Former Minister of Health, Prof. A.B.C Nwosu, has said that the greatest danger facing Nigeria today is the culture of tyranny. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, Prof Nwosu stressed that the challenges the country is facing are clearly beyond the capability and the vision of the present government.
What is your view on the state of the nation with Boko Haram still active in North East, bandits overrunning Zamfara, and other North West states, and kidnapping and other forms of criminality going on in the country?
I view the security situation very seriously. It is therefore disappointing when spokesmen of Mr President speak or make light of it. Boko Haram, they said was technically defeated in 2015 and made it impossible for Borno State governor, Shettima with his entourage to visit Gamboru Ngala.
What is intriguing for me is that just a month ago or so, the place was so peaceful that it turned out so large votes for presidential election, and a month later, all hell is let loose in the same area by the same people who voted massively in the presidential election. The government should accept that the battle is serious, and they need both local and international help. The banditry in Zamfara is very disturbing, no matter what the spokesmen and the defenders of the regime make of it, this wasn’t there before 2015.
The third angle, the herdsmen, I heard of negotiation now with Miyetti Allah; I can’t understand it, but it didn’t exist before 2015, and in my widest imagination, I was just thinking, is this government trying to replicate what Yar’ Adua did and was being praised for his vision in the Niger Delta; where you have MEND, which was using Aljazeera, CNN and they disturbed oil production before they were promised amnesty, and they were trained and are meaningfully employed; is that what the president is doing? I’m not aware that Miyetti Allah is the one waging the war; Miyetti Allah has not said that it is the one waging the war. The entire thing is not only confusing, it is perplexing and intriguing, and the government has not taken measures, which shows it knows what to do about it.
When you add these security challenges to the huge debt profile of the country as well as damning reports that Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world and the six most miserable country to live in, how do we come out of this abyss?
It is clearly beyond the capability and the vision of the present government. If you look from 2015 to now, Nigeria has had the worst ministers of Finance ever in the history of the country. So, 2015 till now, tell me the minister of Finance you can compare with Dr. Okonjo –Iweala; the minister of Finance you can compare with Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, with Dr. Chu Okongwu; with Onaolapo Soleye, tell me. The job is not for anybody. We went into recession and we seem to be crawling out of it, and then crawling into a deeper recession. So, there is no idea of what to do with it, and if you look at it, it is painful that this government also has some really talented people, but why they can’t do something is what I find difficult to explain.
And then come down to the vision; if you look at the debt, in two years, Nigeria borrowed more than it has ever borrowed. DMO is doing their classic debt to GDP. If they try to move at debt to revenue, where you use so much of our revenue to service debt and we are borrowing more, they tell you that the debts we borrow are for capital project. But they are not, they are to finance recurrent and yet a government like that cannot see that it is important to restructure the country for efficiency and devolve power to the states; a government like that does not see that the Federal Government has too much revenue compared to states that are the federating units and they don’t understand it at all, but this wasn’t the arrangement that brought Nigeria to this level. I don’t know how many times that I will mention that it was the Raisman Commission that gave us the revenue formulae. A situation where the Federal Government collects 52 per cent of national revenue is obscene, is wrong, that it was done under PDP doesn’t make it right; that it was done under NCNC or NPC doesn’t make it right. That is why corruption is highest at the federal level. Look at the jobs to be done and you apportion money to do those jobs. They do not see this, but they say, ‘oh, you were in government’, yes, I was but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t say this is right or this is wrong. I don’t just know how we will get out of this because the government that has been in power since 2015 is still really incapable of doing what is required to do.
Another issue in the front burner is composition of the leadership of National Assembly; do you see the PDP bulldozing its way as it did in 2015 to occupy the deputy Senate president?
All I wish for the legislature is to be an independent arm. The greatest danger we are facing in Nigeria is the danger of tyranny. I hear that from June, allocations will be paid directly to local governments; I hope this is in accordance with our existing laws not in accordance with what we desire. Therefore, the legislature needs to operate as an independent arm of the executive, same as the judiciary. The encroachment of both the party and the executive on the judiciary and legislature is not healthy. That is why you call it, the three arms of the government; each is independent of the others. I don’t know whether the PDP bulldozes or doesn’t bulldoze, that is from the legislatures. The legislature will determine whether it wants to be independent or an appendage of the executive.
Judging from their voting patterns, the Igbo have stood behind PDP, for 16 years it was in power, but it didn’t do anything for the zone, but APC in its four years has done more for the zone, as serious construction work is on going at the Second Niger Bridge, as well as the Enugu- Port Harcourt, Onitsha – Enugu roads among others. What is your view?
I drove last week on the Enugu-Onitsha road and I drove recently on the Enugu –Port Harcourt road, it is work in progress and that is what government is supposed to do. Second Niger Bridge didn’t start with APC and that is also work in progress. For the Igbo, it is not about second, third or fourth Niger Bridge; it is about excluding them, probably the most populous homogenous ethnic group in Nigeria from the exercise of federal power. You make appointments at the federal level, Igbo are not there; you sit in Security Council, they are not there; you go to the positions of power – president, vice president, Senate president, speaker of House of Representatives, Chief Justice of Nigeria, etc, Igbo are not there.
What stupid nonsense is Enugu-Onitsha road; what stupid nonsense is Second Niger Bridge, that you are a major shareholder in the company and you are excluded from decision taken in the company and you are talking about Enugu-Onitsha road?
I think the Igbo are sensible enough to realise their exclusion in the exercise of authority in Nigeria; they are sensible, and this voting is a sign, and if it hadn’t been from the depression of votes, you would have found that the Igbo were more massive in their votes in 2019 than before. They will continue to be massive to use their votes across the country to assert and make the leaders to believe that the Igbo are a vital part of Nigeria. You can’t exclude the Hausa/Fulani from Nigeria and power, you can’t. The reason we had all the troubles was that we tried to exclude the Yoruba from governance in Nigeria with the imprisonment of Awolowo and others. It is just disgraceful that some Yoruba don’t look at it and see what happened in the past. The Igbo are not stupid, and that is why I will always salute Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sen Femi Okuronmu, Yinka Odumakin and the rest, who realised that it is not what you are eating today, but what your grandchildren will inherit tomorrow.
People are already talking about 2023 election, some argue that the North should retain the president, others argue otherwise, what is your position on this?
The most important thing in Nigeria is restructuring and devolution of powers. The entire country should focus on restructuring. Without restructuring, there can’t be good governance. It will bring about good politics and then good governance follows, while bad governance will be mitigated. If for example the Federal Government has 35 per cent of the revenue, it will be making its monumental mistakes within the 35 per cent of the revenue, and not within 52 per cent of revenue. If you have your governance going well and your state police going well, you will see that very few people will be interested in the presidency. After all, Ahmadu Bello wasn’t interested in the presidency, he sent his deputy, Tafawa Balewa.
So, once we piled up power with military regime of the Nigeria- Biafra war at the centre, then everybody wants to go there. You will find in the coming months that Igbo efforts will be on restructuring and not on who becomes the president, Senate president, Speaker, but the effort will be on restructuring of this country, and we will be urging the entire country to look into this direction.
You saw an APC senator, Adeyeye, during plenary, got up and said this instrument, holding the constitution, cannot take us anywhere, and that without restructuring, we cannot go anywhere. He is an APC senator, but people are not listening. If you become president what can you do? Will you unilaterally change the 13 per cent derivation? Until we get back to that 50 per cent derivation, which was the agreement on which we became independent; until we get to it, what are you becoming president for; until you give a state police, which enables people to protect their lives and property, we go nowhere.
What is more important is not where the president comes from? But in terms of equity and fair play, I believe that the statements from some Northern leaders on that is just to provoke and cause annoyance, and if it is aimed at South East, I will not be provoked. If it is to tell the South East that they will not smell the presidency, I will not be provoked. If any agent provocateur touches the beehive, they will provoke bees on themselves; whatever they get is what they get, but I’m not going to respond to that.
Anybody other than from the South East, who is talking of presidency in 2023, let him try; let him go ahead and feel the winner of June 12 and later be decorated with GCFR. Let nobody try that, but all I know is that without restructuring this country, it will be futile. The next president has to restructure this country. The reason all the ethnic groups supported Atiku is because he seems to have a clear idea where you can do a restructuring that will be beneficial to the nation.
The fear is that with the serious security challenges in the North leading to banning of commercial motorcycles in most states, which is a source of livelihood for the youths, there is movement of these young men to the South; don’t you think this will compound the security situation in the South thereby putting the entire country on edge? This country has been on fire before, and it is problem from one part of the country that spills over. I don’t think people remember the rift between Awolowo and Akintola; I don’t think people remember all the violence that we had. I don’t think even young people remember that there was pogrom in Nigeria. Young people don’t remember that there was Nigeria – Biafra war that was fought for more than two and half years.
This country has been on fire and if you check them, it starts from one part of the country; that is why the Nigeria Armed Forces, the president, the Inspector General of Police shouldn’t be looking at this as a localised problem, but in terms of the nation and be doing their best to completely stop it so that everybody will be in peace.
I’m happy that people recognised Yar’Adua. For a long time, I have said that he is the best president Nigeria never had because he died two years in office. He is the only one who declared his assets; no equivocation, he declared his assets and he came and solved this insurgency in the Niger Delta. I don’t think people remember what the oil production was; what they do is this very silly and annoying arithmetic of $100 per barrel multiply by seven days, multiply by 30 days and then multiply by 365 days. I don’t think they still remember there was insurgency in the Niger Delta. For the sake of our children, let us be more serious and deal with this matter because a problem from one part of the country, sooner or later spills into other parts of the country and there will be unintended consequences.
The North that is facing serious challenges has very scanty police or military checkpoints, but the South East, which is said to be safest region, has prevalence of police posts, military checkpoints on the roads. What is your take on that?
It is the same kind of thing that I have been saying. Few weeks ago, I was in Ebonyi State. I went to see an old friend, from Enugu to Abakaliki, which is about 80 kilometres; we found over 28 police checkpoints and some military checkpoints, and I kept wondering why they wouldn’t be there in Zamfara, Katsina and Borno states, etc. The authorities know about it and that is why we are calling for state police.
If we have state police, people will not be running away from their villages because there is lack of peace there to villages which have peace . The reason is obvious; I saw 28 checkpoints on about 80 kilometres of road. It is ridiculous.