–Professor Elo Amucheazi, Ex NOA DG
…Amalgamation document gave nation from 1914 to 2014 to experiment
By Onyedika Agbedo
Former Pro-Chancellor of Anambra State University, Uli, and Secretary General of Igbo Leaders of Thought, Professor Elo Amucheazi, is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Amucheazi, who served as the pioneer Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) from 1993 to 2001, has written extensively on issues in Nigerian politics and development including “Moving Nigeria to Greatness” and “Democratic Governance and Sustainable Peace and Stability in Nigeria”, among many others. In this interview, he bared his mind on contemporary issues in the country, explaining why Igbos are antagonising the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. The political scholar also harped on the need to return the country to genuine and fiscal federalism and spoke extensively on insecurity, the electoral system and anti-corruption war, among other issues.
The South-east was hostile to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the candidacy of President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 general elections, and from every indication, the zone still remains strongly opposed to the President and his party more than one and a half years since they took over the leadership of the country. From your vantage position as an elder statesman and political scholar, what do you see as the problem?
You know President Buhari had contested the presidential election three times before 2015; the 2015 election was his fourth attempt and of course he was announced the winner of the election. In all his previous attempts, Igbos never voted for him. In 2015, Igbos didn’t vote for him. And if he stands again, Igbos will not vote for him; never mind these few political shenanigans that are talking about APC in Igboland. For what reasons do you think Igbos will vote for him? Is because he is the leader of APC or his person? I think these are issues one should think about.
If it is about his own personality, he has always disliked Ndigbo. As a military Head of State, he showed that he hated Ndigbo. He threw Ekwueme into Kirikiri Prisons but left Shagari, who was then president, under house arrest. Why did they even organise the coup? It was because there was the prospect of Ekwueme becoming president after Shagari. He was one of the young military officers who massacred Ndigbo and the other day he was saying that if he still had the opportunity he would do so again. Somebody like I. B. M. Haruna, who rose to the rank of Major General in the Army but now a lawyer, was also aggressive before but not any more because he has seen the realities on the ground.
What is the contention in this country? Buhari presents himself as the leader of a section of the country. From my own perspective, he is not there fighting to unite the country, run it and make it prosperous. And I’m not the only one that sees him that way. From his attitude since he got into power this time, it is obvious he is not fighting to unite the country. I mean he was the one who talked about 95 per cent and five per cent, meaning that those who didn’t vote for him would not get anything. That is not expected of a president.
Buhari is part of the old military leaders who I don’t think have much idea about governance. And they are the people who created this problem we have today; from Gowon down to himself. It is significant that after Gowon came Murtala, Obasanjo and then himself; and now he has come back. Obasanjo also came back from 1999 to 2003. Why do they want to come back? What was their performance like when they were heads of state? Obasanjo came back but what did he achieve other than to distort and complicate the country further. Buhari has come again and he is creating more problems for the country. That is why people are not enthused about their desire to come back. It’s militaricians that are creating problems for us in this country because they are not facing the realities; they are still behaving as if they are military leaders. They are still seeing the country as a territory to be conquered. So, they see themselves from the point of view of Generals not as political leaders. That is the way I see Buhari’s attitude to governance and that is why Ndigbo did not vote for him and are not likely to vote for him if he contests again.
By saying Igbos will not vote for Buhari should he contest again in 2019, are you suggesting that Igbos are ready to remain in the touchlines of national politics as long as Buhari remains in power?
(Cuts in) What do you mean by touchlines of national politics? Who owns the country?
Nigerians own their country but this is a country where the ruling party does not really accommodate the opposition in the scheme of things…
It’s terrible if people think that way. In any case, things are going to change before 2019. At the moment, all these APC, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the rest of them are just platforms and not political parties. It’s a question of a few people ganging together for their personal interests and hoodwinking the others to pretend to vote for them, because to them, whether you vote or don’t vote they will find a way of getting into power. And it’s unfortunate.
Former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, recently said that these people talked about change but all they wanted was to change government because they have nothing to offer. Bafarawa was a founding member of APC and he was telling Nigerians that their intention was to change government and not to change anything.
So, what we are praying for is that we really have mass parties. If democracy runs the way it should run, you can have opposition. So, at the moment are you saying that if you are in the opposition you cannot get anything in a democracy, and therefore, one must join the ruling party? That is why politics has become a do-or- die affair in our country. It’s so because you are not following democratic rules; you are not dividing things as they should; you appropriate; you conquer and loot the treasury. You take everything you want and leave the rest suffering. So, I don’t think it is right to say that Igbos would be left out in the scheme of things because they are in the opposition.
But don’t you think that the alleged marginalisation of the South-east by the present administration is giving impetus to the secessionist agitation in the region by organisations like Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)?
You are right! That is what is fueling the agitation. The leaders don’t see Ndigbo as part of Nigeria.
How can this government better accommodate Igbos in the affairs of the country?
We want the country to be run well but Ndigbo are not there on bended knees and should not be on bended knees. If you really want a Nigeria, then it’s a federation. We want a federation. By and large, it’s structure that influences behaviour. You talk about the egg and the hen; you also talk about the structure and the leadership. Some will tell you that the trouble with Nigeria is leadership, but the trouble is first and foremost with the structure. Even the British recognised that we have to run as a federation. But at the moment we have a unitary system of government. People are saying let there be a federation. If there is a federation, these agitations may well die but some people think that they can conquer.
Now what holds a country together? There are three things: Cohesion, interests and values. Now, force cannot hold any country or any collectivity together for too long. This is because if you remove the force, the whole thing will collapse. And look at the history of this world from the days of the empires. We hear about the Roman Empire, the British Empire and even the most recent ones like the Soviet Union and the rest of them. It is evident from the history of these empires that force can never hold any group of people together for too long.
Now you talk about interests and you can see how we tried artificially to have interlocking interests. You have a decree that if you want to open a bank membership of the board must come from various parts of the country. Inter-ethnic marriages are also encouraged. One of my children is married to an Ijaw while another is married to a Yoruba. That’s okay. The idea is that with this kind of interlocking interests, people would sustain their belief in the corporate existence of the country. But ultimately, interests have limited impact in bringing about cohesion because some of these things can dissolve. I mean look at our brothers who were in the North; even though they were helping in developing the North and many of them regarded the North as their home, when the time came they were massacred en mass. So, what interests? So, it’s when you have values and people think about certain values that we can have justice.
When you talk about cohesion, I was in the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for nearly 10 years as Director General. I was also the Anambra State Director of the defunct MAMSER. I can tell you what we did to promote value consensus amongst Nigerians. In MAMSER, we were mobilising and sensitising people; in NOA, we were trying to build value consensus for all the years I was there because I have the theoretical background of what can be done to achieve this.
So, at the moment, the problem is that we don’t have the structure and framework within which to operate. The framework is shaky. The Nigerian framework is not acceptable to people and that’s it.
Does IPOB have the backing of Igbo leaders in its agitations?
Do they need the backing of Igbo leaders? Who are the Igbo leaders anyway?
We have the Igbo Leaders of Thought, for example, which you are the Secretary General…
Does IPOB have your support?
We have an egalitarian society; that is the culture of Ndigbo. People should not make the mistake of thinking about this homogeneity of speaking with one voice. How many Igbo organisations do we have in Igboland? We have Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex organisation; Aka Ikenga, Ala Igbo Development Foundation, World Igbo Summit Group and so many others. You ought to think about the background of these young ones in IPOB. Remember that these young chaps didn’t fight the war; I fought the war. But when they came and saw the injustice in the country, to them there is no other way than what they are doing. The next generation will be more violent if nothing is done before long because they won’t accept some of these things were are witnessing today. So, it’s not a question of backing or no backing. Do you think these boys are fools? They are well educated too; they are not a collection of proletariats. Do you know their impact all over the world? They are spread all over the globe.
What could be done to address their grievances?
Of course, something has to be done to prevent holocaust and cataclysm.
So, what should be done?
Restructure the country and create a new Nigeria. What we had before was a federation but the military came and abrogated the federal structure and we now have a unitary system of government. That is not feasible in a pluralistic society where you have 389 ethnic groups. It’s not possible to have that kind of structure. Everywhere in the world where you have multi-ethnic composition, there is a federation. So, the issue is let’s have a federation.
What kind of restructuring comes to your mind?
What do you mean by the kind of restructuring that comes to my mind? When you have a federation, no one will be in doubt what a federation means. We are not facing reality. If you have a federation, the speed with which this country will develop will surprise many people. Look at what happened when we had three or four regions. And Nigerians said we need six geo-political zones now; it has been accepted but they refused to concretise it. If you have the Southeast as a constituent unit of the federation, give us five years. If you have a genuine federation, which of course encompasses fiscal federalism, you control your resources and contribute to the centre. It’s not now that you have a Federal Government that controls 68 policy areas while allowing the states a few concurrent areas. Now, you have a Federal Government that thinks about primary school, primary healthcare, agriculture and so on. Where in the world do you have this kind of federation? It is the military that caused it and when the military were gone we had militaricians and that is part of the problem of this country.
There is this view that the problem of the country is not the structure but the presidential system of government…
(cuts in) The presidential system cannot work; it’s the structure first and foremost.
The thinking is that the country functioned relatively well when we practiced the parliamentary system of government…
That was because we had a genuine federation; the two went hand in hand. The presidential system is very expensive for the country because of the kind of federation we have.
But why must we always think about these foreign models? Is the French presidential system the same thing as American? Is the German one the same thing as American? We are merely copying the Americans. Why must we think about the British parliamentary model? We have the Indian model and a few other models. It is agreed that it is difficult to evolve your own but let me tell you today that it is because we are not patriotic; and that is very disturbing. As the DG of NOA, I toured the 774 local government areas of this country. So, I can speak authoritatively on issues affecting this country. There is no way you can run this country and develop it if you don’t have genuine federation. Whether you will run parliamentary or presidential system of government, first get the structure proper.
Talking about the six-region structure, it was learnt that there is no consensus as such as some states in the South-east were said to have voted against it at the 2014 national conference and even at the national conference organised during the Abacha junta?
The problem is that those states think that they will abolish the states with the six-region structure but you don’t have to abolish the states. You can have federations within a federation. I have been involved in drafting the constitution for the Southeastern states. So, it is easy to convince others when they realise that you are not abolishing any of the existing states. No one can give out what he already has.
But don’t you think the system will be cumbersome and very expensive given that the existing structures in the states will be retained while new regional structures like the office of Premier and Regional Assembly will be created?
No, no, no…it will not; it depends on the constitution. The governors can rotate just as they now have zonal meetings. A governor presides over one year or so and another one takes over; running your state is a different thing and the zone would not interfere in the process. So, when we come to drawing the constitution, it has to meet the needs of everyone.
You can see you are now thinking of the premier and all those other positions. What do Nigerians want? It is the present structure that is creating these problems that after being governor someone would want to go to the Senate. This is because that is the framework. The framework will have to completely go. This is what I’m saying. And when you have six zones, it will no longer be a question of Northern and Southern Nigeria. These are part of the fundamentals that must be addressed. This idea of North and South is part of the British creation. That is why I’m saying that the younger generation should not think that way at all. If they think about Nigeria, then this idea North-South shouldn’t arise so that people can be able to relocate from place to place within the country.
That takes us to the issue of insecurity and restiveness across the country. At the moment, virtually every part of the country is contending with one security challenge or the other. What does it tell you about this country?
Protest movements! And what leads to revolt? Relative deprivation. If you are denied what you are entitled to, you will definitely protest. That is what is going on; it’s as simple as that.
What you are saying is that until such alleged deprivations stop, there will be no peace in the country?
Are you saying that I won’t protest if I’m denied what I should have? When I was in NOA, I traveled by road throughout this country and there wasn’t this kind of insecurity then. There is increasing insecurity now because the structure doesn’t allow people to have fulfillment. The governor of a state calls himself His Excellency; his security vote might be N1 billion in a month. He shares to his kinsmen what is left to administer the state. In his office his kinsmen will be commissioners, senior special assistants, special assistants, executive assistants, special advisers and what have you. The mentality is that it’s our turn and we must share it. So, tension is a must in the country. Aren’t armed robbery, kidnapping and other vices expressions of deprivation? That’s why initially they went for some big men who can dole out big money in ransom.
So, protest movements had always been there. In the 1930s, we had the Nigerian Youth Movement, which was a protest movement against the British. In the 40s we had the Zikist Movement, also a protest movement against the British. The political parties then were more or less protest movements all against the British. Now, we are experiencing protest movements against the militaricians and compradors in government. Until we start disentangling the various harms the military did to this country, these protest movements would be perpetuating. Honestly, when Buhari said change, I thought he was going to do this to immortalise himself. We have seen revolutionaries who turned their countries around. I thought that he would decentralise power as soon as he was sworn in and ensure that the country is run as a federation.
But he doesn’t have the powers to make such sweeping changes as a democratic president?
Who doesn’t have the power?
The president has no such powers in a constitutional democracy…
Then he should have summoned Nigerians and declared his intentions. Didn’t former president Goodluck Jonathan summon the 2014 national conference? Did not Nigerians agree on some of the proposals that were thrown up at the conference towards a better Nigeria?
But many people Nigerians saw the 2014 national conference as job for the boys and part of the politics of the 2015 elections?
They are the people who are insincere. That is my own way of looking at it. They are not nationalists. If we really want to build this country, we need to be sincere.
Some of the reforms you are advocating border on the amendment of the constitution and you can recall that the National Assembly had insisted that the report of the 2014 national conference must be subjected to the constitution amendment procedure…
It is part of the game people are playing. If you are really drawing a constitution, you call for a referendum. You can bypass the National Assembly and conduct a referendum because it is a fundamental decision about the country. The National Assembly is a product of the existing system and what we are talking about is going back to the drawing board. After all the British said the country is a marriage that should be experimented for 100 years because the North cannot fund itself. So, they gave us 100 years from 1914 to 2014 to experiment. I have the document here.
I am very excited with the change of orientation of some of the northerners. You now see somebody like Atiku Abubakar shouting that we should restructure the country. Even Prof. Ango Abdullahi is saying let’s restructure. Adamu Ciroma was saying the other day that Igbos would suffer if they secede but he admitted that we should restructure. Many of them are now admitting that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
What are your thoughts on the issue of rotational presidency. Do you think its adoption will bring about cohesion in the country?
We are still operating on the basis of the present structure, which I have told you is not what is required. Rotational presidency is like rotational governorship. Look at Enugu State for instance. When Chimaroke Nnamani became governor, everything went to Agbani; then Sullivan Chime came and every nook and cranny of Udi was tarred; then Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi came and immediately whatever he is doing they say ‘it’s our turn’. And you don’t blame them. But you don’t find that kind of thing in developed countries.
When Goodluck Jonathan was president, many of his ministers were Ndigbo. But what came to Igboland? Virtually nothing because he was running the country like a civilised person. Most of the universities and almajiri schools he founded were in the North because he was thinking about the country as a whole, and not thinking ‘it is our turn and we have to enjoy it’.
If you restructure the country, you will be begging some people to be president and they will tell you that they don’t want. If you restructure the country and power belongs to the states, what will someone be doing at the centre? At the centre, you will be more involved in foreign policy, where you showcase your stature on how to deal with other countries, not thinking about whether there is a primary school in the villages or not.
What is your take on the anti-corruption crusade of this administration so far?
Every government fights corruption. I mean were they the people who set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). There is no government in the world that does not fight corruption. We are operating a capitalist system so there is corruption in-built. But the way they are prosecuting it is wrong and unlawful. And there is a lot of insincerity so I don’t see them fighting corruption.
In any case, political corruption is worse than economic corruption. Look at the appointments the president has made; all the security apparatus is being controlled by one section of the country. Is that not political corruption? When you refuse to obey the rule of law, is that not political corruption? So, I don’t think they are really fighting corruption.
Meanwhile, all those who are being prosecuted other than judges are they not PDP people? That is people who are still in PDP. Some of the people who were in PDP but who are now with government and there are allegations against them, who is prosecuting them?
The PDP controlled power for 16 years and members of the party were the ones that ran state affairs so it is expected that…
(Cuts in) Was Rotimi Amaechi not a member of PDP? Some of these governors and former governors who are in APC now, were they not members of the PDP?
The onus falls on the state governments to probe and prosecute corrupt officials of the states but they are not doing that…
Did Wike not probe Amaechi; what happened to him?
Why has the state not charged him to court if it has evidence of corruption against him?
Is it the state governments that are charging others? What is the EFCC doing? Petitions have been sent to you and you sit on it while prosecuting others. Is it the state government or EFCC that is doing that? So, let’s be honest with ourselves in this country; it’s very painful looking at some of these things.
INEC has conducted some elections since this administration came into office. Do you think they are getting it right?
No, they are not!
What mistakes and abnormalities have you noticed?
Starting from the system, this electoral system is outdated. The simple plurality system still being used is completely outdated. Even Francophone African countries now use the majoritarial system; that means you must score 50 per cent of the valid votes cast. Simple plurality means that if you have three candidates in an election and one scores 102, one scores 101 and one scores 100, the person that scored 102 is declared the winner. But the other two who got 201 votes together are not represented; so it’s a minority representation. Isn’t it out of date? And it’s only a few Anglophone African countries that still operate this. Most countries of the world have since changed. I have written extensively on this.
Again, why has election become a do or die affair in this country? Obasanjo said it in 2003. The National Chairman of APC, John Odigie-Oyegun and the Kano State governor, Ganduje, made very inciting statements before the Rivers re-run election. Meanwhile, the police posted 26,000 personnel to Rivers to ensure security during the elections. What came out of it? We saw pictures where even the policemen were harassing people and colluding with politicians to ensure victory for some parties. Because of the system, they are hungry so if you give them money they do your bidding. In Edo and Ondo, we heard that money was being given to people and they were voting. The police were there and nothing happened. When you talk about the Card Reader, some didn’t function. The issue is that no one is sincere because we have not put in place a country every Nigerian would be proud of. That is why my heart bleeds. I wasn’t expecting this kind of thing at all.
With the picture you have painted about the elections so far conducted under this administration, what do you see in 2019?
Let me hope that there will be change of heart amongst Nigerians so we can have a well-conducted election. I just pray that, that will happen.
The economy slumped into recession in 2016 and there was a lot of gloom and despondency among Nigerians. If you were the president, what would you do differently as 2017 unfolds to get the economy on the right track?
That is a very hypothetical question because first, why is the economy in recession. We have to get to the root cause. Why is the Nigerian economy in recession and what is the solution? Are the people you have helping you to run the country competent enough? Are you sure the recession doesn’t have any relationship with the pattern of resource distribution in the country? Are you sure there is equity and justice? I mean these are basic issues; let’s stop gloating over some of these issues and pretending that they don’t exist. How many people have said that the economic team should do their work more thoroughly?
Also, talking about the pattern of handling the economy, is the Treasury Single Account (TSA) the best way? Moreover, the states are encumbered; it’s a shame that states cannot pay salaries. It annoys me when people congratulate governors for being able to pay salaries; what is their responsibility as governors? And yet he may take N1 billion for his security vote and have 20 armoured cars and so on. Do you know that the president of
Columbia retains his 1974 Volkswagen car and lives in his own house instead of the presidential lodge?
So, to me, we should go back to fundamentals. We do have a lot of money from oil but some people just appropriate things to themselves. When you come to details, look at the way our foreign exchange is being handled. Former CBN governor, now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has complained consistently that the way our foreign exchange is being handled is wrong. So, there are many issues.
If I were the president of this country, I will look at the fundamentals first. I wish I will be; but it may be I’m too old to contest.