Former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has said that anybody or group that tries to deny an Igbo from emerging the president in 2023 is pushing the race out of Nigeria. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the elder statesman told the Southeast governors to perish the idea of community policing model, but should instead adopt regional security outfit in the mould of Southwest’s Amotekun.
What is your view on the state of the nation, insecurity everywhere?
The failure is so conspicuous now, we were afraid before and we were shouting but now, the real thing has happened – failure in every direction and we don’t know what to do. We are even told that the Supreme Court said it has no power to reverse its verdict; these are parts of comprehensive failure we have achieved.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, within the week, harped on restructuring and said that failure to restructure may plunge the country into a civil war. Do you agree with him?
In an interview on AIT, recently, I called for emergency restructuring, which is the only way to save the country from breakup. We should also think a bit, the Amotekun security outfit put together by all the Yoruba speaking people, making them to have one security, the other zones should do the same and that is an aspect of restructuring. We have seen the security aspect, it has failed woefully; the Nigeria Army, the Nigeria police have failed to provide security. So, Yoruba decided to take it frontally and everybody should understand their point of view.
Obasanjo is very correct, nobody should take anybody for granted; it is either we don’t know our interest as a people or we don’t understand ourselves. There is one element of restructuring, which has been causing problems. It is resource control aspect of restructuring. Some people from the North think that the moment there is restructuring, no oil money can go to non-oil producing states. That is not the case, as there must be a plan; no particular decision is taken without the consequences being taken care of. For example, we design ways of increasing revenues for local governments and for states. No complete resource control can be achieved without first of all making sure that every level of government can have enough internally generated revenue. So that is the only point people are afraid of when you talk about restructuring, it is not so. It is a political decision and we know how to take it.
People are asking if Obasanjo was just waking up from sleep because for eight years he was in power as the president, he didn’t want to hear restructuring. Why now?
It is dynamic. Yes, he was in power, but things were not as bad as they are now. Things were not as bad as they are now, but remember even when he was in power some of us were still shouting about it as we are still doing. Then the urgency was not seen, now it is urgent to restructure.
Restructuring is in the ruling party (APC) manifesto. Why is the party finding it difficult to implement what is in its manifesto?
They don’t know what the manifesto says. Most of the parties, they just give a consultant assignment to write the manifestoes and not many members of the parties know what is in the manifesto. This is a clear case; APC has restructuring in its manifesto. It is a clear case that the leadership of APC didn’t know that it is in their manifesto or they don’t know what it means.
Your applauded the Southwest Amotekun security outfit and suggested that every zone should go for it, but recently the Southeast governors said they have adopted the community policing model. Why?
They may explain to us what they meant by that, but I think what we mean by security is the kind of thing that Yoruba people have done, and that is what our governors should do, they can do it now or later, but that is the decision of the Igbo people. It is a little worrisome if our governors don’t understand the people they are leading. If anybody tries to please any other group apart from the Igbo they are leading, then they don’t understand what is going on.
Why are the Southeast governors afraid to take decisive decision on things that concern the Igbo?
This is clear case of the Igbo people rejecting whatever the governors called community policing. I understand that Ogbunigwe is the name our people want to use, and it is zonal security outfit; it is not just this community something.
Kaduna State governor, Nasir El Rufai, last week said that the presidency should move to the South in 2023 after Buhari might have completed his term, and that the North shouldn’t have anything to do with it. However, some Northern elders still insist that the zone should retain power after Buhari. What is your view?
My view is the general view. We are talking of equity, we are talking about fairness, and we are talking of justice; all these considerations require that power should move to the South and within the South, it should go to the Southeast.
The North has dominated the presidency, the West has had a fair share, even in the South, the South-South has had a share. The only group in the South, which has not had any at all, is the Southeast. Unless some people are not interested in what happens to Nigeria then they can deny the Southeast. However, I’m happy with what I’m seeing. On the 9th, there’s a group led by Yoruba that is working on a conference for 2023, and its own decision is for Southeast to have it, and Afenifere says it’s Southeast. Tanko Yakasai, who was not quite sure before, is now saying it should be Southeast. Balarabe Musa says Southeast, and about four youth groups in the North are saying it is the South. This gives me the feeling that Nigeria may survive if people begin to think in a logically equitable way like that. But if some people say they don’t care about Nigeria, let them deny the Southeast, and then the Southeast people will know that they are no longer Nigerians, as their fellow Nigerians do not see them as part of them. The consequence is there, the reaction also there. I know anybody who really thinks will know this is what will happen.
Power is not served a la carte; nobody stays mute and power is handed to him. Are the Igbo leaders meeting others and presenting their demands and marketing possible candidates?
We have had an agreement long before now. Why did Buhari become president after Jonathan? We agreed and I have been participating in many of the conferences, and we agreed on rotation.
I was chairman of not the presidential rotation, but rotation of other offices, and we agreed on rotation of the office of the governor by senatorial zones. So, this is not a new thing, we agreed on it.
I’m told that some people thought that since after the civil war, there was an agreement to exclude our people from government. You can’t do that and hope to have the same people in the same country. If they are talking of any agreement to exclude Igbo from presidency, you are excluding them from citizenship and whatever they do in consequence of being excluded is justified.
The way the country is now, without restructuring, do you think any Igbo or a Southerner that becomes the president would not be rubbished?
Restructuring is the most necessary action we can take as a people. It is the wisest national action to take. Without restructuring, nothing else really can work. If somebody from Southeast is president, without restructuring, the country still won’t work. Let me tell you one thing about Nigeria, as long as the country is keeping the Igbo man down politically, Nigeria will remain down economically. There are many ways to look at it. It is a gift of God to our people to develop this country; we are also able to unite this country.
Igbo man will like his chid to be bigger than him; he will also like his apprentice to go beyond him. We have this egalitarianism quality to take human beings as people. We don’t have Almajiri; we don’t have Talakawas, but we are not blaming those who have these categories, but with Igbo person in power, gradually everybody will assume equality and that helps in developing any country.
Some Southeast political leaders have argued that instead of president of Igbo extraction, they should go for restructuring. Which do you suggest for the Igbo- restructuring, presidency or self-determination?
These things are not exclusive. Mind you, the 2023 we are talking is coming very close. We can have Igbo presidency in 2023, and we can have restructuring long before 2023. I don’t see one as taking the place of the other. Yes, I have heard people saying, give us Biafra and forget every other thing, that may be all right, but if you are thinking of one Nigeria, and you are thinking of Africa, it is possible to make one Nigeria worthy and something Africa would be proud of, then you will not say, give me Biafra.
But, the way it is, with the Nigerian government pushing the Igbo out of Nigeria by their actions, which is what IPOB is reacting to. It is not surprising that some people want to leave, but old people like us are saying that changes can be done, that restructuring can be done and power can be rotated properly and this country can be a respectable superpower among nations. That’s where I stand, I’m not saying give us Biafra; bye bye! I’m not saying don’t restructure. I want this country to be one if possible. To have one Nigeria means we have to accept everyone. If a Northerner can be president, a South easterner can also be president.
Restructuring is a matter of going back to what works. From 1954 to 1965, Nigeria was working; the World Bank made it clear that parts of Nigeria were growing faster than parts of the world. It was clear we were growing because each region was growing at its pace. Nobody was obstacle to the other.
The country was growing. What made it to grow? It was that regional structure, which now can be replaced with zonal structure, and there are so many reasons. If you were a governor in those days, you would not just get money, allocation and be spending it, all the able bodied people made contributions to the resources you are using, and you know you are using it on their behalf and therefore you are more responsible. Today, a governor leaves office and goes to Abuja to take allocation and come back, there may not be scrutiny by his people.
We should think and pray. People should realise what is in their long term interest and pray God for the Fulani to recognise that a break up of Nigeria will cost them more than it will cost the Southeast; make the Yoruba understand the same thing, and every group understand that no group can walk away with happiness from Nigeria that is organised like it was before to work.