Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, in this interview speaks on 2023 Igbo president, 2021 Anambra governorship election, corruption and insecurity in Nigeria, among other issues. He said for the sake of equity, justice and fair play, that the South East deserves to produce the next president of Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. He spoke with EZIOMUME SOLOMON.
What is your opinion about the 2023 Igbo presidential project?
The agitation by the Igbo people to have a shot at the presidency in 2023 is timely. South East is a major ethnic group in Nigeria, therefore, for the sake of equity, justice and fair play, they deserve to produce president of Nigeria, which has eluded them for decades. As a Nigerian, I am interested in what happens in this country. As a Catholic bishop, and a pastor, my greatest responsibility is to see to the welfare of the people I shepherd. Since the inception of democracy in 1999, Hausa-Fulani man has taken a shot at the presidency, Yoruba man has done so, among others but no Igbo man has done so. I want to warn that Igbo are not an appendage in this country. In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South West emerged president. After him, Yar’Adua took over; then, Goodluck Jonathan.
After Jonathan, Buhari took over, and he is almost concluding his eight-year tenure. Since 1999, no Igbo man has been there. Therefore, I want to state that Igbo presidency is a serious demand that cannot be wished away by Nigeria or any other ethnic group in the country. For the sake of peace and equity, Igbo man should be allowed to be president in 2023 because these are some of the issues that have continued to generate friction in this country. This is the reason you see different groups agitating here and there. They are not agitating in vain. There is extent you will deny a man what is due to him and he will start agitation. So, if Nigeria and its people still believe that the country is still one, Igbo president in 2023 should be considered. Otherwise, Nigeria should go back to regional government. That is my candid position.
The price of crude oil is dwindling at the international market. What is your advice to Nigeria as a country that depends majorly on oil?
Nigeria must do something in that direction. As we can all observe, Nigeria cannot survive with a mono economy. The country must make hay while the sun shines. With what we have presently, we are going nowhere as a country. We must find other ways to survive as a country. Nigeria must explore other avenues of survival. The country must look for alternatives, otherwise, it would be trapped, and when Nigeria is trapped, it will blame itself, because, the warning signs have been there. Agriculture and farming must be taken seriously. Nigeria must encourage local production of majority of things it needs as a country. If a country cannot feed itself, that is a fundamental problem. Apart from diversification of the economy to minimize sole dependence on oil, Nigerians should be encouraged to embark on local production of what they need. This will help strengthen the country’s economy, and make Nigeria less dependent on importation.
How do you think Nigeria could tackle the worsening security challenges in the country?
We are all aware that it is the primary responsibility of government to ensure the security of lives and property of its citizens. Any government that cannot do it is a failed government.
A responsible government cannot say it will ensure complete security of its citizens, and later, it will be seen that it has failed on its promise. Security situation of Nigeria today is unbearable. For sometimes now, we have had three major kidnap incidents in the country, which affected school children. We had the Chibok girls, the Dapchi incident and, most recently, the Kankara abduction incident. In this country, I do not understand why three hundred school children will be moved out of their school and nobody can see any sign of how and when it happened. There is an Igbo adage which says that it is unheard of to say that one cuts his tongue with hoe while digging the soil. That will be an unbearable falsehood. Somebody working in the farm cannot cut his tongue with hoe; how does the hoe enter the mouth to hurt the tongue?
How believable is it that hundreds of school children will be moved from one hostel or one school and security agents will not see when the act is done. We are making mockery of ourselves as Nigerians, and the international community is watching. The shape and posture these crimes take place appear to be stage-managed. I think, though I do not have the details, that some people at the government circle are feeding from the insecurity in the country; otherwise, I cannot understand why there will be kidnappings and violent crimes in broad daylight, and government will continue to reinforce such activities by dialoguing with the criminals.
What do you think is the way out of the high level of corruption in Nigeria?
As Nigerians and as a people, we must fight corruption to a standstill because it is almost overwhelming us. It is corruption in this country that led to the recent #EndSARS protest that almost disintegrated the country. It was #EndSARS yesterday, but very soon, the revolution will target big men, especially those who cannot explain sources of their income. Revolution has already started, and elected representatives should avoid behaviours that will continue to spark such revolution.
There was a meeting of some governors in this country, where they gathered and were discussing what they would do to help youths in their states, and some of them were talking of buying tricycles and motorcycles for the youths. How far could motorcycle take a youth in life? Of course, motorcycle and tricycle cannot help a youth to become a senator, governor or commissioner. One would have expected the forum to discuss how to give quality education or special training to the youths to enable them function optimally in the society and ultimately, take over as leaders of tomorrow.
The major problem we have in this country is that our leaders remain in a position when they are already expired. Human beings expire like any other thing. When you grow old, your mental alertness will also go down. So, to minimise corruption in Nigeria, government should endeavour to do the right thing. I am expecting ministers, governors, and other elected representatives to take care of the youths who are already complaining. It is not wise that a man who has taken his position in leadership will also take the position of his son and go on to take the position of his grandson. This is the cause of youth unemployment in this country. God endows every generation with the wisdom and capacity to operate, and it is that generation that will bring solution to their peculiar problems. The reason why Nigeria cannot develop is that expired minds, who cannot proffer solutions to modern day issues, are recycled while young minds are there wasting. That is also part of the corruption we are talking about. I am of the opinion that those in power should do everything to raise the standard of living of the young people. Current political leadership should prepare to hand over to the younger generation; not telling them that the future belongs to them. They should also have the courage to leave the stage for the younger people. If that is not done, what is now known as #EndSARS will likely turn out to be a revolution against big men, especially political leaders who are continually recycled in government. Again, it is important that political leadership reduces the cost of running government. The cost of running government in this country is very high. This is why the country will continue to borrow indiscriminately. The worst part is that sometimes, when they borrow, they do not spend it on things that will generate returns. Rather, they borrow to spend on frivolities. This is equally bad.
Anambra governorship election comes up in a matter of months. What kind of person would you want to succeed Willie Obiano as governor?
From the administration of Dr. Chris Ngige, down to the days of Mr. Peter Obi and then, Obiano, Anambra has recorded steady progress. There is no doubt about that. However, we are no more talking about past leaders, we need to develop this State further. As Anambra looks for Obiano’s successor, we need a governor who will be available for the people he governs. Governance demands availability. We need a governor that will be available to know how things go in a State he governs; not the one that will travel from place to place, and will depend on sycophants to brief him on what happens in his State. Sycophants will only deceive him. Some leaders delegate functions, but they will not supervise to know how the work is done. Anambra needs a governor that will be readily available to supervise works and projects.
I could remember what happened during Obasanjo’s administration, when he came to Anambra State to commission projects. I remember that one of the projects he commissioned was an uncompleted Nkwelle Ezunaka/3-3 Road, which was tarred only 2kms. But it was inaugurated as a completed project. That day, I was praying in my heart that Obasanjo would follow that road to understand what he was commissioning. Unfortunately, he did not follow that road. That is the kind of thing we see in government because, some leaders do not have that culture of supervision. So, we want Obiano’s successor to be one that will double the pace of development of the state. Obiano’s successor must be one that understands Anambra terrain and how things work in the state; not a governor that will be a stranger to the state. Anambra needs a governor who will devote his or her time for the state, and improve on what is on ground. Again, Anambra needs a governor that will undertake projects he can complete. Nothing worries me like abandoned projects. Henceforth, abandoned projects should not be in the vocabulary of Anambra State. Obiano’s successor should maintain Anambra roads, because, some of them are becoming bad already.