By Henry Umahi
DEPUTY Governor of Imo State, Prince Eze Madumere has disclosed that one of his regrets was that he did not leave the United States earlier to come and contribute to nation building. Reflecting on the lessons life has taught him at 52, he said there is a world of difference between personal and political friends.
Madumere, who is also the chairman of Red Cross Society of Nigeria, also opined that the South-east deserve a better deal.
At 52, how do you feel?
I don’t see it as if I feel 52. I see 52 as a number and I feel the same way I felt as a young man. But having looked back at 52 years ago that I was born, I remain grateful to the almighty God because I know that there are many people that were born with me that didn’t make it this far. For that alone, I’m grateful to God. And having also looked at where I have found myself as a deputy governor of Imo State, it is also a thing to glorify God. From the time I became 40, I gave myself to charity. I said that I cannot dine and wine with the kings and queens any more as it used to be; that my birthday will now be celebrated with the less privileged and the have-nots. So, usually what I do on my birthday is that by 12 O’clock, I pray simultaneously with my relations wherever they are. And you know that in Imo State, we observe prayers at 12 noon for 10 minutes wherever you are from Monday to Friday. I usually go to the Red Cross, which I am the chairman for the past seven years, stay with the kids there, we pray, play, eat rice and cake. Thereafter, I proceed to the Nigerian Prisons, Owerri because I am a product of that prison. I spent quite some time there.
Before our ‘Rescue Mission Government’ came on board in 2011, I spent about 41 days awaiting trial in Nigeria Prisons, Owerri. I was accused of trying to use sachet of water to kill former president Olusegun Obasanjo and former Governor Ikedi Ohakim. Of course, it was a trumped up charge. So, overall, I am happy that I am celebrating my 52nd birthday. This year will be a very unique one because one young man called Peter Clever Obi, who has been following me as a person and who is at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, has written a book titled, ‘Manifestation of Royal Prince.’ And the book is a seven-chapter book, with close to about 200 pages surrounded with wonderful pictorials. The young man came to me and I was so excited at seeing it. Of course, I am doing my own autobiography, which I intend to launch any time in the future but I have to support the young man because it is a very wonderful work that he did and I am so impressed. We intend to present the book this July.
At 52, what life lessons have you learnt?
I feel that there are certain things, which if I had the opportunity, I would have done it in a different way. But in public life, I have learnt so much. In political life, the more you look, the less you see and it is a very tough terrain that once you are out there, you have exposed yourself and you must be ready to take any bullet that comes. Somebody you think that is there now with you is not with you and those are the people you call the friends of the deputy governor in politics. There is a difference between your personal friends and public friends. The personal friends are people you know, who recognise you as Prince Eze Madumere, not people who are your friends because you are the deputy governor. In a twinkle of minute, those who are your friends as a deputy governor are gone. But those who are your friends as Prince Eze Madumere will always be your friends. So, these are part of the experiences that I have. More importantly, working with my governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a huge experience. We have known each other for many years. He has been my boss and mentor for many years but we have not been in a public sector. We are coming from private circle. The challenges that we face every day and being able to surmount them is also quite a good experience. Every day, I see this job as learning process and we will continue to learn.
You said that with the benefit of hindsight, if you have the opportunity, there are things you would have done differently. Can you mention some of these things?
To be candid, I think I would rather keep it to myself. I believe that there are many things I would have done in a different way. For one, I believe that I should have come back to Nigeria earlier than I did. This project should have started a long time ago. Honestly, I came back to Nigeria late. At my age, I should have started it a long time ago and start contributing early. But for what I have done at my age, I am grateful that God has given us the opportunity to do that.
How has your background as a businessman from the private sector impacted on your position now in public service?
Well, it is quite simple. For example, look at my governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the vision he has and having the support and partnership coming from me. Look at how Imo State has been transformed. Imo that you are seeing today and Imo of yesterday, which is five years ago, the difference is out there. And that shows you that these are experienced people coming from the private sector and who have a clear-cut vision of where they are going. Based on the economic status of the nation and the arrangement we have with labour in terms of sharing formula which is 70 – 30, we are building flyovers, we are building tunnels, we are still dualizing roads everywhere. So, a lot of things are going on and this is because of a man, who has a vision; who knows how to handle bigger things with little funds. That’s to show that the experience coming from the private sector has really impacted this public sector.
You seem to enjoy a very smooth relationship with the governor, what is the secret?
Despite the governor being my long time boss, mentor and leader for over two decades now, it does not mean that I should take him for granted. The relationship is that you should know your role as a deputy governor. It is clearly defined in the constitution that your primary role as a deputy governor is the chairman of the boundary commission and the second role is at the discretion of the governor. The governor has the discretion to give you assignment. In my own case in Imo State, the governor has given me assignment to supervise five ministries in the state and I have about six advisers that report to me but they don’t report to the governor. So, those are his responsibilities and I have a very wonderful, cordial relationship with my boss because I know the boundaries; I know what are the dos and don’ts. He is somebody I know very well and we understand each other. If my boss coughs here I know what it means; if he scratches his head, I know what Owelle means and that is what is sustaining the working relationship. He knows what I can do or say at any time. He knows that what I tell him in the afternoon, if you wake me up in the morning or at night, I will say the same thing. At any particular time, my governor knows where I am. It is not those kinds of relationships that the governor will be somewhere and the deputy will be somewhere and the governor cannot even give account of his deputy. There is nothing I do that my governor does not know. That makes the relationship strong and the trust and understanding are there.
Nigeria has been struggling in the last one year since the APC government came into place; what is your take on that?
I will tell you that an incoming government, which we are – the APC; this is the time a collection of individuals with different minds and different political backgrounds came together and wrestled power from the PDP that said it will rule Nigeria for 60 years. And we met a nation that was at the verge of collapse; a nation that was almost becoming a banana republic and in order to rebuild the country, a new foundation has to be laid and this new foundation is now going through German floor and all that. What do I mean by German floor? The actual budget that this government has done has a lot of social benefits that will take care of artisans, the elderly, unemployed graduates and some of those things that are in the APC’s manifesto. In the next three months, I think the whole system will stabilize; we are coming back. Nigeria will come back strong. Despite the unanticipated global recession that came through the fall of oil revenue because we are so much dependent in our black crude oil, we are refocusing in Imo. We are talking about agriculture; we are talking about factory – factory and other things we are doing here. You can see that a lot of skill acquisitions are coming up from different corners. We are doing very well; we are coming back and we will come back strong. That is what we met on the ground. We met nearly empty treasury and, coincidentally, the fall of the price of oil crept in. It was like a double jeopardy. So, when people ask, ‘Buhari is that the change’, they should understand the situation. The change is for good and the change is coming.
Sir, how would you react to the incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen?
This is a group of people that we have come to know that they are nomads; who move around with their cattle. But we also find out that those nomads, which are Fulani and there is a season in a year that the nomads come down from Senegal to Nigeria because of vegetation and all that and at a point, they will all go back. Now, cattle rustlers and bandits infiltrated them. Some of them will claim to be Fulani herdsmen and which is not true because they are not actually herdsmen and so they try to bring instability into the system. But the law enforcement agencies and the nation are now at alert, trying to see what they can do and eventually I think things will be okay. But the lasting solution, for me, is not grazing reserve; it is creating ranches. All these cattle that are moving around are not supposed to move around. You don’t get enough meat from cattle that move around. In Texas where I came from, back in the US, I know they have ranches. This nation needs to have ranches; we need to have large-, medium- and small-scale ranchers so that all these cattle are put in a place. And when you put them in a place, you feed them there. They don’t need to be moving around and that is the lasting solution to Fulani herdsmen problem.
Do you think that the federal government has handled the Niger Delta crisis well?
Yes, of course. You know that there was an amnesty and that amnesty still exists. These are being sponsored by some leaders but the federal government, the Nigeria Army and the international community are doing their best trying to get the whole situation arrested.
Unarmed youths from the South-east agitating for Biafra are being killed whenever they come out; how do you react to that?
I disagree with you. I am also from the South-east. There is a way to agitate. You don’t agitate for Biafra going to block the Niger Bridge. This is the only road connecting the west and the east and blocking it and making motorists to suffer for six hours is not the way to agitate. There is a process. Few days ago, there was a referendum in Britain on whether to remain in or go out of the EU; that is a process. If we feel it is in a collective interest of the whole Southeasterners and say we need to go out; we need to have a country called Biafra, then there is a process. And we need to do that process. Some of them are miscreants that are being used to fulfill some individuals’ selfish interest. The governors of South-east have spoken on this; the whole Igbo leaders have spoken on this; it is not the right way to go. Everybody has a right to agitate; everybody has a right to peaceful protest but not to go and block Niger Bridge and not to attack the Nigeria police because when you attack an officer, they will respond. And when they respond, it might be tragic and when it is tragic, you will look at the other side because that is the one picture you will see. Then the way it will be painted will appear as if they are being killed because life will be lost. That incident that happened in Onitsha, lives were lost from both sides.
Do you think that the South-east is being marginalized in the scheme of things?
I don’t know if I need to call it marginalization. I believe we are not getting our fair share in the Southeast and we should be able to get more.
What are people like you in government doing for the South-east to get its fair share?
We are doing our best. The leadership of the APC in the South-east led by my boss is doing its best. They are reaching out to the president and others concerned to make it easy for us for next election that people from this region need to be placed in certain positions.
What will be your advice to Nigerians at this critical period?
Every Nigerian should have patience because help is on the way. We are lucky that crude oil price has come up now. It is averaging about 50 dollars plus but the problem we have in Nigeria now is that we don’t have products to sell because of the insecurity in the Niger Delta. The federal government is doing all it can to stabilize the place security-wise so that we can increase our production that we send out to the market. That is all. We need to have patience and Nigerians should know that this country belongs to all of us and that no matter wherever you come from – be it from the north, west, east or south, that we are one. We have differences in whatever that affects us in different regions but we will continue to be united and undivided Nigeria. This is the only way this country can move forward.