC, ERIC OSAGIE, BOLAJI TUNJI, ONUOHA UKEH, FEMI BABAFEMI and IKENNA EMEWU, at his Lagos home, Anya who is the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia state, also spoke on other major national issues.
My question is about the country, why has it been very difficult for us to get things right?
Well, let me put it this way, good things are happening in Nigeria, even now. The younger generation; if you know what some young Nigerians are doing n the corporate world, in the technology world, you’ll be proud. But what happens is that we tend to emphasize the negative. And you have to be careful of what you ask for because you might just get it. In the spiritual sphere, we call it the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you dwell too much on the negative, it may just be a focus. But good things are happening in Nigeria.
Last year, I gave a lecture to a group of CEOs, they wanted me to talk about the ‘Economy and You.’ That was the title they gave me. I then subtitled it the ‘Economy and You: Tales of the Unexpected’. A newspaper apparently got hold of it and published part of it. The Nigerian Economic Summit Group got in touch, and said they want to publish it in their journal. To help them, you know they are my people so I didn’t want it to look like they just copied it from what a newspaper published earlier. So, I had to re-jig it and changed the title to: ‘The genesis of a recession’. This recession that we are in, how did it come?
You see in 2014, Nigeria was being touted as one of the emerging markets that people should watch; that was going to explode. And at that time, up to 14 billion USD was speculated to be on the way coming to Nigeria. By 2016, we couldn’t get 700 million USD coming. How did it happen?
You see, when you talk about economics, whether it is inflation rate or exchange rate, they are only summaries of patterns of human behaviour. Economics is nothing else than writing about human behaviour and its consequences. So when you get to the point where the leader is saying ‘my people are corrupt’. You’re sending a very powerful message. Let’s forget that God created the world by word of mouth. ‘Let there be light, and there was light’. So power is in the word.
The consequence was that those who were rushing to Nigeria said ‘Ah! Let’s still wait and see what is going on’. And as they are waiting to see what is going on, they are looking inside to see what the insiders are doing. Anybody who had money and wanted to invest in Nigeria; including those who got it legitimately had to be careful now so it won’t appear they are spreading money around. So what happened? Investment stopped within. And because it stopped within, outsiders couldn’t come in. You cannot undo it. And that is why we are where we are.
Until you change the narrative to a more positive one. Corruption is not a Nigerian word, which means it’s there all over the world. In some ways, the US could be the most corrupt society. But the truth of the matter is that, the leadership is responsible enough to stick to the rules. If you’re unfortunate enough to step out of the rule, you bear the consequences. So people see and think there’s no corruption but there is corruption, the only thing is they manage it. Why is it that we cannot manage our own? In other words, you don’t presume that everybody is corrupt. The lawyers say that everybody is presumed innocent.
However, I’m not pretending there’s no corruption and I’m not going to justify it. I have my own life to show that it is possible to live without corruption in Nigeria. And I’m sure that there are a few other people who’ve done that. Why don’t we start emphasizing those for the sake of our children? That’s one.
Second is that when there are proven cases you don’t try them inside newspapers. You allow the law to take its course and then punish clearly, and it becomes an example. You know right now, I suspect that there are people who would say ‘look if you steal enough money, you can share it including the judiciary, including everybody and what’s left, you’ll steal have a change’ (laughs). So that’s what is going on. When we were growing; when it’s said you went to the police station, just the mere fact that you had to go to the police station, all your friends would be looking at you and wondering. In other words, the values in the society are important, because the values you project tell young people what is important and people model their lives after them.
But because we talk so much about the negative, it starts looking to the young people that the negative is the way to be important in Nigeria. But there is still a fundamental issue. My grandfather used to say as his advice to his son and later to us the grandchildren, ‘Never do business with a man who does not fear God and a man who has no sense of shame.’ Even if a man does not fear God, his sense of shame may still keep him within bounds. But once you are dealing with people who have stepped out of those boundaries anything goes. And that’s where we are.
Prof, it appears from what I’ve listened to you say, that you slightly disagree with many in government who believe that the alleged looting of the nation’s treasury is responsible for the problem the nation is in today?
Let me put it this way, I have been frightened by the kind of sums of money mentioned that individuals took. So, there is no way of justifying that. But what I’m saying is that, mature, responsible society has a way of dealing with that so it doesn’t become drama. When something becomes drama, you’ve reduced the seriousness of the situation.
I’m saying that to a certain extent, if different strategies had been adopted, you probably could have conserved the little progress that has been made over the last years, and yet build on it while correcting the ills that exist that we cannot justify. This is because, in any society, you must create a movement for the good values of the society. Right now, even the good things that this government is doing, you may find that many people are not prepared to come and defend them or even say positive things. You know the reason? Because they are not sure of what they would do next. And if you have a reputation, it is the one thing you have to conserve. You don’t want to take a position that by tomorrow you are made to look stupid for taking that position. In other words, there are many things I would gladly come out and say ‘they are getting it right’. But because there’re so many other things they have not gotten right, I don’t want to be another cheerleader.
And that’s where they’ve done themselves the greatest damage; because you come you build a broad platform of leaders. Leaders are not politicians. The real leaders in any country; as you see the US today, there are probably five, at most 10 people who actually run the country. They don’t hold office, there’s nothing more they’re looking for, but it does not matter who comes into power. You’ll have to listen to them.
Do we have such people in Nigeria?
There are such people but we’ve not given them the wings or the standing. I’ll give you an instance; there was a letter I wrote. In fact, there was a little history behind it. In 2013, Jonathan after his first two years asked his people to do a mid-term report; what they had done in the last two years, as a basis to plan what they needed for the next two years.
When that report was prepared, it showed that at a point in time that over N495 billion had been committed to the North-central; because he asked them to do it by geopolitical zone. N314 billion had been committed to North-west, N215 billion had been committed to the South west, N202 billion had been committed to the South-south, but remember that time South-south also had an amnesty program, had NDDC and then had a ministry. So that 202 billion was not the total of what the commitment was. Then the North-east was N114 billion, and the South-east that gave the most determined support to that government got only N74 billion.
When I got those figures, I made contacts with the president saying I wanted to see him. To cut the long story short, he finally granted me an interview here in Lagos at the State House in Marina. So I went and begged Chief Emeka Anyaoku to go with me. And he did.
First, he said that people were saying he was giving everything to the Igbo. And I said that these are data from your own government. I said what you committed to the North-central was six times more than what you committed to the Southeast. What you’ve committed to the North-west; where the greatest challenge and opposition to you was coming from was four times more than what you gave South-east. By the time I finished that analysis, he called the late Oronto Douglas and said I should put my views on paper. So, he told Oronto Douglas that I would be sending something to him. I then used the opportunity in writing out, not just to dwell on what I raised with him but to give him a broad view of his government.
I said in that letter ‘when you came to power, it was a broad coalition. It cut across parties, it cut across ethnicities, because Nigerians wanted you there. They had a reason for it. So, you had a broad electoral coalition. An electoral coalition brought you to power. But now that you’re running the government, the governing coalition, because it rests mostly on your party members, there’s a disconnect. Those who brought you into office are wondering if they did the right thing. Because they are looking at people around you and they are not seeing their own type. They are not expecting to come into government as persons but they want to see persons who hold the same value are there. So the electoral coalition and the government coalition are different. And that is why we’re having the problems we have.’
Second, in any country, there is an elders’ group. That elders group, they’ve served the country. They’ve retired but are not tired. They are not looking for money; they are not looking for office. But they want to promote the country because their pride is in the country they served. I said you don’t have any such people around you. Unless you’re seeing them so clandestinely that nobody knows, in any case if we’re not seeing the impact it means they are not doing much.
I offered him that I’m prepared to put together a group of elders who are non-party men and who would not be party men but who are Nigerians and committed to Nigeria, who can sit around and talk about Nigeria’s problems. What you do is your decision. They won’t run the government for you but they hold you and tell you the values that are important and hold you to account for those things in the name of Nigeria. The rest is history.
Right now in the country, do you see a link between the electoral coalition and the governing coalition?
It is worse now.
What do you mean?
What I just said. Remember I made a comment earlier. That I cannot find the courage to go and say publicly, that this government has done this well or done that well. The reason being because, take the pattern; you’re not sure what they will do next. And the little credibility you have, you don’t trade it carelessly. Because if I make a statement; they say ‘Professor Anya said’ and there are many people who would immediately say ‘Ah! If Professor Anya said that, he doesn’t want to mislead people’. When people start seeing a difference between what you said and what is happening, you have a problem.
But if this government, and it would have been easier for our present president, it would have been easier for him to get that kind of leadership corps that I’m talking about; of elders who are not looking for office or anything, but who are available to give advice. First, because at his age, at over 70, he already belongs to that elders class. Then having being Head of State, he has seen Nigeria. Therefore it would have been easy for him.
But when his first action in the six months indicated that he had already made up his mind on those who are the friends he would work with, and those who are his enemies he must avoid, that was when he lost it. And this thing you call reputation or credibility is fragile. Once you are not sure, it creates all other kinds of other scenarios. He is trying very hard. Look at what he is trying to achieve with the Niger Delta now. If he had handled them better, this won’t be necessary. But no matter what he does now, it is difficult to recreate that atmosphere of confidence. They would say ‘ok, they say he’s doing this. Ok let’s watch and see’. But that enthusiasm; because let’s be honest, apart from the other things defined as necessary for leadership, passion is the most important ingredient because that is what makes people follow a leader. Because passion means on this issue you are prepared to put your life on the line. And others watching you would be like ‘Ah! If he’s prepared to put his life on the line, then it is important’.
What about integrity?
That is part of it. You cannot have integrity if you do not have passion. Because it means, you have consistently said ‘this is important’ ‘this is not important’ and you are following consistently the important things. That is the basis of integrity, people don’t second-guess you. They know where you stand and can guess where you are likely to stand. When people cannot see where you are likely to stand, you’re not a leader.
Can he get it back? Two years is almost gone already…
Only God can answer that question. Because He’s the one we know that knows the end even at the beginning.
Can we say this explains the high tension and uncertainty out there?
Of course! There is a connection between everybody trying to do his thing, and the general uncertainty. People do not know what is likely to happen. So they want to help themselves the best way they can today. You see the Igbo, they are my people. They are the easiest to govern, because once you get their confidence they would follow you. You just heard the story I was telling you about Jonathan, despite all that, look at how they followed Jonathan…(laughs). If I have to think of all that I’ve said, the kind of support they gave him, Does it make sense? Because once you gain their confidence they are prepared to support you. Even among Igbo, I keep on telling people, once you do things in a manner that they see you accountable, and accept that you are a serious minded accountable person, you can commit murder and they would find an excuse for you (laughs). But that initial engagement is important for any leader.
Now, in addition to the burden we already have as a nation, what kind of generation of future Nigerians are we going to breed, those who have been bruised and victimized by a system in their childhood?
That is why values and culture are important. Development is not possible outside the context defined by values and culture.
Take even the rise of capitalism. When some parts of the Christian message start emphasizing stewardship, thrift, hard work and so on, it created an environment in which people know that they should work hard and produce. But what you produce, you should conserve; which is thrift. And when you’ve done that, you should also share with others, which means you help those in need. And you should do it because you are a steward. What you have is what God has given you and God gave it to you as a steward.
That is what gave rise to what Max Weber, the German sociologist called the ‘protestant ethic’ and that is what gave rise to capitalism. In our situation, when you get to the point where a movement that places more emphasis on values so that it becomes clear to young people to know that these things are allowed. You start creating values, people would embrace those values as they see the elder also behaving in accordance to those values. You’re changing the society.
I always tell people that there’s nothing that is happening to Nigeria today that is so terrible that it had not happened before. If you are a student of British history, read the history of Britain between 1810 and 1850. There is absolutely nothing we’re talking about happening in Nigeria that did not happen in Britain. But what happened as those terrible situation arose, that there were also champions who came saying ‘look a society taking part in slave trade and so on cannot be a responsible Christian society’. ‘A society that tolerates poverty, a society that tolerates a class of leaders who do no work but own vast estates cannot be a responsible society.’ So you now have a class of people questioning the values of a society. And in that questioning, new values started emerging, which in fact affected even the ethos that lead them into colonialism that also changed the emphasis on how their development would take place. That’s how their agric revolution came and how their industrialization came. It became a changed society.
That would happen here. Indeed, the change has already started but because we’re seeing all the reports; you know you people are a lot more efficient now; the media. Nothing passes now. So because of that and the ease with which information is assessed, it looks as if this time is so terrible than the time that had passed or that this society is much worse than that society.
But the important thing is that when there is that change, you will start reconditioning the minds of your people and that would start showing off in the way the young people are brought up and what they consider important. Right now if you lined up the students in the university and ask how many would be interested to get their certificates signed and be given to them now. You would be surprised that half of them would want to get that certificate without learning anything, because the emphasis of the society has been on paper qualification. Not on the content that justifies that certificate. So values are important but this thing you’re talking about is a passing phase, it will go.
You talked about the Igbo being easy to govern if you win their confidence. How would the government and Nigeria as a country win the confidence of the Igbo to get their commitment? Secondly, looking at the configuration today, do you think an Igbo man can ever be president?
I think the Igbo have to understand this country and embrace the values they have used to develop this country and use it as a basis for negotiation. What do I mean?
You see, there was a recent election for the new President-General of Ohanaeze. You know I chaired the election committee. Have you seen much of my name mentioned? It would not be mentioned, it’s not important. But everybody and everybody is full of praise the way it went seamlessly. That is because if I’m involved in anything it is total. I chose the people I gave responsibilities to, and then people that I know that will not only deliver but are accountable to me and hold me in sufficient respect, that they would not want to do the wrong thing. And because of that there was credibility.
Second, Harry Truman said ‘it is hard for people to believe how much good can be done if there is nobody taking credit for it’. I could by now be giving interview left, right and centre at how Ohanaeze had always had problems with elections but this time it went smoothly and it was done by Anya. And the real lessons that could have been leant are then confused by human emotions. People who are appreciating what would happen may start querying because Anya didn’t greet them well when they met the last time; how can Anya be the one to do that? So, you introduce ideas that are not important.
What am I leading up to? Credibility is a fragile plant. Igbo are giving so much to Nigeria and have taken very little from it. You know the reason? Because we make too much noise, seem to embrace leaders that make too much noise, so people have started judging you on that basis. ‘people who make this kind of noise, how can they be serious?’ And not only that, in the noise, they tend to project an image of people who are intolerant of other people, and what other people can achieve and have achieved. In other words, you are not humble about your achievements.
The results of course, even people who appreciate your achievements, are not quite sure of what you have in mind. I hear many people talk about the Igbo agenda. As an Igbo man, did you hear of the Igbo sitting down anywhere to agree on anything? But for the rest of Nigeria, they would say if you are insisting on this, then there must be something at the back of your mind. What am I saying? The image you build and project is important, because that is what allows other people to engage with you.
But you know that, for example, I have a group of young Yoruba and northerners who did their youth corps in the East. They were surprised at what they saw. Some of them have remained in touch with me. They came and were so surprised that the people were so tolerant, and it was a different thing from the picture they had of them. So, you must learn to tell your story so that it would not scare others. Because we are the only ones who are all over Nigeria, we are the only ones who are investing with confidence wherever we are. Those are positive things that can actually make the rest of Nigeria trust you and work with you. But you don’t build on it, rather you build on the noise.
Even some honest Igbo have said; in fact the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falaye, when we went to the national conference, when it was over, Olu came to me and said that ‘the Igbo were the only ones who seem to have gotten everything they came here for.’ I asked ‘what was it that the Igbo got that you Yoruba haven’t gotten?’ He said the way we have handled our affairs. I laughed because what he was saying was true.
The truth of the matter is that that was the first national conference where Igbo were not on the podium making noise claiming and shouting that they wanted to be known. And the reason was simple; before we left the East for the meeting in Abuja, we had a meeting with the Southeast governors and I gave them two rules we must try to obey.
One is that we must keep the noise level down. And how do we do that? We agreed that when we get there, we must keep our eyes and ears open and keep our mouths shut. In those situations when we want to say something, we would agree on what we wanted to say and who would say it. We must make sure we don’t scare the rest of Nigeria. We must make sure that it doesn’t look as if we already had our meeting and decided and we would have it at all cost. The second rule is, there is nothing that the Igbo man wants that no other Nigerian wants. Some even want it more than you. But our history has shown that whenever an Igbo man is in front of anything, immediately, it sends negative signals to others. And they ask ‘what are the Igbo up to’ and it needs not be so. Find out what the others want and if it fits our own, then we give them our support. Let them be in front and we follow. When we achieve that particular goal, they would take their benefit and we take our own. They won’t take their own and take our own. But instead of resentment and lack of confidence, in its place we have a feeling of reciprocal respect and more importantly, goodwill, because they will now know that if you didn’t support them they may not have gotten it. So, they would appreciate you more and because they appreciate you, they would want to work to build Nigeria.
In summary it is about politics. And the North seems to be playing that politics well. They sit down quietly, listen more, they watch and not say anything and they get the power. The Igbo man is talking and others are saying that if he gets there, he will dismember the country and talk about other things that favour them. But others get power and do the same thing they were afraid other people would do. So, if I get you right, you’re talking about bad politics within the Nigerian federation. Am I correct?
Yes. We have to completely reorganise the way we relate with others.
Is there hope then for an Igbo presidency or a president of Igbo extraction?
Well, yes. That would happen in time whether we like it or not. The reason is when we start building bridges like I’ve just said. And people start understanding you, and recognising that what is best for Nigeria is best for Nigeria. Slowly the confidence would come and that confidence would be to look for the best person. And if we continue being as energetic, industrious and reliable; because despite all that I’m saying the Igbo can be reliable in business. So if that picture of reliability- that what you say you’ll do you’ll do. Slowly it would sieve through the rest of Nigeria and there would come a time when they would say ‘ah this Igbo man is the man we want,’ not because he’s Igbo but because he stands for this and this.
So, the Igbo should not lose hope because it’s a possibility. But how soon?
No Nigerian should lose hope. The important thing is to work for the right kind of leadership to emerge in Nigeria. A leadership that believes in the greatness of Nigeria; a leadership that believes Nigeria that is well endowed, and that endowment can be translated to prosperity for everybody and be translated into a nation that can be proud and respected throughout the world.
We have got what it takes. Go to the US and see what young Nigerians are doing to the American economy; the same thing in Europe. Even if you come to Nigeria, there are Nigerians quietly doing a lot of fantastic things that Nigerians are not even aware of.
Finally, let’s talk about America. Is Trump’s emergence a bad or good news for Nigeria and Africa? Second, Jammeh and the new ECOWAS initiative; all over you have people who do not believe in electoral process but now they seem to have the muscle to say we must do this. The question is, Trump, Africa and Nigeria, what are your views?
Trump is an unguided missile (general laughter). Therefore nobody can say; even the Americans cannot sleep comfortably with Trump there. If you examine carefully the basis on which he mobilized the electoral coalition that brought him into power, you’ll find out that you and I, if we were in America would not have been part of his coalition. So, if you transfer that to his worldview, Africa would not have been important to him because he is more comfortable with his white people. That is the truth of the matter.
But you see, if we analyse things on the surface, you can even say ‘okay Obama didn’t do much for Africa, this one can do better’. But that confidence has to be based on demonstrable and verifiable facts coming from the man’s past. And what comes from his past doesn’t give confidence to that. Either the way he treated black people in his father’s company, or the way he treated other people that are not of his type. But one thing you can give to him is that; he makes untruth more acceptable than the unvarnished truth.
One of his advisers, that woman who seems to understand him can always interpret him. He made the argument that they presented alternative facts, in other words you can stand on the truth, and untruth can stand as alternative facts. Therefore, because there is uncertainty, as to what he stands for or what he can do, I don’t think anybody can go to sleep with his two eyes closed, in Africa, in Europe or anywhere. But the emergence of Trump is also sending out a very powerful message to the rest of the world, they have to reconfigure relationships with the world. Obviously, there are things that have gone wrong and the ordinary people were shouting and complaining about it but the leaders did not take account of it. So, in a feat of drama, they said ‘this one is our own’. But they’ve not examined the content of Trump’s action in the past, or the content of his beliefs now. And that is why he keeps on going from one to the other. There is a need to re-examine the ways different countries including Nigeria are governed, and the values that are important in governing in a democratic setting.
I asked about Jammeh?
Jammeh has never been a really responsible and responsive leader from day one. In fact, the surprise is that his people tolerated him as long as they did. Now that he has gone, I think that particular part of history is closed. And what it has also said which is also the lesson Buhari and the others should learn is that the days of irresponsible leadership in Africa is gone. The days when anybody would come and think that he would have his way are gone including Nigeria.