In this interview with Judex Okoro, in Calabar, the former Minister of Works and Housing during the military era of General Muhammadu Buhari between 1983-1985, Dr Emmanuel Nsan, has stated that returning to old fiscal federalism will end the clamor for separation by some ethnic groups.
Nsan, who was also a minister of health during the same administration, said it’s high time the country was restructured by taking a look at the recommendation of the confab report submitted to the present administration by the Goodluck Jonathan government, adding that failure to do that means Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder.
On Igbo presidency, he said Ndigbo have absolute right to ask for their fair share of the national cake as they have been marginalized for too long. But he advised they should wait till 2023 and allow the present government to run its full course.
Having worked with Buhari, how do you assess him in terms of his policies now because critics are saying that the president has remained the same especially in the area of the anti-corruption fight and appointments?
Buhari remains Buhari forever in the sense that he is disciplined, very tolerant, very persevering, and principled and a hardworking man even though age may be a hindrance now. But in terms of determination and willingness, I think age even adds onto it. There are things age can enhance and that is wisdom, which is on his side. During our executive council meetings, he would take time and read through all our memoranda just to be able to participate in sound decision-making. Had it been that we have many Buharis around, this country would not have been the same.
Though, there have been arguments that each time he comes, he brings in some harsh economic policies that tend to affect the masses, but that is not enough to say he is a harbinger of the evil of maladministration. On the other hand, it’s correct for us to admit that even if for once, that we are the contributors to our problem.
Nigerians have this attitude of passing the buck, by criticizing another person. Buhari is not to blame for everything happening to us now; he has taken the initiative to demonstrate that he can fight corruption to a standstill though not much has been achieved in terms of output. Even in the minds of the guilty, they are convinced that the Presidency is serious about anti-corruption crusade.
He means business, it’s not cosmetic nor window-dressing. The modus operandi may be different, but the intention must be recognized that he means well for the country. Again, he cannot do it alone on his march to change Nigeria. Every Nigerian needs to join hands to change the country and not leaving it alone for one person.
Besides, it’s a matter of two seasons. Many things have happened, because there is vast difference between then and now. So, we must situate our vexation, anger and annoyance within the context of what is happening today. Culture, attitude and thinking have all changed. So, nothing is static.
But most people who have been arrested or are on trial are mostly former PDP members but only a few APC politicians. Is it not seen as an attempt to hunt down opposition or perceived enemies?
That is a political issue left for political analysts to take a critical look at and come out with concrete evidence. I am a practitioner of evidence-based medicine. So, I always believe in evidence. Remember that I did criticize the modus operandi, maybe it is in the application that the seeming findings you talked about come in. I would rather have preferred a fight against corruption, which starts from the womb, a child in the womb. Buhari is starting from the top by capturing people who held power before he came in and throwing them into detention and then trying to get the court to do their work. I would have started from the child in the womb because of my experience of the Nigerian situation. As Nigerians, we have come a long way in corruption. In fact, corruption has now become our modus vivendi . So, the only way to have a new and better Nigeria is to catch them young. Let us do what the Chinese did a long time ago.
What did they do? They resisted the Western world because of the modus they employed. Let there be that Nigeria one day, when a child will tell his father that what the dad is doing is wrong and then possibly call the law enforcement agents that what the dad is doing is wrong. Until we achieve that kind of system in Nigeria, corruption will not abate. Besides, we only think of corruption in financial terms. All those who have been arrested were arrested because of financial misappropriation or misapplication. And that is what we are just fighting. To me, corruption has many tentacles which when brought together becomes an octopus. So, there are many forms of corruption. For instance, I remember when I was a minister. Just six-months into office, a relative of mine came to me and then called me, “Etenyen (my family pet name), remember time is going, don’t forget yourself. I am here in case you need me.” You see in that discussion, there was no exchange of money, but there was corrupt intention in that conversation. We must not always look at the exchange of money.
Furthermore, let me say here that there is what we call in public health, eradication, control and elimination. It’s extremely difficult to eradicate a disease. Even the head louse cannot be totally eradicated. So, we always talk of disease control in health. A better achievement is to control. And to achieve this, there are things we do to ensure that the incidence prevalence, the cost of the disease are brought down to such an extent that the disease is no longer a public issue but that does not mean it may not be existing ,but it’s not significant. But I am influenced by professional thinking. Let’s try to control corruption instead of eliminating it by fiat. It may not be possible to do that but we can reduce it. But let us try to control it so that productivity will not suffer.
But the worry is that some presidential aides including the SFG and EFCC chairman have been accused of some sleazy deals by the National Assembly, yet the Presidency came out openly and gave them a clean bill of health. So, how do we reconcile that with the government’s anti-corruption stance?
Again, why not holding brief for Buhari, because I have not been in touch with him of recent, it’s still a matter of evidence-based practice. He is a man of great conviction. You have to convince him for him to go along with you. Maybe he has not seen it from the angle the accusers are seeing it, otherwise he would have taken action against them no matter whose ox is gored.
There has been a clamour by some Nigerians and segments to implement the report of the last confab submitted to the Buhari administration by former President Jonathan’s government. Do you subscribe to such calls?
Honestly, I totally believe that we take a second look at the recommendation of the last confab against the background of the moment. In this case, I suggest that a referendum can be given a chance for Nigerians to vote whether they want the report implemented or rejected. I am a believer in freedom of choice. If there is any section of the country that says patriotically “please let me go”, because of some reasons, they should be allowed to do so. Perhaps, those in power may consider, unity, economy, solidarity and military implication and survival of the new nation and can then say yes, let us go our separate places.
Agitations for separation have been experienced across the globe and not only in Nigeria. In Europe and the Middle East where brothers decided to go their separate ways for peace to reign. For instance, India and Pakistan; the defunct USSR and closer here we have Southern and Northern Sudan. The various components of USSR have long been separated into different republics. So, Nigeria’s situation cannot be different.
For me, we should either allow people who want to go to do so without much ado or alternatively we go for total restructuring of the country by returning to old federalism. Total fiscal federalism. Why did we even part ways with it? It was because of military interregnum. Otherwise, we survived very well during the old Eastern, Western, Northern and then Mid-Western regions.
Now that we have tried presidential system and it’s not working well, why can’t we restructure the country? The late Ogbemudia continued calling for it till his death. And if fiscal federalism is given a chance, the clamour for separation will reduce but outside that, Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
And I can assure you that even if you talk of zonal structuring, every section of this country has the capacity to survive it. This again, brings me to the on-going agitations by various ethnic militias including Niger Delta militants, IPOB and others. All these are symptoms of the malaise. These agitations are indicators that there is something wrong. Get the correct answer to the syndrome and the whole matter resolves itself. And in this instance, let us take a look at what has been recommended and then the solution may have been found. What Buhari ought to do now is to listen to Nigerians, it could be very beneficial.
Well, Ndigbo are saying while agitating for restructuring, that in 2019, power should be ceded to the zone. What’s your view on that?
The clamour is another indicator that all is not well with Nigeria. Ndigbo have absolute right to ask for their fair share of the national cake. They have been marginalized for too long, I quite agree. Yes, they have a right to aspire for presidency, but it may not be in 2019. They have a right to rule this country perhaps after the present administration might have finished in 2023. It should naturally come to them by then, because they deserve it.
You once aspired for a senatorial seat and deputy governorship. What’s your advice to politicians?
Yes, they have continued to regard me as a politician, but I can say that Nigerian politicians do not like me so I have since beaten a retreat to a familiar ground, which is medicine. True, I am a well-exposed Nigerian both in terms of holding political office and participation. I was the first minister of works and housing, then later minister of health. I ran for the Senate in 2007 under the defunct, National Democratic Party, NDP. Thereafter, I tried my hand on deputy governorship on the platform of defunct ANPP. Following reconciliation moves by the PDP, I went back there. But when my friend and boss, Buhari, emerged I decided to support him. I can tell you also that nothing has changed. Politicians are the same. Only names have changed. Their actions are basically the same. Political buck passing is still the game. APC will blame the PDP and vice versa. And as Nigerians, we are the same and if given opportunity, we will do the same thing other parties have done. For them, they should think Nigerian and learn how to sacrifice.