AT 89, elder statesman and former presidential candidate, Elder (Dr) Umah Eleazu has seen it all, not as a spectator, but as an altruist player who wanted to be part of a genuine change to usher in a better Nigeria.
With the benefit of insight, foresight, and hindsight he traced for Sunday Sun where the country is coming from, the conflicting vision among its founding fathers, the challenges ahead, as well as what the younger generation needs to do to secure a country of their dream.
At 89, looking at your antecedents, you are an accomplished statesman by every standard. Take us to the memory lane of independence and where we missed this genuine development the foundational leaders of this nation established?
Well, how we got independence is already at the public domain and quite explanatory, but I think we missed it when the military took over, all the coups, that was when we started to derail. You know there comes a time when a group of people with vision and integrity and courage will say no, it’s time to stop. Some people came out in 1966 with the problem that was in the country from 1964 to 1965 and they said look, this is not the vision of our leaders, our leaders: Awolowo, Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, etc; the vision was different and that first coup was to set things right, but they bungled it and from then that is really when we started going down the lane. So, the quantum change they wanted did not happen and gradually power fell into the hands of those who didn’t know what the visionaries wanted to do and we have been downhill since then. And from that 1966 till date, about 53 years or so, it has been a continuous slide which is gradually taking us to where we are today, moving towards a precipice. Successive leaders of the Nigerian state over the years have failed its citizens as the government has not been according to the grand norm (constitution) that connects the government to the people.
You said power fell in the hands of those who did not understand the vision of our leaders. Did they have the same vision as some political experts have argued that what we had at independence were liberation fathers, not foundational fathers because they had different views about the country at the time of independence? Do you share this view?
I think that is one way of putting it, but I would say that the people we call the founding fathers their minds were not the same, they were not on the same page, I mean they did not agree, they were not in agreement, not on the same accord on their perception of what Nigeria should be, given their different statements or speeches. What Azikiwe and Awolowo believed to be unity, Ahmadu Bello did not believe the same to be unity. They were using the same word, but with different interpretations. If I may remind you when Ahmadu Bello was asked on his thought about Nigerian unity he said: “It is good that the British has handed power back to us”. This was around the 10th of October, 1960 that what they are going to do now is that they will continue the Jihad which the British stopped. This was 10 days after independence. When Azikiwe and Awolowo were talking about Nigerian unity, they said we can maintain our diversities, but will be united as one country. That wasn’t what the people in the North represented by Ahmadu Bello wanted. The then Sultan of Sokoto in 1952 in reply to a letter from West African students union in London, asking that he should make sure that we have unity in Nigeria replied to them and said that: ‘there will be no unity unless all of you are prepared to become Muslims.’ I am talking about 1952 before independence, so the leaders of what became independent Nigeria did not have the same mind about building Nigeria. They liberated Nigeria from colonial rule, but they were not able to find a country that is why I think my good friend, the late Chinua Achebe said: “There was a country”. There is a lot that the people should know unfortunately they have banned History in the school and people are not producing good history books. I am writing the history of Nigeria from my perspective because I saw Nigeria from colonial times to independence to the decay we have now, next year I will be 90 years, by God’s grace I will be able to finish the book. I intend to situate everything in that book, so don’t let me pour out everything here.
So, how can we get things right looking at what is on the ground now or is it impossible?
No, another generation has to come up and say enough is enough with the older generation, let us take over from you. The old ones, I mean, those that are still around can tell you where we were going, it’s for the young men, the young ones to decide whether they are still going in that direction or they are not in a position to take Nigeria to a different direction of their dream and vision.
Given the clamour for restructuring of the country, do you think it can be part of the solutions that may stabilize the country?
What do we mean by restructuring? The Northerners don’t believe in what the people of the Middle Belt, the Southeast, Southwest, and the South-south are saying about restructuring. Do you know that President Buhari is gradually restructuring the demography of Nigeria?
By changing the demographic base of all the regions, infusing people from outside Nigeria to go and live in that place. That is what the RUGA is about, that is demographic restructuring, I can see that is what he wants to do and is doing. So, when you now come to Ebonyi State or Enugu State or Ekiti State etc and you say who are the indigenes? They will come out and they will say: we have been living here; that is the problem in Bauchi, that is the problem in Taraba, part of Adamawa, that is the problem in Benue State, name them. So, the problem they have already put in those Middle Belt states they want to bring it to the East and the West and that is going to create more problems for the younger people. But this is the time to now do the constitutional restructuring, which means that we have to take back the legislative list in the constitution and restructure the devolution of powers. Some of the things the Federal Government is doing now actually, it has no power to do. For instance, in the area of agriculture, Agriculture is a regional or state matter, so there is no point why agriculture should be there. Maybe their involvement in agriculture will be on the level of controlling pests. It’s a pity I don’t have time now for an elaborate interview I would have liked to open the constitution and count for you those powers that have been usurped by the federal, including the power over finance. What they call financial federalism, when the South-south is still saying that we should have resource control, the resources in a particular region or state belongs to the people who live there. They should exploit their minerals, add value to it, and pay tax or royalty, which is shared between the federal and the states. The issue of security. What are they saying about security now? Internal security is a matter for police and the police should be even at the state level and the local level. If you go to the United States of America (USA) there is county police, there is state police, community police, there is even the university police. The Army is for territorial control, to control the territorial integrity of the country. Their role is to make sure that no foreign powers enter the country, so instead of being at the border to check the security of Nigerians as a whole, they are now being sent to go and dance python dance, tiger dance or crocodile dance or whatever they call it. The Army has no role inside the country except when law and order break down as it is in Borno State and you then declare emergency powers and then the president will use his emergency powers to send the military to a particular place otherwise you don’t just send soldiers to any state, it is unconstitutional. It is unconstitutional for the president to get up and tell the Central Bank to give money to certain people, it’s unconstitutional, it’s part of the financial federalism, our Central Bank is independent of the president and even the legislature. CBN makes the monetary policy to make sure we have a stable currency. They are confusing fiscal policy with monetary policy. It is sad that in this country they don’t follow rules, they don’t follow the constitution, people are just doing what they like.
Do you think that with the rotation of the presidency the system can stabilize?
The rotation has no place in our constitution. Rotation of posts and offices creates a situation where you cannot get the best to rule because by the time you rotate and zone and do all that is involved in it you end up selecting a mediocrity. Somebody may be the best person you need for the position, let us say the position of the president, but it is not his zone that will produce the president, but the other zone. And when you go to the other zone they may not have somebody of his stature, standard, quality, with the exposure, experience, intelligence, courage, etc needed for the job at the point in question. Zoning is a way of enthroning mediocrity.
The Igbo are saying the 2023 presidency must go to their region, Southeast, do you think they are prepared?
For me that is nonsense. President of which country?
President of Nigeria sir?
Will this country still be what it is in 2023? Let them try. You heard what somebody said about the circulating elite? Those in the APC and those in the PDP, they are the same, they have the same attitude towards power. If they give an Igbo man the president, to begin with you have to be in a party that will nominate the Igbo man. It is the political parties that will decide to say: who will run? It is then the party that will position the Igbo candidate, and you have to come out from a party that has the strength to win. But there is more to that. People are saying they are dancing to Buhari so that he will give them president. That is rubbish.
Are you saying that it will be impossible for an Igbo candidate to emerge?
Nothing is impossible in this country where the president can wake up and do what he likes to do. In other words, they can pick a person of their choice, the Igbo man they will pick may not be the kind of Igbo man that the people want to be there for them. They will pick a stooge. They will just go and take one of their slaves and say: you go and sit on that seat, can you speak Igbo, yes, so they tell you to sit there, but whose interest? Even Buhari that they put there is it Buhari who is running the country? Don’t you know the unelected president of Nigeria in Aso Rock? We all know this, so to say they will rotate it to Ndigbo to become president for me, it is rubbish. If we don’t restructure this country nothing is going to work well. Remember my definition of restructuring is re-devolution of powers from the centre back to the states. Secondly, geographical restructuring: you re-combine the states (the old regions) into one state. This is because the cost of running 36 states plus Abuja is huge and outrageous. Let’s take the Eastern Region, the region now has nine states, remember Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa were all from the old Eastern Region and the five states, making it nine. You are talking of nine governors; give each of the governors 12 commissioners, that is 96 commissioners. And you know what goes with the positions: jeep cars and other retinues, you know them. Before independence, the entire Eastern Region was governed by just one governor, three vices about 72 district officers and ADOs and things were running. So, geographically, and legislative list, that is the restructuring, not the one that Buhari is doing with his RUGA project.