81 years old Anya O. Anya, a professor of Zoology knows Nigeria inside out. He has served in various advisory capacities to the federal government as the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Economic Summit Group and President of Nigerian Academy of Science. At a time the clamour for Igbo to produce the president of Nigeria is loudest, he says the Igbo need paradigm shift not the presidency as offices don’t matter. He also said the country will not progress unless Nigerians face the reality that the system is flawed and work towards correcting same. He spoke on other national issues.
What is your assessment of the state of things in Nigeria today?
I don’t think anybody can pretend any longer that things are alright in Nigeria and I don’t think anybody can also pretend that those in-charge of things today have done all they could have done and that they have done it the way it should be done. I was just looking through some collected papers of mine, and i was going through the lecture I gave, the advice I gave to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. There were two lectures that I gave, one was the Eni Njoku Lecture at the University of Lagos, Akoka and the other was the Emeka Anyaoku Lecture at Port Harcourt. These two lectures addressed President Muhammadu Buhari directly.
I told him that the challenge before him was that of national integration and I told him what the priorities have to be in order to get us where we should be, but the contrary has happened. The country has never been as divided as we are right now, to the point that two former Heads of State, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo and retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida have written letters telling the President he has not done well, so there is no point pretending they were saying something else. The country is in a very bad shape.
Some time ago, Prof Ben Nwabueze alluded to the fact that Nigeria was heading towards a failed state, what do you think?
The primary purpose of government is to protect lives and property and that is the core of security. Just look at the last few months the flood of blood in Benue State and just recently in Zamfara State and when you hear the large number of people killed, it is mindless murder. People just got up and started killing. When that happens in a country, it means that security has broken down and when security breaks down it means there is no government. To that extent Prof Nwabueze is correct. But let me also say that there are different criteria of measuring a failed state. There are those who will say that Nigeria has been a failed state for over the last two years or more because the various parameters to judge with are not good enough.
So what are the standard parameters to determine whether Nigeria is a failed state…
(Cuts in) No you see it is a very technical issue and I don’t want to go into it now, but the important thing is that no Nigerian is feeling comfortable right now, so that is one measure. In a functional state everybody will be happy to go about their business. Usually when I travel to the east, I go by road. But today, even with the fact that I go with escort, I’m still uncertain because you don’t know what you can meet anywhere and I say anywhere in Nigeria, there is nowhere that is a safe haven. Look at even Lagos State, the other time we were talking about Badoo Cult and it is the same mindless killings.
In the short and long term, how do you suggest Nigeria address these problems?
The important thing will be to embrace reality that is for President Buhari and the government to realise that and accept that things are very bad to the point that something has to be done urgently. We are in an emergency security wise and the present bunch whether you are talking about the minister of Defence or the Inspector General of Police, their disposition, the things that have come out of their mouth in the last weeks suggest that they are not capable of handling the situation and that it is time to start looking for other people for the job, people who can face the reality that things are not normal and are prepared not to pay lip-service but do something about it. That is where to start in the short term.
In the long term, I think the 2014 national conference, to which I was a delegate, and to that extent I could say I’m partisan on it, but no other team in Nigeria has looked at the problems of Nigeria as thoroughly as that national conference, which is why even now that it is belated the All Progressives Congress (APC) that initially said it has nothing to do with it has now made a 360 degrees turn and accepted some of the things they said they will not touch. That is a beginning, build a national consensus and start from there, start implementing it because it is what will give confidence and bring us together because that conference was agreed to by all Nigerians. The only people that were not there were the two delegates from the APC but all the APC governors sent their representatives and all the other formations dealing with the APC also sent representatives. So all these we were not there is just a little minority within the APC, the greater majority of the APC were there. This greater majority will flow with the national conference, so we can start from there.
Part of the recommendations of that conference was state police which is now gaining support, but the fear of abuse by state governors is still there. How can that be sorted out?
There are things people can do because they are allowed to do it and there are also things they cannot do. The state governors are politicians in a democracy. Look at the national conference, why are people turning around to embrace it? It is because the reality has set in that there are things you can no longer do and get away with. So even the state governors know there are things they can no longer do. The days of impunity are gone and that is why you have so much violence because people are fed up to the point that they are ready to take the laws into their own hands and any governor that steps beyond a reasonable distance will have problems. It is not enough to say the state governors will abuse it. People are very short-fused they react to anything and state governors who try to manipulate it by doing things that are unpopular will be endangering their own lives. Nigeria is that turbulent.
How do you think the Igbo have fared under the Buhari-led APC administration?
You can only talk about how you have fared when you have been given attention. Has the government given any attention to the Igbo? President Buhari came in with a deliberate policy of either ignoring the Igbo or doing something in the hope they will react. But the Igbo have been very wise, uncharacteristically wise and have endured it. The way the administration is running is an insult to Nigeria to which the Igbo have contributed a lot. I don’t think the Igbo have been given any attention not to talk about how they have fared. There are of course prominent Igbo sons in the APC and in the government, I sympathise with them. In the jobs they are, they have to do the best they can but I don’t know anyone of them that is happy. Whether it is the minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, whether it is Okechukwu Emelemah or Ogbonnaya Onu, they will not tell you the truth about their feelings. I have interacted with all these people over the years and know them very well. They are reasonable and responsible people but the situation they found themselves in they cannot do much.
Why is it that despite the marginalisation of the igbo…
(Cuts in) I don’t like that word.
I mean despite the feeling of being shut out some Igbo feel the best chance for the region to produce the president in 2023 is to support a Buhari second term?
What are you doing with Igbo president? Let’s be real, it is when things are done the way they should be that we start looking at the future. The way Nigeria is now are we even sure of 2019? As we speak can anybody tell you confidently that he knows what will happen in 2019? So why don’t we face reality by asking what do we do to improve situation of things before we start talking about 2019 that we don’t know whether it will arrive.
I am of the opinion that the Igbo need a paradigm shift in their thinking. Preoccupation with office whether it is minister or whatever has not helped the Igbo and will not. The only people who benefit from it are the office holders who see to their personal accomplishments. The Igbo never gained anything as a group. My paradigm shift is that whatever government that is coming, ignore whatever offices they are offering and draw a list of things Ndigbo need to be done in Igbo land for the benefit of the people , whether it is good roads or railway and negotiate on that basis because people will look after themselves when these things are in place, in which case you will not need government offices. It is the private sector that runs the governments in serious places and their time will come in Nigeria. So let Ndigbo build capacity. Let’s stop all that nonsense about Igbo president. When, God bless his soul, the late Alex Ekwueme was Vice President, can we point to anything that Ndigbo benefited? Even in the recent past, when Senator Pius Anyim was Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-iweala was Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, two powerful positions that you could literally say this was the Secretary and the other was the Prime Minister of Nigeria, what did Ndigbo get? That was the time we got the least. So let’s stop pretending that offices matter in Nigeria because they don’t.
Why is it that Ndigbo have not benefited from Nigeria?
I will not entirely say we have not benefited. The thing is that we have always created our own environment and the benefits we got were the ones we created. When you go to Anambra State today and see the many young millionaires don’t forget that it was grown from the 20 pounds that was given to every Igbo man after the civil war and it was done without government help. Government’s position is really to create an environment where businesses can thrive. I will give a personal example, I have been near enough to government but I have never been in government, I have never held any major office, but it is for Nigerians to judge whether I have done more than those that served in government or less.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu has been missing for months now. Is it not time for Igbo leaders to demand his whereabouts from the federal government?
What is there to demand? When Operation Python Dance went to Abia State and did what they did, it was in the public space. So why do you need to hold anybody responsible again? Government naturally is responsible because when they go and attack a village and some people go missing they should be held accountable. The army has to tell us the story of that particular operation. It is when we know the story of that particular operation that we will find out what happened.