By Daniel Kanu
Grassroots politician and former Abia Central Federal Constituency representative at the Red Chambers, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu is by every standard a thorough-bred politician, who is versatile, bold, and courageous.
She was chairman, Senate Committee on Oil and Gas Resources, chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other related financial matters and until on May 7, 2021, chairman, Governing Council, University of Calabar.
In this no-holds-barred interview, Dr Nwaogu told Sunday Sun that President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued silence is dangerous rather than golden, but defended him on terrorism sponsorship allegation.
She also expressed dissatisfaction at governance in her state, Abia, saying it’s on life-support with nothing working in the state.
Nwaogu insisted that the Southeast deserves to produce president in 2023 if the peace of the country is fully restored for elections to take place.
She spoke on other sensitive issues, including women’s participation in politics, restructuring Nigeria, and prosecution of sponsors of terrorism. Excerpt:
You have always been a great encourager to other women in politics. How satisfied are you so far with women’s participation in politics?
Who can be satisfied with the statistics we have right now? No, I am not satisfied with the participation of women in politics as it is presently. Although not the women’s fault, I must make it clear for the poor or low participation, it’s because of a lot of challenges confronting the women who want to go into politics, and these challenges are known, challenges that now added insecurity, financing, etc. it’s a male-dominated world, the men are not willing to give a level playing ground in politics for women to participate effectively and optimally. The mitigating factors that have held women down are many, but if we can respect the affirmative action which we are signatory to, there will be an improvement as more will be encouraged by the opportunity.
But what do you think has made it difficult for the government to adopt the affirmative action that Nigeria is a signatory to, particularly the Beijing affirmative action?
Honestly, I do not know why the government has reneged on a document that they are signatory to, affirmation of women participation in politics. My mind tells me that it is an ego thing, it is a thing that the men have always felt uncomfortable in having women alongside them in the political arena, they feel threatened, unnecessarily threatened, they feel frightened, they feel their positions are going to be usurped or that the women are going to be seen to be doing better in politics and they have deliberately held the political arena to themselves without giving or making a conscious policy that will enable more women to participate more and be encouraged in politics. Despite the fact that the Nigerian government has been a signatory to this document for more than a decade now they have done nothing to actualize it or domesticate it in Nigeria. They have done nothing and maybe they feel that there is no reprimand by the United Nation (UN) and because nobody either denies them certain things for not fulfilling or respecting that document or that promise, they just feel that they can continue putting more than a half of their human resource capacity (the women) down for no reason. But you can see it is also affecting us, women tend to be more transparent, they are mindful of their integrity too and they can deliver on the promise.
What is your take on the present security challenge in the country?
To be frank with you, I feel so sad, I feel bad, I feel concerned as a human being, as a mother, as a Nigerian, and as a woman politician. I feel bad especially when I see innocent Nigerians being murdered, mercilessly being displaced for no reason, being driven away from their ancestral homes, and the lives that have been lost for no reason as a result of insecurity. It is worrisome. But let me draw your attention: This is not an APC issue, I agree the president did promise to tackle insecurity and you can see the administration is doing a lot of things to combat this challenge, but a country that has been fighting itself…this is beyond APC, I am not saying it is beyond APC to tackle, but I mean that the problem is the problem of Nigerians and we should all collectively irrespective of the party in my own understanding fight this scourge together because those bandits, the Boko Haram, kidnappers, IPOB people, and all these agitators are killing people without considering political boundaries or political affiliations. If we go back to checking or confirming the statistics of those that have been murdered, I can assure you that Muslims are being killed, Christians are being killed, non-Christians and non-Muslims are being killed, etc. These children in the universities that were shot and their corpses were thrown on the road, what was their crime? The only area I see or not pleased enough is on our president’s silence. I do not think his silence is golden now. Nigerians are concerned that they have not heard his voice the way it should be and we cannot be hearing voices of aides like Shehu Garuba, Malami, and Femi Adesina as if they are now the voted president, no. There is the need for the president to speak to inspire hope. I am a practical politician and I know what my constituents are saying. We need to hear him speak to us, we need to hear him proffer solutions that are producing results, we need to hear him speak presidentially on the issue and I know he is also worried and troubled, but I do not think his style ( of tackling the issue) is what many people like. This is a typical case of when silence is not golden. He should speak directly to Nigerians and assure the people convincingly that they are on top of the situation. He cannot just keep quiet and allow political advisers to take over on very sensitive issue as we have it today and I want to join other well-meaning Nigerians to say that our president should speak to us.
There is this serious clamour from your region (Southeast) to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction…?
(Cuts in) I am totally in support of the movement or the clamour as you pointed out. It’s about time we gave the Southeast that slot of producing the next Nigerian president in 2023. The president in 2023 should be from the Southeast extraction and you can see statistically that almost all the other regions have had their slot at one point or the other. And if we all say like I am part of it that we believe in united Nigeria then I think for justice sake too that the Southeast deserves the slot in the next general election of 2023. I think it is the right thing to do and I think it will to a large extent assuage the nerves of some of those who are clamouring for secession. You know most times why people want to secede, why they want to have their own country is when they are treated as an inferior citizen of Nigeria. it cannot be that in the scheme of things there is nowhere that we are part of and if we are no longer going to be part of the governance of this country in one form or the other just like the other regions then they might as well let us go, leave us alone and let us be. We have been denied of so many things, we are the least compared to other political zones, we have only five states as against some regions that have seven states. We have only 43 federal constituencies, some regions have 95, there is so much inequality meted against the Southeast. It is like in a home, a father or parents can beat a child, but you use the other hand to bring that child back, and I do not think that there is any wrong that we as Ndigbo have done to merit this kind of almost near extermination in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
As a financial expert having worked extensively in the banking industry and was Senate Committee Chairman on Banking, Insurance, and other financial matters and also as Chairman Senate Committee on Oil and Gas resources among other positions, how do you assess the present economy or do you think it’s a global situation?
It is a global situation sort of, but at the same time, some economies are managing, trying to revamp their own economies with one policy or the other. In Nigeria, for instance, it’s not a new thing to say that the majority of Nigerian youths are unemployed and this government said we have so many programmes that are aimed at providing financial intervention especially in the agric sector, but most of these interventions are done on the pages of newspapers and on television. If realistically, we do this intervention like the loans that were expected to be giving to the citizens of Nigeria that can make them to become independent we will begin to reduce the level of unemployment gradually. Of course, it is a gradual process, but when it is done on pages of newspapers and on electronic media, etc when you go down to the states you don’t see them being done. There is the need to bring this to the attention of the government because most people at the grassroots seem not to be getting or benefitting from such interventions. And this is not helping us. How can an economy be revamped or grow under such circumstances? In other climes people start from the informal sector, you groom them, you grow them and they become formal sector and they are caught in the tax net, in the revenue generation net of the state and by extension of the country, but when more people are outside the tax net and there is no known federal or state government welfare safety net like we have in other countries or economies, the economy will suffer. To be honest, I do not know how Nigerians, all of us will survive this. Somebody will graduate and for 10 years no employment of any kind and there is no government intervention where the person can decide and say okay, let me go into a vocational business so that I don’t have to look for a white-collar job, I can be a potential employer since I am a graduate. There is nothing, so the economy is dwindling, it is affecting even the financial institutions. Look at the banks, they are just proclaiming and pronouncing paper profits, I assure you that. Where will their real profits come from? As we have it today the system has it that even if you have money there is no incentive to savings. Do you know that? In Nigeria today there is no incentive to savings, there is no interest rate in any conventional bank of any kind, whatever you have no interest rate. It is worrisome. How will the banks grow? How will they develop portfolio for lending?
What is your take on governance performance in your state, Abia…?
(Cuts in) How can he perform and what indices have you tried and found him performing? He (Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu) is not performing, he has never performed and he has nothing to offer. We are believing God that in 2023 that APC will get the opportunity and the mandate of Abians so that we can redeem the state and begin to resuscitate the economy of Abia State. The economy of the state has gone beyond being in a coma, it is dead or at best you can say it is on life support from this monthly feeding bottle system, that is the only thing keeping it while it is still breathing on life support. I have nothing else to say other than what I have said from 2015 to date. Where do we start? Is it the College of Education in Arochukwu that is owed 24 months? Is it the Polytechnic in Aba that is owed 24 months? Is it now the Abia State University that is owed many months salary? Is it the hospitals that are owed? Is it the pensioners that were asked to forfeit two years (2018 and 2019) and in 2020 they started paying them only 20 or 30 per cent? So that is why I am saying that the government is on life support in Abia State. I do not want to say anything more because I don’t want to get personal, but the truth must be said. The truth may be bitter to those concerned, but it must be told. When they change this narrative of poor performance, I will also be the first, to tell the truth and give commendation, but as we have it today, Abians deserve far better than what we are getting or witnessing in today’s governance. There is nothing happening in Abia State, so much propaganda, so much attack dogs in action.
Don’t you think that most Abians may be reluctant to vote for the APC in the state given the unsatisfactory example of the APC leadership at the federal level?
Look APC government at the federal level has done well. Look at the second Niger Bridge that is almost completed. We started from President Olusegun Obasanjo making promises to the people, it was never done. It is the APC government that is now bringing it to reality. Look at the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, from the Obasanjo regime to even President Jonathan that claimed to be one of us (Igbo) he never did it for six years he spent there, but this government is doing it. You can close your eyes now and drive from Enugu to Aba going to PH. I am only talking about the one that concerns Ndigbo. Look at the railways, they have just given the contract to rehabilitate the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway line, they have done the Ibadan-Lagos railway line. These railway lines were all in the pipeline from Obasanjo and Jonathan and it is President Buhari that is now doing it. I think this administration has done well, the only area that I find a bit worrisome is the area of security, but I have also realised that there is the hand of Esau, there is the hand of opposition as part of those creating this insecurity, just to destabilise this administration. I cannot see how any president can allow, if it were in his power, will say: let bandits and Boko Haram or IPOB etc, let them come to his country and destabilise him. Does it make sense? I have a feeling that there are people who want to destabilise this administration and they are the ones assisting in creating this havoc so as to make the country ungovernable. Unfortunately, it will affect everybody. I heard from television reports that they are going to prosecute those who they think are financing terrorism in the country, I can assure you that it is not Buhari that is financing terrorism.
There is this belief that such prosecution maybe another style of rounding up or gagging the opposition on trumped up charges?
But there has to be verifiable evidence. Will they just see somebody and say: You are a sponsor or a financier, there has to be verifiable, convincing evidence in my view. We will resist it if it becomes a witch-hunting exercise, but there is no way you can call somebody a sponsor if you do not have deep convincing evidence.
Until perhaps less than a forthright ago you were the chairman, Governing Council, University of Calabar. How can you briefly assess the education sector given such privilege?
Some say the system is rotten, I agree and that affects the entire education sector in Nigeria, it is highly uncoordinated, there is no policy, it will be an interview for another day which I will be willing to give you to the best of my knowledge.
You have always advocated for the emergence of a female governor at least in one of the Nigerian states. Are you planning to come out in 2023 to dig it out with the men?
Well, I don’t want to be seen as a serial contestant because I have told you some challenges. In today’s Nigeria, we are looking for the security of the land, economic revival of the land, etc, before we begin to talk about what we are going to contest and what we are not going to contest. I do not want to say I must contest in 2023 whether the environment is conducive or not…no, I will not say that, and I will not do that. I will pray that Nigeria gets better than we have it now. Look, Nigeria as it is today, if it remains this way, it will not offer anybody hope of going into any political contest in two years. With all the insecurity, turmoil in every nook and cranny both in the East, Northeast, North-central, Southwest, etc, in fact, no political zone is safe, the entire country has been ravaged by insecurity. I do not think that any matured Nigerian or politician should be talking about what he or she will be contesting, what we should be talking about is: how do we restore peace in the land? How do we revive our ailing or dying economy? Will we stay in an economy where we continue to borrow and we do not see what we are borrowing these monies for? I will not want to be a participant in an economy like that. I want to pray that our country gets to a peaceful resolution or reduction of the high level of insecurity in all parts of the country before talking of politics, anybody talking of contesting an election in 2023 as things are today do not know the gravity of what is on the ground. The person may be playing with fire, let’s first seek for peace, for restoration, let’s assuage the people that are aggrieved that feel that they are not part of the governance system of this country, let’s see or know what their problems are and see how we can attempt to genuinely address it so as to restore peace. We do not have any other country. it is only a stable country that you will want to run around, criss-cross your state to campaign. Nobody can campaign in a situation as we have it now. Will you stay in one place to campaign and ask people to vote for you?
Most critics are saying that unless Nigeria is restructured it would be difficult getting it right with the present structure. Do you share in this position?
I believe there is a need for restructuring. It is a situation of the chicken and the egg which one comes first? If you have the chicken it can grow to a hen and will begin to lay the egg. If you have an egg you can incubate it and you get the chicken and the chicken grows. So chicken and egg which one comes first for you? If by adventure we get into 2023 and the system allows the Southeast to produce the next president, we can use it to begin to restructure. And in the history of restructuring, let me tell you, it is also in our hands, it is not only in the hands of the National Assembly as people are meant to believe. The constitution has it that for us to create more states assuming that is what we are looking for? For us to do devolution of power assuming that is what we are looking for? For us to create a region to be autonomous assuming that is what we are looking for? It has to go through the National Assembly first, then through the 36 states of the federation where 24 states will have to say: Yes, we agree, so it’s not only at the National Assembly that people are saying crucify them crucify them…no, it’s not. Why can’t the governors talk and agree, they are the ones that have the yam and the knife, they should agree and say: this is what Nigerians are asking for, let us go for restructuring. And what is restructuring by the way? We have talked and agreed on one, community policing…has it taken off? We have said that we should have our resources domesticated in our region and let us see if it is better to pay taxes to the central rather than the other way round. When we have a whopping 42 ministries called federal ministries, what is federal ministry? Do we need to have a federal ministry of Water Resources? Even the Federal Ministry of Works, Electricity, Housing etc, these are things that have made governance bogus, over-burdened, instead of allowing either states or their regions to do that. Some people say if we are going back to the regions that we are going back to where we came from, but if we had saddled this country with overhead, over-burden in terms of governance, we have over 1,000 agencies and parastatals, with 42 humongous ministries and they are all duplicated in the states. We know what our problems are, but no president or the people have had the courage or political will to say, this thing is wrong, let us go through this other way, let us devolve power, how can you have roads in the states and you say, this one is a federal road? Do we have federal human beings walking along those roads? It doesn’t make sense.