Last time you said that you have regretted supporting the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari given the fact that he has failed on your expectations. Do you still hold the regret?
Well, it has continued to be so like what made me to regret. I believe that a victim of what is wrong should be the first solution if that person has the opportunity of solving the problem. Unfortunately, the president who suffered greatly from the negative system in the country when I was working with him has allowed the thing to continue.
So, are you saying that President Buhari has not provided solutions to the problems of Nigeria?
Yes, he has not. Although he still has time to do something, but he is yet to provide any solution.
What is your take on the closure of the border?
Speaking for myself and the way I see things; the first responsibility of every government is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people over whom the government presides at any given time. And there are certain things that ought to be done for a long time now that are yet to be done. And if you impose suddenly, it creates a traumatic effect on the people who are helpless. I think this closure of border is targeted at rice and one or two other products. This will not affect the elite. If it costs N50,000 a bag, they will eat rice. But some of them may not have enough to give to the poor. At least Christmas is coming; those who use to buy rice and give to their people may avoid their people now because they can’t afford rice at N35, 000 a bag. Now, I have always advocated that we should try to look inwards and fend for ourselves, but when you are talking about agricultural produce or products, it is a thing of years. It is not a traumatic thing. You can’t plant palm tree today and it begins to yield tomorrow. If you want to base economy on palm oil, you have to give a time of five years. Talking about rice, you think of about two or three farming seasons to do what you want to do. But what bothers me most in this country is that when we want to solve a problem, we don’t look at the source. Closing the border is a vote of no confidence on our border security. I haven’t heard that any official in that segment of our society has been reprimanded or even reposted or retired so that a new person can try. You don’t have to close border completely because you have put the wrong people to be in charge.
What is also your position on the issue of hate speech bill?
Well, in a democracy, you don’t have unsolicited comments because I have a right to talk foolishly and you have a right to refuse to accept my foolish talk. But what you don’t have a right to do is to stop me from saying my foolish talk. Now, who determines what is hate speech? Is it the one directed from government to the people or the one directed from the people to a failing official? So, the way it is, it looks like gagging. All they could have done would have been to reinforce the existing laws. If you say anything I don’t like, I sue you. But if you are supposed to stop a particular type of comment like somebody comes up to accuse Mike Ahamba of committing murder when you know I didn’t commit murder, send it viral on social media and people are shouting about it, if you get that kind of person, he will face some punishment because it is destabilizing the society. But the punishment for such a thing should not be as harsh as it is being done right now. I understand they have removed the death penalty. The way is being done it appears it is being aimed at self-protectionism. Like EFCC is also self-protectionist. It has been seen that only those who are in PDP constitute 90 per cent of customers of EFCC. These are some of the things I am talking about, the right thing being done the wrong way. I worked for Buhari for eight years and I very firmly believed that if there was a way to get Buhari back to power at the federal level, corruption will be substantially shown the way out of the country. I did that. And to be candid, I confronted CAN in this state at their meeting I was allowed to address them on behalf of Buhari and I convinced them that even the CAN had a duty to support Buhari because all of them agreed with me that the biggest problem Nigeria had was corruption and I asked them who was likely to solve the problem, they said Buhari. But unfortunately, the way it is being done under Buhari is disappointing me.
What if the bill is to stop a person or group of persons inciting a particular tribe against another through the social media platforms with their speech?
I think something should be done to stop that. I have seen false things on mass media, fake pictures where people are being slaughtered in order to incite people from a part of the country against another. But when you use the word speech, which one is hateful? How do you define hate? If I speak against you, that doesn’t mean I hate you. I might even speak for you when I hate you. How do you define hate? Which one is hateful? Is it the one you don’t like or the one the society doesn’t like? Who determines which one is hateful? It is a difficult situation that can only give a particular set of people the opportunity to exploit the other. And in any case, it is unconstitutional. You see, the National Assembly is the biggest democratic institution of this country even though the judiciary is the most important because the judiciary controls both the executive and the National Assembly. Now, they must know one thing that their power is not at large. It is circumscribed to making of laws for peace, order and good government, which laws must be consistent with provisions of the constitution. Any law made by the National Assembly, which is not consistent with the provision of the constitution is dead on arrival. So, if you now enact a law that makes any individual to judge whether I have spoke well or not, hasn’t it affected my right under chapter four of the constitution? My right of freedom of speech. If what I spoke is seditious, the punishment is there. If it is defamatory, the individual defamed has every right to take steps. So, why do we now create one that will lock up people for making speeches that favour the whole country, but one person doesn’t like it? And as it is now, we are back to where we were in 1962. I was only a secondary school boy then. In fact, that was in my class three, but I was interested in national affairs. I know when the parliament at that time tried to bring in what they called Preventive Detention Act and people raised their voices against it. Students went on demonstrations and all that. They were trying to copy Nkrumah of Ghana by creating a law that will make government detain people they suspect are likely to cause trouble. The argument was that when they said it can be used as it is being used in Ghana, the protagonist of that act said that Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was a gentleman and cannot misuse it. Correct, everybody knew that he was a gentleman, you can’t take that from him but he is a human being who can go to bed in the night and not wake up in the morning. Then another person takes over who may not be a gentleman. You see when you make law, you don’t consider the fact that the present incumbent may not misuse it, you think about the possibility of the subsequent incumbents misusing it because a law is not for one person, a law is for ages. I hope Nigerians are listening to the impeachment proceedings in America. You see where civilization works. Where they are relating the present happening as to whether it infringes on the constitution of America made in the 18th Century. So, the National Assembly should be looking at that and not all these things they are doing that are beyond their powers. And I have told a newspaper before, I think your stable brother that if that law comes out, I personally will go to court to challenge it.
Talking about the National Assembly, what is your opinion regarding their passing of bills granting local government autonomy and empowering the INEC to conduct local government election?
Have they done well in the one they are conducting? You see there is something we do in this country that hurts me. First of all, we believe that change of name will change attitude. So, if the electricity is not doing well, change it from ECN to NEPA. If NEPA doesn’t work, change it to PHNC and if that doesn’t work, change it to EEDC. But who has changed the attitude of those who are operating it under whatever name you may call it. So, from NEC, we had FEDECO, from FEDECO, we came to FECO, from FECO to INEC. What is the difference? What has happened to the internal organization? Why I am saying this is that I do not think if we have a federation; that federal institution should be taking care of state affairs. We can’t be talking about true federalism and at the same time pushing ourselves into unitarism at any given time because those who are doing this don’t understand the difference. If those who are doing this understood the difference, in 1979, they shouldn’t have created a federation with one constitution. That was the day we killed true federation in 1979 constitution. And that was done by the public. Nobody can say military did that one. We had a constituent assembly that passed the law that brought local government into federal affairs, contrary to every known definition of what a federation is. Do we consider why our local governments are failing? I have been writing about it. I have written memo to the National Assembly about it. All we need to do is just change one section there, the section that says that the constitution created a democratically elected local government, also provided under the proviso that the state assembly has powers to make laws over the structure, management and establishment of local government. That is the law they are misusing. All we need to do is to just amend that section to say that so long that that law does not include undemocratic provisions. Like appointment of sole administrators, interim management committee and all that. If that is proscribed, except where there is internal crisis in the state, the governor can be given authority to do this. But my concern is that we have taken local government into the federal structure, when every known definition of a federation I have seen puts local affairs under the state government. So, all we need to do is now to limit, since we have put it into the federal structure, would be to introduce a new system of federation, we are free to do that, at least let us give something new to the world which has three tiers. Every other federation in the world has only two tiers, the national and the state governments. Now, we have local government, but the worst thing we can do is to tamper with those local governments because people like them.
Let’s come down to Imo State where you come from. What is your assessment of the present administration led by Governor Emeka Ihedioha in the state?
Is there any room for comparison between it and the immediate past government of Rochas Okorocha? There is not because one aimed at destruction, another aimed at rebuilding. And it is foolhardy to now assess the extent of rebuilding within five to six months of coming to power when the destruction took eight years. It is not possible. But one thing I like about Ihedioha’s administration and you know yourself, I am not a sycophant and I am not a type of person that will sit down and praise what I don’t think is right because I am always willing and ready to defend my position on any issue, is that Ihedioha’s approach is peculiar to him and he is very progressive. You can see him moving objectively. The result is yet to come fully, but just like I told Governor Ikedi Ohakim then, in an assembly of elders I attended, everybody there told him he was doing very well. I told him that I won’t tell you that in six months. I will only tell you that you are likely to do well with the way you are moving. Now, I want to say that with what Ihedioha has done so far, my assessment at this stage is that he is in all probability going to do well because he is moving systematically. First of all, he has realized that the first thing is to save the human beings over whom you are going to preside. You know that some people call him in this state, the alert governor because pensioners stay in their homes, in their villages and receive alerts of payment of their pension on their telephones. No longer come and assembly in one field without protection. Ihedioha also showed that when you assembly elders, you take care of them. At the time they were doing the pensioners verification exercise, for the first time, canopies were provided to protect these old people from the weather. That is when it is being done at the local governments than when the whole of them were invited to Owerri without any provision. They were told to come at 8:30 a.m, but the officials who will attend to them will come at 3:00p.m. And these are people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. That type of thing killed the spirit to work patriotically for the state. But now Ihedioha changed the mood. He has shown there is need to let the people know that government cares for them. And to let those coming behind to know that the state will care for them and the state is appreciative of the services rendered by them. I want to tell you that this will encourage those coming behind to work harder for the state. Another thing is this; Ihedioha has been a victim of general ignorance of the people. Most people don’t know that Owerri/Umuahia road, Owerri/Okigwe road, Owerri/Aba road, Owerri/Port-Harcourt road are all federal roads. None is his responsibility directly. And when I see the APC people opening their mouth to say that Ihedioha has not built these roads, I ask what type of ignorance is this? But then they are not his roads, but he started doing something during the rain and most of us advised him to stop, that the rains are very heavy, they will wash off everything. But now the rains have stopped, go on these roads now and see how far they have gone. Also, with the Federal Government statement that they will not refund money, state governments are now very circumspect in investing too much money on federal roads. But at least, Ihedioha is now doing palliative. The impassable Awaka’s spot, the impassable Heartland spot, the impassable Nkwo Ogwu spot are all passable now. I told some people who took me on this argument, I said look, I don’t want to discuss with you. Can we discuss in February next year, let me see whether you will have complaints. So, the way he is doing things, he is acting within his competence and power. He is not doing a voice propaganda driven rulership of Imo State. He is doing an action driven rulership of Imo State. And I believe that by next year, when he must have about three or four months of no rain, those who are talking now will find another thing to say and no longer on road.
Just recently, Governor Ihedioha appealed to his opponents to sheath their swords and join hands with him towards rebuilding the state, stressing that the litigations instituted against his election were distracting the flow of his governance. What is your reaction to that?
I have also made that calls on them even on the pages of newspapers, I have. After the judgments, I said look you people know that Imo State has a peculiar problem. It is a state in disaster, serious state of disaster. Now that we have gone through two tiers of court, why don’t we as patriotic citizens of this state, let the rest go, come together; let’s rebuild because if we don’t rebuild, the suffering will be there for everybody. I believe that Ihedioha would have done more, but for these distractions. They should reconsider going further to the Supreme Court because speaking as a lawyer, I don’t see what they can achieve there.
As an elder statesman, do you have any advice for Ihedioha as to what you expect from him?
First of all, I want to tell people that what Ihedioha was doing prior to his presentation of his budget was palliative. As far as I am concerned, his administration starts the day the House passes his budget because that is the day he starts implementing his own programmes for the state. What he is doing now is to limit the effect of bad governance he inherited and not his own programmes yet. Everything he is doing is to remedy and reduce the effects of bad governance. But from the time his budget is passed, we shall have stand on which to judge his performance. And I believe he will do well. He is a very meticulous man. He is a product of teachers and that is always an advantage.
How will you describe his relationship with the other tiers of government, the legislature and the judiciary?
So far, so good. The other day he came there, for the first time in the last eight years, we didn’t get people being insulted at a judicial function. He came there and reaffirmed his will and desire to ensure that rule of law reigns in Imo State. So far, he hasn’t interfered in what the judiciary is doing. So far, he hasn’t threatened anybody as we use to see a few months ago. So far, he has not sacked any state counsel for losing his case in court. So, we see a very bright light at the end of the tunnel and we are looking forward to the best. In fact, the rebuilding starts from his attitude to the rule of law. And I believe Ihedioha will have very positive attitude towards the rule of law. He also has to be careful about those who see nothing good about other people. He has to be careful about them. They will come. I will tell you one story, which has informed this. When I was contesting my first election, it was NPN versus NPP. Some of my advisers told me not to go to some places because that place was an NPP area. That was my first move into politics. Foolishly I agreed. But later on when I saw some people and asked them why they didn’t vote for me, they said, yes nah, you campaigned in other places, but you didn’t campaign in our place. So, when we did the 1983 election, I went into those areas to campaign for Collins Obi and they all voted for Collins Obi. So, sometimes listening to people who you are close to you without looking beyond them could be a great mistake and I will advise Ihedioha against that. If you are told anything, try and cross check. If you are told that A, B, C hate you, find out what you did that made them say that person hates you. If they say somebody is working against you, find out what that person did to inform that opinion. Don’t take that conclusion from that person because that person may just be trying to create space for himself. Which I know is the type of situation that separated me and Buhari. He has to be careful about it. That is all I can tell him, but I think like I told you, Ihedioha is a very courageous man, he respects people, he doesn’t fear anybody and I like him for that. So, he should apply it in disciplining and cautioning those who will want to put certain persons away from him. Any person they say he shouldn’t see, he should try and see that person. It is my advice.