By Wilfred Eya
Former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa, has expressed fears over the deteriorating security situation in the country. In this interview, among other issues, he lamented that security of lives and property in Imo State has collapsed.
You were once a governor in Imo and you are aware of the recent torching of the state’s police headquarters and freeing of inmates at the Correctional Centre; from your vantage position, what is your interpretation of the development?
Till now, we cannot say exactly what happened in Imo State because there are many versions of the story. The former Police IG said it was by the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) but the group denied it. Then the governor said it was not IPOB and pointed accusing fingers on a former governor and his political opponents. So, the situation is so confusing. I believe that the IGP should have a security report and we also believe that the governor should have a security report. Once they have not come out to tell us exactly who was responsible for it, it would be difficult for one to make a conclusion on who was responsible and what was the motive. It is only when we know who is responsible that we can now start talking about the motive. But all said and done, for such a thing to happen shows that we have a very serious security situation at hand. For anybody or group no matter who they are to be able to come in and attack the prisons and free the inmates and attack the police headquarters, and all these happened and till now, I have not heard of a casualty is confusing. So, if there was no casualty, does it mean that the police and the prison warders never responded or what exactly happened. So, it is a very confusing situation and unless we get the facts right, one cannot actually say much about it.
With what recently happened in Ebonyi State also, there are conspiracy theories in the public domain that it is possible that some powerful forces want to destablise the South East before the 2023 general elections?
I do not think such a theory can hold because what is happening in the South East is not peculiar to the zone alone. We know what is happening in the North West. Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and so on, they have all been under attack. It is also happening in Benue. We just read the other day that some soldiers on patrol were killed in Benue. So, there is a general security failure all over the country. So, nobody can isolate the one in the South East and say it is being caused by some people to cause disunity in the zone. I don’t agree with that theory.
But with all these security challenges starting from what happened between the ESN and soldiers in Orlu, what do you think is the implication to the governance of Imo State?
The implication is that the security situation in Imo has completely broken down. But just as I said, all these happened and there was no casualty. There was a statement by a former DSS director which was also widely reported that the police and prisons were informed of a security report that such a thing would happen. They did not take any precautions. I am sure it all requires a very superior investigation to find out who was responsible and what was the motive.
Time for the next general elections is fast approaching and we can see aspirants from other zones warming up but not much is being heard of such in the South East. What is your view on that?
I would not know but if you read my article in my last interview with your paper; you would have seen that I said that restructuring is more important than having a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. I would not know whether all those who are preparing have not made up their minds or some of them have even chickened out.
But do you think restructuring is possible before the 2023 general elections?
It is possible. It is not a question of whether it is possible but the authorities, the Federal Government has to make up its mind to do that. It is something worth doing. If we want to preserve the sovereignty of this country, the earlier we restructure, the better for us. We still have two years to go before 2023. So, if the will is there, it can be done within one year even.
But looking at the 9th National Assembly, do you think the current members would have the will to facilitate the restructuring of the country?
That is also part of our problems. If you go to the report of the 2014 National Conference, you will see that it is in three parts. One is the administrative part which the Federal Government can implement without any laws. Two are the ones that require laws which the National Assembly has to pass. The third is the constitutional amendment which needs to be done before that time. So, these are the three major areas. The National Assembly is an integral part of that report if we have to adopt it. We may not have to adopt it wholesale. If anybody feels the National Confab of 2014 was not well done, fine; you pick up that report and maybe get a small review committee of people from everywhere to review it and get it implemented. That is the most important thing.
President Buhari recently travelled to the UK for medical checks and this is happening six years after he emerged at the helm of affairs of the country. As a Nigerian, how do you feel?
That is an indictment of the present administration. At this level where we are, we should have standard hospitals in Nigeria that can handle all cases but if a particular disease required an expert somewhere, that is a different ballgame. It should not be that for ordinary medical checks and all that, our president travels abroad. It is an indictment on us. It means that we do not have the facilities here.
Many insist that most of President Buhari’s actions are anti-unity of Nigeria despite his continued insistence that the unity of the country is not negotiable. What is your take on that?
When you say the unity of the country is not negotiable, that is not true. Everything about Nigeria is still negotiable. Now, the appointment of the IGP for example is not just the Igbo being neglected. It is the rest of Nigerians being neglected. So, it just shows you that this government is not catering for everybody. It is not just the Igbo alone. They must look at the heads of various security agencies and other strategic institutions of government. If they are from one part of the country, it is an indictment on the government. Is it that people from other parts of the country are not qualified? Today in Nigeria, we resort to federal character when it is convenient like when it is on the issue of admissions into universities and so on for everybody to be accommodated. When it comes to other things like appointments into strategic federal institutions, you should also apply federal character. Let us not look at it only from the position of the government being anti-Igbo. The development is anti the federal structure of Nigeria made up of several ethnic groups. All the ethnic groups are supposed to benefit from appointments.
What is your view on the resurgence of secessionists groups threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria?
The continuous threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria shows you that the other ethnic nationalities in the country are no longer interested in Nigeria as a country. That is why it is wrong to say that the corporate existence of Nigeria is not negotiable. You need to bring these ethnic groups to a round table and negotiate. Let us agree on how the country can be run so that everybody would have a sense of belonging. It is not the exclusive right of any ethnic nationality. It is the commonwealth of any Nigerian.
With what is happening, what are your greatest fears about the future of the country?
My greatest fear is that if we do not take the opportunity to save Nigeria, and the insecurity continues, and the stakes of all the ethnic nationalities continue to go down, we will come to a situation where there will be anarchy. We may get to a position where we have people wanting to go by force and then we create anarchy. That is why I am advocating let us sit down now and sort out things. There is still time for us to do that. If we fail to do that, we might wake up one day and see that there is anarchy everywhere. That is what we should avoid.
Do you think that having the right leadership in 2023 may just be the beginning of the solutions to our problems?
Let us put it this way. Let us hope that the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria would have the patience to wait for the emergence of such a leadership. But the way things are going, if time is not taken, Nigerians might not be patient enough to elect such a leader. The issues are being polarized every day and there are too many fronts ranging from insecurity to disparity in appointments and allocation of infrastructure, and proprietary rights to the nation called Nigeria. If people do not have that patience, there is no hope that the emergence of a great leader would stop all these agitations and make Nigeria one. And again, people do not even have confidence that our electoral process could give us such a leader. All these combined are making everybody have fears. In a country like ours, what we need are strong institutions and not governments. If the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) were up and doing and the security forces especially the police involved in elections are also strong, and also the judiciary and others, then you would have confidence in the electoral process. But when all these institutions are very weak and compromising, how do you want people to have confidence that the system would produce such a good leader. These are the fundamental issues.