Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, has expressed fears on Nigeria’s unity. He believes that Fulani hersdsmen are the greatest threat to the nation, insisting that if they are not checked now, their actions will break the country.
In this interview with our correspondent in Owerri, he also talked about Nigeria’s democracy and ways to make it better, as well as other issues bothering his state, Imo. Excerpts:
How would you compare Nigeria’s democracy today and in the past?
Frankly speaking, I’m very lucky and one of those Nigerians today who witnessed transfer of power from Britain to Nigeria in1960, I still remember that night on October 1, when the Union Jack was lowered and Nigeria’s green, white and green flag was hoisted at midnight, there was uproar everywhere, jubilation everywhere, it was agog with people singing and chanting, songs of independence were sang and very high expectations to come with it, we elected a government that time under the leadership of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Zik was then the president, a ceremonial president, the executive power in that constitution rested with the prime minister. I must tell you frankly from my own observation that government has been the best we have ever had in terms of integrity, commitment, loyalty, it has been the best. It was a time a Nigerian moves freely to any part of the country without fear of molestation, at that time security was very good, there was no kidnapping, no armed robbery, Nigeria was relatively peaceful and progressive. In fact, I sincerely think that what ruined it was the coup, that coup d’etat of 1966, that was what actually brought us to this point because that government, if left, could have been like India or Singapore because all these countries got independence the same time with us. My belief is that a democratic government can make a mistake, but when they make mistakes you remove them when their tenure is over and have another people, but we lost that opportunity and brought in military government and, of course, you know what happened during the military government, though most of them tried their best, but you know there is a military leader and democratic leader, when you look at it holistically, it may not be right to say that all the military leaders failed, yes basically, I as a human being who values freedom and liberty prefers democracy. Now, we are in democracy I will not pray that we go back to any military government at all, I thank God now that we have 21 years, since 1999, we had a civilian government interrupted. I congratulate Nigerians for that, I congratulate the military for it and I want it to be so, so that when we make mistakes we try to correct it, but the worry is that there are lots of questions on our democracy, first of all the level of corruption we have seen is unacceptable, what’s been read in the mews everyday is incredible, people steal the money they don’t need, I don’t understand how someone can steal billions, what is he going to do with it, millions of dollars, pounds, it’s madness, that is why I complement Buhari, he has frankly speaking put up a fight against corruption, I say this because I have watched him in the past five years, his lifestyle is very simple, one of the elements that forms corruption is life style, inordinate desire for luxury, I think Buhari lives the level of a normal Nigeria, we have not seen such inordinate ambition in Buhari, if he has, Nigerian press I know would have expressed it and since he has not, so I believe that he has done well, but the problem is one man can not rule this country efficiently.
From what you have enumerated and looking at our democracy today, do you think this was the dream of our founding fathers?
Democracy is defined as government of the people for the people and by the people, but you see as an engineer and scientist, in engineering, evey law has got a fundamental basis, that is, this will happen if this happens, democracy will happen if everybody appreciates that all men are born equal, that all men have equal rights, everybody has equal rights to life, equal right to education, equal right to good health, equal rights for opportunities, there are no people who will think that they are superior, no people who will think that a place belongs to them, every citizen of Nigeria should have equal right to compete and get what he deserves, not a country where some people would be denied their rights, when you go for an interview and somebody who has a lower grade is given an opportunity, I think that’s one of the problems we have in this country, another point I want to make is that when we talk of democracy, we have different types of governments, our founding fathers after so many constitutional conferences they agreed to go with parliamentary system and frankly speaking, looking at what is happening today , that parliamentary system is the most cheapest and more easier form of government, if you notice, a country like India is still using that system, we used it at the beginning, but later on we changed to this presidential system. Presidential system has got its own financial requirements, all men have equal rights, presidential system also assumes that when people are elected, they are excellent, and they are honourable, that’s why whoever is elected as a member of the parliament is called honourable and whoever is elected to be the leader of the executive is excellency, excellent above every other persons, it’s embarrassing that those elected as honourable go there to defraud the country, just like his excellency, that is the problem we have.
Recently, the leadership of Miyetti Allah said it would roll out 100,000 vigilante across the country, what’s your view on this?
That’s what I’m saying and you must take note of this point, many years ago, there was a civil war in this country, 1967, and that was a serious setback to the country, lives were lost, many opportunities were lost, but by the grace of God we came back and reunited and the Igbo people who were major part of the war reintegrated and are living very well in Nigeria, but they are still complaining in so many areas they are not well treated, but I want to tell you that the problem of unity in this country is not the Igbo or Biafra, not the Oduduwa, not the Niger Delta, not even the Arewa, the problem we have in Nigeria is the herders who are killing people, going about with their AK 47 rifles, rape women, take over people’s land, destroy farm land and they do all these with impunity. The essence of government is protection of lives and property, but the government has not protected lives, there is no way you can talk about the unity of a country, nobody can feel happy where his life is not safe, he can’t move freely, that’s the greatest threat to this country’s unity, the Igbo are not going to be the people to break Nigeria, I don’t even believe the Yoruba will, I don’t believe the Ijaws will, the break will come from this people who are continuously killing and dispossessing people of their property – herdsmen. Ten years ago, we woke up to hear a strange group called Boko Haram, that group we know nothing of said they are going to kill all Nigerians unless everybody will stop western education. They wanted everybody to imbibe Islamic education, that was embarrassing to everybody because Nigeria since 1914 has agreed to come together, every part of this country has acquired western education, we had freedom of worship so nobody can force anybody to worship his own God. This herdsmen, the excuse they give is that their cattle are rustled, if a cow is rustled, it’s not the whole village that stole it, a civilised person will report the matter to the police, but these people instead kill, rape and burn houses. So, when I say the threat to the unity of this country, I’m not mistaken, it’s not IPOB, its not Yoruba or Arewa because the Arewa I know which I’m their patron of their youths, including Tiv, I know they are not supporting this, so I would like leading Fulani members to come out openly and talk to Nigerians, tell us what is happening, if there are difficulties, we will know how to solve it because we are not happy. To me, the death of any Nigerian, it doesn’t matter where he comes from, should pain everyone of us, it should be like the death of any of our brothers and sisters, so I don’t feel happy each time I hear this, look at what is happening in Kaduna State, people would be sleeping at night and some people would come and rape them. I mentioned this few years ago that we all should rise and fight Book Haram, no group is safe, it’s happening today, you can see today they’re gradually crawling to every part of the country, now it’s graduating to kidnapping, before rogues come at night to steal property, now they come in daylight to steal human beings, I believe kidnappers and Book Haram are the same group and this people who say they are cattle rearers, they are not because cattle rearers we know don’t carry AK 47 rifles .
As a prominent Igbo leader, what are people like you doing to make sure we don’t witness this kind of thing in the Southeast?
We can’t stop them from saying what they want to say, but we have met and, of course, I’m the chairman of Council of Igbo Elders, we have met and the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo organised an international conference of Ohanaeze on Sunday, we had a radio conference with the Igbo all over the world which lasted for so many hours, I want to let you know that we have discussed all these matters, and I want to assure our people that they shouldn’t be afraid, we are closely monitoring the situation and we are sounding a note of warning to people and I think the government should take this matter up very seriously, but I want to assure the Igbo, they should go about their normal businesses, if they get any unusual movement, they should report to the police, we have also had meetings with the governors too and we are satisfied the Igbo governors are quite united. We are very pleased that they are working in the right direction even when they wanted to work with the community police in the way we didn’t like we discouraged it. I also want to tell you that the present IGP has a lot of respect for the Igbo. I want to use this opportunity to let the Federal Government know that these three groups I mentioned are creating security threats for the country, the people. When the Yoruba came up to form a security outfit, the Igbo supported them because if the government cannot defend them; we saw how their people were being killed, the daughter of their leader was kidnapped and killed even some top Yoruba were kidnapped and disgraced and they all boil down to the same cattle herdsmen, so that was why we the Igbo said we will support the Yoruba. We in the Southeast also have a duty, the governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, this time we are alive to protect our people likewise Nigerians in other regions have a duty to protect their people. So, the herdsmen have started forcing everybody to have a security outfit, with due respect to the government, it’s a vote of no confidence to the government security agencies, this is a dangerous sign for the government.
What do you think of our INEC today?
INEC is a good body established to be an umpire in an election, we can’t have democracy without INEC, part of the problem I have about it now is that the cost of democracy, I’m not sure Nigeria’s economy can carry this structure in an election, let’s start from the process of political parties; political parties we have here were over 80 at a point, 60 of them may opt for election and you know by law every party would have their pictures there and when you put that it will have so many pages, it’s not only costing money, but also confusing the electorate, you know when an illiterate wants to vote at the polling booth, he gets nervous obviously, he stays there for a while, he gets tired and presses any where at that point, which may not be his wish, so I think that number is too much, we must find what to do to reduce the number, at least, to about five, so that it can be easy to handle. I don’t see ideological differences in these parties.
What is your comment about the massive defection of members from your party, PDP to the ruling party, APC?
That tells you the kind of politics practiced in this generation, remember immediately PDP was declared winner of the election last year, by May all the members of the House in other parties declared for PDP, is it not disturbing you that it’s the same people who declared for PDP that is going to APC, what is new in APC that made them to go to APC,. This is unfortunate character of the politicians. The public also caused the problem because these people who run election spend a lot of money, they spend money on delegates during primaries, so they want to recover and staying in a party that is not in power can also be frustrating, it’s more of financial consideration .
How do you see the repeal of pensions of former governors and Speakers by Governor Hope Uzodimma in Imo State?
When a governor comes to power, he is for all despite his party. I must say that most of the actions he took were very impressive, for example, when he came in he continued with the projects of Ihedioha unlike many people that will discredit all what their predecessor did. Hope didn’t do that and that is unusual, there’s an enquiry set up against the APC government; when he came in people thought he will stop it, but he did not. This question of pension to former office holders is what some of us regard as unfair to the people, it’s not acceptable to us, it’s not fair that people will go and legislate and map out money for themselves after they have left office. For Hope to take the courage to do it even after knowing that he should benefit from it after leaving office is a great thing to commend him for, this has made many people that do not like him to like him now.