By Chukwudi Nweje
Former Anambra State governor, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, in this interview, discusses the recent Anambra governorship election, 2023 presidential election and how to achieve peace in Nigeria.
Firstly, Ndi Anambra across the globe are very grateful to you, elders of the state, religious leaders and traditional rulers for your efforts at getting IPOB to call off its proposed sit-at-home which would have stalled the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship election. What promises and compromises were made to achieve that?
I am very proud of that, it is all Glory to God. But, I must say that I cannot take credit for what God did. I was in my office in Abuja with two good friends when two young men came in. They said they saw me at a summit we held at Rockview Hotels and decided to come and see me and discuss some very important matters. One of them who I understand is a big-time trader was in tears; he said that things were very difficult for members of IPOB, as a good number of them had lost close relations and friends, and therefore, it could be very difficult to get them to see some of the issues. I told them that there is a need to sit down to dialogue. I made efforts on Monday, November 1 where we spent three hours and again on Thursday, November 4 for two and half hours trying to seek a dialogue and persuade them to call off the sit-at-home. But, you see our boys have good spirit because they eventually spent huge sums of money to advertise that they have called off the sit-at-home. So, I am not responsible for the outcome, God gave it to us.
What is your assessment of the polling process?
I will tell you what I know. President Muhammadu Buhari insisted on fairness for the Anambra State election. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, after discussing overnight with President Buhari came out with a statement that the Anambra State election will not only be transparent but that it will be embarrassingly transparent. If you followed what happened, you will see that he did not yield to any pressure to do anything short of a transparent election. So, I thank the INEC chairman, the president who decided to keep it clean, it is all Glory to God that the election was peaceful.
IPOB at different times called off the every Monday sit-at-home but some unknown people kept enforcing the sit-at-home and even attacked those that came out, but it was different in November, the call off of the sit-at-home was respected and voting went smoothly. What do you think accounted for the difference?
I believe that God wanted the election to be non-violent. If you recall, I said before the election that no drop of blood will be spilt and human reasoning informed my statement. The people behind the killings in Anambra wanted to instill fear so that people will not come out and vote. Yet, the same people behind the killings went and recruited voters from the neighbouring states to come and vote for them. The recruited voters came into Anambra on Thursday and Friday, do you think those that recruited them brought them in to be killed and then sent back as corpses? There was no bloodshed on November 6 because the people who brought them in wanted them to vote for them and not to be killed.
The last time we spoke, you said; ‘if we get the right governor in Anambra election, we will get it right in 2023’, from all indications, we got the Anambra election right…
(Cuts in) I am not a spirit but sometimes I can make predictions. God has given us 2023. My greatest fear about the Anambra State election was 2023 because if some people had taken it, they will make sure we don’t get 2023. But, since they did not take it, we have now to tell Nigerians that the time for change has come, a new Nigeria is on the offing, we are going to be president of Nigeria and speak Nigeria. There will be no retaliation, we will make sure we introduce the system that works for us to the whole of Nigeria. The system that works for us is that we have taken it that every man and woman is born equal and created equal. It is not for some people to go to school and for others not to go; we will ban almajiri, we will ban urban talakawa. God did not create anybody to accept inferiority complex. We are going to make efforts to raise up Nigerians. Nigerians already know that we can do it. How many states in Nigeria are independent of the efforts of the Igbo? Look at Abuja, Lagos and all over the country, we practise our trade and industry in the open and you can see that many other tribes are copying us and we are happy about that. The assignment Nigeria has is to develop massively and explosively economically and in other ways so as to earn the dignity and respect of all people on earth. We are the greatest black people but our backwardness have kept us from being great and that backwardness was introduced by Nigeria. It is time to make Nigeria great again.
How can the state, the entire South East and Nigeria in general tap into the wealth of experience of Gov-elect, Prof Chukwuma Soludo for development?
Our people were complaining that he did not do well for us while he was CBN governor, that is true, but he is an intellectual giant, very mature economist, very educated and very respected and connected internationally and by the time he spends four years in office, you will see how Nigeria will be transformed, not just Anambra State. Prof Soludo is not a pushover, he is a person who can convert dirt into cleanliness. My greatest happiness in the Anambra State election is not because of Anambra but because God has said yes to a new Nigeria, the kind of Nigeria He intended the country to be. We are blessed with all manner of natural resources and human capital; we are endowed with many talents, but man is messing up God’s design for Nigeria. Conscience has died in Nigeria and when conscience dies comprehensive corruption takes over. I’m rejoicing that Nigeria will change. Some of us don’t understand what is going on. If every group in Nigeria understands what is happening to the Igbo in Nigeria, they will understand what Nnamdi Kanu is talking about. For me, as old as I am, I’m telling you the truth that President Buhari appears to be pushing the South East totally out of Nigeria; but I will advise Buhari that no man should push us out of Nigeria.
Still, on 2023 election, why is it that the South East is not propping any candidate yet?
We don’t want just anybody to come out from the South East for 2023, we are going to process people who want to come out. We will ask the Yoruba to help process such a person, we will ask the North to help us process him. The Nigerian people will be involved in the choice of who we are presenting. But we will give conditions to whoever we present and the conditions include that there should be no form of revenge whatsoever; there should be no retaliation, let Nigeria’s interest be paramount.
Is the Igbo speaking parts of the South South being considered too or is the search restricted to the South East?
The problem is that selection is by zone, but I’m not sure if a very good Igbo man comes from any other zone that we will not consider him, we may but it is right that we should be talking about South East zone, for now; the Igbo in the South South are part of that zone and they have had their chance, now is the turn of the South East.
The Federal Government has indicated that a political solution is possible for Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho, what will Igbo leaders demand if called to a negotiation table?
We don’t want to be called for a negotiation table, we have been talking through different mediums, we don’t know how the sources we have been using have reached the powers that be. We have been asking for a dialogue, let’s discuss and negotiate the problem. It is not just the Igbo and Biafra, it is not just Oodua and the Yoruba, it is not just the Ijaw, it is not the South South or Middle Belt alone, even among the bigger ones, people are not happy. Who likes to have bandits in their mist? What we are talking about is a settlement that will satisfy the needs of Nigeria. Four zones out of six have agreed on restructuring and restructuring should not bother anyone. Some people think that restructuring means resource allocation such that we will stop giving petroleum money to Northern states, please nobody should think like that. This is politics and there are things that are not possible in politics. It may take years with what we are doing now to build up internally generated revenue everywhere and then change the revenue allocation system.
You are the first democratically elected governor of new Anambra State and you initiated this Think Home philosophy, how has that impacted on the state 30 years after?
The day I was sworn in, I had a statement titled Think Home, it didn’t take me one year to work out. I said you can invest in Makurdi, Jos, Lagos or where ever you like, but invest also at home. Eventually, I created what I called Think Home Estate, nobody paid a kobo for it, you come in and apply and the application will be given accelerated processing and a plot will be given to you. Today I am proud that so many groups are thinking of thinking home, they are pushing ideas that bring progress to the South East and the entire south, we were once just the East.