Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Former Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he hailed the shifting of Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 by the Federal Government, giving reasons for throwing his weight behind it. Nwosu, erstwhile political adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo also spoke on other national issues. Excerpt:
With the signing into law and celebration of June 12 by the Federal Government on Wednesday, as Democracy Day, official recognition of May 29 seems now to have been consigned to the dustbin. Are you happy with the situation?
It is for me and many Easterners a big relief that May 29 as a date is no longer celebrated in Nigeria. For those who remember, May 29, 1965 was the day the pogrom started. It was not a revenge coup. The revenge coup was July 29. May 29 was the day ordinary citizens lost their lives and their property in the North because of the so-called unification decree orchestrated by expatriates, precisely by British teachers and students of the Institute of Administration in the Ahmadu Bello University. That was when the killings occurred. That was the day the exodus of Easterners started back to the East. When it was thought that good sense had prevailed Ojukwu ordered or asked that people should go back, and appointed the then Emir of Kano, Chancellor of the University of Nigeria. So, for some of us, May 29 has remained a very sad day that citizens killed fellow citizens they had been living with in peace, because of actions of government, which those citizens did not know anything about. It wasn’t a day that any Easterner could celebrate in good conscience. That was also the reason the call for sit-at-home on May 30 has always succeeded, no matter what anybody said.
But nobody from the Southeast has ever protested against May 29h handover before now?
Why should the Southeast mount official protest? All protests of Southeast against pogrom have fallen on deaf ears. Nigeria has never accepted that there was pogrom. That is why history is not being taught. Nigeria has never accepted that it ever happened that citizens were butchered. I am not talking of soldiers killing their fellow soldiers and another set of soldiers killing their fellow soldiers in what Achebe called a horrendous tit for tat. I’m talking of where a man living in Sabon Gari woke up and found that his life and that of members of his family was in danger. He has never had any quarrel with his neighbours, but because of actions taken by government, the lives of family members were in danger. Similar thing happened in Germany. That was what happened in Rwanda. So, to see the government of Nigeria leave Abuja and go to Kigali to lay wreath in pogrom and genocide, but return and continue to live in complete denial that such a thing took place in Nigeria is something that only the Igbo can rectify for themselves. At least, if Nigeria doesn’t recognize it, the Igbo can recognize it and honour those souls and those spirits still crying for remembrance by their brethren. So, the relief people like me got was that we no longer have to sit-at-home watching our governors on May 29 with cultural dances celebrating the beginning of our tribulation in Nigeria.
How do you feel about the naming of the National Stadium after Abiola?
It was good that we recognized June 12 for what it was. Remember that Tofa’s running mate was an Igbo. His name is Dr Sylvester Ugo, he was Governor of Bank of Biafra. He lost even in his own local government in that election. So, the Abiola election was a national phenomenon. He deserves the honour. If you name it Democracy Day, he deserves the honour. If you name it MKO Abiola Day, it even promotes it much more in my opinion. There has been nobody in Nigeria for whom a public holiday has been named after. We have a similar thing in America where they have Martin Luther King’s Day. It is a national holiday. I also have no objection to naming a stadium because Abiola was a pillar of sports in Africa. But the University of Lagos had been named after Abiola by President Jonathan and that was quickly kicked into the dustbin by the people. So, how could you then rename University of Lagos after Abiola, after the people rejected it and threw it away? So, I believe that the people who thought of naming that stadium thought of Abiola as pillar of sports in Africa. But the key thing is that there is a day, June 12 in Nigeria, which is set in remembrance of Chief MKO Abiola.
What do you make of the state of the country today?
The country has never been in greater danger since the end of the civil war than it is now. The insurgency, the insecurity is serious and threatens the existence of this country. On the economy, the country is in a state of suspended animation. You can’t really think of how to expand now because as Clinton says, you can only think of the economy when the politics is good. It’s good politics that brings about good governance. So, my view is that the country is in a state of suspended animation economically.
Would you say the security agencies are not doing enough?
If they are doing enough, we should feel it, we are not feeling it at the moment. I don’t know why the situation is escalating.
What do you think must be done by government to halt the situation? Do you support calls for appointment of technocrats by the President when he forms his cabinet?
My advice to the government is that it must quickly bring the insecurity to a halt before it consumes all of us. It is not a good sign to extend the tenures of the Service Chiefs. My experience is that when there is a system failure and, of course, there is a system failure in our security setup, you get rid of the top, get new ideas and get new people. When the president says he is going to get the right people to do it, I am a bit cynical. In 2015, I was told that the reason it took us six months to assemble his ministers was to get the right people. After the long wait, we ended up having a Finance Minister that nobody knew in international finance circles. This time, we shall wait and see those right people the president has promised.
Some are beginning to complain that two weeks after inauguration the President is yet to make appointments, is it not too early to make such complaints?
A friend of mine says there are three groups of people one shouldn’t argue with. First is a young girl, who is a sickle cell carrier wanting to marry another man who is a sickle cell carrier and is insisting that she is in love.
Don’t argue with the person. Secondly, when you see a young Igbo man who has a lot of money and he is not listening to advice, he is insisting that if you knew better, you would have had more money than him, don’t argue with him. The third person you should not argue with is a Buhari supporter. He doesn’t see wrong in whatever the president does. I was in the government of President Obasanjo from day one, May 29, 1999. I was in President Obasanjo’s government appointed as the only Igbo man in government as of May 29 and he did that even when he never saw me in his life. That was the day he showed me the draft NDDC Bill and the draft ICPC Bill. That is a government ready and clear headed about where it wants to go. People are saying, but in his first tenure it took him six months. Where I come from, they say if the first child is not running, why should the second child begin to walk? The only fallout from it is that I see people still appearing on the television as spokesmen of the Presidency, Liaison Officer of the Presidency, they have no instrument of appointment. Can’t they realize that they have seized to exist, just as the president would have seized to exist if he hadn’t been sworn in on 29th May. Can’t they at least shut their mouths and hide their faces until at least they have received instruments of appointment. The people who should be speaking now are Permanent Secretaries and civil servants. No politician should speak as either spokesman or liaison officer, being seen in National Assembly, being seen in all these functions, until he has received a revalidation of his instrument of appointment.
But the President has not objected to their claims…?
That is his style. His style doesn’t mean it is right.
Why did PDP ask its member to re-contest for the office of the Deputy President of the Senate?
The PDP had an opinion. The PDP had a policy to act as an opposition in the elections. Whatever you saw was not PDP’s position. What you saw were people’s personal decision to pursue personal interests. I am not aware that PDP authorized any PDP member to contest any of the National Assembly positions. I’m not sure that PDP authorized those disgraceful members who proudly announced they were PDP members and they were seconding. That wasn’t PDP position. So, we must separate the PDP position from personal positions of members-elect who were looking for some accommodation by the leaders who would emerge. I am also not aware that PDP has said it will accept the Greek gift of government of national unity when it is in court trying to recover its stolen presidential mandate.
The PDP governors and some other leaders took a decision asking the members to vote for some candidates. Was it shocking to you that some still voted against the wish of the party?
I believe that PDP will look at it when they sit down. First of all, PDP has been in existence for more than 20 years and has set down structures. The National Working Committee will determine the next step to take, it will go to the National Caucus, which is expanded to include governors and legislators; then it would after that go to the BoT and after that, go to the NEC. When it has done that it means that the PDP has taken a position. But that the governors met and took a position and actually communicated, yet some PDP lawmakers still voted against the directive is in bad taste. This is in contrast to 2015. In 2015, we lost election massively, but we got Senator Ike Ekweremmadu elected Deputy Senate President. That was a proud moment. That was a success of strategy. What we saw on Wednesday was a shameful failure of strategy, where personal interest took over. But the PDP is a strong party. We came from about nine or 10 governors to a good height . Right now, we won so many states. And members of the PDP are convinced that we won the presidential election and we are waiting to know what the court will say. That’s why we are contesting it. Whatever the court says, we will go back and look at how to strengthen the party. We believe there must be a difference between states governed by PDP and states not governed by PDP.
This difference, is it in terms of the quality of governance?
Yes, you can see that PDP was very proud and is still very proud of what Wike did and is doing in Rivers. You saw the projects that Wike was doing in Rivers being commissioned and carried most of the traditional rulers and stakeholders along with him. No matter every obstacle put in his way, to quote the Bible, no weapon fashioned against him prospered and he is back. Tell me how many APC governors were commissioning projects, with the exception of perhaps Lagos?
What is your take on President Buhari’s disclosure that government will henceforth adopt a policy of naming and shaming those involved in corruption?
That is not new. They have named people before; they have excluded names from those they named before, those who are in court. The PDP has a full list of those who have gone to court from the inception of anti-corruption till now. So, we know those they named and those they don’t want to name. There are even rumours that not naming some and dropping charges against some is a weapon used to secure political compliance, for example, in the election of the Senate President. We don’t know. What the plan for fighting corruption is, let it be tabled. There is not one single Nigerian who is against the fight against corruption. I still maintain that President Obasanjo gave me the draft ICPC Bill to look at before the late Mustapha Akanbi who retired from Appeal Court in Ilorin was brought to check it. It was Kanu Agabi as Attorney that drafted the EFCC Bill. It was under Obasanjo that the current Magu was brought to EFCC. He was in the original team that was put together, headed by Nuhu Ribadu. So, Magu was one of the people PDP put there. When the APC unveils the plan to put its own people, to make its own laws, to bring and change its own laws for greater effectiveness, to change the laws against prosecution, to strengthen everything, we will then see them. Otherwise, what people are worried about is anti-corruption being used as a weapon for fighting political enemies. The PDP has cases in court till now and often what is in the charge sheet is not what we hear in the naming and shaming. We have noted that PDP went out of power and a new government came in 29th May 2015; we don’t know how many people since that time this government has charged to court or it means corruption died on 29th May 2015.
How about former Taraba and Plateau states governors, Rev Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye that are in jail?
Jolly Nyame was a PDP governor charged by a PDP government. Dariye was also a PDP governor charged by PDP government and impeached by PDP government. He even changed to APC. Those ones at the court, they were not charged to court by APC. The third one, Alamieyeseigha is late. He was charged to court, jailed and brought back by PDP. And he was in PDP government. Name a similar case by the APC government?
The president has warned that the war on corruption will be given more bite in days ahead, what do you make of that?
Two sentences: Nigerians are waiting to see. The second sentence, the kite that flies above, the people below are watching its belly.
On Democracy Day the president pledged to take millions of people out of poverty, do you think the promise is realizable?
What was reported was 10 million people out of poverty in 10 years. That’s what the president said. In the first swearing in, Nigerians were promised that by December 2015, Boko Haram would be defeated. Nigerians were promised a lot of things. Nigerians know which one of them was implemented. Nigeria went into recession and all that APC said was that they didn’t know that PDP had messed up big time and the economy was heading for recession when they took it. So, Nigerians cannot be blamed if they adopt a wait and see attitude to these new promises.
Why are you not taking the promise made by the government seriously?
The British say that the test of the pudding is in the eating. I shouldn’t be saying this. Government should organize and move in a way that Nigerians will feel the impact. When Nigerians are comfortable, they know. When they are uncomfortable, they know. The government’s answer that there is no longer free cash all over the place to be stolen is a pity.